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Divorce and Remarriage Within the Church

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Marriage problems have been in existence forever. Every nation, every culture, every religion has been faced with the question of how to deal with incompatible marriages. For many, simply allowing divorce and remarriage for any reason seemed to be the easiest solution. Under the Old Covenant, Moses gave instructions about divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Deuteronomy 24:1-4 1 When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorce, and gives it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and you shall not cause the land to sin, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
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). A certificate of divorce was allowed because of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites (Matthew 19:8 Matthew 19:8He said to them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
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). But for Christians, that was to change.

The disciples were shocked when Christ expressed the limited grounds on which a marriage covenant could be ended—so shocked that they declared, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10 Matthew 19:10His disciples say to him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
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). Knowing how often couples had irreconcilable differences, the disciples concluded it would be better never to marry. At that time the disciples were totally unaware of the awesome help that would be available through God’s Holy Spirit for healing and restoring all relationships.

Marriage—A Godly Institution

From the beginning, God intended marriage to be a godly institution. Once Adam and Eve sinned, the fruits of this world’s marriages were too often diametrically opposite to God’s way. But God has called us out of this world in order not to partake of her sins (Revelation 18:4 Revelation 18:4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
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). Marriages in the Church Jesus Christ established should be different from those in the world.

Marriages in God’s Church are to exemplify the relationship of Jesus Christ and His bride. In performing marriages, the ministers of Jesus Christ make it quite clear that, “Within the Church, it is God—not merely man or the laws of man—who joins together husband and wife” (Marriage Ceremony, UCG IA ). As the priests were reminded in the time of the prophet Malachi, true ministers are messengers of God. “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7 Malachi 2:7For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
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). Included in the context of this reminder is God’s declaration that “He hates divorce” (verse 16). Therefore it is vital for all members to protect and preserve marriage and at the same time recognize the responsibility God has given His ministry to teach truth from the Bible regarding the marriage relationship.

Christ instructed His disciples about their responsibility of making binding and loosing decisions (Matthew 16:19 Matthew 16:19And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
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; 18:17-19). God does not want the condition described in Judges 21:25 Judges 21:25In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
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when, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” As the Body of Christ, the Church through its leadership has a responsibility to make decisions for the good of the Church, such as determining whether an irreconcilable marriage between believers is bound or loosed. This is based upon the instructions Christ gave His disciples in Matthew 18. The seriousness of marriage demands that we understand how seldom marriages are not actually binding.

Unbelievers

The United Church of God Statement of Belief paper titled “Divorce and Remarriage” states the following concerning one of the reasons a believer can (but does not necessarily have to) dissolve a marriage. “Not pleased to dwell. Paul explains in the book of 1 Corinthians that if an unbeliever is not pleased to dwell and departs that a Christian is not ‘under bondage.’ An individual may express his/her displeasure in a number of ways—habitual misconduct such as immorality (refers back to implications of porneia ), criminality, addictive behaviors, abuse, desertion or willful failure to provide physical support (1 Timothy 5:8 1 Timothy 5:8But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
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). In such cases it may be appropriate for the ‘believer’ to initiate the proceedings” (page 10).

When an unbeliever is not pleased to dwell with a believer, whether shown by literally leaving the believer or by actions while remaining married, the believer is free. The Church, through its ministry, plays an integral part in helping the believer discern that situation. Members should be encouraged to counsel with their minister and receive encouragement and help in such times of trial. Plus, members can be appraised of the difficulties they can anticipate afterward.

Spiritual Weakness

No one should assume that marriage to a member will be all “peaches and cream.” Marriage to a believer will no doubt have its share of differences also.

But a difference does not a marriage vow break. All believers have weaknesses. We are all growing in grace and knowledge. When two believers marry they usually start with high levels of idealism, “which is rather common in premarital couples” (Prepare/ Enrich Inc., page 89). Newly married couples also have a high level of unrealistic expectations. Expectations about love, commitment and conflicts are often distorted. When marriage disagreements arise—and they usually do—the spiritual depth of each party is tested. Thankfully, most marriages endure. Tragically, some do not.

