July 13, 2020

Divorce, Remarriage and The Gospel: Part 1

girldepress.jpgHis name was Charles, and he worked with the Boy Scouts in our state. A troop was starting to use our building, and I was the staff liaison. Charles and I met together every month, and I found out that he was a Baptist preacher and a serious Christian. Over the years, I watched Charles walk through the nightmare of his wife leaving him, divorcing him, and marrying another man. He lost his ministry and was a broken person.

What I remember most is a discussion we had one day when Charles kept referring to the woman who was now married to another man as his wife, and continued to talk about his hope of reconciliation. She had abandoned him. She had divorced him. She had married another man and started another family. Charles refused to recognize any of these things as a “done deal.” He had no plans to move on with his life or to recognize these events as “final.” In his mind and heart, he was a married man, praying and hoping for reconciliation and a return to ministry.

You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, that I told Charles he needed to accept what had happened as real and over. I urged him to recognize that his marriage was over, his wife was now living as the wife of another man, and God wanted him to move on. Waiting for his wife to leave her new family and come back to him was not the path God had set before him. His way forward was to accept the tragedy and to find the good gifts of God in a new chapter.

As I think over these events now, I hurt more than ever for Charles. My own marriage failures have made me sensitive to human brokenness in ways I wasn’t at the time I knew Charles. I know other ministers- some through their own failures and some through no fault of their own- who have lost their marriages and faced the questions of divorce and remarriage.

I also know many divorced persons. Some of them are Christians who would like to have a Christian marriage. They have learned lessons in sin, law, grace and forgiveness, and they want to be married again to faithfully serve Christ through marriage. They are people who are not called to celibacy, have repented of their failures in marriage, and who believe in the grace of God that sends sinners of all kinds back into relationships and callings to glorify Christ by enjoying the undeserved, lavish forgiveness of God.

They are people who read the story of Jesus forgiving a woman in John 4 without telling her to go back to the first man she was intimate with, and who seems to recognize her life now- a life that results from a history of immoral relationships- as the place where the grace of God will meet her in the future.

As a pastor, I’ve often been asked to perform marriages for divorced people. Each one was different, but all of them placed me in the position of having to make a decision about what I believed was right. Marriage is a civil institution, and the laws of our country allow divorce and remarriage. The church has no official commission to officially approve marriages, and pastors have no Biblical commission to perform a wedding “ceremony.”

Still, the recognition of the legitimacy of a marriage is moral act. Marriage is defined by Christ and is intimately related to the Gospel. Marriage enters into issues of church discipline and church leadership. It is obvious by reading the New Testament that the early church was interested in the application of Christian marriage to their own cultural and pastoral situations. Paul is bombarded with pastoral questions and crisis situations regarding marriage in the Corinthian church. There is no way to ignore the implications of divorce and remarriage for any Christian, and particularly for any church.

Two contemporary reformation Christians who have wrestled with these issues and expressed their convictions in guidance for their (large) congregations are John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

John Piper’s Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage goes back to 1986. An undated shorter paper dealing with Piper’s interpretation of the “remarriage after adultery” clause in Matthew is also available. A 1989 paper expresses the official position of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll has recently shown his kinship to Piper on this topic in a series of posts at his own blog. The entire content is available in a 25 page pdf file.

I do not intend to comment on the positions of these two men or of their churches. (It appears that BBC and Piper do not have identical positions on remarriage, but I do not know the current status of this issue at BBC. It would not be the first time that pastor Piper took a position that was different than the actual, final position of the elders as a whole or the church.) I will note that the positions of these men and their churches will be influential within conservative evangelicalism for years to come. Their view of remarriage, in particular, should be of interest to all of those dealing pastorally with divorced persons.

In a short series of posts, I will examine the issue of divorce and remarriage and affirm both my respect for those who wrestle with the issue pastorally and those who differ from me in the final application.

My goal is for Christ and the Gospel to be central, and for God to be glorified in the lives of people like Charles and my divorced friends.

Comments

  1. ed lebert says

    My father is about to be married for the fifth time. His last wife is a Christian and she has already remarried to another Christian who has been married 2 or 3 times and has kids from all those marriages. Such is the landscape of America and its churches.

    I found John Piper’s biblical case for his position pretty convincing, but I look forward to what you have to say.

  2. What luck :). I’ve been wanting to research this topic, so I look forward to your perspective.

  3. I look forward to your posts, too. My sister’s divorce was final last week–29 years of marriage, two grown kids and the ex husband is a “pillar” in the church. Their struggles were in the realm of the physical–let’s leave it at that. They tried for years to make it better. The ink wasn’t even dry on the papers before he announced he was dating a woman in the same church–so maybe your posts will give me some insight into how to comfort my sister.

    I must confess I approach the “giants” like Piper with a bit of suspicion–maybe I’m just tired of the consumer-driven mass consumption of their ideas. I’d rather wrestle with someone like you who’s sholarship seems as sound and credible and whose humble, candid daily walk makes your ideas accessible to someone like me working out my salvation day by day.

  4. Here’s a link to a good solid sermon of the topic that even goes after some of the grey areas that make these discussions difficult:

    http://www.marshillchurch.org/audio/060514_1Cor_18_16k.mp3

  5. Piper’s position has no grace. Period. No room for repentance, changed hearts, changed lives.

    Driscoll’s position encourages a believer to marry an unbeliever – if the unbeliever happens to be an ex-spouse.

    After reading Mars Hill’s new position paper, is the sermon much different?

    Neither of these men address God’s divorce and His (if we consider the Trinity) upcoming marriage to His new bride.

  6. ed lebert says

    mzellen,
    To be fair, Piper’s paper isn’t a sermon – it’s a “position paper”. It’s sole purpose is to lay out, point by point, biblical evidence for a position he holds on divorce and re-marriage – not to be a pastoral guide to counseling divorced Christians.

  7. my concern is that christians seem almost obsessed with divorced…like a hungry dog on a bone…it’s as if divorce is THE big sin and if you divorce and if you get remarried you can never minister again because you might infect others with your poison. This is so wrong. So judgemental. So hypocrytical. I can’t imagine Jesus would treat people like that. I can’t imagine his tatoo’d hands and bloodied back and pierced head were for that kind of treatment. Where’s the love? the Grace? the Mercy? I dont’ get it? And, I got marrie when I was 17 to my high school love, and next feb we will celebrate our 30th anniversary…our daughter however, tried to make her marriage work, but, her seven year marriage …had biblical grounds for divorce..yet, she hung on praying God would heal it all…, she’s divorced and had been told at one church she could work with children but not with youth (which is where her heart is)….what? So, what’s the difference? Either she can or she can’t……minister. Either we ‘forgive’ her or we don’t. Either we embrace her and love her, and recognoze that Jesus blood covers her great ‘sin’ of divorce just as he covers all her other sins…and she is right in His eyes, so she should be right inours..or she’s not…..

    Now, off my soapbox…..I look forward to your teaching!!!

  8. Search Your Bible says

    MARRIAGE = A COVENANT BETWEEN ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN…UNTIL DEATH

    Divorce + Remarriage = Adultery

    http://www.cadz.net/remarriage.html

    http://www.marriagedivorce.com/mdreform2.htm