By Weldon E. Warnock
Who is responsible for the division that exists among us over divorce and remarriage? Have some of us been too intolerant concerning divergent views? Is the issue so obscure that we can never know for sure the truth of the matter, and because of uncertainty, we must forever moderate our position on divorce and remarriage?
Let me say candidly and frankly that what God reveals about divorce and remarriage is just as plain and clear as what he says about any other theme relevant to our behavior. Jehovah doesn’t camouflage his will for us in vague nomenclature. We can, and must understand his eternal truth (Psa. 119:104,130; Jn. 8:32; Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17). Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9). One doesn’t need a Philadelphia lawyer to understand this passage. He might need someone to help him misunderstand it, particularly a preacher who has a new theory to articulate.
Brother H. Leo Boles wrote back in 1933, “The words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, condemn remarriage of a divorced one, and condemn it in terms which admit of no misunderstanding (emphasis mine, wew). The Savior mentions one, and only one, cause for putting away one party to the marriage union. ” Read Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16,28,39 and see what God says about marriage, divorce and remarriage. We learn: (1) Those who have never been married may marry. (2) Those whose former companion is dead may marry. (3) Those who have put away their companion for fornication may marry. (4) Those who have a living former companion who was not put away for fornication may not marry. (5) Those who marry anyone who has a former companion (still living) who was not put away for fornication may not lawfully marry. (6) Those who were put away for sexual infidelity may not marry.
Who Is Responsible?
The cause of division and conflict among us is not what Jesus and his apostles taught, but rather what they didn’t teach. This is always the case. Those who teach, both privately and publicly, the following unscriptural positions on divorce and remarriage are the ones responsible for dividing brethren and breaching fellowship:
1. Only the church is under the New Covenant and Matthew 19:9 is addressed only to Christians. This would exclude conditions of salvation for everybody because repentance and baptism, conditions of salvation, are part of the New Covenant (Acts 2:38). Hence, this position infers universal damnation. Too, Jesus said, “whosoever,” not just the church.
2. Every marriage, including polygamy, is acceptable with God. Our Lord said in Matthew 19:5, “a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife” (not wives). Marriage is monogamous and for life (Matt. 19:5-6; Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
3. Alien sinners are not amenable to the law of Christ. The great commission is universal (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:47), therefore, aliens are under the gospel of Christ. Those who reject Jesus and his word will be judged by his word (Jn. 12:48).
4. One may continue in whatever marital state he is in after baptism. Not only does this allow one to live in adultery, but such reasoning would also logically permit a person to continue an incestuous, homosexual or polygamous marriage, and, you can throw in drunkenness, idolatry, thievery, denominationalism, to name a few. Are you ready for all of this?
5. The guilty party, in a case of marital infidelity, is as free to marry as the innocent party. Matthew 19:9 needs to be read more closely (and believed). Jesus said the man who puts away his wife and marries another commits (keeps on committing) adultery. This is what Jesus said about the guilty party. On the other hand, if he puts her away for fornication, then he is the innocent party and may remarry. Simple, isn’t it?
Go back 50 to 100 years and we find a general consensus on divorce and remarriage. The preachers spoke by and large with one voice. Divorce was taught to be wrong, except for the cause of adultery. Preachers consistently contended that only fornication constituted grounds for divorce.
In the 1930s P.W. Stonestreet argued in a series of articles in the Gospel Advocate “that the Bible teaches the privilege of divorce and remarriage under certain conditions is quite generally conceded.” He concluded his series by advocating that only two things can break the marriage bond – death and fornication, and in both cases remarriage is permissible, but where there was separation for other causes, which is sometimes granted, remarriage is not allowed.
