From CitizenLink.com:

A record 70% of Americans believe divorce is morally acceptable (up 59% from ’00), finds Gallup’s ’08 Values and Beliefs Survey. Of the poll’s 16 ethical issues rated for moral acceptability, divorce was #1, followed by gambling, embryonic stem-cell research, homosexuality and abortion. Extramarital affairs (often a cause of divorce) are at the bottom of the list, with just 7% of Americans finding them morally acceptable.

God hates it, and the fact that 70% of Americans don’t care what God thinks is, IMHO, significantly attributable to the fact that churches take a laissez-faire approach to the subject. Though nothing justifies “gay marriage”, we have to admit that the homosexual lobby has a point when it reminds us of the awful things that heterosexuals have done to the God-ordained institution of marriage. And so…

Submitted: when a divorce is filed for between two members of a local evangelical church, there is always grounds for exercising church discipline on at least one of the two parties. Now, remember of course that church discipline is restorative, and not punitive, in nature, and that church discipline does not begin with removal from membership, but may in some cases end there (and ought to in every case in which a divorce is finalized. Every case.).

Am I wrong? Tell me why…

18 responses »

  1. Fred says:

    I don’t think divorce is right either. But what if your spouse has an affair? Didn’t Jesus Condone the law of Moses in this case which permits the divorce? Is not having an affair part of the traditional marriage vows (I don’t know)? And what if the spouses become un-equally yoked? A believer is not supposed to marry an un-believer, but if both are unbelievers at marriage, and one gets saved, then doesn’t Paul condone a divorce if the un-believing spouse hinders the other’s relationship with Jesus (after they try to make it work)? Which relationship is more important?

  2. Byron says:

    If the spouse has an affair (and remember my context), then the spouse must come under the discipline of the local church.

    And no, I don’t believe Paul “condones” divorce; he permits the believing spouse to allow the unbeliever to leave, but that doesn’t allow the believing spouse to file for divorce.

  3. Fred says:

    So if the unbelieving spouse leaves, then what of their vows? Is the believing spouse expected to live a life of solitude with no commonly yoked companionship?

  4. sherry says:

    Alrighty folks, I married a divorced man, who was an unbeliever, when I was a (young and very poorly discipled) believer.

    Therefore, I searched the scriptures thoroughly in order to justify my actions. In the end, repentence on my part was obviously necessary for my actions (you just can’t get past the words “unequally yoked”.

    However, What Byron stated is true. The bible tells the believing spouse that if the unbelieving spouse is pleased to be live with them then they are to live harmoniously…the believing spouse may lead the unbeliever to Christ through thier behavior.

    If the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave, the believing spouse is free as a bird. (certainly not quoted from scripture, but that’s the jist of it)

    For a Christian married couple, believers from the get-go, OR both believers post-marriage, DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION. Unless one of those spouses is being battered, the children are battered, or said persons are at risk due to one spouse’s criminal behavior.

    To say “I’m tired of this game and I want to play a new one” IS UNACCEPTABLE.

    To the believing spouse who says “I want a divorce” for reasons of “unhappiness” I say “Get your act together, grow up, and be obedient to Christ, and fulfill your vows – which include ‘for worse’ and ‘as long as we both shall live’ and ‘until death do us part’ and do whatever it takes to be reconciled to your spouse”

    If I or my spouse walked everytime we were “unhappy” we wouldn’t have lasted two years. (this Sept. will be 18 and counting – many were very happy, many were very NOT, this is LIFE folks!)

    Yes, church discipline is in order, and YES – IT SHOULD BE RESTORATIVE!!

    Restoration is to the glory of God and edification of the saints.

  5. Byron says:

    I concur with Sherry’s response, Fred, with the possible exception that I’d be slow to counsel divorce even in some of the extreme cases she cites. Separation? Certainly; I’d never counsel a person to remain physically in a situation where harm is likely to come to people, sure. I’m just very slow to ever counsel divorce as an option, but I do believe that remarriage is at times and under certain circumstances acceptable.

  6. Fred says:

    Byron,
    Are you using ‘separation’ and ‘divorce’ interchangeably? Or are you suggesting a separation where neither of them could legally get married again. I was just wondering what you think a believer ought to do if they can’t make their spouse believe, while at the same time running the risk of losing their new found faith. You suggested separation, but what if the believer wants to be with someone who does share their faith. Are they just out of luck because they are legally still married to that other person. And do you think God would even lead them to another companion in this situation? Also, I was wondering what other types of discipline that a church might start with when dealing with a divorce (other than kicking them to the curb). You said it doesn’t always start with invalidating membership, but it can end there.

