|Vol. 1, No. 5||Page 19||May 1999|
My husband and I are both members of the church. This is my second marriage and after many years of studying, I feel we are in an unscriptural marriage. We have been married 22 years and have three children. We have a wonderful marriage and family and love each other very much. I also love God and want to do what is right so that I can someday have eternal life with Him. Could you please advise me on how to handle this situation? Would a divorce be necessary or could we continue to live together but no longer share the same bedroom and have sexual relations?First, you are to be commended for having the moral courage to evaluate the scripturalness of your marriage. Your willingness to bend your emotions and will to comply with divine legislation, no matter how painful, is laudable. In so doing, you have triumphed already over the greatest hurdle to a heavenly hereafter.
Second, the infallibly safe course would be to cease living together as wife and husband, that is, separate. (A legal divorce may not be necessary as God does not consider you married anyway and the world about us couldnít care less.) At one point in Jewish history, the Jews had married foreign wives to whom children were born, who the prophet Ezra commanded the people to put away.
ďWe have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the lawĒ (Ezra 10:2-3).Third, whether God would approve your proposal (i.e., continuing to live as a family in the same house without the benefits of sexual relations) is a matter of human judgment. Let me hasten to say that God is not bound by human judgment in this regard, but that it is a matter of human judgment whether God would approve this solution to an unscriptural marriage.
I was apprised through second hand information that several years ago a renown and studied preacher among us counseled a couple in the same predicament in which you find yourself to do just as you propose. After several years and before the death of one them, the one dying assured the same preacher that they had successfully honored that vow from the time they made it.
However, I have personal knowledge of two other couples in the same situation, from two different congregations, who attempted the same and succumbed to sexual relations again. The one young couple had another baby, evidencing their failure to keep their vow, and eventually moved their membership to a congregation that disregards biblical teaching regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage. The other couple also found it impossible for them to abstain from sexual relations and finally left the Lordís church.
In any case, the two of you have incurred moral and financial responsibilities, as you acknowledge (i.e., both of you toward your dependent children and he toward you).
Fourth, as you are well aware, whatever decision the two of you make has eternal consequences. Ultimately, the two of you will have to make the decision and bear the responsibility for it before God, as I am positive you are aware.
I wish that I could give you more definitive information on which you could make this momentous decision for yourselves and your children. I would like to think that your proposal would be a satisfactory resolution to your dilemma, one which God approves, but I cannot be completely sure.
Last, even attempting your proposal is fraught with great temptation (probably more than were you two to part). ďFor there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive itĒ (Matthew 19:12).
Letís say that a non-Christian couple gets divorced. Then one of them gets remarried to another non-Christian. Then the new married couple study and get baptized. Must they separate or can they remain married? This is a question that is causing a lot of problems in our congregation. Thank you for your assistance.At least two questions relate to the inquiry above: (1) ďAre non-Christians obligated to obey Godís marriage law?Ē and (2) ďWhat is involved in biblical repentance and baptism?Ē (Acts 2:38). Answering these two questions will provide an obvious and irrefutable solution to the dilemma.
First, this sort of inquiry is affected by extreme emotional investment that tends to overshadow the unobstructed use of reason and will-power. Every religious question deserves a strictly biblical answer. We should not want anything else, and we ought to surrender our emotions, reason or intellect and will-power to the mind of God on every matter that is addressed by divine revelation. After all, when each of us crosses the threshold of eternity, we will be judged by Godís law under which we lived--not by what we wished Godís law permitted. Therefore, it behooves each of us now, irrespective of how painful the decisions may be, to ensure that we bring ourselves into compliance with the mind of God--revealed upon the pages of inspiration.
Second, ďAre non-Christians obligated to obey Godís marriage law?Ē In other words, ďAre non-Christians amenable to the Gospel of Christ?Ē Godís marriage law is part of the Gospel of Christ.
Some misguided Christians have falsely affirmed (regarding evangelism) that people in remote areas of the world who never have the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ will not be lost. Essentially, that sentiment states that souls are not lost until they hear about Jesus Christ and do not make him their Savior. If that were so, a reasonable conclusion would be that the best service we could render to such individuals would be to withhold the Gospel message from them. That way, they would not risk failing to comply with the Gospel once they heard it, or possibly apostatize after obeying it. Of course, the truth is that Jesus Christ left the glory and splendor of heaven and came to earth to sacrifice himself for mankind that was already lost. If mankind was not already lost, there would have been no reason for the second person of the Godhead to die on the cross and shed his blood thereon. Not obeying the Gospel message only compounds oneís state of being lost! It follows, then, that all accountable souls are amenable to the Gospel of Christ and are lost unless they comply with it. (Regarding evangelism, this heightens the urgency and responsibility of taking the Gospel to every corner of the globe.) Ignorance is not bliss!
