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Dysfunctional Churches

Word RTF

Question #1:   Sad, sad, SAD!!!...where are the churches that teach sound doctrine? And why am I so surprised at this when the scriptures clearly teach that apostasy will occur before the coming of the Lord? I had visited another "Baptist" church today and in their pamphlet read:

"Unity to this writer does not mean uniformity. This is an appropriate word for the church today. To counter perceived threats from moral relativism and secularism many in religious bodies have heightened pressure on adherents to conform to doctrinal, moral and even political correctness in interpretation and behavior." - Richard F. Ward

I'll get to the above statement later on. The Word of God states in 1 John 4:1, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." and also states in 1 Timothy 4:1, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;" This is what is happening today!!! As I entered into the church to expect a warm and hearty welcome from loving "Christians...I felt an opposing spirit working within the church as I entered, and I was correct. Nobody but 1 or 2 people said hi or welcomed me to their church. The first person who said hi was named "Jesus". I had explained to him how we are to "test" the spirits and how many Pastors and bible teachers behind the pulpit would rather tickle the ears of their audience than preach sound doctrine. He then proceeded to tell me jokes such as..."Have you heard the joke about the 2 peanuts?...well, one was assaulted." He told me to stop being bleak and cheer up, and we're here on earth to have "fun" and get along. He also told me that I need to stop condemning God. I thought to myself, how appropriate for the devil to use someone named "Jesus" to attempt to deceive me into believing that we should all just get along in spite of what we believe. The Word of God states in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."

I then said hi to the Pastor as he tried to avoid me for some strange reason. I asked him what his church's statement of belief was, and he gave me the pamphlet which I had already received which read:

Mission Statement: "Our church is an inclusive community that embraces all followers of Jesus Christ. We worship, witness and work to advance God's purpose in all of life. Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God."

I then asked him what are the church's doctrinal beliefs? and he responded by saying..."that's not important, what's important is that there needs to be unity regardless of doctrinal beliefs." So I asked him..."what do you believe about gay marriage?" and he responded by saying, "Our church teaches gay marriage and we believe that God loves all kinds of people in spite of their preferences." I then said see you later "Pastor" and left the church.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 - Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Was I wrong for doing what I did? For looking for a church that adheres to sound doctrine and that teaches on sin and immorality? Unfortunately, such churches are RARE in this Laodicean church age, so Maranatha, and Anathema to anyone who preaches another Gospel.

Response #1:   I don't think you were wrong at all. In today's world it is very important that all Christians who are truly interested in the Word of God and in following Jesus Christ in the way He truly desires "vote with their feet" when it comes to what fellowship they will embrace and under what teaching they will sit. No place and no teacher could ever be perfect, but the likes of what you report here are very clear indications that at best you would be wasting your time (at worst, such drivel can cause spiritual malnutrition and, if actually believed, spiritual decay). Finding a "brick and mortar church" where solid, substantive, orthodox Bible teaching is the center-piece and purpose of existence is, as you say, very rare. That is why this ministry, as I often point out, is on the internet, to wit, to provide my fellow Christians who are unable to find what they need to be fed face to face to get at least the spiritual nutrition necessary for growth (if not the face to face fellowship almost everyone would prefer).

I pray that you may find just the right "niche" for your spiritual growth and fellowship in a community where the Word of God is truly the number one priority.

Here are some related links on this subject:

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

FAQ #3:  Can you recommend a church?

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Red Hot or Lukewarm?

The Meaning and Purpose of True Christian Assembly

The Local Church and Personal Ministry IV

The Local Church and Personal Ministry III

The Local Church and Personal Ministry II

The Local Church and Personal Ministry I

Keep fighting the good fight of faith.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Someone I know is being counseled by a church counselor (marriage problems, etc) and believes that the ONLY true Biblical counseling is counseling that comes FROM the Bible. But is this sort of counseling necessary? I had some feedback and wanted to know if you agree with it. He wrote:

"I am completely convinced that good Expository Preaching on a continual basis will eliminate the need for a majority of the counseling that seems to be "required" in churches today. A good friend and I were discussing this the other day. I was convinced before the discussion, but afterwards I got to thinking of all the preachers that preach topically and the huge amount of counseling they do. I compared that to all the preachers I know that preach expositorily and that dig verrrrry deep into the five main areas of Biblical study:> *** Literal::: What are the words literally saying.

*** Grammatical::: What are the grammatical structures of the words in their sentences

*** Contextual::: What is the context of the words with respect to the rest of the verses around them as well as the book they are in and the people to whom these words are addressed.

*** Historical::: How do these words relate to the message they portray with respect to the historical background in which they were given.

*** Cultural::: What were the customs, mores and habits of the people to whom these words are addressed.

We find that on average an expository preacher needs to do far less counseling because he covers the whole counsel of God in his preaching and teaching."

Do you agree?

Response #2:    

I do think that it is true that for the spiritually mature believer, someone who has for many years put the Word of God first in his/her life, has sought out and consistently consumed the solid food of sound and substantive Bible teaching, has learned it, believed it, lived it, and helped others to do the same through the application of his/her spiritual gifts, it will be a rarity that professional counseling would be necessary. In other words, "ideally", we get everything we need to deal with the problems of life from the truth of the Word. Having said that, the description of the Bible teaching in the e-mail quote you provide is very good, but there are plenty of pastor/teachers who would ascribe to this ideal but who are not really living up to it. And there are plenty of believers who talk a good game but who are far from spiritually mature even though they have had ample opportunity in their lives to become so. And if this is the case in the green wood, what about the dry? The majority of pastors and the majority of parishioners in this country don't really even believe in the concept of spiritual growth as defined above and below. So I have no doubt that there are many times that many Christians find their own spiritual resources inadequate to cope with the personal crises they face. Add to this the fact that there may be special circumstances that apply so that I would not be willing to rule out a role for professional counseling. I do know of instances where it has been helpful, even if we can conceive of alternative histories for the people so helped whereby they would have been able to rely on the Lord in the strength of His Word in their hearts, had they been better prepared. This is also not to say that there is no place for comfort and encouragement in the Body of Christ – indeed there is, and one reason why we see the rise of Christian counseling in the church visible today may very well be that those who are gifted in this respect and who should be shouldering this load are generally either not prepared or not willing to do so in keeping with the overall malaise in our lukewarm church era of Laodicea.

