Following up on our talks about divorce…

In speaking on the matter of divorce from Mark 10 and Matthew 19, I suggested that a definitive list does not exist of all conditions and matters to be considered.  However, I have tried to come up with a set of guidelines that I use, and present this below for your consideration.

Counsel on Issues Related to Broken Marriages

In trying to sort out the issues raised when a marriage disintegrates, pastors must try to navigate a path of biblical fidelity and compassion. It isn’t easy, and the lack of uniformity even among evangelical thinkers on the subject doesn’t make things easier. Here, in no particular order, are basic principles I try to apply and the counsel I give.

1. I never counsel someone to divorce, for any reason. The example of Hosea, while not a mandate for such faithfulness to a faithless spouse, nevertheless is a God-ordained example of His own love for faithless Israel.
2. Reconciliation, even after a divorce (as long as a remarriage has not taken place) is always the best possible outcome from the standpoint of upholding the sanctity of marriage and the glory of God’s restorative grace.
3. Divorce is never the best circumstance, but it may be the least bad option. Current legal practice in most states allows a person to seek and be granted a divorce without the cooperation of the other spouse. When this happens, the innocent party also faces the real danger of losing not just financial resources and assets, but custody of children. Therefore, when a Christian is being divorced by a faithless spouse, it is not wrong to participate in the process, while still being desirous for reconciliation, so as to protect one’s access to, provision for, and involvement with children and to keep further sins against the innocent from occurring.
4. Christians who choose to divorce for unbiblical reasons have limited options of obedience—either to reconcile or to remain single (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
5. Among Christians, if one has been divorced by another for unbiblical reasons, that person would be free to consider remarriage; however, I would strongly urge patience and caution, unless the divorcing partner has remarried and no possibility for reconciliation exists.
6. A church must do its best to determine the relative innocence or guilt of a party in a divorce situation based on the best scriptural data and evidence, to be able to determine whether a person is free to consider remarriage [Grace Church policy requires me to counsel with any divorced person wishing to marry here, to determine whether grounds for divorce existed and if the person is thus free to remarry].
7. Two clearly recognizable grounds for divorce can be drawn from Scripture: immorality (Mt. 5:32, 19:3, 10) and abandonment of a believer by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:15). In both cases, patterns of behavior are in view. For example, an act of adultery in marriage is terribly sinful, but I would counsel a person to seek to practice the grace of forgiveness and restoration if the sinning spouse is repentant. “Immorality” in the early church was a term used for continual sexual promiscuity.
8. A professing believer who abandons a spouse is liable for church discipline, and failure to repent would lead to excommunication and treatment as an unbeliever. This would then create the same situation as described in the previous point in 1 Cor. 7:15.
9. Exodus 21:7-11 describes a situation where a slave/wife would be free to leave her husband without payment or penalty—when he fails to provide the food, clothing, and marital rights to which she is entitled. This failure to provide both physically and relationally/sexually may be considered a form of abuse or neglect. Such behavior would violate the marriage covenant promise to “love, honor, and cherish.” While not absolute, this would seem to be another situation where divorce might be considered.
10. Deut. 24:1-4 precludes divorced spouses from remarrying each other if either has been married after the original divorce.
11. Since sins committed prior to conversion do not keep a sinner from becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), conversion becomes a “new beginning,” and a person currently single when converted would have the opportunity to marry a fellow believer, even if the convert was divorced for any reason prior to conversion.
12. Deuteronomy 24 and the last chapters of Ezra seem to deal with cases where specific circumstances warrant a specific step that is not necessarily applicable to every case. Ezra’s situation involves the decision for a group of men to divorce their foreign/pagan wives to protect the nation from the pollution of idolatry. Both marrying outside the faith and idolatry are sins, but divorce without immorality would have been a sin as well. In this case, it became the least bad option, and God does not condemn the choice. There may be unique situations where godly church leaders, applying all the wisdom they have, may need to consider permitting a divorce even when uncertain that the situation is covered by biblically stated grounds. This may be seen as throwing the door open to any and every circumstance, but as in the case Ezra faced, this would have to be a unique case where other answers fail.

Here are links to articles referred to in the talks on Sunday. The morning message and the evening Q & A are both available on the church website.

1. The original Christianity Today article: “What God Has Joined” by David Instone-Brewer.

2. John Piper’s response to Instone-Brewer: Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce.

3. Instone-Brewer’s response to Piper’s response.

4. Andreas Kostenberger’s response to both sides.

5. David Instone-Brewer’s blog.

6. Statement of Mars Hill Church, Seattle on divorce (Mark Driscoll’s church).

7. Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis statement on divorce (John Piper’s church).

8. John Piper’s personal position paper on divorce.

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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