Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 11 Page 16 November 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles
By Louis Rushmore

Church Discipline
& 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  He felt that if a husband or wife be withdrawn from the faithful partner would have to leave so as to submit to the withdrawal.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is known and work to encourage their return he has no obligation or biblical authority to leave the spouse that was withdrawn from.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).

“. . . 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).

(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.

(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 parental responsibility.

(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.


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Gospel Gazette Online
Louis Rushmore, Editor
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