This is a Position Paper of Heritage Bible Church, published by the elders of the church as a guide to help Christians understand an important issue in light of the Scriptures. Complete agreement with the positions of the elders on all matters is not required for a person to serve with this church, but the elders do want you to understand what to expect from the leadership of the church. Interaction with the elders on the contents of this paper or any other issue is always welcome.
Divorce and remarriage are so commonplace in American culture that the subject cannot be avoided. Among evangelical Christians the divorce rate is much lower than in society in general, but divorce is nevertheless a reality we must confront.
All who believe the Bible is the word of God seek to handle divorce and remarriage according to what the Bible says. Unfortunately, the Christian community in America is far from being of one mind on what the Bible says and how to apply it. Four distinct views are taught and practiced among Christians in our society.
The Four Views
No Divorce & No Remarriage is the strictest of the views. This view teaches that the only thing that dissolves a marriage is death of one spouse. The only option for a troubled marriage is reconciliation, and divorce is a serious and willful sin.
If a Christian is divorced, he or she must remain single for life or be reconciled to his or her spouse. To remarry is to commit adultery in every case, according to this view.
Divorce But No Remarriage recognizes that the Bible allows for the possibility of divorce if adultery has occurred, and in the case of an unbeliever departing from a marriage.
This view agrees with the first view that all remarriage is de facto adultery regardless of the circumstances of the divorce.
Divorce And Remarriage For Adultery Or Desertion accepts two circumstances in which divorce can be permitted for a Christian: If a spouse becomes sexually involved outside the marriage, or if an unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage.
Unlike either of the previously mentioned views, this view recognizes that when a divorce occurs for either of these reasons, remarriage is permitted.
Divorce And Remarriage Under A Variety of Circumstances is the best way to summarize the view that the church should not act as a spiritual court to pass judgment on people who choose to divorce for whatever reason. Proponents of this view teach that all divorce is sin (like the first view), but they emphasize that the grace of God covers such sin and restores people completely.
"What God has joined together, let no man separate" is taken to mean that no [other] person except a husband or wife can end a marriage, nor can anyone act as judge over the legitimacy of a decision to divorce.
This view allows any divorced person to remarry.
Heritage Bible Church accepts and seeks to practice the view that divorce and remarriage are permitted for adultery, or desertion by an unbelieving spouse. Following are comments on why we hold this view and how we seek to apply it.
Support for this view. There are many exegetical considerations in each relevant passage. This is a summary of the more important ones.
The "exception clause" ("except for immorality") in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is legitimate. It was spoken by Jesus and is accurately recorded in the Scriptures. We reject the belief that this clause was added to the words of Jesus by Matthew.
The word translated "immorality" is crucial. It is porneia, and its meaning is not ambiguous. It is the word for all sorts of illicit sexual activity except between a husband and wife. It can mean premarital and extramarital heterosexual encounters, homosexuality, bestiality, male or female prostitution, or any other kind of sexual perversion. We reject the view that the meaning of porneia is limited to incestuous marriage or to sexual activity during a Jewish betrothal period.
Grammatically, it is impossible to apply the exception clause so as to allow for divorce but not remarriage. We contend that in every Biblical passage that deals with divorce, remarriage is presumed to be the most normal course of action. We reject the view that requires lifetime celibacy following legitimate divorce.
In I Corinthians 7:10-15, "leave" and "send away" are translations of words that are used in that context as synonyms for divorce. Thus we believe that this passage allows another "exception" in the case of an unbelieving husband or wife not wanting to continue a marriage to a Christian.
In that same chapter, "not under bondage" (7:15) is in contrast to "bound to a wife" (7:27), which obviously describes marriage. "Bound" means married, while "released" means formerly married. This seems clear from the context, in which other unmarried people are referred to as "virgins." We reject the views that do not allow for remarriage of Christians abandoned by an unbelieving spouse.
Attitude Toward Other Views
We recognize the presence of the other views within the Christian community, and the good intentions of those who hold them. There will be Christians who come to this church having been taught or counseled according to one of the other views. In such cases we will patiently teach our view and seek to come to mutual agreement about their circumstances.
If divorce or remarriage has taken place that we would have sought to prevent, we will discuss these matters confidentially. Unless there is the possibility of reconciling a marriage ended by an improper divorce, we will not advise seeking to change any decisions made on the basis of applying the other views.
In dealing with people of various backgrounds in the local church, it is not always simple to apply the Scriptures. While it is impossible to address every situation, we offer the following as general guidelines we follow in dealing with divorce and remarriage.
Premarital Counseling. Prevention of marital problems is the best of all options. Good teaching and discipleship of couples married by staff of Heritage Bible Church will always be a priority.
Pre-conversion divorces. Coming to know Christ brings the marvelous forgiveness of sins to any sinner. While salvation does not remove all the consequences of sin, it does remove the guilt. We feel it is inappropriate to admonish a believer that he or she must seek reconciliation of a marriage dissolved prior to conversion.
