Christians who marry nonbelievers have “compromised” their love for Christ in acting in “open defiance of the teaching of the apostles and of God” and thus must be removed from church membership, according to pastor and author John Piper.
In a recent blog post on his popular DesiringGod website, Piper replied to a reader who asked how the church should respond when a Christian knowingly marries an unbeliever.
The pastor first stressed the seriousness of such a situation, explaining that there are multiple “layers of sin” when a professing believer “rejects the counsel of the church elders and marries an unbeliever.”
“First, the professing believer is defying and rebelling against an explicit command of the New Testament of God,” he said, citing 1 Corinthians 7:39, which refers to the importance of a Christian marrying an individual who is likewise “in the Lord.”
“So, if this teaching is made clear to the believer, and the believer rejects obedience to this command, she or he is acting in open defiance of the teaching of the apostles and of God.”
Second, Piper said a believer who chooses to marry an unbeliever “shows how deeply compromised the believer’s love for Christ is.”
“How can the heart of a believer embrace Jesus as its supreme treasure and satisfaction, and reject the words of Jesus in order to be in the arms of one who has no faith and no true affection for the believer’s most treasured possession?” he asked.
“It’s inconceivable to me. I’ve always found that incomprehensible. Something is deeply, deeply wrong with the heart’s affection for Christ. That’s the second layer of sinfulness.”
Finally, Piper said that if a Christian marries a nonbeliever against the advice of church leaders, then the marriage is “a spurning of the authority of the elders, which God gave to protect the sheep from sin.”
The Don’t Waste Your Life author said that a Christian who moves ahead with the marriage despite the counsel of elders must be removed from church membership “to sober the disobedient believer, wake them up, and win them to a repentant and obedient heart and restoration.”
“Many people do not take the Bible seriously," he posited. "They are baffled and angry by churches who take the Bible as seriously as I’m saying. Many professing Christians today would regard such excommunication as more hurtful than helpful. They call it intolerant; they even call it hateful. But that’s because they elevate their own wisdom above God’s wisdom.”
Piper clarified that once the marriage is entered into, it should not be broken or nullified. However, a “heart change” on the part of the Christian is necessary for true repentance.
"There should be an authentic remorse and regret for disobedience to 1 Corinthians 7:39,” he said. “There should be an acknowledgment and repentance that the heart was not right in putting man above Christ in the affections. There should be an apology and sorrow for spurning the counsel of God’s leaders in the church.”
According to Piper, “all of these changes are possible while the marriage stays intact.”
A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that almost four in 10 Americans (39%) who had married since 2010 had a spouse who was in a different religious group.
Pew found that many of those interfaith marriages were between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated: Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one in five (18%) were in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.
Kathy Keller, the wife of prominent New York pastor Tim Keller, previously revealed that over the course of the couple’s ministry, the “most common pastoral issue” she and her husband have confronted is marriages between Christians and non-Christians.
Among other issues, she warned that in an unequal marriage, either the Christian will have to push Christ to the margins of his or her life, or the nonbelieving partner will have to be marginalized.
“So either the marriage experiences stress and breaks up; or it experiences stress and stays together,” she said. “An unequal marriage is not just unwise for the Christian, it is also unfair to the non-Christian, and will end up being a trial for them both.”
"Does this sound like the kind of marriage you want? One that strangles your growth in Christ or strangles your growth as a couple, or does both?" she asked.