Is it Okay for a Christian to Change Denominations for the Person You're Dating?
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2017 22 Mar
A Protestant loves a Catholic. A Pentecostal loves a Methodist. A Muslim loves a Presbyterian. A Jew loves a Buddhist. On both sides, parents are freaking out, and the couple is getting tired of going to each other’s churches. Someone has to make a decision.
Should one person switch denominations? Should the couple become non-denominational? Should they stop going to church and listen to podcasts? Should the couple ignore their differences until/if they get married? Should they present both options to their kids and let them decide?
If you are in an inter-denominational relationship, these questions complicate the real issue and potentially set you up for heated conflict with your partner. Family expectations, traditions, and comfort will all influence your church decision; however, the most critical issue for inter-denominational couples is what you believe about God and how you worship Him.
Which church you attend is fundamental to your faith experience. Whether or not you believe that you need a church body to grow, you do. And a church body needs you (1 Corinthians 12:27). So if you are seeking to be a believer who lives out Christ authentically seven days a week, this isn’t just a “what-denomination-should-we-be?” kind of question.
Denominations spring from differing interpretations of doctrine, tradition, and practice; some are Christian, some are not. (Non-denominational churches also ascribe to theology and methodology that’s true to their non-beliefs.) Although the New Testament church begins with no denominational divisions, Paul mentions several cultural philosophies and religious sects that his converts should avoid (Philippians 3:1-3, Colossians 2). However, he told the Philippians that people preach Christ for different reasons, yet still he was satisfied that Christ was preached (Philippians 1:15-18).
The most important question for dating couples to answer is this: Are you both believers in Jesus Christ?
This is of primary importance because there is no middle ground between believing and not believing. The Bible speaks specifically about this topic:
Believers should not “be yoked” to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, 1 Peter 3:1-2). The Greek word for yoked is heterozygeō, a word used to show the impossibility of joining two different kinds of animals under the same yoke to pull together while plowing a field. The implications in 2 Corinthians 6 apply to more unions that just marriage.
Believers should not seek to divorce an unbelieving spouse, although they may let unbelieving spouses who do not want to remain married divorce them (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). This admonishment was given in the context of the early church, when belief in a risen Jesus was radical, dangerous, and culturally altering (as it is many places in our world today).
- Marriage is a living representation of Jesus and the church. The sacrificial love that a couple shares towards one another and their children shows the world how God loves us and how we respond to Him through our love toward other people (Ephesians 5:22-33). A loving family will function like a loving church, each making unique contributions and putting the needs of others first.
The secondary question—which you shouldn’t address without addressing the first question—is what church you should attend together?
This depends solely on how important your church doctrine is to your faith walk and how devoted you are to a particular church family. If someone is new to the area, new to faith, or new to church, the decision will merely be searching for a church you both like, rather than deciding how to leave your church. Many families contain parents from different denominational backgrounds, and at least one of the spouses has changed denominations. Often when a family moves to an area, they end up attending a church that is a different denomination than they have previously experienced because it aligns better with their current spiritual goals and needs. However, if two dating people are devoted to two differing methodologies of faith, then this couple must have some hard conversations, as soon as possible.
Now I must ask you a third question, which warrants its own space. How serious is this relationship?
Since marriage is a possibility in any long-term dating relationship, wisdom would dictate that the couple address denominational and theological issues early in their dating relationship before emotion and optimism cloud reason. That gives them time to study, visit, and discuss their spiritual priorities. After the initial question of faith in Jesus Christ, any dating couple with contrasting views of God, the Bible, and church should consider these questions:
- What type of church makes me feel at home?
- Where have we attended that teaches the whole Bible clearly and accurately?
- Where will I grow in discipleship and service, as a member of Christ’s body, the church?
- Which church has a worship environment that facilitates my worship best?
- Which of us is currently more involved in his/her church?
- If we come from opposite religious or worship backgrounds, is there a church in the middle that would meet the above criteria, where we would both feel comfortable and grow?
Now for the bombshell question.
Should a married couple separately attend two different churches?
Although some couples decide to keep attending their own churches to retain their preferred denominations, there is a risk attached to this arrangement. Practically speaking, it’s unlikely for a family to plug into two different churches and grow in fellowship with two different groups of people; most likely, only one or neither parent will become highly involved in church life.
With children in the home, a multi-church family situation becomes more complex. Parents may communicate opposing versions of faith to their children or give their children the choice of whether or not to participate in a faith practice. In our secular culture, giving children authority to choose is hailed as great parenting; many secular celebrities promote that exposing children to all beliefs and perspectives is sure to produce analytical thinkers who know what they believe.
However, the opposite has been proven true. Millennials as a whole show more spiritual interest, but have less Bible knowledge, less faith in denominations, and less belief in absolute truth and the Bible than any previous generation. Pluralism is replacing Christianity in America, even among kids who were brought up in Christian homes, and it’s leading them into agnosticism, cults, and the Eastern religions.
God makes His position about Christian parenting clear in Scripture: parents are responsible to lead their children toward the Lord.
- Train and instruct children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)
- Continually impress on your children a love for God and others (Deuteronomy 6:4)
- Raise children to serve the Lord (1 Samuel 1:27-28)
- Give children a God-worldview (Deuteronomy 6)
- Children trained to know the Lord will have a natural desire to follow Him (Proverbs 22:7)
- Hindering children from coming to the Lord is a heinous act (Matthew 18:1-6)
Ultimately, children can and will choose for themselves whether or not to believe in God. They will also choose their own church communities when they are grown. And like everything else in life, they will base their adult decisions on what they observed and practiced growing up. If they grew up in an environment where every belief was hailed as equal, they will deduce (minus God’s intervention), that they can decide truth for themselves.
How and where you worship reflects your personality and expression, as well as God’s authority in your life. God intends your church to become your family, a place where you serve, grow, give, and relate to others who share the same faith and values. Your local church isn’t another club or community service opportunity where you can decide when and if you’ll participate. It’s a living, breathing organism called Jesus’ body, and God has called you and your loved ones to become physical members of that body.
So if you’re dating someone from another religious background, take the opportunity to investigate both traditions. (Do you even know what your theological differences are? Are you both Christ-followers?) Analyze, pray, and decide: will one of you switch denominations, or will you choose a new denomination together?
The choice is yours. Just base your decision on God’s word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is either foolish or reckless.
Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, and speaker. Her blogs, Bible studies, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com and www.7prayersthatwork.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: March 22, 2017
Sue Schlesman is a Christian author, high school English teacher, pastor’s wife, and speaker. She has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her second book Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places released in August 2019. Sue’s material appears in a variety of print, online, radio, and podcast mediums. She has a passion for missions, social justice, traveling, reading, and the local church. Sue has been married to her husband Shane for 30 years, and they have 3 adult sons. You can find her in Richmond, VA, writing about life, education, family, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com.