John Piper’s Desiring God site is well-known for being an unending fount of some of Christendom’s hottest takes, be they political, relational or pop cultural. Sometimes it’s bold. Sometimes it’s a little tone deaf. Sometimes it’s telling America’s pastors to excommunicate any members who knowingly marry a non-Christian and bar the doors until they change their mind.
That last one happened earlier this week, when the famed author and pastor responded to a question from a preacher whose congregant had married a non-Christian against the wishes of her local spiritual leaders. “So how should we, the church, now respond?” this pastor asks. Piper’s short answer: kick them out.
Piper responds first by laying out just how sinful this person is being, unpacking three “layers” of sinfulness. First, Piper says, the person is disobeying a command of the Bible. He refers to 1 Corinthians 7:39, which says, “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.” Piper says that final phrase “only in the Lord,” should be interpreted to mean Christians should only marry Christians.
The second layer, says Piper, is that the person is revealing their true priorities. “A believer who chooses to marry an unbeliever shows how deeply compromised the believer’s love for Christ is,” Piper says. “If the believer enjoys the presence and the friendship and the intimacy of a Christ-rejecting person (boyfriend or girlfriend) more than the presence and the fellowship of Christ, their very faith and love for Jesus is in question by Jesus.” In other words, Piper says that marrying a non-Christian proves you love that person more than you love Jesus.
And finally, in this particular case, Piper says the person is also showing a “a spurning of the authority of the elders” by refusing to obey their commands to leave the non-Christian at the altar.
“The elders plead, they pray, they teach, and then, if all of that is rejected, you remove the believer from membership in the church, for moving ahead with the marriage,” Piper concludes.
Piper acknowledges that this won’t go over very well with the person in question or their friends and family (“that’s because they elevate their own wisdom above God’s wisdom”), but Piper says he hopes kicking them out of church will help show just how much the elders really care and will “sober the disobedient believer, wake them up and win them to a repentant and obedient heart and restoration.” Piper does not explain how this excommunication will actually make the person want to repent, but says he has “seen church discipline have that very effect in my ministry” in the past.
In the conclusion, Piper says that if the person does decide to sincerely repent of getting married, they should not get divorced but should express their “regret” to their unbelieving husband or wife.
So, that’s a lot, obviously, though it’s probably a lower temperature than some other Desiring God takes. Who could forget the time Desiring God condemned Captain Marvel for the audacity have a woman superhero? Or the time Piper opined on sex dreams? And then there’s the all-time classic: the time Piper said women shouldn’t be seminary professors, let alone pastors.
While Piper fairly regularly draws the ire of more progressive Christian communities, he recently found himself facing firing squads from the opposite side of the cultural divide when he wrote he would not be voting for either major party candidate in the 2020 election, sending Christian supporters of President Donald Trump into frenzy. Again, this is a man well-versed in the art of the hot take.
Excommunication or not, interfaith marriages are on the rise in the U.S. About 33 percent of all couples who got married between 2010 and 2014 in the U.S. were made up of one Christian and one person of either a different faith or no faith in particular, a trend that’s been growing since the 1960s. It seems a little unlikely that all these couples were kicked out of church, but there has been some research to suggests interfaith couples are less likely to attend religious services regularly. It’s possible that even if the elders don’t get directly involved, married couples who are on different pages spiritually still pick up the message loud and clear.