& Spousal Relationship
I used your article on Church Discipline from
the Firm Foundation web in our bulletin today. We had one man take
exception to the statement, “Admittedly, church discipline is not intended
to interrupt other divinely approved relationships (e.g., husband/wife,
parents/dependent children).” He felt that if a husband or wife be
withdrawn from the faithful partner would have to leave so as to submit
to the withdrawal. I advised him that one had obligations to the
spouse given in scripture and while he must make sure to make his dissatisfaction
in the spouses spiritual relationship is known and work to encourage their
return he has no obligation or biblical authority to leave the spouse that
was withdrawn from. Can you help me out on further explanation? ~
Michael D. Barclay
First, let me observe that brother Barclay correctly answered
the objection raised above. Second, I felt sure that my affirmation
that ‘family members have a responsibility to participate in legitimate
church discipline toward their other family members’ was itself difficult
for members of the Lord’s church to appreciate. I reaffirm that such
is biblically defensible and obligatory. Yet, the brother, to whom
reference is made above, goes further, and beyond biblical warrant, to
suppose that other biblically obligatory responsibilities, namely marital
union, should be disrupted because of church discipline. Please consider
the following points.
(1) The position that a spouse must separate from his
or her spouse toward whom the Lord’s church has exercised church discipline
is to pit Scripture against Scripture, command against command, and God
against himself. For any references to withdrawal of fellowship to
include one leaving his spouse (which no passage pertaining to church discipline
states or implies) would involve violation of passages that forbid husbands
and wives to separate.
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence:
and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of
her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power
of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it
be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and
prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency”
(1 Cor. 7:3-5).
(2) The position that a spouse must separate from his or
her spouse toward whom the Lord’s church has exercised church discipline
would manufacture yet one more so-called ‘biblical grounds for divorce.’
Our brethren have cleverly conjured additional grounds for divorce beyond
what Jesus himself commanded (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) to rationalize the intrusion
of unscriptural divorce and remarriage into the Lord’s church and the families
that comprise it. “Leave,” “put away,” “divorcement” and “depart”
(in Greek and in English) represent different words pertaining to divorce.
What the brother cited above is proposing is that a spouse divorce him
or herself from the spouse from whom the church has withdrawn (irrespective
of whether any remarriage may be entertained later). The addition
of this as another ‘grounds for divorce’ is neither warranted nor contained
in the Scripture.
“. . . Let not the wife depart from her husband . . .
let not the husband put away his wife. . . . If any brother hath a wife
that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put
her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if
he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. . . . For what
knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest
thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Cor. 7:10-13, 16).
“. . . whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the
cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery . . .” (Matt. 5:32).
(3) Rather than “leave,” the faithful Christian spouse,
when married to a non-believer, is required by Scripture to continue in
that marriage (1 Cor. 7:10, 12-13). If, though, a separation or divorce
occurs, the faithful child of God is required to be passive, not encouraging
the leaving (1 Cor. 7:15). Remaining in the married state permits
the Christian to directly or indirectly teach the non-Christian (1 Cor.
7:16; 1 Pet. 3:1-2). Since, therefore, the Christian spouse is required
to remain with the non-Christian spouse, the same principles apply equally
to the marriage of a Christians to a Christian who does not act like a
Christian (from whom the church has withdrawn). There is no biblical
evidence that the Christian spouse is any more obligated or even permitted
to leave the Christian spouse from whom the church has withdrawn than there
is that a Christian spouse ought to leave the non-Christian spouse.
(4) Parents may have dependent children who are Christians
and from whom the church has withdrawn (“husband/wife, parents/dependent
children”). Consistency demands that the brother cited above equally
affirm that godly parents should “leave” the house to the withdrawn from
dependent children. To coin a popular contemporary phrase, “I don’t
think so!” Perhaps in this instance, the brother above would instead
have the minor children toward whom the church has exercised discipline
evicted from the home. Even this, of course, conflicts with biblical
(5) The position that a spouse must leave his or her spouse
toward whom the Lord’s church has exercised church discipline would leave,
in the case of a wife (especially with young children), her destitute.
She would not qualify as a “widow indeed” (1 Tim. 5:3ff) for whom the church
is responsible to support. She could not remarry as that passage
exhorts since she has a living husband (Rom. 7:2-3).
(6) The separation resulting from the proposition proposed
by the brother would also encourage adultery by either of the separated
spouses (1 Cor. 7:5; Matt. 5:32).
Doubtless out of good intentions and an interest in restoring
the lost, yet, the proposition that a spouse must leave his or her spouse
toward whom the Lord’s church has exercised church discipline is biblically
incorrect. We would do well to exercise ourselves more fully regarding
the exhortations that are clearly present in Scripture (which sometimes,
especially pertaining to church discipline, we generally fail to do) rather
than venturing into extremes beyond what inspiration stipulates.