H. Leo Boles wrote in the Gospel Advocate, 1933, “All Bible students know that God recognizes but one cause for absolute divorce (divorce recognized by God as well as the state). This is adultery or fornication.” The preceding statements under the sub-heading, “Years Past,” are based on the excellent article, “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in Church History, ” by Steve Wolfgang (Guardian of Truth, Jan. 4, 1990). Brother Wolfgang concludes the article with this observation, to which I concur:
My own “footnote” would be to say that it seems clear to me that some present-day views, advocated by some increasingly vocal brethren who seem bent on justifying almost every kind second (or later) marriage regardless of cause, would have been greeted with abhorrence by the vast majority of the brethren quoted here (those years ago, wew).
Again, we ask: Who is contributing to the conflict over the divorce and remarriage issue? The answer is apparent when we contrast the positions espoused today with the view of the vast majority of brethren in years gone by, as well as a great number today, I believe. Brethren stood together then in unanimity of mind pertaining to divorce and remarriage. We can too, if we hold fast to what Jesus said on the subject.
Bob Waldron aptly stated, “In the marriage, divorce, and remarriage controversy, it would be nice if we could avoid division, and I fervently hope that widespread division does not occur. Nevertheless, the prevalence of divorce, and the increase among those who hold positions on marriage and divorce which clearly contradict plain Bible teaching will force the controversy upon us” (Is It Lawjul? A Comprehensive Study of Divorce, p. 440).
Why Unity in Diversity is Not the Answer
Some are proposing that all of us accept one another, regardless of one’s position on divorce and remarriage, so that a cleavage can be avoided. “After all, this issue is not clear, so we need to have a broad tolerance for each other,” we are told. We have heard that before. It is known as “unity in diversity,” which is one of the most cunning, subtle, slipperly, double-tongued, nefarious doctrines to “come down the pike.” It is a doctrine of compromise with error. The consequences are far-reaching:
1. It weakens our confidence in the Scriptures. We are told that what the Bible teaches on divorce and remarriage is somewhat hazy and, therefore, we cannot be absolutely sure what the truth is. Hence, let’s not allow our differences on this issue to break fellowship. If we cannot know what the Bible teaches on divorce and remarriage, then perhaps we cannot know what the Bible teaches on the Lord’s supper, the kind of music in worship, whether there are to be elders and deacons, women preachers and a host of other things, even including baptism. Brethren, we can know for certain (Lk. 1:4; Jn. 7:17; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:3; 1 Jn. 1:3-5; 2:21).
2. It gives respectability to false doctrines. Regardless of how you dress up error, such as upholding an adulterous relationship, it is still error. Paul wrote, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). We should never lend dignity to perversions of truth.
3. It encourages many young preachers and immature members to compromise biblical truth. Observe the areas of the country where tolerance is strongly promoted toward dissimilar views on divorce and remarriage and you will find a loose attitude manifested in regard to the various positions. No one is right or wrong. Truth becomes subjective. You get the impression that a position on the critical issue of divorce and remarriage is no more serious than a preference for the model of car you drive. Friend, we don’t choose a position from Matthew 19:9; it is the position.
4. It instills a false sense of security. Men and women remain in sin while at the same time being approved and applauded by men. The word of God is not preached, and those living in sin are told they are in good standing before God. They are to realize that they don’t have the Father and the Son if they fail to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9).
5. It fosters brethren to be men-pleasers. Those that are pleased in reference to divorce and remarriage may be children who are remarried, or a marriage partner, the elders or those in the congregation. Everybody is accommodated and the need for distinguishing the things that differ (Phil. 1:9) is eliminated. “Harmony” and “peace” are enjoyed by all. Everything runs smoothly. Yet, but iniquity goes unchallenged! Men are pleased but the angels of heaven weep. Consider the fearless apostle Paul when he said, “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:1).
In closing, we need to heed the advice J.W. MeGarvey gave to J.P. Sewell in 1902: “You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don’t let anybody persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it. I believed at the start that was the only way to do it. . . . It won’t work.” (McGarvey was referring to the innovations of the Christian Church, wew.)
May the Lord help us to be faithful and loyal to him in all things regardless of the sacrifice we must make. Let’s teach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 11-12
January 2, 1992