The Difficulties of Divorce and Remarriage

On Henry Ford’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, he was asked for some advice on how to achieve marital bliss and longevity.  He replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”

The Bible is crystal clear; divorce is a sin.  According to the Bible, marriage is a lifetime commitment.  Jesus referred to married couples by saying, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).  Malachi 2:16 further reveals God’s heart in regards to this issue:  “I hate divorce, says the LORD God ofIsrael.”  Clearly, marriage was not intended to result in divorce.

Nevertheless, the Old Testament specified some laws that protected the rights of divorcees; especially women (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4).   This indicates that God knows that sinful human beings will, in some instances, enter into a divorce from marriage.  Yet, Jesus pointed out that these laws were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts, not because they were God’s desire (cf. Matthew 19:8).

The controversy over whether divorce and remarriage is scripturally allowed revolves primarily around Jesus’ words in two verses of Scripture (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).  Matthew 5:32 plainly tells us that “fornication” is a potentially just reason for divorce, though the text remains silent about remarriage resulting from a “biblical” divorce.  While many scholars believe that this refers to “marital unfaithfulness” during the “betrothal” period (Jewish custom considered a couple married even while they were still engaged), this interpretation is eisegeted rather than being derived from the text.

The term “fornication” is translated from the Greek word porneia, which can mean any form of sexual immorality.  Sexual intimacy is an integral part of the marriage covenant, as God ordained that “the two will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Eph. 5:31).  Thus, when this covenant is broken through sexual immorality, a valid and permissible reason for divorce has arisen.

Matthew 19:9, while nearly verbatim to Matthew 5:32, adds the caveat “and marries another,” indicating that divorce and remarriage are allowed in an instance of fornication.  It is important to note, however, that only the innocent party is allowed to remarry. Although there may be instances where the “fornicator” is allowed to remarry, it is not explicitly taught in this particular text.

Several other considerations must be made when determining potential exceptions for divorce and/or remarriage.  For instance, 1 Corinthians 7:15 seemingly allows remarriage if an unbelieving spouse divorces a believer.  Despite mentioning remarriage, this verse only says a believer is not bound to continue a marriage if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave.  Others claim that abuse (spousal or child) provides valid grounds for divorce, although not specifically mentioned in Scripture.  In such a case, there must be faithfulness to the whole counsel of God, which tells us to honor our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).  In the same manner in which we strive to honor and protect God’s house/temple/church, we must also protect our bodies.  Yet the marriage must be salvaged in each situation if at all possible (according to Matt. 19:6).

Even when adultery is committed and divorce occurs, the temptation often arises to quickly remarry when, in fact, God might desire that they remain single.  God calls people to be single so that their attention is not divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).  Any person who goes through divorce ought to intentionally pray and fast for direction and discipline, repenting for the broken covenant and seeking full restoration of the mind, body, soul, and spiritual strength.  Remarriage after a divorce may be an option in some circumstances, but that does not mean it is the only option.

As a minister of the Gospel, I would allow remarriage to a member of my congregation in several different instances.  First of all, I would be willing to remarry someone after the death of a spouse.  This is actually encouraged by Paul (1 Cor. 7:8-9; 1 Tim. 5:14).  Also, most marriage ceremonies contain a specific phrase that specify the covenant “until death do us part.”  This is taken from Romans 7:2-3, and thus the principle of remarriage after a spouse’s death is completely biblical.

I will also allow remarriage if an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage without possibility of reconciliation (cf. 1 Cor. 7:12-15).  Furthermore, I have no problems remarrying someone if his/her divorce(s) occurred before salvation.  Once a person is saved by Christ, that individual receives the fresh mercies of God (Lam. 3:23) and becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17).  There are also extreme cases in which I may feel led to remarry someone, such as abuse, psychological disorders, etc.  My decisions will be based upon fervent prayer (James 5:16) as the Holy Spirit guides me into the truth (John 16:13) about the proper decision.

