Divorce and Remarriage: An Introduction

By Bill Cavender

I have read that the divorce rate has reached fifty-two percent of marriages in our society. Hardly a family and/or congregation of Christ anywhere, anymore, has not been affected by this problem with all of its attendant feelings, emotions, sadnesses, sufferings, heartaches, disruptions, displacements, bitternesses, and, in many cases, soul damning, eternal consequences. A recent article says that by the turn of this century possibly seventy-five percent of first marriages will end in divorce.

Most congregations now have within their memberships and fellowship people who have experienced the trauma and tragedy of divorce, and some who have subsequently remarried. As society changes and divorces increase, churches of our Lord are destined to confront these problems more often. All of us who teach and lead others are having to spend more time in calling attention to our Father’s will in the Scriptures. In forty-three years of preaching the gospel and in some years of serving as an elder of a congregation, many, many times have I taught on these subjects. In every protracted meeting I have a part in, I preach on marriage, divorce, remarriage and family relationships. I have been in many meetings with brethren and fellow-elders, talking with people regarding their marriage problems, and with divorced and remarried people, some seeking to obey the gospel of our Lord and some desiring membership in the local church. In reading and studying the Scriptures with such ones, the results have been that some obeyed the gospel, believing they could so do and maintain their present marriage. Some did not obey the gospel, believing they must repent of and cease an obvious, unlawful, adulterous union and were not willing to do so (Matt. 14:1-12; Mk. 6:14-29). Some, in second (or even third) marriages, claimed and affirmed scriptural grounds for their previous divorce(s) and remarriage(s) and were received into fellowship in the congregation by the elders and/or conscientious brethren. In some cases fellowship was denied to divorced and remarried people on the bases of their statements and histories as conveyed in their own words, brethren believing such ones were in an obvious adulterous, unscriptural union. From time to time I have participated in withdrawing congregational fellowship from a brother or sister believed, by overwhelming evidence, to be involved in an adulterous marriage. From time to time I have had to determine my own personal fellowship and relationship with a brother or sister as regarding their conduct, teaching and practice. These are the only two areas of fellowship existing between brethren in Christ (i.e., congregational and personal). Both are areas of judgments, governed and exercised through our knowledge and understanding of our Father’s will in the New Testament, and in the light of our knowledge and understanding of the facts, events and circumstances of the people involved. We must always deal with others in such matters in a sincere, impartial, kind, just and brotherly manner, insofar as is humanly possible.

In spite of our best efforts, errors are and will be made. Sometimes people do not speak the truth, deceiving those who are listening, teaching and trying to help. No doubt there are people in fellowship in some local churches who should not be fellowshipped and are, in fact, living in adulterous unions. No doubt there are cases where people should have been received into fellowship and were not. None of us is omniscient in these matters. None of us can know all of the events, thoughts, words, attitudes and deeds which have made marriage(s) to be happy and permanent, and, to the contrary, which have destroyed marriage(s). Only our God and Father in heaven knows all and understands all that transpires in anyone’s marriage. None of us is authorized to be detectives by our Lord. There are no God-ordained brotherhood investigative agencies nor agents. There are no official boards of biblical interpretation nor brotherhood regulatory bodies, authorized by Jesus the Master, to tell us what we must believe, teach or practice. There is no man or group of men who are empowered to tell a local congregation or an individual Christian who may be fellowshipped and who must not be fellowshipped. Our Lord and the inspired apostles of Jesus were the only revealers, interpreters and enforcers of God’s truths. No man or group of men are authorized to hang “the yellow tag of quarantine” on any brother or congregation, as was done to many of us in the fifties, sixties and seventies by the Gospel Advocate hierarchy in Nashville, Tennessee. In the local church the elders watch for souls, feed the flock, and make those judgment decisions regarding the individuals who are fellowshipped or disfellowshipped by and in the congregation (Acts 20:28-3 1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). All we can know and do in dealing with one another is by what we see hear and are truthfully told by those who have marital problems. And all any one of us can do is to turn people to God’s word, for he is the authority and Lawgiver in such matters and his word is the law. Each person must obey that law by faith to be acceptable to the Father. Each one of us must give account of himself to the Judge at the last day (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5: 10; Rom. 14:10-12; Acts 17:30:31).

