Divorce and Remarriage
Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
The children of Israel were camped by the Jordan River ready to cross over into the Promised Land. Moses, working on the final plans of the occupation of the land, was unaware of a problem that was developing. Balaam, a one-time prophet of God, had been employed by the Moabites to curse Israel. Being prevented by God from cursing Israel, Balaam had now counseled the Moabites on a course of action that would bring God's curse upon Israel. The plan was to lead the children of Israel into adultery and idolatry. The Midianites joined the Moabites in the scheme. Women from these two nations began to slip into the camp of Israel and entice the men into acts of licentiousness and adultery. It was the object of these women to seduce the Hebrews into transgression of God's law, to draw their attention to heathen rites and customs, and through the influence of sex, lead them into idolatry. Before Moses realized what was going on, Israel was deep into apostasy. God's judgments began to fall upon His people. Moses was instructed to destroy those who had led out in the apostasy. Thousands were now dying as a result of the plague that God sent upon the people. The chief offenders were killed and their bodies hung up in the sight of all Israel. A deep repentance swept over Israel. The people hastened to the tabernacle, and with tears and deep humiliation they confessed their sins. Twenty-four thousand men died in the plague that stopped only when the priest, Phinehas, killed a man of Israel and a Midianitish woman, who were openly defying God and mocking the judges of Israel.
Were it not for the swift action of Moses and the judges of Israel in slaying the leaders in the apostasy and the deep repentance manifested by the people, Israel would have turned back into the wilderness to wait for another generation to die. This experience is discussed in Chapter 41 of the book Patriarchs and Prophets. In that chapter on pages 457 and 458, we find this startling comment:
"As we approach the close of time, as the people of God stand upon the borders of the heavenly Canaan, Satan will, as of old, redouble his efforts to prevent them from entering the goodly land. He lays his snares for every soul.... And he employs the same agents now as he employed three thousand years ago. By worldly friendships, by the charms of beauty, by pleasure seeking, mirth, feasting, or the wine-cup, he tempts to the violation of the seventh commandment."
From our vantage point we can see that Israel's many sins resulted from being influenced by the philosophy of the pagan nations around them. We are in danger of the same thing happening to the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. Wife swapping, divorce, and remarriage have been so glamorized by movies and television and are so widely practiced that they have become socially acceptable. A few years ago a Sacramento police detective uncovered a wife-swapping club involving 32 couples. The District Attorney's office, however, refused to handle the case saying: "A private exchange of spouses among consenting adults for temporary pleasure is not a crime. Wife-swapping just doesn't violate any section of the California Penal code."
While such activities may not violate any laws of the land, they certainly violate the laws of God.
In Ex. 20:14, the seventh commandment says, "Thou shall not commit adultery." In Matt. 5:31 and 32, Jesus refers to divorce and remarriage: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." A little later, Paul gives the same instruction in Rom. 7:2, 3. "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. 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."
Like Israel of old, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is torn between the philosophy of the people around us and the Commandments of God. As a result, there is inconsistency between churches and between different pastors. It doesn't take much study, however, to convince us that this inconsistency is not the result of inconsistency or ambiguity in the Scriptures. Rather, it's the result of the desire to be like the nations around us. It's the result of being influenced by the philosophy of the world.
God's plan for marriage is found in Gen. 2:22-24.
"And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh."
In Matt. 19:6, Jesus makes it very clear that this unity or oneness is not to be broken:
"Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
It is true, in Old Testament times divorce and remarriage on grounds other than adultery was permitted. We read this in Deut. 24:1, 2. "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give [it] in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's [wife]."
This was pleasing to the carnal nature of man, and the Pharisees of Jesus' day were opposed to any light that might jeopardize its status. Jesus did not enhance his popularity with the Pharisees when He told them that it was never God's plan that the oneness of the marriage relationship should be broken by divorce. He pointed out that Moses permitted it because of the low moral concepts of the Israelites at that time after 400 years of slavery and pagan influence. Notice His words in Matt. 19:8, 9:
"He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery."
It is difficult to imagine how any Christian would want to reject the teachings of Jesus to live by Deut. 24. It would surely be the result of a hard and stubborn heart. Notice how this matter is described in Mount of Blessing, pages 63, 64:
"When the Pharisees afterward questioned Him concerning the lawfulness of divorce, Jesus pointed His hearers back to the marriage institution as ordained at creation. He said, 'Moses suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.'" Matt. 19:8.
