“The Focus Regarding the Divorce
By Don Martin
The divorce and marriage to another issue continues to build momentum and more churches are dividing. There are basically two responses to this situation, say nothing about this matter and castigate those who do or welcome further study opportunities that realistically and factually address the issue. The first response is biblically unacceptable and is indefensible; albeit, very common.
As is the case regarding all issues facing the church, past, present, and future, there is emotion and misspent energy addressing relatively extraneous and irrelevant matters. Where, then, should the focus be place pertaining to the divorce and marriage to another issue? Let me initially say that the emphasis in general should be placed on biblical marriage and how to make marriage work. The scriptures, I might add, are replete with teaching as to how to effect a good marriage, one pleasing to God and productive to the man, woman, and the children of such a union (cp. Ephesians 5: 22-6: 4). Sound preaching will regularly involve teaching on the home, especially in view of the fundamental importance of the home, both in society and regarding the peace of local churches. However, God knew that there would be marriage failure; hence, teaching is in place as to this eventuality (Genesis 2: 18-25, Matthew 19: 3-9). God, spiritually speaking, can not abide an adulterous marriage and he has also provided for man’s release from such a relationship (cp. Jeremiah. 3: 8, Matthew 5: 32, 19: 9).
Notwithstanding God’s provision, man has often corrupted, distorted, and twisted this provision to where it accommodates just about every imaginable circumstance. Thus, we have teaching in the church today that travels the spectrum, from no divorce allowed to every man, regardless of his circumstance is allowed marriage. Divorce for multiple causes, the guilty put away may marry another; the innocent put away has later recourse to put away and marry another; you name it and it is being taught and practiced today! In total desperation, some today are playing the pretend it does not exist game. “The first divorce was not scriptural, therefore, pretend it does not exist, thus allowing a biblical divorce,” they reason. The intermingling of incongruous concepts, rejection of simple biblical terms, and emotional appeal are running rampant, being heard and seen in many pulpits in contemporary churches of Christ. Churches are literally filling up with members who have been divorced and married again, many of them multiple times. More preachers are now divorced and married to another. Some churches are actually looking for preachers who have a second marriage so that they can counsel all the divorced and remarried members they have. What is the answer to all this pandemonium, just walk away and ignore the problem, claiming a biblical solution is not possible?
The answer is really very simple: the focus in the scriptures is on divorce. All the subterfuge aside, the divorce must be performed by the innocent mate against the mate guilty of fornication, all things equal and understood, and in this case and this circumstance only, the innocent is allowed subsequent marriage to another (Matthew 5: 32, 19: 9, this article is not dealing with the reconciliation of the two parties, I Corinthians 7: 10, 11). If the divorce is not for the cause of fornication, then it is wrong and all that follows is wrong and sinful. How complicated is this?
“Brother Martin, how about Jake and Sue, you must understand that it is Jake’s fourth marriage and Sue’s third, how can you possibly arrive at a biblical conclusion and application?,” I am asked. Very simply, I usually respond. If Jake did not put away his first wife due to her fornication, then he had no right to his second, third, and now fourth marriage (Matthew 5: 32). If Jake has no right to be married to Sue, then Sue has no right to be married to Jake. They both are committing sin (Matthew 19: 9). The divorce must be right or all that follows is wrong. Some can accept what I just said about Jake and Sue. However, they cannot accept this conclusion when children are involved or a church may divide because some like Jake and Sue and are defending fellowshipping them in their marriage. In all seriousness, what do the presence of children and likeability of Jake and Sue have to do with applicable biblical truth? “Jake and Sue cannot abandon their children, therefore, you are wrong,” I am told. Who said anything about abandoning children? Such misguided emotion only complicates such an all ready emotional subject as divorce and marriage to another. In fact, Jake would have responsibility to all his children, but this does not mean that he can perform conjugal acts with all his “wives” (cp. Romans 7: 1-4). Remember, if the divorce is not right, all that follows is sinful.
“Brother Martin, do you really think this divorce and marriage to another issue is so simple as you say?” Yes, I absolutely do. I say this after about forty years of preaching, debating, and working with people in the real world. I think that I can say without bragging that I have seen and heard about all there is and I still say that if the divorce is not right, all that follows is not right.
Why must we set up a situation that is not only sinful within itself but put in place a succession of sinful events? I recall sitting in one meeting in which the elders of that local church told a female member going through marriage problems, “Do nothing, let him divorce you and then you can divorce him and marry another.” They said this because they believed the man would later marry and thus commit adultery. I have known of cases where one was told, “He has committed adultery, there is no need for you to do anything, let him go to the trouble. After he has divorced you, you then can divorce him and be able to later marry another.” Why must some brethren teach and practice such? Based on such terrible instruction, they then have to manufacture the doctrine of a put away person being able to after the fact of being put away, being able to put away. How ridiculous and indefensible! Jesus allows no post putting away action and he recognizes a divorce not for the cause of fornication (Matthew 5: 32, 19: 19, there is a difference between recognize and approves).
Elders, preachers, and Christians alike must teach that if the divorce, I am referring to the initial divorce, is not right, all is wrong. In the first place, divorce not for fornication is sinful, both placing the innocent put away in a position to marry again and also disregarding conjugal duties (Matthew 5: 32, 1 Corinthians 7: 2ff.). If Joe does not put away Jean because of Jean’s fornication, then Joe is wrong. This business of, “Jane remarried....therefore, she committed adultery....Now Joe can marry again,” is the devil’s reasoning and rationale and must be exposed as such. Jesus eliminated all such circumstances by simply teaching that any and all put away people, are denied marriage to another, even after the fact of the remarriage of the one who did the sinful putting away (Matthew 19: 9).
Brethren, if there must be divorce in the presence of fornication, then let us do what we can both in teaching and personal instruction to see that the divorce is effected based on the fornication of the guilty mate (I am not rigidly referring to what is stated on the civil document). All deceit and subterfuge must cease. “My marriage was ended due to fornication, I committed it,” is nothing short of deceit. Yet, in meeting what a prospective member, he first maintained that he had a right to his present marriage because his first marriage ended due to fornication. If he had not been pressed as to some detail, the truth would not have surfaced at the time. Yes, there was fornication and, yes, the marriage was ended because of fornication, but the fornication was on his part! As a put away person, he was not allowed marriage to another (Matthew 19: 9).
It is past time that especially preachers and elders remove their heads from the proverbial sand and face reality.