The universal body of believers, often referred to as the church, is "the pillar and support of Truth" [1 Tim. 3:15]. But, has it truly been meeting its God-given responsibility with regard to the biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage? Even more importantly, has it truly been effective in its ministry and message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) to those who have been victimized and traumatized by the effects of divorce? Or, has its message been more one of alienation than reconciliation? If the church is anything other than a redemptive, healing fellowship, then somewhere along the way it has lost sight of its mission. If its proclamation is not one of grace, love, forgiveness and acceptance, it has lost sight of its message.
What specifically are the responsibilities of the church with regard to those experiencing the trauma of divorce and the stigma of remarriage? In an attempt to address this critical matter facing God's people, consider the following Ten Commandments with which the church should seek to comply in order to promote the healing process, and to possibly prevent such covenant breakdowns in the future. These are taken from the final chapter of my 300 page book (which can be read in its entirety on my web site) entitled Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce & Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace.
Before the church can presume to speak intelligently and convincingly for God on any subject, it must first be thoroughly acquainted with the entirety of His teaching relevant to that issue. "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God" [1 Peter 4:11]. The church must also understand how to apply that teaching to the challenges and temptations of daily life. What was Godís original intent for marriage? What provisions did He make in the Law of Moses for the heartless actions of men and women as they repeatedly violated that divine intent? What message of grace and healing is extended through the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul? I'm convinced the people of God are woefully lacking in this area of knowledge, and this deficit of understanding is critical in its negative effects upon those desperately in need of healing.
Before the church can ever effectively promote healing, however, it must promote education. Godís people must know Godís mind. Without that knowledge, which is gained only through careful, prayerful examination of His revealed Word, the church is ill-equipped to offer the guidance so desperately needed in the world today. Indeed, it will likely only do more harm than good, as has too frequently been the case when ill-informed disciples seek to "minister" to those who are hurting.
As a part of this educational process, a local congregation of believers must insure that all preconceptions and prejudices, all opinions, traditions, and biases drawn from oneís religious heritage are set aside in favor of an honest, open, free investigation into Godís revealed Truth. Genuine Truth has absolutely nothing to fear from such a process; Truth remains Truth regardless of the intensity of the investigation into it. Only one's misconceptions and biases need fear exposure to the light of God's Word. Entering into such a study with the right attitude will assure that change will be embraced if oneís previous position is found to be inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture. May the people of God be honest enough and courageous enough to change, even in the face of criticism, when Godís Truth is perceived.
Although this is very similar to the first commandment, in that it involves education, it is far more specific in focus. The church has a responsibility to its youth that when shirked results in the gravest of consequences. A lost generation can easily develop through a failure to faithfully impart Godís teachings. "Train a child in the way he should go" [Proverbs 22:6] is good advice! The local congregation of believers should insure that its youth, from infancy onward, are exposed constantly to the beauty of Godís IDEAL for marriage, both in teaching and in practice. With such training they will be better equipped to resist the temptations of the world to depart from the way in which they should go.
It is said that while Nero fiddled, Rome burned! In like manner, while the church debates the numerous personal preferences and practices associated with divorce and remarriage, the divorced and remarried themselves are ignored. Victims are in need of love, not lectures; devotion, not debate. A church divided over the issue of divorce is a church incapable of effectively ministering to the divorced.
Look to the example of Jesus. While the Pharisees debated whether it was right for one to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Jesus did not spend months in heated debate over the tedious tenets of their religious tradition; He simply did what was right! He healed. The church spends far too much time debating, and far too little time doing! The time has come for the people of God to set aside the religious wrangling and begin living up to their calling. It is time to promote a ministry of healing, and proclaim a message of hope.
A woman who has been put away by a faithless spouse, especially if that woman has children still at home, is probably going to need a great deal of practical assistance to face the challenges of daily existence. She may need to secure employment. Day care for young children may need to be obtained. Managing a budget, or coping with finances, may be unfamiliar territory. The list of possible concerns, many of which may be immediate and critical, is endless.
Such tasks, on top of the stress of the divorce itself, can quickly become overwhelming. The church must be prepared to provide immediate assistance to the victims of divorce who may be temporarily unable to cope with the cares which have suddenly been thrust upon them. Donít wait for their circumstances to become so desperate that they are forced to seek the help of the church --- go to them first, and graciously demonstrate the love of Christ in action.
There dwells within virtually every community of believers several members who have experienced divorce and remarriage. Some were victims, some were victimizers; some healed quickly, others struggled through the process. The church in the city of Corinth had within its ranks those who previously had been sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. However, they had been washed clean, sanctified, and justified by Godís grace at work in their lives [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]. Imagine the wealth of wisdom and support such transformed people could provide!
Congregations which utilize these members to reach out to their fellow members in pain, and also to the unbelieving public around them, are wise indeed. Victims of divorce need loving support; they need healing; and what better place to find it than among Godís people. By providing this living resource to the general public, as well as to oneís own members, a congregation of believers not only extends the parameters of Godís ministry of healing, but also opens the door for evangelistic opportunities.