Why don’t some marriages between believers endure? A lack of spiritual maturity may be a factor. It requires spiritual strength to bear with one another and be patient with one another. Failure to have or to use these qualities stifles growth in the marriage. And a stagnant marriage decays. An unstable marriage may also stem from a wavering faith that quenches godly wisdom (James 1:5-7 James 1:5-7 5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
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). Without godly wisdom, the fruits of peace, gentleness, mercy and being easily entreated will not exist in one’s marriage (James 3:17-18 James 3:17-18 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
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).

Christians are at varying stages of spiritual growth. The author of Hebrews faulted his readers for needing to be taught “the first principles of the oracles of God” at a time when they should have been teachers (Hebrews 5:12 Hebrews 5:12For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
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). The books of the New Testament are filled with examples of believers who had major spiritual issues. The Corinthian church seemed to have its fair share (see article on “What Does Paul Mean by Unbeliever in 1 Corinthians?”).

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he addressed the subject of marriage in relation to spiritual weaknesses. It is evident that Corinthian believers were having marriage problems (1 Corinthians 7:5 1 Corinthians 7:5Defraud you not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
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, 9, 10-11, 15, 27). The command to believers who were having those problems to the extent that they were separating and in need of reconciliation, was to remain unmarried (verses 10-11). Pure and simple, spiritual weakness in a believer is not grounds for dissolving a marriage with the freedom to remarry. All marriages are bound unless proven otherwise—not the other way around.

The inability to reconcile was not grounds for being free to marry. In fact, nowhere in the Bible do we find any of the following reasons, by themselves, as cause to loose the marital bonds: personality and communication problems; inability to resolve conflicts; financial indebtedness; divergent leisure activities; opposing approaches to child rearing; sexual and marriage dissatisfaction; dislike of one’s family and friends; religious differences; or contrasting approaches concerning family roles.

Responsibility and Accountability

Couples who decide to marry are expected to know one another well enough, before they marry, in order to assess as closely as possible how they will get along after marriage. The Church strongly recommends counseling with the ministry. Ministers have the tools at their disposal to help couples examine specific categories applicable to marriage. Through counseling and spending not only a quantity of time, but also quality time in really getting to know one another, a couple can greatly affect the strength and success of their marriage.

Even if couples have a short courtship, fail to counsel before marrying or have dysfunctional backgrounds, none of these recognized troubles justify the later putting away of [divorcing] a mate with the freedom to remarry. Marriage is a commitment for life. Failure to plan properly is not grounds for the future dissolving of a marriage. The couple must be responsible and accountable for their own decisions and actions. Most of the time the old saying, “we made our bed, we have to lie in it,” is very applicable. Better yet, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7 Galatians 6:7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.
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).

As the United Church of God “Administrative Policy Statement on Divorce and Remarriage” states, “If both partners in the marriage are members, then Paul’s admonition to married couples found in 1 Corinthians 7 should be used in the discussion, specifically 1 Corinthians 7:10 1 Corinthians 7:10And to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
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;11.” Those verses describe an irreconcilable marriage where two believers are not free to remarry.

“Marriage is a divine institution, ordained of God, designed to be a loving, rewarding, continuously enriching, lifelong union. As such, Paul explained that it transcends the human plane, and is actually a reflection of the relationship Christ has with the Church (see Ephesians 5:22-33 Ephesians 5:22-33 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
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)” (Statement of Belief paper, “Divorce and Remarriage,” page 9).

Freedom to Remarry

Unlike the world, there are very few reasons believers can be free to remarry after a divorce. Only two reasons can (but do not necessarily have to) dissolve a marriage in which two believers are involved.

The first is: “Porneia, or sexual immorality. This would include in the broader sense all cases of sexual deviancy, adultery being an example. The implication is habitual sexual misconduct, but is not limited to this” (Statement of Belief paper, “Divorce and Remarriage,” page 10). Of course, there are cases of abuse that may lead to divorce and subsequent freedom to remarry. This is covered in the same document under the discussion on unbelievers.

