Thursday, January 04, 2007

Divorce & Remarriage Among Christians

From the start I acknowledge that I hold to a minority position in today's church regarding remarriage. However I do believe the body of scripture supports my opposition to Christian remarriage as long as the prior spouse is still alive. In any event, this is not considered an essential doctrine in my view and I would not let this interfere in my fellowship with the saints of God.

If I could identify any issue that offers widespread discomfort in the modern church that even pastors themselves shun from an honest and open dialogue it might be the issue of marriage and divorce in the church, especially the issue of remarriage. There are so many divorced and remarried people in society today that it is becoming very much the norm to be on a second or even a third marriage as opposed to the minority of couples who claim a lifelong bond to the same partner. This is especially true of the young and middle-aged and we find many of these same people turning to Christ. Looking at a ministry I once attended I can only guess unfairly at how many people among the congregation as well as among the elders and deacons have divorced and remarried. In all fairness I suspect many of them remarried before being saved. Yet, if I listen to the teachings among many churches today, what I hear is the justification of remarriage regardless of circumstances it seems.

Lets ask ourselves what marriage is from a biblical perspective. God demonstrates a fundamental purpose of matrimony in Genesis. It is not good for man to be alone, He tells us. So much so that God created woman from man to be a helpmate for him. Now if the relationship were to stop there we might suppose that there would be no great matter of concern which woman we have as a helpmate or when but the Lord reveals something more profound about this relationship. A man and a woman leave their parents and they become one with another. Once joined in this fashion, they are one in a spiritual union. In fact God shows us a wonderful revelation concerning this matrimony. What is the saint who is in Christ? Is he not one with the Lord in this sense? When we begin examining various words we take for granted in the bible sometimes we can marvel at what is revealed. Every child of God who walks faithfully in His light and in His truth has a fellowship with Him that cannot be understood by the world. "While fellowship is expressed in several different words throughout scripture I think one of the better choices is the Greek term koinonia which means the share which one has in anything, participation, intercourse, intimacy. It is used in 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. " That word koinonia means a lot. It even refers to intercourse which in a matrimonial relationship is an act or closeness that is about as personal as a relationship can be. Now I know some folks might squirm a bit to relate spiritual fellowship with Christ in such a manner but that is just the carnal man thinking in place of the spiritual. I am not referring to a physical act when I make mention of this in regard to fellowship, instead I am pointing out the degree or magnitude of the personal nature of this fellowship, this oneness with Jesus Christ. So in this sense, matrimony itself was established as not only a personal comfort for men and women with regard to companionship but also as a shadow of the relationship we are to have with Christ, with God Himself.

One of the most difficult things to settle amicably with regard to this issue is a proper understanding of God's desires. It is far easier to settle or reconcile our own desires especially when we view them from our fleshly or selfish motives. We all would like to believe that God wants us to have whatever makes us happy without realizing that sometimes to be happy in a carnal sense is to throw an incendiary upon a simmering fire. God desires that we have one wife or husband. That is what He desired from the very beginning. Matthew 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. The scriptures also tell us Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: While the excesses the Lord allowed under the law might seem reasonable even in this age, we are held to a higher spiritual standard, that found in the spirit of the law, the actual intent and purpose of God's law which is that a man and a woman come together and become one flesh. What is the mindset we face today among men and women both in circumstances associated with this quandary and as bystanders and observers of this theological question? Most often I hear the declaration that God would not want any of us to go through life without a spouse, that God would never want us to remain with a spouse who has abused us, that Jesus would never require a woman to remain with a husband who is not compatible. Yet when we test the Word, what do we find? Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Not only do we find this, but we find it repeated elsewhere in scripture. Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Usually when the Holy Spirit repeats something it is to be taken seriously. Now I don't see additional reasons for divorce granted here other than for fornication which in the context of the passage is referring to a lifestyle of specific sins. The Lord was not referring to specific individual acts of sin nor was He referring to a wide plethora of actions that could constitute fornication in a spiritual sense such as spiritual idolatry. The Lord was referring to a lifestyle of specific sins, sexual sins that would place a spouse in an impossible position of being one with a husband or wife AND a harlot or fornicator. This is spiritually unacceptable and therefore grounds for divorce. Now what are the circumstances of a woman who has divorced her husband due to a lifestyle of fornication?