Strengthen the hands that are weak. Bolster the knees that are giving way. Say to those with anxious hearts, "Be strong! Don't be afraid! Behold! Your God will come, as an Avenger. [Your] God will come, as a Rewarder. He will come, and He will deliver you.
Isaiah 35:3-4

(4) The Lord God has given Me a tongue of those who have been [fully] instructed [in the truth], that I may know the right words [of truth] to encourage (lit., "re-string" them like an unstrung bow) the weary . He arouses His Word [within Me]. [And] every morning He awakens Me. He awakens My ear[s] to listen like [the ears of] those who have been [fully] instructed [in the truth]. (5) The Lord God has opened My ear[s], and I have not refused [instruction] (lit., "rebelled" against it). I have not turned away [nor gone] backward.
Isaiah 50:4-5

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

Make sure, brothers, that none of you develop an evil heart of unbelief [lack of faith] by turning away [or "rebelling"] from the living God. Rather keep encouraging each other every day as long as we still call it "today" (i.e. remain in this world), lest any of you be hardened [in heart] by the deception of sin. For we all have a share in Christ, as long as we hang onto that original confidence [of our faith in Him] firmly to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

And let us give careful attention to one another['s ministries] as motivation for [our own] love and good works, not abandoning your mutual assembling (as some have made it their practice to do [and which makes this impossible]), but rather encouraging each other [to persevere in this work of the Lord], and doing so to an ever greater degree to the extent that you see the day [of the Lord] drawing [ever] closer.
Hebrews 10:24-25 

On the other side of things, we might also want to allow for the possibility that some professional Christian counselors are actually gifted by the Spirit in this regard and have chosen this approach in fulfillment of their true calling. So I am not really ready to throw the baby out with the bath-water. One thing I am very much willing to do, however, is to turn a jaundiced eye to the idea of pastoral counseling. Pastor/teachers are gifted (and one hopes also prepared) to study and teach the Word of God. This is a different thing from one-on-one "counseling". It is true that a pastor/teacher must keep a close watch on his flock and must exhort them in the right direction while warning them off from the wrong direction. But this "advice" is given out to the church as a whole, not individually. Individual counseling necessarily has a very subjective element to it, and pastor/teachers are usually the worst people to give such advice in this way. This is so for two reasons:

1) Pastor/teachers rightly see things as black and white as they very well should do when exegeting and teaching the Word of God, but what this means is that their advice tends to be along the lines of "do this/don't do that". Since no one but the person in question has any true chance to be able to figure out complex life-questions, many of which are not black and white because they deal with a realm of choices are based on past decisions, and have multiple consequences, the pastor is exactly the wrong person to ask since his authority puts the person in the position of feeling resentment if the pastor is right (since they are obviously not ready to do what is suggesting or they wouldn't be in counseling), or of being ruined if he is wrong (unless they choose not to follow the advice, in which case church becomes incredibly uncomfortable). If the advice sought from a pastor/teachers is obvious ("should I continue in a sinful relationship?"), there is no need for it in the first place. If it is not obvious ("should I go to medical school?"), it is really handing over one's free will to somebody else and somebody who has considerable authority in the first place at that (this is how cults begin). A good counselor knows how to listen and how to avoid giving a person any excuse for doing something they want to although they know it is a bad idea but only want a fall guy in fact. This is a trap difficult for pastors to avoid because of the nature of their gift and office.

2) The role of the pastor/teacher is to feed his part of the Lord's flock through substantive and orthodox Bible teaching. Done right, this takes a tremendous amount of effort and a great deal of time. Counseling is something that distracts from job-one, and anything that distracts from job-one should be minimized and only engaged in when it is absolutely unavoidable. An effective pastor/teacher has to prioritize and that priority has to be studying and teaching the Word of God for his entire flock, rather than spending an inordinate amount of his time and energy on a select few who "want advice". Teaching is where the vast bulk of his time and energy should go. But once things like counseling, calling, socializing, administration, music, expansion, fund-raising, etc., etc., start to get a grip on his time and energy, he quickly becomes just like any other denominational pastor: an inspirational sermon once or twice a week, but no substantive teaching.

In the One whose sheep we are, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3:

Hi Bob,

I hope this email finds you well and happy. I am sorry for troubling you again, I feel incredibly discouraged in my faith, I am struggling to pray and read Gods word which has lead me to feelings of despair and hopelessness. My local church were I fellowship is seeking closer ecumenical ties with other churches some of whom doctrine they have watered down amongst things and one of them being catholic which is another gospel. About a month ago they started a bus outreach with 9 other churches to reach the youth in the community but I went into church about 4 weeks ago and they asked us to take a form to fill in and there were 3 questions on it and we had to tick yes or no to these questions the leadership was asking us to vote on if we should take part in a walking day festival next year with other churches one of them being Roman catholic. I personally would find it difficult to be in a procession with a church walking in front of behind our church which puts Mary on a par with Jesus and they carry banners on walking day hailing dead saints. I submitted a paper to my elders about 3 weeks ago biblically showing the dangers of these things to my leadership I am still waiting a response. I went into church 2 weeks ago and they asked us to take a booklet that the leadership had prepared on church membership, it would involve us being welcomed into church in a service but one of the paragraphs concerns me it says that if we desire to quit membership of the church we must resign from it and it is something that the church elders would take seriously. I always believed that when we repent and are born again we become members of the body of Christ I do not see a need for membership of a church on top of this, we should be committed to each other without the need for a formal membership. In my church they have a ladies meeting once a month and a bookstall which sell books and there as been books on there by well known word faith teachers when I questioned the leaders they said they will not do anything about it as they do not want to come across as heavy shepherding. All these thing make me feel deeply uneasy and despairing the bible warns us of apostasy in the last days. How do we know when the time is right to look for another church to fellowship. I know I have written a few questions but if you could offer any advice I would be grateful, I feel in such despair.

Response #3:

It is good to hear from you again my friend, even though the tidings are sad. I would like to say that I am surprised, but this is an increasingly common report in our day and age, so close to the end. As I have written, I believe that ecumenicalism of all stripes is both a sign and a necessary condition of the coming pseudo-Christian religion of the beast. Understanding quite well from experience and observation the attachments that people form with their denominations and individual churches, I can well appreciate the pain of heart it causes to see things "go wrong". Knowing if and when to separate is difficult, and the decision is made doubly problematic in our time by the fact that there are very few good alternatives to any church which is genuinely Christian and has, in the past at any rate, done a passable job of studying and teaching the Word. When one of these gems "goes south", there is usually nothing springing up to take its place.

A couple of observations. First, I would encourage you to continue to pray and read scripture and drink deep of substantive Bible study – these do provide encouragement through the Spirit, so that it is most definitely possible to have peace and comfort even in the midst of stress and tribulation. Secondly, the fact that you are troubled by things that ought to trouble any serious disciple of Jesus Christ is also a good thing, even though in the near term it is a painful thing. I am sure you know the old story about boiling a frog, to wit, if you throw a frog into boiling water, he'll only jump out, but if you put a frog in warm water and turn up the heat gradually, the chances of cooking him are excellent. The fact that you can still "feel the heat" is a blessing. The question of if and when to jump is trickier. That is a decision that only you can make. I never advise people to leave fellowships of a longstanding nature without very careful consideration and very clear reasoning, and only then after "sleeping on it" for a reasonable time. However, the one thing to avoid in such circumstances is ignoring one's conscience. For it is inevitable that things that strike a person as wrong and troublesome today will, over time, seem less so (if the water is heated only gradually).

