Lot Masiane

Lot Masiane is a member of the SDA Church. An accountant by profession, he is also a self-confessed bookworm and his interests include football. He supports Chelsea Football Club.

Divorce in the church

MARRIAGE is a divine institution established by God Himself before the fall, when everything, including marriage, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

God celebrated the first marriage. Thus the institution has for its originator the Creator of the universe. ‘Marriage is honourable’; it was one of the first gifts of God to man, and it is one of the two institutions that, after the fall, Adam brought with him beyond the gates of Paradise.

God intended the marriage of Adam and Eve to be the pattern for all future marriages, and Christ endorsed this original concept, saying: “Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6).

Marriage is a life-long commitment of husband and wife to each other and between the couple and God (Mark 10:2-9; Rom. 7:2). Paul indicates that the commitment which Christ has for the church is a model of the relationship between husband and wife (Eph. 5:31, 32). God intended the marriage relationship to be as permanent as Christ’s relationship with the church.

In addition, marriage as instituted by God is a heterosexual relationship (Matt. 19:4, 5). But some blight has attacked the Christian church so bad that the rate of divorce in and outside the church has become comparable.  As if that’s not enough, same sex marriages are becoming mainstream, even among the so called clergy, who ought to know better. Is there any hope for this generation?

Christ said just before He comes back the second time, the world would be as it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Well, a few years ago we used to say the world is Sodom-bound but not anymore, Sodom is here! Folks are marrying for any reason and divorcing for any reason and re-marrying for any reason. Marriage is a bad place to discover that you’re incompatible.

The problem of divorce and remarriage can be seen in its true light only as it is viewed from Heaven’s viewpoint and against the background of the Garden of Eden. God brought forth Eve from the side of Adam and gave her to Adam as his wife. Thus was marriage instituted – God the author of the institution, God the officiator at the first marriage. After the Lord had revealed to Adam that Eve was verily bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, there could never arise a doubt in his mind that the two were one flesh. Nor could ever a doubt arise in the mind of either of the holy pair that God intended that their home should endure forever.

The Christian Church adheres to this view of marriage and home without reservation, believing that any lowering of this high view is a lowering of the heavenly ideal. The belief that marriage is a divine institution rests upon the Holy Scriptures. Accordingly, all thinking and reasoning in the perplexing field of divorce and remarriage must constantly be harmonized with that holy ideal revealed in Eden.

I believe in the law of God, and in the forgiving mercy of God. I also believe that divorce is not the unpardonable sin. I believe that victory and salvation can as surely be found by those who have transgressed in the matter of divorce and remarriage as by those who have failed in any other of God’s holy standards. Nothing presented here is intended to minimise the mercy of God or the forgiveness of God. Whatever action the individual church may choose to take, the objective must always be to correct and redeem. Below are some guidelines that may help:

# Unfaithfulness to the marriage vow has generally been seen to mean adultery and/or fornication. However, the New Testament word for fornication includes certain other sexual irregularities (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10; Rom. 1:24-27). Therefore, sexual perversions, including incest, child sexual abuse, and homosexual practices, are also recognised as a misuse of sexual powers and a violation of the divine intention in marriage. As such, they are just cause for separation or divorce.

Even though the Scriptures allow divorce for reasons of adultery, as well as for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:10-15), earnest endeavours should be made by the church and those concerned to effect a reconciliation, urging the spouses to manifest toward each other a Christ-like spirit of forgiveness and restoration. The church is urged to relate lovingly and redemptively toward the couple in order to assist in the reconciliation process.

# In the event that reconciliation is not effected, the spouse who has remained faithful to the spouse who violated the marriage vow has the biblical right to secure a divorce and also to remarry.

# A spouse who has violated the marriage vow should be subject to discipline by the church organisation. If genuinely repentant, the spouse may be placed under censure for a stated period of time rather than removed from church membership. A spouse who gives no evidence of full and sincere repentance, should be removed from church membership. In case the violation has brought public reproach on the cause of God, the church, in order to maintain its high standards and good name, may remove the individual from church membership even though there is evidence of repentance.

# A spouse who has violated the marriage vow and who is divorced does not have the moral right to marry another while the spouse who has been faithful to the marriage vow still lives and remains unmarried and chaste. The person who does so should be removed from church membership. The person whom he/she marries, if a member of same church, should also be removed from church membership.

# It is recognised that sometimes marriage relations deteriorate to the point where it is better for a husband and wife to separate. “To the married, I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) – and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11, RSV). In many such cases the custody of the children, the adjustment of property rights, or even personal protection may make necessary a change in marital status. In such cases it may be permissible to secure what is known in some countries as a legal separation. However, in some civil jurisdictions such a separation can be secured only by divorce.

# A separation or divorce which results from factors such as physical violence or in which “unfaithfulness to the marriage vow” is not involved, does not give either one the scriptural right to remarry, unless in the meantime the other party has remarried; committed adultery or fornication; or died. Should a member who has been thus divorced remarry without these biblical grounds, he/she should be removed from church membership; and the one whom he/she marries, if a member, should also be removed from church membership.

# A spouse who has violated the marriage vow and has been divorced and removed from church membership and who has remarried, or a person who has been divorced on other than the grounds set above and has remarried, and who has been removed from church membership, should be considered ineligible for membership except as hereinafter provided.

# The marriage contract is not only sacred but also infinitely more complex than ordinary contracts in its possible involvements; for example, with children. Hence, in a request for readmittance to church membership, the options available to the repentant may be severely limited. Before final action is taken by any church, the request for readmittance should be brought by the correct channel for counsel and recommendation as to any possible steps that the repentant one, or ones, may take to secure such readmittance.

# Readmittance to membership of those who have been removed from church membership for reasons given in the foregoing sections should normally be on the basis of recommitment/ baptism.

# When a person who has been removed from membership is readmitted to church membership, every care should be exercised to safeguard the unity and harmony of the church by not giving such a person responsibility as a leader; especially in an office which requires the rite of ordination, unless by very careful counsel with the leadership.

The church of God has to have a standard that is higher that the world’s. God demands that standard from all who profess to be His. “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).