Can Christians date non-Christians?

RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS (#19 in a series)
To access previous posts in the series, use the “Relationship Questions” link under “Categories” and the “Older Posts” button.

Is it okay for Christians to date non-Christians? Or is this just too much of a violation of our values?

To some extent, I’ve dealt with the question of values in the first post in this series. Bottom line, even in a relationship between two Christians, you will eventually stumble over value differences. (It’s quite possible, for example, that not everyone in your church voted the same way in the last election. Just saying.) What makes a relationship strong is not eliminating such differences, but learning to deal with them when they arise.

But is this question just another version of the values question? Aren’t values relative? And isn’t our Christian identity more than just a “value”?

You need to answer those questions personally for yourself, as honestly as you possibly can — because the rest of the discussion depends on it.

In last week’s post on being “unequally yoked” (cf. 2 Cor 6:14) I argued that Paul was not simply establishing a rule prohibiting Christians from marrying non-Christians. He was insisting that the church take seriously its call to holiness in the midst of a highly pagan culture.

Here, the issue is similar. Any question that begins with the words, “Is it okay…” is looking for a rule that eliminates at least some confusion and ambiguity from the complicated life decisions we have to make. But that rule-orientation puts things the wrong way around. The more important question is whether we have our life goals in proper order: do we really want to be more like Christ?

Consider, for example, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians on another matter:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor 10:23, NRSV)

The NRSV puts the words “All things are lawful” in quotation marks because the translators assume (rightly, I think) that Paul is quoting their own words back to them. The situation is that some of the Corinthians are continuing in their former pagan practices, and rationalizing their behavior away with the argument that (a) pagan idols aren’t real gods anyway, and (b) under the freedom that comes from God’s grace “all things are lawful,” meaning that we’re free to go such places with a clear conscience.

Paul agrees with both (a) and (b). But he disagrees with the selfish motive that stands behind the argument: You care more about your own personal freedom to do what you want than how others will be impacted by your behavior. Don’t stand on your personal rights if it’s going to trip someone else up.

So, back to the original question: is it okay for Christians to date non-Christians?

Yes. It’s “lawful.” But is it “beneficial”?

Of course, the word “date” can mean a lot of different things. Christians should not cut themselves off from social relationships or friendships with non-Christians. If a non-Christian friend suggests going to grab a bite to eat, there’s no intrinsic moral reason to refuse.

Just remember that the deeper and more exclusive the relationship becomes, the more closely “yoked” you are to each other, raising the question of how that relationship will help or hinder your relationship with God. Don’t underestimate the gravitational pull of the relationship itself, which can lead from small compromises to larger ones. And don’t underestimate the painful cost of breaking the relationship off.

Being a Christian is more than just a personally held “value” in a society in which values are increasingly relative. Declaring your allegiance to Jesus is to take a stand on what you believe to be the true story of God’s relationship to the world. It shapes your goals and priorities. Everything else, including how and whom we date, follows from there.

(Note: the next entry in the series will post in two weeks, after Thanksgiving.)

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