What about Divorce?
Divorce strikes a blow at the heart and core of marriage, one of the most important witnesses to God’s love present in the world. In a lost world, our marriages should reflect the love Christ has for His church. They should reflect the special, particular and peculiar love God has for His people. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). For this reason God declares, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
We also ought to realize, although unbiblical divorce is heinous sin which God deplores, it is not unpardonable. Divorce is forgivable. There are two sides. The church should never stigmatize the innocent party in a divorce. The testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church adds, “Where the guilty party shows evidence of repentance for the sin of breaking a marriage, the Church may receive or restore him or her to membership” (24:27).
There are two biblical grounds for dissolving a marriage, adultery and the desertion of an unbelieving spouse. Jesus is plain spoken, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus forbids divorce, except on the grounds of immorality, the sexual unfaithfulness of a spouse. Adultery is therefore a proper grounds to sue for divorce. Adultery does not constitute divorce any more than fornication, sex outside of marriage, constitutes marriage. Nor does adultery demand divorce. The path of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration is better where possible.
The second biblical ground for divorce is the desertion of an unbelieving spouse. “If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Corinthians 7:15). If the unbelieving spouse leaves the believer, Paul commands, “Let him leave.” Then Paul adds these telling words, “The brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.” In other words, the marriage bond is dissolved in this particular case. What do we do if a physically abusive spouse refuses to repent? We ought to follow the full course of church discipline. The end of the process is a declaration the unrepentant abuser is an unbeliever (Matthew 18:15-17). Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:15 then come into play.
In the cases of adultery and the desertion of an unbelieving spouse, both the church and the state should be involved. Men and women want to be married in the church. However, even when there is biblical ground for divorce, these same men and women too often hustle off to civil court without consulting the church. Referring to Deuteronomy 24:1 and 3, Jesus remarks, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'” (Mark 5:31). This law was not abrogated. A certificate of divorce is still needed. Who gives the certificate of divorce? We immediately think of the civil court. What of the church court? To publicly present the case of the innocent party as free from guilt before God, it is appropriate and wise for the church court to write an ecclesiastical certificate of divorce. When such action is properly considered by the church, men and women can be absolved of guilt before God and be free to remarry without the burdens of doubt clouding their lives.
For those interested in further study on the matter of divorce, I heartily recommend two books. Divorce by John Murray studies the key biblical passages on the subject. Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage by Jay Adams builds on Murray’s study and answers many practical questions. These two short volumes are well worth the read.