f The Wittenberg Door: Christians and Divorce

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Christians and Divorce

Unfortunately, divorce is becoming more-and-more common among Christians, almost rivaling the divorce-rate of unbelievers. When we think of Biblical reasons for divorce adultery and desertion immediately jump to mind. But what exactly constitutes either adultery or desertion? Pastor Bill Smith explores these questions at The Aquila Report.

As part of his discussion he provides us with a helpful summary of the topic in a question and answer format. Here’s a portion:

Where does God teach about divorce?
Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 5:31,32; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

Does God allow divorce?
Divorce is always a tragedy. It is contrary, as Jesus teaches us, to God’s intent for marriage. The Roman Catholic Church does not allow divorce, hence the complicated system for annulment, which is taken to mean that the marriage never existed. However, Protestants have generally taught that, because marriage takes place between sinners in a fallen world, there are some circumstances when divorce is allowed.

When does God allow divorce?
There are two circumstances. One is sexual sin (adultery) that breaks the one-flesh marriage bond. The other is desertion (abandonment) that cannot be remedied because the one who leaves refuses to return.

What sexual sins constitute grounds for divorce?
The Greek word Jesus uses is porneia. It is a general word for sexual immorality. Here I quote from the position paper approved by the PCA General Assembly in 1988: “We agree that porneia refers to ‘sexual immorality.’ But sexual immorality could be understood to include all sorts of sexual sins… To be sure, these are sins that impinge against the one-flesh relationship, but they do not necessarily break it. We ask then, ‘What does Jesus mean by porneia in this passage as the grounds for divorce?’ We believe Jesus intended porneia to be understood in a more limited way, as referring to those external sexual actions which would clearly break the one-flesh relationship…we must distinguish between those sexual sins that clearly break the one-flesh union and those that don’t. (Those that break the one-flesh union [do so] precisely because they involve sexual union with a being other than one’s marriage partner, i.e, they amount to adultery.)

Other acts of sexual immorality do not as clearly serve to break the one-flesh relationship… they do not unmistakably break the one-flesh relationship; but if a person becomes so obsessed with them that they become a substitute for fulfilling the conjugal rights of the spouse, then they could be understood to break the one-flesh union……some sexual sins may hurt the marriage union without breaking it. But when the sin becomes externalized in such a way that it becomes a substitute for the one-flesh relation with one’s spouse, then the Session may judge it as being the equivalent of porneia.”

What is desertion?
“Several considerations incline us to agree with those… who have maintained that desertion can occur as well by imposition of intolerable conditions as by departure itself…(Note: The only possibility considered in the report is physical violence which leads to the abused person’s leaving, because the abusing partner forces the abused partner to flee the home for physical safety.) We are quick to add, however, that the list of sins tantamount to desertion cannot be very long. To qualify, a sin must have the same extreme effect as someone’s abandonment of his spouse… The Bible gives no justification for divorce based on merely inward, emotional, and subjective reasons. Even if we find justification for interpreting desertion in a broader sense …(it) must be broadened only within the boundaries of serious objective acts of desertion. (It) must not be interpreted in any way that opens the floodgates to divorces based on subjective reasons, such as ‘irreconcilable differences,’ ‘emotional separation,’ ‘loss of affection,’ or the like.

There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. Emotional problems in and of themselves are not Biblical grounds for divorce. And the elders of Christ’s church must not surrender to worldly pressures and allow that which God does not allow…”

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer

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