Consideration of prior marriages, children produced by those marriages, attitudes of former spouses, and marital status of former spouses are important matters for premarital counseling, but assessing "guilt or innocence" is not. We do not believe Christians can be denied the option of remarriage on the basis of having ended marriages before conversion.
Marital Conflicts. We believe in preserving marriages of Christians if possible. Even in cases of adultery or a vacillating unbelieving spouse, we will seek to provide the counsel and support necessary to bring about reconciliation.
Couples experiencing marital crises will be referred to mature couples in the church, to pastoral staff, or to professional counselors as necessary.
While the Scriptures allow for divorce under certain circumstances, it is always to be regarded as a last resort.
Treatment Of Divorce. Any Christian who is a member of this church (as defined in Article V, Section 1 of our bylaws) who indicates an intent to divorce a spouse for an illegitimate reason will be admonished from the Scriptures. According to Article V, Section 7, we will seek to restore such a person to obedience to the Scriptures, allowing whatever time is necessary and encouraging counseling to save marriages, but we will never condone ending a marriage except according to our view of the Scriptures.
Those divorced prior to becoming a part of this church will be accepted on the basis of their Christian testimony. If the divorce was not on legitimate grounds we will not perform remarriage, and if reconciliation is a possibility, we will encourage and facilitate it through loving counsel and support.
Those remarried prior to becoming a part of this church will be accepted on the basis of their Christian testimony. We reject the view that it is proper to divorce a spouse in order to pursue reconciliation to a former spouse, even if the former divorce was improper.
Divorce, Remarriage And Church Leadership. We do not believe that divorce or remarriage permanently disqualify a person from spiritual leadership. If a person has demonstrated the quality of character described in I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 over a significant amount of time, as verified by peers and church leaders, he can be considered for service as an elder or deacon.
Specifically, we interpret "husband of one wife" according to its most literal translation, "one-woman man." This describes the character of the man as manifested in his respect for marriage. It does not necessarily prohibit those who are single, divorced, remarried, or widowers from service as elders or deacons.
None of the character qualities in either list are meant to be applied in such a manner as to forever disqualify a man for the rest of his life if he once was guilty of a certain sin. It is the pattern of his life as observed over time that is to be considered. Thus divorce or remarriage in the distant past, while an issue to be explored, is not a reason for lifetime exclusion from leadership.
Who Can Remarry? Those wishing to be remarried under the authority of Heritage Bible Church will be required to pursue the same premarital counseling as those being married for the first time. It takes at least two months to complete, and may include testing, study of Biblical principles of marriage, and discussion of issues encountered in marriage.
In conjunction with the counseling, those seeking remarriage will be required to explore the causes of prior divorces to minimize the likelihood of repeating mistakes. When children and step-children are involved, more discussion will be devoted to the task of creating harmony in the blended family.
As with first marriages, no commitment to perform the wedding will be made until the pastor involved has met with the couple enough to be sure they are ready for the commitment necessary to establish a Christian home.
Marriage Of Non-Christians. At times non-Christians may request to be married by our church staff. Such weddings may be performed at the discretion of the pastor involved. In those cases, a clear presentation of the gospel shall be included in the counseling.
Our staff will not perform the wedding of a Christian to a non-Christian.
How Each View Interprets Key New Testament Passages
Please note that the proponents of each of these views deal with many more passages than those mentioned in this summary. This overview is meant to allow a quick comparison of the major points most often considered by individuals and churches needing to make decisions on divorce and remarriage.
Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18
No Divorce & No Remarriage:
Porneia (translated "fornication," "adultery," "unfaithfulness," or "unchastity") is limited in its meaning to the incestuous relationships prohibited in Leviticus 18:6-18. In this view the "exception clause" allows only for the annulment of incestuous marriages, since they are not legitimate in the first place.
This view argues that Mark and Luke omit the exception clause because their readers would have had no connection to Mosaic laws. This is a doubtful interpretation, however, since being Gentile is no guarantee of immunity from incest. Further, all four gospels are intended for all readers, including Jews and Gentiles.
The "eunuch teaching" in the context of Matthew 19 is taken as proof that remarriage is never allowed.
[There are some who hold this view, partly on the basis of believing that the exception clause(s) are not part of the original text. Robert Gundry's commentary on Matthew theorizes that they were added by Matthew in a Rabbinic style, but they were never spoken by Jesus. Thus some evangelicals hold this view based on this brand of textual criticism we consider invalid and outside the boundaries of biblical inerrancy, so we will not delve into their reasoning.]
Divorce, But No Remarriage:
Porneia means marital unfaithfulness, and is the only allowable reason for a believer to divorce a believer. Thus the exception clause does provide for legitimate divorce.
"Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" is taken as absolute, with no conditions or exceptions. Thus every marriage involving a divorced person is adulterous.
The teaching on eunuchs in Matthew 19 is taken as proof that remarriage is never allowed.
