Book Series: Introduction – DOES DIVORCE DISSOLVE MARRIAGE?

REVEREND MlLTON T.WELLS  (1901-1975)

EASTERN BIBLE  INSTITUTE

GREEN LANE,  PENNSYLVANIA

1957 – (Public Domain)

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FB profile 7xtjwNote by Standerinfamilycourt:    Rev. Wells was an Assemblies of God Pastor and served as President of the Eastern Bible Institute in Pennsylvania,  now known as the University of Valley Forge.   His work would be considered “judgmental”, “legalistic” and “graceless” in many of the Assembly of God churches like the one SIFC belongs to today, and virtually any other evangelical Protestant church in America.

Our Lord Jesus Christ would have called his scholarly work, with its rigorous application of all the principles of hermeneutics to the scriptural texts on marriage “faithful”.    Until 1973,  so did all of Rev. Wells’ peers in the ministry.   Rev. Wells’ cautions in the Preface to this book, of course, went shamelessly unheeded by denominational leadership, and his words predicting the consequences proved prophetic.

The author uses the term “Five-Word-School” for those who reject Christ’s teaching, centered around Luke 16:18 and other scripture, that the marriage covenant is dissolved only by the physical death of one of the spouses; those who instead prefer to center their view around Matthew 19:9 according to the Erasmean / Lutheran / Calvinist rendering, in such a way as to contrive a “biblical exception” to justify remarriage after civil divorce.   It is interesting to read that even with the much-lower divorce rates of the 1950’s, the author even then refers to “a storm center of controversy among evangelical church leaders and other churchmen……especially over the past 3 decades.”   Some men of God will never take Christ’s “no” with a submissive spirit….as an undershepherd concerned primarily for souls above human esteem.

 

FOREWORD

We are living in perilous times. One of the most serious perils of our times is divorce, a danger which threatens the very foundation of our society; the mar­riage institution and the home.   One out of four American marriages breaks to pieces in a divorce court.  So many people are mixed up in their marriage rela­tions today that our social fabric is seriously  weakened.   Sensuality and promis­cuity are all too common in the American scene.   Hell and Hollywood contrib­ute freely of their vulgarity and sin.   These are indeed the days when men have “eyes full of adultery.”

Against this tide of evil the church stands as the only remaining bulwark. It  was reassuring. recently, to have a member of the British royal family stand firmly with her church against the temptation to marry a divorced man.  Certain churches in America also stand resolutely against marriage after divorce.  That  Holiness and Pentecostal churches be among those that resist this evil is properly consistent.  They refuse to countenance easy   divorce and remarriage  after di­vorce for any reason.

Such a position is Scriptural! “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her.”   Mark 10: 11. In his book, “Does Divorce Dissolve Marriage?” Reverend Milton T. Wells has presented this position in an able manner. He has done the church and its moral standard a real service in this complete and convincing document which he has prepared.  May it bring reassurance and strength to the church and Christians in general as they resistthe pressure and help stem the tide of modern laxity and compromise.

Reverend Ralph M. Riggs

General Superintendent

The Assemblies of God

 

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PREFACE

 

The frightening increase of divorce in the past two decades is tragic. Even more tragic is the departure of some evangelical churches from the clear teaching of Christ respecting marriage and divorce.   Today, a large segment of the Christian Church accommodates the Scriptures  to the seeming necessities of di­vorcees.   This compromising practice has led to a vitiated doctrine of divorce with terrible and consequent results.  Indeed, divorcees and their mates need the sympathetic concern of every true pastor, but a church must not build doctrines of divorce to suit the practices of expediency and heart-felt sympathies, neither must such doctrines be adjusted to fit the Christian experiences of these  unfortu­natelives. Christian experience cannot settle Christian doctrine; Biblical doc­trine alone must determine and qualify Christian experience and the practices and rules respecting the divorce problem within the Church.

God is regenerating the lives of spouses of divorce unions.  This fact however should be no excuse for the Church to alter her doctrine of divorce. To do so will increase the rate of divorce and remarriage both within and without the Church, and consequently will blight the lives of millions of innocent children now living and yet unborn. The blame for the dreadful increase of divorce is properly laid at the door of the compromising segments of the Christian Church.

The purpose of this book is to draw believers back to an objective study and exegesis of the Scriptures bearing on the doctrine of divorce, that they may see whether Christ did, indeed, teach the doctrine .of the indissolubility of marriage for any cause,

The further matter of the status of converted divorcees  within the Church is treated at considerable length in the Appendix.