As to the specifics, I agree completely. I too would be very troubled by 1) close association with barely or non-Christian groups, by 2) mercantilism within the church, by 3) any fellowship that proclaimed any form of "salvation by joining". These are all deadly trends in and of themselves. What would be most troubling to me personally in such eventualities, however, is what the easy acceptance of them would probably say about the spiritual and doctrinal underpinnings of any group that would embrace them without qualms. Naturally, one has to weigh any decision to separate against the lack of a good fellowship to replace the previous church. Going it alone is not the Christian ideal by any means, although it is better to spend a time in the wilderness waiting for the ravens than to worship Baal. In all these matters, we have to remember that while we may not see solutions, everything has already been taken into account and taken care of by the Lord. He knows what He is doing and planning and working out in your heart, even if it is not plain to human eyes. No doubt this is all a part of your testing in the process of your spiritual growth, and possibly a refining exercise that will lead you ever deeper into your personal growth and production for Jesus Christ. Viewed in that light, it may be not only necessary for the Lord's plan for your life, but a genuine opportunity to choose for Him and His truth under difficult circumstances, a potential victory whose ramifications are eternal.

So if I may leave you with one perspective on this it would be to remember that this world is a spiritual battlefield, and for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus closely, the times of trouble are certain to outnumber the times of peace (see the link: Strangers in the Devil's Realm). And yet we can have peace even the midst of tribulation – that is the normal status quo of the Christian life: walking with Jesus on the water through the storm, ignoring the waves and the wind, looking forward through the gale ahead to the far shore where all this will be behind us, thrilling in the prospect of all that is to come, seeing it in faith though it is hidden from our eyes, and understanding that the security of the boat we left behind to walk the water with Him was only an illusion – it is dust and to dust it will return: only those who keeping moving, holding tight to Jesus' hand, will accomplish the growth and ministry He desires and reap the rewards He has prepared. Fighting the good fight of faith means inevitable sufferings of various kinds, but God never leaves us without peace, joy, and comfort, even in the midst of the fight (Jas.1:2; cf. 2Cor.1:3-7).

In this world you do have tribulation. But be courageous. I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

Grab hold of the peace of God, to the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit, until the Lord brings you safe to the further side.

Please also see the following links:

The Situation of the Church Visible on the Eve of the Tribulation

Is Church Membership an Issue in Salvation?

In the One with whom we strive to walk closer every day, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:   

I wanted to ask you what reasons should Chrisitans separate over within churches? For example I read:

"Of course, there are the more liberal Baptist, which I can't attend, because of their liberal agenda (e.i.....drink a little wine....for stomach's sake "they quote Timothy",,,,..their dress code is different.....women preachers, women deaconess'......and one of the main reasons, they use everything "but" the King James Bible). I attend a more conservative Baptist Church, where we believe in dressing right, talking right, no alcohol, men preachers, deacons are the husband of one wife..... and 1611 King James only is used. In light of some of these issues, I think it is worth Separation. There is one doctrine that I think we all agree on and that is the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ. "

Do you think these are legitimate reasons to separate over? I would love to share your views.

Response #4: 

I guess the first thing I would like to point out is that until one is a member of a church, the issue of separation is not a difficult one. If a person feels that the pastor is not teaching the Word or that what he is teaching is seriously incorrect or devoid of substance, then moving on is a right and natural thing to do. That does not mean that one cannot have Christian friends whose approach to the issue of spiritual growth is more superficial and lackadaisical than one's own – one certainly may – but every Christian needs to be able to keep on track without negative influence holding them back from running the race as Jesus wants it run. On a personal level, that is the main issue in separation, namely, not to be dragged down by a bad example.

(17) But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. (18) They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." (19) These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (20) But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (21) Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (22) Be merciful to those who doubt; (23) snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Jude 1:17-23 NIV

As Jude makes clear here, we need to keep away from those who would divide us from the truth (vv. 17-19). Our main objective is to keep growing spiritually (v. 20). We can indeed have friendships and relationships with less spiritually mature Christians and unbelievers (vv. 22-23a), but we need to be very careful in the case of those who are spiraling downward lest we be sucked into the same vortex (v. 23b).

When it comes to churches, I have never been a proponent of "change from the inside". In the first place, attempting this should not even be considered as a possible course of action except in the case of those who have a very long (preferable life-long) affiliation with a certain church or group. Even if said fellowship is dead wrong in doctrine and practice, it is hardly the place for new arrivals to be telling them what to do. However, in such cases where a person has a longstanding stake in the organization, local or corporate, in my view it is still better to cut losses and move on, even if those losses are huge. That is because I have seldom seen efforts at internal reform succeed: a church becomes rotten for a whole host of reasons that a mere change of leadership, creed, and order of service cannot really even begin to address. Secondly, wherever such efforts have met with visible success, they have always done so at a very steep cost, with many hard feelings, recriminations, slanderous backbiting and near outright war, none of which is particularly consistent with Christian love. Better to start anew someplace else in my view.

Finally, as to the quote you provide, whatever one thinks about most of the issues brought up therein, they are largely superficial concerns (except of course for the doctrine of Christ alluded to at least at the end of the quote). The main thing I would look for in a church would be a pastor/teacher who is actually using the main worship service to teach the Bible in a systematic, substantive and orthodox way. Everything else in a church is expendable, and it is very easy to tell on a single visit whether or not a particular church is really a place to be fed spiritually or essentially just a social organization. If I want social life, I can find that a million other places. The solid food of the Word of God, however, does not grow on trees at the moment. It is very hard to find, but having found it, it is as the "pearl of great price".

Finally, when one does find such a place, since there is definite and definitive teaching going on, it will be apparent very quickly if the teaching is by and large inaccurate or not orthodox. Clearly, no one is going to agree with all of our opinions, and in the case of a pastor/teacher who is actually trying to carry out his biblical mandate to "teach the Word, in season and out of season", there will no doubt be much to wonder about and some things with which to disagree. But a Christian of even minimal spiritual growth ought easily be able to distinguish with the Spirit's help what constitutes a "separation issue" and what does not. In my considered opinion, the undiminished divinity of Christ and the true humanity of Christ are, for example, clear separation issues since no one who is genuinely a believer in Jesus Christ can be in any doubt about either (much less a doctrinal pastor/teacher). Whereas issues such as when/if/whether a Christian can/should/may drink alcohol are not, even though they may elicit emotional reactions. For example, while I applaud sobriety and even tea-totaling, I do not think that a fair case can be made that the Bible requires it (Matt.26:7). Dress code is largely meaningless in biblical terms, except that to attempt to enforce one can be sinful (Jas.2:1-7). I certainly agree that only men are pastor-teachers, but the emphasis on this is all wrong in most places that do emphasize it: it is a matter of spiritual gifts, not of genders. Finally, sticking with the KJV, whatever edition, is nonsensical: the Bible is written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and any good pastor/teacher worth his salt will be teaching based on the original language, that is, what the Bible actually says, no matter how someone else might have translated it. But in short, these are minor issues that become major distractions when a person places more emphasis on them than on teaching and exegeting the entire Word of God. This is one of my major gripes. The Bible does talk about marriage very often, so if 50% or more of what is coming from the pulpit is essentially focused on marriages, relationships and family, how is that teaching the Bible (since only a small percentage of the Bible deals with those subjects)? A spiritually motivated pastor/teacher will want to teach his congregation "the full counsel of God" (Acts 20:20; 20:27). That requires teaching through books (like e.g., Philippians) and teaching systematics (like, e.g., Hamartiology), efforts that could take years even if the congregation is receiving three or more hours of straight teaching a week – and the issue of marriage might not even come up for a decade in either of these examples! If what passes for "Bible teaching" in a church really means largely a fixation on relationship pop-psychology, a Christian will never grow – and, indeed, a "pastor" who only "teaches" those subjects which tickle his congregations ears will likely be filling them with error in what little he does teach.