Divorce & Remarriage For Adultery Or Desertion:
Porneia means marital unfaithfulness involving any type of sexual activity, and is the only allowable reason for a believer to divorce a believer. The exception clause permits legitimate divorce and remarriage.
This view argues that both divorce and remarriage are being considered, and thus it is illegitimate to allow divorce but deny remarriage when the divorce is legitimate. Its proponents paraphrase: "To divorce and remarry on any basis other than sexual unfaithfulness is adulterous; to divorce and remarry on the basis of sexual unfaithfulness is allowable."
Proponents of this view note that the Mosaic provision for divorce always allowed for remarriage. Thus Jesus' teaching clarified the difference between legitimate and illegitimate divorce and remarriage.
This view teaches that Jesus declared a more gracious attitude than the Mosaic Law toward adultery (forgiveness, even if divorce resulted, rather than the death penalty) and a stricter standard than the Mosaic Law for divorce (sexual unfaithfulness rather than "uncleanness," as in Deuteronomy 24). This is the view of Heritage Bible Church.
Divorce & Remarriage Under A Variety of Circumstances:
The keynote phrase for this view is "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." This is interpreted to mean that no earthly person or ecclesiastical court (as with the Pharisees) or church board can sit in judgment on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a divorce or remarriage. Only the spouses involved can make the decision to end a marriage.
The interpretation of the rest of these passages is the same as the "No Divorce, No Remarriage" view. Its proponents state that all divorce is sin–it is the clear evidence of failure to maintain the godly standard of lifelong marriage. Thus the difference in the views is in the application (rather than the interpretation) of the Scriptures. This view, while seeking reconciliation and grieving over divorce, emphasizes the grace of God and allows for both divorce and remarriage.
I Corinthians 7
No Divorce & No Remarriage:
The absence of an exception clause in this passage is considered as proof that there was no possibility of divorce for believing Gentiles. Understanding that some believers would be abandoned or divorced by spouses, Paul gave his instructions that they must actively pursue and maintain singleness or be reconciled.
"Not under bondage" is interpreted to mean that the believer who has been divorced by an unbelieving spouse should not try to overrule the spouse to force the continuance of the marriage on an unwilling unbeliever. In no case is remarriage allowed.
The only remarriage allowed according to this view is for a believing widow or widower to marry another single believer.
Divorce, But No Remarriage:
This passage is interpreted similarly to the gospel passages on divorce. Desertion by an unbelieving spouse legitimately dissolves the marriage, but does not leave the believer free to remarry. "Not under bondage" means only that the Christian is not to fight the decision of the unbeliever to depart from the relationship.
Divorce & Remarriage For Adultery Or Desertion:
The terminology in this passage is what would be expected for divorce and the consequent freedom to remarry. "Depart" is a reference to divorce, with emphasis on which party initiates the dissolution of the marriage. "Not under bondage" (7:15) is in contrast to other statements in the context in which "bound to a wife" (7:27) clearly refers to being married. The fact that different verbs are used in this passage than in the gospels does not indicate a different subject or a different conclusion, since these terms ("depart" and "not bound") as used in this passage are synonymous with "divorce" and the concept of freedom to remarry.
This passage states a preference for singleness, but it allows for marriage. This view argues that if this passage prohibits remarriage, it prohibits all marriage. This is the view of Heritage Bible Church.
Divorce & Remarriage Under A Variety of Circumstances:
As with the gospel passages, the interpretation of this passage is essentially the same as the "No divorce, No remarriage" view. The only difference is that this view recognizes that a divorced person is free to remarry.
As stated earlier, this Position Paper is only a summary of what the Bible says and how we believe it should be applied. Our pastoral staff and Council of elders are available to you to discuss how God’s word applies in a particular set of circumstances.
For Further Reading
Dobson, James C. Love Must Be Tough. Word Books. Good resource for marriages in crisis, for use by the partner who wants to hold the marriage together.
Duty, Guy. Divorce And Remarriage. Bethany House Publishers, 1967. Presents the "Divorce And Remarriage For Adultery or Desertion" view.
Harley, Willard F. His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Fleming H. Revell Company. Tremendous insights into what causes affairs and what can prevent them.
Heth, William A. Jesus & Divorce: The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus. Presents the "Divorce, but No Remarriage" view.
House, H. Wayne, ed. Divorce And Remarriage: Four Christian Views. InterVarsity Press, 1990. Presents the four views in summary fashion by four different authors. Each author includes a response to each of the three other views.
Laney, J. Carl. The Divorce Myth. Bethany House Publishers, 1981. Presents the "No Divorce And No Remarriage View."
Richards, Lawrence O. Remarriage: Healing Gift. Word Books. Presents the "Divorce And Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances" view.
Richmond, Gary. The Divorce Decision. Word Books. This is "must" reading for any Christian contemplating divorce. The author is the only full-time pastor to divorced people in America, serving at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California.
Williams, Pat and Jill. Rekindled. Fleming H. Revell Co. Based on the authors' own story, this is practical help for rebuilding a marriage that seems beyond repair.