Our politics, culture and churches are falling apart , and the root cause of this decay is divorce and remarriage….I want to demonstrate that our obedience on this issue is a fundamental reason for the havoc we are witnessing in our culture and that our obedience to Christ on this issue will also be a fundamental reason for the victory and restoration of our families, churches, culture and politics. – Author, Jack Shannon
This is a blunt book about God’s displeasure with the altars to Baal and with the Asherah poles that have been built up in our contemporary evangelical churches during the last four decades, and which are now under rapid construction in the last few years even in the Roman Catholic church under the “guidance” of Amoris Laetitia. (The mere fact that schism over this idolatrous altar-renovation work remains a threat to the RCC is, in SIFC’s view, a profound credit to the faithful discipleship of a remnant few in that church).
Written by the millennial son of a man who demonstrated what it was to stand for a difficult marriage and see it turned around, this book will also be a satisfying read for those who are shaking their heads at the hype over the tuck-tail Benedict Option (by Catholic convert, Rod Dreher). Equally commendable to his “stander”-father’s strong, unselfish discipleship is the fact that Jack came through both military service and a Reformed seminary with godly convictions fully intact, and in fact, gave a compelling, bold defense of the no-excuses indissolubility of holy matrimony in this 2016 presentation to a gathering of graduate students and faculty of St. Andrews College. Jack remains a never-married man, but has been engaged in the past. Contra Mundum Swagger appears largely based on that 2016 thesis but has evolved a bit in the year since he presented it.
For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.
– 1 Cor. 12: 8 -10
It is evident which of the functional gifts of the Spirit is in operation in this book, given that the author prepares his audience for the “tone” of the book (page xv of the Introduction). Most to whom this particular gift is distributed wish they could send it back and choose another that will get them in less trouble.
Fortunately, truth-telling, outspoken prophets like Hosea, Malachi, Ezekiel, etc. didn’t face a bunch of denominational scrutiny which some today are tempted to argue should therefore discredit the entire message. It’s OK to respectfully disagree with some of the critics, while also disagreeing with the denominational bias and eschatology first mentioned in the last few pages of the last chapter. But such is the author’s privilege, since what we believe about the latter is hardly a heaven-or-hell matter (as contrasted with the core central truth of this book). The marriage permanence community seems to abound with church-wounded people who will insist (without conclusive scriptural support, we’ll add) that pastor-led congregations are not a valid model for the New Testament Church. Once again, what we believe about this is not a heaven-or-hell matter, therefore objections that the organized church cannot or should not be an important part of the solution are in our view deceitful, counter-productive, and emotionally biased.
On the contrary, most of us read this book as a stern warning that the Lord is returning as prophesied, regardless of our morals, readiness or level of respect. It’s a clear message that God does reach a tipping point, time is running out and it’s either genuine worship and revival or it’s destruction.
A few nuggets from various chapters in the book:
(Concerning the abuse of grace, individually and as a national body of believers – page 40) :
When people refuse to repent their sins or willingly decide to worship in an unlawful way after being illuminated by the truth, they are bringing severer judgments on themselves for violating the Spirit of grace than if they were merely violating the Law of Moses. Notice that the punishment for unrepentant sin is harsher in the New Covenant. Let me say that again: punishments are harsher in the New Covenant.
(When true Christ-followers are accused of “obsessing” over the immorality of remarriage adultery while “ignoring” other forms of sin – page 43):
Other sins like lying and stealing may be happening in the church, but they are not defended or condoned by church leadership. We don’t get together and have ceremonies celebrating masturbation, lust, theft, murder or bearing false witness. But we do when it comes to the adultery of divorce and remarriage.”
SIFC Observation: Lust, theft and bearing false witness are all intrinsic to the adultery of divorce and remarriage, the last time we checked.
(Concerning the “sanctified” nihilism and defeatism that settles in at the church over abortion and gay marriage which directly results from failing to recognize or, even worse, remaining unwilling to remove the log in our own eye – page 82:)
But as it is, we point to things that aren’t really the main sins or are not as egregious as the adultery we affirm in divorce and remarriage. Instead we say we need to think more covenantally or be louder with our condemnation of abortion or homosexuality, or we formulate things like the Benedict Option where we learn how to give up our dominion mandate. We tell ourselves that this isn’t really our home and that maybe if persecution came, we’d be the better for it.
SIFC Note: Dr. Michael Brown is a key example of an influential church leader who has publicly admitted many times that the “log” is there, but he doggedly refuses to believe that it actually needs to be removed.
(Concerning evangelical cluelessness about why believers are coming under persecution rather than prevailing over the Sexual Revolution – page 136:)
Much of the evangelical world simply makes no connection between personal and cultural destruction and the sin in their lives and in their churches. They just think they are righteous, like Job, and are experiencing similar loss, when in reality they are not blameless servants. They are guilty as Ham, Achan and Ahab were.
From our perspective, the only thing we would have preferred to see more scholarly clarity around, is whether the “traditional view” of marriage (as attributed to the Early Church Fathers; that is, the idea that several of them seemed to hold, that one may civilly divorce due to adultery, so long as they don’t remarry while their “ex” spouse is still living) is really supported by honest original language translations of the original texts of their writings, as these Church Fathers are paraphrasing Jesus, who used the term “apoluo” – literally “from-loosing” – in both Mattl 5:32 and Matt.19:9, and “porneia” (“unchastity / prostitution” sometimes misconstrued as generic “adultery”), but we don’t really know if the various Church Fathers made the same word choices as Jesus. If they did,
I don’t think what Jesus said in Matt. 19:6,8 (referring to Gen. 2:21-24) actually supports this “traditional view” at all, and the quoted accounts of several ante-Nicene leaders have them appear to be contradicting Jesus in this, if the language translation of the koine Greek to contemporary English is as accurate as it is widely presumed to be. If we took an honest look at the original texts of these ante-Nicene writings (much the way we are actually compelled to do with scripture texts), is it not possible that “putting away” (apoluo) did not necessarily anticipate civil action but rather reflected what Paul was prescribing in 1 Cor. 7:10-11, especially given what he had just said in 1 Cor. 6:1-8 ?
