There are at least a couple of Calvinist / Westminster Confession- adhering groups with a prominent national “megaphone” who wish “standerinfamilycourt” would go find some other cause. Whenever they publish a blog twisting either the context, the language translation or some other crucial aspect of rightly dividing the 4 or 5 most abused scriptures in the bible, SIFC and fellow outstanding permanence-of-marriage bloggers attempt to set the record straight on their blog page comments, where our detailed response won’t get buried under literally hundreds of Facebook comments. We’ve been routinely censored in blog comments that fully met their posting guidelines (but politely rebutted their mis-assertions) and were typically removed — until recent days.
The blog piece by Kevin DeYoung that follows on The Gospel Coalition is from April, 2014, pre-dates the inception of SIFC’s blog and Facebook pages by about 6 months. Imagine our pleasant surprise to see OUR cover on the resurfacing of this blog to their FB page this week! We have been given much favor from the Lord to be able to connect with national voices, most of whom do earnestly believe they are seeking the spirit of God in marriage matters. We are especially blessed to do so before our first year has passed. Our aim has always been to bridge constituencies in pro-family advocacy, as well as act as a voice of conscience to the churches who disagree with the authentically-biblical position on the permanence of marriage (including SIFC’s own – the subject of another recent blog post on 7 Times Around the Jericho Wall).
If convictions about hypocrisy were not actually landing with these folks, it is unlikely that old blogs about it would be dusted off in this manner. Not only are they hearing it from the pagans and angry, vulgar “page trolls”, they are consistently hearing it from people who know their bible inside-out and who are fasting and praying for one more Great Awakening in this nation.
Kevin DeYoung begins as follows:
After last week’s post on gluttony, a host of similar comments bubbled up about divorce. Isn’t it hypocritical of Christians to protest so loudly about homosexuality when the real marital problem in our churches is divorce?
SIFC: Is the “real marital problem” in our churches truly “divorce”, Rev. DeYoung? A recent story in the Washington Post about the trend in marriage and divorce statistics from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics shows a steep drop off in both, that tracks in tandem. Presumably that trend is reflecting in the church, too, although fewer believers are probably spurning marriage as young people than in the world. Isn’t the real problem in the church rather the encouragement of remarriage that violates the standard Jesus gave in Luke 16:18, sometimes serially? And isn’t the root motivation for individuals divorcing in the body of Christ, stripped bare of its litany of classic excuses, really the desire to whitewash adultery through the sure anticipation of the evangelical church’s blessing on a remarriage? (A recent survey of evangelical church members by a national polling firm revealed that 90% of those who had been divorced said that their divorce took place following their conversion. )
As G. K. Chesterton put it, a century ago when the forces for civil family destruction were first marshalling the efforts that eventually resulted in the enactment of unilateral divorce:
“It may or may not be superstition for a man to believe he must kiss the Bible to show he is telling the truth. It is certainly the most grovelling superstition for him to believe that, if he kisses the Bible, anything he says will come true. It would surely be the blackest and most benighted Bible-worship to suggest that the mere kiss on the mere book alters the moral quality of perjury. Yet this is precisely what is implied in saying that formal re-marriage alters the moral quality of conjugal infidelity. “
Over many years debating these issues in my own denomination, I’ve often encountered the divorce retort: “It’s easy for you to pick on homosexuality because that’s the issue in your church. But you don’t follow the letter of your own law. If you did, you would be talking about divorce, since that’s the bigger problem in conservative churches.”
SIFC: Many would say to this (perhaps a bit flippantly) that we’re not under law, we’re under grace. Christ did indeed have a law prohibiting divorce of a covenant marriage, which Paul and the church fathers faithfully carried forward. Divorce, unless undertaken with a motive of restitution and repentance, is only a symptom of the underlying problem. In Matt. 5:28-30, Jesus got to the root cause: covetousness and lack of contentment which, unlike marriage, is truly genderless.