The first covenants and compacts made between God and man, and between man and his fellow-man, were made in Eden. Man’s relationship to God was established as one of man’s faith in and obedience to his Creator (Gen. 2:8-9,1517). Man’s relationship with his fellow-humans was first established with his companion, his wife (Gen. 2:18-25), as one of total unity, union, communion, commitment, love and loyalty (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). Jesus reaffirmed these two basic relationships (Matt. 22:35-40). When men, and nations of men and women, forsake the commandments and covenants of the Almighty, they are compared to adulterers, guilty of spiritual adultery. “The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah, the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returneth not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord. And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah” (Jer. 3:6-11). When individuals forsake their covenants and commitments in marriage, they are said to be guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Col. 3:5-6; Eph. 5:3-5; Rom. 7:1-3; Prov. 6:20-35; 7:6-27).

Under Moses’ law the adulterer and adulteress were to be executed (Lev. 20:10; 18:20; Deut. 22:22). Such ones had already come under the sentence of spiritual death, separation from God (Exod. 20:14; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 5:12-14). In the New Testament of God in Christ Jesus (Heb. 1:1-2; Matt. 28:18; 26:28; Heb. 9:15-17), adultery is clearly condemned as sin, as in the Old Testament, and the adulterer or adulteress will not go to heaven (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rev. 21:8,27; 22:15; Heb. 13:4). Adultery is said by Jesus the Lawgiver to be the only cause whereby a man may divorce his wife (or a wife her husband) and marry another (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9). The guilty adulteress (or the guilty adulterer, as the case may be) is not at liberty to remarry. No concession is given by our Master to the immoral person. The innocent partner in a marriage which has been dissolved because of adultery may remarry. But that “innocent party” must be sure that he or she is really innocent and did not by temperament, evil words, ugly attitudes, hurtful deeds and a malignant spirit, drive his companion to distraction, distress, unhappiness, and then unfaithfulness. People violate the fundamentals of God’s will regarding a happy and enduring marriage relationship, fail to cultivate that sweetness and goodness which a marriage must have, and then claim innocence when their companion is unhappy, and then immoral. Adultery, immorality, is never justified, is always sinful, but is sometimes understandable by human wisdom when people have been abused, mistreated and evilly-dealt-with by their marriage companion.

In teaching people regarding the permanency of marriage, I use Genesis 2:18-25; 6:2,5,11-12; Exodus 20:14,17; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; Numbers 25:1-9; 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 1 Kings 11:1-8; Ezra 9:2; 10:2-3,1014,17,44; Nehemiah 13:23-27; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 5:28-32; 14:1-2; 19:3-9; Mark 6:14-30; 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1-4; 1 Corinthians 7:10-24; Hebrews 13:4. A marriage is for a lifetime, one man for and with one woman, with death as the only honorable way and reason for the union to be dissolved, and with adultery as the only sinful, dishonorable way and reason for divorce, the innocent partner having a concession to remarry but the guilty may not. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-17, the deserted companion “hath been called to (in) peace” (v. 15). “As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk” (v. 17). “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (v. 20). “Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, there in abide with God” (v. 24). 1 have never been able to understand that the apostle is granting another reason for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:12-17, for the cause of desertion, which almost invariably presupposes adultery on the part of the deserter by those who hold the opinion that desertion is a scriptural ground for divorce and remarriage, in addition to that stated by our Master (Matt. 19:3-9). From the beginning of my Bible studies as a Christian, I have believed the only cause for a divorce is that stated by Jesus our Lord in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, and that his words are a restatement, re-establishment, and a re-affirmation of the Father’s original intent, will, law and purpose in ordaining and permitting marriage in Eden, this most basic of all human relationships.

