What action, if any, should an assembly take when a believer marries an unbeliever?
Gathering unto the Name of the Lord Jesus necessitates teaching and preaching all that God’s Word teaches, not stopping short, and not going beyond. Many times this is not the case, and consequent fallout has hindered assembly testimony. Discipline in God’s assembly is one of those areas.
I might point out that assembly discipline is to be carried out when a sin has been committed of such seriousness that the whole company is affected or involved. A list of such sins, while not comprehensive, is found at the end of 1 Corinthians 5. Excommunication is necessary for these sins. The “leaven” of the whole assembly at Corinth was that the sin referred to in the chapter had been tolerated by the assembly to that date. Heretical doctrine (1Tim 1:20), and an intransigent spirit (Matt 18:17) are the two other cases for requiring such discipline. A lesser form of discipline occurs when an unfounded accusation is brought upon an assembly elder, where the accuser is to be publicly rebuked (1Tim 5:19). Then there is another word that is used in the NT which is not really a word of discipline, but perhaps, a warning, or teaching for correction, and that is the word “admonition” (1Thes 5:12).
It is not the mind of the Lord for a believer to marry an unbeliever. In the case of Timothy’s parents, and the mixed marriages referred to in 1 Corinthians 7, it is evident that one spouse became a believer after marriage. The reference to an unequal yoke in 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1 has more to do with returning to, or linking with, idolatry than marriage, as the Corinthians were warned in 1 Corinthians 10. I do not believe it a good term in this case, as marriage is not thus to be broken, nor does it rank as “filthiness of the flesh and spirit.”
Those of us who can trace the hand of God in bringing us together with our spouses are forever thankful, but from 1 Corinthians 7:39 it is evident that the choice of one’s partner to marry rests with the individual to make whatever choice is appealing, with one proviso, “only in the Lord.” This would take it beyond the matter of salvation, but include assembly fellowship, as the Lordship of Christ certainly would include this.
We can sympathize with all of our sisters who would love to marry, have a family, etc, but they seem to outnumber suitable younger brethren with whom they could “settle down.” When wooed by an unsaved fellow worker, or school mate they are sorely tempted to marry, reasoning that they will be able to get the unsaved one out to hear the gospel, lead them to Christ, then raise their children for God in a lovely Christian home. I am so sorry to say, that in my experience of over 50 years, living in an urban centre where there are many assemblies, and having a professional practice which included many Christians, I have seldom seen this happen. The unsaved partner makes promises to win his bride, but after the exchange of nuptials, usually adopts the relative routine of married life, and spends his Sunday nights on the couch watching the hockey game with his friends rather than listening to the gospel. This is only one example. And our dear sister finds that to keep peace in the home, her Christianity gets put on the back burner.
Therefore, in getting back to what action the assembly should take, my recommendation is that godly, compassionate elders should take the route of “admonition” from the Word of God and with the grace of Christ, show the offender that, not only is the word of God compromised, but they will likely not “live happily ever after.” While it is not a matter for assembly prayer because of the ensuing embarrassment, private prayer should be unceasing. We need to remember that marriage is not a sin even though this kind is out of rank with the expected life of a Christian.
In younger years, I would not have attended the wedding, and now regret this. I would still not perform a marriage ceremony where both spouses are not either believers, or unbelievers. However, in later years, by attending, I have gained the confidence of both which has been an avenue for visitation and encouragement. We need to remember that this dear younger believer, in the coming years, will need all of the support and encouragement that the assembly can give if they are to survive spiritually in the circumstances they have walked into, and perhaps their children may be reached through the Sunday school.