A question was asked on the Puritanboard.com that I know a lot of people struggle with. Especially since divorce is so prevalent in all of our lives. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by divorce or remarriage. I know there are some who believe that a person is bound to a marriage covenant as long as death has not entered into the equation. That seems extreme to some people but it is based upon Romans 7.
(Rom 7:1) Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
(Rom 7:2) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
(Rom 7:3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
As I make reference to the passage in Romans 7 let me say something important. Allow me to quote my old Pastor Kimber Kauffman, “If we desired we could make Ronald Reagan look like a Communist if we didn’t read him in context and if we lifted portions of things he said or wrote without knowing the whole thought or context. The same is true for Scripture. We have to take in the whole counsel of God and understand things in their context.
The question asked was in the Original post was about the Permanence of Marriage Movement. I know that some people understand that the scriptures do not allow remarriage in any situation. They have been around for a long time. There is also the teaching that the Roman Church has concerning this situation and why they believe in annulments.
One of the best men I know responded splendidly to questions asked on the Puritanboard and I want to let him speak alone as I believe he is Biblical and spot on. His title and name is Dr. Alan Strange. He is an ordained Teaching Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a Professor at Mid America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana.
Dr. Strange started his comments off on the Permanence of Marriage discussion with this observation.
Rome has historically permitted bed and board separation in the case of adultery (and desertion, in which the remaining party has no choice in the matter).
The key here is whether remarriage is permitted. If remarriage is not permitted to the innocent party after adultery, for instance, then there is no biblical doctrine of divorce present. This is because if the divorce is biblically lawful, then the remarriage is lawful.
If remarriage is not considered ever lawful, then there is no true doctrine of divorce: this is patently unbiblical, whether practiced by Rome or some Protestant groups.
Let me be painfully clear: if the right of remarriage for the innocent party after divorce or the remaining party after desertion is denied, there is no biblical doctrine of divorce and remarriage present and God’s Word has plainly been denied, no matter how pious those holding such appear to be.
A question was then asked….
“Why the innocent party only? The divorce would be lawful for both parties.
To the OP, my previous church’s pastor held this view (Calvinist, but not confessionally Reformed). He took the passages on divorce in the case of adultery as addressing breaking of an engagement, not marriage.”
Dr. Strange responded…
I grant you that there may be mitigating circumstances for the guilty party in adultery and for the leaving party in desertion (conversion, for example), as well as disputes about what precisely constitutes desertion, all of which impact the consideration of remarriage.
However, those disputes are properly internecine ones among those who hold to the Bible and the WCF. Whether there is a right of real divorce and remarriage for the innocent and remaining parties is not a matter of dispute, but settled doctrine (v. WCF 24).
To address your question now more decidedly, let’s take the adultery exception. The reason that the guilty party has no right of remarriage ordinarily (notice that word) is because the guilty party has no right of divorce. Only the innocent party has such a right. And thus the right to remarry. One may not, in other words, commit adultery and say “Well, I’ve committed adultery and I now have the right to divorce and remarriage.” No, only the innocent party has the right of divorce and remarriage.
In the desertion case, the unbeliever may well get remarried, not thinking that they are bound by God’s law at all. That does not mean that they are not, however. They are and they have no proper right of remarriage, because they improperly and unlawfully left their mate.
So, no, ordinarily all the rights accrue to the innocent and remaining parties.
A responding question was asked….
“Thanks for your response. I’m asking more to the case of the innocent party divorcing. The guilty party is also divorced, correct? In which case they are no longer married. Why cannot they also remarry? I’m not in this situation, nor have I ever been (or anyone I know). I’m just curious.
Dr. Strange responded…
Because the right to divorce and the right to remarry are inextricably linked. Only one possessing the former also enjoys the latter.
If one committed adultery and that led to divorce, one has no ordinary right of remarriage thereafter. The right of remarriage is not a reward for committing adultery. It only pertains to the innocent party.
What the guilty party should do is repent and recognize that he has no ordinary right of remarriage (which is part of the repentance in this case).
Dr. Strange responded to something that took me back. A person brought up the truth of Ephesians that marriage is to be a picture of Christ and the Church. I found his answer very insightful.
Marriage is a picture of Christ and his church, Christ will not leave or forsake his church.
Dr. Strange responded to this…
This is thought to be sound-reasoning, doubtless; but it is, in fact, specious.