All other human relationships grow out of this basic one, whether it be families, nations or churches. Where the laws governing this basic and fundamental union are ignored and violated, then all relationships between human beings are affected and deteriorate. Strong, stable, law-abiding nations, families and churches cannot be built upon divorce, division, fornication, adultery, all kinds of immoralities, sins against God’s laws and crimes against the laws of men. Marriage ordained of God is designed for God’s glory and the happiness of human beings. It is instituted by God and not subject to alteration and/or interpretation by men. We cannot separate from our companion at leisure or at our pleasure. It is an offence against God to commit adultery and to destory our marriage. Divorce defeats the wisdom of the Eternal God and the entire purpose of marriage, i.e., the purity of the individual and the honorable introduction of children into society (1 Cor. 7:1-5; Psa. 127:3). God hath joined them together, they are one flesh, and man with all his wisdom, laws, and opinions cannot put them asunder. The holy, permanent relationship of love between two people pledged to each other for life exemplifies and becomes an illustration of the union between Jesus Christ and his redeemed body and saved souls, the church (Eph. 5:22-33). This union between a husband and wife is worthy of the wisdom and knowledge and justice of him who cannot err. It is for the comfort and happiness of those who enter into it. Marriage purifies and perpetuates the tenderest affections of which humans are capable. It inspires, hope, prompts virtue, gives strength to endure hardships of fife, and gives contentment to the souls of those who participate in it as our Father has taught us. Peace, moderation, kindness, compassion, patience and understanding are some of the fruits of a good marriage. Yet there are those who will lightly and unscripturally teach and tell people that their marriages may be dissolved at will, without any heart-felt remorse and repentance, and can enter into a union with someone else, when everything that our Father and our Savior, Jesus, taught us militates against the very idea.

Adultery and divorce mean fraud, deceit, seduction, wicked villainy, and inflict the greatest injury which an innocent husband or wife can experience this side of the grave. The prospects of happiness and comfort in this present world become overcast with the blackest darkness. Life is changed to a lingering death. A house is turned into an empty, premature tomb. Despair replaces hope, and peace and trust expire. “A singular and agonizing procession follows this funeral of departed virtue. Tears stream which no hand can wipe away. Groans ascend which no comforter can charm to peace. Bosoms heave with anguish, which all the balm of Gilead cannot soothe. The object of lamentation is gone forever, and all that remains is living death. Ah, how shall we paint the evils of adultery? The social compact, through every fibre, trembles at its consequences: not only policy, but law; not only law, but nature; not only nature, but religion, deprecate and denounce it: parents and offspring – youth and age – the dead from the tombs – the child from its cradle – creatures scarce alive, and creatures still unborn – the grandshire shivering on the verge of death – the infant quickening in the mother’s womb – all, with one assent, re-echo God, and execrate adultery!” (Charles Phillips, in the case of Brown vs. Blake)

There are such marriages as “adulterous” marriages. Jesus said so (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-9). There is such a sin as “living in adultery.” Paul said so (Col. 3:5-7). These were not single, unmarried people “living in” these sins. King Herod and Herodias were “living in” such an adulterous marriage and it was not lawful (Matt. 14:1-12; Mk. 6:14-29). They are not the only and last ones to do so! If people are to repent, they must change their minds, quit “living in” sinful relationships, and engage only in true, pure, scriptural activities (Matt. 3:2,6,8,11; 4:17; 11:21-22; 12:38-41; 21:28-32; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 13:1-5; 24-46-47; Acts 2:37-41; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30-3 1; 26:20; Rom. 2:1-16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:6-8; 7:8-12; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:6; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 2:5,16,21-22; 3:3,19; 9:20-21). If we will not repent, we will perish. Repentance involves renewal of the mind, reformation, restitution and restoration, insomuch and insofar as is humanly possible (Lk. 19:8; Exod. 22:1,3,4,5,6,7,9,12,14; Prov. 6:31).

