This article looks at the leading causes for divorce, as well as the Biblical teaching and the church's concern with regards to divorce.

Source: The Outlook, 1983. 3 pages.

Disaster of Divorce

It was once true that if you married someone from a Christian background, particularly if they were of your own denomination, it was almost a certainty that the mar­riage would last for life. Times have changed and now the shadow of divorce hangs over every home, often from the very beginning. The disaster of divorce has crept into every corner of our culture and has presented a great new challenge to Christian marriage. It seems that everywhere around us the wheels are coming off the carriage of marriage. What can the church do to help the wheels of marriage keep rolling in a divorce-riddled age like ours?

Leading Causes🔗

Certainly we can identify some of the leading causes for divorce in our culture. Let's think about them brief­ly.

  1. There is a break-down of the God-given roles of men and women. There is something drastically wrong with our society when during times of recession women can find work and men cannot. There is something wrong with our society when women can work for a few days a week at a part-time job and earn more than the husband makes in a full week of work. God made man incomplete. Adam needed a helper — a "help meet for him." When that helper pursues a career outside the home which is as successful, or more successful, than the husband's, there is a great potential to lose the wheels of marriage. That is not to say that wives may pursue no other career than home­maker. It does mean that if another career is pursued, somehow the God-given roles must be main­tained. The family farm is an example of a house­hold in which the wife often works as hard on the farm as the husband and there is low divorce rate. That is because the roles are not compromised and both careers are for the common good of the fam­ily.
  2. Working conditions today increase temptations to break the seventh commandment. As the lines be­tween men's and women's work is blurred, there is more interaction between the sexes and more op­portunity for adultery. The increasing casualness of the office and the emphasis in modern dress all increase the temptation level. For both men and women, sex outside the marriage relationship is much easier today than in previous generations. The church must call for morality in the market­place.
  3. The media, particularly television, present a non-Christian view of marriage. Commitment in mar­riage is often scorned and marital unfaithfulness exalted. In episode after episode, television seeks to undermine the clear command of God. If tradi­tional values of the Bible are championed, often they are done through someone who is caricatured as a "kook" so that his view is ridiculed rather than respected. Christians need to keep a careful watch on the entertainment that comes into the home.
  4. The most serious is the compromise the church makes with the standards of the world. At one time, divorce was unheard of within the confines of the Christian Church, but today even though the divorce rate is much lower among Christians than non-Christians, it is up an alarming amount. Today every church that is serious about reaching out to others in the community needs to struggle with divorce since so many have divorce in their background. The church must reach out to those who have been divorced, yet always holding out the high standard of marriage which God pictures for us in His word.

I was recently struck by that again in our high school catechism class. When we came to the seventh com­mandment, we had a little quiz on what the church teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The greatest surprise in the class was that the Bible gives only one ground for divorce. Class members said, "What if a couple do not love each other any more?" or "What if they just don't get along?" In some minds it seemed as if those were valid reasons for ending a marriage. In­deed, if we look at the message that the secular society is sending to the young people through the media, through work, and through recreation, it does seem that almost any reason to call it quits in marriage is condoned. That easy road to divorce was closed by Christ Himself in the clear teaching of Matthew 19.

The Bible's Teaching🔗

In the Old Testament there had been divorce. Moses had been given permission by God to write a statement of divorce. It was actually quite easy to obtain. The Pharisees hold that up to Jesus. They say, "Look at our society. Divorce is easy." They could even go a step beyond the modern American culture because they could claim that God's servant Moses was the one who initiated the easy divorce policy. Christ's clear-cut answer forms the foundation for the Christian's think­ing about divorce and remarriage. Christ's teaching is so clear that there is no escaping the conclusion.

Notice how carefully Jesus replies. "Moses permit­ted..." Moses did not encourage, Moses did not con­done, the easy divorce. He permitted it. That language sounds familiar, doesn't it? God has His active will by which we are to live and God has His passive will in which He allows certain things to happen which are not in accordance with His own desires. God actively pro­motes good; He passively permits sin. "Moses permit­ted...," and already the Jews knew where the answer was going. Now Jesus tells them why Moses permitted that, "...their hearts were hard." That language sounds familiar, too. Who were always characterized as having hard hearts? The people of the Old Testament who refused to listen or follow God. "Hardness of heart" was a key phrase in describing the basic disobe­dience of the Old Testament people. Now Jesus is saying that the same serious sin which caused their ancestors to lose favor with God and sent them into the years of cap­tivity from which most never returned, is the sin in­volved in divorce. Call it stubbornness, a refusal to listen to reason, turning a deaf ear to God — they had done it in the Old Testament  to God and they did it to their wives. Jesus puts that Old Testament practice in such a light that all can see the seriousness of the sin. Then Jesus goes on to make the standards even higher.

