Sometimes discussions other places might be helpful here, so this is posted for the help of the saints. The subject is divorce and remarriage, and the discussion happened over on Santyville. If you don’t read it, check it out.

It’s not appropriate to publish other men’s comments and posts without their permission, so some of the context of this discussion is missing. I apologize.

Still, acknowledging parts of the discussion over there are missing here, here’s what I can post:

* * *

Yes, there’s a discussion about that to be had, but time is short.

I’ll say that every church is filled with people who have divorced unbiblically as well as those who have committed murder and incest and rape and theft and adultery and (almost everyone) fornication… The distinction is the secrecy of most of these as opposed to the public nature of divorce.

So, I am always disgusted with churches and officers who focus on the objectively verifiable sins—often with some numerical quality—while conspiring to keep hidden the subjectively verifiable sins—usually with no numerical value. “Husband of one wife” is the classic in the former category while “greed” is in the latter.

Most recently, we’ve had a wonderful illustration of this principle watching Al Mohler, Russ Moore, the PCA, and all the Gospel Coalition dudes (as well as tons of conservative leaders in the church here in Europe and especially in the UK) condemn sodomite copulation and marriage while blessing sodomite aesthetics and dress and mannerisms and relationships. In other words, condemning any filth on the outside of the cup while leaving inside of cup entirely alone. Sodomite copulation and marriage is objectively verifiable while effeminacy is only subjectively verifiable. Then too, you can always take the tack of denying effeminacy is any sin…

Note Kevin DeYoung hanging with these guys, by the way. We need to get over our desire for celebrities. Have you heard me say that before?

Anyway, that’s my two cents on this “discussion.” Love,

Then this:

It’s always been the case that men bed a virgin with the promise of marriage. Think haystack and words of lifelong love. Fidelity. Banns provide opportunity for women bedded to testify to those promises (or others who know of them). In other words, if (as I think is inescapable, doctrinally) when men have vowed marriage and consummated it, then move on to another woman, the bannes are the opportunity for the abandoned wife to claim her husband, her child’s father. Does this make sense? Love,

Then this:

I’ve always thought what John allowed in his congregation said more than what he claimed he believed. If a man writes that all remarriages are adultery, how does he salve his conscience watching his flock and sheep remarry? This was the practice at Bethlehem and I’m no fan. It’s one thing to grant people their consciences over baptism. The Didache gives us some precedent for this concerning mode, at least. But remarriage which (he says) is adultery? And constantly practiced under one’s authority?

Which is to say I don’t take seriously the claim of a man that he holds to some idiosyncratic minority position that he is able to avoid the cost of holding, personally.

Then too, the Roman Catholic church has practiced annulment which is tantamount to divorce and remarriage as the Protestants called for, in reform.

Then too, I can’t prove it, but I’d put money on the fact that the men who say they don’t believe in remarriage even in cases of the Biblical grounds of porneia and desertion are no longer saying the historical (Cranmer by way of the Sarum rite of the eleventh century) liturgy for weddings we in Evangel Presbytery use (with updated language) which reads:

Therefore if any man can shewe any juste cause why they maie not lawfully be joyned so together: Leat him now speake, or els hereafter for ever hold his peace.

And also speakyng to the persones that shalbe maried, he shall saie.

IREQUIRE and charge you (as you will aunswere at the dreade full daye of judgemente, when the secretes of all hartes shalbee disclosed) that if either of you doe knowe any impedimente, why ye maie not bee lawfully joyned together in matrimonie, that ye confesse it. For be ye wel assured, that so manye as bee coupled together otherwaies then Goddes woord doeth allowe: are not joyned of God, neither is their matrimonie lawful.

At which daye of mariage yf any man doe allege any impediment why they maye not be coupled together in matrimonie; And will be bound, and sureties with hym, to the parties, or els put in a caution to the full value of suche charges as the persones to bee maried dooe susteyne to prove his allegacion: then the Solemnizacion muste bee differred, unto suche tyme as the trueth bee tried. Yf no impedimente bee alleged, then shall the Curate saye unto the man.

Nearly no one today knows why bannes and these words were required, until recently. Do these men who claim not to believe in remarriage after adultery or desertion use these words at every wedding they DO agree to officiate?

Concerning divorce before regeneration, as Fr. Bill indicates, marriage’s laws are universal. Marriage is a creation ordinance, and so its laws are applicable to eveyone everywhere and always. We may disagree as to what those laws are and how they should be followed, supported, and enforced, but we can’t deny they always apply to everyone. Love,

Then this:

The connection I see is the vigilance, or lack thereof, at all the points of contention concerning the nature of the marriage vows, as well as how pastors shepherd their flock concerning them. My guess is that the banns are not understood in the UK any more than infant baptism (which is also commonly practiced there) is. So whether banns, or premarital counselling and the wedding liturgy, what’s consuming strongly opinionated men’s time is whether or not someone who’s “divorced” Biblically is “free” Biblically.