It would be highly advisable for any member having questions on this subject to study the Statement of Belief paper concerning “Divorce and Remarriage” in detail. Ask your minister for a copy.

Besides sexual immorality, fraud is the only other biblical reason considered when making marital judgments where both people involved are (and remain) members.

“A marriage may be annulled or put aside if either party was deceived by the other partner prior to marrying” (page 11). “When it is discovered that one member of the marriage deliberately kept back information that, if known, would have caused the other partner not to marry, we have fraud. In general terms, fraud is something that should be acted upon when it is discovered, and not many years later. Essentially, this would call for the annulling of the marriage. If important information is deliberately withheld by either party, a covenant relationship, such as marriage, is not binding, and therefore can be annulled” (pages 8-9).

Unless there is sexual immorality or fraud, marriage between believers is binding and those believers must refrain from remarrying. Human nature tries to find the easy way out. God’s way, on the surface, seems difficult. But the narrow path leads to eternal life ad few find it (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
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).

Better Not to Marry

Upon hearing the only valid reason for being loosed from a marriage, the disciples exclaimed: “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10 Matthew 19:10His disciples say to him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
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). Little did they understand the potential of all future Christ-like marriages.

Christ was about to establish the New Covenant. God’s Spirit, the very power which resurrected Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11 Romans 8:11But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.
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) would be available to perform a miracle in the minds of all who received it—Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27 Colossians 1:27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
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).

Jesus Christ would actually dwell in the minds of all who would repent, be baptized and accept Him as their Savior (Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
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). Christian marriages would not need a “certificate of divorce” because of hard hearts. Unless one quenched the Holy Spirit, the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control should ensure a happy and successful marriage.

All of us, whether having marriage problems or not, need to ask ourselves how Jesus Christ would treat our mates. Would He respond to our mates the same way we do? Would He display more self-control than we do? Would He be more patient and forbearing than we are? Before we answer those questions, remember that Christ gave His life for His bride. If He were married to our mates, He would do the same in an act of totally unselfish service.

Perhaps there’s more room for the mind of Christ in us. And for those having some form of marriage difficulty, can we truthfully say that we have done everything Jesus Christ would do to make our marriage successful? If not, we should pray before God’s throne of mercy for His help through the same Spirit that was in Christ (Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
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).

Choosing the Bride

According to some ancient marriage customs, marriages were arranged for individuals by parents and contracts were negotiated. Although considered married, the individuals did not live together. The woman continued living with her parents for a year, during which time she could prove her faithfulness to her chosen husband. Such a custom may seem very odd to us—I’m not advocating that we should follow it today! But think about the spiritual counterpart of this custom and the implications for us.

God is choosing the bride for His Son, Jesus Christ (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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). At the time of Christ’s return, God states, “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7 Revelation 19:7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
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). How had Jesus’ affianced bride made herself ready? She had shown her faithfulness by righteous living (verse 8).

God the Father has chosen us to become Christ’s bride. We are in that transition period after being chosen but before the marriage itself, proving our faithfulness as a righteous mate to Jesus Christ. If our marriages do not reflect the relationship Christ has with the Church, what does that portend concerning our future marriage to Christ? Will God the Father allow anyone who does not treat his or her spouse in a godly manner to marry His Son?

Rather than dwelling on being free from a troublesome marriage, concentrate on repairing it. Seek a closer relationship with God through Christ. A loving bond in marriage is not cemented between husband and wife only. The bond with your mate is through God: husband-God-wife and wife-God-husband. Quenching God’s Spirit, which enables us through Christ to have access to God, can destroy the spiritual marriage bond.

Those with marriage problems who are tempted to give it all up should consider the foregoing. We all must seek God. Control ourselves. Perhaps, just perhaps, through the awesome power of God in us we can change and win over our mates by our godly conduct (1 Peter 3:1 1 Peter 3:1Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
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). Isn’t marriage, which reflects the marriage of Christ to the Church, worth another try? UN

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