Several times in the past couple of weeks I have been asked by different people a similar question that pertains to marriage and divorce. The frequency with which this question has been asked leads me to believe that others may also be interested in the principles that are involved in it. For this reason I would like to set forth the question that has been asked along with my reasons for answering it as I do.
The question is: Would you, as a preacher, knowingly join in marriage a man and a woman where either one or both of them had been married previously but involved in a divorce for unscriptural reasons? My answer to this question is, absolutely not. Let me explain why.
Some Preliminary Matters
To answer this question satisfactorily there are some matters that need clarification.
Matter 1: Performing marriages is not a responsibility imposed upon me in the scriptures by reason of my being a preacher. It is merely a privilege granted to me by the government. As a preacher, I may choose to perform a marriage ceremony if I see in it the opportunity to teach God's truth about the marriage relationship, its obligations and responsibilities. But on the other hand, I also have the right to choose not to perform such a ceremony if, out of respect for my conscience and regard for the teaching of God's word, I believe that the resulting marriage would be a sinful relationship. That which God condemns I cannot fellowship (Eph. 5:11).
Matter 2: To speak of a "divorce for unscriptural reasons" implies that God has something to say about the matter. And, indeed, He does. It is God who created the marriage relationship and it is God's will that must govern it. After stating that marriage was intended by God to be a permanent relationship, i.e., until death (Matt. 19:4-6), Jesus instructs us, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery" (Matt. 19:9).
From this passage I learn, (1) that God allows only one ground for divorce - fornication; (2) that to divorce for any other cause and then to remarry is to commit adultery; (3) :hat a marriage contracted with the one who has been put away for fornication is deemed adulterous; and thus, (4) the only one who is free to marry again after a divorce is the one who put away his mate upon the ground of his mate's fornication. Other passages in the New Testament that deal with this matter are: Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-11; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3.
As a preacher I am told to "preach the word" (2 Tim.4:2). If this is the truth, then this is what I must teach. The truth says that a marriage, which involves a party from a previous marriage which was dissolved for other reasons than fornication, is adulterous; and a marriage, which involves one who has previously been put away for fornication, is adulterous. To assist in the creation of such a sinful relationship by the performing of a marriage ceremony would itself be sinful (Prov. 4:14-15; Eph. 5:11).
The Heart of the Matter
When a preacher joins in marriage a man and woman who do not have a lawful right (according to God's law) to marry, he is:
(1) Making sin appear respectable. Although the concept of a couple just "living together" without the benefits of marriage is becoming more widespread in our society, the majority of people still frown on such a relationship. They would rather see the couple get married. Marriage is still considered more respectable. But let us remember that sin is still sin, whether it is the sin of "living together" in a blatantly immoral relationship or if it is the sin of being "married together" in a relationship that God calls "adulterous." The preacher who would join together in a marriage those who do not have a lawful right to marry from God's viewpoint would be helping the couple camouflage sin (adultery) and would be making what is sinful appear respectable (by calling it marriage).
(2) Lending his endorsement to an adulterous relationship. Proverbs 16:30 teaches that to remain silent when an evil is being perpetrated is to "bring evil to pass." "He that compresseth his lips bringeth evil to pass." Rather than endorsing this relationship, the preacher ought to "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). He ought to be preaching, "Let marriage be had in honor among you, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4). Rather than lending his endorsement to an adulterous relationship, the preacher (as well as every Christian) is to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).
(3) Asking the couple to make promises which they have no right to make. In the marriage vows, the couple promise to commit themselves to each other in the relationship "until death do us part." If this marriage is a relationship that God calls "adultery," then the preacher is asking the couple to promise that they will commit adultery for the rest of their lives!
(4) Asking God to bless an arrangement that God condemns. Almost without fail, at some point during the marriage ceremony, the preacher will pray to God asking God to bestow His blessings upon the newlyweds. But if this relationship is adulterous, can God bless what He condemns? The prophet Balaam attempted to get God to curse those whom God had blessed (Num. 22:12; 23:8), but the preacher who would join this couple to each other would be asking God to bless something which He has already cursed (Eph. 5:3, 5).
(5) Helping them to sever their relationship to Christ and to loose all rights to heaven. This must be the most serious consequence of the actions of a preacher who would unite in marriage a man and a woman who do not have a scriptural right to marry. As for fornicators or adulterers, the Bible says, "Their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8); and again, "They who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Eph. 5:19-21). How can one be dedicated as a preacher to ministering to the souls of men and yet assist them. in severing their relationship to Christ? This reflects again the activities of Balaam who "taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel . . . and to commit fornication" (Rev. 2:14), in order to bring God's curse upon Israel.
Rather than assisting people to sin we ought to be teaching them the truth of God's word and be leading them out of the bondage of sin, instructing them to "abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thes. 5:22).
Truth Magazine XXIV: 41, pp. 663-664