But peer under the surface and think about how many men and women being married without any apparent issue of “divorce” or “remarriage” are actually already married (private vows, for instance, which—yes—Calvin regularly adjudicated) so that the new union is adulterous. Even among the microscopic number of conservative (and even Reformed) Christian weddings that practice the historic liturgy of warning concerning God’s coming judgment, that warning and the nature of the sins that it is warning against are not explained so that everyone, including the bride and groom, hold their peace only because they haven’t the slightest notion what’s being asked or what the concerns should be, concretely.

As I think about it, this is directly connected with our propensity as pastors to focus our attention on things everyone knows about, especially if we can count those things (husband of one wife—see, it says “one”!), while we give hardly a thought to the things hidden which are more common and more of a violation of the making of their vows than legal and biblical divorce.

Let me give an example from my pastoral ministry, and it’s just one of many similar ones.

Let’s say a bride marries and finds out after the wedding that he’s not interested in sex. Counseling doesn’t help and years later he’s still not loving her as all marriages under the sky require at God’s command. What does the man who wrote a book about how his church remarries Biblically divorced people but he believes personally that his sheeps’ marriages are adulterous and they’re living in adultery; what does this author and pastor say to the woman whose marriage hasn’t been consummated years after the vows were given and received? Not being cynical, I ask also and more intensely if he’d even know, and I think not.

Now you [my interlocutor]  have written a book dealing partly with Owen’s pastoral care and you know how men in the ministry in past centuries were conscientious to care for their flock first by knowing them. From my knowledge of pastors across most of a lifetime now, it’s quite common for men to write articles and books posturing themselves as having this or that theological oddity which is, of course, very principled, while it is exceedingly rare for those men to demonstrate in their discussion of that oddity even a modicum of pastoral sensitivity and wisdom. Rather, it’s word studies and a smattering of allusions to this or that aspect of church history without engaging the banns, premarital counselling, pornography, annulments which are legitimate, annulments which are hypocrisy, couples living together after one or both is divorced from a prior spouse who have had children together—although they are not married to each other, etc.

That last one is so frequent (if, that is, the pastor has sinners in his church, and not just the righteous). So what does this pastor do with his (I say unbiblical) moral scruples with that couple and their children? His choices are tell someone under him on the pastoral staff to marry them because he can’t due to his moral scruples, but make it clear that he hopes he will marry them because it will normalize their sex and stabilize the permanence of commitment of their father and mother to the children. Pastoral stuff like that.

On the other hand, maybe he would tell the couple they should remarry their first spouses and split the children between those marriages? Or maybe he’d tell the couple they could live together with their children as long as they promised not to have adulterous sex? Or maybe he’d tell the man to move out and do visitation with the children? Or maybe avoid asking questions because, as a matter of fact, he’s famous and has a big church and never takes phone calls and runs around the country preaching to other pastors’ sheep, so he has plausible deniability out the wazoo. Who would ever bother wasting his time with the specifics of his rams, ewes, and rams; who would explain the smelly details of this particular suffering household among his own sheep, especially when the particulars here would be such a bombshell dropping on his well-known moral scruples about remarriage?

But back to principles. There’s reason the Reformers rejected the Roman view and practice of no divorce. What was that reason? And did they allow people to remarry if their spouse had committed porneia or abandoned them? And do we see the same sort of pastoral love and sensitivity and firmness and judicious weighing of particulars as we read today’s men’s explanations of their doctrinal and moral commitments concerning this matter?

That’s where I think we need to look and stand—with the Reformers. I don’t buy John’s private conscience in view of his staying and serving in a church where so many of his flock were living in “adultery.” But more, I don’t buy it because the arguments are bad and quirky across Protestant history, to boot. I don’t buy it because the men I’ve known in the pastorate who say they reject any remarriages after Biblical divorces have never shown me the sort of pastoral care for their flock that permeates the works of Owen, Calvin, Luther, and Bucer. This is a judgment, I know, and judgments can be sinful, but pastor to pastor, I will say that I’ve always felt this position was more an attempt to avoid getting messy and coming to smell like the sheep than it was trying to love and protect the sheep from sin. In other words, the position always seemed to be saying and telling people more about the man himself than the man’s care for his flock.

