This article reflects our elders’ Biblical interpretation of the design and purpose of marriage and also addresses the issues of engagement, divorce, separation, remarriage, and death as they are dealt with in Scripture.
Design & Purpose
Marriage is a covenant created by God between one man and one woman in which the two are united and become one flesh.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. -Genesis 2:24
Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Husbands and wives are given different, yet complimentary roles for the purpose of illustrating this relationship.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. -Ephesians 5:22-27
Marriage is not required for all, but it is encouraged for many.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. -1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Believers who are not called to singleness should seek a believing spouse and should not enter into relationship with unbelievers on the grounds that their lives do not share a common foundation in Christ.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? -2 Corinthians 6:14-15
Marriage is to be honored and carried out according to the commands of God. A couple seeking marriage should make a commitment to uphold the honor of the covenant by remaining pure until marriage.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. -Hebrews 13:4
Scripture gives command to married couples not to separate. In the case in which separation does occur, the call is towards reconciliation.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. -1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Divorce & Remarriage
On the issue of divorce and remarriage, our elders hold to a limited range of diversity on position due to specific interpretations of Scripture. Therefore, our counsel will be within the scope of the two positions listed below.
POSITION 1: PERMISSIVE
In this interpretation, Jesus gives an exception clause for divorce and remarriage in the case of sexual immorality. In this case, Jesus implies that everyone who divorces on the grounds of sexual immorality does not make their spouse commit adultery.
““It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. -Matthew 5:32
This exception is seen again later in the same gospel (1):
“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”” -Matthew 19:3-9
A second exception is seen in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. If an unbeliever chooses to separate, the deserted spouse is free. (2)
But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. -1 Corinthians 7:15
POSITION 2: PERMENANCE
Divorce is never the revealed will of God for us. No where in Scripture are we commanded or encouraged to divorce our spouses. Even when asked why Moses allowed for a certificate of divorce to be written, Jesus reiterates that this reality only comes to pass because of the hardness of people's hearts. He goes on to say that it was not so from the beginning (Matthew 19:8) and that man should not separate what God has joined together.
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” -Mark 10:2-9
Divorce is connected to faithlessness and we are commanded to guard ourselves from it.
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” -Malachi 2:16
Divorce is not even commanded in the context of a marriage which was entered into or later made to be unequally-yoked.
“…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.” -1 Corinthians 7:12-13
Jesus teaches that remarriage after divorce brings with it potential additional sin in the life of the one who divorces and the one previously unmarried who agrees to marry one already divorced.
And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” -Mark 10:11-12
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. -Luke 16:18
There is only one circumstance in Scripture in which remarriage is explicitly allowed, that being in the case of the death of a spouse. This leads us to give only one exception clause in our marriage vows: "'til death do us part.”
Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. -Romans 7:1-3
It should also be noted that remarriage is in no way required in this instance (1 Corinthians 7:40), but it is certainly permitted in the context of another believer.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. -1 Corinthians 7:39
The covenant of earthly marriage is not binding after the death of a spouse, nor will it be carried over likewise into eternity.
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. -Matthew 22:23-30
Our elders take very seriously Scripture’s exhortation to shepherd those in our care (1 Peter 5:1-3). This often requires much prayer, counsel, and intercession as each marriage presents unique situations. Our aim is to counsel in the way that most faithfully applies Scripture to the situation presented and also extend grace where biblically possible.
Below are some general Scriptural applications as they relate to both our counsel and also to our exercise of church discipline in the context of marriage:
Our elders will only officiate weddings between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24) after a period of pre-marital counseling.
Because of the one-flesh union of marriage in Scripture, divorce and remarriage are not God’s explicit will of command for us. That said, the two potential exceptions for this are the two potential exceptions in Scripture mentioned previously. In the case of those situations (sexual immorality or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse), our greatest hope and primary counsel will be towards repentance of the offender, forgiveness from the offended, reconciliation, and restoration. However, especially if the offending spouse continues in unrepentance, we believe there is room in Scripture for lawful divorce and remarriage. Therefore:
If one of our members divorces their spouse on the grounds of sexual immorality and marries another (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:3-9), we will not practice church discipline on the offended party as it relates to sexual immorality.
If one of our members divorces their spouse on the grounds of separation of an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:15) and marries another, we will not practice church discipline on the offended party as it relates to abandonment.
In the case of those remarried after a divorce, our elders will not counsel additional divorce to return to a previous spouse (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Therefore, based on our interpretation of Scripture, as a matter of conscience some of our elders may feel free to officiate marriages involving at least one divorced spouse, but only when they are the offended party in the case of sexual immorality or abandonment by an unbeliever.
The reason many who hold position 2 (permanence marriage) believe this exception was given only in the gospel of Matthew is because it is the only gospel that gives an account of Joseph resolving to put away Mary after she became pregnant during their betrothal (Matthew 1:18-19).
Permanence marriage proponents (position 2) believe the reason the Greek word used in the “exception clauses” is Porneia (fornication, outside of marriage) rather than Moicheia (adultery, inside of marriage) is to help us understand how Joseph would have been just to put away Mary during their betrothal when he believed she had fornicated. The two words (Porneia and Moicheia) are used distinct from each other not only in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, but in other verses and lists in Scripture (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; etc.).
In John Piper’s article, “On Divorce And Remarriage In The Case Of Adultery,” he gives 4 reasons for this interpretation: “1) it does not force Matthew to contradict the plain, absolute meaning of Mark and Luke; 2) it provides an explanation for why the word porneia is used in Matthew’s exception clause instead of moicheia; 3) it squares with Matthew’s own use of porneia for fornication in Matthew 15:19; 4) it is a very astute addition which promotes the truth of Jesus’s own absolute command and the rightness of Joseph’s intention in resolving to divorce his betrothed, Mary.”
The interpretation of this text for those who hold position 2 is that the person who has been wronged is free from a pursuit of their unbelieving, separated spouse. They are not free, in this interpretation, however, to be divorced or remarried (1 Co. 7:10-11).