Jun 29

Marrying Outside the Faith

Last Sunday morning I completed my preaching series in the book of Nehemiah. Chapter 13 describes Nehemiah’s continuing efforts to restore the Jewish nation’s covenantal heritage and to re-establish the people in a position of blessing through obedience to Jehovah. Three personal prayers (Neh. 13:14, 22, 31) mark off the three sections of the chapter, and point out the three areas in which Nehemiah acted to solidify and extend the reforms initiated earlier in the book. These three reforms concerned (1) the separation of the people from the surrounding Gentiles (negative separation, vv. 1-9) and to God and his temple (positive separation, vv. 10-14); (2) the preservation of the sanctity of the sabbath from profanation by common labor and common business (vv. 15-22); and (3) the correction of the practice of intermarriage with Gentiles (vv. 23-31).

Each one of these areas is a focus of intense concern to us in our ministry here, just as it was to Nehemiah in his day. In particular, we struggle to maintain the principle of distinctively Christian marriage, which is now under attack in Taiwan. The common practice of believers marrying unbelievers is due to two factors: First, many believers exhibit a low level of personal commitment to God and His Word; second, compromises by church denominations, leaders, and organizations in Taiwan have made excuse in advance for believers who choose to disobey God’s clear commands not to marry outside the faith. Both of these problems can be traced further to the corrosive effects of liberalism, neo-liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, which have weakened the confidence of pastors and church members in the Word of God, as well as the influence of post-modern thinking, which rejects the validity of absolute standards. As a result, many voices have minimized, qualified, or denied God’s prohibition on marrying an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Cor. 7:39).

A complicating factor is that women outnumber men in most of Taiwan’s churches. Furthermore, Taiwanese cultural attitudes which over-emphasize the importance of education have been uncritically accepted by the church, delaying the age at which young people marry. The average age for marriage among Taiwan’s Christian women has steadily risen from 29.8 in 1998 to 31.8 in 2008.[1] These women are highly educated and career oriented (rather than oriented toward marriage and family). Unable to find Christian men who meet their high standards for intellectual compatibility and parity of income, many of them are turning to non-Christians to find mates while the churches connive in their choice, or wink at it. It is no wonder that Christianity continues to remain anemic in Taiwan.

I am a lonely voice in the wilderness as I attempt to maintain God’s standard on this issue. It is important that I do so without becoming harsh or insensitive to the human factors involved. Many ladies in my congregation have come to Christ as adults and have a spouse that is not yet a believer. To these individuals it is incumbent upon me not to appear as condemning them, but to provide hope, help, and encouragement. Others come to Christ as singles who are already enmeshed in relationships with unbelievers; at their present level of spiritual maturity they may find it difficult to break off these relationships. Then there are those who wilfully choose to go their own way. But for all of the problems involved, the future stability of the church depends upon establishing and protecting a core of distinctively Christian families. We can’t afford to sell our collective birthright by compromising this truth, no matter how vexing it may prove to be in individual cases. The best place to begin is by teaching and defending this truth to our young people. They must learn to establish and pursue biblical attitudes toward education, career, dating, and marriage which will guide them during the critical decision-making years of their life. They are the future of the church. Pray that God would enable us to maintain both truth and love in our presentation of this biblical teaching.


[1]林宜瑩、邱國榮、陳怡萱、李信仁,「未婚姊妹心聲等待教會傾聽」台灣教會公報週刊(2010年3月8日~3月14日:3028期)。

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