My recent post on divorce and remarriage prompted a few questions. Here are my answers:
- Would you consider an abusive marriage to fall into the category of desertion/abandonment? If so, would it follow that the abuser would be excommunicated and therefore be an unbeliever, and the wronged spouse would be free to biblically divorce and remarry?
The major problem with talking about these things is that man has an incredible ability to take principles and turn them into specific laws. Then, when various situations don’t “fit” precisely inside the boundaries of the laws, they throw out the law entirely and act like they are free to do whatever they want. They “do whatever seems right in their own eyes.” Man also has an incredible ability to tweak/spin things so that they look like something else. This is why there will be so many caveats and maybes in what follows. We need to remember that much of the Bible gives us principles and we need to navigate or apply the principles, asking God for wisdom. So, when we understand and get past the principles, we need wisdom to make our choices.
In answering this question, we might need to pray for wisdom to discern whether there is actual abuse, or simply two people who need to learn to be humble and love the other person first (Phil. 2:3). For our purposes, let’s assume no one would deny that the husband is abusing his wife (except him perhaps). There are broken bones and blood.
If a man is abusing his wife, the church should get involved and should work with him to help him walk with God and to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:22ff). If he rebels against the church, and therefore God, he should be excommunicated from the Church. This action recognizes him as a non-believer and would put him outside the protection of God.
Were to happen, and presumably the wife is a Christian, she would be in the situation mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. Verse 15 says, “Yet But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.”
The principle is that a Christian should remain married to a non-Christian if he wants to be there and doesn’t depart. The perfect example would be that she is respecting him, loving him, and making his life glorious. He recognizes this and really thinks he has hit the jackpot with this one and loves her and protects her in return. He’s just a nice non-Christian man who knows when he has it good.
Now, the question is, what if the non-Christian man shows that he isn’t pleased to live with his Christian wife, by treating her in a mean and nasty way. There are broken bones and blood. I would say that this situation doesn’t take rocket science to decide. She should leave him, divorce him, and would be free to remarry.
I believe that every instance of divorce in the Bible assumes remarriage is assumed. This is why, when in Matthew Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife, for any reason except sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery (Mt. 5:32) he is assuming that she will remarry.
- Is unrepentant emotional and psychological abuse of a spouse grounds for excommunication, assuming counseling has failed?
This question needs a lot of clarification. Who has decided that the abuse is abuse? We live in a culture where people think they are being abused if anyone disagrees with them on any topic. But there is also real abuse and this is sin. Again, the church leaders need to step up to the plate and get involved. If the elders say that a particular situation is abusive, then it is. And if it abusive is certainly might be grounds for excommunication.
We only excommunicate for serious sinful situations. This is because unless the sin is grievous we can easily get caught up in the terrible situation where we are hunting around for every sin and excommunicating everyone who sins at all. This would be the ditch on the other side of the road.
So, to answer the question, if the elders agree that the abuse described is serious: the man won’t change, and everyone and their cat knows about it, it would probably qualify for excommunication. I can imagine a situation where the man is just a fathead and he can’t see the point, for whatever reason, and we might not excommunicate him (but not if there is blood and broken bones). I can also imagine a situation where the elders wouldn’t think this to be the kind of sin they excommunicate for (e.g. She thinks he’s abusing her because he won’t comb his hair the way she likes it).
Principles that would guide us would be protection of the Gospel, protection of the wife, and protection of the children. If the husband is harming them, in Biblically defined terms, we would work toward helping, failing that excommunication would be a real probability.
- Biblically, what would you say is the lot of an adulterer after divorce? Should he never remarry? What if there is genuine repentance later on? How do we view broken vows and covenants against God in the light of God’s forgiveness?
There are four different possible scenarios for the first question:
1) He is a divorced adulterer, who has not repented.
In this case, he has not been excommunicated, therefore he believes himself to be a Christian. But he has not repented and so is a Christian living in sin. I would call this man to repentance. Failing that, I would push the elders to act on his status and excommunicate him.
If the church won’t get involved, for whatever reason, I would tell him that he needs to repent, stay single until he does, and if he marries, he shouldn’t marry a Christian woman.
But I know that he isn’t listening to me anyway. I’m just giving him good advise, when he needs Good News.
2) He is a divorced adulterer, who has repented.
To this man, I would say, you don’t have any Biblical claims on your former wife. She is free to remarry, you are free to remarry, but only to marry a Christian (and wisdom would say that you need to learn from your mistakes and be very careful who you marry, etc.).
Given this, I would tell him to contact his former wife, tell her his new testimony, let her know that he isn’t expecting anything from her, but it would sure be nice if they could repair their relationship.
Also, I would suggest that he, depending on how things are going, think about wooing his former wife and remarrying her. There are obviously things that might make this impossible, she may already be remarried, for example. But in a perfect world, I could see a repentant man and his former wife getting back together.
Finally, if everything fails, or is impossible to reconcile with his former wife, he should go on with his life in the Lord. I believe he is free to remarry, in the Lord, and this means using wisdom in the process.
3) He is a divorced adulterer, who has been excommunicated and is unrepentant.
This gent is an un-believer and I don’t have much to say to him, other than believe God and come to Christ. As long as he is an un-believer, he can’t get back with his former wife. As long as he is an un-believer we don’t have much to say to him, other than stay away from your former wife until you believe.
4) He is a divorced adulterer, who has been excommunicated and is repentant.
I would go slowly with this gent and tell him the same things I told number 2 above.
- The children of the believer and unbeliever, having been “made holy by the believing parent” (paraphrasing here), I’m assuming this is meant about underage children still in the household? What are your thoughts on how that verse applies to the couple’s children after divorce, particularly when it comes to joint custody?
I believe the children are still sanctified by the believing parent. But what I think this means, is not that the children are saved (going to heaven when they die), but that they are members of the covenant community and in a special place to hear and believe the gospel. This would also include participating in the blessings of the community. It would also be a fact in the way we treated the kids in general. We would still expect them to act like Christians, even when they are with their non-Christian father.
I hope this helps.