This article is a speech which the undersigned delivered at an officebearers’ conference delivered at our Hope church on Sept. 30, the evening before the meeting of Classis East. Some expressed the opinion that it would have been beneficial for many of our young people had they had the privilege of hearing it. Others advised the undersigned to print it in our Standard Bearer. What now follows is the speech as delivered at that officebearers’ conference.
Your committee assigned two subjects to me. The one subject reads: “Is it permissible for an elder or an ex-elder to serve lawfully in the mission field as has been done on the island of Jamaica?” And the other subject is as follows: “The relationship of a believing wife to the church and to her unbelieving husband in regard to the sacrament of baptism. If the husband forbids his wife to have their children baptized, and she abides under his rule, is she guilty of neglecting the means of grace?”
We did not choose the first subject. This question we would answer in the affirmative, provided that the elder merely assist the minister or missionary. Paul even speaks of women who assisted him in the gospel, as in Rom. 16:3 and Phil. 4:3. And he also mentions other women in that sixteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Having selected the second subject, I do not think I will be criticized for changing it somewhat—after all, it is rather lengthy. I believe I can express it very briefly by changing it into: Mixed Marriages. This also enables me to subdivide it and present to you a subject with a three-fold division. Speaking to you on “Mixed Marriages,” I call your attention to three thoughts: I. To Be Averted; II. Sometimes Unavoidable; III. Our Calling.
Calling your attention to mixed marriages, we first of all face the question: between whom? On the one hand, we can speak of mixed marriages between believers and unbelievers. This distinction is stated in the subject assigned to me; it mentions the relationship between a believing wife and an unbelieving husband. However, we would call your attention to the following. It is true that Paul speaks of such marriages in I Cor. 7:10-14, and we quote: “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” I will have opportunity to reflect briefly upon this passage in my last point. However, this does not really constitute much of a problem for us, it seems to me. The problem facing us at various times does not often concern a situation or marriage of this nature.
But we can also speak of mixed marriages between persons of different faiths and beliefs. This is a problem that does confront and trouble us at various times. This happens when our young people have dates with young people of other churches, in their courtships become infatuated with each other, plan on marriage, and then discover the differences between them in matters of the truth because they belong to different churches. This, I believe, is much more of a problem which often confronts us, especially in our churches because, numerically, we are small and of little significance in the midst of the world. Our young people often do not have too much choice within our own circles and they therefore must look elsewhere. And, incidentally, there is no principal objection against this.
Now we certainly take the position that mixed marriages, if possible, are to be averted. Two factors contribute to this problem. First, the young people themselves. How often it happens that these courtships violate a fundamental rule! This has been my experience, and I am sure that I am no exception in this respect. One can preach and admonish until one is “blue in the face,” emphasize that young people must not become “thick” until the matter of the truth has been settled. After all, the question is not whether agreement has been reached with what church they will affiliate. The question is not whether a young man of another church will join our church, the church of his girl friend, or vice versa. Nobody may join a church because it is the church of her husband or his wife, and a girl is surely not obligated to join the church of her husband because, as the woman, she must follow her husband. It will happen that a young man promises his girl friend that he will join her church and then, after their marriage, refuses to do so and insists that, because he is the head of the home, she is forced to follow him. If this be true, then the woman could join any church, and the word of Christ would be of none effect: “Whosoever loveth husband or wife, etc, above Me is not worthy of Me.” And, we must not be unequally yoked, even though it be with one’s husband. According to our Confessions, Art. 27-29 of our Belgic Confession, one must join a church only for the sake of that church. And it certainly is not true that a young man can prevail upon his bride-to-be to see the truth, or vice-versa. Only the Lord can cause a person to see and love the truth of His Word.
However, besides the factor of the young people themselves, there are also other considerations. And what I am to say now is not new, but very old. It is contended that these young people are decent, clean-cut, children of God, and I would not dispute this. It is also stated that they both love the Lord, that they agree in many things of the truth, that if we interfere with a courtship of this nature we reduce our churches to a sect. And it is certainly characteristic of a sect that the members are very narrow-minded. Or, it is said that people of God do not belong exclusively to our churches (with which, incidentally, I wholeheartedly agree), that they can serve the Lord in other churches as well as in our churches, and who knows what a wholesome influence they may exert within their new church. With this reasoning I disagree completely.
