Friday, April 29, 2011

Divorce (Part 2): Sermon on the Mount (Leftovers)

In this series of posts we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount, and in the previous post, I introduced the problem of divorce in the Church today.  In this post we will be looking at Jesus' teaching on divorce in more detail and seeking to know how to obey Him in this area.  Though it is not my own view, let me briefly explain the most liberal view of divorce I think Scripture allows and how that impacts later possibilities of remarriage:

1. Divorce and subsequent remarriage is allowable (though not automatic) if one spouse is an adulterer.  

This is the teaching we see from Jesus in Matthew, both in the Sermon on the Mount and in later on in Matt 19. 

In Matt 5:31-32, Jesus says that "except on the ground of sexual immorality"  divorce and remarriage is adultery.  

In Matt 19:1-12, Jesus comments further on the issue.  He offers a positive view of marriage: It is between a man and woman, intended for life.   In this passage, He also reiterates the standard he laid out back in Matt 5.  Indeed, this standard is so high that the disciples have the same response many of us do when we read it: "If this is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry!" (v.10)

2. Divorce and subsequent remarriage is allowable (though not automatic) if one spouse leaves the other because he or she has become a Christian, or if the other spouse is excommunicated.   

This situation is laid out in 1 Cor 7:15.  Here the Apostle Paul is dealing with the problem in which a non-Christian spouse leaves his/her Christian spouse because of his or her conversion to the faith.   He states that if an "unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved."  Paul here is allowing for divorce in the case of desertion, and, assuming that "not enslaved" means "free to remarry," (and that is a big assumption) Paul is also allowing remarriage after divorce in this situation.  

Now, if these are the two instances where divorce and remarriage is allowable (and as I said, this is the most liberal interpretation which a plain and historically aware reading of Scripture will allow) then even in this liberal view, a large amount of divorce inside the Church in the U.S. is sin. Jesus calls it adultery.  

Where to go from here? (for Church leaders)
The response to this must be a national repentance within the Church, especially for the leaders of the Church. Many of us have allowed this sin (among others) to be acceptable; we have forsaken our calling.  
  • The result of our negligence is that many divorced people who have been hurt through difficult marriages have been hurt even worse by the trauma of divorce (and sometimes multiple divorces and remarriages).  National repentance within the Church will require bolstering our current efforts to aid marriages that are hurting, in addition to refusing to remarry those who have not had biblical divorce.
  • Another result our negligence has been that newly single mom's have become the largest population who fall below the poverty line in America.
  • Another result of our negligence has been that most of our children have a damaged understanding of God's most basic means of communicating the realities of his relationship to us:  Father to son; Bridegroom to Bride.
  • And, as I mentioned above, we have lost our credibility to speak in the public forum about sexual ethics.  
If you turn a blind eye to unbiblical divorce in your church, how can you possibly hope to preach on any other area of sexual sin?  Have you let your desire for popularity or a paycheck affect how you teach on this issue?

Where do I go from here?  (for those who have divorced for wrong reasons)
If you have divorced or remarried after divorce without a biblical warrant, the first thing you must do in response to Jesus' teaching, is to acknowledge this as sin.  I know this sounds harsh, but all sin, if not dealt with, will fester and kill you.  Why will you not, even now, confess this to God?

Confessing your divorce as sin may be very difficult to do.  I think it's difficult because most people have been hurt badly in the marriage they left, and acknowledging that the divorce was wrong seems to be saying that the evil done to them during marriage was not wrong.  That's not the case; God will deal with your ex.  Your concern (for now) is your own condition before God.  Jesus, your Lord, has prohibited the very thing you have done.   Not confessing your sin to Him, not admitting that it is a contradiction of your claim to be his disciple, is essentially a denial of Christ altogether.  We must confess our sin to Him and give up our pride.

What happens when we confess our sins to our Lord?  We have great confidence that when we do sin against our Lord, that He will forgive us:  
  1. We can look at his actions in history.  He tolerated a wayward people for hundreds of years.  He gave second, third, and fortieth chances.  He finally sent His Son, dealing with sin Himself as it were, to pay for our treason with his death on a cross and to bring us to Himself.  What more could He do?  He has shown us his mercy by action. 
  2. He has promised us that He will forgive all Christians who confess their sins:  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
  3. He has given his ministers, as representatives of his people, the authority to proclaim forgiveness.   If you confess alone and you have no Christian community, no Church, you will miss a huge part of God's healing grace.  Indeed, it may be important to confess this to your family and friends who have been affected by your actions.  In my experience, until confession of public sins becomes public, real healing has not occurred.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Divorce (Part 1): Sermon on the Mount (Leftovers)

In this series of posts on the Sermon on the Mount, we have previously covered the rather sticky topic of lust, but now we move onto something even more difficult and offensive: divorce.  