To me, this is the sort of thing one needs to take care to separate from rather than superficial questions like whether any of the deacons have ever been divorced.

Please see also the following link: False Apostles

In our dear Lord Jesus who taught the truth, the whole truth of the Word of God.

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Bob,

I hope all is well with you and your family. I continue to use your website as a study tool and still marvel at how the Lord chose to use you in the building of His kingdom. I am participating tomorrow in a forum, sponsored by a local newspaper, on faith and politics. Can you offer me a short version of your take on this issue. I know the primary bone of contention between the two is the abortion issue (when does life begin) and I know your take on that from what you have written on your website. I know what the Bible says about when life begins and, thus, have my firm opinion on this issue. So, I'm looking for something beyond that. Thanks and continue to keep up the good work in His service.

God bless you,

Response #5:  

Always good to hear from you. I hope I am getting this to you in time. As you probably know from the various materials on the website, I am not much on mixing faith with politics (for the details of my essential position, please see the link: "Political Action versus Biblical Christianity"). On the issue of abortion, you are no doubt aware from my writings that I am firmly convinced that the Bible teaches the creation of each new individual human life at birth, not conception. It is also clearly the case that even so the scriptures are not neutral on the subject of abortion, even if it is not directly addressed. As I say in Basics 3A Anthropology where the subject of the spirit is addressed most extensively and life at birth described as the biblical position:

This (i.e., life at birth rather than at conception) is not at all to imply that for this reason the fetus has no worth in God's eyes. Quite to the contrary, the unborn are highly valued in scripture (Ex.21:22; Job 10:8-12; Ps.139:13-16; Is.44:24; 49:4-5). Further we may note that in the Bible children are considered a great blessing (cf. 1Sam.2:1-11 and Lk.1:46-55), with infertility seen as a curse (Hos.9:14; cf. Gen.38; Lev.20:20-21; 1Sam.1:11), and pregnancy as a blessing and occasionally even a means of justification (cf. Num.5:11-31 and Lk.1:25). Whereas, on the other hand, the sacrifice of children is an abomination (Lev.18:21; Deut.12:31; Ps.106:37-38).

The real question here it seems to me is what to do about it. As detailed in the above link, salvation and spiritual growth are in my view the ultimate godly solutions to all sin and sinfulness. I realize that this is one of those places where many well-meaning believers wish to bring the power of the law to bear in order to enforce what they see as the truth. But in my observation and experience, this approach has not led to any noticeable trend toward seeking God (which is my prime concern). On the other hand, it is I believe irrefutable that many people who become deeply involved in the search for political solutions end up losing their spiritual bearings. I certainly cannot decide this for you or anyone else, and in the long sweep of history it is true that there have been times where it could be fairly argued that it was a good thing that certain believers got involved in secular affairs. However, as I see the pendulum swinging wildly in the direction of substituting politics for spiritual growth (as most churches and most Christians in this country seek substitutes for the deplorable lack of Bible teaching in activities of this sort), I have no problem being a voice in the wilderness on this one, suggesting caution and restraint in this regard, and ever making the point that anyone who truly is seeking God and His kingdom is very likely going to be responsive to words of truth that counsel turning away from sin of all sort (whereas those who could care less are not likely to be restrained, even by the law).

Hope this is of some small help!

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:    

How is a church to handle disciplining someone caught in a serious sin such as sexual immorality? This is hypothetical. Let's say there was a teenage couple that is discovered to be having sex about a year ago. They get caught, and they have admitted that what they have done is wrong and agree to stop having sex. And let's say that you are the pastor of the church and now find out that the girl is pregnant. They want to get married (or at least they think so) how do you handle the wedding, etc. Since this is hypothetical please just go with the assumptions above until the point you find out she is pregnant. (And where you would do something different up to that point, just point it out). Is church discipline demanded? And what if they want a church wedding? Baby shower or bridal showers? Thanks in advance!

Response #6:

Generally speaking, church discipline is a subject normally reserved to be leveled out upon those in positions of authority (elder-pastor-teachers and deacons) when they are caught in major transgression (1Tim.5:19-20). I find little in scripture about disciplining members of the congregation. What there is, is extreme. The clearest example of this is in 1st Corinthians chapter five where a man was caught in extreme immorality. In that case, Paul rebukes the entire congregation:

And you are arrogant (lit. "in a state of having been inflated [with pride]")! And should you not instead rather have been in a state of grief, so that the one who committed this act might be removed from your midst?
1st Corinthians 5:2 (cf. 2Jn.1:10)

The idea here is that no one in the congregation should have continued to fellowship with someone who was engaged in such lawless behavior. That is to say, there was no need for the church leadership to be disciplining the person who was behaving shamefully (the problem should have taken care of by the members) – but there was need for disciplining the congregation as a whole since it was not responding in the correct way. Thus, ideally, the church leadership never has to get involved at all (beyond having taught their congregations the correct procedure in the first place).

I hasten to add that the particular behavior explained above is far worse than what you relate, and in the case of the Corinthian congregation the person was apparently completely unrepentant before Paul's public chastisement. Ideally, in the case of any sort of gross sin, the godly attitude of the congregation is known to all, so that all are reluctant to engage in activity that will be immediately censured. Finally on this part of the issue, there should clearly be a range of response depending upon the seriousness of the violation. While incest of the sort in 1st Corinthians five commands an immediate and uncompromising response, the tendency of a particular member to, say, get a lot of parking tickets, does not rise to the same level. In lesser matters, the mild displeasure of the righteous majority should be sufficient to correct the behavior. Of course this all assumes that 1) the church is teaching the Bible consistently and in great depth, and 2) the congregation is responding with a love for the Word of God – both mighty large assumptions in our day and age!

Once there is repentance, there is also forgiveness. In 2nd Corinthians 2:5-11 we find that these believers later overreacted (cf. 2Cor.7:8-12). In the passage cited, Paul makes clear that once a person responds to censure, repents and makes whatever amends are possible, that the offender should then be admitted back into fellowship in all Christian love. This is consistent with what Paul says elsewhere as well:

Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual restore such a one with a spirit of humility, watching out for yourselves, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1 (cf. Jude 1:23)

As to marriage as a solution to such "problems" as your hypothetical relates, this is again a matter for individual decisions. Marriage does not wipe out sin – sin is forgiven by God upon repentance and confession, notwithstanding getting married or not. Nor will marriage remove divine discipline to the degree that some is forthcoming. It may or may not be the right thing to do, but it does not take away the need to repent to the Lord and confess to the Lord. This is a very common way to think about things, but one has to consider that scripture does not generally see marriage as a goal or a solution or an "ultimate and inevitable state". Paul is very clear about the fact that we would all be better off single (except for the fact that the vast majority of us cannot control our sexuality outside of a marriage relationship: 1Cor.7).

