Divorce and Remarriage
God created marriage as an integral part of His plan to prosper His world and bless mankind. His desire was; to visualize the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church1; to meet men’s and women’s need for intimacy2, and finally to populate the earth with people who reflect His image3. Because marriage is critical to God’s mission of redeeming the world, Satan has made its destruction a priority. His strategy is to undermine the importance of marriage, minimize the effect divorce will have on the family and seduce people to embrace an alternate lifestyle.
Because God loves us, He has provided clear instructions on how married couples can experience oneness and fulfill His vision for their union4. By means of His empowering Spirit and gospel of grace, He has provided not only the means needed to love and serve each other but also the forgiveness and healing needed when their marriages fall short or fall apart. And through His church, He has provided a community that can give counsel and support in restoring them.
Biblical Grounds for Divorce
God’s desire and design are for marriage to flourish for a lifetime. But in a fallen world, there will be cases when a person will break their vows and desert their mate. The Lord addresses these circumstances in His Word, providing two clear exceptions to His command to believers, not to divorce5.
- The first biblical ground for divorce is adultery. When Jesus was asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”. Jesus reiterated the idea of one man and one woman in a personal, purposeful, and permanent relationship. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 no man separate.”6 Then Jesus states clearly the exception, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”7
- The second biblical ground for divorce is desertion by an unbelieving mate. The Apostle Paul states, “If the unbelieving one (mate) leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”8 If a believer is married to an unbeliever and the unbelieving mate wants to end the relationship (the word leave, chorizo, is a Greek term for divorce), the believer is not required (“under bondage”) to preserve the marriage. It is important to note that desertion usually entails the physical separation of a spouse by moving out of the marital home, but it can also include other forms of desertion of the marriage, including persistent and unrepentant abuse and addiction.
In these cases, an offended mate has a biblical right to divorce their husband or wife. At the same time, they should seek the Spirit’s guidance and the wisdom of the Elders and Christian counselors in taking that step, cultivating a heart of forgiveness and an openness to relational reconciliation for the benefit of their family and to keep the door open to God’s purposes in the future. Nevertheless, the aggrieved spouse may come to regard the marriage as irreparably broken and pursue divorce. In this case, the elders of Fellowship will be supportive of the aggrieved spouse’s decision and minister to him or her without reservation. If God confirms their decision, the church will do everything in its power to stand with them and their family.
Biblical Grounds for Remarriage
Whether a Christian who has divorced their mate on biblical grounds is free to remarry is a question of scripture. Their spiritual status has not changed in any way in the eyes of the Lord or the church.
- Jesus gives permission for someone to remarry when adultery has taken place. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”9 Here, the phrase “and marries another” raises the issue of remarriage. Jesus states that divorcing a mate on the grounds of immorality frees the offended mate to remarry without committing adultery.
- Paul upholds the idea of permanency in marriage10, whether it be to a believer or unbeliever, yet gives permission for a believing mate to separate if deserted by an unbeliever. Paul states, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage (no longer bound) in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”11 According to Paul, because desertion severs the marital bonds an abandoned believer is not commanded to stay in this marriage. An implication of the marriage bonds being severed is that remarriage is possible, but we must acknowledge that remarriage is not specifically addressed by Paul in this passage.
So, based on the above passages, remarriage following a biblical divorce for adultery seems explicitly permitted by Christ, and remarriage following a biblical divorce for abandonment by a non-believing spouse may be permitted as an implication of the teaching of Paul. The elders recognize that among orthodox evangelical churches there are conflicting interpretations of scripture concerning the possibility of remarriage in the case of biblical divorces. As such, we do not assert that any particular interpretation is binding upon the consciences of our members.
At the same time, the Elders urge every member who is contemplating remarriage, an act which will likely cut off any possibility of reconciling with a former spouse, to patiently wrestle with this possible step through prayer and study of these scriptures, seeking God’s wisdom and direction and the counsel of pastors and elders. In this process, the Lord may affirm a life of singleness in His service which He commends as a good thing and empowers some individuals to enjoy, or He may provide the peace that remarriage is what is best. Ultimately, if an offended mate chooses, in consultation with and the concurrence of the elders, to pursue either singleness or biblical remarriage, the church and its Elders commit to fully embrace, love and support them in that pursuit. This includes our pastors officiating at weddings of those pursuing a remarriage following a biblical divorce.