He referred them to the blessed days of Eden, when God pronounced all things "very good." Then marriage and the Sabbath had their origin, twin institutions for the glory of God in the benefit of humanity. Then, as the Creator joined the hands of the holy pair in wedlock, saying, A man shall "leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one." (Gen. 2:24) He enunciated the law of marriage for all the children of Adam to the close of time. That which the Eternal Father Himself had pronounced good was for the highest blessing and development for man.
Like every other one of God's good gifts entrusted to the keeping of humanity, marriage has been perverted by sin; but it is the purpose of the gospel to restore its purity and beauty. We don't even have to leave the Old Testament to learn how God really feels about divorce. Notice Mal. 2:13-17 RSV:
"And this again you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, 'Why does he not?' Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel, and covering one's garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless."
We know that John the Baptist lost his life because of preaching that divorce and remarriage was sin. John was a fearless man. He was the herald of Christ. He called for repentance, a forsaking of sin in no uncertain terms. Position or wealth of the sinner did not cause John to change or soften his rebuke of sin. In Matt. 14:3, 4 we read:
"For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. For John said unto him, 'It is not lawful for thee to have her.'"
You remember the rest of the story. Herod and Herodias didn't like having their marriage called adultery. People still don't. The truth isn't any more popular today than in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus. The attitude of many in the church today is described in Prophets and Kings, pages 140, 141:
"There are many professed Christians who, if they should express their real feelings, would say, What need is there of speaking so plainly? They might as well ask, Why need John the Baptist have said to the Pharisees, 'O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' Why need he have provoked the anger of Herodias by telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with his brother's wife? The forerunner of Christ lost his life by his plain speaking. Why could he not have moved along without incurring the displeasure of those who were living in sin?
Jesus well knew how people in general felt about divorce and remarriage but He, like John the Baptist, clearly and forcibly defined it as adultery and sin. Notice Matt. 5:32.
"But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
Nothing but the violation of the marriage bed can break or annul the marriage vow. Divorce laws of our society are so liberal today that a man can divorce his wife for burning the toast, and a woman can divorce her husband because she doesn't like the way he squeezes the toothpaste out of the tube. But notice what the servant of the Lord has said in Adventist Home, page 344:
"A woman may be legally divorced from her husband by the laws of the land and yet not divorced in the sight of God and according to the higher law. There is only one sin, which is adultery, which can place the husband or wife in a position where they can be free from the marriage vow in the sight of God. Although the laws of the land may grant a divorce, yet they are husband and wife still in the Bible light, according to the laws of God."
Incompatibility in marriage is nothing new. It was a problem in Christ's time too. The disciples asked Jesus about it, and He gave them an answer. We find this in Matt. 19:10-12.
"His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, all men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
Just what do these words of Jesus mean? A literal interpretation would make them contradict the whole tenor of Scripture. The idea of bodily mutilation is abhorrent. Jesus seems to be simply saying, if you cannot get along with your mate, you may separate, but you must live alone the rest of your life. Note also that Jesus said that all men could not receive his words. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Just who are those able to receive it? Are they not those who claim to be His followers? Therefore, these words were spoken to His church, to be received by His church.
In Adventist Home page 345, we find counsel given to a couple who wanted to dissolve their marriage because of incompatibility:
"I have received a letter from your husband. I would say that there is only one thing for which a husband may lawfully separate from his wife or a wife from her husband, and that is adultery.
"If your dispositions are not congenial, would it not be for the glory of God for you to change these dispositions?"
Paul's counsel is the same as Christ's on the problem of incompatibility, 1 Cor. 7:10, 11:
"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."
He has the same counsel where the incompatibility is produced when one is an unbeliever. Notice 1 Cor. 7:12, 13.
"But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him."
Paul goes on to say in verse 15 that, if the unbelieving mate wants a divorce, the Christian is not to resist it. In such a case the counsel of verse 11 would still apply. The Christian would have to remain unmarried, until such a time that his ex-mate committed adultery.
Similar counsel concerning unwise marriages has been given to the church by the servant of the Lord:
"There are many unhappy marriages because of so much haste. Two unite their interest at the marriage altar, by most solemn vows before God, without previously weighing the matter, and devoting time to sober reflection and earnest prayer. Many move from impulse. They have no thorough acquaintance with the dispositions of each other. . . . If they move wrong in this matter, and their marriage life proves unhappy, it cannot be taken back. If they find they are not calculated to make each other happy, they must endure it the best they can." Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3, page 120.
