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My husband is unsaved, so I’ve had to take on the spiritual leadership of our home. As I’ve been growing in my discernment, I’ve learned that the churches we have been attending are not doctrinally sound. Thus, we have changed churches several times. My husband will attend church with our family, but is comfortable at our current church and doesn’t want to change again. Unfortunately, our current church is also doctrinally unsound. I feel very uncomfortable here and want to find a new, doctrinally sound church, but I’m concerned: a) that I won’t be submitting to my husband if I insist we leave, and, b) that my husband will refuse to attend church any more if I insist we leave this one. What should I do?

This question is actually an amalgam of two e-mails I’ve recently received asking basically the same question, which leads me to believe there are many other Christian women out there in similar circumstances.

It is heartbreaking when a husband and wife, whose souls God meant to be knit together as one, are separated by the gulf of eternity. It’s an unavoidable situation when two lost people get married and one subsequently gets saved, but it is completely avoidable if you’re saved before you get married. Single ladies, please be wise and learn from the pain your unequally yoked sisters have gone through: do not marry, or even date, someone you aren’t certain (as certain as you can possibly be, anyway) is a believer.

Normally, this is the type of question I decline to answer because it’s a situation that’s best handled by pastoral counsel. I don’t know all the nuances of the situation, the personalities involved, the doctrine of the particular church, etc. However, the readers who have asked my advice have both indicated that they’re in doctrinally unsound churches, so I can’t, in good conscience, refer them to “pastors” who may do more harm than good with their counsel. So, the best I can do is provide some biblical food for thought for these ladies to consider as they make their decisions.

Pray
God is so gracious and kind to remind us that if we need wisdom to handle things and make decisions, He will give it to us. When you’ve asked God for that wisdom, trust Him to give it to you and to guide you.

Additionally, ask God to provide you with a godly friend, pastor, or counselor to help you walk through this situation. You may wish to seek out a doctrinally sound church and set up a counseling appointment with the pastor or an elder. You could also look for an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor in your area (not just a “Christian counselor/therapist”- ACBC counselors are trained to help you apply correctly handled Scripture to your situation in a doctrinally sound way).

Finally, don’t neglect to pray for your husband’s salvation, and that God would soften his heart to attend a doctrinally sound church.

Study God’s Word
If you’re a believer, this should already be part of your daily life. Stay in the Word to keep yourself spiritually nourished, to gain biblical wisdom, and to be led by the Holy Spirit. It may be of some comfort to you to know that in the early days of the church, many Christian women (and men) were going through the exact same situation- being married to an unbeliever. There are a couple of passages that address this situation which you may want to give some extra study:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
1 Peter 3:1-6

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:13-16

Submission? As the 1 Peter passage above makes clear, biblical submission is one of the ways Christian women can prepare the way of the Lord in the life of an unbelieving husband. We should certainly submit to our husbands in anything that doesn’t conflict with Scripture. However, our first loyalty and submission are to Christ, so a Christian woman cannot “submit” to her husband if he is asking her to do something that Christ has clearly said not to do in His written Word (I’ve written more about the issue of submission in other situations here and here.).

As you consider submitting to your husband in the various aspects of this situation, study these passages regarding sitting under the instruction of false teachers. Do your husband’s desires about staying in a doctrinally unsound church conflict with what God’s word says? That’s something you will have to pray about, study about, and, if possible, get some godly counsel about.

Practical observations/suggestions
Here’s something to take into consideration: It doesn’t do any good for someone to go to a “church” that teaches false doctrine just for the sake of being able to say that person attends church. In fact, it may actually harden his heart to the truth of the gospel.

Regarding false converts (people who think they’re Christians but actually aren’t), it’s often said, “Before we can get them saved, we first have to get them unsaved.” In other words, we have to do the hard work of “undoing” the false doctrine they’ve been taught, which has convinced them they’re saved, so they can come to terms with the fact that they aren’t actually saved, in order to correctly teach them the gospel so that they can truly be saved. Consider whether, by continuing to attend a church that teaches false doctrine with your husband, you might be doing something right now that will be difficult to undo later. A garden variety lost person who doesn’t attend church is no more lost than a lost person attending a church that teaches false doctrine.

Would your husband be open to staying home from church on Sunday for several weeks or months while you visit churches alone until you find one you’re confident is doctrinally sound?

Many churches have midweek, Saturday, and Sunday evening services. Perhaps you could explore another church on your own during non-Sunday morning services for a time until you’re sure it teaches sound doctrine, and then ask your husband if he’d be willing to change to that church.

Your husband probably views his church attendance as something he’s doing for you or for the kids. Is there any kind of “deal” you could work out where he changes to a doctrinally sound church “for you,” and, in exchange, you do something for him (make his favorite meal every week, take over a chore he hates, etc.)? He might be more willing to change churches if he thinks there’s a benefit to him for doing so.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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