While the divorce rate may be disturbing, that is all the more reason for ministers of the Gospel to show God’s mercy and grace.  God’s statutes and covenants are holy, but God’s love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  The ultimate objective of a minister should be obedience to Christ and the restoration of broken people.  Ultimately, any marriage policy enacted should seek to honor Christ, exercise mercy when it is appropriate, and allow for the flexibility to adapt to the unique circumstances that can arise in this sinful world.  When dealing with sinful people, ministers will do well to handle sin in God’s way – with His amazing grace that convicts, corrects, and cleanses.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a tough issue. As an Associate Pastor, my rules on who I will perform a ceremony for are very strict. At least one of the people must be a member, must be their first marriage, no divorce and they can’t be living together. Usually I just do ceremonies for friends and family, but as an Associate, most people only want me to do the wedding if they know me anyway.

    That being said, I think there are lot of things in the scripture that we don’t examine on the issue of divorce. I have done some study that talked about the difference between the original justification of divorce given my Moses (pornia) and the custom of the “any reason”divorce that was praticed. When Jesus said “except for pornia”, He was saying, “you just saying you divorce your wife, but not having the grounds set by the law, you are not really divorced. Therefore if your divorce your wife without grounds and she marries another, the two of you are still married in the law, and she is an adulterous”. If this is a correct interpretation, then Jesus is saying that divorce without Biblical justification is not valid. Puts the issue of remarriage in an interesting light, if you don’t have grounds to get a divorce (breaking of the covenant) then you are not divorced. If you are not divorced in the eyes of God according to His word, then getting remarried is adultery.

    Whatever the interpretation used, it’s defiantly a slippery slope. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. says

    I have a friend of mine that wrote me on Facebook asking if I knew a Christian divorce lawyer. She’s a Christian and claims her husband is emotionally abusive. I would never tell someone that they have to stay in a situation where they’re being abused but I couldn’t tell her that she had grounds for divorce. She has yet to go through with it. Please pray for her if you think about it.

  3. John Wylie says

    Dan,

    I was wondering why you don’t marry people who are living together? Just wondering because I know a lot of pastors who share your conviction and practise but I was just wanting to know the rationale behind that conviction. I personally do marry people who are living together to get them out of that sin, in both the Old and New Testaments I find the remedy for fornication to be marriage. Anyhow, I was just wondering. Thanks.

    • says

      It’s not a “I refuse” sort of issue. It’s mainly because people who are living together usually don’t fall into the other criteria. Usually not church members, not friends, etc. I choose not to do a lot of weddings, I do ceremonies for people I know. I know pastors who take your side, I know pastors who say “stop living together and then I’ll do it”. In my position as an Associate, if you just want to get married, but are not serious about your faith, then just find any ol pastor. You can find a guy on the internet to do the ceremony for $20. I do Christian weddings between people serious about their faith. Normally, those people aren’t living together. That’s sorta where I’m at.

      • John Wylie says

        Dan,

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I really enjoy gaining insight from other pastors about how they tackle certain situations that arise in the ministry. I’ve always found your comments to be well reasoned and wanted to know your rationale for your practise. Thanks again.

        • says

          I kind of waffle on this one. On the one side, I’d like to see people come to marriage with every intention of serving God together and honoring the marriage commitment before and after the ceremony. So, I’d like to not do those weddings.

          The other side is that I’m the pastor and there are children and grandchildren of church members that have no church connection, have moved away, and want to come home and get married. Their parents/grandparents want them to get married in church by the pastor. I don’t really have the opportunity to see them get real pre-marital prep, teach, lead, counsel, anything of the sort. Sometimes they’re living together, sometimes not—and I don’t know.

          What I do know is this: right now, Mama laments that they’re “living in sin” but is happy they’re “making it right.” And if the preacher blocks them from “making it right” then the church and the relationships here will suffer. So, I do the best I can.

          I’m not real satisfied with myself in this, but I’m not certain what other options exist. I do not have the authority to prohibit the use of the church, so I’d almost rather make sure that I do the wedding to keep a hand in what goes on during the ceremony than not do it at all. But it’s not a happy compromise in my mind.

          • David T says

            My standard, written, up-front policy stipulates premarital counseling. I prefer to do it myself if possible, but if logistics prevent that, I still insist that a couple go through premarital counseling of a suitable nature where they are.

