Fellowship and the Divorce and Remarriage Issue

By Aude McKee

Fellowship is a problem for God’s people and it is one of those problems that, by its very nature, never goes away. You can look back in the history of the church here in America and observe that issues that at one time were “on the front burner,” were fought and at least for a time, relegated to a position of less importance. But as surely as the sun rises in the morning, new issues were bound to be created and so the problem of who and what to fellowship has always been and always will be a problem. In my lifetime I have seen premillennialism, both old and new “Ketchersideism,” institutionalism and social gospelism rear their ugly heads to trouble the church. Needless to say, in each situation, long and difficult battles had to be fought. Individuals had to search the Scriptures to determine the truth about each issue, and local churches had the problem of deciding who was worthy of fellowship.

The problem of divorce and remarriage has always been somewhat of a difficulty for the Lord’s church, but only in recent years has it grown to the place where it is one of major proportions. It has often been said that anything, of a moral nature, that troubles the nation will eventually trouble the church and our generation has seen respect for marriage and the home drop to the lowest level this nation has ever known. And so, there is not a church of God in the land that does not face the problem of fellowship in regard to those divorced and remarried.

However, this article does not deal with whether or not to fellowship those living in adultery as the result of unscriptural divorces and remarriages. This article assumes that each local church knows the truth about these matters and refuses fellowship to those unworthy. The problem we address is the inconsistency of denying fellowship to those unscripturally divorced and remarried, and then upholding the hands of those who, at least in principle, have been responsible for the unscriptural relationships these people find themselves in. We suggest some passages and some examples that may address the problem.

In 1 John 1:3, John points out that the apostles’ fellowship with God and Jesus was based upon what they had “seen, heard and declared.” In addition, his reader’s fellowship with them (the apostles) had to be on the same basis. Fellowship with God and Christ, the teachers and the taught, was all determined from the same teaching. You can’t imagine anyone being out of fellowship with those who followed the apostles, and in fellowship with the apostles at the same time! There are preachers today who are teaching that the guilty party of Matthew 19:9 is free to remarry along with the innocent party. Others affirm aliens are not amenable to the authority of Christ, and so the restrictions of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 do not apply to them. A few are saying that fornication occurs at the time of the divorce, and so all that is required to marry again without sin is to repent of the sin of divorcing, In addition to these, a number of other attempts to evade the force of Matthew 19:9 are being propagated, but these illustrate what this article is all about. Some churches will not accept folks in fellowship who attempt to justify their present marriages on such teaching, but those same churches will turn around and have fellowship with the preachers responsible for those people taking such a stand!

While we have our Bibles open to 1 John 1, look at verses 6 and 7. In these verses the basis of fellowship is clearly stated. “If we walk in the light. . . ” The question before us is whether or not a preacher is walking in the light when he teaches error – error so dangerous that souls are jeopardized? Exodus 7 is the account of Israel’s battle with Amalek and his people. As the battle progressed, Aaron and Hur went to the top of a hill, and as long as Moses held his hands in the air, Israel prevailed. But Moses got tired and so in order for Israel to continue winning, Aaron and Hur held Moses’ hands in the air. Do you think for one minute that Aaron and Hur would have been justified in holding up Moses’ hands if by so doing it would have resulted in Israel’s defeat? Can we uphold the hands of a preacher if by so doing we assist him in taking souls to hell?

Now look at 2 John 9-11. It is clearly stated that anyone who goes onward and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, has forfeited the fellowship of God. Then the Holy Spirit had John to instruct us as to our attitude toward those caught up in such error by saying that we could not do anything that would leave the impression that we are bidding the false teacher God speed. In fact, if we do (v. 11), we become a partaker of his evil deeds. All of those who have divorced and remarried contrary to the teaching of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are addressed in verse 9, and all who uphold those responsible for bringing in these false doctrines are addressed in verses 10 and 11.

In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul told Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.” Was Paul telling Timothy to go slow in bidding a man God speed lest he become a partaker of other men’s sins? Regardless of what “lay hands on” meant, Timothy was certainly warned in no uncertain terms that he dare not be “a partaker of other men’s sins.” The question before us is, do we violate the prohibitions of 1 Timothy 5:22 when we endorse (have fellowship with) those who teach the unscripturally divorced and remarried that they are right before God? I am convinced that most of us have “emotional problems.” Too often, when we face the application of truth, our emotions get in the way. Our love for a member of the family, a friend of long-standing, or whoever, clouds our thinking and affects our decisions. It is not always easy to say and mean, “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth; command and I will obey.”

Ephesians 5:8-11 is a passage that deals directly with the problems before us. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light. . . proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Does false teaching fall in the category of “unfruitful works of darkness”? If teaching an unscripturally divorced and remarried individual that helshe can remain in that relationship and stay in fellowship with God is a “work of darkness, ” then surely havingfellowship with that teacher would be condemned. Now go back and read verse 9: “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” If I teach truth I am bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If I teach error it had to come from some source other than the Holy Spirit!

In Acts 18 and 19, a situation developed that may shed some light on the problem under discussion in this article. Apollos, a preacher who was mighty in the Scriptures and eloquent in his delivery, came to Ephesus and taught false doctrine. His error was fundamental – he was teaching that when people were baptized they looked forward to the sacrifice that would cleanse them from sin. When Paul arrived in Ephesus he found twelve men who had been baptized believing the false doctrine taught by Apollos. Now in this whole affair, two fundamental corrections took place. The first involved getting the preacher straightened out. Acquila and Priscilla took care of this. They “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Paul remedied the second problem by teaching those twelve men that scriptural baptism was “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Now it is interesting that both parties involved in error made corrections. The preacher “cleaned up his act,” and those misled by this false teaching corrected their lives by obeying the truth taught by Paul. Let’s ask a couple of questions. Do you think the church in Ephesus would have extended fellowship to those twelve men if they had not obeyed the truth Paul taught them? And then, do you think Paul and his friends would have continued to give Apollos the right hand of fellowship if he had persisted in teaching John’s baptism? If your answer to the first question is “no,” how could you answer “yes” to the second question?

In the beginning of this article I named a number of problems that have plagued spiritual Zion over the years. I would never be guilty of minimizing those problems and the terrible havoc that was wrought by them. But the divorce and remarriage issue is one that strikes at the heart of homes of people world-wide, and it has to do with the morality of God’s people. May God help us to pause, take a step back, look at what we are doing to the kingdom of Christ and the souls of eternity-bound mortals, and then determine to hew the line regardless of what it may cost.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 7-8
January 2, 1992