But who knows? I could be completely wrong about all the above. I’ll only add that the best reference for normal pastors to use with their congregations is the PCA Position Paper on Divorce, which I’ve recommended here and many other places before.

With affection,

PS: I’ve read a good bit on this, and preached two sermon series. Attached you’ll find my former congregation’s statement on divorce and remarriage which may be helpful to some, here.

Then this:

After sleeping on it, keeping in mind the text of the statement on divorce and remarriage adopted by Trinity Reformed Church linked above which we wrote and adopted two decades ago, this additional comment for the record:

The reason I’m being critical of men who firmly take their “no remarriage ever” stand is that they say they are holding onto a high view of marriage as God Himself also holds. Understand then that those who don’t hold to a high view of marriage are those who don’t firmly take a “no remarriage ever” stand. Whether they say it explicitly or it’s only by implication, taking the position that a high view of the marriage covenant is their reason for saying no remarriage ever is necessarily also a statement that allowing for remarriage is a lower view of the marriage covenant. So then, those who allow remarriage are participating in the serial adultery of the modern world.

Often it is stated explicitly, but even if not, the implication is necessary as they make their arguments. Cheek by jowl with that high position they craft for themselves (although the crafting is ever so meekly and humbly and charitably done) is the moral superiority of their prophetic witness in such a dark day.

In other words, there is something in it for them. This is critical to see. It must be recognized and acknowledged that both sides have a real vulnerability to being exposed as having sinful motives. Again, I say, both sides.

As is regularly pointed out in Scripture, forsaking the old paths is not just wrong, but flows from sinful desires and motivations. We must always consider what motivations there are in our own and our opponents’ positions. What may I be getting from my position and what may he be getting from his?

So, from my position, allowing remarriage may well be my unwillingness to stand as a witness against the evil moral condition of our day, particularly with regard to the covenant of marriage. I may desire to go with the flow on this, as well as to present myself as a softie to the women of the congregation by blessing what God condemns and thereby avoiding the awkwardness of refusing to bless the remarriage of our Christian sister’s new love after being abandoned by the father of her children years before for the purpose of taking up younger flesh. I may be willing to twist Scripture on sexuality issues in order to keep my job and unity in my session, and so on and so forth. I leave it to others to judge.

And what may those seeking to change the historic Protestant and Reformed church’s commitments on this be getting by doing so?

A word about who is following old paths and who is forsaking those old paths on this issue, which is to say a word about who is adhering to Scripture in this, as understood by our Protestant and Reformed fathers and their confessions of faith? Taking into account my possible sinful motives in doing so, why do I support remarriage?

Although I can’t remember officiating at any remarriages, I have supported several across the years. I believe “free” (1Cor. 7:39) does not just include freedom to divorce, but necessarily freedom also to remarry. A life with no possibility of companionship of oneness, the fruit of children, and a holy outlet for the desire for physical intimacy is not freedom. Rather, it is a punishment imposed on our sisters and brothers who are only “free” to divorce. So Calvin says in his 137th sermon on Deuteronomy, which text was 24:1ff.:

Now when Christ excepts the cause of adultery, it is to set the man in the case at free choice and liberty to marry again. For what a thing were it to bar a man from a new match; if he have observed his promise faithfully, and lived in the fear of God, and not been unfaithful towards his wife? If he be constrained to put her away, must he be punished for the offence of another? What reason were in that? Should he not have open wrong done him? Especially considering that our Lord Jesus Christ in that text adds, That all have not the gift of continency, and that such as have not received it, have the remedy of marriage, and that they ought to use it. When our Lord Jesus Christ pronounces this, think we that his meaning was that the poor wretched man who has lived blameless with an harlot, should be left in despair?

Nay: if he see filthiness in his house, he must, whether he will yea or no, cast forth such uncleanness, except he will infect himself therewith and be accounted a party in such wickedness.

Now if a man discharge his duty in this behalf, think we that God bares him of all right, and that he leaves him in such trouble and anguish, as he may not know where to become, but must remain unprovided of all remedy? It was therefore an over gross folly in men not to know that our Lord Jesus Christ leaves a man in free liberty to marry again, when his mate has violated the faith of marriage. As much is to be said in the behalf of the woman, seeing the right in this case is equal and mutual, as I have showed afore.

Calvin is always a pastor in his doctrine. Note carefully the reasons he gives for God’s allowance of remarriage; his reasons for declaring the previous marriage is not marriage any longer, and thus the innocent spouse is free to remarry. Calvin is so very sensitive to the ways Scripture can be abused (and had been for centuries by Rome) in such a way as to place poor vulnerable souls in lifelong bondage.