          • says

            Doug,
            I find it interesting that as the pastor you do not have the authority to prohibit the use of the church. So two morally reprehensible individuals could be married, creating what everyone knows will be a short-lived disaster of a marriage, and you would have no say in the matter? What kind of leadership do they have you there for exactly? That sounds harsh but I am really baffled by that.

            On a hopefully more constructive note I think the primary reason why we should not be marrying individuals with whom we have no to little relationship is simple the glory of God. When the local church recognizes and supports a couple in pursuing marriage you are giving your corporate approval that together they portray the faithfulness of Christ and His bride. You are proclaiming to an on looking world that this relationship embodies what the church should look like and this man embodies the faithfulness and servants-heart of our Savior. That is a huge statement. That is a huge responsibility. Furthermore it is not merely their responsibility it is the church’s as well. So if they are living in sin prior to marriage, their marriage tragically ends in divorce, or let’s say they simply stay together but live miserable lives then the church is responsible for that just as much as they are. That is why we should practice church discipline, not just the final judicial stages but the constant correction and encouragement that comes from being part of the body, because we represent Christ not simply as individuals but as a collective as well. I think Stanley Hauerwas is on to something when he urges the church not to marry anyone that they have not known for at least a year. After all how else are we to know what their witness as a couple will look like? That is going to be hard to practice and you are right relationships may suffer. But I hope they are as concerned for the glory of Christ as you are and will understand that sometimes that means making hard decisions that not everyone involved will enjoy. I am not saying it is going to be easy because it is not easy but it is right and God is glorious.

          • says

            Keith, have you never pastored a small rural church?

            I have a say in what I do, but if the church membership, or mainly the loudest voices in it, want the buildings used this way or that, no, I don’t have a say. About the only tool in that arsenal is to say that I won’t pastor a church that allows ______, but when you pull that card in a small-town, your next call is typically to U-Haul.

            It’s not my building. It’s theirs. Perhaps after I’ve been here 20 or 25 years, I’ll have an equal voice, but that will be because I’ve outlived everyone who built it with the sweat of their brow and the checkbook of their pocket.

            A lot of our views on marriage as pastors are different from what the congregations we serve see marriage as. Try telling the matriarch of 2/3rds of the church that you won’t allow her granddaughter to get married in the church that the prior 3 generations got married in because you don’t feel it will reflect the glory of God. They’ll laugh but they won’t be drawn nearer to God for it. You have to meet these folks where they are.

          • says

            Doug I have not pastured a small church and if I did I would keep my U-Haul packed. I am not there to have an equal voice because my voice does not matter. The voice that matters is God’s and if they are unwilling to submit to that, no matter how hard that might be, then I would rather move on than compromise to make them happy.

    • says

      I had a couple come for marriage counseling once that were living together (in sin)… I will not marry unbelievers, so the first question I always ask of anyone is to hear their Testimony Of Faith. Well during the young man attempting to convince me that he was a good person, he broke down and confessed that he was lost and desperately needed Jesus… Upon hearing this the young lady did likewise.

      Well to make a long story short, the young man moved to the couch, (he offered to sleep in his truck) and the wedding got moved up to within two weeks… After the wedding they were both some of the most faithful Christians I have known.

      My point, use discernment but the opportunity to perform a wedding can be a great opportunity to share Jesus with those who are “living in sin”.

      Grace for the Journey,

      • John Fariss says

        Doug,

        As my daughter says, you know what’s the what. I am suspecious of pastors who have served smaller membership, rural churches (is it a Southern phenomenon? I don’t know), and have a martriarch or patriarch, and yet they claim to have laid down the law about what they will and won’t do and lived happily everafter. Or maybe it’s just that all the such churches I have served were dysfunctional anyway, and those “they” served were healthy. Either way, I agree with you that when a pastor refuses a “request” by a “staunch” member in a matter that is not “black letter law” in the Bible, you’d better have your resume circulating and the number to U-Haul handy.

        At the same time, I do almost no weddings without several sessions of pre-martial counseling. The exceptions (I recall only two in 25 years) were both out-of-town children of members who wanted to get married in the church of their childhood. One of those ended after a couple of years, the other is still going strong.

