A Pastor’s Reflections: Separate Ways
One of the regular patterns I observed in my pastorate was the mismatched married couple. I’m not talking about a mismatched couple in terms of personalities or interests, but rather a theologically mismatched couple. It seems that every so often a couple would visit the church—one person was on fire for the recently discovered Reformed faith and the other person was not sure what was happening, but they were just along for the ride. One spouse was reading and devouring books, talking about imputed righteousness, the regulative principle, and supralapsarianism, and the other spouse was wondering what was wrong with their old Methodist church. To say the least, as the old Journey song goes, the two people were headed separate ways, “Here we stand, worlds apart . . .” What counsel should you give such people?
The first piece of advice I usually offered such couples is, be patient. No matter how much pleading, arguing (i.e., making a case), books, and dragging you might try to do, your spouse will not be convinced. You must hold out the Reformed faith with an open hand and live your theology more than talk about it. What good will it do you, for example, to get angry and exasperated all under the guise of “living the Reformed faith” before your unpersuaded spouse? All he’ll think is that you’ve become quite the jerk since becoming convinced of Reformed theology. Being patient doesn’t mean twiddling your thumbs. Rather, it means praying for your spouse and living out your sanctification—showing your spouse the love of Christ in word, thought, and deed.
Second, ensure that your spouse is truly ready to leave your old church for the right reasons. If she believes that you’re leaving your old church simply to please or appease you, then chance are you’re headed for problems. Both of you have to be prepared to leave your old church because you believe it’s the right thing to do, and because your new church bears the three marks: preaching the word, administering the sacraments, and administering discipline.
Third, as the pastor, don’t put the “hard sell” on couples like this. You should most certainly encourage them to join your church, but not at the expense of possibly creating dissension between a married couple. Through patience, love, and gentle instruction, you might be able to help a couple like this make the change in due course. Offer, for example, to meet with the couple and teach them about the Reformed faith. Offer to have another couple in the church who made a similar transition counsel with them. In the end, these actions are planting and watering, but God must give the increase. Only he will convince the suspicious spouse that leaving the old church for the new one is the right course of action. Pray, therefore, for married couples like this. In due course, God willing, they will eventually end up heading in the same direction—they will not be a house divided.