Divorce and Remarriage
What is God's
intent and expectation for the duration of Christian marriages? The
answer is simple and straightforward - Marriage is for life. Genesis 2:24
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and
shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Converted
Christians - led by God's Holy Spirit - are held to the highest
standard by God. Each mate's spiritual responsibility, within the
marriage relationship, is to help and enable their partner, all of
their lives together, to grow in Godly character to the highest
degree attainable. Marriage among God's people must reflect the
exact picture of Jesus Christ and His loving relationship with the Church.
Under no circumstances is a converted man married to a converted
woman allowed to "put away his wife" - and re-marry. It is totally
out of the question according to God's law. For converted brethren -
that is the answer - marriage is for life (those who are converted
are being judged now.) "For the time is come that judgment must
begin at the house of God." (1 Peter 4:17) This is where the Church of
God differs from the world. A God centered life is an absolute
requirement in order for a Christian marriage to exist. It is not
possible for worldly marriages to reach the spiritual level of God
The reality of life is that
people have human nature with which to
contend. The failure of one or both partners to live up to the
expectation of their marriage vow can result in divorce. What do the
Scriptures say about divorce?
"For the LORD, the God of Israel,
saith that he hateth putting away
[divorce]." (Malachi 2:16) God hates divorce. God created marriage -
it is, therefore, the natural state of man and woman. Divorce
destroys marriage - the primary building block of a Godly society.
Within the Church of God we have had difficulty in coming to grasp
the full intent of the Scriptures with regard to marriage,
separation, divorce and remarriage. This subject demands more than
the diligent study of words and their meanings. There are a lot of
questions to be addressed. In order for us to know the mind of God
on the subject of divorce and remarriage - much more is necessary.
There are many versions of divorce and remarriage extant today. How
can we know which is correct in God's eyes? Is a divorce ever
permissible by Jesus Christ? Is remarriage ever an option for a true
Christian who is divorced? Who, if anybody decides if a new marriage
can be undertaken after a divorce has occurred?
Our understanding within the Church of God matured after 1974 from a
"letter of the law" interpretation to a better understanding of the
"spirit of the law." First, we came to understand that all worldly
marriages were not bound by God, and subsequent divorces could be
forgiven. This first point - that judgment is now on us, the Church
of God, and not the world - was key to further understanding.
Jesus Christ, Himself, gave us the knowledge that an exception
exists with respect to putting away i.e., divorce. Jesus said, "...
except for porneia."
Very near the end of his life, Herbert W Armstrong came, not only to
understand, but also to apply a broader meaning of "Porneia." For
most of his life, he had believed porneia to pertain solely to
pre-marital fraud. He came to understand that porneia also comprised
sexual transgression within marriage - including, but not narrowly
limited to, adultery, sexual immorality, homosexuality, perversion,
prostitution, incest, or any sexually deviant behavior. He realized
that continual sexual transgression as a pattern and way of life
violated the marriage covenant, and was cause for Scriptural
divorce. It became clear to him that the actions of the transgressor
showed that there was no intent to really be married or keep the
marriage covenant. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He gave us
the rule for a marriage being loosed. He said, "... except for porneia." Herbert W. Armstrong intended to write a new book on
"Divorce and Remarriage" - but he never did.
Marriage is for life. Jesus, however, taught that there was an
exception. "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife,
EXCEPT it be for porneia... (Matt 5:32, 19:9) Jesus did not expound
further on the exception. Those who hearken back to the earlier
incomplete understanding on divorce and remarriage read conditions
into Jesus' words that just are not there. They reason that divorce
/ annulment is permissible only in the case of pre-marital
fornication. Scripture does not support this assessment to the
exclusion of porneia within marriage. That point of view is a hard
judgment - without mercy or faith. It is an incomplete understanding
of the scriptures - as will be demonstrated.
Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, "I do not condemn you."
(Jesus knew her attitude - that she was repentant.) He did not call
for the death penalty for her - which would have been the judgment
according to the law. He extended Godly mercy to her - He told her
to be faithful - to "go and sin no more."