"Is it the will of the Lord that this sister should be in this state and God be robbed of her service? No. Her marriage was a deception of the devil. Yet now she should make the best of it, treat her husband with tenderness, and make him as happy as she can without violating her conscience; for if he remains in his rebellion, this world is all the heaven he will have." Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, page 100.
Some may say that there are many ways that a husband or a wife may treat each other that may be even worse than adultery. Should not these give a person the right to divorce and remarry? We can only reply that our all-wise God gave only one reason for divorce and remarriage. We may wonder why He did not give others. We may think He should have. But as good as our judgment may be, we must admit that it is human judgment. Man has not been given the privilege of making moral law or exceptions to God's laws. God's word does permit separation or divorce in severe cases of incompatibility, but in such cases there is no permission to remarry in the absence of adultery.
Let's notice now the words of Jesus in Matt. 16:19:
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
In Matt. 18:17, 18, Jesus makes clear that this authority is given to the church and not just to one or two individuals. The Greek of both Matt. 16:19 and 18:18 reads literally:
"Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." The meaning is evident: Christ's representatives on earth have the right and the responsibility to bind whatever has been bound in heaven and to loose whatever has been loosed in heaven. The church is to teach what Christ has commanded. It is to require or prohibit whatever Inspiration clearly reveals. In chapter 18 church membership is connected with this binding and loosing.
Since Jesus plainly states that anyone who divorces and remarries for any other reason than fornication is guilty of living in adultery, the church has no alternative but to act in harmony with the decree of heaven. In 1 Cor. 6:9, 10 the Apostle Paul points out adultery as one of the sins that will keep a person out of heaven and in 1 Cor. 5:5-13, he ordered a man put out of the church because of such a sin:
"To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.... But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been given the following counsel:
"This statement (Matt. 18:18) holds its force in all ages. On the church has been conferred the power to act in Christ's stead. It is God's instrumentality for the preservation of order and discipline among His people. To it, the Lord has delegated the power to settle all questions respecting its prosperity, purity, and order. Upon it rests the responsibility of excluding from its fellowship those who are unworthy, who by their unchristlike conduct would bring dishonor on the truth. Whatever the church does that is in accordance with the directions given in God's word, will be ratified in heaven." Gospel Workers, pages 501, 502.
"He shows us that when His people are found in sin they should at once take decided measures to put that sin from them, that His frown may not rest upon them all. But if the sins of the people are passed over by those in responsible positions, His frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for those sins. In His dealings with His people in the past, the Lord shows the necessity of purifying the church from wrongs. One sinner may diffuse darkness that will exclude the light of God from the entire congregation." Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, page 265.
The purpose of such church action of course is twofold. It keeps the church pure, and it makes the sinner realize his peril. In the case of the man in 1 Cor. 5, it had both results. The man did repent and turn from his sin. But too often today the discipline of the church is negated by unwise sympathizers in the church.
"Private members and even preachers have sympathized with disaffected ones who have been reproved for their wrongs, and division of feeling has been the result.... Those who so readily sympathize with the wrong consider it a virtue; but they realize not that they are exerting a scattering influence, and that they themselves help to carry out Satan's plans.
"I saw that many souls have been destroyed by their brethren unwisely sympathizing with them, when their only hope was to be left to see and realize the full extent of their wrongs. But as they eagerly accept the sympathy of unwise brethren, they receive the idea that they are abused; and if they attempt to retrace their steps, they make halfhearted work. They divide the matter to suit their natural feelings, lay blame upon the reprover, and so patch up the matter.... False sympathizers have worked in direct opposition to the mind of Christ and ministering angels." Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, page 213.
Paul was careful to make sure this didn't happen with the man in Corinth:
"In my letter I wrote that you were not to associate with the immoral. I did not mean you were literally to avoid contact with the immoral in this world, with the lustful and the thievish, or with idolaters; in the case you would have to leave the world altogether. What I now write is that you are not to associate with any so-called brother who is immoral or lustful or idolatrous or given to abuse or drink or robbery. Associate with him? Do not even eat with him. Outsiders it is no business of mine to judge. No, you must judge those who are inside the church, for yourselves; as for outsiders, God will judge them. Expel the wicked from your company." 1 Cor. 5:9-13, Moffatt.