  7. sherry says:

    Fred,

    I think Byron means “separation” for a time – an opportunity to remove a person from immediate danger, and counseling with an eye toward reconciliation BEFORE considering divorce.

    There isn’t a believing spouse on earth who can “make” thier unbelieving spouse believe. The bible is clear that a believing spouse doesn’t have the go-ahead to leave. Nobody knows if thier unbelieving spouse will choose to believe, today, next week, next month, next year, two decades from now….on thier deathbed…or never. Because of this, and because they are married which is a covenant relationship, they are NOT free to leave because they “would like a spouse who shares thier beliefs”.

    Frankly, if *I* were a believing spouse who left an unbeliever on the grounds they weren’t a believer…I don’t think I’d want the kind of person who would have me after that! LOL!

    You talked about running the risk of losing thier newfound faith. Difficulty can strengthen your faith. If I can lose my faith by virtue of being married to an unbeliever, what chance does a Muslim convert to Christianity have in a muslim country? Slim to none, I’d say.

    God is powerful.

    I can’t speak to the type of discipline Byron may suggest.

    I know you addressed Byron, but I feel as if I have some knowledge about this, having married an unbeliever.

  8. Byron says:

    Fred,

    I suggest that a believer doesn’t have grounds for divorce, but might have reason (for protection) to physically separate from an abusive spouse, so no, I don’t mean to equate the two.

    “Out of luck” is one way to put it, I suppose, but that’s not the terminology I’d ever use for obeying what God says. As Sherry says, no one can make another person become a believer, but the Scripture gives no permission for the believer to divorce the unbeliever simply on that basis. God will not act contrary to His Word, and He does not give His blessing to us doing it, either.

    “Church discipline” is usually thought of as being “throwing people out of church”, or at least threatening to, so as to elicit repentance/restoration. In fact, church discipline, if thought of correctly, is a far, far wider subject. “Discipline” and “disciple” have the same root word, and though we don’t ordinarily think of it in these terms, a pastor giving a gentle but firm warning to a person beginning down a dubious path is a form of “church discipline”. That said, of course, in the case I posted on, the pursuit of divorce by one member of a believing couple, the elders of that church ought to involve themselves in the situation for the purpose of restoration. The threat of removal from church membership isn’t the “lead card”, though; instead, elders ought to ascertain the situation by a careful investigation, insist upon the couple submitting to the counsel of pastors/elders, with the understanding that divorce is not acceptable to God; pray for and implore the unwilling/divorce-filing person to repent (or both, as the case may be). When every effort has been exhausted–those efforts all falling under the category of the “discipline of the church”, then the offending/unrepentant party(ies) must be brought before the congregation for removal. That’s what I mean.

    But under no circumstances whatever ought divorce be allowed between two members of a congregation, professing Christians both, without church discipline being initiated, and if divorce is consummated, at least one of the divorcees ought to be expelled from the membership of the church. I am open to the possibility that I’ve overspoken, but I can’t see it from where I sit.

  9. Fred says:

    Byron,
    All makes sense to me. But here is another question. You being a pastor, do you (and congregation) allow those who have been removed from their previous church on “disciplinary” grounds to join your church?

  10. Byron says:

    Great question, Fred. We put a clause into our membership procedure that asks, “are you currently under discipline by another church?” Obviously, people can lie–but a lie discovered would be grounds for immediate removal from membership, of course. But we do ask, and if a person were under discipline from another church, we would under normal circumstances not accept that person as a member (never say “never”, I guess, but generally speaking, no way). We’d investigate the situation, not only from the prospective member’s standpoint, of course, but also contact the disciplining church as well.

    Church discipline is messy stuff sometimes, but it is always necessary stuff, and IMHO, one of the key reasons the American church is anemic in so many respects is its unwillingness to deal with members who ought to be disciplined.

  11. Fred says:

    Ok. Now my question is…If you deny membership to a person, do you still let them congregate and participate in regular worship services? Are they still welcome in your church? Then my question would be…If you do allow that, then what is the difference in being a regular attendee and a technical “on paper” member?

  12. Byron says:

    More good questions, Fred! We allow anyone/everyone to “congregate and participate.” This, of course, includes people with no church background, no knowledge of God in Christ, people living “alternative lifestyles”, you name it. I’m not sure how we could call ourselves a “Christian church” if we didn’t allow folks to come and hear the gospel message!

