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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

10 September 2007

“Mixed Marriage” Between Christians

Q: Can a Baptist marry a Catholic and not be sinning under God?

Promise RingsA: Your question is valid also for Lutherans and for all other Christians desiring to marry other Christians who come from differing church backgrounds. We run into a bit of a problem, since the Scriptural warnings about differing confessions of faith between husband and wife don’t give us a lot of help with our questions. As for questions of interracial marriages, see the links at the end of this reply.

The Bible’s cautions and caveats generally address marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. On numerous occasions, the Israelites were warned against marriage to believers in Baal and other pagan deities. Similarly, New Testament admonitions follow the line the Lord set through Paul: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.... (1 Corinthians 6:14-16)”

God doesn’t bind Christian men and women to the specifics of one particular practice before allowing them to marry and blessing their union. However, differences in practice and in understanding the Faith can make a union difficult, providing stumbling blocks and temptations to sin, particularly if husband and wife both are strong believers.

I encourage a man or woman considering such a marriage to study the other’s beliefs carefully. Compare types of worship and church governance, differences between individual and congregational autonomy versus being led by a clergy hierarchy, and the role of pastors and priests. How does each person understand and accept infant baptism and baptismal regeneration? Is it truly His body and blood or only a spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? You can certainly come up with more topics.

Consider then these follow-up questions. Can he live without something that’s been a vital part of his life for years? Can she honestly worship in his church without feeling like a hypocrite? What would be most difficult to accept from the other’s church? What would be hardest to give up? Will Christ be and remain central in this marriage and how will they build their new lives around Him?

The couple should give prayerful consideration to the place of these various teachings and practices in their faith lives. Conversations with each one’s minister or priest could help clarify thinking and make it easier to arrive at a final solution. Indeed, even if a couple comes from the same church body — even from the same congregation — I urge that they go through a series of premarital counseling sessions with their own minister(s). The need becomes even greater when differences of faith and practice already exist.

Additional note: See Mixed-Race Marriages, Interracial Marriage, and Boaz, Ruth, and the Genealogy of Jesus for more Christian commentary on the racial and religious dimensions of “mixed marriage.”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger Kelly Klages said...

The differences between Baptist and Catholic are significant. As someone who was originally from a Baptist background and married a Lutheran, I would suggest that in these cases, it's essential for a couple to pick one church or the other, and only a church where you can strongly stand behind all that is taught. Differences like those mentioned are simply too great to try to straddle the fence forever.

11 September, 2007 16:20  

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