Mercy has to do with forgiveness. God desires mercy. Let us
understand the Godly application of mercy. In the Old Testament -
when a person stole, it was to be paid back with the addition of a
penalty. However, (with mercy) in the New Testament we are told
simply to "steal no more". Think of it. We robbed God of tithes for
years before conversion - but we repent and begin to tithe - without
being required by God to make up for missed tithing years. God
forgives and shows us mercy. In the same way - if there were
divorces before conversion, God forgives upon repentance, and grants
We have Jesus' own example of His wife, Israel, breaking their
covenant. Israel left the agreement and vow - God gave Israel a
divorce. God said that Israel was "adulterous" - meaning Israel
violated their covenant. Marriage is a covenant - a sacred covenant.
It takes two to make a covenant. It takes two to keep a covenant. It
only takes one sinner to break a covenant. Abandonment of the
marriage agreement by one of the parties destroys a covenant.
It is sometimes difficult for those who embrace the pre-1974
position on divorce and remarriage to come to the fuller
understanding of God's intention. That position appears, to them, to
be safe and righteous - "upholding the institution of marriage".
Spiritually and Scripturally there is something missing in their
approach. Jesus Christ desires to loose the bands of wickedness, to
undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that
ye break every yoke. We know that the Pharisees kept the law with a
super-righteous perfection, yet, we also know that there was much
missing in their grasp of the fundamental principles of Christ. With
a discernment of what God's mercy is, we can begin to incorporate
the elements of God's teaching on the subject. God intends for
Christians who have been betrayed, frauded or deserted to be free to
re-marry and go forward, having peaceful productive Christian lives
- and not remain in a life-long bondage to a lawless mate.
"But if the unbelieving [mate] depart, let him depart. A brother or
a sister is not under bondage [enslaved] in such cases: but God hath
called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:15)
Jesus Christ means for marriage to be for life. "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." (Matthew 19:8)
cp. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) In the beginning, the Tree of Life, which would
have imparted God's Holy Spirit was available. In the beginning, it
was God's intent that all men become converted. It did not happen.
With the exception of a very few - including the prophets in Old
Testament times, all the people were unconverted - that is what
Jesus meant by "the hardness of your hearts."
Those Who Are Unconverted
Those in Moses' day,
under the terms of the Old Marriage Covenant, were not able to live
according to God's law because they did not have God's Holy Spirit.
People of the world break every one of God's Commandments. On the
other hand, we are to keep them and live by every word that proceeds
out of the mouth of God. Paul wrote of the Marriage Covenants - old
and new: "For finding fault with them [those who were unconverted
i.e., lacking God's Spirit], he saith, Behold, the days come, saith
the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I
made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to
lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my
covenant." (Hebrews 8:9)
For those in the world - the unconverted - they are NOT now able to
live by the laws of God. It takes God's Spirit to lead one into
righteousness. There will be a resurrection in which they, the
unconverted, will receive God's Holy Spirit - and then be held
responsible, just as converted Christians are held responsible -
now. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My
Spirit upon all flesh." (Joel 2:28) That is the answer to the
question for the unconverted - their judgment is not now. They will
be called later to receive God's Holy Spirit, and then be held fully
accountable for the marriage covenant.
Two young people get married - then the marriage covenant and vow is
broken by one or both. It is wrong. It is a sin, but not an
unforgivable sin. Later, one of these divorcees re-marries, and even
later is called by God into His Church as a repentant sinner. God
forgives the sin of divorce. Paul says that the repentant sinner /
converted person must remain married to the present mate - when
called. "As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so
ordain I in all churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17) That is not a double
standard. God forgives. Just like God forgives murder (even Moses),
He forgives adultery (even David), He forgives divorce of the
Pleased To Dwell - Or Not Pleased To Dwell
When two people are
married and God calls one of them into the Church, they have a
covenant unto death. "If any brother hath a wife that believeth
not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away."
(1 Corinthians 7:12) The converted person must do everything humanly and
spiritually to build a Godly relationship within their covenant
marriage. If a converted person were to decide to divorce a
non-believer who was pleased to dwell, that converted mate would not
be free to remarry because the marriage would remain bound.
What about when the unconverted mate is not pleased to honor the
marriage covenant - not pleased to dwell? Paul clearly spells out
that when a converted mate is abandoned by an unconverted
(non-believer) - the believing mate may remarry (is not under
bondage). "And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not,
and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him... But
if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is
not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace."