Most modern pastors and teachers turn to the marriage chapter in the bible, 1 Corinthians chapter seven. I am not different in this case. It is a wonderful instruction and unsettling for those who preach remarriage to their congregations. In this chapter, Paul the Apostle is instructing on the position of marriage and it's expectations within Christian settings. Let me point out the obvious. It is not written to the unsaved. The unsaved are heavy duty sinners, expert fornicators and often remarried without so much as a second thought unless it crowds upon selfish motives. No, Paul is addressing saints in this instruction and these instructions are poignant. If a saved woman is married to an unsaved man who is inclined to live with her, then let her stay with him, Paul instructs. Otherwise she is free if the spouse departs. I don’t think there is much disagreement with this teaching. The scriptures tell us 1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. This where we run into trouble. The modern church is full of pastors and laity who have taken this "not under bondage' passage and given it license for remarriage. How they missed what came before that passage is bewildering. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. What are the two choices the Lord has offered to a divorced woman? Remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband. What did Jesus say about divorce earlier? Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Why would any pastor tell anybody to go ahead and remarry when it is so clear that doing so causes adultery? I suggest it is pure selfish motive. In the Old Testament we discover that even under the permissiveness of the law a husband could not remarry his former wife after she had joined to another man. Why? Because she had defiled herself (Deut 24:4). The difficult thing to grasp here is not the clear intention of scripture. Pastors and teachers have long misinterpreted scripture out of convenience or tradition or even ignorant haste. The difficulty here is explaining why God does not sanction remarriage. Perhaps it is best explained by stating a clear character trait of God. He hates divorce! Malachi 2:15-16 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. If God hates divorce, why does the modern pastor offer such a conciliatory mindset to it and it's cousin, remarriage?

The pastors and teachers who teach these things have a burden to bear but what of the young woman who loves the Lord whose husband has just left her for a harlot? As scripture states she is under no bondage in this case meaning she is free of that particular yoke. Does this mean she is free to yoke herself again? The teachings of Paul in 1 Cor. 7 seem to suggest otherwise with the statement by the Lord that she is to remain unmarried or reconciled with her husband. This is a hard thing yet our salvation was a hard thing. If this young woman loves the Lord, let her turn her mind to the things of God. This is why divorce is so wicked and why God hates it so. It robs both partners. If we think this is difficult, we are thinking correctly. Sin carries a high price even among the saved. Look at the example of Aaron, the priest and brother of Moses. He lost two sons after they offered unholy or "strange" fire to the Lord yet the Lords instructions were clear. Lev 10:6 And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled. Aaron could not mourn nor grieve the loss of his sons. The Bible is full of examples where transgression is paid for with personal loss and grief, lifelong grief. Yet we listen and heed to calls for exception for young and middle-aged divorced who desire to mate again, to remarry, to become one with another. This is a church that needs to repent and understand that divorce is an expensive lifelong proposition that the Lord hates.

There is a particular area that I must address before concluding this letter. What of the saint who divorced prior to being saved? So far I have limited my comments to the actions and demands placed upon believers with regard to divorce and remarriage. The words Christ conveys to us are given to the body of Christ even though the penalty for disobedience will be fully borne by the unbelieving. The person who comes to Christ becomes a new creation in Christ. The old man, or person, is now dead. That person no longer exists. As such, we can apply the analogy the Holy Spirit used in the beginning of Romans chapter seven to that new creation in Christ. He or she has no past, no bondages, no chains which are carried over to the new creation. That person is certainly free to remarry so long as she does not yoke herself to unbelievers. I want to make this clear so that there is no mistaken belief that I am saying saints previously divorced in a sinful past are still obligated to law or the demands placed by the law. That is not the case. If you are a new saint in Christ who has divorced from a husband or wife while lost in the ways of the world, never despair. You are reborn. That old divorced you was buried with Him in crucifixion. Marry for the first time as a child of God if the Holy Spirit directs you. But bear in mind the lessons taught above regarding divorce and remarriage as it regards those in Christ. Those teachings then come into play.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wesleyan Commonality with Calvinism vs. The Anti-Calvinist Rejection of Wesley’s Reconciliation

When the Remonstrant of the Low Countries formulated their essential disagreements with the practical application of Reformed faith doctrines they fueled a response that continues to resonate far from their place of dispute. The result has been a polarization of theological camps that has dominated the reactions and willingness of each to consider the other’s viewpoint and even in many cases to refuse an acknowledgement of the other’s position in Christ. It is beyond question a schism. While the quest could focus on anti-Arminianism and produce much the same result, viewing this from a Wesleyan perspective is more comfortable for the myself.

