People want simple answers to their questions. Yes or no, does God’s law allow for marital divorce? Yes or no, is it lawful to exit a broken covenant? The problem with simplicity is that it can be limiting or overly restrictive. Simple answers are insufficient for complicated problems. And very often biblical doctrines and the application of those doctrines are just too complex to reduce them to simple answers. Sadly, the people who want nothing more than simple answers can rely upon sloppy theologians who make a living providing simple answers. Frequently, the outcome of simple answers for the body of Christ is division. For example, those whose simple answer is that marital divorce is always a sin create a division with those who think divorce is permissible and with those who truly understand the purpose for the components of a covenant.
When one spouse breaks one or more conditions (a component of a covenant) of the marriage covenant their marriage partner is no longer bound by the covenant because it has been broken. For example, when a married man is addicted to pornography and he refuses to get professional help so that he can escape the addiction, he is breaking the covenant’s condition of fidelity to his wife. He is guilty of infidelity by preferring lurid images of strange women to his wife. In so doing he has broken his marital covenant with his wife–forsaking all others.
Now those who define “until death do us part” as a divine prohibition on divorce would say this situation is unfortunate for this woman, but she still must remain bound by the broken marriage covenant and to a husband who is perpetually committing infidelity. They claim that she would be committing a crime against her husband and a sin against God if she were to exercise her right to exit the broken marriage covenant. They claim that her vows are broken by her divorcing her husband—vows made in the presence of witnesses and before God.
Where to begin? Those who hold to this unbiblical and illogical position should bring forward as evidence the maxim that invalidates the conditions of a bilateral covenant. Wedding vows are made by both partners. The primary conditions being spoken in the vows are to love and cherish, and to forsake all others. Only one person needs to break these vows for the covenant to be broken. This must not be defined as a mild or moderate breaking of a major vow during a rare fit of rage or on the worst moment of ones life. Intentionality and repetitious behavior is necessary for the breaking of a covenant. Grace is the general rule for out of place indiscretions. The spouse who intentionally and repeatedly breaks the condition(s) to which they vowed is the covenant breaker. The innocent spouse is free from the covenant or free to enter a new covenant with the guilty spouse. The purpose of the conditions are to assure that both parties are protected from this kind of deception. Covenant conditions exist so that both parties will be assured of receiving the benefits (another component of a covenant) for which they enter the covenant in the first place.
The purpose of a covenant is to convey one or more benefits to both parties in the covenant. A bilateral covenant (such as the marriage covenant) conveys benefits on each party; without which, the parties would have no reason or incentive to bind themselves in a covenant. The conditions of the covenant assure the parties will receive the promised benefit by releasing them from their obligation when one or more conditions have been broken. This is how a covenant obligates it’s participants. People do not unnecessarily obligate themselves. However, people will obligate themselves if there is a desired benefit for doing so. Keeping the covenant’s conditions allows both parties continued access to the benefit(s) they desire. So when it becomes manifest that either partner is breaking one or more conditions of the covenant, then they have effectively broken the covenant itself and are guilty of withholding the promised benefit(s); therefore, the injured covenant partner is no longer bound by the covenant, as it has been broken, freeing them to enter into a new covenant with someone who is willing and able to keep the covenant conditions by providing the promised benefit.
The Believer and Their Unfaithful Spouse Vs The Church and Their Unfaithful Spouse
Inexplicably, the church has decided to ignore the rules by which a bilateral covenant is governed. The traditional stance on marriage covenants is to ignore the breaking of conditions. In essence, the church requires those who break the conditions of their marriage covenant to go stand in the corner for five minutes and think about what they’ve done. If the offender says, “No” and continues breaking the conditions, then the church does nothing or excommunicates them from the church, but they refuse to let the spouse excommunicate them from the marriage. When the church can divorce these offenders from the covenant that they have entered with them but the innocent spouse cannot, this is duplicitous and wrong. This unrepentant professor of the faith cannot be allowed to pollute the church, but they can and must remain a mill stone tied to their believing spouse’s neck. No distinction should exist here.
The Idea That Forgiveness Means No Divorce
Some will argue that as believers in Christ Jesus we should follow God’s example by forgiving our spouses even when they break the conditions of the marriage covenant? This of course restricts divorce more severely than Christ Himself who gave us the exception clause: “except in the case of pornia” (a term with broad meaning but surely encompassing adultery). In addition, God forgiving covenant breakers is a false argument because it is not what God does. God sends unrepentant sinners (covenant breakers) to eternal damnation—“away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9). God only enters into a covenant relationship with covenant keepers as His forgiveness makes no allowance for His children to break the covenant. Hence the word “Grace”. Arguing that forgiveness prevents freeing oneself from a broken bilateral covenant is a vacuous platitude against God’s provision for divorce.
God’s Covenant With His Children Vs The Marriage Covenant
The covenant that God enters into with His children is a unilateral covenant, which is to say that God keeps the covenant on behalf of His beloved children (thank God, for we could not). The covenant between God and His children is perfect as God is perfect, and its conditions and blessings are all intact. Not only does God give his children the righteousness of Christ, which maintains their good standing in their covenant with God, but God also places His Holy Spirit within them to cause them to walk according to His statutes and he empowers each of them to observe his ordinances (Ezekiel 36:27). So the reality is that each of God’s chosen children are keepers of all of the conditions of the covenant that God has welcomed them into for His glory and for their salvation. As a result both parties of the beloved’s covenant with God will receive the blessings for which they entered the covenant.
