[17]   Family (1): Marriage & Divorce

Background:

o        Presently, there are about 70,000 divorces in Canada each year. The US has the highest divorce rates in the world, closely followed by Sweden and Canada. In these three countries, 40 to 50% of all marriages eventually end in a divorce. The Canadian divorce rate by the 30th anniversary was 51% in 1987 but dropped to 38% in 2000. The decrease is partly due to the decision of many couples not to marry but to live together without marriage.

74.  What is the nature of marriage?

a.   Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.

b.   Components:

(1)  A divine element:

o        Marriage was established, sanctioned and witnessed by God (Gen 2:18; Mt 19:6).

o        Marriage is a continuation of the divine creation through procreation of the human race (Gen 4:1).

(2)  A human element:

o        Marriage provides for the well being of human beings (Gen 2:20-24; Mk 10:6-9).

o        Marriage is a blessing that provides intimate companionship (Gen 2:18).

o        Marriage is an essential, sacred institution, a cornerstone of society.

(3)  Characteristics:

o        Marriage is a life-long commitment; the word “cleave” (Heb. dabaq) means “to cling to, be glued firmly” indicating a permanent relationship intrinsic in dissolubility of marriage.

o        Marriage has priority over all other human relationships.

o        Marriage should be monogamous (Gen 2:24).

o        Marriage is not a necessity for fulfilment in God’s highest purpose.

o        A Christian should not marry a non-Christian (2Co 6:14; 1Co 7:39).

c.   Common law marriage?

·         In Canada, a couple is deemed to be married after living together for an extended period of time.

·         It is not a proper Christian model and is equivalent to fornication, clearly a sin.

·         Marriage is established through legal contract and pledged vows, not just by living together.

·         Cohabiting unions tend to weaken the institution of marriage. Cohabiting women are twice as likely as married women to be physically abused and three times as likely to be depressed.

75.  Can a Christian divorce?

·         God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). Divorce is a departure from the purposes of God.

·         Since marriage is a permanent bond (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9), divorce is prohibited (1Co 7:10-11).

·         In the creation ideal, divorce is not recommended nor sanctioned. It is permitted in the Mosaic Law (Dt 24:1-2) only because of man’s “hardness of heart” (Mt 19:8).

·         Divorce has a heavy toll on children from the marriage.

76.  In Biblical view, is the marriage covenant dissoluble?

a.   Some believe that the marriage covenant is indissoluble, like the kinship bond. As a result, they believe no divorces should be allowed as they are always contrary to the Biblical view.

b.   However, the following examples support the dissolubility of marriage:

(1)  There are passages that accept the possibility of breaking the marriage bond (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:6).

(2)  The Bible clearly says that death of one partner breaks the bond (Mt 22:23-30; Ro 7:1-3; 1Co 7:39).

(3)  Israel broke the covenant of marriage with God (Jer 31:32).

77.  Are there any special circumstances which justify divorce?

a.   Divorce is allowed only when the bond of marriage is broken. However, divorce is not mandatory even if the bond is broken. All efforts should be given to reconciliation.

b.   There are two circumstances where the marriage bond is broken:

(1)  Marital unfaithfulness or adultery (Mt 5:31-32; 19:9).

o        “Marital unfaithfulness”: The Greek word used for “fornication” (porneias) referring to all kinds of sexual immorality (including adultery, homosexuality, incest, etc.) which desecrates the marriage.

o        It is important that a believer accepts divorce only as a last resort. When one partner of a divorce has become involved in adultery, the offended spouse is permitted, though not required, to get a divorce.

o        God divorced His bride (Israel) because of adultery (unfaithfulness, idolatry) (Jer 3:8).

(2)  Desertion by non-believing spouse (1Co 7:15), but only if initiated by the non-believer.

o        Desertion is the abandoning of a marriage without just cause.

o        If a non-believing spouse desert the family for an extended period of time, the believer may agree to a divorce. However, such decision should only be made after attempts at reconciliation have been rejected.

o        “Desertion” may also mean persistence of physical abuse, drunkenness, lack of financial support.

c.   There should be no divorce for any other reasons. Incompatibility is not an acceptable reason.

·         If a Christian couple is truly incompatible and if all attempts of reconciliation fail, legal separation (not divorce) may be the solution.

78.  Can a person remarry?

a.   A widowed person, no longer in the bond of marriage (which is dissolved by death, Ro 7:2-3), can remarry, but only to a Christian (1Co 7:39; 1Ti 5:14).

b.   A divorced person who is considering remarriage, while the former spouse is still alive, must submit to and follow the counsel and guidance of the church.

c.   Two unavoidable situations must be considered in formulation the position of the local church:

(1)  If the local church insists on stopping the remarriage, it would only cause the couple to move away.

(2)  If the remarriage proceeds with the objection of the church, the church will still need to accept the remarried couple afterwards, it will be better if the problem is solved beforehand.

d.   Biblical Guidelines:

(1)  A person who was the innocent party in a divorce caused by adultery: can remarry.

(2)  A person who was the guilty party in a divorce caused by adultery: public repentence before the remarriage. However, C&MA Manual specifies that the guilty party cannot remarry.

(3)  A person who was the innocent party in a divorce caused by desertion by a non-believing spouse: can remarry because 1Co 7:15 clearly specifies that the believer is “not bound” in this situation. However, C&MA Manual specified that the believer cannot remarry until the death of the remarriage of the former non-believing spouse.

(4)  A person who had a divorce not on scriptural grounds: the remarriage will be equivalent to an adultery (Mt 5:32) so some form of discipline should be included. However, the act of remarriage is regarded as an act of adultery, not a continuing state of adultery. C&MA Manual does not allow such remarriage to be solemnized by a pastor.

(5)  A person who had a divorce not on scriptural grounds as a non-believer but has become a Christian: similar to (4), should seek reconciliation with the former spouse if possible (1Co 7:11).

79.  How should Christians treat divorced and remarried persons in church?

·         If divorced on scriptural grounds, divorced and remarried can serve as leaders.

·         A person who had a divorce or a remarriage not based on Biblical principles should be disciplined by the church. The person should then be accepted as fully after genuine repentence.

·         Discretion must be exercised in the choice of allowing divorced and remarried persons to serve as leaders in the church as leaders need to be above reproach.

80.  Is the Bible neutral to polygamy?

·         The Bible assumes monogamy is the proper way in marriage (Gen 2:24; Pr 18:22; 1Ti 3:2).

·         The Bible describes bad consequences of polygamy, such as Abraham, David, Solomon.