Pastor John Piper spurred on churches to remove Christians who marry an unbeliever from church membership in order to “sober the disobedient believer, wake them up, and win them to a repentant and obedient heart and restoration.”
In an Ask Pastor John article posted to his blog, Piper explained three layers of sin to emphasize the serious nature of a Christian who rejects the counsel of church elders against marriage to an unbeliever.
“First, the professing believer is defying and rebelling against an explicit command of the New Testament of God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:39, ‘A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.’ ‘Only in the Lord’ means only to a person who is in the Lord—a believer, a follower of Jesus,” he said.
The second layer of sin shows the believer’s “deeply compromised” love of Christ. Since Jesus calls His followers to love Him more than anyone else in the world, a union with an unbeliever shows a disloyalty towards Christ, Piper argues.
“How can the heart of a believer embrace Jesus as its supreme treasure and satisfaction, and reject the words of Jesus in order to be in the arms of the one who has no faith and no true affection for the believer’s most treasured possession?” he said.
The third layer, Piper said, is open disobedience against the church’s authority.
“…[T]he marriage is not only rebellion against the explicit biblical command and not only a revelation of an idolatrous heart that puts a human above Christ in the affections, but also a spurning of the authority of the elders, which God gave to protect the sheep from sin,” he said.
He challenged churches to then excommunicate the believer in order to achieve eventual restoration. He also warned pastors that this action could create strong and venomous backlash.
“Many professing Christians today would regard such excommunication as more hurtful than helpful,” he said. “The unbeliever will call you intolerant and hateful, claiming it won’t be redemptive but will be alienating. That’s what they are going to say. That’s what elders have to be prepared to hear.”
But the pastor used 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 to illustrate that “Paul holds out the possibility and the desire that by means of such holy ostracism, people will, in fact, be saved and restored.” He also cited personal experiences of church discipline restoring people to repentance.
He encouraged Christians who have married an unbeliever to stay married and that repentance Christians with “authentic remorse” can be accepted back into church membership.
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.