        I do marry people who are living together though. If they know what they are doing is wrong, and they are trying to make it right, why should I stand in the way? And sometiems it is not possible for them to separate until the wedding. I married a couple 3 or 4 years ago who had been living together ten-plus years, and had two children together. Funny thing is, they were both members of another Baptist church (SBC, same association as I am in) but their pastor refused to let them marry in “his” church because they lived together and between the children, the lack of nearby family support system, and economics, one could not move out temporarily. They wanted to do what was right, they went through counseling, and I was happy to facilitate them making their lives right with God.

        John

  4. says

    First let me say divorce is a serious issue in the church and in society. The divorce rate in America hovers around 50% according to the last census, and that figure is for churched and unchurched alike. Something is definitely wrong with that in mind.

    However, I am afraid we have turned divorce into some sort of cardinal sin within baptist circles. Many things can be forgiven. We applaud when the addict shares with us the number of years he has been clean. We cheer when the former convict tells how he gave his life to Christ while incarcerated and now serves him faithfully. We give a standing ovation to the person who was delivered by God from a life of homosexuality. But…when a person stands up and shares how they suffered through divorce as a Christian and now God has provided them a new spouse we cringe and we judge.

    In a perfect world, marriage lasts for a lifetime. We live in a world far less than perfect. This is not an excuse to justify divorce. I’m just suggesting we put sin into perspective. Can drug addiction, murder, theft, lying and other sins be forgiven but not divorce?

    I believe the solution is not to have a list of rules that exclude marrying certain types of couples. I believe each couple should be required to go through a program of pre-marital counseling before being married. Commitment to such counseling is a sign of a desire to be committed to each other.

    Dealing with the divorce and remarriage is an opportunity to help people learn from past mistakes and truly follow God’s call for marriage in the future.

    Randy

    • says

      Randy, it is interesting that the way many churches have things set up, if you are divorced you cannot serve, yet if you murdered your wife, went to prison and are now free, you can serve. Seems sorta odd.

      • says

        I was taking a Seminary Extension class on the pastoral epistles and one of the students brought up this exact point when we talked about qualifications for the ministry. He said something like this:

        “You could have been a serial killer, been saved, surrendered to the ministry and be ordained. You could have been the west coast contact for the Medellin Drug Cartel, been saved, surrendered to the ministry and be ordained. But if you have been divorced you can’t be in leadership. That’s a double standard and that’s not right.”

        Some awkward discussion followed, but I was so glad he brought the point out because it is so true. Thanks Dan.

        • says

          When a teen, I belonged to a church (Southern Baptist) that wouldn’t allow a divorced and remarried man to become a deacon.

          Then his first wife passed away. Not suspicious or anything, just life. Can’t remember if it was a car accident or just tragic and early, she was in her 60s.

          The next deacon election, he was on the ballot and elected. Apparently the decision was that he was now free to be remarried, since his first wife was dead.

          How’s that for legalistic and missing the point?

          • John Fariss says

            Doesn’t it show that most people are more comfortable with law than with grace?

            John

    • says

      “Can drug addiction, murder, theft, lying and other sins be forgiven but not divorce?”

      They can all be forgiven but I think you are missing the point of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church. If the church is unfaithful does Christ go looking for another bride? That is the picture you are giving. How does Christ respond to His unfaithful church? He does everything necessary to reconcile the relationship and pursues His church. If these individuals have been forgiven, by Christ, for their unfaithfulness, to Christ, then the most important thing they can do as witnesses, of Christ, is to picture this faithfulness by remaining single and pursuing reconciliation until death.

      • says

        I appreciate your point and do understand where you are coming from. My marriage almost ended in divorce 10 years ago. Through the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit it was restored and is stronger today than it has ever been. I know first hand how God can fix even the most broken relationships. The picture of the church as the bride of Christ is a perfect illustration of what marriage should be. In a fallen world, things do not always live up to that standard. Again, that does not make it right.

        Your statement that “the most important thing they can do as witnesses of Christ is to picture this faithfulness by remaining single and pursuing reconciliation until death” is a strong personal conviction that may be hard for many to live up to. It is a conviction that is glorifying to Christ, but I believe he can also work by bringing those broken and wounded in divorce together with somebody else that they can build a new life with.