So yes, the Reformers also reformed the Romish denial of remarriage, as Calvin puts it here:

Thus you see how God may be honored and how his grace also and his blessing may dwell and abide in a family. And if a woman be so wicked as to prostitute herself, the husband according unto the will of God, may not only put her away, but is in perfect and full liberty to leave her, and to marry himself unto another.

The historic Reformed and Protestant church’s position countered the hypocritical practice of the Roman Catholic high medieval period in this matter.

But now, these men condemn their Protestant fathers and present Protestant brothers for error and laxity, insisting that any return of a high Biblical view of the marriage bond depends upon their reform of Protestant practice by starting a movement among us to deny that “free” means free to remarry.

Of course I don’t want to accuse them as schismatic, but anytime someone takes a central doctrine of the Church whose commitment to it has been well-worn across centuries and which is in line with the Reformers, reversing this doctrine—and at one of the most ethically sensitive places possible in the life of the congregation having to do with its families and children—he will cause division. It’s inescapable that such men cause division, particularly in elders boards. One man says he has a high view of marriage and the church should not allow remarriage. The other men look at him and begin to wonder why they always believed that remarriage was permitted in the case of porneia and abandonment? How did they get hoodwinked into being a part of what was apparently the wicked forsaking of the covenant of marriage across the world and church today? (There are always tender souls on a session prepared to receive their brother’s condemnation of their commitments and character, even if it’s not explicit.)

At this point, the man (or maybe men) present who actually know Scripture, doctrine, and church history have to pick up the cudgel and do battle, not only for the brother or sister this highly principled brother wants to consign to moral temptation and (often) impurity the rest of his life, but also the brothers present on the session who are about to join that consignment out of being told their low view of marriage is the reason they are prepared to allow remarriage in the congregation. In other words, the officers present in that meeting who know precisely the rot that followed this hypocritical position in the medieval period (and still today) must oppose this recrudescence today claiming itself as superior in its commitment to the marriage covenant; the brothers who know why the Reformers condemned this position’s condemnation of remarriage must seek to protect the unity of the church, historically, in this commitment to Scriptural remarriage.

Understand that, as with paedocommunion and Federal Vision’s flipping upside down of soteriology, it is the unified witness of Scripture and the Church’s proclamation of Scripture which is under attack. So the hurdle for these men is very high. They may be another generation of reformers or they may be merely schismatics. What is certain is that they are one or the other. In a day when adultery is everywhere and always both outside and inside the church, this issue is extremely volatile in every congregation.

Protestant fathers and Church fathers such as Origen and Jerome will prevail, or the (as I judge it) the schismatics prevail.

Let us note that John Owen summarizes the unified commitment of the church in this way, saying of freedom of remarriage following Biblical divorce (which he supported):

Again, the apostle Paul expressly sets the party at liberty to marry, who is maliciously and obstinately deserted, affirming that the Christian religion doth not prejudice the natural right and privilege of men in such cases, 1 Cor. vii.

“If the unbelieving depart, let him depart”; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. If a person obstinately depart, on pretence of religion or otherwise, and will no more cohabit with a husband or wife, it is known that by the law of nature, and the usage of all nations, the deserted party, because without his or her default all the ends of marriage are frustrated, is at liberty to marry. But it may be, it is not so among Christians.

What shall a brother, or a sister, that is a Christian, do in this case, who is so departed from? saith the apostle: they are not in bondage, they are free, at liberty to marry again.

Then note this statement Owen next makes:

This is the constant doctrine of all Protestant churches in the world. (Works, vol. 21)

Further demonstrating the unity of the church concerning remarriage, Chapter 24, Of Marriage and Divorce of the Westminster Confession reads:

Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party was dead.

What needs to be recognized is that those seeking to repudiate the historic Protestant and Reformed understanding of Scripture’s teaching on divorce (carrying with it freedom to remarry) are either reformers or schismatic. Further, we have huge records from history of the sins such bondage causes to permeate the church of the middle ages, and we see it living on in such churches yet today. Shepherds who love their flock know when the souls under their care are fornicating, but souls denying Biblical divorce cultivate ignorance of the suffering of their sheep in sin. That is my final observation, and I prove it by the history of Rome’s commitment to deny marriage both to their priests and to those who have Biblically divorced.

The Reformers were clear on this, and so we ought to be, also.

The attack upon this freedom is popular among a certain kind of pastor and online opinionater today. I’ve known pastors and elders personally who argued for it (although not in our congregations). I’ve been a part of a pastors fellowship which included a Protestant Reformed pastor, and we have debated it there. I’ve read a book or two on it by these men. And having done so, whether famous or infamous, I have no slightest sympathy for them in it.


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