Why Two Christians Will Never Get Divorced In A Healthy Church
I mentioned something about divorce on Sunday that I wanted to develop a little further.
Divorce is a disaster…always…and on many different levels. It is never good. It may be a lesser bad, but it is never good. It is no wonder God hates divorce. The true wonder is how God’s church could ever slide so far from the character of God as to just offer up a shrug when divorce happened within its midst. Yet that is what regularly happened just a few decades ago. But this was only a symptom of a deeper problem which was forgetting the nature of gospel transformation, as well as the nature and necessity of church discipline.
Let’s come back to marriage for a moment. From the beginning, marriage had meaning. In Genesis 2, we see the oneness and companionship of marriage and its overflow of bearing children. Oneness and fruitful procreation are still key features of marriage. But there was more. God used marriage as a picture of relationship he was to have with Israel; and this was stated more and more as the Old Testament was progressively written. He was their husband and they his wife. Marriage was created so his people would understand this relationship. But Israel was a rebellious people, an adulterous people who were uncircumcised of heart and who ran after idols. And so, after centuries of pursuing his wife and repeatedly calling them away from their adulteries God divorced Israel. Jeremiah 3:8 “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” God was not done with them forever, but a breaking point had been reached.
As seen in the New Testament, Jesus affirms that there was a permission in the Old Testament for divorce. However, it was not a command, and (amazingly) not even an explicit permission, only an implied permission. Divorces happened because God did not enforce the death of the adulterer by stoning, but mercifully allowed a way out of death. This way out also allowed the innocent party to be free to remarry. God divorced Israel instead of wiping them out completely.
But the New Covenant promises have brought in a new reality. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, the New Covenant blessings bestowed upon a sinner through Christ actually take out a heart of stone and put in a new heart. It creates a people who will have the law in their heart and who will never fall away from him (See Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36).
Therefore, in the New Testament we see the fullest picture of what marriage was created for. Marriage is a picture of Christ and his bride the church. This church is the Jew and Gentile made into one new man who has a circumcised heart, not done with human hands and it is this church – this people - who are united to Jesus forever in oneness. Jesus will never divorce the church. Why? Because by grace Jesus transforms them into a people who will never leave him. Yes, there will be sin, even grievous sin, but the church will always hold fast to Christ.
And this is the reason two Christians will never get a divorce in a healthy church. When a marriage is on the verge of breaking, the church will be fully engaged. The church will be calling one or both people to obey their Lord. The church is calling them to a repentance of the adultery/abandonment or a repentance of not loving the spouse. A true Christian will heed this call eventually because he has a new heart. The end of church discipline is either repentance/restoration (of church fellowship and in this case the marriage) or the declaration that this person must be viewed and treated as an unbeliever and put out of the church as instructed by Christ in Matthew 18:17. So, if a divorce does happen, it will be a Christian divorced from their spouse who is now declared to be an unbeliever by the church, because he did not repent even after the passionate pursuit of the whole church. This is why the New Testament never speaks to the issue of what to do when two Christians divorce. One or both of them have forfeited their status as a Christian recognized by the God-given authority of the church (Matt. 18:18) through their continual unrepentance. The nature of gospel transformation and the process of church discipline means two Christians divorcing will not be an issue in the life of a healthy church.