Divorce And Remarriage: Is It A Church Dilemma?

By Dennis C. Abernathy

In the Baptist Standard appeared an article by Jim Lowry concerning a conference taught by John Sullivan who is “pastor” of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA. The article is entitled: “Sullivan: Church Can Be Hospital, Firing Squad.” In this article Sullivan said he tries to approach problems (Divorce and Remarriage) on the basis of love, mercy and forgiveness rather than legality.” He further said: “The church has to deal with the problems of the family. When dealing with persons who remarry, the church becomes either a hospital or a firing squad.” Sullivan said: “It’s interesting, we are willing to forgive everything but divorce.” “In your church you have to answer if whether you are as ready as Jesus to forgive and reclaim the divorced and remarried persons.” “People are going to marry, even within the church, so they can fit back into society. We need to learn to have a forgiveness that releases from the bondage of guilt and helps us to live in a forgiving community.” Jim Lowry states that “Sullivan performs marriages between divorced individuals and holds the opinion, ‘If they ask forgiveness for the sin of divorce, they are not living in adultery. “‘

A “dilemma” is “a situation involving choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives.” It seems to me that not a few of our brethren, and a considerable number of churches, are in a dilemma on the matter of divorce and remarriage. A couple is divorced (not for fornication) and then one or both remarries and seeks to be a member of the local church. Here is the dilemma. The church must inform the couple that they are living in adultery and cannot be in fellowship as long as they remain in that condition and that they must repent of the sin (which means to cease the relationship they are in). Realize, too, that there may be children involved and if these people are turned away from the church, the children, more than likely, will grow up alienated from the church. Facing the reality that not many will cease from such a relationship, many of our brethren feel this choice and course of action is too harsh, being void of love and mercy, and is legalistic, therefore unacceptable. On the other hand, they realize what the Bible says concerning divorce and remarriage. To accept divorced and remarried people into fellowship (when the divorce was not for fornication) also seems unacceptable. Hence, the dilemma. Brethren, these situations just do not go away. They must be dealt with in a scriptural way. We must know what the Bible says on this matter and have the courage and conviction of heart and love for the souls of others, to tell them the scriptural course to follow.

I’m afraid that too many members of the church have taken the course outlined by John Sullivan, “If they ask forgiveness for the sin of divorce, they are not living in adultery.” But one cannot be forgiven of adultery until one repents of adultery. And one cannot repent and at the same time continue to live in adultery. If one is living with another that he has no lawful right to, he cannot just say that he is sorry and then go on living with the one he has no right to live with.

Understanding what Jesus said on divorce and remarriage is not the problem leading to the above dilemma, but applying it to ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones is the thing that causes the dilemma.

Jesus is very plain on this subject. It involves those who did the “putting away” and those who were “put away.” A key question is this: Was fornication (adultery) involved in the “putting away”? Why that question, you ask? Jesus said in Luke 16:18 that one who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. He then says that “whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” The only exception to this is when the “putting away” was for fornication (Matt. 19:9). Then, the one doing the putting away (the innocent party) can remarry, and the one who is put away (for fornication) cannot.

But brethren facing a dilemma, will say that two people can divorce for reasons other than fornication and then later when one of the parties remarries, thus committing fornication, the other party can then put that one away (in his mind or in the eyes of God) and be free to remarry. I freely admit brethren, that I have never read that in the Bible. Will you please read it to me?

Jesus said when people divorce, where no fornication is involved, both the one who does the putting away and the one who is put away are living in adultery if they remarry.

In conclusion, all who love God and their fellow man should be willing to forgive another of any sin when the sin is repented of and forgiveness is sought in God’s way. But to say that we as individuals, or the church as the church, should set aside God’s laws on divorce and remarriage because it is difficult to apply in some situations is not tenable. Brethren, think on these things.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, pp. 547-548
September 19, 1985