As to church weddings, I think one issue in the contemporary church visible which has caused many unnecessary problems is precisely this un-scriptural connection between marriage and church. Marriage is a divine institution designed for the entire human race, unbelievers as well as believers. Since as believers the first best destiny for us is to devote our lives to the Lord, and since marriage causes distractions and troubles that we would otherwise not have (1Cor.7:28; 7:29-31; 7:35; 7:38; 7:40), it seems best to take the scriptural point of view that it is a necessary concession to our fallible human nature rather than something the church ought to glorify overly. To that end, while I would never give anyone a hard time about having a "church wedding", I would be reluctant to perform a wedding ceremony myself. We don't find Jesus or the apostles doing so, nor do we find the issue coming up anywhere in the New Testament where we can clearly see a church sanctioned patina over the event. Jesus went to the wedding at Cana in John 4, but did not perform the ceremony. Not, as I say, that this is wrong or sinful or anything of the sort, but the emphasis on clergy performing weddings and the church as the place for the wedding is not in the Bible and can be very misleading as to what marriage is and what our true purpose in this life is: to live first and foremost for Jesus rather than for some other human being.

Hope this helps,

In our dear Lord Savior whose Bride to be we are.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Should a pastor who has been divorced be a pastor to begin with? My friend attends a church where the pastor has been divorced before. And what if the divorce met the Biblical standard of being for infidelity and if since that time the man has met all other Biblical requirements?

Response #7:   

The only biblical standard I know of which has any possible application to this question is the one found at 1st Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 where it is said that an elder (lit., overseer or "bishop" = someone in the premier leadership circle of the local church) must be a "husband of one wife", a phrase which means, as my sainted old Church History professor Dr. Christian correctly interpreted, "one at a time". That is, the purpose of these verses is to make polygamy a disqualifying circumstance for the office of elder.

As far as divorce is concerned, I know of no scripture that would disqualify a person from being an elder or pastor or teacher or etc. because of a divorce. Indeed, on this basis we would have to disqualify Moses from leading Israel.  It is true that the question of a right to remarriage is a complicated and somewhat vexed one (see the link: "A conversation about divorce and remarriage"). Naturally, it would be terrific if we were all perfect in every respect. Practically speaking, the problems caused by sexual behavior and lust, marriage, divorce, remarriage, etc. are huge – and so it is no wonder that Paul can say with feeling "I wish that everyone was like myself (i.e., single)" (1Cor.7:7). Of course, because of the power of the sin nature and our weaknesses, marriage is for most of us a necessary condition (1Cor.7:2). Since that is true, from a practical standpoint it seems to me that if someone is honoring the marriage vows by which they are currently bound (i.e., remaining faithful within their present marriage), then whether and when and if and under what circumstances they should or could or would or must or must not divorce or have divorced is best left between my brothers and sisters and the Lord.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #8:  

I got this reply from a brother in Christ and wanted to know what you think of it, he said:

"Pastors and deacons requirements include: Good testimony before BOTH non-Christians (1 Tim. 3:7) and Christians (1 Tim. 3:2) alike. Now, we all know divorce is not Biblical, nor was it intended by God at all (Matt. 9:6). Aren't we grumbling about the trend of rising divorce rates across the world? (In USA it's 50%, in Singapore 30%) If that were so, how can we give a good testimony to the world - by proclaiming the stupidity of divorce and the importance of strong marriages - when we endorse or permit divorced people to be the very elders of the church? What would the unsaved think of a church that has divorced church leaders? And, what would the members of that local church think of if that was to happen? Wouldn't divorced pastors/deacons, who should by right, be the best example of a godly believer, be of a bad example for church members to follow? That is why I believe divorced people cannot be pastors/deacons."

What do you think about this? Thanks in advance!

Response #8:    

I have trouble with the logic here. By this logic, no one could be a pastor or a deacon. Because, after all, all sin is "un-biblical". And indeed that is even more true than in the case of divorce, because there are biblically acceptable reasons for divorce (Jesus mentions unfaithfulness), but there is no biblical excuse for sin. Therefore since sin sets a bad example, no one who sins would be qualified to be a pastor or a deacon. I think this is a question of degrees. On the one hand, we don't want to say that a person's past is out of bounds for consideration of any sort. But on the other hand, we don't want to make the primary basis of our evaluation of a pastor his ability to past a very strictly legalistic test, and a narrow one at that. That will only ensure that the particular sins he has and is committing are well covered over. And it will certainly not ensure that he is a an able teacher of the Bible (the one essential reason we need him in the first place). The biblical standard is deliberately flexible: to "have a good report", so I have trouble seeing how a past divorce would automatically and in every case wipe out the rest of the picture. More important in choosing a pastor-teacher in my view would be to find someone who is qualified to teach the Word in depth, and willing to pay the price to do so. That is something which is far more difficult to find than a man who has never been divorced.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:

I just received this from a sister in Christ. She said:

"When a leader in the church gets divorced, whatever the reason, it will impact the church in a negative way if said leader is allowed to remain in that position. Forgiveness and restoration is vital if the persons involved have repented. But restoration to the leadership role is not to be, according to the qualifications that God has listed. There are disqualified pastors in pulpits all over the country now, and it is doing nothing but harm to Christianity. > Yes, going through something like that is hard, and a person can grow from it if they allow God to teach them. They can also help other people to see the error of going that way. But they cannot shepherd a flock correctly. I know of churches where this has happened and the divorce rate in those churches has gone up, not down. Why? Because there is no real conviction to preaching against divorce if the man in the pulpit is divorced - regardless of the reason! You cannot do it."

Thanks in advance!

Response #9:

I have a similar objection to this one. This argument assumes that divorce is always wrong according to scripture (which is not correct), and also that divorce disqualifies a person from being in the ministry (which, as I pointed out before, is not anywhere in the Bible). According to this standard, we would apparently have eliminate Moses from ministry, for example, if we wanted to hew to this legalistic line. As to "preaching against divorce", in my view a pastor-teacher should "preach" what is in the Bible. He should help his flock understand precisely what is in the scripture on all subjects through the entire realm of doctrine and theology, and should certainly not get hung up on a few areas like love and marriage which titillate the audience but do not produce spiritual growth. "Preaching for/against" certain behaviors that have captured the attention of the pastor or the congregation or the society as a whole is, in my view, a terrible mistake. If a pastor-teacher follows this course, it will no doubt bring more people in (out interest, guilt, fireworks, etc.), but in the end these people are not going to be fed the Word of God – they are merely going to be entertained (much as polemical talk shows entertain rather than inform). The former is interesting, while the latter tends to bore people even though it is much better for them. This is a terrible waste under the best of conditions. On the doorstep of the Tribulation, it is a travesty for which, were I doing the same, I personally would shudder to have to answer when I stand before our Lord on that great day of days.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Just some thoughts I wanted to share with you and what you think about it. I agree with you that God does approve of divorce in certain situations because He did divorce Israel. God allows divorce in 2 circumstances, abandonment and fornication. It's seems very clear in Scripture. Then I was given this reply from a Pastor who said:

"The passages in question are often taken out of context or quite frankly mis-interpreted so that people can justify a divorce. Jesus said "from the beginning it was not so". Can't get any clearer than that. If Scripture does not contradict itself, and it doesn't, then the passages cannot be dealing with divorce as you hold to, but rather to the espousal periods. By the way, I would love to see your verses for abandonment. That one is new to me, but since it goes against Jesus, never mind."

