Marriage and Divorce

by Henry E. Neufeld*
sanctity of marriage church signOne of the more controversial books I publish is titled Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage. (It’s in the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series)There are a number of people who have asked me why I chose to publish this book. Come to think of it, I’ve had questions about quite a number of books, but those that are anywhere on the outer edges of my triangle (), very conservative, liberal, charismatic, or _______, generate the most puzzled comments.
Here are some excellent reasons (in my opinion):

  1. It passes scholarly muster.
  2. It will challenge the way most of us think about a number of scriptures.
  3. It deals with an issue that should be front and center in the church right now.
  4. It’s clear and concise.

except for fornicationNotice that I left out “I agree with it,” and “you’ll like it.” I suspect most readers won’t. That’s something odd for a publisher to say. But of the goals of ministry—comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable—I tend toward afflicting the comfortable. Whether I agree with it is quite irrelevant.
Today Dave Black, one of the editors of the Areopagus series, posted a note on his blog about this topic. I’m going to quote his post in full (with permission) and invite discussion. (Everything between the horizontal lines is quoted from Dave’s blog.)

9:48 AM Russ Moore asks a very good question: Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality? His answer is both balanced and biblical. Where I might demur is here:

But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate. First of all, there are arguably some circumstances where divorce and remarriage are biblically permitted. Most evangelical Christians acknowledge that sexual immorality can dissolve a marital union, and that innocent party is then free to remarry (Matt. 5:32). The same is true, for most, for abandonment (1 Cor. 7:11-15). If the church did what we ought, our divorce rate would be astoundingly lowered, since vast numbers of divorces do not fit into these categories. Still, we acknowledge that the category of a remarried person after divorce does not, on its face, indicate sin.

I am curious as to how widely this view represents the thinking of evangelicals on this debated issue. 1) I think a case can be made, scripturally, that even when divorce is justified on biblical grounds, remarriage is still forbidden by Jesus as long as the first spouse is still alive. And 2) an instance of divorce-remarriage (where the first spouse is still living) would, on its face, constitute sin (adultery). The irony is that, while evangelicals are rightly concerned about the homosexual agenda in our society, they are moving away from a high view of marriage, thus leading to what Moore calls “the charge of hypocrisy.”

The preaching on divorce has been muted and hesitating all too often in our midst. Sometimes this is due to what the Bible calls “fear of man,” ministers and leaders afraid of angering divorced people (or their relatives) in power in congregations. Sometimes it’s due to the fact that divorce simply seems all too normal in this culture; it doesn’t shock us anymore.

So, my message to my fellow evangelicals, in a nutshell, is this: cherish your marriage! Not in a sinful or prideful way, of course, but simply as a precious gift from God that needs to be nurtured and protected. Be daringly committed to your spouse, and hold fast to the vows you once took before God and others. Warning: Do not read this is as a screed against divorced or divorced/remarried Christians. I know of two divorce situations involving Christian friends of mine that are ripping my heart out right now. Those who have read my book The Jesus Paradigm will have no trouble understanding why I feel so deeply for Christians who struggle in life. I realize that my view on remarriage is a minority view in Christian circles, but given the overall theological, psychological, and spiritual implications of divorce and remarriage, I think this one point of disagreement is worth registering.
Thanks to Russ for his stimulating and courageous essay. I’m sure those with interest in this topic will read it with great benefit. In the meantime, let’s all keep reading and thinking ….

So what do you think? How can we cherish our marriages? How can we be true to the teaching of Jesus?
*I identify myself personally as the author as I express personal opinions. There is a difference, albeit more subtle than average, between my personal views and my company’s policy.

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  1. On the subject of marriage and divorce – we first have to ensure that God’s hand of blessing was on that marriage to begin with. Often people quote Malachi “God hates divorce” but the full intention of the prophet was rebuking the people that they had divorced themselves from God’s way.
    Around the time of Malachi, Ezra rebuked a whole lot of men who had taken wives; marriages that God clearly said his hand of blessing was not on to begin with…and he ordered those men to divorce their wives. Not only did he tell them to divorce them, but to also put them to the sword.
    We need to ask ourselves if we are making marriage vows a form of incarnations and witch craft spells; where we think that by saying these vows, God’s hand of blessing is now on the union of two people. When in fact,is there a possibility that God doesn’t want them to be unequally yoked to begin with?
    I have no qualms about the state allowing gays to marry. Just because the state allows for it, doesn’t mean God does. As a potential pastor / elder, I also have no qualms to allow gays, even married gays to be a member of the church. The early church never made rules for society, though they taught God’s people how to live in society. In Paul’s day, it was legal for men to have multiple wives – but he said, I will only permit men with one wife to be an elder. And calls the elder ship of the church to have a far greater standard of lifestyle than he did the rest of the congregation. While he only permitted men with one wife to a position of eldership – the church had many families which comprised of multiple wives. So if some gays come to our church – married or single – I would embrace them the same as I would any other needing the grace of God. But, that doesn’t mean I would allow them to become elders.

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