The newspaper, The Christian Chronicle, calls itself “An international newspaper for Churches [sic] of Christ;” but it often appears that it exists primarily to advance the agenda of the liberal wing of what still calls itself “the Church of Christ.” One issue of the Chronicle adorns its front page with the headline “Churches minister to victims of divorce.” Such a statement in and of itself sounds good. Unfortunately, in many places the article conveys a false impression regarding the Lord’s doctrine of marriage, divorce, and remarriage; and regarding the church’s responsibility toward those who have experienced divorce.
“Victims Of Divorce”
The Chronicle’s use of the word “victim” in the headline tacitly suggests that anyone who has experienced a divorce did nothing to cause the divorce. Some of the statements in the article apparently seek to undergird this notion. Undoubtedly, both parties suffer tremendously when a divorce takes place, but it is wholly impossible that in any divorce both parties could be innocent victims. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Mat. 5:32).
Note two teachings in Jesus’ statement which refute the notion that all who experience divorce are innocent victims:
(1) Jesus allows one to put away his or her spouse for the cause of fornication. The spouse has done something which leaves reasonable cause to be put away, a cause brought about by his or her own actions.
(2) Whoever puts away his or her spouse (save for the aforementioned exception) causes the spouse to commit adultery; putting that spouse in a position where the temptation to commit sexual immorality (fornication—Editor] will be strong.
Jesus’ statement also shows that some who experience divorce are innocent victims. There are those whose spouses put them away unjustly. There are those who are compelled to put away their spouses because of their spouses’ fornication.
Although modern laws may speak of “no-fault divorce,” at least one party is at fault when a divorce occurs—perhaps more often than not, both parties are at fault.
Again, divorce is a terrible tragedy for people to suffer through. When a Divinely-sanctioned marriage is severed, Satan has had his way. However, wittingly or unwittingly, someone has been Satan’s accomplice in destroying that marriage.
Christians and churches have the need to minister; to serve: ”Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:26-28).
The church must minister to itself and to the world, and that includes ministering to the divorced. One Chronicle interviewee correctly observed, “I think the church needs to be more intentional about strengthening marriages. But when marriages fail, we ought to wrap our loving arms around the people who are suffering.”
Unfortunately, several quoted in the article apparently believe that the only way to do this is to revise the doctrine of Christ. Beth Wade, who serves as “counselor and family life educator” of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, said, “Once God’s perfect plan is forsaken, part of successful adjustment is establishing realistic expectations.” While I cannot know for certain what Mrs. Wade meant by “establishing realistic expectations,” I do know what others have meant by similar statements in the same context. They have meant that one cannot expect the unscripturally divorced to remain unmarried, although the Holy Spirit teaches that they must (1 Cor. 7:11).
Bruce Wadzeck, “a minister and elder at the Princeton, N.J. church,” said, “Many congregations are in no place to minister to the divorced because their theology offers no hope, only judgment for the divorced.” Although he does not say what “their theology” is, I am confident that he means the doctrine clearly taught in the New Testament (Mat. 5:32; 19:9; et al.). I would have Mr. Wadzeck to know that the doctrine taught in the New Testament most certainly offers hope for all, including the divorced (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:21; Col. 1:5). But to have that hope, one must repent of sin and remove himself from any sinful situation into which he may have entered (Rom. 6:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 7:11). The New Testament teaches us how we can be forgiven, live righteously, and avoid sin in the future regardless of what we may have done in the past (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).
The way for churches to minister to those who have experienced divorce is to show them the true hope that is in the Gospel, not by providing a false hope founded upon remaining unrepentant of past sin and upon continuing in present and future sin. Churches minister by preaching the same hope Christ commanded Paul to preach, with the same noble purpose:
”To open [the Gentiles’] eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).
May true churches of Christ minister to the divorced, and to all the world, through the living hope found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.