The writer is deeply indebted to the following for their substantial help in the preparation of the manuscript:  Paul H. Chappeli. Esq., member of the Maryland Bar; Richard J. Crozier, S. T. M.; Hobart E. Grazier, B. A.; Nicholas Tavani, B.A. and R. E. Watson, B. E. D._, A. M., Ph. D.   It is doubtful that the writer could have completed such a comprehensive treatment of the subject except for the inspira­tion, encouragement, and practical assistance of these brethren, some of whom contributed brief sections which they have permitted the author to include in the text without identification of their authorship.   In addition,   other   anonymous friends generously assisted in preparing the manuscript copy.  A hearty “thank you” is extended to them.

The writer is also grateful for the kind permission of many publishers to quote and print portions of their publications, acknowledgements of which are con­tained in footnotes.

 

INTRODUCTION

Divorce with its attendant evils is one of the most serious blights upon modern society.  Recent statistics reveal that there are three times as many suicides among divorced persons as there are among married people and that more delin­quent children are found in homes broken by divorce than in homes broken by death.  Whenever God’s laws are broken, someone has to pay. Nations and churches are only as strong as their homes. God ordained the family to be the core and strength of the moral and spiritual welfare of mankind; therefore it is important that society know the teachings of the Holy Scriptures respecting di­vorce and remarriage.

All Bible-believing Christians will agree that Jesus did not permit divorce be­tween husband and wife, except in the case of fornication on the part of the one or the other.  The following scriptures leave no doubt about this matter:  Matt. 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10: 1-12, and Luke 16:18.

True evangelicals, however, do disagree as to whether or not the Scriptures teach that a chaste mate may BOTH “put away” his unchaste mate and marry another.  One group of believers, whom we shall call the FlVE WORD School of Divorce, insists that the Scriptures teach that a “chaste mate” may put away a mate who commits adultery or fornication and then marry another while the first mate is still living. The writer of this paper is of the Conservative School, which believes that the Scriptures teach that a “chaste mate” may be separated from an “unchaste mate” but MAY NOT remarry while that mate still lives.  The writer, at the close of this paper, will show that there may even be a grave  doubt as to whether Christ authorized one to DIVORCE an adulterous wife.

Numbers of churches, including some of the older denominations, which in the earlier years of their existence retained rigid views on divorce, going so far as to forbid the right of the so-called “Innocent party” of Matt.19:9 who divorces his “unchaste wife” because of fornication to remarry, have in later years  liberalized  their doctrine of divorce.  Is this a fulfillment of II Thess.2:3. “Let no man de­ ceive you by any means: for that day [the day of the Lord] shall not come, except there come a falling away first ..and that man of sin be revealed the son of per­dition..?  Will our denomination follow the pattern of other apostatizing  churches2  God forbid!

Is the more liberal view of Matt. 19:9, and divorce as a whole, based on a bet­ter exegesis and exposition of the sacred Scriptures and is therefore more to be desired for the glory of God.  Should changing moral standards and mores of mod­ern times cause us to re-examine the Scriptures with a direct effort to seek for a more liberal interpretation of Scripture, as it touches upon the subject ofdivorce and remarriage, so that the Church may more..realistically “establish standards in keeping with the more universally accepted moral tone of the timesl

It is true that students of either side of a given doctrine are prone to regard only that which will entrench them further in their previous convictions. It is, unfortunately, doubtful whether many students or readers of studies on either side of the interpretation of Matt;19:9 will alter the opinions with which they ap­proached the study of this subject.   It is my hope that the reading of this paper will accomplish two purposes: first, to clarify the thinking and convictions of those who are still uncertain as to which of the two views is correct; and second, to resolve the problem for those who, while they have accepted the conclusions and interpretations of the FIVE WORD School, still have deep misgivings because they know that strong segments of the Christian Church for centuries have held the conservative view of this question, and further, because they realize that a loophole for divorce and remarriage for the one cause of fornication will certain­ly lead to permission for divorce and remarriage for other causes.

The very fact that the doctrine of divorce has been one of the storm centers of controversy among evangelical church leaders and other churchmen for centuries, and more particularly in the last three decades, should impel him who ap­proaches this subject to come humbly with an honest heart and open mind, pre­pared to study diligently and painstakingly all the Scriptures in the Bible deal­ing with the subject.  No easy, snap judgments are in order here. Thoroughthinking is needed. Obviously, the Conservative School and the FIVE WORD School of the divorce controversy cannot both be right. Let us, therefore, think prayerfully under God until by God’s grace we truly think God’s thoughts after Him in this great problem of the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul has bidden us:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim.2:15).

