Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Concerning Divorce

Yesterday, I posted Chapter 25 from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith: "Of Marriage." The Baptist Confession is modeled after the Westminster Confession, and follows it almost verbatim, save for a few points. The most obvious deviations from Westminster have to do with baptism and with the nature of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Less obvious is the omission of the last two articles that Westminster includes in its 24th chapter, "Of Marriage and Divorce." After posting the LBCF chapter and recalling this difference, I decided that I would write something about it. Ironically, Kelly left a comment asking me what I thought about divorce, so this post has a twofold purpose.

Cornerstone Church, which I have been attending since moving down here to Phoenix is a good solid Reformed Baptist church and so when I found them back in October, I was very excited to learn that their adult sunday school class was going through the LBCF, chapter by chapter. Though I had missed the bulk of the study, the sunday morning we spent on Chapter 25 was very informative and so I am drawing some from my notes and memory of that morning.

The reason for the omission in the Baptist Confession has to do with the fact that the issue of divorce is a delicate issue with many different opinions held to with conviction on all sides. Not wanting to give cause for any less unity, the framers of the LBCF decided to pass over the issue of divorce in silence. Our sunday school teacher noted that he thought it was a mistake on their part, and also thinks a definition of marriage should have been included. I am inclined to agree with him, and if there is ever an attempt to amend the Confession, I would be in favor of changes in this regard.

The omitted articles from Westminster are as follows:
5. Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

6. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage; wherein a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.
As we see, the conditions laid out by Article 5 allow divorce in the instance of adultery, if the innocent party desires. If the divorce is granted, it is "as if the offending party were dead." In Article 6, a second condition for divorce is given, being "willful desertion." Were one's spouse to abandon them, the marriage could also be dissolved. 

To answer Kelly's question about my opinion on the matter, I must first confess that I am not as knowledgeable about this question as I would like. However, as I understand the issue at present, I think I would agree with the two Westminster articles above, which some qualification. It actually is not so much a qualification, but for lack of  a better word at present, it will have to suffice. 

The reality is that divorce is a painful and terrible thing and antithetical to what God created and pronounced good. Thus, it should only be done out of absolute necessity, dictated by circumstance and disposition of those involved. Were the offending party to repent and seek reconciliation with the innocent party, I would not be very comfortable with the innocent party seeking the divorce regardless. Again, there are circumstances to consider in each case, and in some situations you can save and restore the marriage. However, if the offending party is not repentant and has not forsaken his or her sin and acknowledged it as such, I have less issue with the innocent party seeking the divorce. Situations of abuse often come up, and this is one area that causes me to wish I were more informed on the issue. 

In Matthew 19, Jesus addresses divorce, and comments on the conditions for divorce set forth by Moses in the Law. The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him if divorce were permissible for any cause. It is in response to the question if divorce is permissible for "any" cause that Christ is speaking, and the answer seems to be no. What he does say in verses 8-9 is this: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." So apparently Jesus does not think we should divorce for anything save sexual immorality, and we commit adultery if we divorce and remarry for any reason outside of that. Regarding this passage Calvin said, "Those who search for other reasons ought justly be set at nought, because they choose to be wise above the heavenly teacher."

So from Matthew 19 (and the shorter parallel account in Mark 10), one could make the case that Westminster steps out of line in permitting divorce in the instance of abandonment, though Article 5, permitting divorce in the event of adultery, stands vindicated by Christ's pronouncement that divorce over sexual immorality is allowed. Were one to have an argument that shows desertion to be sexual immorality, I would be very interested in hearing it.

As I have said before, divorce is a terrible thing, and I think that it is something undertaking far too lightly by even many Christians today. Given that statistics are floating around which show professing Christians to have an identical divorce rate to the American population in general shows that there is either a lot of adultery going on, or that Christians do not think too highly of marriage in general if they would cast it off so lightly. As I have indicated before, being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life, and so also being anti-homosexual does not make you pro-marriage. For that matter, being anti-divorce does not necessarily make you pro-marriage. We would be wise to ponder what the differences in attitudes, beliefs and actions are between these, and just how willing we are to fight for marriage.
But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. - Mark 10:6-9


Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective..as I would have to agree with you in the cases of adultery, abandonment and abuse. I have some things to add :) but let me gather my thoughts!

Jacob Douvier said...

Gather away!

Elizabeth said...

Good post. I have heard some people say that abuse is being unfaithful to your vows to love, cherish, etc. However, I think you can safely say that Christ meant sexual unfaithfulness, as you pointed out. That being said, if someone is being abused, they need to leave the marriage. I agree with you and Kelly that abuse, adultery are bibically acceptable reasons to divorce, and I hadn't thought about abandonment, but I would tend to agree with you as well.

Re: Christians divorcing--most of the people who call themselves in that data probably aren't actually Christians, hence it may look like many Christians divorce, but in reality, they were never Christians to begine with.

Jacob Douvier said...

You have a valid point about those identifying themselves as Christians. Either way, it is still a terrible thing.

Elizabeth said...


P.S.How many typos can I make in one comment? Sheesh...

Jacob Douvier said...

If it is any consolation, I didn't even notice. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm terrible at noticing little details unless I'm actually looking for them.

Elizabeth said...

I'm quite glad the brain tends to correct typos automatically, because it drives me nuts when I make them and can't edit them.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, I consider abandonment a type of abuse. Its a neglect and lack of love. Its amazing to look into how much the old testament speaks of divorce and the protection of unloved, abused or abandoned wives...I don't like how people cling to the one verse, God hates divorce. Yes he does and I'm sure it saddens Him but I believe He chooses to permit and protect in certain situations. :)