Thanks in advance!

Response #10:   

On this one I think I need some clarification. Is this person saying that if your husband/wife divorces you without your consent that you are 1) still married somehow or, 2) going to be judged by God for a divorce you didn't want and over which you had no control? Does he think that in the passage to which he refers Jesus was condemning the women whom these hard-hearted Pharisees had thrown out for little or no reason? Is he saying that we should take a pair of scissors and cut 1st Corinthians chapter 7 out of the Bible – because Jesus said what He said, so why do we even need that chapter (as if the Bible could contradict itself)? Did Paul even know what he was talking about?

This idea that "if Jesus said it" we will accept it, but if it is elsewhere in the Bible we will not betrays a terrible lack of understanding of the Bible. The Bible is completely consistent. If Paul says it, it is as good as if Jesus said it, because the entire Bible is the "mind of Christ", the "Word of God". If two passages seem inconsistent to us, it is because we have not yet completely understood something.

The fact that it is Jesus Himself who – in the very context of explaining the Genesis institution of marriage – tells us that divorce for unfaithfulness is legitimate, shows that this take on what our Lord meant by "not so from the beginning" is not a blanket prohibition on divorce. Our Lord was castigating the Pharisees who were divorcing their wives for little or no reason in a time and place where a woman so divorced would be ruined, socially and economically both. That is why Jesus rebukes them for "hardness of heart". Clearly, if we divorce for selfish reasons and with no concern for our partner, we are dead wrong and can expect to be judged for it – having our partner be unfaithful to us does not fall into that category. But that abandonment is also an acceptable reason for divorce is very clear (cf. 1Cor.7:15ff. – nothing about "espousal" there).

Besides, all of this misses the two main points on this issue. 1) Since marriage is a civil institution, that is, an institution designed by God for the entire human race, its laws and regulations are likewise subject to state-determination. There was plenty of polygamy in the Bible, plenty of concubines around (a legal status), and these behaviors are never prohibited in scripture but are illegal in this country and therefore wrong for a believer to be involved in. Divorce is legal in this country, and so is remarriage. Therefore as long as a person is abiding by the laws of the state, it is not really our business to venture an opinion. That is because whether or not in any particular case it is legitimate to divorce in God's eyes is something that generally only the persons involved can really know (so that it is between them and God), – which brings us to point 2): While the principles are fairly simple, life itself is complicated, and the human heart is not only complicated but subtle and difficult to know – even by its own possessor. That is why it is utter nonsense for anyone else other than the people directly involved to be concerning themselves with the particular marriages of other people.

It concerns me that pastors today are weighing in on this subject with neurotic preoccupation. The biblical principles are fairly clear in the first place:

1) don't get married (1Cor.7:1);

2) if you do, you have not sinned (1Cor.7:28), but then don't get divorced (1Cor.7:10-11);

3) but if you do get divorced, stay unmarried thereafter (1Cor.7:27);

4) remarriage is trickier, but scripture contemplates that this too may be permissible or at least inevitable (1Cor.7:27-28),  so that in that case we go back to point #2.

And in any case, one would think from all the over-focusing on this issue that wrongful divorce and wrongful remarriage (note, it is clear that just as not all marriage is sinful, not all divorce and not all remarriage is sinful) are the only sins that people are committing! If Christians today spent 5% of the time reading and studying their Bibles and listening/reading substantive Bible teaching that they do on this subject, we would find ourselves in a spiritual revival of historic proportions!

I understand why so many people do wish to weigh in on the romantic lives of other people, however. Many in the laity are given to gossip and meddling – sins which are terrible destructive to self and others. Many in the clergy are given to interference and manipulation – sins which are among the worst imaginable (and good indications in most cases that the "clergy" in question are not really even believers in many cases). And since everyone is prone to have "itching ears" on anything to do with love, marriage, sex, and relationship drama, this is a good way to "pack the pews" (though not to edify the Church). Good Christians who fear their God will do their level best to keep their own house in order (staying away from marriage if that is their gift; eschewing divorce if possible; staying away from re-marriage if the marriage collapses within the confines of their strength), even while being extremely circumspect about passing judgment on other people whose hearts and intimate circumstances they cannot hope to truly know – nor desire to.

In our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #11:  

I have just one more response concerning this topic. This was given to me by a Pastor who said:

"God makes it clear that the man and woman are no longer two separate people, but now in God's eyes they are one.

Gen 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Right from the beginning God wants us to understand that marriage is to be between 1 man and 1 woman. I understand that there are polygomists in the Bible. God never condones this and nowhere do we see God commend someone for having more than one wife. God also is clear in the OT that the Israelites were not to marry outside of their race. He speaks to this in the New Testament that Christians are not to marry the unsaved. Now lets look at this "Exception Clause". In verse 4-5, Jesus reminds them of the OT declaration that men and women are one flesh.

Mat 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

Mat 19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh

Jesus in Verse 6, then makes it clear that these two that have married have become one flesh and that since they were joined together by God, men should not divide them. What is divorce? Divorce is going before a judge and having him divide the two of you. God says that you are not to do this.

Mat 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Now that it is settled that Divorce is not an option, let's take a look at the rest of the passage. In verse 7, Christ is asked why Moses allowed it. Christ responds in verse 8 that "Moses" allowed it because of their hard hearts. Now notice the end of verse number 8, Jesus makes it clear that even though Moses allowed it, God does not. He says that "from the beginning it was not so".

Mat 19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away

Mat 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

So far we have seen that Jesus makes it clear that no man can put asunder a marriage, and that Divorce was not an option from the beginning of creation. In verse 9 we find the "exception clause". Jesus cannot contradict himself and cannot go against Scripture. The answer is very simple, if you understand marriage in Bible times. To better understand this, we have an example found in Scripture.

Mat 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Mat 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

Notice in these verses a couple things. First, in verse 18 Mary is said to be espoused to Joseph. However, in verse 19, Joseph is called her husband. The reason for this is that Jews viewed the espousal period as a legal marriage. Though they had not consumated the marriage, they were legally married. Matthew continues to look at Mary as the wife of Joseph in chapter 2, where Luke refers to Mary as the espoused wife. Luke is looking at it from a physical standpoint since even though they were legally married, they had not consumated the marriage. We see that in:

Mat 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Joseph had the right to put Mary away (Divorce her) during this espousal period since she was found with child and they had not consumated their marriage. We today do not have an espousal period. Our engagement period is not legally binding and hence cannot be considered an equivilent.