An old French writer made an observation in the nineteenth century which is far more true today.   He said that Democratic societies prefer books which may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches to be understood …they must have what is unexpected and new.  Accustomed to the struggle, the crosses, and the monotony of practical life, they require  strong and rapid emotions, startling pas­sages, truths or errors brilliant enough to rouse them up and to plunge them at once as if by violence,   into the midst of the subject. I

A. W. Tozer: the editor of the Alliance Weekly, has said:

Our “vastly improved methods of communication” of which the short-sighted boast so loudly now enable a few men in strategic centers to feed into millions of minds alien thought stuff, ready-made and pre-diagnosed.  A little effortless assimilation of these borrowed ideas and the average man has done all the thinking he will or can do.  This subtle brain-washing goes on day after day ad year after year to the eternal injury of the populace — a populace, incidentally, which is willing to pay big money to have the job done, the reason being, I suppose , that it relieves them of the arduous and often frightening task of reaching independent decision for which they must take responsibility.

It is necessary that all who approach the study of this subject do so dispassion­ately, for admittedly there are scholarly and godly men on either side of this question who are deeply convinced that their position is the correct one.  May we come to the Scriptures in the study of this subject, by the help of God, without fixed prior prejudice or bias and without desire to wrest the Scriptures to suit them to the convenience of our denomination’s supposed need,  our seeming ne­cessities, our proclivities, or our carnal sympathies!  Alas, so often one’s expressed thought in a matter of diverse opinion is fathered by what suits his biased wish or apparent necessity rather than by an objective study of the facts in the case.  Most everyone sees the folly of this in others, but all are prone to do thesame thing. How desperately each one who studies this subject needs the illum­ination and direction of the Holy Spirit.  May God help each of us who approach­es the subject of divorce and remarriage to be free from this grave evil which has so many times blighted the Church of Christ. May this question not be set­tled by the traditions of great branches of the Protestant Church, no matter on which side of the question they may stand, for it is a fact that two of these, the  Church of England and the Presbyterian Church, have had equally eminent schol­ars championing opposite sides of the divorce problem under discussion. Surely it must be settled on the same sound principles of interpretation which have char­acterized the Christian Church for centuries in establishing the vital and essential doctrines of Holy Scriptures which have been virtually universally accepted by Bible-believing Christians for many generations.

The pastor who has dealt with earnest, believing divorcees, or their   mates, tempted to desire a doctrine of divorce which will enable him will be peculiarly to solve more expeditiously, at least, some of the complex problems of divorcees with the sympathy of his heart rather than with the conviction of his soul borne of a clear understanding of the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.   Many of these unfortunates have come into evangelical churches as a result of the easy divorces secured during World War II. They need Christ, He died for them. A pastor should not presume to give such people hasty and severe counsel lest they be pre­cipitated into worse moral pollution. God will guide them if they are encouraged to seek the Lord earnestly and study the Word of God diligently for light on their problems.

A pastor whose relatives have been blighted by divorce will find it difficult to be completely objective as he studies the Scriptures on this subject.   Obviously, a divorced person who is still unmarried will find it difficult also. Man’s depraved nature tends to press him to favor interpretations which make his way and the way of others easier and to favor such views of Scripture as shall not make him an exile and stranger (foreigner) (I Pet. 2: I I) to the spirit of his age (Rom. 12: 1.2V.) or church.  May all of us who pursue this study seek to be true Bereans, who search earnestly for the truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth regarding this matter, cost what it may to us,  or to those nearest and dearest to us, or to any others for whom we have the deepest sympathy and compassion. The Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica , in that they received the word with all readinessofmind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:I I). Certainly the unfortunate divorcees need our sympathy, but we dare notbuild a doctrine of divorce on our sympathy and at the same time claim tobe honest with ourselves and the God of the Holy Scriptures.

Tangled problems of divorcees within the Church must be settled; however, they must not be settled by a prejudiced accommodation of the sacred Scriptures to them but by bringing them to the light of the truth gained by a straightforward and exact exegesis of the divorce texts of the Bible. Christ said,”Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word isTRUTH” (John 17:17).   All should heed the call of the STANDARD BEARER who during a fierce battle was bidden to return the flag to the retreating troops.   As he turned to press forward, he cried,   “BRING THETROOPS UP TO THE STANDARD,  I SHALL NOT BRING THE STANDARD DOWN TO THE TROOPS!”

May God help all who write on this subject, and all who diligently study it, to regard prayerfully the warning by V. H. Stanton: ..When once we have thought ourselves into a particular theory,  a conviction of its truth is apt to be bred in the mind, which is altogether beyond the evidence, while inconvenient facts are ignored…V. H.Stanton: The Expositor, Vol.Vll.

 

Continue to Chapters I  and  II  –  Does Divorce Dissolve Marriage?

 

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One thought on “Book Series: Introduction – DOES DIVORCE DISSOLVE MARRIAGE?”

  1. Thanks for publishing this! Marriage is not always easy. It forces both to be strong in their Christian faith.

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