Mixed marriages must be averted, if at all possible. For this, I submit to you three reasons. First, a mixed marriage, where the husband and wife do not agree on phases of the truth but do agree to belong together to a certain church, is in violation of the confession of faith as taking place within the church of God. Notice the questions asked at their Public Confession of Faith, to which an affirmative answer is given before the face of God and in the midst of His Church. Question I reads: “Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?” Please note that this question declares that the doctrine taught here in this Christian Church is the true and perfect doctrine of salvation. The fathers do not speak of the purest manifestation of the Church of God, but they speak of the doctrine as taught in the church to be the true and perfect doctrine. For us, this means that when anyone makes confession of faith in our churches he declares very solemnly before the Lord and in the midst of His church that this doctrine is the perfect doctrine of salvation. To this perfect doctrine nothing can be added. Question II reads: “Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto and to lead a new, godly life?” In answer to this question it is solemnly declared that one will adhere to this doctrine and reject all heresies repugnant thereto. The Three Points of 1924 are heresies. This means that one making public confession of his faith within our churches declares that he will ever adhere to this doctrine and reject all heresies, also the Three Points. And the Third Question reads: “Will you submit to church government, and in case you should become delinquent (which may God graciously forbid) to church discipline?” This delinquency refers to delinquency with respect to doctrine as well as to life. Here one declares that if he become delinquent in doctrine as well as in life, he will submit to the church discipline of his consistory and church. How often this is violated within the church of God! People usually leave before submitting to this church discipline. However, even if they leave, they surely violate this third question asked at their public confession of faith. Mixed marriages surely involves people in a violation of this public confession of faith. Joining, for example, the Christian Reformed Church, our young people certainly violate this solemn vow before God and His Church; they cannot and may not agitate against the official doctrine of that church, the Three Points. This necessarily implies that they violate their promise to reject all heresies repugnant to the perfect doctrine of salvation.
A second reason why mixed marriages should be averted, if at all possible, is because of the sacrament of baptism. Please note the three questions asked upon this occasion. Question I asks: “Whether you acknowledge that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of his Church ought to be baptized?” Question II reads: “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?” This second question is identical to Question I at one’s public confession of faith. And Question III reads: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the afore-said doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?” Let us remember the following. It is not a question whether there are people of God also in other churches. I certainly believe this to be the case. But, when one joins a church with which he is in strong disagreement, he is responsible with that church for its departures from the truth, and he may never agitate against these heresies. And, incidentally, the Three Points certainly constitute radical and fundamental departures from the truth. The sacrament of baptism demands of him or her an answer which is contrary to his personal convictions in regard to the Word of God. And, I ask you, how must a Protestant Reformed young man or woman, having made confession of faith within our churches, having declared that he or she will reject all heresies, including the Three Points, feel in his soul when they now declare before God and His Church that they will instruct or help instruct their children in these heresies, in these Three Points, and, if you please, do so to the utmost of their power? May this be tolerated by any Protestant Reformed Church? It is not a question whether there are people of God in other churches. It is simply a matter of one’s solemn vow before the face of the Lord and in the midst of His Church.
The third reason why mixed marriages should be averted, if at all possible, is that in such mixed marriages one becomes responsible for the church’s development in the way of the lie and of the antichrist. It is said that one will always remain Protestant Reformed, always continue in the truth and persevere in it, even though they leave our churches. I question this. What will happen when people leave our churches? First, this may happen, and it often does, that such people become wholly indifferent as far as the truth is concerned. They are completely swallowed up by their new church. They have repudiated what they know to be the truth, and they simply do not care. You simply cannot reach them anymore. A discussion of the truth leaves them wholly cold, does not interest them in the least. Or it may happen that such a person, never feeling at home in his or her new church, will vex his or her righteous soul. I know this to be true. They are never happy in their new church home. And, in the third place, if they continue to love the truth and realize what they are lacking now, they will suffer spiritually, even as anybody must suffer physically who does not enjoy a full and proper diet. This, I assure you, is very serious. And to this may or must be added: What about your children? You may believe that you will continue and persevere in the truth, but does this also apply to your children and their children? What will become of them? We therefore become a party to the development of the lie and the coming of the antichrist.
