The church has traditionally held a prohibitive position on marital divorce for those in the body of Christ who found themselves to be chronically bound in marriage to an unbeliever, yet I believe that position to be the very opposite of the instructions given in God’s holy word. Obviously the burden of proof falls upon the lone dissenter and not upon the larger body. So then, if the church has traditionally and continually taken the opposite view from that found in the scriptures then the reasons for missing the mark should be retraceable.
Here is a list of those very reasons that have biased the people of God away from His clearly revealed will on the subject of marital divorce for believers bound together with unbelievers:
- The church has consistently failed at being in the world but not of the world. It rarely fulfills God’s desire for believers to separate themselves from unbelievers.
- The church focused in at least two wrong directions. It focused upon marriage without regard to the greater doctrine of separation from the world. FYI: The church thus far is not repeating this mistake in its approach to homosexual marriage. Secondly, when unequally yoked marriages began to fail the church focused on the symptoms (Adultery, desertion, and physical abuse, deception, corruption, etc.) rather than upon the condition (unequally yoked marriage).
- Family is near the top of the list of idols, and many so-called Christians worship at the family alter sadly prioritizing/worshipping family instead of God. When family is worshipped marital divorce damages the image of one’s idol.
- Departing biblical and logical reasoning, churchman transubstantiated divorce from its appropriate place as an amoral action to an almost unforgivable sin. If divorce in and of itself was a sin, then Ezra would not have entered into a covenant with God to oversee the divorces of over a hundred unequally yoked marriages, and God would not have divorced Israel. Like divorce, marriage is an amoral action. Transforming marital divorce into a sin is equivalent to calling marriage a virtue. But getting into an unequally yoked marriage, a homosexual marriage, a polygamous marriage or an open marriage are all regarded as sinful behaviors against God. Marriage to a “suitable” (Gen. 2:20) partner is a virtue, just as divorcing unsuitable partners is a virtue.
- The church was behind, at least complicit with, the shotgun wedding concept. The desire to force men to atone for their wicked behavior supplanted God’s command for equally yoked marriages. Two wrongs do not make a right. Forcing a scoundrel to get married does not inhibit his evil desires and actions; it does however avail him a ready victim for further wickedness.
- The church built a man-made doctrine on divorce based upon a few passages of scripture, often out of context, to the exclusion of much greater passages and related doctrines.
- The church failed to make a distinction for divorce between those who are equally yoked and those who are unequally yoked (see article on a comparison to killing).
- Most of the church failed to understand the actual condition of those unequally yoked, so they made them feel guilty for their sin and deserving of the life-long, “consequences”. Consequences that were actually forbidden by God but wrongfully insisted upon by churchmen.
- Fairness or the pettiness of man: “The rest of us don’t get a do-over, so neither should you”.
- Churchmen have fallen into group think and have come under the pressure of each generations’ thinking the same way.
All of the causes listed above have been explained in detail previously in blog articles except for the second cause, which is why it will be the focus of this article.
The argument of this second reason why the church missed the mark is that the church focused in at least two wrong directions:
FIRST, MARRIAGE BALKANIZED FROM DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION
First, the church balkanized marriage from the greater doctrine of separation from the world, and secondly, the church set out to treat the symptoms that inevitably arise in unequally yoked marriages rather than upon the condition of a believer who is bound together with an unbeliever in marriage.
Marriage and subsequently divorce have traditionally been balkanized from the biblically ubiquitous doctrine of separation, which has lead to a very high volume of Christians binding themselves to children of Satan in marriage, and it has also lead to an unbiblical doctrine of divorce for those who have done so. We must face the truth; the church has not agreed throughout the centuries as to what actually constitutes a marriage or put another way, who exactly is married and who is not. Today it has almost become an antiquarian idea for a young couple to get married without having slept together in the marriage bed for months or even years first. Churchmen are looking the other way as they call them neither married nor fornicators. On the other hand, young couples with traditional values could meet, fall in love and marry all within the span of a month until one of them decides they made a big mistake. They could separate from their new spouse and get a divorce, and the church would mark them as a divorced person for the rest of their life. While the cohabitating couples can live together for twenty years all the while engaging in sexual relations and even having children together, but when their relationship falls apart and they separate the church fails to mark them as divorced even though God and the state does not fail to do so.
So we must ask ourselves, are people married because their parents arranged a marriage against their wishes, because they simply claim to be married, because they have a marriage license, because they had a church ceremony, because they have voluntary sexual relations, because they live together regularly having sexual relations, because they have entered into a covenant, or because God has joined them as husband and wife? When does God view them as a married couple?
To understand marriage apart from God’s doctrine of separation from the world is very much like trying to understand marriage apart from God’s doctrine on homosexuality. Today homosexuals claim to be married, they can get a marriage license in all 50 states, they can have “church” ceremonies, they can live together, they can make a covenant with one another, but God certainly does not join them in marriage for He says “to the wicked”, “What right have you…to take My covenant in your mouth” (Psalm 50:16)? So if God prohibits both homosexual marriages and unequally yoked marriages, then why does the church acknowledge one as a legitimate marriage and not the other?
Certainly if a person in a homosexual marriage wanted to repent of their homosexual behavior the church would be quick to celebrate their legal divorce, and that repentant soul would not be marked with a “D” for divorce. They would rather be lauded as being obediently repentant. But if an unequally yoked believer wanted to repent of their godless marriage they are forbidden to do so by the church and can expect no support whatsoever from the church before, during or after they choose to obey God who clearly commanded, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). And this even after the biblical example of Ezra and Nehemiah’s last chapters depicting over a hundred examples of divorces for the unequally yoked.