It is important to see the shift here. We know that in the matter of marriage God altered the standard some­what from the Old to the New Testament. For example, polygamy was permitted in the Old Testament; it is not in the New. Divorce was permitted in the Old Testa­ment; not any longer. Jesus confronts them with the fact that this was not the way God made human beings. He made one wife for Adam. From the beginning mar­riage was with one spouse for life. Jesus' command is to return to that practice God established at the beginning of the world — one husband, one wife, for life. That is God's plan; that is what He teaches in the seventh commandment; that is the way we are to live. If Jesus took such a stand in a culture of easy divorce, we can do no less! The church must do everything in its power to keep the wheels on the carriage of marriage. It is our respon­sibility as a church to do everything in our power to eradicate the disaster of divorce from the family circles of our congregation, and to help cleanse our culture from the curse of family break-down. Christ's call is clear to us all!

Ground for Divorce🔗

Yet Christ does not completely close the door on divorce. He inserted the exceptive clause, "except for marital unfaithfulness;" that is, breaking the seventh commandment. Some contemporary Christians are so concerned to preserve marriage that they say this was a later addition by a scribe and ought not to be taken seriously. We accept the sacred Scriptures as they are given to us, and we cannot do that. But how are we to understand the exceptive clause?

God, and society, define marriage in terms of our sex­uality. As we saw, when God brought Eve to Adam there was no elaborate wedding ceremony, but the mar­riage was completed, or consummated, by their sexual relationship. The state still recognizes that as the basis for marriage. A couple can have an elaborate marriage ceremony, all the papers can be properly signed, but if the marriage is never consummated they can go to the courthouse and have it annulled — that is, the state says it never occurred. When one of the parties breaks that intimate bond which God established as the basis of marriage, then there is the possibility of divorce. The verb tense that Jesus uses here is ongoing marital un­faithfulness, and that is why one incident of un­faithfulness is not grounds for divorce. Yet if one part­ner makes that a part of their lifestyle, then the other party may be divorced.

All divorce initiated or condoned which is not on the basis of adultery subjects that person to the admonition of the church. It is a sin which not only tarnishes the Christian, but strikes at the very fabric of God-ordained society. If continuing, unrepentant adultery is the reason for divorce, the other party in the marriage may be divorced and remarry without any reprimand from the church.

Our Christian and Church Concern🔗

Many today are saying, "Why should the church con­cern itself with that? Isn't that a private matter among consenting adults?" The church accepts the responsibil­ity of admonishing those who stray in marriage for three reasons:

  1. It is the clear command of Christ how we should live;
  2. It is a public transgression of the clear teaching of the seventh commandment;
  3. It is a sin which is striking at the very heart of our contemporary society. We are sowing the wind and when we rear a generation of children with divorced parents, when this generation marries, we will be reaping the whirlwind. The church has no choice but to defend with vigor the strong mar­riage and Christian family.

The Continental Congress on the Family summarized it this way:

We affirm the permanence of marriage as the intent of God. We believe that divorce is contrary to God's intent for marriage. Divorce is also a profound human tragedy which also leaves a legacy of anguish, bitterness, loneliness, and a sense of failure and a deep fear of personal relationships. We regret the ease with which divorces are obtained and believe that these divorces and remarriages are a contributing factor to the breakdown of the family. We believe that reconciliation is an alternative much superior.

If divorce has occurred in your home, you know the circumstances of your home situation. My heart goes out to you because you and I both know there are no winners in the wars of the family — there are only losers. Marriage can be like hell on earth, or it can be bliss beyond measure. This is the hardest sermon in the world to preach. As God's servant I have no choice but to tell you what society is doing to undermine God's clear command for our family living; as a pastor I understand and I care about your struggles and your tears, your sleepless nights and the feelings of sorrow and anguish over a marriage gone sour. God has held out a marvelous ideal for us in marriage, the picture of His own love for us. It is our duty as Christians to do everything in our power to avoid the disaster of divorce and build the beautiful marriages that Christ Himself commands. If you are divorced, we love you dearly in Christ, and we challenge you to live a chaste life now. If you are married and struggling to keep that home to­gether, we care deeply about you, and all our resources are available to you to help preserve your home. If you have gone through the disaster of divorce, or sometimes you feel that may be just around the corner for you, you still are part of God's family. We look up to Jesus to reach the great ideal He has set for us. Only by God's grace can we succeed in approaching God's ideal for marriage. Pray for that grace in your home!

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