Although the apostle Paul seems to indicate a man who has previously dealt treacherously with his wife may not serve as a spiritual leader to the people of God, nevertheless the divorced can, and should, be allowed to serve in all other areas of the work and worship of the Lordís church. The Scriptures do not indicate that a divorce renders one a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God, or that it renders one unfit for active service in that kingdom.
Further, it will facilitate the healing process of those experiencing the breakdown of a covenant of marriage if they are kept active and working. And what better type of activity with which to be engaged than service to God and His cause. Thus, the church should not restrict the areas in which these forgiven men and women may labor for their Lord.
Although such a commandment may seem rather strange on the surface, it is a sad fact that many of those who have suffered through a divorce find themselves ostracized by their fellow believers. Perhaps believing they might become defiled by association, some in the church have blatantly refused any form of fellowship with those they deem to be "unclean." Such behavior is unworthy of those who profess to be followers of the Lord.
Jesus constantly kept company with those whom the "religious" of His day felt to be unworthy of their acceptance and association. The Lord refused to allow these self-righteous hypocrites to prevent Him from reaching out to those in need of healing. In so doing He shocked and shamed the very ones who should have been leading the way in lifting up the fallen. The people of God must not become so righteous in their own sight that they are unwilling to embrace those who are struggling with sin in their lives, or who may be the innocent victims of the sinful actions of others.
Where has God authorized His people to ostracize those afflicted with the loss of a covenant relationship? By what authority are they banned from involvement in the work and worship of the church? What Scripture declares them unclean, unsaved, and unworthy of oneís fellowship? What declaration of our Lord denies them hope, healing, and the opportunity to strive for the IDEAL again in a future relationship?
The Pharisee who thanked God in prayer that he was superior to adulterers [Luke 18:11] did not receive justification from the Lord. Being far more concerned with the exactness of religious forms and outward appearances than with compassion for the plight of oneís fellow man, the Pharisees were repeatedly condemned by Jesus Christ. Their legalistic perspective succeeded only in adding burdens and imposing restrictions upon those already being afflicted and weighed down by "the powers of this dark worldĒ and ďthe spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" [Ephesians 6:12]. To inflict further abuse, rather than proclaiming a gracious message of hope and healing, is simply to affiliate oneself with the forces of the enemy.
The church is called to ministries of reconciliation and restoration; to be a first-aid station for those wounded and weary from the battles of life. It is to be the pillar and support of Truth, not the pillar and support of tradition or personal preference. The church must be a community of believers committed to healing, not hindering; to mercy and compassion, not legalism and ritualism; to lifting burdens, not imposing them. "Carry each otherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" [Galatians 6:2].
There will be occasions when one who is experiencing the trauma of a marital collapse will seek out someone with whom they can share their burden, and from whom they can seek spiritual guidance and encouragement. At such times some are sorely tempted to begin sharing at length with these "poor souls" the vast treasures of their own insights. Resist this temptation! They donít need a dissertation on the dilemmas of divorce --- they're living them! They simply need someone who will care enough to quietly and compassionately hear them out; who will allow them to release perhaps years of unexpressed hurt and frustration.
One of the chief qualities of an effective counselor is the ability to listen. Draw them near with words of assurance and comfort; pray for them and with them; show them the love and grace of God. In short, respond to them as Jesus would. As His ambassadors of grace, we must do no less!
If the above qualities are not to be found in the church, then where may the afflicted go to discover them?! The nature of God is to be reflected in the attitudes and actions of His people. God is love --- we, therefore, must be a people of love! Jesus is the light of the world --- thus, we must push back the gloom and darkness of this world with the light of His life and teachings.
The people of God are in a unique position to offer comfort, compassion, and caring to those who are down, but not yet out. By lifting them to their feet, providing them with a safe haven, and embracing them with the loving acceptance of the Father, the church can set the fallen back on the pathway to healing --- and, ultimately, to heaven.
Jesus Christ stated, "You will always have the poor among you" [John 12:8]. This is no less true of the divorced. It is a life situation which demonstrates no evidence of subsiding; indeed, with each passing year the numbers rise. The people of God are daily being challenged by this condition, and the world watches as they respond.
Will the church ignore the situation and hope it goes away? Will they debate it and divide over it, while the cries of the wounded go unheeded? Will they formulate a restrictive theology that keeps the victims of divorce at arm's length? Or, will they respond in love, extend hope, and promote healing? God, in His Word, has clearly portrayed the IDEAL, and has displayed how He responds in those situations where His original intent for marriage has failed to be achieved. His teaching is clear, concise, and consistent; His grace is evident in every passage.
Over the years, the simple teaching of Scripture with reference to marriage, divorce and remarriage, however, has been all but obscured by the construction of a complex system of theology built largely upon the foundation of personal preferences and traditional biases. As a result, the hurting are not being healed, and the despairing are not being given hope.
The purpose of my book -- Down, But Not Out -- has always been to lift high for view once again the simple truths of Godís Word with respect to marriage, divorce and remarriage. The time has come to dismantle the elaborate, tangled labyrinth of theology constructed by men, and return to the crystal clear message of hope found in Scripture. My book is humbly submitted in the hope it might in some small way assist in effecting that change. It is also presented with the fervent prayer that God may use it to open menís eyes to His matchless love and grace for those who are hurting, and that it may serve to facilitate the healing, and motivate the healers, of those who are down, but not out!
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