It is quite true that Christ will never leave nor forsake his own. It is not the case, however, that Christ will not withdraw the candle-stand, and thus his blessing and presence, from a church that has shown itself to be, as a visible church, not his own.
Similarly in terms of the church discipline of individuals: The above-stated position would suggest that Christ will not put someone out whom he has claimed by baptism and who has professed his faith and interest in Christ. But we know, of course, that those who by their life show themselves to be no true disciples, are indeed to be put out of the congregation. It is simply not the case that Christ will not disown those who, though having professed him, refuse to follow him. Do we need to give all the biblical citations for this?
One who sins against the marriage, who breaks the marriage vow by outward and actual adultery, is liable to be put outside the marriage, by a proclamation that no true marriage any longer obtains. The innocent party is not obliged to divorce the guilty but may do so, and in some instances, should likely do so (to maintain the institution of marriage that the guilty party has so badly besmirched).
To confess the permanence of marriage in this life is to make an idol of marriage, just as to confess that civil rebellion is never warranted under any circumstances is to make an idol of the state (or that the church must always be obeyed: that makes an idol of the church). All institutions given by God are relativized by our sinful estate and the commands of God for our relief in such. Only God is absolute and only he is to be obeyed at all times without qualification. Civil governors, ecclesiastical officers, and husbands do not enjoy inviolable authority. States, churches, and marriages may be dissolved in the proper circumstances. To teach otherwise is to establish a tyranny unrecognized by God’s Word.
Daniel Ritchie responded with another comment that I thought pertinent.
The analogy is not an exact one. The likeness between a marriage between a Christian man and his wife and Christ and the Church is an analogical likeness, not a univocal one. Otherwise, one would have to assume that the marriage between a husband and wife goes on throughout eternity, which is obviously unbiblical and unconfessional, as marriage is only for the present life.
Another person asked this question…
Does the offended party in the case of sexual immorality have the right to divorce or the requirement to divorce?
Dr. Strange responded with a statement he made earlier.
The innocent party is not obliged to divorce the guilty but may do so
As I noted above, the innocent party has the right to sue out a divorce (in the language of WCF 24.5).
A following question was asked…
Yes, I understand the WCF says they have the right to sue according to 24.5. I am asking on what basis would someone determine whether or not to sue. If it’s not required, but merely a choice, on what basis do they make that choice?
Dr. Strange’s response…
I would say that many factors would go into determining whether or not one would sue out a divorce, including what Edward notes immediately above (carefully considering the counsel of the Session).
[Reference was made upthread to the PCA study report by the Baptist missionary.
I would highlight this portion:
“i. That in matters pertaining to sexual immorality and desertion, the pastor and Ruling Elders are responsible for providing counsel, direction and judgment, according to the Scriptures and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America.”]
Having dealt with a number of adultery cases before, I would say that the chief factors in my counsel are both the nature and degree of the sin(s), the nature of the repentance and sincere seeking of reconciliation. These things all very widely and one has to take each case and all its details into account.
I do believe that the language you employ (“merely a choice”) prejudices this in a way that neither the Scripture nor the Standards do. The Standards say “it is lawful,” meaning that it is in keeping with God’s law, and is not a violation of God’s law, to do so. This is all quite a bit weightier than “merely a choice” suggests (vanilla or chocolate is merely a choice; this is far more serious). I think that all the sorts of things that I mentioned above would (the details and circumstances of the case) suggest when one might refrain from divorce in such cases and when one should engage in such.
For example, and this is the “easy case,” a party that has committed and continues impenitently to commit adultery should not be allowed to continue on as if there is any longer a meaningful marriage here. These sorts of observations could be multiplied many times over but I wouldn’t think that would really be necessary.
I am standing by to see how this conversation continues. But I find Dr. Alan Strange to be full of wisdom as an Elder and Shepherd of the flock. I also appreciate the fact that he acknowledges that remarriage may be unlawful for the offending member.
The next question is mine based upon the following.
Dr. Strange stated…
“If one committed adultery and that led to divorce, one has no ordinary right of remarriage thereafter. The right of remarriage is not a reward for committing adultery. It only pertains to the innocent party.
What the guilty party should do is repent and recognize that he has no ordinary right of remarriage (which is part of the repentance in this case).”
I am standing by to see how this conversation continues. But I find Dr. Alan Strange to be full of wisdom as an Elder and Shepherd of the flock.