By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Dating as a believer can be a challenge in that we have been taught, per Scripture, not to enter a union with one who does not believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 6:14 states very clearly that we should “not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?”
With that in mind, a devoted single believer will seek a relationship with someone who shares their faith. But what happens when you find that person with whom you can see a future, but your Spiritual upbringings are based on different doctrines? Denominational differences that split elements of our doctrinal beliefs into different resolutions? What then? Is that also being “unequally yoked”? Are we compromising core beliefs to have a relationship? Or is there grace in differences within the confines of belief in Jesus Christ?
One may propose that if you both believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again, that is a sufficient foundation. The rest is negotiable based on upbringing and biblical interpretation. However, that simplified approach erupts into multiple volcanoes of issues when diving deeper into other core doctrines of the faith. These controversial doctrines include baptism and sexual practices, the role of the man and woman, and whether practicing the gifts of the Spirit is critical to salvation, merely a gift, or perhaps now, even non-existent. The doctrinal elements are extensive, and while some are less critical, others could make or break a relationship once put to the test.
Let’s explore this rather complicated subject a bit more. If we move forward on the basis that we agree that we are not to be “unequally yoked” as Scripture commands, then we must look at what equates to a balanced pairing. For example, while two believers may wholeheartedly agree on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, they may be at odds as to whether Scripture is the inerrant Word of God or, instead, a high-quality guide to life.
So can we date someone with different doctrines than ourselves? Yes and no. Let’s break down the idea of doctrines further to understand how we can assess if the relationship we’re entering will be complimentary or destructive to our personal faith.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes doctrine (A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity - AlbertMohler.com) as a “discipline of theological triage.” Basically, determining the urgency of the doctrine being examined and how critical it is to the life of your faith-walk. He lists doctrines as being grouped into First Level, Second Level, and Third Level doctrines.
First Level Doctrines
The non-negotiables of the Christian faith. Without these doctrines, the framework of Christianity would dissolve. Doctrines such as the Trinity, the Resurrection of Christ, the Deity of Jesus Christ.
Second Level Doctrines
Issues that believing Christians will disagree with; barriers to fellowship are created. Many of these doctrines are the reasons for the formation of various denominations within the Christian faith. Second Level Doctrines, as Mohler suggests, are like baptism or the roles of men and women in authority within the church.
Third Level Doctrines
These are elements of the faith that are constantly debated but do not prohibit a closeness or a unity among those debating them. Predestination versus free will or Scriptural interpretation of the end times may fall among these. As a believer, one should delve deeper into the idea of doctrines and where yours fall within a scale such as this. This will help you enter a relationship and assist you in determining if it will provide a healthy balance or if it will reach a tipping point that will potentially self-destruct.
It is most apparent then that First Level Doctrines—taking Mohler’s approach—are most definitely non-negotiable within a dating relationship. One cannot be considered a believer and deny the Deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, or the Trinity. If Jesus were to be a prophet, teacher, or a good man, and yet not part of the Godhood, then you no longer have a relationship based on the foundational framework of Christianity. Instead, you have a distorted perspective of who Jesus was and Christianity, and Scripture becomes a negotiable, debatable book of good ideas. Differing on First Level Doctrines is, quite obviously, an unequal yoking in a relationship.
Second Level Doctrines is typically where most tensions will arise. For example, an individual may believe Scripture to be very clear that men are to be the spiritual authorities within the church, while the other may disagree, arguing that it is a cultural element of the times in which Scripture was written. They may say that negating female leadership is to deny God’s calling of various women leaders. Is this a deal-breaker for dating? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Consider a relationship where the man firmly believes he is the spiritual authority, while the woman believes she has the same ability and even the same calling? How does one resolve that within the intimacy of a relationship? Is it resolvable? For some, it may very well be, and for others, it may not. Also, assuming the dating relationship leads to marriage, tension can continue to be introduced. An example of this would be if when a child is born, the mother wishes it to be baptized as an infant, but the father believes baptism to be an outward expression of a personal declaration of faith. Is this tension insurmountable? Perhaps not. But for some, maybe it is.
Third Level Doctrines will likely bring much discussion and perhaps even heated debate at times. Still, in the end, two people will be able to part with an agree-to-disagree attitude while knowing that the fundamental truths of their faith are shared. If one believes that God has specifically chosen His children and the other believes it is the person’s free will to believe in Christ, in the end, the basis of salvation remains undisturbed. The framework is strong, and the structure is secure. (Disclaimer: you may also find that some believe election vs. free will to be as high as a First Level doctrine, making it even more evident how critical it is that these issues are explored when testing a relationship)
What should we look at then, when entering a dating relationship where different doctrines very well exist and sometimes passionately so? It is crucial to consider the following:
Don’t Ignore the Differences
Examining these differences is critical before entering a life-long commitment where you will potentially introduce children into their own faith walk. We can all too easily stop at “yes, I believe Jesus is my Lord and Savior” and assume we are therefore unified. As seen above, that unity will last for only so long until other doctrinal issues that readily affect our daily life are introduced.
Identify the Non-Negotiables
What doctrines do you see as non-negotiable to your faith? There are likely Second Level doctrines that will be included here. So be honest and truthful with yourself while seeking the Lord in fervency. If disagreement over a doctrinal issue impacts the framework of your faith, then perhaps you are entering an imbalanced relationship that will find itself at an impasse.
Be Open to Examining and Questioning Your Doctrine
In doing so, you may find even more firmly reinforce what you believe. Or, you may find that what you thought was a non-negotiable is, instead, a doctrine in which unity can still be found without walls being built. Unfortunately, too many believers don’t question their doctrine. They make the mistake of simply adopting what they were raised to believe without understanding the Scriptural basis. By asking questions, we seek the truth that is within the pages of Scripture and grow a desire to learn more of the mind of Christ. All this is done by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Dating a believer is not a simple calculation of saying a prayer of faith equaling Christianity, and therefore leading to a perfect balance. There are doctrinal nuances that must not be ignored. Can you date someone with different doctrines? Yes. Yes, you can. But it is up to both of you to define those doctrines, the critical nature of those doctrines, and whether or not you can remain unified in the doctrines in which you differ.
A relationship firmly grounded in Spiritual unity will be far more prepared to face the stressors that will challenge faith within that relationship in the future. Doctrines left unexplored and unquestioned will leave yourself and your faith vulnerable in that relationship. Remember, being “equally yoked” means finding that balance that works together and not against each other. Ask the tough questions—your relationship and, more importantly, your faith, with thank you.
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Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!