In the furious angst of high school, I read Christian dating books. Like any good girl in a skirt might have. More importantly, I listened to what trusted people I knew said about the much-anticipated mate-seeking season of life. They soaked me with scads of wisdom about sexual purity, friendship, and philosophies of how a future family should run. Thoroughly marinated in a healthful paradigm and sporting my intelligent plans, I set out. To find, of course, that things would not go according to plan.
Somehow, in all the talking and reading, I had absorbed little to nothing about what would prove to be the central, invigorating challenge in my actual relationship: interdenominational tension.
It feels almost silly to talk about the difficulties of interdenominational dating. Is the church that raised you that important to your future relationship? Doubtless, even the raising of the subject would make a person reared outside of Christianese culture goggle with confusion.
But the fact stands that all Christians have creeds, catechisms, cultures, or vocabularies with which they have grown accustomed to dealing with God. Under certain parameters and in certain places, we have tasted and seen the One who made us. I, for one, enjoy those parameters and get fidgety when I think I might have to change them.
In a country church with fibrous hymns, one violin, one piano, and seminarian sermons, I tasted and saw. And it wasn’t Calvin’s beard I tasted, or the baptized infant toes of his Geneva colony. It was the power of God. I did not find God cruel, though I found Him cerebrally complex and worth studying. I found Him merciful, kind, just—possessing the attributes the text ascribes to Him. And it was the nourishment I needed in all my growing up years, and still need. These experiences, the sweetest of my life, also seem the hardest for me to adjust.
And surprise, surprise, the same holds true for the man I fell in love with, who God ordained would emerge from the reverse culture. He tasted and saw in a celebratory, nondenominational church four times bigger than mine, complete with sax, guitars, keyboards, overhead projectors, and clapping to loud repeating praise choruses I have never heard. What he tasted, contrary to what I thought at first, was not a weak or unintellectual God. He saw the same God I did. And I think I’m right to say that seeing God in that context has been the sweetest experience of his life, too.
In relationship, two stories merge. Perhaps the most beautiful result of our merging denominational stories: no culture pride allowed. We cannot cast contempt on the other side of the denominational fence anymore. Not when someone we love so much stands there.
The distinctions between our cultures and beliefs, often subtle, exceed allowed space and you can probably imagine them. I used to believe that I would never love a man outside my tradition. Now that plan has capsized and left me with something better: the understanding that, semantics and flavors aside, our theological beliefs and practices look much alike. Isn’t that how life is?