(1 Corinthians 7:13, 15) (In the case of binding and loosening there is no
in-between - one is either bound or free.) The brother or sister
(converted believer) is free to remarry because an unconverted mate
does not, in effect, depart a marriage - and still continue to hold
the converted Christian in bondage the rest of their life. The
brother or sister is loosed - not bound. The scriptures are entirely
clear on this point. Jesus does not intend for true Christians to be
held in bondage all of their lives by those who have broken the
marriage vow. That would be BONDAGE and not PEACE.
God hates divorce. His intent is that two become one flesh in
marriage. Because of what it pictures - it is a sacred union. It is
the beautiful picture of Christ and the Church. Beautiful - even
considering that Christ's bride - all of us, the entire converted
Church - were once filthy sinners before forgiveness. Aren't we
happy that Our Father and Jesus Christ extended their mercy, and did
not demand perfection in us?
Paul expounded on the "putting-away" exception. He classified types
of marriages so that we could grasp the intent of God's
instructions. This is the area in which the most difficult
determination must be made. Difficult, because in one case the
converted person may remarry - and on the other hand remarriage is
forbidden because the marriage is still bound.
Those Who Are Converted
Marriage is for life.
Two converted people who are married have a covenant unto death.
Truly converted Christians are capable of sinning. When a converted
Christian divorces their mate, -- upon true repentance, God forgives
that terrible sin - but that converted Christian can never remarry -
except to their original mate - the very one that had been put away.
Paul wrote to converted believers: "And unto the married I command,
yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to
her husband..." (1 Corinthians 7:11) Separation leaves the marriage covenant
still binding - she is not free to marry a third party. Christ's
words establish her only two options - remain single or return to
her husband: "But I say unto you,... and whosoever shall marry her
that is divorced committeth adultery." (Matthew 5:32) A converted
Christian is held to a higher standard of conduct and, when sin
occurs, is subject to much more stringent consequences. In the case
where both parties are converted - remarriage is NOT an option.
Converted Christians are being judged now. It does not matter if the
original marriage took place by a Justice of the Peace, or in a
major denomination church. When God called both partners - they came
into God's Church already married - their baptismal vows ratified
their marriage vow - making them fully accountable to God at this
present time. They are "bound" to remain that way. They have a
marriage covenant unto death.
Mixed Converted / Unconverted Marriages
It is the case in which
one mate is converted and the other is not that we must examine. A
converted person can only marry another converted person. "The wife
is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be
dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord."
(1 Corinthians 7:39). God’s Word says that a converted
person should not marry an unconverted person. If they marry anyway,
they sin. The converted mate must ask God's forgiveness. However,
the converted mate has entered into a marriage covenant that is
binding unto death.
In the case where the un-called mate leaves the marriage, i.e.,
breaks the covenant - the converted mate may remarry - he or she is
not bound or "in bondage." God does not intend that the innocent
person's life be on permanent hold. "But if the unbelieving depart,
let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such
cases: but God hath called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:15) God desires
and makes it possible for the converted person to live a normal
married life (only to a converted mate) - wherein they can grow in
grace and knowledge and Godly character.
Here Is The Understanding
The Scriptures show
that there is a difference between "believing" and "unbelieving”
between converted and unconverted. A converted person is being
judged by God now - and is responsible to God now. The unconverted
person will be judged in the second resurrection.
A converted person is bound
by God to keep a covenant -- with their mate and with God. Paul
clearly explained this. In Corinth, people came into the Church who
had had multiple marriages, extra-marital relationships, multiple wives,
divorces, etc. What was Paul's judgment? Paul's judgment shows
that God forgave ALL of their past sins at baptism (repentance). The
present status of their marriage covenant and vow was ratified by God.
At conversion, a Christian is accepted by God in the status in which they
are called. Paul's judgment was that they stay with the one to whom
they are married - whether that mate is converted or unconverted.
"...As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain
I in all churches... Let every man abide in the same calling wherein
he was called... Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called,
therein abide with God." (1 Corinthians 7:17,20)
What happens in the case where premarital fraud did not exist, but
there was ongoing abuse within the marriage? Does a loving God
require someone who is being mistreated either to stay in an abusive
marriage, or leave the abusive relationship and be required to
remain unmarried all the rest of his or her life? Those who hold to
the pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position would say that there
can be no other marriage. That ruling only brought more unmerciful
victimization of the innocent party.