        Randy

        • says

          “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” is hard for anyone to live up to that does not mean that we will not be held accountable for failing to keep it. I am also confused as to why you think my statement is merely a “strong personal conviction.” There are many others besides myself who are convinced that Scripture is clear in forbidding any divorced person from remarrying. It is a minority position among both pastors and scholars but it is by no means merely a conviction. You can debate our interpretation of the texts and I am fine with that but you cannot simply dismiss it as conviction because it is hard to live up to.

          • says

            I appreciate your passion. In regards to your response to Doug by saying, “I would keep my U-Haul packed” and your response to me above I would encourage you to season that passion with some grace as well. That’s been a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way a few times. If you knew me you would know I am a no compromise guy when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but as you said, some of these issues are open to interpretation. We have to prayerfully consider where God is calling us to stand on the issues. I call it Kenny Rogers theology: Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold em; know when to walk away and know when to run.

            Randy

          • Christiane says

            Hi FORMER ATHEIST,

            sometimes people ‘give up’ because the pain is so great, but that is often when it might be better to ‘take time out’ and talk it out with some help, if possible.

            Christian marriage is ‘different’, what holds it together is ‘different’, what heals it when it is injured is ‘different’ . . .
            but the healing may take time and must be done with the ‘gifts':
            forgiveness, patience, love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (strength), knowledge, prayer, and honoring of the Lord

            separation is best is someone has been so harmed that there is fearfulness of a repeat of abuse . . . but in some cases, if Christian people CHOOSE to face their difficulty together in the light of Christ, they will be helped, and some good will come of it
            . . . if even only a return of kindness expressed each to other, then that can become a blessing for both

  5. Christiane says

    The biggest problem with divorce is what it does to children . . .

    but an abusive spouse is ample reason for a separation . . . I would hope that after one incident, that the person would quickly get help and try to make amends, but I do understand that an abuser often continues, for as long as there is opportunity,

    and sadly, children are sometimes also abused and are ‘witnesses’ to the spousal abuse.

    very, very sad children in my classes, sometimes, whose parents were having problems . . . it’s heart-breaking

  6. Chief Katie says

    Randy,

    Excellent points. I sometimes think that Baptists can forgive a murderer faster than a divorced person. I’m not kidding either. With no-fault divorce now the norm, if a person wants a divorce, they’ll get one and there isn’t a thing that can be done about it. Some states have covenant marriages, but I don’t know how well that idea has caught on.

    I think we all pray for strong marriages and a change in the culture of marital committment.

  7. Bill Mac says

    “If you are not divorced in the eyes of God according to His word, then getting remarried is adultery.”

    And this brings up another difficulty. When does it stop being adultery? If we take this seriously, does that not mean that divorced / remarried couples are living in continuous, unrepentant adultery? If we had an unmarried couple engaging in unrepentant adultery, we would not let them join the church, let alone serve.

    • says

      I guess some very serious questions need to be ask of the man who is seeking to serve… I kind of think that is the whole point of the qualifications listed in 1Tim. chapter 3.

      If a man is divorced why not ask him and those who know him what happened?

  8. tinky says

    Regarding divorce and remarriage, I have a question for one of the pastors: My friend is a Baptist woman, she is married to a man who is not a member, he has comitted adultery and continues the affair with the other woman, which my friend is well aware of and has agreed to stay married to him rather than divorce him. Isn’t adultery grounds for biblical divorce? Does she have to divorce him given that he has made it clear that he has no intentions of ending the affair or does the church give her the option of staying in that kind of marriage?

    • John Wylie says

      Scripturally speaking she does not “have to” divorce him, read the book of Hosea. But she does have biblical grounds to divorce him in my opinion. (Matthew 5:32; 19;8-9)

  9. Jake Barker says

    It’s obvious to me from some of the judgemental comments, that none of you have ever been through a divorce, whether your fault or the womans fault. And for some reason it always seems to be the mans fault. You guys making pronouncements concerning divorce is about like a catholic priest giving advice on marriage.

    • Christiane says

      Hi JAKE,

      FYI, even in the ‘Roman rite’, some Catholic priests are widowed, and have come to the priesthood later in life;
      and some of the Catholic priests of the ‘eastern rites’ were married prior to their ordinations and have wives and children;
      and some of the new Anglicanorum Coetibus personal ordinariates are admitting Anglican priests who are married to serve.

