Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Christian Attitude to Divorce And Separation

Christian attitude towards divorce
Flickr by Jennifer Pahlka
There are many wrong attitudes in the conservative Churches about divorce and divorcees. From the way that some treat divorced persons, you would think that they had committed the unpardonable sin. Let us make it clear, that those who wrongly (sinfully) obtain a divorce must not be excused for what they have done; it is sin. But precisely because it is sin, it is forgivable. The sin of divorcing one’s mate on unbiblical grounds is bad, not only because of the misery it occasions, but especially because it is an offence against a holy God. But it is not so indelibly imprinted in the life of the sinner that it cannot be washed away by Christ’s blood.

How did divorce begin? 

No one has a definite answer. But in Matthew 19:8-9, we see that it was permitted because of their hard hearts. God in Malachi 2:16 says: "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously."

The concept of divorce first appeared in the Bible when God issued a regulating injunction to Moses in Deuteronomy:  
“ If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, 'I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,'  then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the young woman's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, "I found your daughter was not a virgin," and yet these are the evidences of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.” Deuteronomy 22:13-19 (NKJV)
"If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”  Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NKJV)
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (NKJV) 

Moses did not forbid divorce but regulated divorce setting out three principles:
  • There was a written Bill of Divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1ff; Jeremiah 3:8)
  • The Bill must be served (given) to the divorced person personally by putting it in the other’s hand (No third person required)
  • The person divorced must be sent out of the home.

The Bible does not give a sample of the Bill but Bible Encyclopedia gives this:
“On the  ----- day of the week ----- in the month ---- in the year ---- from the beginning of the world, according to the common computation in the province of ---- I ---- son of ---- by whatever name I may be known, of the town of  ---- with entire consent of mind, and without any constraint, have divorced, dismissed and expelled you ----- daughter of ----- by whatever  name you are called, of the town of ---- so as to be free at your own disposal, to marry whomsoever you please, without hindrance from anyone from this day for ever. You are therefore free from anyone (who would marry you). Let this be your Bill of Divorce from me, a writing of separation and expulsion, according to the Law of Moses and Israel. 
----- Son of ------ (Witness) 
----- Son of ------ (Witness)

The Christian stance is that divorce is never desirable and among Christians; it is never inevitable. Reconciliation is always possible for believers under the care and discipline of the Church. While permitted for Christians in cases of sexual sin, divorce is never required. Every legitimate effort therefore ought to be made to help persons contemplating divorce to reconsider the alternatives, and to assist divorced persons to become reconciled to one another (whenever possible) before they remarry another and it is too late to do so.

Marriage is a covenant of companionship. A divorce is the repudiation and breaking of that covenant in which both parties promised to provide companionship in all its ramifications for one another. A divorce is in effect, a declaration that these promises are no longer expected, required or permitted. It is only when divorce follows Biblical pattern that the divorcees are permitted to marry new partners.

What is Separation? 

It is an English translation of the Greek word Chorizo which is to separate by divorce.

In the Bible, the modern idea of separation as something less than divorce whether legal or otherwise, was totally unknown as a viable alternative to divorce. Wherever the word separation appears in the New Testament in connection with divorce, it always refers to separation by divorce. This is how it appeared in Matthew 19:6; “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (NKJV) and in First Corinthians 7:10-11: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband.  But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” The separation makes the otherwise married people (agamos) unmarried – this is the effect of divorce.

Divorce among Believers

In First Corinthians 7:10-11, the first thing to see is that Paul gives no permission to separate, but that in acknowledging the fact that divorce may occur because of sinful disobedience, he simply wants to warn against further complications arising out of additional sin. In advising that they remain unmarried, Paul was allowing for the possibility of reconciliation. Marriage to another would preclude reconciliation.

Sometimes divorce is obtained in an unbiblical way – this divorce though sinful, breaks the marriage. Believers who wrongly obtain divorce are divorced and unmarried. There is nothing like “you are still married in the sight of God” It may lead to other sins of immorality.

Divorce Among the Unequally Yoked (A Believer And An Unbeliever)

Paul in First Corinthians 7:12-16 says: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband, who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace; for how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (NKJV) In these verses Paul is saying what was not covered in the teaching of Christ in Matthew 19:6: “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

It is one thing to contemplate divorce with a believer, there are resources (the Word and the Spirit), of which both parties may avail themselves; there is a mutually basic commitment to obey Christ and there is the process of Church discipline that may be activated if either one or the other or both refuse to deal with the problems. There is therefore hope for that marriage and every reason for insisting upon reconciliation. But here is an entirely different situation. None of these resources are available to the unbelieving partner. Rather than commanding the believer not to divorce his unsaved partner regardless of what happens, he requires that he/she must not divorce a partner who is willing to let the marriage continue. (May be saved through it and for the children)

Here the idea is that if the unbeliever is expressly desirous of separating by divorce, the believer must not try to hinder him/her.

No doubt, this is a difficult matter to handle but God will give us understanding and guide us to remain faithful to the Word of God. 

I would love to hear your thoughts

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