When it comes to debating homosexuality among Christians, the issue of divorce is both a smokescreen and a fire. It is a smokescreen because the two issues-divorce and homosexuality-are far from identical.
For starters, there are no groups in our denominations whose raison d’etre is the celebration of divorce. People are not advocating new policies in our churches that affirm the intrinsic goodness of divorce. Conservatives, in the culture and in the church, keep talking about homosexuality because that is the fault line right now. We’d love to talk (and do) about how to have a healthy marriage. We’d love for that matter to spend all our time talking about the glory of the Trinity, but the battle right now (at least one of them) is over homosexuality. So we cannot be silent on this issue.
SIFC: As we pointed out above, divorce doesn’t just happen in a motivational vacuum, so perhaps the more apt comparison to homosexuality is with legalized adultery (sequential polygamy) not with the civil pretense of dissolving what God has joined. Making the appropriate substitution, isn’t there a group in your church tasked with affirming a hard-hearted marriage decision, and the culturally-compliant celebration of “moving on”? (Would that group happen to go by the initials, “D.C.” or “D.R. “?) Seems there is just such a group, actually-in quite a few churches.
Is the reason people are not advocating new policies in the church to affirm the intrinsic goodness of remarriage perhaps because that task was fully accomplished at least a generation ago?
The battle and fault line would no doubt shift immediately from homosexuality, if the pastor would suddenly obey Jesus and announce that the church will no longer be performing weddings where one or both of the parties has an estranged living spouse, would it not? It seems that any time someone dares to tread on anyone’s sexual autonomy, explosive things happen. Instead, these churches are inappropriately silent on that issue of sealing the unrepentant in their legalized / sanctified adultery, even claiming with no truthful scriptural support that Jesus “allows” what He forthrightly forbade. If the term “smokescreen” is, in this sense, a defense to the charge of hypocrisy, it is well to remember that the latter tends to be in the eye of the beholder, and is quite difficult to hide from watching pagans. The louder the protest of the splinter, the greater the magnitude of the unremoved log.
And while we’re at it, Rev. DeYoung, is it not true that Ephesians 5:31 reminds us that the very essence of the “glory of the Trinity” is the upholding of the sanctity of that which, reflecting that very glory, Jesus made abundantly plain is indissoluble, this side of heaven? How can any rogue branch (or rotten trunk) of the body of Christ even think about holding forth on the glory of the Trinity when it systematically tramples under foot its most prominent symbol by solemnizing consecutive polygamy / polyandry, and even while misusing the name of the Most High to do so?
Just as importantly, the biblical prohibition against divorce explicitly allows for exceptions; the prohibition against homosexuality does not.
SIFC: Exceptions also tend to be in the eye of the beholder. The specific exception Matthew (alone) had in mind was for terminating the ketubah purchase agreement for the betrothed Jewish bride, who in this specific case, happened to be a bit too closely related to the groom, or had been compromised in some other way before the wedding. This context is not discerned by a superficial reading of the text at face value without filtering it through several of the five-C’s of hermeneutics, in this case:
- content (accurate translation of key words like “porneia“),
- context (Matt. 5 sermon on the mount abrogation of Mosaic law; Matt. 19:9 Roman prohibition against traditional Hebrew stoning of adulterous spouses)
- culture (Jewish betrothal customs)
- comparison (for example, with Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 16:18)
- consultation (what did the early church fathers say about an “exception”? What did they say about the dissolubility of holy matrimony in general?)
The traditional Protestant position, as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith for example, maintains that divorce is permissible on grounds of marital infidelity or desertion by an unbelieving spouse (WCF 24.5-6). Granted, the application of these principles is difficult and the question of remarriage after divorce gets even trickier, but almost all Protestants have always held that divorce is sometimes acceptable.