Much as been said of Arminius from both sides but one clear fact remains established in the historical record. He was viewed as being with orthodoxy on all matters pertaining to salvation. The matters of dispute between Arminius and Franciscus Gomarus, the senior theological professor at Leyden continued until his death however it is also established that Gomarus interviewed and examined Arminius prior to his acceptance at Leyden and found his theology acceptable and sound. The primary differences between the two men centered on predestination and reprobation, both of which were secondary to the theological basis of salvation. This is affirmed through the determination of the Dutch States General who as accounts describe, "The Calvinists wanted the matter settled by a general synod, but the States General would not have it. Oldenbarne veldt, the Dutch liberal statesman, in 1608 gave both opponents opportunity to defend their views before the supreme court, and a verdict was pronounced that since the controversy had no bearing upon the main points pertaining to salvation, each should bear with the other."(1) Obviously neither bore well with the other and the dispute continued beyond Arminius’ death in 1609.

As with Arminius, his followers have often suffered through an identifying process that was neither factual nor reasonable given the open declaration of their sentiments. The submittal of what is now widely viewed as the synopsis of Arminian theology consists of five articles, each addressing a matter of difference with respect to the particular teachings of the Reformed Church following the death of John Calvin. These Articles of Remonstrance are essentially acceptable to the Wesleyan position and were generally held by John Wesley who considered himself to be an Arminian. The Synod of Dordt produced a response to the Arminians that resulted in what is universally regarded among the Reformed Church as a canon declaration of belief with regard to the opposition. From consideration of the Remonstrant articles and the Dordt response an acronym of TULIP emerged to define the applicable definitions of the Dordt position in relationship to the stated Arminan position. It is this acronym that continues to fuel the schism today that also afflicted the church in Wesley’s day.

Wesley was noted in his opposition to this acronym TULIP that arose to identify the differences between Arminians and Calvinists however he was also wise enough to understand and articulate the agreement found between the two camps with regard to the biblical truths that pushed each party to formulate their opposing applications. Wesley was not in opposition to the ancient creeds and considered himself to be in full agreement with all matters of belief regarding salvation. His differences centered on the application of the depravity of man and the doctrines of justification by faith which were presented in the Calvinist viewpoint by the first two letters of the acronym. Wesley is on record as being opposed to the remaining three letters declaring them to be unbiblical on all points. In Wesley’s words,

"…The errors charged upon these (usually termed Arminians) by their opponents, are five: (a.) That they deny original sin; (b.) That they deny justification by faith; (c.) That they deny absolute predestination; (d.) That they deny the grace of God to be irresistible; and, (e.) That they affirm, a believer may fall from grace. With regard to the two first of these charges, they plead, Not Guilty. They are entirely false. No man that ever lived, not John Calvin himself, ever asserted either original sin, or justification by faith, in more strong, more clear and express terms, than Arminius has done. …But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. … The Calvinists hold, Secondly, that the saving grace of God is absolutely irresistible; …The Arminians hold, that although there may be some moments wherein the grace of God acts irresistibly, yet, in general, any man may resist, … The Calvinists hold, Thirdly, that a true believer in Christ cannot possibly fall from grace. The Arminians hold, that a true believer may "make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience …" (2).

To understand why Wesley agreed with the underlying biblical truth of the first two, the Arminian articles need to be examined.The first article translated from Latin is the following:

That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ His Son, before the foundations of the world were laid, determined to save, out of the human race which had fallen into sin, in Christ, for Christ's sake and through Christ, those who through the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe on the same His Son and shall through the same grace persevere in this same faith and obedience of faith even to the end; and on the other hand to leave under sin and wrath the contumacious and unbelieving and to condemn them as aliens from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John 3:36, and other passages of Scripture.

It was this particular article that compelled Reformed churchmen to establish the Total Depravity of Man as represented in the Acronym TULIP using the determinations of the Synod of Dordt with regard to this question. While Wesley certainly disagreed with the application of total depravity, he agreed man was depraved and brought that understanding into a proper light by affirming "original sin" for which Arminians were being falsely accused of denying. In this sense with regard to the underlying biblical assertions of original sin by which man is depraved, Wesley concurred with the Calvinist belief.

The second article provided below was the essential driver that brought the Reformed churchmen to respond with the second point of TULIP, Unconditional Election, also fueled by the determinations of Dordt.

That, accordingly, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that He has obtained for all, by His death on the cross, reconciliation and remission of sins; yet so that no one is partaker of this remission except the believers .