    But the differences are somewhat stark, looking beneath the surface. First, in our literature, for those who care to look, we make it plain that a profession of faith in Christ is necessary for church membership (among other things). Further, “membership has its privileges”: in our setting, there are church leadership positions only open to members; in our congregational structure, only members can vote; members have an assigned elder (or will have; as a new church, we’re just sorting that out!), though of course in a crisis time, we’d minister to anyone. There’s also a viewpoint difference: we talk about “meaningful membership”, stressing the importance of commitment. Those who’ve attended for some time, but not joined, will be encouraged to commit themselves to Christ and to the church. Those who’ve done the former, and not the latter, will be encouraged that at some point, they really need to make up their minds: if this is not a church they can join, they need to find one that they can and join it. Why? Accountability is crucial (only a person who is a member qualifies as being under the official discipline of the church. That’s not to say we’d do NOTHING toward non-members in blatant sin–assuming they professed to be believers–but it is to say that the extent of what we can do is limited. Further, we teach the importance of being involved in the work/ministry of the church, and while there are certain positions we might allow non-members to be involved in, these are somewhat limited.

    That answer that question?

  13. Fred says:

    Yes it did. How much time does a person have to be disciplined before you generally let them be a member again? Are they supposed to ever be granted membership again or not? I guess it would depend on the church, but from a scriptural point of view (and your interpretation) what say you?

  14. Byron says:

    Fred,

    Time is not the issue at all; sincere repentance is. A person could (theoretically, though not practically) be restored, or at least begin the process of restoration (more likely, practically-speaking) the day following removal, if that day later there was evidence of a willingness to confess/repent/make restitution where necessary. Case in point: in a previous church, there were several individuals upon whom we had to exercise CD. Two repented immediately; they were not, of course, removed from membership, though there were consequences that “fit the crime” (removal from leadership, etc., for a time). Both of those individuals submitted themselves willingly to correction, and both subsequently have served that church in leadership positions again. We did remove one person from membership; 3-4 years later, she approached me, repented of her sin, put herself under the authority of the elder leadership (even though she was not a member any longer) for the purpose of asking, “what must I do to ‘make things right’ with the church?” She wrote a letter of confession/apology which was distributed to the church membership. She has not rejoined the church, but she would be welcome to. When I spoke at the church a few months back, she was in attendance, and afterward, with tears in her eyes, she thanked me for how I/we had handled her entire situation: during her sin, after her sin but prior to her repentance, during her repentance, and now subsequently. I treasure that conversation and her friendship, and wish her all the best as she has re-established her relationship with Christ.

  15. Jane says:

    Wow, what a thorough discourse. I am impressed. I would like to step in and emphasize in the marriage scenario what Byron handled well in the general disciplinary system. That is patience. I married an unbeliever who remained so for 20 full years. We had our ups and downs, no abuse occurred and we have two wonderful grown children. One day when we had been married 18 years, Honey hugged me and thanked me for the best 10 years of his life. Oh, well, thanks. No argument from me. He was spot on. We each could have tossed it several times but realized the mess and/or expense wouldn’t be worth it and two innocent children would be part of the mess. He turned to Jesus in 1992 and by 1999 was an elder and a good one at that. For 20 years he preferred to fish, now he serves me communion. I applaud a church with a solid structure as you’ve outlined, Byron. And trust me, just because I was the believer didn’t mean he didn’t have a lot to forgive too. Keep it up. Divorce should be so far out there, it takes boucou counseling to face it as an option.

  16. Byron says:

    Thanks, Jane, for the kind comments and good words.

  17. Lenny says:

    Byron,

    What about this situation. My brother,was in a marriage and both partners were very active in their church and the wife had an affair, repents to the husband, and does so to the church(without details of the wrongdoing). The husband and his wife continue as members of that church family. The wife falls into the same sin and this time chooses to leave the family and even leaves town. She moves in with the man in the second affair, also the man involved in the initial affair, within 3 months after leaving the marriage. She also refused any counseling before she left or afterwards. What would you counsel my brother to do with his life at this point?

  18. Byron says:

    Lenny,

    Of course I’m a little slow, without knowing any more details, to be dogmatic about what I’d say, but assuming the details are substantially as you describe them, your brother is, to my understanding, free to divorce his wife if he so chooses, on the grounds of (in this case, repeated) marital unfaithfulness. As I said in the original post, one or both ought to fall under church discipline in any/every divorce situation. What you’ve described to me clearly would place the wife as the one, for sure, of whom that would be true.

    Now, divorce is permissible in such cases, but divorce is never commanded at the only option. But yes, if his desire, after her prolonged cheating, was to move on, divorce and remarry, then I believe he would have the freedom to do so.

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