Whether this eating refers to communion or social eating we don't know. Very likely it refers to both:
"Christ's example forbids exclusiveness at the Lord's supper. It is true that open sin excludes the guilty. This the Holy Spirit plainly teaches. But beyond this none are to pass judgment." The Desire of Ages, page 656.
''Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house. Neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." 2 John 9-11.
These forbidden social contacts are to be distinguished from efforts to get him to see his wrong course and to save his soul. Such efforts certainly should be made by those who have any reason to feel that they might have some chance or success and have the burden to labor for him. On the other hand, close social relationships for the sake of sympathizing or friendship are to be avoided.
"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.... And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Ephesians 5:3-7, 11.
"Paul would have us distinguish between the pure, unselfish love which is prompted by the spirit of Christ, and the unmeaning, deceitful pretense with which the world abounds. This base counterfeit has misled many souls. It would blot out the distinction between right and wrong, by agreeing with the transgressor instead of faithfully showing him his errors. Such a course never springs from real friendship. The spirit by which it is prompted dwells only in the carnal heart. While the Christian will be ever kind, compassionate, and forgiving, he can feel no harmony with sin. He will abhor evil and cling to that which is good, at the sacrifice of association or friendship with the ungodly. The spirit of Christ will lead us to hate sin, while we are willing to make any sacrifice to save the sinner." Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 171.
"You must have charity,' is the cry heard everywhere, especially from those who profess sanctification. But true charity is too pure to cover an unconfessed sin. While we are to love the souls for whom Christ died, we are to make no compromise with evil. We are not to unite with the rebellious and call this charity." The Acts of the Apostles, pages 554, 555.
Some people get their lives so mixed up through their immoral acts that they can never be fellowshipped by the church again, and, if they are saved, they will have to be saved outside the church.
"It is impossible for E. to be fellowshipped by the church of God. He has placed himself where he cannot be helped by the church, where he can have no communion with nor voice in the church. He has placed himself there in the face of light and truth. He has stubbornly chosen his own course, and refused to listen to reproof. He has followed the inclinations of his corrupt heart, has violated the holy law of God, and has disgraced the cause of present truth. If he repents ever so heartily, the church must let his case alone. If he goes to heaven, it must be alone, without the fellowship of the church. A standing rebuke from God and the church must ever rest upon him, that the standard of morality be not lowered to the very dust." Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, page 215.
Without doubt, this would not be true of most cases. The Bible clearly teaches that if the sin that separated us from God is confessed and forsaken, it will be forgiven, and we can again be accepted as a part of the family of God. But, just as a person would not be readmitted into the church until he stopped stealing, breaking the Sabbath, and so on, neither is it justifiable to take a person back into the church, until he stops committing adultery.
A thought that is almost always presented when a case of adultery is being considered is a "lot of other people in the church are doing things just as bad, and nobody says anything about them." That may be true, although I've never received an answer when I've asked for the names of those who are doing things just as bad. You see, both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy distinguish between open sin and hidden sin. We know that there are many tares in the church, individuals who are not Christians, who are living in sin. But they are not doing it openly. Openly they try to appear to be genuine. Jesus tells us in the parable of the tares to leave them alone, until the harvest. Many sins are also committed by good Christian people because of the weakness of the flesh. But these are not deliberate, planned rebellion against God and His word. As soon as the Christian realizes what he has done he repents, forsakes the sin, and seeks forgiveness by confessing that sin to God. There is a big difference between this kind of sin and the stubborn insistence on a course that is known to be contrary to the expressed will of God. It is these acts that the church cannot tolerate in any member.
There is also a big difference between the divorce and remarriage of a Christian who knows the truth of God's word and a non-Christian or even a Christian who is a member of a church that does not teach the importance of keeping God's Commandments.
"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not to him it is sin." James 4:17.
"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: But now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." John 9:41.
Therefore, we don't presume to judge those who come into the Seventh-day Adventist Church from other churches or the world. We believe God accepts them where He finds them.
It was sin in the camp that brought down the wrath of God and delayed the entrance of ancient Israel into the promised land. Today, spiritual Israel is encamped on the borders of the heavenly Canaan. They are described as those who keep the Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Jesus is looking for a church "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Eph. 5:27.
Brothers and Sisters, let's cooperate fully with the Lord, so we can pass through the gates into the city of our God!
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