      Hope this helps further understanding.

    • says

      Jake,
      You do not have to be divorced to comment on divorce. My comments are not my own they are what I am convinced is taught in Scripture. I have been through and seen numerous friends and family members go through divorces and remarriages. When I am asked to give counsel or in a position where I am giving counsel I stick to the same arguments I have made here because I am convinced that they are biblical and keep the gospel central.

    • Dave Miller says

      Jake, if that were true, then neither Jesus nor Paul should have been allowed to comment on divorce, since neither went through one.

  10. says

    Contrary to the opinion of many, you do not have to be divorced, to have a valid opinion on divorce.

    You do not have to be a bank robber to conclude bank robbery is wrong. You do not have to be a gossip to know gossip is wrong. No, I’m not making these things equal, just giving a couple of examples.

    We will never agree on all the details of marriage and divorce and qualifications, etc. But it is invalid to say the best or wisest opinions on marriage and divorce are given by those who have been divorced. I’ve heard that from some marriage counselors (who have been divorced) through the years. Perhaps rather, sometimes the divorced are the first to validate divorce before all other options have been considered.
    David R. Brumbelow

  11. says

    As a minister who has the problem of being divorced and remarried, I can speak to the issue from the perspective of grievous experience. First, let me say, I hate divorce. From my childhood when, as a result of my parents getting a divorced and my sister and I wound up living with our maternal grandparents, that evil brought sorrow into my life beginning at the age of three. Being deprived of both parents (seeing mom about once every 6 weeks to 2 months and dad once every 2-3 years), I can tell you that one comes to hate divorce. Nevertheless, that does not mean you will escape it yourself. In fact, children, due to the divorce, are often ill-prepared for marriage. I know I went into my first marriagem, determined to make it succeed, but it takes two to make it work. And if one keeps the escape route in mind, the other can do nothing to keep the marriage afloat. I do know that I almost took the one route out of life which some have taken, namely, suicide. Thankfully, the grace of God was sufficient, and with the help of some Christian friends I met and married the lady who is now my wife. On Sept.5, we will celebrate 42 years of marriage, and my gratitude to God for such a companion is overwhelming.

    I pastored two churches during my first marriage, but my first wife left me three times the first year of our marriage and twice the last year and threatened to in between. Thus, while I was pastoring in difficult situations, I was experiencing a severe strain at home.

    During the second marriage I have also pastored two churches, thus far. I spent 2.2 years in my first church and about 1.6 years in the second, 11.1 years in my third place of service, and 12.5 years in the fourth. I also spent 3 mos. as an interim in 2001. One of the things I learned from divorce and remarriage was sympathy for those who suffer from such a traumatic event. I suppose there are some people who are not bothered by such things. Most, however, are deeply disturbed by such tragedies, and the scale of traumatic/stressful events rates divorce right after a death as the most severe crisis one can experience. Some even thing divorce equals death as it is a sort of death.

    One thing you discovery is that Christians do treat one another like second class people, and the most second class persons in the churches today are often those who are divorced and remarried. Even if it is not your fault it does not matter.

    Interestingly enough, shortly after we came to seminary, a fellow student told a group of us that a man had murdered a woman who was in his church (he pastored up in the mountains of NC so I understood then). The couple had separated, and the pastor and members talked the wife into going back to him. she did, and he murdered her. The pastor said, “I told my people we were never going to do that again.” My wife said to me later, “Well, it is about time.”

    As one who has been a Licensed Professional Counselor (one of the first thousand in NC), I want to add at this point that counselors do advise clients to separate, where there is the threat of violence. Bad advice can get a spouse and even children killed.

    Now as to God’s hating Divorce. He does, and He says so. But why is it that every time that reference in Malachi is cited, why, I add, do people not cite the fact that God did it Himself. In Jer. 3:8 He says, concerning backsliding Israel and her committing adultery, that He “put her away” and gave “her a bill of divorce.” In the references to I Cors.7 we find in I Cors.7:27, it says, “Are you loosed (which could be translated “DIVORCED”) from a wife, seek not to be married, But and if you marry, you have not sinned.” A book that helped me through the time of despair was on Divorce and Remarriage which located the words in Hebrew and Greek for all the relevant passages. I thank God for such help.