SIFC: The Westminster Confession is the 17th century product of an Assembly of clerics and members of British Parliament to produce a doctrine based on putting the commandments of Christ to a popular vote of carnal men. The portions that deal with marriage were greatly influenced by the apostate teachings of Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus. From the moment the words crossed His lips, most human flesh has held that Christ’s law of the indissoluble marriage bond was too harsh to uphold. Despite 400 years of uncorrupted doctrine upheld by the early church fathers, this tenet of the Protestant Church was established on a 16th century Erasmean heresy that is not supported by sound biblical scholarship. It is for these reasons that Protestants “have always held that divorce is sometimes acceptable”, but as Jesus told the first crop of Pharisees, “from the beginning, it was not so!” Application of Christ’s law of marriage is quite simple, actually.
Rev. DeYoung, when you are before the bema seat of Christ, and your works are being judged by fire, will you really be pleading to Him that you loved the Westminster Confession with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?
Simply put, homosexuality and divorce are different issues because according to the Bible and Christian tradition the former is always wrong, while the latter is not.
SIFC: Homosexuality and divorce may be “different issues” but both share the common trait of violating a non-negotiable element of God’s definition of marriage. Homosexuality violates Matt. 19:4 / Mark 10:7. Civil divorce and remarriage violate Matt. 19:6 / Mark 10:9. We will concede your last point however. According to the bible, homosexuality is indeed always wrong, but civil divorce is only not wrong when it is motivated to end an unlawful subsequent civil union, with Spirit-led repentance, restitution and restoration of the true covenant in one’s heart and mind. Today’s Pharisees would urge that person to remain in their adultery, at the potential expense of many souls, on the pretense that it is “extending the cycle of divorce” or is a “repeat sin”. God is showing this to be false with each covenant family He miraculously puts back together after decades of man’s divorce, and He sometimes does it with both families that Satan attempted to use the church as his accomplices to destroy for generations to come.
Finally, the “what about divorce?” argument is not as good as it sounds because many of our churches do take divorce seriously. I realize that many churches don’t (more on that in a minute). But a lot of the same churches that speak out against homosexuality also speak out against illegitimate divorce. I’ve preached on divorce a number of times, including a sermon a few years ago entitled, “What Did Jesus Think of Divorce and Remarriage?” I’ve said more about homosexuality in the blogosphere because there’s a controversy around the issue in the culture in the wider church. But I’ve never shied away from talking about divorce. I take seriously everything the Westminster Confession of Faith says about marriage. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman (WCF 24.1). It is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord (WCF 24.3). Only adultery and willful desertion are grounds for divorce (WCF 24.6).
SIFC: Is the Westminster Confession inspired? Why not preach directly from God-breathed holy scripture? Rev. DeYoung, you say that “willful desertion” is a ground for divorce. That’s strange, because Jesus surely didn’t say that (He said spouses joined by God can never again be two), and neither did Paul (he said a wife is dedetai
δέδεται to her husband as long as he lives) nor did Peter. By any chance, sir, do you happen to know the difference between the Greek root words “douloo” and “deo“? If the committee that signed off on the Westminster Confession knew this, they obviously chose to ignore it.
As a board of elders, we treat these matters with the seriousness they deserve. We ask new members who have been divorced to explain the nature of their divorce and (if applicable) their remarriage. This has resulted on occasion in potential new members leaving our church. Most of the discipline cases we’ve encountered as elders have been about divorce. The majority of pastoral care crises we have been involved in have dealt with failed or failing marriages. Our church, like many others, takes seriously all kinds of sins, including illegitimate divorce. We don’t always know how to handle every situation, but I can say with a completely clear conscience that we never turn a blind eye to divorce.
SIFC: Do you counsel people whose civil union does not meet Christ’s standard of Luke 16:18 to remain in their adultery? Do you delude them that this sin is the only sin that does not require full turning away and cessation? Do you counsel “married” homosexuals differently than “married” adulterers? HAVE YOU KNOWINGLY SOLEMNIZED IN THE PAST YEAR A WEDDING JOINING ANY PERSON TO SOMEBODY ELSE’S SPOUSE, IN GOD’S EYES?
