When Your Spouse Won't Join a Solid Church
Among the many grievous situations in which a believer may find himself or herself, having a spouse who is either unbelieving or unwilling to join a biblical church can be one of the most burdensome. The Scriptures teach us the importance of belonging to a local congregation, being under the oversight of godly elders and living out the Christian life among the members of the assembly. What is a believer to do when his or her spouse refuses to attend a church or is unwilling to join a local congregation? To make matters more difficult, what is a godly wife to do when her husband refuses to join a solid church? This sort of situation is burdensome to the heart of a godly woman who wants to please the Lord and respect her husband. To make matters even more challenging, what is a godly woman do when their husbands forbids her from joining a solid, biblical congregation? Here are a few thoughts that may help assist those who are having to walk through these difficult situations:
1. We are to obey God rather than men. Sometimes people mistakenly say things like, "I don't care what people think, I just care about what the Lord thinks." This sort of brazen response often lacks the biblical nuance of doing what is pleasing to the Lord while seeking to take into consideration the needs and interests of others. However, when someone presses us to disobey, or tempts us to compromise, we must fall back on the principle of pleasing God rather than men. When the Apostle Paul took up the problem in the church in Galatia, this was his response, "Do I now seek the approval of men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). This should be the guiding principle, in no matter what situation we find ourselves. Whether it is rejecting false teaching or refusing to be swayed by the influence and pressures of those who would disobey God, we must seek to do what it pleasing to God first and foremost. The Lord commands His people not to forsake the assembly (Heb. 10:24-25). This means that you should find the most biblically faithful congregation you can in close proximity to your home and bind yourself to it with a whole life commitment, no matter what your spouse is telling you. If a godly man's wife wants to attend a compromised church, he should refuse to attend it himself. It is better to obey God than to engage in compromise for the sake of peace.
2. We are to be respectful to our spouse, even when they encourage us to disobey. Whether it is a godly man whose wife does not want to follow his lead in joining a biblically solid church or a godly wife whose husband refuses to join a biblical church with her, believers are called to be gentle, humble, meek and loving in their responses to their spouse. When Simon Peter took up the issue of a godly wife living with an ungodly husband, he encouraged her to win him over through quiet, humble respect. He wrote, "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (1 Peter 3:1-2). This obviously does not mean that the godly wife is to be a doormat or to tolerate abuse. What it does mean is that she is to keep a watch over her own heart and to know that there can be more conviction unto her husband's reformation by adorning her life with the pursuit of godliness. What does this look like in a marriage in which the husband refuses to allow her to worship in a solid church? It may mean that she commits to praying about the situation for a number of weeks. It may mean that she goes to her husband in gentleness, asking him to be understanding of her need to be in the worship and fellowship of a biblical congregation. Whatever it looks like, of this much we can be sure, in His word, God tells us that being respectful works.
The converse is also true. I have known godly men who were mocked by their wives for their desire to be in a local church. Instead of ramroding religion down their wife's throats, they meekly continued to seek to lead her in love and gentleness. In almost every case of which I am aware, the wife came around to knowing Christ for herself through the godly example of her husband. The second part of The Pilgrim's Progress holds out a beautiful example of this. After Christian's family mocks him for following Christ, his wife and children ultimately comes around to setting off on the Christian pilgrimage for themselves.
No matter the specific details of the situation in which one may find himself or herself, we must seek to be an example to our spouse in godly love and humility. Ultimately, the outcome is in the Lord's hands. As the Apostle wrote, "How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife" (1 Cor. 7:16)?
3. We are to be willing to be reproached for doing what is right. Some may be called to tread the long, hard road of suffering at the hands of their spouse. It may come through demeaning speech, mockery or just cold indifference. Every one of us had a cross to bear. Some of us will be called to bear those crosses in our marriages. We must be willing to endure the reproach for the name of Christ, even when it comes from our own spouse.
4. We are to pray for the spiritual well-being of our spouse. We live in a day when every form of social activism and reactionary response of self-interest takes a front seat to prayer. We are constantly berated with the idea that prayer and waiting on the Lord is inaction. Far from it, the Psalmist teaches us that waiting on the Lord to undertake for us in whatever difficult situation we may find ourselves is the greatest form of action we can take. After all, the infinite God can do anything and everything. He commands us to cast our cares on Him, to wait on Him, to cry out to Him day and night and to pray for the peace of His church. In the same way, we should be praying for the spiritual redemption and restoration of our spouse. Is your spouse refusing to submit himself or herself to the authority of the elders in a local congregation? The living God can easily change their hearts. Is your spouse living in hard-hearted unbelief? The God who broke apart your hard heart through His word and Gospel can do the very same thing for them. No matter what the situation we must learn, in the words of the hymnwriter to "take it to the Lord in prayer." Pray that the Lord would open his or her eyes to the mystery of the Gospel. Pray that God would open doors for you to speak to your spouse about the truths of Christ. Fervently praying for your spouse is the best way to pursue your spouse.