A Case of Conscience

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Puritan Board Junior

In one of my previous classes we were given the problem below and asked to answer some questions about it. (I am putting this under General Discussions rather than Pastoral because it is purely theoretical.) I would like to know how you would react to this scenario?

Here it is:

This case begins with a couple who starts their marriage as unbelievers. The wife is reached through your evangelization. She makes a public profession of faith and is baptized. The husband remains an unbeliever. The situation develops that he is neglecting his sexual duty as a husband, and their marriage takes on related problems. In desperation the wife seeks pastoral counseling. The husband refuses to come to the counseling sessions. The wife extends efforts to reconcile the difficulties, but finds no reconciliation. Lonely and frustrated, she again seeks the counsel of you, her pastor, asking for adivorce on grounds of unfaithfulness (i.e., neglecting sexual duty). She is denied grounds for divorce. Furthermore, her husband agrees and desires to remain with her.

Taking matters into her own hands, she disobeys the counsel of the church and secures a divorce. Immediately the church takes action by applying church discipline. Weeks pass and the results of the church discipline finds fruition. She finally acknowledges her error. Confesses her sins and asks for forgiveness. Time has healed her pain. She reconciles her differences with her husband and now desires to remarry him. The husband is compliant, but remains an unbeliever.


1) Was the initial ground for divorce justifiable? Why or why not?
2) What is involved in church discipline?
3) Should she now be allowed to re-marry the same man? Why or why not?
4) What would your counsel be regarding remarriage to the same man?
5) What would be your counsel to her regarding marriage to any man? If she wanted to marry someone in the Church should she be allowed to do so?

Looking forward to some interesting answers.



Puritan Board Post-Graduate
If a husband is neglecting his sexual duties, I would dig deeper and find out what else he is neglecting. It might be discovered that he was being unfaithful. The whole situation leaves me thinking that the church was blaming the wife for the problems (which often happens). Just the fact that the husband wouldn't go to counseling says to me that the didn't care a whole lot for his wife or the marriage. And the way the church was treating the wife, it says to me they were not very interested in getting the bottom of the problem.

Just my :2cents:

Grace Alone

Puritan Board Senior
My feeling is that the initial divorce was not biblical (assuming he was not unfaithful). So if she is still married to him in the eyes of God, perhaps it is right for them to remarry. But if she does not remarry him, I would think it would be adultery for her to marry anyone else.

I'll be very interested to see what the pastors have to say about this one.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
As the case has been described, the two are legally divorced (even if unjustified) and the remarriage will be to an unbeliever. The counsel should proceed on that basis and not on some quasi-religious idea that they are still married in the sight of God.


I believe that in the Mosaic Law it was forbidden for a couple to remarry each other if there was any intervening marriage.


Puritan Board Doctor
I remember reading in one of Leland Ryken's books (I've forgotten which one) that there was a case among the English Puritans where a wife brought charges against her husband in their local church. Her charge: he had refused to have sex with her for the previous two years. The Session investigated the charges, and the husband was eventually excommunicated from the church. This, of course, was a case of two believers. Yet, here's how one church handled the problem.


Ordinary Guy (TM)
She was not right to divorce him because he desired to remain together. Now that they are divorced, why remarry if he is still an unbeliever. The divorce, though unjust is still a divorce and they are not still married. So the counsel not to marry an unbeliever applies. And why was not the church more active in counseling him too?


Puritan Board Junior

I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer to this, but I think that a case can be made that the husband did indeed abandon his duties towards his wife. As a matter of fact, I think one can make the argument that he broke his marriage vows as well.

As far as I could tell from the exercise that the unbelieving husband was consistently, and over a long period of time, "abandoning" his duty towards his wife. Consider, for example, that instead of sleeping in the bedroom and not performing his duties, that he slept in the living room on a couch. Would you consider such an act a matter of abandonment?

Is the breaking of the marriage vows (over a long period of time) and abandonment of the marriage bed (also over a long period of time) proper grounds for divorce?

If the genders were changed, and it was the wife who consistently refused her husband over a long period of time, would that then be grounds for divorce?

Personally, I believe the wife was justified in divorcing her husband over the grounds of abandonment to the marriage vows. Thus, I believe she is free to marry in the Lord. If her ex-husband comes to faith in Christ, then I believe that she is free to marry him.

What do you think?
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