Realistic Example - A True Story
The man was a
whoremonger - but he came home to his faithful, converted, Church
wife a few times a week - for a meal, have his clothes washed, and
to sleep with her. His actions and life style showed that he was not
a believer. He would say that he was "pleased to dwell" with her
when she would say that she could not take it any longer. She was in
bondage - slavery - because he said that he was "pleased to dwell"
No! This is not what God intends! His actions dictated that he was
not pleased to dwell. This kind of situation takes Godly wisdom and
judgment. By his actions - he was living a life of "porneia." He had
broken his covenant and vow of marriage. He had departed from the
marriage. His life style proved he was not a "believer." He was not
a converted man. She is free to marry - but only in the Lord. She
can only marry a converted man. Does the ministry have to be
absolutely convinced that she is being frauded? Absolutely not,
because the children of this world [the unconverted] are wiser...
they can always fool a minister - but you can not fool God.
Who Makes The Decision?
This brings up a most
important point. Who makes the determination whether or not divorce
and/or remarriage is Scripturally appropriate? Counseling with
true ministers of Jesus Christ is obviously important - in order to
know what God's Word says - but a minister cannot make the decision.
Moses did NOT make the determination in divorce cases - neither does
the ministry today. "[Jesus] saith unto them, Moses because of the
hardness of your hearts suffered YOU [the person seeking the
divorce] to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not
so." (Mat 19:8) Moses did not make the decision. Wise counsel is
always prudent - but ultimately each converted person is responsible
to God for his or her own actions. The Scriptures do not say that
the offended mate has to prove to a minister that their mate is
unconverted. Herbert W. Armstrong came to realize that it was ONLY
the injured party who could be the one to make the decision whether
or not divorce or remarriage would be Scripturally appropriate.
In our example, the injured party will stand before Jesus Christ and
give an account* of herself, and she will say, " I fasted and prayed
and did everything to serve and honor him. For years, I tried with
all my heart to win him over by my Christian conduct - even when he
brought disease home to me. I did not look for an opportunity to get
out of my vow. I patiently put my whole being into making our
marriage work. He was abusive, mean, unfaithful, sadistic, hurtful,
unsupportive, unloving, brutish, cruel, an habitual commandment
breaker - who was not led by God's Holy Spirit, nor was he pleased
to dwell with me. I am absolutely convinced, Lord, that he did not
have a valid covenant relationship with me."
“We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. So then
every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10,12)
One Last Word
There is a movement by
some to return to the Church's pre-1974 position on divorce and
remarriage. That position maintained that the only exception for a
divorce was porneia defined as pre-marital fraud. That position
considered a person's spiritual development within marriage
secondary to upholding the institution of marriage. It was not taken
into account that sexual immorality within marriage is much more
detrimental to family and Godly character than fornication, which
takes place outside of the institution of marriage. Would Jesus
allow divorce for the lesser infraction of fornication while
prohibiting divorce for the greater sin of adultery?
The pre-1974 movement actually PROMOTES the divorce of converted
Christians. That understanding requires those seeking baptism to
divorce their present mates (if there had been a previous marriage
before being called by God into His Church), and return to their
first marriage partner. There is a strong tendency for those who
only understand "the righteousness of the letter of the law" to find
comfort in the "once married - never re-married," position. They
miss the Biblical point, and God's intent, when they disregard the
fact that Spirit-led* Church members are being held accountable by
God at this time. Those who have no knowledge of God's truth are not
being held ultimately accountable at this present time.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of
God.” (Romans 8:14)
Those who call for a pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position would
go so far as to demand the divorce of a present, well-established
marriage (even with children) to fulfill what they perceive the law
to say. But, God hates divorce. God does not require people to
divorce the mate with whom they have been called to a knowledge of
the truth, and go look for their worldly high-school sweetheart.
Unfortunately, some people use this as a measure of righteousness.
Our Christianity has to do with serving, caring, aiding, loving,
helping people and living like Christians should. Those who hold to
the pre-1974 divorce and remarriage position will allow for divorce
in some cases - but they disallow marriage in every case.
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter
times some shall depart from the faith, ... forbidding to marry."
(1 Timothy 4:1-3)
||"Divorce and Remarriage"