Likewise, all accountable souls are amenable to Godís marriage law, whether or not they are aware of it. Godís marriage law, part of the Gospel of Christ, is obligatory on all accountable souls--just like faith, repentance, professing Christ and baptism (and worship, moral living, etc.). Further, the non-Christian status of one or both partners in a marriage does not invalidate that marriage, and for instance, make the offspring of that marriage illegitimate. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, the inspired apostle argues that the marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian (two pagans married, after which one became a Christian) is valid. Therefore, (1) they should not separate or divorce, and (2) their children are not illegitimate. From this we conclude that marriages between eligible non-Christians are considered valid by God and their children are legitimate. Hence, conversion by the Gospel (including baptism) does not dissolve or materially affect marriages contracted before the spouses became Christians. Marriages before baptism count as far as God is concerned!
Again, there are some institutions and divine laws, that though they have varied somewhat under different dispensations, they are universal throughout human history. Marriage is one such institution or divine law which has appeared in each period of religious history (i.e., patriarchy, Judaism, Christianity). Under Christianity, Jesus restored Godís original plan for marriage. All souls now living are amenable to Christianity, including Godís marriage laws. There has never been a time when mankind has not been responsible to abide in the will of God, including Godís marriage laws. Further, it is not necessary for one to acknowledge his obligation to Godís laws, including marriage laws, for him nevertheless to be bound by those commandments. For instance, though Herod was not a disciple of Christ, and though Herod was not practicing Judaism appropriately either, John the Baptist (with the apparent approval of God) accused the king of adultery (Matthew 14:3-12). Surely no one believes that John the Baptist was needlessly meddling here regarding doctrine to which Herod was not amenable (in the process of which John the Baptist was beheaded)! Clearly, Godís laws (including marriage laws) apply to all accountable souls irrespective of whether they acknowledge that fact.
Third, preceding baptism (for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38), one hears Godís Word whereby true, biblical faith results (Romans 10:17). Following faith and preceding professing Jesus as Christ or the Son of God (Romans 10:9-10), one must repent of his sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; 17:30). Repentance is an inward decision to turn from sin that works itself outward and manifests itself in turning from sin to a conformity to the Gospel of Christ. Repentance includes ceasing the sins that are the object of repentance. Then, professing Christ as Lord follows, which is followed by baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 22:16).
Especially regarding the topic of marriage-divorce-and-remarriage, some affirm that baptism somehow makes a circumstance that was previously sinful (i.e., an adulterous marriage) sanctified and no longer sinful. Objections to that proposition are often met with the retort: ďIs adultery the only sin that baptism cannot forgive?!Ē Truly, baptism forgives every sin for which one repents. However, in repentance one stops doing the sin for which he is repenting and seeking forgiveness. In the case of an adulterous marriage, repentance (which precedes baptism) would stop the adultery occuring in a biblically, unlawful marriage before that one ever stepped into the baptismal waters. There would be no ongoing biblically, unlawful marriage for which one would desire that baptism would somehow sanctify.
In conclusion, per the scenario presented above in the inquiry, the baptized couple would be in a biblically, unlawful marriage. Only two other New Testament teachings affect whether a once before married person may contract a new marriage. According to Romans 7:2-3, a widow (or widower) may remarry. Otherwise, the Gospel only provides that the innocent spouse of a divorce for fornication may marry another eligible candidate for marriage (Matthew 19:9).
Marriage-divorce-and-remarriage has saturated the western world. To a very large degree, the world has also in this regard infiltrated the church of our Lord. The latter has occurred for several reasons: (1) Our families are increasingly involved in marriage-divorce-and remarriage. Elders and preachers who before taught uniformly regarding the topic have often altered their assessment when their families and church families have succumbed to marriage-divorce-and-remarriage. (2) Our efforts to reach people with the Gospel of Christ continually confront prospects who are deeply involved in marriage-divorce-and-remarriage. This hindrance to evangelistic and numerical success, coupled with genuine sympathy for a society so engrossed in marriage-divorce-and-remarriage, naturally lent itself to a rationalization whereby we could circumvent our prior understanding regarding this doctrine.
Hence, due to the unfortunate frequency of marriage-divorce-and-remarriage
in society and in the church, inquiries such as this routinely arise in
our congregations. The solutions we seek and adopt must be divine
in origin to serve us well now and eternally. While it is not easy
by any means to face this dilemma, we dare not allow our emotional investment
or sympathy to override the mind and will of God. Eternity is too
long and heaven is too precious to ignore eternal consequences ďto enjoy
the pleasures of sin for a seasonĒ (Hebrews 11:25).