Now to the final verses. Jesus states that the exception is for "fornication". Fornication is a general term used in two primary ways. First, it is used for general sex sins and then secondly it is used in a spiritual sense to describe idolatry. It is not used though to describe an adulterous act. That term is called "Adultery". So why didn't God use this term? Simply because he is making it clear that the only cause for divorce during this espousal period is fornication.

Mat 19:9 And I say unto you, 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. "

What do you think?

Response #11:    

If a person would rather have you or me or somebody else be destroyed rather than have a marriage dissolved then in my view they resemble the Pharisees who would rather see a crippled person remain so than be healed on the Sabbath and thus "break the Sabbath". Our God is a God of deliverances, and this includes deliverances from marriages where the other person 1) is not honoring the marriage; 2) has abandoned us so that there is in fact no marriage left or 3) is so abusing us either emotionally or physically or both that it is impossible for us to live for the Lord at all. This is certainly discussed, contemplated, envisioned, and set forth both in our Lord's remarks on the subject correctly understood, as well as in what the epistles and other parts of scripture have to say.

As I have said now many times, the issue of remarriage is another question, but to suggest that "once married always married without exceptions" is the biblical position flies in the face of the scriptures both literally and in Spirit. One can of course in oblivious self-righteousness take these things to ridiculous extremes. Paul tells us that anyone who has relations with a prostitute has been made one flesh with her according to this same Genesis formula. That would mean then, I suppose, that anyone who has ever had relations with anyone else is forever married to them – which would mean no marriage allowed to anyone else – which would mean that anyone married who has ever had relations with anyone else would be in a state of unending adultery. Here it is important to understand what the position of such people would be regarding solving this "problem". What does someone in this position do who is now a Christian or has now reformed their life and is now married to someone else? Should they divorce? Then we have divorce as the solution for those who claim there is no divorce. And after all, even if a person even looks on someone with lust, they have already committed adultery – so I guess we are all guilty of polygamy.

As to true polygamy (i.e., actually contracted plural marriage), I'm not in favor of it – if marriage itself is a problem for people, how would polygamy not compound the problem! But just because God doesn't commend it, isn't much of an argument (we would have to condemn Abraham, Isaac, David and Solomon, just for example).

As to race, this is ridiculous. After his divorce, Moses remarried to an Ethiopian (his second wife after his first abandoned him); Joseph married an Egyptian. In the line of our Lord we find Tamar, a Canaanite, Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, Ruth, who was a Moabite widow, Bathsheba who committed adultery with king David. The examples of this are exhaustive (cf. Gal.3:28; cf. Rom.10:12; 1Cor.12:13).

On the exception that Jesus Himself makes for divorce, He makes the exception after the discussion of the Genesis institution. Therefore Jesus' giving of the exception comes after the full hearing of this principle (so that His citation of Genesis cannot be taken to invalidate the exception). As to the "espousal theory", Jesus doesn't say a thing about that. In any case, He is talking about marriage; not espousal. That is a problem for the no-divorce-ever theory in any case since if we want to restrict this discussion to espousal, then all of the places which are parallel to this in the gospels which even these folks take to be describing marriage are now really talking about espousal and not marriage at all. Lastly on this, the fact that Jesus uses a more general word, "sexual impropriety", if it means anything as far as this discussion is concerned, can only mean that there are more reasons in terms of illicit behavior legitimizing divorce than merely technical "adultery", not less reasons.

I'm not in favor of divorce. If I were in communication with this person I would first, before going further, ask what they are prescribing. Because it will tell the true tale about why they are arguing what they are arguing. As I have asked before, are these people saying that if your husband/wife divorces you without your consent that you are 1) still married somehow or, 2) going to be judged by God for a divorce you didn't want and over which you had no control? In the passage to which he refers Jesus was not condemning the women whom these hard-hearted Pharisees had thrown out for little or no reason – and that is the point. They were divorced – but they had had no choice in the matter. Such and similar things still happen today. I believe in fact that if you look at the vast majority of cases, it is almost an inevitability that in every divorce there was at least one party who did not want it, did not want things to come to that, would have held onto the marriage if possible – but the behavior of the other party necessitated it. Believe it or not, most people don't enjoy getting divorced. And the number of instances we have where both parties just wanted to move on and have some "fun" with a different partner are extremely rare.

So for those who preach that divorce is never justified, it would be well if they did two things: 1) remember that in almost every divorce there is at least one party who is largely if not entirely innocent with no real choice in the matter, and they would do well not to condemn the innocent with the guilty, and 2) recognize that scripture is not ignorant of this fact and therefore approaches the matter in the way in which it approaches it, that is, a somewhat complex way, and not at all in the simplistic way in which these correspondents of yours would wish to do by throwing out much of the scriptural evidence.

It is always very dangerous to simplify what the Bible presents as complex, and to complicate what the Bible presents as simple. There is a natural, fleshly human tendency to do both, but both cause serious problems. Divorce and remarriage constitute just such a case. Clearly, divorce is not a "good" thing. Clearly, the ideal thing is (in case the true ideal of staying single has been abandoned) to stay married. But just as clearly there are circumstances which may be beyond our control because in any marriage it is a matter of two wills, and not one. A married couple may be one body, but they have two wills. Until that fact and the ramifications thereof are appreciated, there is no point in discussing the matter.

In our merciful Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #12:

You've made some excellent points that the Pastor I had the dialogue with couldn't answer because you were right. The only thing he had to say which threw me off a little was:

"This one is very clear in Scripture. Moses allowed it, but Jesus states that it wasn't from God. This is seen in other places. Paul states that he would prefer people to be single. We have to weigh things by Scripture."

Thanks in advance!

Response #12:

Glad to help. As to Moses, Jesus, and Paul (chronological and book order), as I suggested in the previous email, I would be very, very cautious about finding them contradicting each other. The Bible is a perfect whole. Jesus also said that anyone who changes so much as a "jot or tittle" in the Law and teaches others to do so will be "least in the kingdom of heaven", so that is at least an argument that He didn't feel that anything He was saying was at all different from anything in the Old Testament (even if we have a hard time with some interpretations). Sometimes there are issues in scripture which require us to "do our homework", and marriage, divorce, remarriage is one of those areas because 1) it deals with application to life which is by definition imperfect, 2) the will of two persons rather than a single will are involved, 3) civil, state legal requirements and rules, and 4) cultural differences (e.g., there are very few arranged marriages in our day and age), also have to be taken into consideration because they are not merely subjective features but biblically important factors we are always bound to consider in practical living for Jesus.

As to this last response, I actually agree with everything he says here: 1) God made marriage to last; 2) Moses' allowance for divorce was added on account of the "hardness" of the human heart (without which no one would sin, be unfaithful, want or need a divorce); 3) Better to be single (but of course not everyone can "receive" this as Jesus told His disciples when they said "if this is the way of a man and a woman it is better not to marry!"; and 4) "we have to weigh things by Scripture" – Amen!

