Thursday, July 29, 2010

Divorce & Remarriage Within the Church

C. Michael Patton wrote an interesting blog post the other day that reminded me of a similar exercise I went through with this same topic.  I posted the following here a few of years ago and Br Patton's inquiries into the same subject matter gave me enough incentive to resurrect it for another scripture study I am currently involved with. My opinions on the matter remain essentially the same although I think I am probably more accommodating for those who differ from my conclusions now than I was at the time even though I have never held this as a fellowship matter.

Reposted from 2007 …
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.

Let's 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.


Jc_Freak: said...

I'm sorry, but I can't say that I entirally agree.

When I look at the Corinthians' passage, I analyse it rhetorically. In 10-11, you have a generally law given about divorce: divorce is bad, and if divorce is committed, the divorcer has the responsibility to make amends. In 12-15 you then have Paul pastorally applying this law to the specific situation that was going on in Corinth. Though I agree with you that this verse cannot be taken to necessarily justify remarriage in all the cases that it often is, the primary reason is that this passage is a specific application of a general law in a time and place.

Thus my conclusion is that a pastor has a responsibility to take the general laws of God and apply them to the situation at hand honestly, prayerfully, compassionately, and in a way that is consistent with Scripture. (I also have trouble believing that "not under bondage" could mean anything other than a return to prenuptial regulations under the divine law).

A.M. Mallett said...

I understand what you are stating and as I noted, this is not a divisive issue in my mind. However, I am stuck at the center of the pericope of this passage that has to be reconciled with the overall message.

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.

From my perspective, everything Paul teaches, especially his opinion as he notes, must be in full agreement with the command of the LORD in this matter.

Jc_Freak: said...

I don't disagree with that. I believe that we should absolutely uphold that as law. If someone leaves their spouse, they are not to remarry, but must try to reconcile. However, if someone didn't want divorce, and did everything they could to remain married, and their spouse left them, I see no reason why that person couldn't remarry. I don't see that in contradiction to the passage in question.