Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? – Acts 15:10
This week SIFC was reminded that the surprises never end when it comes to the battleground around the biblical truth and the indissolubility of holy matrimony. That’s why what we believe must be based on the very same anchor that Jesus Himself dropped when He was challenged by those who didn’t take kindly the change from the Law of Moses that managed sin in lieu of eradicating it from the heart. When Jesus asked what Moses commanded, and was given the Pharasaic response, He bypassed the regulation found in the book of Deuteronomy, and reminded His hearers that not only did Moses capture the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), but he penned the account of the first wedding (Genesis 2:21-24), including the taking of Adam’s rib to form Eve to be “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh”. Jesus should have known whereof He spoke: He was actually part of the “Let Us” of the creation; He was there.
Jesus Himself testified that Adam parted with a single rib for a very good reason, namely #1M1W4L.
Roger Hertzler is a lay elder or pastor in an Anabaptist-affiliated fellowship, possibly Brethren or Mennonite. An accountant by education and trade., Mr. Hertzler has written an extensive set of sermons on www.sermonindex.net called “Dear Pastor“. He may have a part time congregation, since lay pastors are especially common in Brethren churches. Views toward, and acceptance of, adulterous remarriages vary widely in these Brethren / Mennonite / Anabaptist churches in practice, but there is a formal body of doctrine that reinforces that marriage is one man and one woman for life. Some of the Anabaptist teachings we have featured on our Facebook page, Unilateral Divorce is Unconstitutional are quite sound and enlightened, according to scripture. This particular piece, however, argues that someone exiting an adulterous remarriage in repentance (and who was not previously married or was widowed) is prohibited by the Lord from remarrying, as is the person they so divorced.
The second part is basically true, with the truly biblical exception of reconciliation with the God-joined one-flesh spouse of their youth, to whom in God’s eyes they never ceased to be wed. However, Bro. Hertzler insists that both must remain celibate for the remainder of their lives following the severance of the adulterous union.
Here’s a quick summary of Bro. Hertzler’s arguments advocating for the ongoing celibacy of all divorced parties who have living spouses, either covenant or non-covenant, and why each of these arguments are each either extra-biblical or unbiblical:
(1) Hertzler: Remarriage after divorce (church-sanctified adultery) is not just a sin against God, it’s a sin against the non-covenant spouse whom the repenter felt compelled to dissolve the unlawful union to.
[“The raw nature of adultery is that despite all the arguments that we could present, a remarriage has the potential to feel like adultery to the offended party, even when the first marriage was not valid. If a man would, for the sake of purity, leave an adulterous marriage and then remain single, it could be seen as both understandable and honorable to the wife (and children) who are left behind. But for her to see him to get married again while she must remain single would be like a perpetual sword being plunged into her heart. Does it not seem reasonable that Jesus was thinking of this very scenario when gave the against her statement in Mark 10:11? “]
(2) Hertzler: The one repenting of remarriage adultery is still bound to keep their second vows even if they should not have been made, hence remaining celibate is the remaining way to do that while honoring Christ’s commandments.
[“Perhaps we could argue, Since the second set of vows should never have been made, God didnt hear those vows, and therefore they cant be violated. This argument is dubious since Scripture seems to affirm that God hears even those vows that should not have been made. But whether or not this is true, this argument only takes into account the potential sin against God and ignores the potential sin against man.”]
(3) Hertzler: Allowing a divorced person who was never legitimately married in God’s eyes to subsequently marry a widow or never-married person creates a “man-made exception” to both Mark 10:11 an d 1 Cor. 7:11, which is presumptuous at best and creates confusion / bad witness.
[“To allow for this exception adds a murkiness to the issue at a time when clarity is needed. It makes the question of my standing with God rest on the actions of other people, people who for the most part are outside of my control. To make this exception would force us to drastically complicate the methods of dealing with divorcees who are seeking repentance. Rather than simply asking, Do you have a former spouse that is still living? we would need to examine each of the former spouses to see if they had been married before. Then, if they had been, we would need to examine the marital situation of each of their former spouses, and so on.”]
SIFC: if Bro. Hertzler indeed does have a congregation, in addition to his accountancy practice, it is easy to see how his theories would appeal to him and seem like the only acceptable truth. In a way, his dilemma (and his interest), in the ugly face of the mess made by many unfaithful shepherds of the flock over the last five decades, is not too unlike what other evangelical pastors of strong conscience but misguided application (for example: John Piper) . They don’t want to sort through complicated facts and circumstances in determining when to perform a second, third or fourth wedding. They don’t want the gossip in the church that they know is sure to result if there is covenant reconciliation after an intervening adulterous union (perhaps on both sides), especially where there are non-covenant children. Counseling everyone to remain celibate seems like the best solution. However, it is not.