Sometimes, however, mixed marriages are unavoidable. This second point will be very brief, but it must be stated. This is true as far as I Cor. 7:10-15 is concerned. We need not quote this passage at this time. Please look it up in your Bibles. The situation as described by the apostle in this chapter of I Corinthians is easily understood. The Church at Corinth was called out of the darkness of heathendom into the light of God’s truth and covenant. Prior to their calling out of darkness into the light, all these marriages were necessarily between heathen and therefore heathen unbelievers. But now Paul preached the gospel in Corinth, and the result was that, in certain instances, the woman believed and the man did not, or vice versa, and the result was mixed marriages.
These mixed marriages, however, also occur in the sphere of God’s covenant. All we need do is think of our own split in 1953, and again in 1962, which, after all, was merely a part and further outgrowth of 1953. Indeed, prior to 1953 all these marriages were consummated in the sphere of the Protestant Reformed Churches; Protestant Reformed young people married Protestant Reformed young people, and all these families began in the truth. But then the split occurred in 1953. And, although in most cases whole families left us or remained with us (which is usually the case in the sphere of God’s covenant), there were also cases where families were disrupted, and mixed marriages resulted. These mixed marriages were surely unavoidable, and the faithful husband or wife can hardly be condemned.
In connection with this, what is now our calling? I now have the opportunity to try to answer the questions submitted to me in the subject as originally stated. There is, first of all, the first question or rather the first part of it. When the suggested subject speaks of the relationship of a believing wife to the church and to her unbelieving husband in regard to the sacrament of baptism, then I understand this to mean: how does the sacrament of baptism affect their relationship to each other within the church of God? It is, of course, my privilege to interpret these questions as I please, to interpret them as I believe they should be interpreted. To this, now, I answer as follows. There seemed to be no problem in regard to this baptism of the children in the church at Corinth. We read in I Cor. 7:14: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This would seem to indicate that the unbelieving husband permitted the baptism of their children. And when we read that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by his believing wife, or the unbelieving wife is sanctified by her believing husband, the meaning is surely not that he or she is personally sanctified, inasmuch as they are and remain unbelieving. But the meaning is that their seed is sanctified; they are sanctified, not personally, but in their relationship to each other as husband and wife, and that their seed is holy, only, of course, according to election. However, should the father refuse the baptism of the child or children, and the believing wife desire their baptism, she certainly cannot be held guilty of the neglect of the means of grace, and this for the simple reason that she cannot do anything about it. What can she do if her husband refuse the baptism of their child or children? She may urge the baptism of her child or children, but she can never force it.
As far as the second part of the question is concerned, we read: “If the husband forbids his wife to have their children baptized, and she abides under his rule, is she guilty of neglecting the means of grace?” I take this to mean: should she continue to abide under his rule, that is, continue to live with him and so abide under his rule.” To this I answer as follows; In his epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes. In I Cor. 7:10-13: “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: if any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.” Paul here commands the believing wife to remain with her husband. Why? And we answer: because this mixed marriage is of the Lord. The case is not simply such that the heathen woman repented and the heathen man refused to repent. Of course, this is also true. It is certainly true that the one repented of her sin and was received into the fellowship of the Church of God and that the other refused to repent and forsake his evil way. But this is not all. The case, fundamentally, is that the Lord converted the one and did not convert the other; the Lord called the one out of darkness into the light, and sovereignly, did not call the other out of that darkness into the light. Hence, this mixed marriage is of the Lord. Who can say, in such instances, whether the Lord might not use the wife to lead her husband to the Lord? This is what we read in verse 16. And we believe that this also applies to mixed marriages as they occur within the sphere of God’s covenant.
For the rest, I say: exercise the greatest care and patience. O, it may be true that the relationship between a husband and his wife becomes spiritually so unbearable and impossible that separate maintenance may be the only way out. We read in I Cor. 7:15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” If at all possible, let this proceed from the unbelieving husband. Struggle with this in your prayers and be upright in your walk and conduct. And, remember, this matter is not first of all the responsibility of the church or of the office of the ministry, but it is first of all the responsibility of the home. May we be diligent, in our homes, in the instruction of our children with respect to the holiness and sanctity of the state, of marriage. May we be faithful and continue faithful in our task of instructing our seed in the truths of the Word of God. What do we hold before our children? What do we permit them to see and read? The home is surely basic and fundamental. But, if possible, avert all mixed marriages. Marry in the Lord, and this means, of course, in His truth.