Dear Sisters in Christ:
Why are we Protestants so willing to excuse, and in some cases even promote divorce?
How many Protestant churches will refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies for people who have been divorced? I have literally never heard this topic taught at any Protestant church I have ever attended. I may have theological differences with Catholics, but I must say this is one area where they have been faithful to God’s Word and we Protestants have been in rebellion.
First, many Protestants accept divorce in the case of abuse even though no such escape clause exists in the Bible. Some say that it means divorce is okay so long as no remarriage occurs, but that only refers to a legal divorce, not whether or not the abused wife is still married in God’s eyes. In fact, she is still married in God’s eyes, which is why the Bible is so clear that whoever marries a divorcee is committing adultery; you commit adultery when you sleep with someone God does not give you permission to. In cases of extreme physical abuse, then physical separation is entirely reasonable. But even if you obtain a legal divorce, you are not divorced in God’s eyes.
Here is what God says:
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Second, the majority of Protestant churches (all mainline and many evangelical/”conservative”) teach that not only is divorce okay if one spouse commits adultery, but remarriage is also perfectly acceptable. I have a close friend whose husband cheated on her, and after a reasonable amount of time he still refused to part with his mistress, so she divorced him. She is now engaged to another man, and their evangelical church will be hosting the ceremony. But where in the Bible is this portrayed as acceptable? I assume it is coming from bad translations of Matthew 19:1-9, which sometimes translate the words sexual immorality or fornication asadultery:
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said,‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them,“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
This verse simply does not say that a woman can divorce her husband and remarry another man if her husband cheated on her.
Third, in the case of abandonment, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 is often used to justify both divorce and remarriage by the abandoned spouse.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
However, to say that one is not enslaved does not mean that one is free either to divorce or to remarry. It means you do not owe them your labor and you do not need to pursue them relentlessly. However, you are still married to that person if you are a believer.
This post is not meant to call out any individual readers who divorced as believers, so you don’t have to feel like you need to defend your choice. I’m sure your case is very special and God understands about that yours is different and more justifiable than everyone else’s.
The problem is that everyone wants to be free to do whatever he or she wants to do. But every time you make an exception for yourself, Christian woman, you weaken the corporate practice of our faith. At what point will the church develop the strength of will to say, “No more. We will not be weakened any further by people who want to do whatever they want to do and imagine that God blesses it because of their special-ness”?
Why does understanding there is no such thing as Christian divorce even matter? Given what we know from Luke 16:18
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
we understand quite clearly that divorce is only a secular, legal concept and never occurs in God’s eyes. And if one legally divorces and remarries, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 tells us the penalty:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Do Christians understand that if they engage in adultery (legal divorce and then remarriage) or any other form of sexual immorality (fornication) after having accepted salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that the Bible says they will not inherit the kingdom of God? And if they will not be spending eternity in the kingdom of God, where will they spend it? I can only conclude that, though they may say with their mouths that they believe what is written in the Bible, they really do not.
I invite readers to join me in individual prayer for the Church to repent of false teaching on divorce. I will be praying for God to rebuke false teachers and to strengthen the men of the church to teach the truth on divorce.
For a Catholic (and entirely Biblical) perspective, see Zippy Catholic on Marriage ideas have marriage consequences.
For an example of Protestant false teaching, watch this video from the Gospel Coalition.
For an examination of many facets of the modern Church and divorce, try Dalrock’s Church Apathy About Divorce archive.