This is why I say that discussions like this are not necessarily particularly fruitful because to a large degree they are pointless. Generally speaking, as I have said a couple of times now, the "rules" are pretty simple, but life (and people) are complicated – which leads to compounding complications as life plays out. The question then becomes, as one bumps into the realities of life now complicated by a host of (often bad) past decisions, "How best to navigate them according to scripture?" So really what it all comes down to is a series of practical questions, and that is how I always try to address this issue. It is not particularly helpful to say "God hates divorce!" He hates all sin. I'm sure He is not pleased that most Christians today are little concerned with spiritual growth at all. It is not hard to figure out what God wants us to do. The hard thing is doing it.

The problem with this sort of "preaching against divorce" in my view is that 1) it doesn't stop frivolous divorce because a person who is going to get divorced purely for their own selfish interests isn't going to pay attention to a sermon on the subject anyway (they already knew it was wrong); 2) but it may stop somebody from getting divorced who actually should do so (e.g., a woman who is being badly physically abused) or contort someone's life unnecessarily (e.g., they have been abandoned or divorced by their partner apart from their own will in the matter, and now are made to believed that they are still "married" in God's eyes anyway); and 3) it will definitely make everyone who has ever been divorced for whatever reason no matter how long ago, no matter under what (possibly justified) circumstances, and no matter how their spiritual state has since changed feel like they are damned or at the very least damaged goods and useless to God's plan because of it (this is of course ridiculous, but in this very personal and painful area of life, putting someone through a serious "guilt trip" is a very easy thing to do).

One thing that we always need to keep in mind is that none of us is perfect, and even if we are "perfect" when it comes to the issue of sexual behavior and marriage and have always been so in every respect, well, we are not perfect in everything we think, say and do. Someone who has divorced or been divorced should not be made into a social pariah in the church community because of it – not at least until we start holding every sin up to the same level of scrutiny (and as I have pointed out repeatedly, not all divorce is sinful). As Paul says, "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them" (1Tim.5:24) – but whether they are obvious because of their nature (like, potentially, an inappropriate divorce) or hidden because of their nature (like any manner of mental, verbal, or overt sins), sin is still sin. It is wrong to be self-righteous in judging others when being a sinner oneself, even if it can be gotten away with because one's sins are of a more hidden nature.

So the real question is not what to preach but what to do: 1) don't get married; 2) but if you do you haven't sinned; 3) then stay married; 4) but there are reasons why you may or may have to get divorced, and it may not even be up to you; 5) regardless, even it was wrong, God forgives all sin upon confession and repentance (even if some sins carry a heavy weight of divine discipline, upon confession the discipline produces growth and blessing along with the pain); 6) and now that you are single again, stay single; 7) the right to remarry is a complicated subject; 8) but if you remarry, deal with the problems and don't get divorced . . .

It is true that especially in our day and age where the social stigma of divorce is largely absent and the legal system allows it with comparative ease we do find some people getting married and divorced over and over again. But before we rush to judge them, in my view it is good to take note that 1) God never lets anything pass that is genuinely wrong (so we don't have to worry about anyone getting away with anything), and 2) given the tribulation of marriage under the best of circumstances, we can also rest assured that people who immerse themselves in marriages that were wrong to begin with when they knew it are creating more pain and trouble for themselves than we could ever produce by our condescending and judgmental treatment of them.

In our gracious Lord Jesus who washed away all of our sins on the cross with His precious blood.

Bob L.

Question #13:   

Sorry for this Divorce topic again. Whenever I think I have the answers, something else comes up. I agree with everything so far with what you said. Lord willing...that no more questions on this subject should arise again. Well, he said:

"I don't doubt that marriage often is that, but to state that it is "tribulation" under the "best" of circumstances would seem to be missing the point. When Jesus said of singleness that he who could receive should do so he is not stating fundamentally that marriage always must be "tribulation". Paul makes it rather clear that the point of singleness is so that one can be totally free of responsibilities to ones spouse so that one can better serve the Lord. After all, if it was always necessarily a "tribulation" God certainly was hard on poor Adam by not giving him a choice. As for reasons for divorce. Well, short of your spouse leaving you I can't think of any. If there is violence separation might be necessary but not divorce. Still, since it is clear that you are unlikely to change your position any time soon maybe you and those with similar beliefs on this issue should recommend a change to the fairly standard marriage vows here in the USA, instead of "till death bid us part" maybe you should recommend " till unforeseen unpleasantness bid us part". After all, there is plenty of scripture telling us not to vow to God and then say it was an "error"."

Thanks in advance!

Response #13: 

Not to mention our common human experience, scripture is clear about tribulation in marriage:

But those of this sort [who marry] will have tribulation in the flesh, and I am trying to spare you.
1st Corinthians 7:28b

This is clearly behind what Jesus is saying too. That doesn't mean that some marriages aren't "happy"; it does mean that no marriage is without trouble (trouble of a type and volume that would otherwise be avoided), and in any case all who marry are distracted from the Lord to some degree. That doesn't mean people shouldn't marry either – because of porneia, sexual immorality, the same exact thing that our Lord mentions as the exception allowing divorce (1Cor.7:2), it is "better to marry than to burn" (1Cor.7:9). As to Adam, God gave him Eve to him in the perfect environment of the garden of Eden when neither he nor Eve had any sin. Thus, their marriage was perfect and without any trouble whatsoever (until the fall: see the link, "Status Quo in Paradise" in BB 3A).

Effective abandonment is probably behind the vast majority of all Christian divorces (with the exception of those which are broken up by the infidelity of one partner). This is so because if one partner leaves or otherwise behaves in such a way as to force the other person to leave, the net effect is the same. It is wrong to assume that most Christian marriages which end in divorce fall apart for trifling reasons – that is just not the case in my experience or observation. But this is not something to argue about. A pastor-teacher's job is to make the Bible's teachings clear. About divorce, there is very little question that it is something to be avoided at all reasonable costs, and it would have to be a church community where there is even less understanding of scripture than is even today generally the case (i.e., almost none) to have members who felt that they could divorce for mere convenience sake. My main point in all this has been to make clear that there are many cases where it is not reasonable to pretend that a marriage still exists or for one party to be forced to "keep trying" where the other party is already effectively out. Abandonment, whether traditional or in effect (i.e., severe physical and emotional abuse amount to exactly the same thing) ends a marriage. And since it does, "separation" and "divorce" are really no different – except that if a person is convinced to "leave it at separation" they will pay a terrible emotional and financial (and potentially legal) cost to no biblical end (except to assuage someone else's self-righteousness). I would not want to have to answer to the Lord as the person who counseled a woman who was being regularly beat up, for example, to "stay in the marriage, because God hates divorce".

As to marriage vows, they are of course not something you will find in the Bible because marriage is a civil institution. Even so, I don't know of any Christian who entered a marriage who did not have the intent of staying married "till death do us part". Do you? The fact that it is impossible to control the will and behavior of the other party is the reason for the scourge of divorce. And since it is impossible to tell what is in another's heart in any case, judging these things from the outside is extremely problematic.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

 

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