    As to pastoring, I have not found divorice and remarriage to be a hindrance. In fact, people have come to me, saying they could talk to me as I understand. They could not talk to other pastors who often would not talk to them any way. Now this does not mean I perform marriages willy nilly. I require counseling for a couple and seek to understand their situation.

    The issue of ministers with second marriages and their second class status will, hopefully, change one day. The process of making a person a second class Christian is along the same lines by which people in America justified slavery and segregation of African Americans. I have some grasp of what those folks have suffered, not only from the perspective of research and study but also from the experience of being treated as second class by other ministers and members. Thankfully, not all are like that.

    What we really need is a better understanding of what God’s forgiveness means with reference to divorce and remarriage. After all, if we can accept the murderer, etc., as forgiven and receive his ministry, then why not the person with a second marriage…Since David was forgiven and continued to be not only a king but a prophet, perhaps we can learn from the lessons of his life…and, let me hasten to say, that without feeling like we have to throw caution to the winds and accept everything.

  12. says

    There does need to be grace. Who of us is not guilty if we take Jesus’ teaching about adultery seriously? A policy being gracious should affirm scriptural strictures. It should be explicit in the teaching of the church that grace does not imply that sin is in any way condoned but rather that forgiveness is meaningful.

  13. Christiane says

    The idea of ‘holy’ matrimony . . . that marriage, much like the ministry, is something people are ‘called to';
    I wonder, is that emphasized in ‘marriage preparation’ classes ?

    And does it make a difference, those marriage preparation classes given by the minister ?

    I think it must help. I don’t know if ‘statistics’ bear that out, but my feeling is that people, having been counseled formally, come to the marriage ceremony with more of an understanding about the importance of their commitment to one another before Our Lord and before the Church assembled there.

    And if there are serious marital difficulties that form, wouldn’t those counseled Christians return to that minister for help?

    I should think that they would do this, like returning to the place where they had an opportunity to ponder the ‘holy’ part of their marriage, the part that was blessed in the Name of Our Lord.

    And if a divorce then comes, they at least would have made effort to salvage if possible.

    And that must count with God, that they honestly tried, I would think.

  14. says

    There are three major factors involved in a marriage as far as I can determine. First is the Lord and His will. Second, the couple and their commitment to the Lord, and, three, their commitment to one another. The difficulty arises at the point of thinking that one is ready, when there are serious problems involved in the person’s life and experience. Both individuals bring to a union, their own set of problems. Other issues involved include what kind of modeling of marriage did they see, when they were growing to maturity? Was their experience of the Lord genuine? Do they really understand that there are things in a person’s nature which cannot be changed; that one must live with some non-negotiable realities in the other person? The ability to make some effort to put one’s self in the other person’s place is a critical matter. While I don’t buy all of the empathy idea (one getting inside of the nature of another individual), still there is a good degree of sympathetic approach that approximates such an idea as empathetic identification.

    Love is a key, but it is difficult to ascertain what kind love or howmuch love is really involved. Unconditional love is the ideal, but it takes a great deal of suffering in order to be sure that that is the heart of the relationship. Other factors such as pathologies, sacrificial acts, mutual affectionate banking deposits (the language of some counselors, a language that has some validity to it). If you have a store of loving acts and events in your experience with your spouse, it is that love treasure which will enable the couple to endure the strains that inevitably come upon every marriage relationship in this world.

    The training in marriage and family therapy at Liberty University, when I was working on my Master’s there was in what was called Eclectic Psychotherapy. That particular approach meant that you did not come at a counseling situation with a set agenda. Instead, you began an investigation and diagnosis of the situation, the presenting crisis or issue. The investigation explored many areas of life, age-stage, family background, pathologies, cultural experiences, and etc. Once the information was assembled and assessed, then one looked at the available therapies and developed a therapy which might involve several different approaches molded into one coherent therapy appropriate to the particular situation of the couple being counseled. Eclectic psychotherapy requires a knowledge of a lot of therapies, as many as one can possible know. I remember dealing with one case which involved a situation that surely reflected PTSD. Something prompted me to make use of a technique I had only read about briefly in a book, a therapy called, EDM, Eye Desensitization Movement. At that time no one was certified in it, and the Psychologist who had developed the therapy was just beginning to get accepted. I know I was surely shocked at the effect that it happened, a most favorable effect. Since that time, the EDM Institute has established a training and certification program. A therapist has to be very careful, lest he or she becomes so enamoured of a treatment that one loses the perspective of other therapies and how they are often the means of meeting particular situations rather than a panacea cure-all.