There are brethren who are now beginning to find room for questionable and/or adulterous marital unions, and for teachers and doctrines which uphold and give credence to such unions, in Romans 14. This is an abuse and a major misuse of this chapter. This chapter deals with matters of opinions, personal scruples, customs, and views which will neither save nor damn the soul in God’s sight. Matters of Romans 14 are not to be disputed about and made tests of fellowship (v. 1; 15:1-4): Eating or not eating certain foods (v. 2-3); observing or not observing certain days (vv. 4-5); circumcising or not circumcising (Acts 16:3; Gal. 5:6); taking vows or not taking vows (Acts 18:18); conforming to custom or not conforming to custom (Acts 21:18-30). The meeting in Jerusalem settled once for all matters of indifference (Acts 15:1,5-6,24,28), and essential matters necessary to the salvation of the soul (Acts 15:19-20,29). Paul’s principles and practices, as delineated in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, are entirely consistent with Romans 14. Every child of God is to quietly observe his conscience (vv. 22-23). We are not to cause a brother to stumble by our scruples (vv. 20-21). God accepts his children and will make them stand (vv. 3,18). We shall all give account for our opinions, scruples, etc. (vv. 10-12). We are to be peaceable, build up the body of Christ, and not tear it down (vv. 13,15,19-21). Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit characterize our service and citizenship in God’s kingdom. To “all speak the same thing, and there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10) is the ideal to strive for, and each of us is to endeavor to think this way and work for that unity which such thoughts and practices produce (Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 2:2-4,14-15; Col. 3:12-15; Rom. 14:17-19). The cause of truth would better be served if there were no opinions, scruples, conscientious convictions, customs, and matters of human judgment as are regulated in Romans 14. But such problems have ever been present among brethren, and, I suppose, ever will be. They are always a hinderance, not a help, to the cause of Christ. Romans 14 governs and regulates such conditions and circumstances.

Adultery, fornication, lasciviousness, uncleanness, idolatry, denominationalism, Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, Mariolatry, Popery, sprinkling for baptism, infant church membership, instrumental music in worship, centralization of churches in super-centralized boards and elderships, human institutions as adjuncts to the Lord’s churches, the social gospel, etc., along with marriages which violate God’s revealed will, can never be acceptable areas of inclusion and discussion as lawful and legitimate matters regulated by principles of Romans 14.

Would to God that all of us could and would speak as one mind and one voice, according to God’s revealed will, on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. If ever there was a time when the world needs clear, unvarnished, plain truth of the New Testament, it is now. If ever there was a time when churches of our Lord need to be pure within, and set forth an example of righteousness in word and deed, it is now. If ever there was a time when sinners could find rest and peace to their souls through the power of God in the gospel, and comfort of the Spirit in fellowship with godly men and women, it is now. If ever God gave humans the privileges and opportunities of preaching the gospel to all the world of lost souls, it is now. But if our sounds be uncertain, and if we believe and/or think that God’s word cannot be understood, on marriage as well as any other vital subject, then we are destined, as a body of people, to degenerate into a warring, factious, fractious, sect which has nothing to offer a sin-cursed world but confusion and chaos. Let us discuss the truth among ourselves, if need be, in brotherly kindness and patience. No one of us knows everything and no one of us has all the answers. God does. So we must, each of us, try to study, learn and understand his will. Then each of us will have to determine who we will fellowship, and each local congregation will have to determine who will be fellowshipped and who will not. And then we shall all answer to our Father and our Judge, Jesus Christ, at the last day for all that we thought, said, taught and practiced while here we lived, trying to do his will as best we could. May he be merciful to us all now – and at that last great day.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 1, 33-35
January 4, 1990