God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden prior to man’s fall into sin. From the beginning divorce was unnecessary because treachery and covenant breaking did not exist. But very quickly man did fall into sin, and treachery and covenant breaking between marriage partners became far too prevalent. God’s law responded with a permit for the dissolution of such marriages to punish the covenant breakers and to protect the innocent spouses. Those who failed to respect the institution of marriage also exploited God’s permit to divorce and conspired to make it serve their wicked desires. When the Church witnessed the treacherous, covenant breaking spouses using God’s permit for divorce to their wicked advantage they failed to look to God’s word for the answer and chose to take decisive action to stop the wretches.
In response to the godless exploiting God’s permit for divorce the church restricted access to divorce so severely that it became unavailable for the innocent spouses—those for whom God’s permit was graciously provided. In the churches’ effort to restrict access it disciplined and even excommunicated members who so much as pursued dissolution of their marriage. In addition they strong armed the state into making anti divorce laws making it a crime to get divorced. The institution of marriage was exalted and referred to as holy matrimony and numbered among the seven sacraments for the Roman Catholic Church. The idea was that if marriage was holy, then divorce must be unholy. Ever since the church responded in this way pastors have pointed to divorce rates as one of the chief proofs of the declension in every century.
The church viewed the marriage union as sacrosanct and demonized God’s provision for its dissolution. In so doing the Church missed the mark on both counts. The church should have remained on the path that God provided. It should have taken a position of rebuking covenant breakers and others who wanted to abuse both the institution itself and God’s gracious law ending the marriage union due to the treachery stemming from the hardness of men’s hearts since the fall into sin.
This move against God’s permit for divorce was entirely an initiative of man. God would not legally grant the dissolution of marriages due to the hardness of men’s hearts only to change his mind later. In spite of preachers holding the divorce rates out as the number one evidence of a declension in our land Paul never included it in any of his lists of sins (The Bible never calls or refers to divorce as a sin), but Paul did include 23 sins that preachers should be pointing out:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galations 5:19-21).
In fact, when the great apostle was asked whether or not believers should divorce an unbelieving spouse Paul responded first by saying, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord…”, which instructs the reader that Paul knew of no passage of scripture upon which he could site in order to prohibit marital divorce from an unbelieving spouse. The shocking reality is that no verse exists in either the Old Testament or the New Testament that directly calls or refers to divorce as a sin. Those who think marital divorce is a sin can only call upon three passages in the whole bible to make their claim, but clearly they misconstrue the meaning since God permitted divorce and since Paul could not claim a single biblical passage that forbid divorce for the unequally yoked believer. Of course the abuse of God’s divorce provision is a sin. It is the very sin that Jesus was pointing out in Matthew 5 and 19 when he called the religious leaders out and told them they were using God’s provision for divorce to commit the sin of adultery. Those men as were the men in Malachi 2 were abusing God’s divorce provision to commit adultery. But Even the Lord does not call or refer to divorce as a sin. But in the very same passage Jesus says that He would not abrogate one jot or tittle of God’s Law, but rather He came to fulfill the Law. Yet many have treated divorce as though Jesus did abrogate the Mosaic provision.
Not only are the innocent, believing spouses suffering at the hands of their treacherous, unbelieving partners, but they cannot count on the support of the church while they pursue God’s permit for divorce. And if they avail themselves of God’s gracious escape they will discover that the church will hold them in contempt and treat them with disdain throughout the process.