In 2009, a sermon series was preached in our Apex weekend gatherings concerning marriage. Within that series, the hard subject of divorce and remarriage was addressed. The sermons and manuscripts for those sermons are available on our website, and it is highly suggested that you listen or read the series, “One Flesh,” before you engage with this position paper. That series explains our baseline view of marriage and also presents the views put forth in this position paper. This position paper is a very short treatment of this painful subject with special attention towards leadership areas of Apex Community.
Divorce. It would be difficult to find another issue that consistently causes more strife and pain inside and outside the church of Jesus Christ. Its presence is so prevalent that the line has blurred between calling it a cultural norm or cultural sin.
God spares no ambiguity when He exclaims, “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16). This hatred is fed by three theological principles: First, divorce is contrary to the intent of God in creating of man and woman (Gen 2:18-25; Eph 5:31). The method of God in creating the woman out of man connotes an intimacy and mutuality that serves as the zenith of God’s creative work. Secondly, divorce warps the picture that God uses to display His relentless, graceful relationship with His bride, the church (Hosea 3; Eph 5:22-27). No other earthly organization or relationship exists that God has created to communicate His wisdom and worth (Eph 3:10). Lastly, the tragic reverberations that flow out of divorce such as emotional trauma, financial devastation, and mental anguish upon children cut against the grain of God’s common grace that He provides to all humanity (Mat 5:45).
Other harmful, cultural effects of divorce have been researched and publicized, but this tragic narrative continues. Somewhere, probably during the time of your reading of this article, a child is screaming for his or her parents to stay together, suitcases are being packed, and papers are being signed that will inevitably affect generations to come.
Divorce continually lays before the bride of Jesus a significant challenge. It is not the scripture’s witness that disciples of Jesus are immune from the presence of sin. Yes, sin is no longer condemning and authoritative in a disciple’s life but our flesh will, at times, think and do things that are contrary to our new nature in Christ. Put simply, divorce will affect and infect followers of Jesus as it does people who have not yet responded to the gospel of Christ.
Historically, the bride of Jesus has ebbed and flowed between two polarizing extremes in dealing with divorce. One extreme is to treat those going through a divorce with contempt and communicate explicitly or implicitly that their future service to the Lord is contaminated with sin. The other extreme is to capitulate to a cultural pandemic and throw the proverbial hands up and never address it and rarely interact with marital situations that require courage, compassion, and God’s truth.
Admittedly, the most difficult aspect in addressing marriages that are considering divorce is being consistent. This is because there are layers upon layers of situational factors that play into marital estrangement and to parse through them can be a daunting task. At the same time, Jesus and scripture have provided precepts that are clear enough to guide all of us.
What follows is a concise explanation on where the elders of Apex Community stand in terms of divorce and remarriage. Our position on this issue informs our hiring of staff, criteria for house church shepherds, how we engage in church discipline, and the raising up of future elders.
The elders of Apex Community land between two views of divorce and remarriage. The first view is often called the Traditional View or “Two-Clause” View, which allows for divorce AND remarriage for a spouse where his or her spouse has committed physical adultery or desertion (Mat 5:31-32; 1 Cor 7:12-16). The majority of conservative, evangelical churches in America operate from this vantage point.
The second view allows for remarriage ONLY in cases where a spouse has died. This position, also known as the Betrothal View, takes into account the straight forward assertions of scripture, the nature of Christ’s relationship with His church, and contends that the “exception clause” (Mat 5:31-32) of Matthew points to a couple that are engaged but not married.
The elders of Apex Community DO have consensus that the institution of marriage is based in creation (not an individual’s relationship with Christ), and there is no distinction of “pre- or post- Christian” as to the application of this doctrine. In other words, the lasting impact of a divorce or remarriage in an individual’s life before they become followers of Christ is not “erased” upon conversion. Even after conversion, a prior divorce or remarriage will influence their future relationships and ministry.
These two positions also allow elders liberty in marrying couples who fall into one of the above categories and not the other. For example, an elder who believes strongly in the Betrothal View of remarriage would not be required to go against his conscience and marry a couple who falls under the Traditional two-clause approach to divorce and remarriage.
Though the elders land on two perspectives on divorce and remarriage, there is enough uniformity that will guide our local body of Christ as we pursue His Glory in all things.