From the perspective of God’s word, if two males are not “suitable” or do not “correspond to” [Genesis 2:20] one another for the purposes of marriage then neither do a saint and a reprobate “correspond to” one another. In fact, their worlds are further apart than are those of two males who are both unrepentant. Neither pairing can expect God’s blessing upon a marriage union; neither pairing has a right to take God’s covenant in their mouth. Therefore both pairings must not fear a divine prohibition or hindrance when they repent by divorcing their unsuitable partners.
So then, the doctrine of marriage must cease being balkanized from the greater doctrine of separation. Christian marriages must be as scripture insists: “Only in the Lord”. Being in an unequally yoked marriage is prohibited to all of God’s children both in the Old and New Testaments.
SECONDLY, TREATING SYMPTOMS SUPPLANTED CURING THE CONDITION
Now we should like to consider how the church set out to treat the symptoms that inevitably arise in unequally yoked marriages rather than upon the condition of a believer who is bound together with an unbeliever in marriage.
Consider the analogy of a sick person seeking a physician’s care. When a person seeks medical attention the physician immediately begins probing the patient for the symptoms that have caused them to seek medical attention. The reason all prudent physicians collect symptoms is that they want to properly diagnose the actual condition of the patient. Imprudent physicians, on the other hand, treat the symptoms one by one in order to make the patient feel more comfortable in their poor condition, which often leads to a declining condition and ultimately a fatal condition.
The prudent physician seeks to accurately diagnose the condition as early as possible in an attempt to separate the patient from their diseased and declining condition. Once an accurate diagnosis is determined the physician can work to replace the patient’s diseased condition with a healthy condition. Having a successful diagnosis and cure the symptoms miraculously disappear.
The doctrine of divorce for the unequally yoked believer becomes plain when these logical concepts are applied. Has the church traditionally acted like the prudent physician or the imprudent physician? Clearly the church has acted imprudently in treating the symptoms one by one as they arise in these marriages while forbidding a removal of the diseased and declining condition in which the regenerate marriage partner finds himself/herself. The regenerate partner, being bound together with an unbeliever, is in a diseased and declining condition. The church should have diagnosed this condition and prescribed a complete separation from the unbelieving spouse as was done in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. This restorative action would remove the believing spouse from their diseased and declining condition and restore to them a healthy condition. The symptoms of adultery, abandonment, physical abuse, lying, cheating, corrupting, slandering, impairing spiritual growth and so many more would miraculously disappear as the diseased and declining condition has been dealt with once and for all.
To be clear, how exactly has the church focused upon the symptoms at the expense of the unequally yoked believer whose condition is diseased and declining? To begin with the church has tried to determine which, if any, of the symptoms rise to the level of making an allowance for divorce. In their desire to be consistent most churchmen historically have decided that no allowance for divorce is biblical; as stated earlier they balkanized the doctrine of separation from the doctrine of marriage in order to draw this conclusion. Secondly, the church has engaged extensively in counseling unequally yoked couples and trying to get them to “get along” better. This has so horribly missed the mark, and it should have been obvious to all who read the scriptures that such a path could never work.
Paul told the Corinthians as much when he wrote the following:
2 Corinthians 6:14-16, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belieal, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
The church has been trying to reconcile couples who God says have no chance at partnership, fellowship, harmony, commonality, and agreement. Not to mention that God has forbidden believers to enter into these marriages, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.” And anecdotes of keeping these marriages peacefully together do not pass the muster as it cannot be shown how much more sanctified the believer would have been had they never married or quickly divorced the unbelieving spouse and gotten remarried to a fellow believer as scripture prescribes.
As it currently stands, the church has effectively deemed as outcasts all of its unequally yoked members who have gone through a marital divorce when what it should have been doing was casting out the wicked condition of being unequally yoked from its churches. They failed to mark as wicked the condition of being unequally yoked, and they succeeded at demonizing brothers and sisters who have not only been cleansed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but who have also taken the difficult step of repenting of their unequally yoked marriage. Had the church focused upon the condition of being bound together with unbelievers rather than focusing upon the symptoms of these marriages it would have far more effectively prevented a significant percentage of these marriages from taking place at all. Had the church effectively shamed the practice of marrying outside the kingdom of God rather than celebrating such marriages after the stubborn members of the church entered into them, the unequally yoked pandemic within the body of Christ would have never taken place. The church would have been so much the better for having followed God’s path, and untold numbers of God’s children could have avoided entire lifetimes of the evil influence of godless spouses.
The church is finding out how this proper approach would have worked as it applies it to the homosexual marriage issue. When a church follows God’s precepts, whole families will leave the church in order to support their homosexual family member. While they think they are demonstrating love for a family member bent on sin they merely succeed at cementing their loved one in their sinful condition against God. In so doing, these family members should feel the pain of separation from the body of Christ when they stand up for an unrepentant family member over the bible and the church. They should sense a tug toward the world and away from God for choosing an unrepentant family member over obedience to the word of God. Jesus said he came not to bring peace but to divide families. Why? Because some would prove to be children of God and others would remain children of Satan. This will inevitably drive a wedge between even the closest of family members. Every regenerate soul has felt this separation take place. Therefore, the absence of this separation clearly indicates that regeneration has not taken place for the family members uniting over an issue of sin.
The church can still get this right. The church must get this right. God says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”