Few things stir up more controversy and reveal old, unhealed wounds like biblical teaching on divorce.  But as we move through Jesus' great Sermon, we cannot simply skip this part (as the lectionary does!).  We must  be willing to hear and submit to what the Lord Jesus has to say.  Personally, I'd rather not write about this.  I don't like offending people.  But I believe God's Word and obedience to his Word, however imperfectly pursued, holds the key to life for us.  It's only when we dodge Jesus and his teachings that we fail to find healing and hope.  

The Problem
It is my opinion that America's greatest problem in the realm of sexual ethics is not the confusion surrounding homosexuality, not sexual misconduct among the clergy, not the almost constant presence of pornography in our media, but rather the rampant and unchecked divorce and remarriage that has become the norm in our culture and even in the Church. 

If you believe the
statistics, only 47% of children today are raised by their biological parents.  It is commonly said that in the U.S., half of all marriages end in divorce.  Even if these stats are given a 10-15% swing, they still show us that America is socially and culturally bankrupt.  The stats aren't much better for the Church, and in some cases they are actually worse.

For "us" not "them"
The change must begin with "the household of God."  We follow Jesus; these are his teachings.  We will have no credibility to speak to our culture about marriage (or any other area of sexual ethics) until we take seriously the Christian requirements on marriage in the Bible in our own community.

Though not without some interpretive and practical difficulties the teachings of Christ on divorce are plain enough that many non-Christians cite them (correctly understanding their meaning) in order to show that most Christians in the States are inconsistent in our application of biblical sexual ethics.  It seems that we often talk out of both sides of our mouth when it comes to sexual ethics and divorce:  We want to uphold a biblical definition of marriage for others (e.g. the gay community), but we are not willing to do so for our own.  

We must return to the Christian teaching on divorce.   Much is at stake:  God's glory, our families, and our witness in our culture. 

So, what is the biblical standard? 

In my next post, I will outline very briefly the most liberal biblical stance allowable and discuss a few ways that we, as the Church in the US, can make progress on this issue.  

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Prayer for Sermon Preparation

May my own heart be comforted by you, my Shepherd:
    That I may be still and know that you are God,
           and that your Name will be lifted up among the nations.
    That I may embrace this trustworthy statement:
          "Christ came into the world to save sinners--
          And I am the worst of them!"
    That I may believe and not doubt that nothing will separate
          me from the love of God in Christ Jesus:
          "No one can come to me unless the Father... draws him.
          And I will raise him up on the last day."
I beseech Thee for thy mercy and grace; O Lord, have mercy.

May my life reflect your words that I preach:
     Lest my example contradict my doctrine,
     Lest I lay such stumbling blocks before the blind,
        as may occasion their ruin;
     Lest I unsay with my life, what I say with my tongue;
     Lest I be the greatest hindrance to my labours.
I beseech Thee for thy mercy and grace; O Lord, have mercy.

May I point them to Christ and not a method, a tradition, a teacher, or myself:
     For when the King comes, who pays attention to the forerunner?
     For the Bride's thoughts should be on no one but her Groom,
     For the friend of the Bridegroom
          retires into the background
          and rejoices when he hears the Groom's voice.
I beseech Thee for thy mercy and grace; O Lord, have mercy.

May this benefit your sheep, O Lord,
whom you have bought with your precious blood:
     For the men and women
     Who keep a sacred appointment
          on Sunday morning.
     Bewildered by seductive voices,
     Nursing wounds life has inflicted upon them,
     Anxious about matters that do not matter.
     Yet they come to listen for a clear word from God
          that speaks to their condition.
I beseech Thee for thy mercy and grace; O Lord, have mercy.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
      be pleasing to You,
      O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.
May I think and speak your thoughts and your words, not my own.
May I love your people with Christ's love; please give that love, O Lord.
May everything I do, whether in word or deed, be to the glory of your Name.
I beseech Thee for thy mercy and grace; O Lord, have mercy.
All this I ask, through Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep and our High Priest,
     who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
     One God, forever and ever. Amen.

* In addition to quotes from the Holy Scriptures, this prayer contains allusions to and quotations from the works of Richard Baxter, John Stott, and Haddon Robinson.