    Another matter of concern is the nature of one’s grasp of how to approach counseling situations. A both/and approach, one that is objective, scientific, cool, on the one hand, and subjective, supportive, loving, and warm on the other. A counselor, minister, etc., has to be able to determine what is the part of the approach that is appropriate to the given situation at the moment of presentation, and this must be done with a degree of comfort and tension so that the helper feels some sense of competency for dealing with the presenting problem.

    Faith plays a bigger part of the whole counseling scene than most people think – even when it is not being discussed. The Scripture supplies a the ultimate of help, a huge amount of it, but the difficulty lies in being able to understand and grasp the particular theological ideas, concepts, truths and how they work in affecting human behavior.

    Fear of introducing alien, unbiblical ideas into the counseling scene troubles some counselors. All truth, however, is God’s truth. I would not think of having some other view control my approach to scripture on the sacred matters of marriage and so so, but there are truths that people stumble across in their quests for understanding which I have found in scripture albeit of a much greater depth and power than most people can imagine.

    What many forget is the need for a model of wholeness, of health, of completeness. This was one of the weaknesses of Freud (not to mention his hostility to the Christian Faith or even any kind of biblical faith). He was primarily focused on pathologies which surely skewd his understanding and therapeutic efforts.

  15. Jason says

    Interesting discussion….but I find it odd that no one is actually discussing the scriptural passages that speak of this issue.

    Great, you allow/don’t allow this or that….you believe this or that….you’ve experienced this or that…..you like this or that. None of that matters. The issue is: what does Scripture teach on this issue?

    For a bunch of people that claim the sufficiency of scripture, I see a lot of practical denial of it.

    I’m not saying I disagree with the conclusions or points made in the discussion. I agree with a lot of it. I just want to see the reasoning behind it not being about legalism or fighting legalism or past experiences…but drawn from Scripture.

    Just my .02

  16. says

    People who can and do quote the scripture even more than others can also be people who truly miss the very point that God intended by His written words. Consider the Pharisees. They were noted for their belief in scripture. In fact, liberal scholars (I think Kirsopp Lake was one of them) will admit that the Pharisees held essentially the same view of the Bible as the inspired word of God that Jesus taught. We find that they also believed in the resurrection. Thus, on two points they were in full agreement with the position of our Lord. Their problem was, however, that they could not see the Messiah other than a conquering hero in the best warrior tradition. Also they saw Him as merely human (though obviously divinely anointed); they failed to grasp the reality of His deity, and they totally missed the point of a suffering Messiah who wins the victory by sacrifice for sin. As to the matter of marriage. Note the references to God hating divorce, and yet divorcing Israel. Such references suggest that the ideas are as much to be addressed as the careful exegesis of particular passages. Along the same lines is the idea that the Bible accepts slavery; the only thing is it cuts out the very heart of all of justification for that evil by making the redeemed slave one’s brother. African Americans in our history have always had the audacity (and rightly so) to remind White Americans that the Declaration of Independence declared that people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. White Americans needed to follow their own philosophy, their own political belief system. Doing so would have meant freedom for all slaves. As to exegesis, look at I Cros.7:27,28, and the fact, “are you loosed from a wife (read divorced)? Seek not a wife, But, and if you marry, you have not sinned.” The brief references to the issues provide an exegesis that demands carefulness in this matter. Add to the difficulty the forgiveness of God and how that affects even guilty parties and their acceptance, and you have a big problem for the legalists and their forthright claim of being more holy and hence more fit to be the Lord’s representatives.

  17. Tom Parker says

    Dr. Willingham:

    Some folks believe that certain things will never happen to them. I often wonder what they do when these unexpected events happen. I wonder if their nice and neat world crashes.