God is and will be fully glorified and shown to be worthy of all praise and His chosen vessels of mercy will receive salvation and an eternity as the children of God. God guarantees both ends or blessings of the covenant. Neither party must languish in and serve a broken covenant providing blessings to their spurious partner while being defiled and derided by that same person, which is precisely what the anti-divorce crowd insists upon for the innocent spouse. Many Old Testament passages depict God decrying Israel’s (God’s bride) unfaithfulness. Through captivities and exiles God disciplines his bride trying to get her to be faithful but his efforts were to no avail. Ultimately God divorces Israel for her unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:8, Isaiah 50:1)). Then God takes a bride who remains faithful because she wears the white garments washed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of Christ keeps her faithful.
God would not remain in a broken covenant with wicked Israel or with the more wicked Judah because God knows that light and darkness cannot come together just as there can be no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness. As Christ has no harmony with ungodliness or destruction and the temple of God cannot be in agreement with idols, neither can a believer share a life in common with an unbeliever in any relationship, especially marriage. Most in the church have made the tremendous error of causing man to serve the marriage covenant rather than allowing the marriage covenant to serve man.
The Idea that Long-suffering Means No Divorce
Those who claim that divorce is always a sin would argue that Christians must follow the law of love and endure their unfaithful partner with long-suffering because their reward in heaven will be great. Their reward in heaven will be great because Jesus has won it for them. Having long-suffering for the brethren is not at issue in a marriage to an unbelieving spouse. Believers suffer the imperfections of one another because it is the loving thing to do and because each one remains imperfect as long as they are in the flesh, but believers are commanded to separate themselves from the unrepentant because bad company corrupts good morals, because a believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common, because Ezra’s godly example demands as much, and because God did so to Israel.
The damage done to the believer who is frightened by “Christian” superstition into remaining in an unequally yoked marriage with the threat of God’s eternal wrath is awful indeed. Remaining in a broken marriage covenant forces the innocent spouse into an unrighteous arrangement. Their wicked spouse has broken the conditions of the covenant effectively negating the benefits promised to the innocent spouse while the innocent spouse is expected to keep providing the benefits to the wicked spouse without an end in sight.
These wicked spouses are even more evil than the person who claims to have purchased a new house, who has taken possession of the house, who has placed their name on the deed, who has promised to pay for the house, but who has failed to pay a dime and has no intention of ever paying for the house that they are effectively trying to steal from the original home owner. In fact, if this person then gutted the house of all it’s woodwork, marble and granite, heater, air conditioner, the chandeliers and lamps, the windows, the appliances, and even striped the electrical wiring, the pluming and the landscaping plants before they were finally evicted, then this illustration to the wicked spouse in an unequally yoked marriage would be more precise.
Matthew Henry highlighted an additional evil when he said that the children in an unequally yoked marriage will receive an undue influence from the unbelieving spouse because the children come into the world slaves to unrighteousness, which causes them to feel a greater kinship with their unbelieving parent. In addition, the believing spouse will be discouraged in their own sanctification efforts, and the children will be encouraged to sin without consequence, seeing that their unbelieving parent is more often than not rewarded for taking tremendous advantage of the believing spouse.
Another sad reality of the position that says the dissolution of an unequally yoked marriage is always a crime against man and a sin against God is that it gives the appearance of turning the unbelieving marriage partner into the innocent victim while at the same time slandering the name and reputation of the believing spouse who has kept the conditions of the marriage covenant often for years or decades without receiving God’s intended benefits, which were promised by the unbelieving spouse, but withdrawn. The obedient child of God is turned upon and torn to pieces by the very people (other Christians) who should be most supportive as in the days of Ezra. Sadly another occasion for the axiom that “Only Christians shot their wounded”.
By seeking a divorce the obedient child of God is following God’s command not to be in any unequally yoked relationship (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Ezra 10: 3, 11; Judges 3:6-8; Deut. 21:10-14; Psalm 89:38-45), yet he will be portrayed by many in the church as the offender against God and man, while the true offender snickers as they are lofted as the poor victim. The godless spouse often goes beyond snickering to libeling their believing partner in order to bring undeserved discredit to them. Anti-divorce Christians happily join forces with the godless partner in order to shame and pressure the believer into repenting of their decision to divorce their unrepentant, unbelieving spouse. Of course doing so would require them to break with scripture, reason and their own conscience, which does not seem to bother those who hold this shameful man-made doctrine declaring divorce a heinous sin.
So then, is it lawful to leave a broken covenant? The answer found in God’s word and by eminent reason is an emphatic YES. It is a fools errand to remain in a broken covenant. Having said that, the answer found in most Christian circles is no. There advise is that you made your own bed and now you must lie in it. Let the reader decide whether or not they prefer the approbation of God or the praise of men. But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord…all of us.