The “Race to the Courthouse” Charge:
An Illustration of Human Wisdom

 By David McKee 

Whenever one begins to speak and it is no longer “as the oracles of God” (I Pet 4), we must beware what follows.  When the arguments expressed reveal the mental activity of one who has failed to learn “not to think beyond what is written” (I Cor 4:6), we must guard ourselves against such.  When we perceive that brethren are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9), we must warn others lest they leave the doctrine of Christ and embrace such vain words.

The race-to-the-courthouse charge illustrates the limits and failings of human wisdom as it would permit the very thing our Lord condemns.  Those who would abide in the simple teaching of our Lord, and remain silent where He is silent, are vilified as siding with the fellow who has the fastest car and the most ambitious lawyer, who gets to the courthouse seven minutes before the God-fearing wife who is pleading with him to come home.  I believe some versions have him running over an elderly woman and a stray dog along the way.

If those making the charge cared to elaborate, they would admit that his arrival time has little to do with it, whether he precedes her by seven minutes or seven years, as they are going to ignore the action taken if the wife objects.  And this is what hits at the heart of the matter.  The action he took of putting her away, of repudiating her, of sending her away, resulting in the termination of that marriage, will be ignored.  And in doing so, these ignore the plain spoken words of our Lord when He said, “Whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt 5:32).

Jesus clearly addresses the one who divorces his wife for a cause other than adultery.  The action was taken, but not for the proper cause.  Nevertheless, the action was taken.  Jesus then addresses the one who was divorced by the one who did so for an improper cause by saying, “Whoever marries her commits adultery” (Matt 19:9).  Yet some would argue that no one can be put away unless one is doing so because of the unfaithfulness of a spouse.  So what is Jesus talking about when He refers to the one who takes this action against another for the improper reason?  Some would boldly argue that such action is impossible; our Lord said it is possible. 

Continuing this thread of simple reasoning, our Lord identifies two individuals against whom the action of putting away is taken.  One is the unfaithful spouse, and one is the faithful spouse.  Neither are permitted by our Lord to remarry.  But those who rush to the race-to-the-courthouse charge, offer the logic obtained from human wisdom and grant the faithful put away spouse the right to remarry.  Such a teaching permits adulterous marriages.  It is that simple and that serious.

The right of the innocent party to divorce an adulterous spouse exists only as long as the marriage is intact.  Once that relationship has been terminated due to the actions of the other party, whether guilty of fornication or not, conditions no longer exist that would allow the innocent party to exercise the right given by God.  Such a statement in no way denies one their God-given right, but the conditions no longer exist that would allow it.  One cannot divorce a mate that one is not married to.  Her God-given right, after having been put away, is stated as, “let her remain unmarried or be reconciled” (I Cor 7:11).  In that such is now her condition, God presents her with her only options.  Those making the race-to-the-courthouse charge would present her with other options. 

Those wishing to charge others with a race-to-the-courthouse doctrine base their whole argument on the Silence of Scripture.  There was a time when sound brethren would not tread on such silence.  Not too long ago, a liberal brother told me, “You view the silence of Scripture as prohibitive.  We view it as permissive.  We simply have to use good judgment in determining what is permissive.”  The two fatal flaws in such a statement are the use of man’s judgment in determining the will of God, and the failure to remain silent where the Bible is silent.

When our Lord speaks of the one who puts away his spouse without just cause, all one can conclude is that he took the action of ending the marriage, and he did so without just cause.  Our Lord said nothing about whether or not he had been faithful in the marriage, and He says nothing about racing her to the courthouse.  Where does one come up with conditions based on his behavior before or after the divorce that would negate the action taken?  It is the product of human wisdom and a lack of respect for the silence of the Scriptures.  Where does one come up with conditions based on the actions of the one being put away (whether or not she protested the divorce) that would negate the action taken?  Human wisdom, and a lack of respect for the silence of the Scriptures.

Brethren, Scripture does address the teaching that would argue such conditions.  In II Peter 2:18-19, we read, “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”  To enjoy the companionship of a mate is a blessing from God.  If one is deprived of that blessing as a result of the actions of a sinful mate, one cannot reason against Scripture to then make such a possibility.  One must submit to such simple statements as, “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully” (I Pet. 2:19).

But those making the race-to-the-courthouse charge are alluring those who have been wrongfully divorced to accept a teaching that will permit them to remarry.  They “promise them liberty” by orchestrating conditions and circumstances that would permit a second putting away, resulting in that one being “brought into bondage” – the bondage of sin.  These would tell the faithful put away spouse that she can be liberated from that which God has bound.  Scripture, however, would tell her to, “remain unmarried or be reconciled” to the one to whom she is bound (I Cor 7:11). 

That human wisdom would contrive a doctrine, which serves to allure, is nothing new.  And that human wisdom would wish to vilify those would oppose their false position is nothing new.  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa 5:20).

A good brother was recently admonished to “back off from this foolishness.”  What was seen as “foolishness” were his efforts to hold to the simple teaching of our Lord.  This good brother would have the race-to-the-courthouse charge hurled at him.  His desire to add nothing to the simple statements of our Lord and having the courage to declare his convictions is deemed “foolishness” by men of note.  But again, this is nothing new.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18). 

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM