Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christians Living Like Pagans

Oct 7, 2010

The answer to the question, “Why aren’t more nonbelievers becoming believers?” is quite simple really. Why in the world would they want to? When it comes to how people actually live, it seems that Christians for the most part live lives no different than most non-Christians. So why make the move?

Research and anecdotal evidence both confirm this. Christians in the pews tend to live lives which are little different from those outside the churches. US researcher George Barna is just one expert who has documented this time and time again.

And this explains a lot. Why are so few Christians speaking out about pornography? Because so many Christians are caught up in it. Why are so few Christians speaking out against abortion? Because so many Christians are having abortions themselves. Why are so few Christians speaking out against homosexuality? Because so many are abandoning the biblical teaching on the issue, and so many are getting sucked into this destructive lifestyle.

And here is one of the most damning indictments of all. Why are so few Christians speaking out against divorce? Because so many Christians are getting divorced, and seem to think nothing of it. Barna’s research found that evangelical Christians get divorced just as much as pagans do.

So is it any wonder that non-believers are not exactly flocking to our churches? Why in the world should they? They can live the same easy-going, immoral lifestyle as Christians do, and not have to feel as guilty about it. They see no difference in lifestyle, and so wisely stay away from the church.

But divorce is one of the big scandals in our churches today. I am not aware of any believer who does not have a number of acquaintances, friends or family members who have not been involved in divorce. It is a major plague devastating the churches, and most believers don’t even seem to care about it.

Now there is of course a lot of biblical material on this topic which needs to be waded through, and I suppose I will need to write some articles on this contentious subject. But if pressed for a short answer on my views on the matter, I can sum it up like this: Malachi 2:16.

But thankfully I am not alone in my concerns. Albert Mohler penned a piece on this recently and is well worth listening to. He says that divorce is “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”. This is especially the case given that so many believers are rightly seeking to defend marriage and family.

Says Mohler, “The real scandal is the fact that evangelical Protestants divorce at rates at least as high as the rest of the public. Needless to say, this creates a significant credibility crisis when evangelicals then rise to speak in defense of marriage.”

He continues, “Tragically, the church largely followed the lead of its members and accepted what might be called the ‘privatization’ of divorce. Churches simply allowed a secular culture to determine that divorce is no big deal, and that it is a purely private matter.”

Indeed, “the Bible is emphatic in condemning divorce. For this reason, you would expect to find evangelical Christians demanding the inclusion of divorce on a list of central concerns and aims. But this seldom happened. Evangelical Christians rightly demanded laws that would defend the sanctity of human life. Not so for marriage.”

We of course must fight against things like same-sex marriage. “But divorce harms many more lives than will be touched by homosexual marriage. Children are left without fathers, wives without husbands, and homes are forever broken. Fathers are separated from their children, and marriage is irreparably undermined as divorce becomes routine and accepted. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, but it is sin, and it is a sin that is condemned in no uncertain terms.

“Evangelical Christians are gravely concerned about the family, and this is good and necessary. But our credibility on the issue of marriage is significantly discounted by our acceptance of divorce. To our shame, the culture war is not the only place that an honest confrontation with the divorce culture is missing. Divorce is now the scandal of the evangelical conscience.”

Mohler ends by noting a resolution drafted by his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, earlier this year. It is general enough to be applicable to all Christians, so I conclude by incorporating this document here:

SBC Resolutions
On The Scandal Of Southern Baptist Divorce

June 2010

WHEREAS, The Bible reveals that marriage is a gospel mystery, pointing to Christ’s union with His church (Ephesians 5:22-32); and
WHEREAS, The Bible teaches that marriage was established by God “in the beginning” to be a permanent one-flesh union (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:1-9); and
WHEREAS, Our Lord Jesus commands us that what “God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9); and
WHEREAS, The biblical story shows us that one of the lamentable aspects of sin is the destruction of marriages and families, a destruction seen from the Fall until this present darkness; and
WHEREAS, The rampant divorce rate in our culture has come with great social and economic cost, with women and children suffering disproportionately in ways that are incalculable; and
WHEREAS, We have affirmed in our confession of faith our belief in the sanctity and permanence of marriage; and
WHEREAS, Some studies have indicated that conservative Protestants in the United States of America are divorcing at the same rate, if not at higher rates, than the general population; and
WHEREAS, Some studies also indicate that areas where Southern Baptist churches predominate in number often have higher divorce rates than areas we would define as “unchurched” and in need of evangelical witness; and
WHEREAS, Even the most expansive view of the biblical exceptions allowing for divorce and remarriage would rule out many, if not most, of the divorces in our churches; and
WHEREAS, The acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation; and
WHEREAS, We have been prophetic in confronting assaults in the outside culture on God’s design for marriage while rarely speaking with the same alarm and force to a scandal that has become all too commonplace in our own churches; and
WHEREAS, We do not serve those who are hurting from divorce by speaking to them only in therapeutic terms rather than in terms of both repentance and forgiveness; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, acknowledge the complicity of many among us for too often failing to show the world the meaning of the gospel through marital fidelity; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we express our conviction that a denomination defined theologically by our belief in the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture ought to proclaim the whole counsel of God, especially when the Bible confronts our own patterns of sin; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we express our further conviction that a denomination defined missiologically ought to recognize how damaging Southern Baptist accommodation to the divorce culture is to our global witness for Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we express our further conviction that a denomination seeking God’s blessing in revival and reformation ought to address the spiritual wreckage left in our Southern Baptist churches by our own divorce rates and our silence about the same; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim the Word of God on the permanence of marriage, and to provide ongoing marriage enrichment opportunities, in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s abhorrence of divorce; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to unite in marriage only those who are biblically qualified to be married to one another and who demonstrate an understanding of the meaning of lifelong love and fidelity; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches in our wedding services to maintain the gravity of the vows being undertaken, not simply as a token of a couple’s romance but as a covenant before God, until death do them part; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to minister to couples and families in crisis through counseling, mentorship, and, where necessary, through biblical church discipline; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim God’s mercy and grace to all people—including those who have been divorced without biblical grounds—due to the truth that the blood of Jesus can atone for any sin and can cleanse any conscience; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to have special compassion for and energetic ministry to those who have been left in the wake of family brokenness; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we urge all Southern Baptists in troubled or faltering marriages to seek godly assistance and, where possible, reconciliation; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we pray that the true peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will reign in us such that the next generation will see the gospel not only in the counter-cultural nature of our verbal witness but also in the counter-cultural love and fidelity of our marriages.

[1555 words]

40 Responses to Christians Living Like Pagans

  • Well said. Agree totally.
    This world lacks love, but true Christians have “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts…” that’s what makes marriage easier. Not saying that it’ll be without trials (we live in this world), but that love of God, & for each other, sees us through.
    We should stand out- like beacons on a hilltop, a light in the darkness, & those who want truth will be drawn to the light.
    This is explained by this scripture- “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”.
    Anita Gerardi

  • As an Australian in Kenya I see my African collegues are horrified with what they see happening in the West as far a morality is concerned. They are even more horrified when they learn it is happening in the churches too. Here they understand that believing means you are loyal and obedient to your Lord and Saviour and they are not afraid to preach it. May we wake up and relearn the same lessons in the countries from which they originally heard the Gospel.
    Kay Symons

  • “The conservative has no need to gain control of the state in order to remake culture—a shockingly arrogant, willful, and invariably tyrannical project. He already has one.” RR Reno

    Too many Christians are dazzled by the prestige progressives attach to their ideas on the one hand, and don’t perceive the Agent Orange progressives pour on the cultural landscape – to make way for their empire of desire. Christians don’t see the divisiveness caused by the people they are so willing to emulate.

    You’ve been alerting us to their tactics Bill: tolerance means capitulating to progressive projects, inclusiveness means abandoning Christian identity. You give Christians confidence to follow Biblical teaching by answering shoddy philosophies and the hateful tactics of the cultural revolutionaries.

    No-fault divorce law absolutely needs an urgent reassessment. Absolutely abortion is criminal. Absolutely wicked are the habits and industries that require abortion as a prop and wicked too – the normalisation of homosexuality that follows logically from the normalisation of contraception.

    Martin Snigg

  • I’d recommend reading Ronald Sider’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. It deals with the same issue you raise here. While it focuses on the American scene, his observations about American evangelicalism and the reasons for the church’s credibility problem could probably just as easily apply to us in Australia. It’s not a pleasant read, but it will challenge you to examine yourself. Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?
    Ross McPhee

  • As one who has been on the receiving end of unbiblical divorce, I have some pretty strong views on the topic. I agree with the gist of your post Bill (as usual) and thank you for raising the issue of divorce in the church. Some things I discovered in my own experience as the “innocent” party. Some in the church do condemn divorce but fail to distinguish between the the divorced and the divorcer. In my case I was stood down from my ministry as a Senior Pastor and left with no income, no car (the church provided vehicle had to be returned) children to support and the grief of the actual betrayal to deal with. Many non-leadership believers were gracious kind and understanding but the leaders simply cut my family and I adrift. I certainly endorse strong biblical messages about the sin of divorce but it is important I feel to accurately portray the biblical teaching of the the sin, the sinner and the sinned against. On a related issue, it is I think important to teach clearly that believers are not to marry idolators (unbelievers). These unequaly yoked relationships often end in divorce because the unbelieving partner has no committment to Christ to determine their actions. Sometimes too the very fact that a person becomes a believer means that the marriage may be put under huge pressure. Paul speaks about this in 1 Cor. of course where the believing partner is not bound under such circumstances when the unbeliever seeks divorce.
    As you stated it is a huge topic and it’s not possible to cover it all in one short article.
    Glenn Christopherson

  • A marriage certificate is as foundational as a birth certificate. As one cannot be unborn unless through acquiring a death certificate so one cannot be unmarried, even through divorce, unless through a death certificate.

    A human life is good in itself irrespective of its usefulness, simply because God created it. It is sacred. The birth of a marriage, the coming together to two constituent complementary parts, like a lock and key or plug and socket is a good in itself, simply because it was created by God. The two parts in turn produce a good in itself, namely children.

    Where marriage or children are reduced to the means to mere subjective experience, companionship, the means to intimacy, the means to pleasure, the means to social standing or approval, or the means to any other number of socio-legal benefits (such as taxation privileges, medical aid benefits adoption rights, etc) to being a primary instrument to attain other ends, the objective realities, the creation of a child and the institution of marriage, in which these subjectivities exist are destroyed.

    Paul in Ephesians says, “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” The same could be said of the relationship between a mother and child. With the abomination of abortion, she destroys her own flesh, blood and bones.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Thanks Ross

    Yes, I wrote up Sider’s book when it first appeared five years ago:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • David Skinner
    While agreeing with most of what you have written, the statement that one can not be “unmarried” except through a death certificate in not actually biblical. The holy scriptures give three valid reasons for the end of a marriage. Death of one of the partners, adultery which was punishable by death under the Old Covenant effectively declaring the erring partner dead to the marriage, and permanent abandonment. The sacredness of marriage must be held while at the same time holding to the biblical teaching on divorce.
    Glenn Christopherson

  • A good article, Bill!
    Mohler’s comment, “Churches simply allowed a secular culture to determine that divorce is no big deal, and that it is a purely private matter” can easily be extended to all areas of our lives now. Tragically, church institutions and many professing Christians think it is “no big deal” to even the taking of human life in and out of the womb.

    Here’s an example in today’s The Age “The Anglican diocese of Melbourne backed decriminalising abortion in its submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission review in 2007.” (This ‘decriminalising of abortion’ is a euphemism for sanctioning abortion up to birth.)

    I’m truly amazed how anyone can be a member of the Anglican Church?

    Over 30 years ago, Francis Schaeffer said the pursuit of personal peace and affluence within the church, will inevitably lead to compromise of Scripture, and with this the compromise of moral values and apathy. He was right.

    Trevor Grace

  • Good discussion Bill.
    We may have become experts in putting on services, but we have miserably failed to demonstrate the kingdom in any real sense. Really all we have done is offer the same as the world with a religious flavor, so is it wonder there is such a breakdown of the marriage covenant.

    Tozer seemed to somewhat addressed this problem when he wrote his timeless “The Old Cross And The new”.
    Art Katz I remember astutely observed that the very fact we even have “services” disqualifies us from being a valid expression of the church God intended, and I have to agree.
    On divorce I wonder how many pastors have ever addressed in any depth from their pulpits the seriousness of marriage and divorce, and the serious implications of violating that covenant.
    Maybe not all divorces are sinful as Jay Adams suggests but certainly all divorces are as a result of sin and it should be dealt with in the family of God and not ignored.

    Rob Withall

  • Yes do we rightly deal with spousal abuse? How do we discipline? Marriage involves two people and if one wants out the other is stuck no matter what they do. What is the Biblical response to being abandoned by your spouse? If someone is remarried which is the real marriage? Do we repent of remarrying but stay married to the second spouse? What about divorced pastors, church leaders?

    You are right. The church should do better. And I have seen reconciliation despite marital unfaithfulness. But this issue is far from simple. Is being divorced OK once we have repented or as they used to say is it ‘living in sin’? There are so many books on the market about relationships, do we need to better understand relationships or to we just need to stick with the one we picked?

    Kylie Anderson

  • There is another issue about divorce that has not been raised. My wife was divorced when I married her. Neither of us were Christians, but we had a church wedding. I was saved after we had been married 12 years. At times my home has been a spiritual battleground, but I have no intention of divorcing my much-loved wife of 36 years. I continue to pray for her salvation and will put up with the flack, and believe for her salvation.
    Paul de la Garde, Sydney

  • f the same amount of time and energy and display (which, of course means MONEY) went into MARRIAGE as go into WEDDINGS, then perhaps the divorce rate may not be so catastrophic. It also has to be pointed out here that the distinctly ‘anti-father’ stance that an instrumentality like the so-called ‘Family Court’ so consistently takes drives such a devastating wedge between separating couples that no reconciliation is ever likely. It would take a very significantly evolved person to cheerfully submit to being all but bankrupted and divested of everything, including his children, whom he only sees occasionally. This and many other travesties of justice committed by Labor on this Society have caused terrible and widespread family disruption. This of course, has the effect of making people vulnerable to any and every anti-social side-step, described as enabling ‘free will’, and ‘progressive and is made to look like a good thing; with the people who first decide to ‘try’ it, and secretly feeling that it is ‘not right’, wanting others to follow suit – thus we have all the permissive and destructive social patterns including pornography, abortion and homosexuality, to name just a few. People of faith are constantly tested by the ‘lifestyles’ promoted as being stylish and modern, which only lead to tragedy and grief, and without faith to steer them safely through these storms, people become further and further lost. It is essential that Christians become brave and proactive, showing love and support for all those around them, but equally strongly speaking out against the perversions that are growing around them. It doesn’t help when socialist priests and pastors who encourage us, as Christians, to ‘tolerate’ the intolerable, minister churches.
    Kenya Lee Lowther

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sitting in a Nazi prison cell, once wrote a wedding sermon for a niece who was about to be married. In it he said, “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a status an office.…It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

    I get a picture of a command post on a wall to which the husband and wife are posted and which they are asked to defend to the death, against a common foe. It doesn’t sound very romantic but it takes the burden and focus away from themselves, for the sake of their children and the rest of society, to facing Satan and a fallen world. After all we have just been discussing “Living in Wartime” and the necessity of realising that as Christians we live in a perpetual state of war. This will mean a life of sacrifice, but with God’s grace we will stand.

    Not wishing to minimise the pain that a husband or wife might go through with a partner who seems hell bent on destroying the relationship through adultery, desertion, physical, emotional and mental abuse, gambling, addictions and any number of things, Bonhoeffer seems to be saying that we are called to forbear and be long suffering, as our Father in heaven forbears with our backsliding and faithlessness. This however might mean that a period of separation, (time out) for the sake of life, health and sanity, would be preferable rather an irrevocable break. Often the consequences of divorce are far worse than just hanging in there, as my own parents discovered, when they divorced after being married for 49 years, and having known one another since they were twelve. It brought them both to an early grave.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Please pray for prodigal pastors, living in adultery. The blind leading the blind!.
    The Lord Jesus said in Luke 16;18 ‘Whosoever divorces his wife and marries commits adultery. And whosoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery’.
    Man’s treacherous invention of divorce, is in hostile opposition to God’s holy law.
    Only death releases a married person from the vow of marriage.
    Divorce and remarriage (adultery) are the enemies of holiness, ‘without which no man will see the Lord’.
    I believe that marriage is until death, and that has caused me not to be welcome in most ‘churches’. I believe that marriage is for life in action and not just words. Our marriage covenant vows are Till Death Do Us Part, not till we find another or a better person.
    Where are the preaches and teachers who speak Gods Word truthfully? Woe to shepherds who do not turn the people away from iniquity.
    Judith Bond

  • Kylie these are good questions. I, like Glenn, have been on the receiving end of unbiblical divorce (actually *encouraged* by the church that we attended as a ‘right’ of the woman to choose – there’s much more to that story as I found out afterwards), but I am very conservative in my interpretation of where a divorcees stand.

    Divorce, remarriage, and what the biblical interpretation of the position of the parties involved must be carefully looked at, as it often is a complex issue depending on the spiritual standing of the participants, the cause and the resulting situation. After all, who wants to be named among what Jesus called “an adulterous generation”?

    After much study I have come to the understanding for myself that re-marriage is not on the cards as that would place me in a position of adultery. Simply put, while it is clear that God hates divorce he clearly allows for separation when the two cannot live together – however nowhere does it state that remarriage is an option (but it does talk plainly about adulterous remarriages) – indeed there is a very strong emphasis on “death do us part” in regards to marriage, no matter what the circumstances. Also, the modern assumption that abandonment and domestic violence allows for remarriage remains very questionable. And adultery as an excuse is even questionable, since the scripture from which most ascribe this reasoning quotes the same Greek word used in terms of Joseph and Mary (when they were only betrothed to one another and not married), so remarriage even in the case of a partner’s infidelity is questionable.

    As everything is ultimately in an overall context of God’s intentions and purposes for mankind, look at God’s relationship with Israel and the metaphorical use of terms such as marriage and divorce in that relationship and I go back to the core of what God set in place for man and woman, and I arrive at the conclusion that marriage is permanent until death, and *forgiveness, as we are forgiven*, is the key – and yet even though we do not live under the law, how much moreso should we be trying to live according to the *spirit* of the Letter than the law.

    In regards to leadership as a divorcee. My family was broken up by the church’s pastor, a female, (a highly questionable situation in the first place) who, I found out later, had previously been divorced and had remarried, and who had treated three other couples in a similar manner to me (I know all of this firsthand) all of whom ended up in divorce, though the men were willing to endure unbiblical and very questionable counseling methods and scorn to regain their wives and their marriages. In this church, and others, I have seen the very same people being married off again and then placed in positions of leadership, further compounding the deceits that landed them their in the first place.

    I myself, a few years later in a much more biblically centred church, due to my situation, was allowed a leadership position, but I refused to even consider the possibility of pastoral status as I believe from my interpretation of scripture that my divorce disqualified me for that – administrative leadership is not a problem, but oversight in the area of relationships is dangerous, hence the scriptures about the qualifications for pastoral leaderships. I have since returned to ministry in business where I know my main calling lies (of my own choice).

    The Bible warns that in the last days ‘love would grow cold’. Simplified, that is what divorce is about. And it seems that nowadays forgiveness is purely a concept towards us from Christ not a pre-requisite of Christian living – seems we have forgotten Christ’s warnings that our prayers will not be heard when we are remaining in unforgivenes towards others. In Christian relationships, most divorce is about unforgiveness.

    I believe that there are obvious and reasonable situations where separation should be considered. There *are* situations where remarriage as a Christian may be possible, particularly in the area of a mismatch between Christian and non-Christian – there are plain scriptures about this. But most of what the modern church allows for is simply unscriptural. And the level of counsel in the Christian arena is woeful.

    Another interesting thing to note, is that when I was in church leadership people asked me about my situation and I told them plainly what I believed the scriptures said regarding *my* situation and that they should read the Bible and enquire after the Lord as to what they *should* do, not what they *felt like doing* – and for this I was questioned by the senior minister as to whether I was “condemning” people (though in his defence he accepted what I said).

    Thank you Bill, for bringing up this topic. To me, it has been the elephant in the room that no-one wants to talk about. And, as such, with it comes some very strong feelings – a lot of which is (obviously) purely defensiveness in terms of people’s carnal choices – I cringe at the number of times I’ve heard people say such things as “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy”… or “why should I be punished for him/her walking out on me?”. There’s a lot of man’s reasoning that goes into this topic and not too much bible study or honest reflection. We have all sinned, all fallen short, and a few of us need forgiveness for our love growing cold towards our spouses.

    Garth Penglase

  • Just this week, I have written to three ‘pastors’:

    I am very concerned at the lack of Scriptural teaching and the lack of church discipline within the churches when it comes to some of the Bibles most simple and clear truths. It is reported that our pastors are now getting divorced more than our lay people. If the blind lead the blind, they will certainly both fall (See Mat 15:14 and Luke 6:39). Though the Scriptures are clearly against such remarried pastors, they continue in their sin and even propagate it because they love their own lives and comfort more than obedience to Jesus and His WORDS. And if we put more value on following our pastors even when they are teaching precepts that are contrary to what the BIBLE clearly teaches, then we will continue to fall into errors at faster and faster speeds. The Church is hypocritical when it comes to marriage, trying to hide wrong. Society accepts sin and the church is following the world. This in not Biblical. Do we say one thing and do another? Our vows are ‘Till death do us part’. Jesus said “if you love me keep my commandments”.

    Any marriage entered into by any man or wife, who has a living, pre-existing, covenant husband or wife as defined by scripture, is considered to be living in the continual sin of adultery. It is not a one flesh-flesh covenant marriage.

    No sin can be justified, it is inexcusable. Sin is sin. Man’s opinion misses the mark, which leads to the transgression of Gods righteous law, and it the definition of sin. No paper work makes sin right. Deception has crept into churches. Churches today permit multiple remarriages, which is serial adultery, because pastors have closed their eyes to the truth, preferring the praises of man rather than God. This enables people to live in sin as ‘preachers’ are not teaching Bible truths”. Our standards come from the Bible, Gods word, not from fallible men. Many churches recognize divorce based on human reasoning and emotions, the Bible clearly doesn’t.
    “I hate divorce”, says the Lord God, why do what God hates?
    Mrs Judith Bond

  • hmmm – a complex subject requiring much love, grace and forgiveness – Gal 5:23 if we operate with the fruits of the spirit – against such things there is no law. We need to be careful not to pick up the stones to throw at the women/men in adultery – Jesus didn’t.
    To Garth who says -‘however nowhere does it state that remarriage is an option’ – what do you think of 1 Cor 7:27 which says ‘Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? (ie released from a wife) Do not look for a wife. BUT IF YOU DO MARRY (ie the person released from a wife), you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned….
    I think there are many Christians who uphold the Biblical ideal – clearly divorce is not desirable; but it happens. This doesn’t mean the majority who are sincere in their faith do not agonise over this. I don’t think people take it as lightly as is suggested. It is life shattering – it is the death of relationship and very painful. People need compassion and understanding. And if they remarry, I think there is more grace available on God’s behalf than we tend to give them.
    Vickie Janson

  • Thanks Vicki

    You are quite right about the complexities involved here. There are exegetical, hermeneutical, theological, cultural and pastoral concerns at the very least which need to be carefully addressed.

    But you are on shakier ground in your remarks on 1 Cor 7:27. You are of course putting a particular spin on the text, when things are not so clear cut. It all depends on how we understand the Greek here, including the term lelusai (loosed, or released). It may be as likely that the context demands that Paul is referring to singles, those who were not married. And further questions arise as to whether it is marriage or betrothal that Paul is referring to in this passage. So it is indeed a deep and complex debate.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill

    Thought you my like to see this one, if you haven’t already, just stumbled across it.

    Michael Whennen

  • Many thanks indeed Michael. It is a very important article and deserves to be widely publicised. Thanks for drawing it to my – and our – attention.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • No problem.

    Have you seen the “Divorce Act” by William Gladstone? I have it highlighted at

    Michael Whennen

  • Garth

    Thanks for your long answer. I am sorry you have been through so much pain. I still struggle with the re-marriage question. If someone who remarries is living in adultery, or living in sin how can one repent? Is repenting saying, I shouldn’t have remarried or is repenting ending the second marriage? And is that just as bad as divorcing in the first place? And does it make a difference whether divorcing and remarrying were done prior to coming to know Jesus?
    I believe you have come to Biblical decisions for your life Garth I am just trying to untangle some things in my mind.

    Kylie Anderson

  • Sorry Bill but how do you suppose being ‘loosed from a wife’ can be a reference to singles? Isn’t not being open to this also putting a spin on it? (P.S. I am not condoning divorce just wanting to understand the possibilities of the text).
    Vickie Janson

  • Thanks Vicki

    But that is the point: what you offer is not necessarily what the text is saying – your take on this is an interpretation. The Greek has several terms which are questionable here, so there is admittedly some ambiguity and room to move. But the NIV rendering for example is quite likely, given the context: “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.”

    Both the context, as well as the terminology, have to be considered. So your take is one option, but it is by no means clear that it is the only possible rendition, or in fact a faithful rendering of what Paul is seeking to argue in the Greek.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Several years ago, I wrote an academic paper objecting to the way so many Christians twist the Scriptures to excuse their (or their friend/family member’s) divorce.


    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • I’m taught in my denomination that marriage is an indissoluble bond a sacrament not just a contract. Divorce is a civil process which does not end the marriage in God’s sight so the parties are not free to marry. Either party to the civil procedure should be welcome to remain in full communion with their denomination provided they don’t attempt to “marry” someone else. If they do that they are still welcome in the parish but not able to receive Communion. We’re supposed to reject sin but not the sinner. People’s lives can be very complex and difficult. One friend had an aunt whose husband was declared dead after seven years missing in action. She remarried and had three children then her soldier husband was discovered living as a displaced person with mental problems. She was told that to remain in full communion with the church she had to either go back to her real husband or live a celibate life with the father of her children. I fully accept church teaching on marriage and the case described is certainly most unusual, but true. Anyway the lady chose to remain with the father of her children as a wife and was unable to receive Communion. I feel sure God would not condemn that poor woman even though she fell short of the challenge that confronted her.
    Anna Cook

  • I think we all would agree now that, as Bill has stated, this is a deep and complex – and emotional, in some cases – debate. Concerning my previous post: I married my wife after her divorce (her ex committed adultery) when we were both non Christians. I was saved after 12 years of marriage. My wife is still a non Christian, but I feel at peace about my place in our marriage. Am I living in the sin of adultery? The answer is for the Lord to decide, not me. God’s grace, love and mercy be with you all.
    Paul de la Garde, Sydney

  • Firstly, every person and church must teach and live according to the dictates of its own conscience informed by a serious study of Scripture.

    I am constantly aware that as part of the Kingdom of heaven we are not under the law, and I also am continually reminded of the need to operate in God’s grace and not legalistically, though of course following Jesus commandments is not legalism. But it seems to me that Jesus was pretty clear on what he thought about marriage.

    As part of that we must deal with the clear and unambiguous statement in Luke 16:18 by Jesus regarding marriage.

    Vickie, please re-read my post – from my reading of 1 Cor 7:27, particularly when I look at the original words used and I also take it in context of so much of other scripture which clearly indicates that marriage is for life, I can’t come to the same interpretation as you have and as such I don’t believe that the scriptures *state clearly* that remarriage is an option. I have not said that remarriage is never an option.

    FOR UNBELIEVERS: 1 Cor. 7:20-28
In whatever situation they were before they came to the Lord, they are accepted by the Lord. They need not change unless they want to and can.

    1 Cor. 7:27 – “Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not to be bound. But if thou marry, thou has not sinned” – clearly this is talking of the decisions to be made when coming to the Lord as a new believer. Paul, again is recommending not to marry, even for virgins – obviously it’s not a sin for them to marry and yet he states this – but he is saying that as a new believer if one is free of marriage (or single) then getting married as a believer isn’t a sin. This lines up with the point of this whole passage: in whatever situation you come, you are accepted. But this in no way relates to believers.

    Clearly there are some distinctions between the responsibilities before God of those saved and unsaved. I believe that this extends to remarriage, as the scriptures make much of not being unequally yoked.

    Garth Penglase

  • Paul de la Garde, we need to be mindful that the Holy Spirit, who is our guide, will not contradict scripture but points us toward Jesus and what he would have us do.

    However, your situation is covered in my post above.
    1 Cor. 7:20-28 summarised, indicates that whatever situation we were in before we came to the Lord, the Lord accepted. We need not change unless we want to and can. And clearly you were both non-Christians when you were married and at present only you are a believer. So there is no ambiguity in your situation, it is up to your conviction as to your commitment in the marriage, and obviously you choose to remain married.

    Garth Penglase

  • Anna, as you say life can be complex. However God’s grace isn’t.

    Galatians speaks eloquently of our transition from law unto grace. Chapter 2:17 says “for I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” & 5:18 “For if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”.

    God sees our heart and judges our motivations. I tend to keep coming back to Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I’m reminded of Matt 5:23,24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” which reinforces that at all times we must be seeking to be reconciled to God and to one another, in forgiveness so that we in turn are forgiven, choosing the loving action, no matter how difficult. In some cases this can only be divined for our lives on our knees before God. The situation you speak of is one of those.

    I’d go on to say that in Galatians, and elsewhere, Paul also refers to denominations which preach legalism in an age of Grace as the ‘doctrine of demons’, and to be aware of false teaching of which there would be much in the latter days. We are responsible for our own salvation which we are supposed to work out with “fear and trembling before the Lord’. If we are looking to a church for the answers instead of to Christ and our own study of the scriptures then we can easily be led astray.

    “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

    Garth Penglase

  • The Church should be, has to……. and must do………..
    I agree that the Church should be taking a stand against the world by embracing the Word. (By Church I mean me and you)
    This is 101 stuff that every believer knows but may not have embraced in their heart.
    Honesty with God and oneself is the only place to start when we see Biblical direction replaced by a passive and somewhat entertaining agenda that ultimately keeps us warm and cosy rather than Hot or Cold which Christ himself deemed more acceptable.
    Who out there knows of Christians living in adulterous relationships but says nothing to them, but simply loves them.
    Pornography is everywhere we look and as a male I have fallen trap to its enticements in the past to know that it is a thing to be hated with a righteous anger and can not be given the casual acceptance that many do on the tele or other.
    But God has given us His Word which is sufficient to overcome all things……but how can we know this if we don’t know the Word….if we do not speak it to those stuggling with sin……and if we do not here it in its context spoken from the mouths of those who preach to the Church on a Sunday.
    We are taken with fear should a brother or sister find out about our little or sometimes big secret sins instead of confessng them to eachother as the Word says.
    We accept the standard of our brother instead of comparing our self to what the Word proclaims we should aspire to.
    We encourage each other with worldly sentiment and affection rather than speaking the truth in love.
    And in all this we feel good about the manner in which we appease our self esteem and tickle the ears of others.
    We have all done it…….and slowly we are accepting the uncomfortable feeling that is the Spirit grieving within us.
    May we pray for boldness and always acknowledge that His ways are right and all we need to do is be obedient to the Word and leave our fear of man where it belongs…….dead to sin and alive in Christ.

    Keep serving Bill,
    Simon Rossic

  • Kylie, in Romans 8:17 Paul talks about us being identified with Christ in His suffering… “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” and he continues to say in verse 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

    Though I can agree that I felt my world and all my dreams for myself and my family had ended (given that I was a family man who homeschooled his children, and love my wife, and spent much more time with my family than the average man), and the pain that I felt for my wife, my children, and myself at that point was intense, (and wouldn’t wish it on anybody) maybe the little I have gone through qualifies in what Paul was talking about. It’s important to fully accept one’s responsibilities and in that knowledge it’s possible to come to a place of forgiveness for others and oneself, however it also important to know where to lay the blame – it’s ultimately the devil’s lies that create destruction such as this. Through ignorance or through sin, we may leave doors open for him to walk through, but he is the one who seeks to destroy marriage and the effectiveness of the saints through sin and incorrect doctrine. However, God is faithful and if we have an ear to hear then we can avoid being sucked in by the devils lies, no matter where they come from.

    Ultimately, our salvation and the salvation of those around us is what is important, and our earthly decisions must be made with eternity in mind, not just focus on what’s pleasing to us here and now.

    While each case must be regarded on it’s own merit here are some generalisations from the bible:

    1). Divorce is strictly forbidden for any reason (Mark 10:1-11; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10-11).

2). On rare occasions, divorce is permitted strictly on the grounds of unfaithfulness of a spouse, if the innocent spouse cannot forgive (Matt. 5:32; 19:9)

    3). If divorce or separation is inevitable, then the partners are advised to make efforts to reconcile, or remain unmarried the rest of their lives (1 Cor. 7:11).

    4). Nowhere is it stated explicitly in the New Testament that the divorcee whether wrong or wronged could remarry.


    In whatever situation they were before they came to the Lord, they are accepted by the Lord. They need not change unless they wanted and could (1 Cor. 7:20-24).


    This refers to cases where one of the couple is believer and the other is not. As long as the unbelieving spouse is not unfaithful and wants to stay with the other person, the believing spouse is under obligation to live with him/her. If the unbelieving spouse doesn’t want the relationship anymore, then the believer is free to divorce (1 Cor. 7:15). But here again there is no provision for remarriage.

    Also there is no provision for divorce for any other cause apart from proved unfaithfulness (and even that I have serious doubts).

    Which brings us to your questions:
    Spousal abuse – it is beholden on us to forgive but if the innocent party feels that there is need to separate then that is allowed, however forgiveness and reconciliation should be the focus, not jumping ship. I’d ask the question, how many times are we required to forgive? And how long should we wait for those around us to change? God is willing to wait our lifetime for us to be reconciled to Him, as he showed with his patience and long-suffering with Israel. Our culture is a quick fix culture – if it doesn’t happen today then we’re gone (“I deserve much better than this”) – that’s not a biblical response. We shouldn’t move anywhere until we know for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what God wants us to do. It comes down to how much we trust God with our lives, and the lives of our family.

    Abandonment – I know the scriptures that some use to defend the concept of divorce based on abandonment, but it involves a fairly loose interpretation. I’ve had my own wife, and the church that she attends, claim that “man is required to love his wife and as such if she believes he hasn’t or doesn’t then she is no longer bound by that marriage”. So their entire marriage/divorce theology is defined by what Paul says in Ephesians about the man’s responsibilities towards marriage. I have yet to come across any marriage where this couldn’t be applied by either party to exit a marriage if they wanted. We make a vow before God to a person, and if that person doesn’t uphold their side of the bargain then the scriptures indicate that we are still required to uphold our vows. God doesn’t take our vows lightly – nor should we.

    Living in an adulterous marriage – that’s a tough one. If we come to the truth of a situation that we have entered into as a Christian then I’d personally say that repenting often requires action. If Christ considers it to be adultery then remaining in that situation is perilous for our salvation.
    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. ”
    This verse shows that Jesus does not recognize divorce as terminating a marriage in God’s sight, thus the second marriage is called adultery, as the first one is considered to still be valid. The second half of the verse shows that not merely the divorcing man is guilty of adultery when he remarries, but also any man who marries a divorced woman.

    Divorced pastors/church leaders – same rules apply to all, but woe unto them who teach others and teach falsely.

    Kylie, we must “study to show ourselves approved” – we must spend the time with the Word, on our faces before God. It’s through our personal relationship with Him that we come to a knowledge of what He would personally & individually have us do. My counsel is to not let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but before you do it, know beyond all doubt that it is what Jesus would have YOU do.

    Garth Penglase

  • Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage important part of the solution.

    Brother Dean Taylor has written a brilliant short booklet of only 51 pages as he addresses most of the major questions on this topic. Download for free at

    “Generations of families, churches and even whole denominations have been birthed into this inherited position. Yet I believe it is not too late to make a change. Once the problem is admitted, churches might differ on how to respond to it; however, at the very least, a church-wide moratorium on remarriage alone could turn the tide of this epidemic completely around in one generation. One thing is certain, ignoring the situation will not make it go away” Brother Dean Taylor

    The only amendment to the above statement by Brother Dean Taylor I would make is to replace the word “moratorium” with the word “cessation”.

    Michael Whennen

  • Bill,

    The Barna research indicates that the situation is actually worse than you have indicated. The divorce rate for evangelicals in the US is worse than that for mainline Christians or even non-believers.

    But one needs to analyse the data further to find out the reasons. It seems that financial and educational factors have greater influence than religious belief, and the US data is heavily influenced by the Bible Belt, where education levels are lower and family finances poorer than in other parts of the US. So it’s hardly surprising that the picture looks bleak for evangelical Christians. External stresses that affect family happiness seemingly have far more impact on marriage than one’s beliefs.

    But Barna’s research is narrowly focused on the USA, which in many ways is a country of extremes. One might expect that the economic situation in the USA is likely to further increase the stress on marriages.

    The news is far better in Australia, where the divorce rate has been steadily falling since it peaked about 2001. I have been unable to locate information about whether Christians do better here than the secular norm. Do you have any data on this question?

    Angie Robinson, NSW

  • To Garth, your outline of the biblical position on marriage conforms almost completely to my own understanding — I think what we call the Pauline privilege is considered a unique situation (1 Cor. 7-15). My denomination (Catholic) teaches me that I am answerable before God, in the final analysis, to my own conscience. However church teaching also requires me to have a conscience formed by a clear understanding of scripture. That understanding is not to be based on the selection or distortion of isolated texts but on the consistent message of scripture. We also lean more heavily on New Testament teaching since we are living in the new covenant but without denying in the least that the new covenant and Jesus Himself, is the fulfillment of old covenant prophesy. We are also made aware that personal interpretation, on limited scholarship, easily leads to error. Now I freely acknowledge that Catholics are not renowned for their scripture scholarship the laity anyway, so many people probably let church scholars guide their beliefs without much reflection. Things are changing, thank God, and there is an upsurge of serious Bible study among Catholics. At a recent reflection/study day we acknowledged the debt of gratitude, in that regard, which we owe to the churches of the reform.
    May God bless you for your unwavering faithfulness and console you in your suffering.
    Anna Cook

  • Thanks Anna.

    The Christian divorce phenomenon is due to a Western church which looks a lot like the world, not ‘set apart’ from the world. Revival is what is needed, but revival starts with our own hearts, until we’re Christ-centred.

    Garth Penglase

  • Dear Bill

    Thank you for your blog. I have been away and only became aware of this one yesterday. Recently, I started an unfinished letter on this very topic, which I wanted to share with friends connecting with the Assembly of Confessing Congregations. Your article is close to a cry of my own heart. I think my cry may be more intense, but you have given it voice, for which I am grateful. For some time I have been praying for a way forward on this issue. How does one speak about this matter? Where does one start in one’s quest to turn things around? To date, I have found only a little way forward over fifteen years.

    My heart’s desire is to be part of a group committed to praying for a way forward so as to avoid the pitfalls and confusion which surround this issue. So much life is at stake on this issue. Where do we start? I wish I had more of the answers, but I am completely convinced of one thing, the issue of finding a way, and to be part of a restorative movement within the church for God’s people is absolutely crucial to revival. Perhaps revival will precede repentance on this issue; as it did at Shillong. Either way, a movement which brings restoration to our Saviour’s teaching about marriage is an essential ingredient; a vital part of what we need, regarding God’s working in our midst.

    Is this a critical issue? I believe this issue is so crucial that is comes second, in our time, only after the message of the gospel which brings personal salvation. Why is there so much confusion in the church on this issue? While I rejoiced at your article, I fear little will come out of it. As a people we need to repent and take action on this issue; NOT DO NOTHING. There is a desperate need for action to be taken in response to your article. What action is needed? We need the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need to repent and ask the Lord for direction so that we may be empowered to start to call our churches to repentance.

    I live in Adelaide. I have some connection with people who teach biblical truth consistent with the issues you have raised; for which I am very grateful. However, my strong desire to be part of a small group that prays for such a movement to emerge which would call people to repentance and support to our Saviour’s vital teaching. If anyone would like to make contact in this regard, I would be delighted.

    Christopher McNicol

  • Along with Glenn Christopherson, I am putting together a moderated prayer list for people from this site and associated networks who wish to put forward specific prayer points related to this, and also as a private hub to disseminate information necessary to take action.
    Garth Penglase

  • In Australia we have an outspoken christian action group who have plenty to say against same-sex marriage, however when it comes to divorce and remarriage (adultery) they are relatively silent. Why, I have asked myself for some years?? The reason I have learnt recently is one of them was married, divorced and now remarried (adultery).
    Michael Whennen

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