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Friday, January 23, 2009

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (1)

I don’t know of any subject that is more thorny, that has stirred up more strife and contention, that has caused more division among the people of God than this one! So a word of caution is in order.... I do not write this post, nor any other on this blog, to convince the reader of my point of view, to stir up strife or contention or to cause believers with varying opinions to divide from one another. My purpose (as with every post on this blog) is to simply chronicle how the Lord has used a wide variety of people to challenge and change my thinking and even affect the course of my life. I do not present my views here as being the “final word” on these matters, but simply record how my thinking has radically changed in the process...and is likely to continue to undergo further change as the Lord continues His work of transforming me into the image of Christ!

I should begin this post(or rather this series of posts!) by explaining where my thinking commenced and why it has changed over time relative to the matters of marriage,divorce and remarriage.

Like most people, my original thoughts and beliefs about many things, including marriage and divorce, were inherited directly from my parents. My parents believed
(1) that marriage was a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman,
(2) that divorce for any reason was wrong and contrary to the mind and will of God and thus
(3)that any remarriage after a divorce, while one’s former spouse was still living was also contrary to the mind of God.
Thus, as I grew into adulthood, I knew that many marriages were breaking up and ending in divorce (even among Christians!) and that many such people were remarrying. But I believed...
(1)that all such divorces were disobedient to the word of God and
(2)that all remarriages of divorced people (whose original spouses were still alive) were also acts of disobedience to God and
(3)that such remarriages were adulterous relationships.

I held these views for many years apart from any personal study of the scriptures. Thus they were simply “inherited opinions” on my part but I could not say that they were personal convictions of mine based on personal study of the scriptures!

Thus the first real challenge to my views on marriage and divorce came from another Christian, Steve Kember. I had moved with my wife and family from Collingwood to Norwich in March of 1989 in order to help Steve in Gospel outreach in this community and in the establishing of a local assembly of believers. In work such as this, one continually encounters folks in all kinds of marital situations.

If I was ever to list men that I knew who had the gift of an evangelist, Steve Kember would be the first on that list! He has a heart for the lost and has invested many years of his life seeking out those who are lost and patiently pointing them to the only Saviour of sinners. Since we have known Steve and Merle, they have sought out and have purposefully settled in 8 or 10different “out of the way” communities across Canada. In each one they have invested their time and energy getting to know and befriending people in those communities, and then sowing the Word of God into their minds and hearts. Steve has spent more time calling door-to-door than any other man that I know. He spends his days in this way seeking those who have an interest in spiritual things and then most often spends his evenings in small Bible studies in people’s homes further explaining the Gospel and instructing new believers whom he has lead to Christ.

So, as Steve saw many divorced and remarried people come to know the Lord, he had a natural desire to see them go on to live their lives for Christ and to minister effectively to others. Steve believed that when a person came to Christ, the sins of their past were forgiven and they were to move on from that point in the enjoyment of the grace of God without any changes in their marital status. I discovered that many other Christians shared Steve’s viewpoint.

I agreed that when people’s sins were forgiven, all sins were forgiven including divorce and remarriage! But I also believed that teaching new disciples involved teaching them to observe all the things the Lord had commanded His disciples. Thieves were to stop stealing and work to meet their own needs as well as to give generously to others. Liars were to stop lying and to begin consistently telling the truth. Drunkards were to no longer get drunken but rather to live their lives soberly and righteously. And those who lived in sexual immorality were to terminate such immoral relationships and to live righteously.

Those, like Steve, who believe that folks who get saved in various “divorced and remarried” relationships should maintain those current marriage relationships often express their thoughts in this way, “You cannot unscramble scrambled eggs!” However, they would make exceptions to that rule … If the two people who are married are...
(1) the same gender (because their ongoing relationship would be characterized by sodomy) or
(2)are siblings (because their ongoing relationship would be characterized by incest).
But such people do not generally believe that divorced and remarried folks should separate if spouses of one or both from previous marriages which God had joined are still living (i.e. if their ongoing relationship is characterized by adultery.)

To me, this did not seem to be a consistent manner in which to counsel folks relative to former sins and how to turn from them. But I was immediately confronted with another matter which was equally inconsistent in my own beliefs!.... If, as I’d always believed, divorce for any reason was wrong and contrary to the mind of God, how could I counsel any married people to divorce, even if their marriages were characterized by sodomy, incest or adultery????

I knew then (finding myself between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”) that I had a problem and that something in my own inherited belief system was wrong! So I was driven, out of necessity, to begin to search the scriptures to find the truth. I knew that scripture rightly understood would never leave one with a contradiction and (closely related to this idea), I also believed that there is no sinful behaviour or practice, no matter how “scrambled” it may be, for which God does not have a righteous remedy.
So, with these conundrums before me, I was driven to search the scriptures relative to the matters of marriage and divorce. I had many surprises in store as I learned that scripture had far more to say about these matters than I had ever dreamed! (To be continued….)


blessedwith8 said...

Has part 2 been written yet? This is a topic I would very much like to see addressed in full. Thank you!

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi "Blessedwith8"!

Yes, part 2 is the next post after this one. Just go to the bottom of the page and click on "newer post".

Would love to hear your own thoughts as this is a most unpopular view!

Yours in Christ, Bruce