Sadly, as a pastor and a church, we have too often had to deal with the aftermath of sexual sin in a marriage or divorce. Also sadly, they both are growing in frequency in the church in America. Separated spouses even dating or living with other people. Too often, churches have failed to deal with it either because they don't know how or because it's simply easier not to get involved. --- even when it involves those in church leadership. Or, go to the opposite extreme and brutalize those who have fallen.
How do we regain purity in the church? How do we regain a grace-filled, biblical understanding of Biblical Separation, Divorce and Remarriage? How do we restore? Because of the devastation this brings upon a marriage, family, the church and the testimony of Christ, we want to help those who may be struggling in this area. The following is reprinted from our church By-Laws. Not everyone will agree;. Some will think we're too harsh, others thinking we're too lax.
We recognize, that there are times when God permits a believer to seek a divorce without sinning against God or a spouse. Based upon our prayerful study and understanding of Scripture within its historic, cultural and linguistic contexts, we believe divorce may be permissible for the following, three, limited reasons:
1. Adultery and Sexual Immorality. When the other spouse has violated the Marriage Covenant through sexual sin (Scripturally, this applies either prior to or after the marriage). (Dt. 24:1 and affirmed by Jesus in Matt. 5:31-32 & 19: 3-12).
Please note that the Greek word pornea translated “fornicators” or “fornication” in the Bible refers to any physical act, or intimacy of a sexual manner, causing sexual stimulation outside of the Marriage Covenant. (It is not limited to sexual intercourse). The following relationships and behaviors are Biblically considered sin: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bi-sexuality, pedophilia, incest, bestiality, necrophilia, etc.
2. Abandonment: Including Emotional & Physical Neglect. Historically, both Old Testament and early New Testament marriage vows included outlining marital responsibilities as based upon Exodus 21:10-11. These responsibilities included the idea of provision, protection and due benevolence (conjugal rights of each spouse). Although God originally created these rights for the benefit and protection of the wife in an ancient, male dominated culture (Ex. 21:10-11), New Testament Judaism, the Early church and the Apostle Paul affirmed that they were God's ideal for mutual blessing and extended to each spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-16. Also cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5 & 1 Tim. 5:8). Modern marriage vows still reflect this influence.
3. Abuse. This was traditionally and contextually included in, and considered a form of neglect. (Please see item-2 above, “Abandonment: Including Emotional & Physical Neglect.” Also cf. Eph. 5:25-29).
If church involvement has been exhausted and has failed to bring genuine repentance, separation and/or divorce may be a Biblically permissible option. (Rm. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11 & 7:12-16; Mt. 18: 12-20).
Divorce Is Permissible, Not Required. Even though divorce is permissible in these situations, it is not required. God patiently bears with our sins, repeatedly calls us to repentance, and freely forgives us when we turn back to Him (Ps. 103:8-12; Isa. 55:7). When divorce becomes an option, an offended spouse can imitate God’s love by offering a straying spouse these same evidences of grace (Eph. 5:1-2). This may involve patiently bearing neglect or lovingly confronting serious sin (Col. 3:12-14; Gal. 6:1). In some situations, love may require asking the church to initiate formal discipline to rescue a spouse and a marriage from the devastating effects of unrepentant sin (Matt. 18:12-20).
Involvement Of The Local Church. Just as church leaders are involved in beginning a marriage, we believe they should be involved when it ends. Therefore, when someone is considering divorce, he or she is encouraged to bring the situation to our leaders and cooperate with them as they determine whether grounds exist, promote repentance and reconciliation, and exhaust redemptive discipline, if appropriate.
Separated Spouses. Separated spouses who have separated because of unrepentant sin in the relationship, and after attempts of loving, redemptive correction as outlined in our By-Laws under (“Involvement Of The Local Church”), or who have filed for divorce, should consider themselves married until the day a civil court issues a divorce decree. Thus they should refrain from dating or any other activity that is inconsistent with being married.
Remarriage. We are always interested in helping divorced people restore their previous marriage if that is possible and appropriate. We will support a decision to pursue a second marriage to a different person only when we have determined that it is Biblically valid and that every reasonable effort has been made to seek and grant forgiveness of the sins that contributed to a previous divorce.
We believe in those situations where God has provided (not commanded) a Biblically permissible reason for divorce, that He also has provided biblical permission (not a command) for remarriage. In 1 Cor. 7:15, Paul addresses specific situations not addressed by Jesus’ general principle regarding divorce. Paul deliberately chooses to use the wording in a Jewish divorce document and gave the “innocent party” in a divorce permission to remarry as long as the new marriage was a Biblically-based marriage. He also applied to divorce the exact language used in a legal document drafted to set a slave free. (E.g., being “bound” would mean the individual was still married in God’s sight. Not being “bound” or “free” meant that the individual was free to remarry.).
God’s Grace, Love & Forgiveness. We rejoice that divorce never diminishes God’s free offer of love, grace and forgiveness. He cherishes and loves every person who has been unwillingly divorced, as does our church. God graciously extends this same love to those who have wrongly left their marriages. That love moves Him (and us) to call them to repentance, to encourage and aid reconciliation when possible, and to gladly restore those who have done all they can to rebuild broken relationships.
* C.f., What God Has Joined, (Christianity Today, October 2007), and Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (IVP), both by David Instone-Brewer. Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, by Dr. Jay Adams (Zondervan). The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word On Lasting Commitment, by Dr. John MacArthur (Day One) The Exemplary Husband, Appendix-5: Divorce And Remarriage, by Dr. Stuart Scott (Focus Publishing). The IVP Bible Background Commentary: NT, 1 Cor. 7:10-16, by Craig Keener (IVP). “What To Do When Your Spouse Says, ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore:’” by Dr. David Clarke.
Pastor Bob Morgan is the founding pastor of HCCF. His pastor's "heart-cry" is to see God glorified through the liberating power of the Gospel by leading people to freedom in Christ, and positive, biblical life-change.