The seemingly weak exegesis on page 26 of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 also contributes to the lack of clarity about “the traditional view”, and about whether the author is promoting it as being biblically supported. It seems at least as likely that the defilement of the dismissed wife was a condition that defiled her both before and after her first marriage (such as consanguinity, a long term disease of ceremonial uncleanness, pagan citizenship, etc.) as that it would be a sexual defilement which, if occurring in the first union – betrothal or post-consummation, was more accurately the topic of Deuteronomy 22, and was therefore a capital offense rather than a divorceable one — at least while Moses lived. It would hardly make sense for Jesus to forbid living in a state of lifelong unforgiveness and irreconciliation toward our one-flesh or anyone else under the New Covenant, while retaining some “defilement”-based prohibition of that reconciliation. As it stands, this book can legitimately be construed as promoting a “traditional view” that may not accurately reflect the majority of Church Fathers at all, because the book didn’t do the needed deep dive into those assumptions, despite devoting a chapter to those quotes. That said, we still doubt that the author’s intent was to promote the “traditional view”, but merely to describe it.
By contrast, it seems to this blogger that Jesus was not only saying that civil divorce of an original covenant pair was immoral, He was actually saying that marriage “dissolution” by any act of men was impossible. Since several of the ante-Nicene church leaders developed culturally-biased views over time, including ascetiscm, it seems that relying on what they said more than relying on what Christ said can lead to considerable confusion. Paul, on the other hand, strictly forbids believers to bring each other before a pagan judge (1 Cor. 6:1-8). This would be consistent with the findings of scholars Jones and Tarwater (2005) as they exhaustively concluded that there is not a biblical instance where God ever abandoned or invalidated an unconditional covenant to which He was a party. And God never “divorced” Israel, but suspended a conditional covenant while awaiting her repentance. Absent this small bit of clarity about the shortcomings of the “traditional view”, SIFC’s rating would have been five stars instead of four.
Even so, this book accomplishes all that we would expect from a truly outstanding book on this topic:
- Recognizing the difference between a root and its fowl fruit; correctly diagnosing the vain imagination that God-joined holy matrimony is “dissoluble” as the root to cultural decay of every other type.
- Calling out church leadership and false doctrine for their massive role in creating the mess and demanding that they repent, as did the prophets of old; notably, Ezra.
- Accurately likening the corrupt system of institutionalized adultery in the church to the crass idolatry that certainly it is.
- Frankly acknowledging the financial dimensions of this idolatry.
- Getting the historical context and the hermeneutics right.
- Not shying away from the biblical warning that to die in any ongoing state of sin will result in the lake of fire, no matter the civil legality of it.
- Denouncing the abusive annulment of holy matrimony.
- Setting a biblically-correct definition of “mercy”, “grace” and “love” that considers eternity, not just feelings and emotions.
- Calling upon anyone who is “married” to the estranged spouse of a living person to exit those unions regardless of the years of entanglement and regardless of children born into the unlawful union.
- Denouncing any believer who goes along with this immorality among friends and family members and who acquiesce to it without strongly warning the sinners of the hellbound consequences.
- Astutely diagnosing the troubled “psychology” within the contemporary church: loss of the mind of Christ.
- Accurately warning that true revival, when it arrives, is going to look scandalous to most, as repentance is going to cause the divorce rate in the church to literally skyrocket.
- Very appropriately weaving in a strong theology of covenant, which in fact is woven throughout the bible, which both begins and ends with a wedding.
- Recognizing that changing the laws and the political system isn’t impossible, but it’s highly unlikely until the church deeply repents, regains moral authority, and becomes actively involved in the process.
Some parting thoughts: Is it more appropriate for the church or for the state to have jurisdiction over marriage? Is it ever appropriate for the church to assume authority over divorce – either prior to believers taking their case to court or in lieu of ? Is the contemporary church in so much moral decay that they’ve forfeited any “competence” they may have once had ? Jesus said, render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and render unto God the things that belong to God. God created marriage, and man created the “dissolution” of marriage. As such, Caesar never had any legitimate jurisdiction over what should have been kept in the church with the exits securely bolted. The Protestant Reformers were eager to hand over to the civil state that which church leaders no longer wanted authority over. The only actual reason to do so was an intrinsic rebellion against God’s law that man has no authority to dissolve holy matrimony. None of this happened because believers were obeying God in the middle ages, but because they wanted an avenue for disobedience that would appear as legitimized. Taking marriage back into the church (with exit doors bolted) and boycotting the civil system altogether will seem as “dominionist” to some in the marriage permanence movement.
The Roman Catholic fringe of the movement is having a very vigorous debate over this “competence” issue right now, while many of the Protestants in the movement question the legitimacy of any large centralized church organization as biblically-supported. We need to determine whether the goal is for the church to have a role in meaningfully reforming civil family laws, in which case, size and centralized resources would be an advantage, or if the goal is to simply entice people away from the immoral civil system and back toward God’s law, then smaller, decentralized local church bodies with impeccable moral and disciplinary standards will do. True revival and repentance may help define the heart of God on this. SIFC proposes that it would not be out of the question for both approaches to coexist for a time and to leverage off each other.
When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7
May the Lord orchestrate the wide distribution of this book, and may He multiply its kingdom impact, in Jesus’ name.
7 Times Around The Jericho Wall | Let’s Repeal No-Fault Divorce!