But it is our conviction, however, based on the clear teachings of Jesus, that remarriage is not permitted in the case of an unbiblical divorce due to the continuation of the bonds of marriage in the eyes of God. Yet, while remarriage following an unbiblical divorce is a sin, it is not a special category of sin that is beyond God’s merciful grace. Those in an unbiblical marriage should not compound their error by divorcing their spouse, but should instead confess and repent of their sin and bear fruit in their lives in keeping with that repentance.
Determining the Spiritual State of a Mate
It is the responsibility of the elders to prayerfully discern and determine the spiritual state of the two parties. The Apostle Paul writes that the church leadership is responsible to judge the spiritual nature of those in the church and for some causes, to remove any “so-called brother”12, who claims to know Christ but does not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. If the condition of a mate is unclear, the Elders will establish a process to determine his/her walk with Christ through demonstrated faithfulness to biblical counsel. If further evaluation is needed a temporary separation or, in extreme circumstances, a permanent separation may be required to demonstrate a person’s genuine faith.
It is incumbent on the church Elders not to allow anyone to be held hostage by the deliberate, sinful actions of a “so-called brother.” Our model in taking these steps is God Himself, who divorced faithless Israel, saying, “And I saw all the adulteries of faithless Israel and sent her away and gave her a writ of divorce.”13
The Church’s Responsibility Regarding Unbiblical Divorces
God gives clear directions on how the church should respond to a husband or wife who divorces their mate without biblical grounds. His desire in taking these steps is to protect His church, name, and mission and pursue the disobedient mate. So when a person pursues an unbiblical divorce, the church has two scriptural responsibilities.
- We are to protect the spiritual life of the church. The Apostle Paul states that the spiritual leaders of the church are to confront this behavior so that its presence in the body does not infect and affect the church.14
- We are to strive to restore the erring member. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that the shepherd who has a hundred sheep will go and search for the one who has strayed.15 Our compassion moves us to pursue and restore the offending party. The remedy for an unbiblical divorce is the same as it is for any other sin: for both parties to demonstrate godly sorrow, repent of their sin, confess it and once again believe in the Gospel. One manifestation of Godly sorrow and repentance is a heart of contrition and a desire to make amends for the harm caused by the divorce. Every person who is repentant of the sin of an unbiblical divorce will be restored to the full life of the church, in celebration of God’s wonderful grace.
Spiritual Consideration Resulting from Unbiblical Divorces
- The pursuit of the Offended Mate – For the believer who has divorced their mate without biblical grounds, a sign of true repentance will be the desire to restore the relationship with the person that has been divorced. This pursuit should seek to reestablish a spiritually healthy relationship. If the former mate is not remarried and is responsive, this pursuit should involve marital counseling to determine if God will restore the marriage.
- Remarriage of An Offending Mate – The biblical freedom to remarry is based on several factors including the individual’s demonstrated repentance, their mate’s marital status, and their grounds for divorce. The Elders will work with anyone considering remarriage to help them determine beforehand their freedom to remarry.
The issues of Divorce and Remarriage are often very complicated. To help resolve these, God’s Word provides spiritual directives for our welfare in the messiness of our fallen world. The Church is to help each person pursue Him, His plan for their life, and to see them become an agent of His grace, reflecting His forgiveness. Our position on these issues is not meant to address any members past actions or to bring any sense of shame for decisions made without understanding God’s commands concerning marriage. Our prayer is that all divorced and remarried brothers and sisters will gladly affirm these scriptural statements either because they believe their situation was Biblically legitimate, or because they now see that it was not, and are genuinely repentant as they look back.
1 Genesis 1:26-28; 2 Ephesians 5:21-33; 3 Genesis 2:24; 4 Ephesians 5:25-30; 5 Mark 10:9; 6 Matthew 19:3,5,6; 7 Matthew 19:9; 8 1 Corinthians 7:15; 9 Matthew 19:9; 10 1 Corinthians 7:10-14; 11 1 Corinthians 7:15; 12 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 13 Jeremiah 3:8; 14 1 Corinthians 5:6; 15 Matthew 18:12-14