Before getting into the incompleteness of the picture Bro. Hertzler has painted, it is good to get grounded in the core truth about the indissolubility of holy matrimony as Jesus related it. Armed with this foundation, marriage heresies become much easier to spot. This process is akin to holding a counterfeit $20 bill up against the real thing. Many of the truths that rebut Bro. Hertzler’s theories are the same ones that apply to John Piper’s theory that disciples should stay in their adulterous remarriages rather than rebuild their covenant families, or build a first-time covenant family.
The first problem with Hertzler’s argument #1 where the non-covenant spouse who was in legalized adultery while having a living covenant spouse is aggrieved by a covenant remarriage of their faux spouse, is that the Lord expects that previously married non-covenant to acknowledge their unique, exclusive one-flesh status with that first spouse, plead for their soul, and seek or be open to reconciliation with that original spouse. Otherwise, there is a violation at the very least of the second “bullet” in the graphic above. The second problem is that Hertzler’s position wrongly assumes that a supernatural one-flesh God-joining occurred in the unlawful union, and it can’t be both ways. Hence there is also a violation of the first “bullet”, as well, entailed in this theory. God cannot join a spouse to two living spouses at the same time. He only took one rib from Adam. Jesus blew the whistle on Old Testament polygamy, both serial and concurrent, when He took us back to the creation. Covenant and non-covenant marriages are not morally equivalent at all, because neither are they metaphysically equivalent.
We respond to Bro. Hertzler’s point #2 the identical way we responded to Dr. Piper’s similar claim that unlawful vows are still binding on both illicit partners, but in this case we can go a bit deeper. Imagine standing before the Lord of Hosts, the God of Angel Armies, the God portrayed in Mal. 2 as rebuking the violence and treachery of discarding the woman He said IS (not was) “the companion of your marriage covenant”. Did He say this of wife number two with whom the priest also made vows? No, He spoke of effects on the generations of offspring. Just imagine standing before a holy God who tells us (2:14) He was the witness to your first and only covenant vows, and having the audacity to state this vow:
“I solemnly promise to spend every remaining day of my life violating the binding vows I made to the person You made me exclusively one-flesh with in my youth, the one who still lives.”
Would a Sovereign who expects forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution hear or hold binding such a vow, any more than He would hear and hold binding a vow that goes, “I vow to commit murder (hatred), and unforgiveness toward my one-flesh, all the days of my life…” ? Few of us understand what it means for God Himself to be a party to covenant, according to His character. Holding either non-covenant spouse to a vain, unlawful vow in which God’s holiness would never allow Him to participate is to hinder at least one of the spouses from setting the right example before covenant and non-covenant offspring alike.
Bro. Hertzler’s point #3 is the only one that comes even close to having some biblical merit, at least with respect to the spouse who was never in a biblically lawful marriage before entering the non-covenant one. Indeed, for many years pre-1973, the Assemblies of God had a firm rule against performing a wedding over anyone with a living spouse, and against giving credentials as a pastor to anyone who had a spouse with a prior living spouse, or if they did themselves — very simple, no further questions asked. As it happens, SIFC also knows many never-married men and women who have come out of legalized adultery unions who have no desire to marry another (widowed or never-married), even though they are free to do so because they would not be violating a one-flesh covenant. Most of them have children from those non-covenant unions. All of them earnestly pray for their non-covenant former partner to be reconciled with their true one-flesh. Most of them are driven by purpose to right this eternally-deadly immorality in church and society, and to serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Nevertheless, there was a joyous wedding this past week in the global marriage permanence fellowship. A long-suffering widow whose restored-prodigal husband died a short time after he forsook an adulterous remarriage and returned to his covenant home, has been joined by God to a man who came out of two non-covenant unions, the first as an unsaved person, and the second as a convicted, repenting follower of Christ. Like his covenant bride, this man endured years of hardship and sacrifice in order to meet his godly obligations to the members of that non-covenant home while exiting the sin, an act that was misunderstood by everyone around him. His testimony, written near the start of that journey, can be read here ( DWalker testimony). The wedding was proudly solemnized by a stander-pastor who has ministered for many years to the members of the marriage permanence community who might otherwise be cut off from any fellowship with the body of Christ due to their unpopular stand for the no-excuses indissolubility of holy matrimony.
Meanwhile, within that marriage permanence community, Bro. Hertzler’s blog has unfortunately caused great (if unintended) damage because of the distortion it has caused for some in applying 1 Cor. 7:11. It seems some carnal believers would like to apply Paul’s counsel to “remain unmarried or be reconciled” as a free choice between two equally moral and acceptable options, rather than the way he actually intended: “prefer reconciliation, but in the meantime remain unmarried“. Some see this distortion as a way to justify estrangement from an unwanted spouse who is not a threat to their safety or wellbeing or their walk with the Lord, and merely to get around the first part of Paul’s command that a wife should not leave her husband (1 Cor. 7:10). Once again, the heresy becomes easy to spot through the filter suggested in this post.
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