Wesley recognized that the charge of denying justification by faith through the TULIP response to this second article was completely false and he affirmed his agreement with the Reformed Church with regard to said justification by faith. With regard to the three remaining points of TULIP, Wesley would not concur with a biblical basis for any. This brings us to the place where zealotry on both sides of the issues that divide the church result in an inability to reconcile the teachings of Wesley, Calvin, the Reformers and the Wesleyan church of today. The issues have been polarized into an either/or debate over strict adherence to TULIP, an outlook that was never the litmus test of fellowship from the perspective of John Wesley nor with his friend George Whitefield. It is clearly established through the writings of Wesley that he opposed TULIP as applied doctrine on it’s whole and opposed the latter three points of TULIP on grounds of it being unbiblical. But the question must be asked "Is TULIP the summation of all things Calvinistic?". In the mindset of zealotry, there is nothing beyond TULIP with regard to Calvinism. When the anti-Calvinist is shown that Wesley found agreement with the Reformed on certain aspects of the acronym, the response has been one of absolutes. In the zealot mindset it must be shown that he opposed "Total Depravity" and "Unconditional Election" before any acceptance of Wesley’s teaching will be admitted. This results in the infamous "catch-22" position for agreeing to the notion that Wesley rejected the Calvinist application of Depravity and Unconditional Election which is indeed true and this truth is then used to reject the clear teaching that he agreed to the theological truths that underlie both of those misapplications. The anti-Arminians do precisely the same thing with the same articles. They accuse Arminians of rejecting original sin and denying justification by faith. This is the price of zealotry in any theological discussion, fair understanding of the agreements and disagreements is shrouded in a bias that disallows any intellectual grasp of similarity. It becomes a battle of absolutes. In a return to the question concerning the summation of Calvinism or for that matter Wesleyanism, there are other discussions that need to come into play however from the perspective of the zealot other questions and matters have no place in the discussion. He will see them as distractions from his disagreement thereby ignoring or misrepresenting them.

An examination of Creeds lends confirmation to the inappropriateness of the anti-Calvinist’s paradigm. If Wesleyans and Calvinists are placed alongside one another and measured by adherence to the Nicene creed both are found to be in perfect agreement. If both are placed alongside one another and measured against the apostolic teachings with regard to salvation, the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ perfect agreement is found! All this agreement is set aside in a zealous battle of absolutes defined by a religious application or rejection of a set of letters, TULIP. The same zealot will refuse fellowship rather than allow agreement to force him to relinquish any ground in this battle.

Perhaps the words of Wesley himself are appropriate to close.

"…And Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists, as Calvinists have to be angry at Arminians. John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man; and so was James Harmens. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter, conditional. One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? -- a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example! " (3)

(1) ARMINIUS, JACOBUS, New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I: Aachen - Basilians
(2) "The Question, "What Is an Arminian?" Answered by a Lover of Free Grace" , John Wesley taken from the Thomas Jackson edition of The Works of John Wesley, 1872
(3) Ibid

Monday, January 01, 2007

Is The Promotion of the TULIP Gospel an Antichrist Endeavor?

Suppose a man approached a poor soul and presented the following thinking it contained the power of the LORD in it's message.

God so loved a very few of His creation and knowing every man is totally corrupt He would unconditionally elect those few individuals to a certain salvation. Having already elected these few souls, He sent His own Son to die a death on the Cross at Calvary that would only be intended for those elect souls. Nobody else could ever benefit given God predestined the lost souls for the purpose of damnation. That atonement saves those elected to salvation and seals the condemnation of those predestined to damnation. This expressed grace of God cannot be resisted by those He elected nor can it be frustrated. For those whom God elected and Christ died for, they are dragged willingly into the Kingdom of God and persevere eternally. ... you sir might be one of those few that God loves.

Now of course no moderate Calvinist would present such a scenario to anybody and it is not the moderate Calvinist who steps into the error of teaching TULIP as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the "high" Calvinist or "hyper-Calvinist" who holds to the belief that his systematic view is what saves. Even with the hyper-Calvinist, it is unlikely the above example would ever be presented. Instead, the TULIP Gospel proponent is content to declare Christ the savior of the "world" and leave it at that. The concern rises when he is pressed on what he believes is the salvific message of Christ and it is at this point that his systematic theology takes precedence over the following declaration by the Apostle Paul.

“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, [even] in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Ro 10:8-11 AVRLE)

It needs to be stated that the issue over the error of the TULIP Gospel is not centered on whether or not TULIP is an accurate presentation of Christian soteriology. This debate has raged for centuries with no likely settlement as long as the LORD tarries. Instead the issue is over what message is proclaimed with regard to Jesus Christ. The above words of Paul state clearly what he preached and in that message is no mention of Reformed sytematic theology nor is there an opposing Wesleyan soteriology (although I believe the Wesleyan stands much closer to this passage than does the Reformed). So can it be stated that promoting the TULIP Gospel is an antichrist endeavor? A straight forward question must be asked. Is TULIP what Paul preached with regard to the Word of Faith, for Salvation? Clearly it is not in accord with Romans 10:8-11 and if separate from that declaration it can be nothing but what Paul refers to as another Gospel (II Cor 11). If such is the case, the TULIP gospel is indeed an antichrist declaration.