Marriage is precious because Jesus is precious to His church. The biblical health of marriages is a huge contributor to the health of the church. Marriage is not to be taken lightly and must be approached soberly and with much prayer and wisdom. Strife that exists in many marriages does not call for His church to shrink back from the truth of Jesus and scripture. Instead the church actually must seek more dependence upon His truth. It is our hope that the community of Apex would be a culture where marriages thrive for the Glory of its Creator.
Pastoral Help Addendum
This Addendum is provided as a resource for Christ followers to walk through the difficulties of previous or impending divorces with on another. We hope that this will serve as a starting point for compassionate discussion as we seek to come alongside one another in unity and growth in Christ.
As difficult and painful as divorce is for those directly involved, as well as their broader circle of family and friends, we want to make clear that we serve a God of power and transformation. We believe strongly that, regardless of the offences that have occurred in a troubled marriage, the Spirit of Jesus is sufficient to bring forgiveness, healing and transformation to that marriage over time. One goal in discussing the topic of divorce is to apply the scriptures in a God-honoring way so that all the marriages in our community may thrive because of a renewed commitment to the intransigent application of forgiveness, love and the fruits of the Spirit.
But we also realize that we are, and will be, in community with people who have already been affected by divorce. To these precious members of our community we want to emphasize that we serve a God of power and redemption. We are convinced by hundreds of biblical accounts that our God is in the business of taking those things that have hurt us the most and redeeming them for His Glory and for our good. We welcome divorced people into our community and anticipate God using them in powerful ways to incarnate His healing and redemptive work to others inside and outside the Apex community.
If you are married and there is obvious strain within the relationship with your spouse, the following are some pastoral suggestions:
- If one of you is hurting, BOTH of you are hurting. God made you into one body (Eph 5:31) and many couples resist help and healing because of a faulty thinking that it is only one person’s issue in the marriage.
- Conflict and strife makes us want to hide. If your marriage is struggling, get help! The body of Christ is equipped with couples and individuals who can come along side you to walk toward the healing of your marriage.
- Be hopeful! Jesus can redeem anything. That does not mean that there are no consequences for our choices, but it does mean that God can use the pain incurred in marriage to do great things for his Glory.
- Remember the real enemy! When conflict arises in marriages, the easy target for our anger and malice is our spouse. The ultimate enemy is the devil, and the second enemy is our own flesh.
- Focus on your growth in Christ. Marital trouble is a powerful distraction from prayer, reading God’s Word, sharing the Gospel, etc. Stay in those spiritual disciplines. You will need them through and after the storm!
Where our stance is felt bluntly is in the area of leadership. The vast majority of married leadership, whether in staff, volunteer, lead or support positions, and their spouses are in their first marriage. Leadership who have been divorced or married to a spouse who has been divorced have and continue to be a vital part of what God is doing through Apex Community. We are graced to have them.
An individual who has been part of an unlawful divorce is not excluded from being part of Apex leadership per se but will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This means that absolute exclusion from a leadership position is not in view, but sober judgment will be used to discern that person’s viability for a particular leadership role.
This position paper comes partly out of our value of them and the emerging field of leadership that God is raising up throughout the network of house churches within the Miami Valley of Ohio. This stance affects our recognition of leadership in the following ways...
Our recognition of leadership who have been divorced or married to someone who has been divorced will be a significant exception and not the rule. Concerns that would have to be addressed in the interview process would be such things as:
Were you the offended or the offending spouse in the divorce process?
What is present nature of the relationship with the ex spouse?
What did you do to try to restore the marriage?
Are children involved and how have they dealt through the divorce process?
Have you gone through any degree of biblical counseling?
If an individual is already serving in a leadership role and marital strife occurs, the following restorative process will occur:
Meeting with both spouses to gain information, encourage, and to pray
Discuss ways that Apex Community and the couple’s house church can work together for the biblical health of their marriage
Mandate a season of biblical counseling which Apex Community will subsidize
If necessary, begin the process of church discipline (Mat 16:13-19; 18:15-20) if one or both spouses are unrepentant
If no repentance occurs with either spouse then the spouse who is in leadership may be asked to step down from his or her duties.
The Network Elders have spent significant time working through this issue using the scripture and sober judgment. The following resources were also used to stimulate further thinking on this subject:
Strauss, Mark L., Gordon Wenham, William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener. Remarriage after Divorce in Today's Church: 3 Views.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper. Minneapolis, MN: http://www.desiringgod.org.