And Undoubtedly Some Fire
Having said all that, it’s undoubtedly the case that many evangelicals have been negligent in dealing with illegitimate divorce and remarriage. Pastors have not preached on the issue for fear of offending scores of their members. Elder boards have not practiced church discipline on those who sin in this area because, well, they don’t practice discipline for much of anything. Counselors, friends, and small groups have not gotten involved early enough to make a difference in pre-divorce situations. Christian attorneys have not thought enough about their responsibility in encouraging marital reconciliation. Church leaders have not helped their people understand God’s teaching about the sanctity of marriage, and we have not helped those already wrongly remarried to experience forgiveness for their past mistakes.
So yes, there are plank-eyed Christians among us. The evangelical church, in many places, gave up and caved in on divorce and remarriage. But the remedy to this negligence is not more negligence. The slow, painful cure is more biblical exposition, more active pastoral care, more faithful use of discipline, more word-saturated counseling, and more prayer–for illegitimate divorce, for same-sex behavior, and for all the other sins that are more easily condoned than confronted.
SIFC: “but the remedy to this negligence is not more negligence“….We agree that there’s nothing more uncomfortable than telling a non-covenant couple (particularly a couple invalidly “married” in your own church) that their union will never be holy matrimony in God’s eyes because of the undissolved prior marriage bond indelibly recorded in the courthouse of heaven. But the “fire” that is dreaded here still sounds like the fear of man, instead of a holy fear of a deeply-offended Sovereign! Why is it that few recognize the judgment of that offended Sovereign that has been falling on our nation for four or five decades, and is now coming to a sodomous, polygamous, incestual and bestial crescendo?
Since it is clearly negligent to continue the practice of joining somebody’s covenant spouse to another while the rejected true spouse lives, Rev. DeYoung, BY WHAT DATE WILL YOUR CHURCH CEASE PERFORMING THESE ADULTEROUS CEREMONIES?
What is the resemblance, Rev. DeYoung, of your church with this church?
Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
– Ezra 10:1-4, concerning the cleansing of marriage desecration the Lord required before He would restore Israel as a sovereign nation.
Or with this one?
“What is more astounding than the mere fact that the early Church taught and practiced the complete indissolubility of marriage for so long, is the fact that the Church chose to take its stand against the strong contemporary lax social and legal attitudes toward divorce which prevailed so universally all about them. The Church, today, feels that it is on the horns of a dilemma, because so many divorcees are coming to her for help and encouragement. Shall she accommodate the Scriptures to the apparent need of the unfortunate divorcees, or shall she uphold the Biblical standard of the indissolubility of marriage for any cause while faithfully discharging her duty to such distressed individuals? Every church of today which considers the lowering of its divorce standards should remember that the early Church stood true to the Biblical doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage in a world that was pagan and strongly opposed to the moral and marriage standards of the New Testament. Not only did the Church maintain her stand on the indissolubility in the early centuries, she changed the attitude and standards of the whole world toward it. Even today the whole Church of Christ and the entire western world is still reaping the rich benefits of that heritage. Shall the Christian Church of today be less courageous and faithful than the Church of the early centuries of the Christian era? Does she not under God have the same spiritual resources?
“There were other grievous social evils in the early Christian centuries. Slavery enveloped the Roman Empire of that age, yet the Christians did not set themselves to change the thinking of the masses against it, but they did set themselves to change the thinking of the masses toward marriage and divorce. Why did they not attack slavery with the same vehemence? The reason was that the Apostles had not received a “thus saith the Lord” from Christ respecting it. They had, however, received such in the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. No sect or school of philosophy is known to have influenced the early Church in this teaching. From whence, then, did she get the teaching? Certainly she received it from the teaching of the Gospels and from the teaching of the Apostles, who had earlier conveyed the same orally (as well as in writing) to the leaders of the early Church who succeeded them.”
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