Can a Church do this?

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I was reading Thomas Aquinas recently and came to his question on whether wife-murder is an impediment to marriage. In answering the question he states that,

A canon (caus. xxxiii, qu. ii, can. Interfectores) says: "The slayers of their own wives must be brought back to penance, and they are absolutely forbidden to marry."

This raised the question in my mind as to whether a church has valid authority to forbid such marriages. I’ve been reading from here https://reformedbooksonline.com/on-guilt-innocence-in-breaking-church-ordinances-on-contumacy/ in trying to answer this question and it makes me wonder whether the Reformed would allow that a church can create such a law to forbid marriage to those who have killed their own wives on the basis that the next marriage would be scandalous?

And if so, then I’m wondering, how far into the personal lives of its members can the church’s laws extend? I can understand how a church might create rules about the time of worship and things relating immediately to the gathering of the saints and the public worship of God, but if it can forbid even marriages on the basis of scandal, what else can it forbid in the personal lives of its members on the basis of scandal?
 
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On a number of topics, your recent concern seems to be church-legislation. As Protestants, we don't do what Rome does, and create body of "canon law." Judicially, we deal with cases. We take particular situations to the bar of the word of God, and try to make a holy and just decision that has divine approval, that the final Judge and tribunal will ratify when he reviews what was done on earth. Different courts may rule in similar cases with different results, but since there is no "system" of courts here on earth (beyond a denomination's structure), the Supreme Court of Heaven is it. Ideally, on earth cases with great similarity end up with vaguely consistent results. But there is going to be flexibility as human minds from many congregations make their diverse efforts at finding the truth of a case, seeking the wisdom of God, and establishing justice in the kingdom of God.

Are the P&R churches today in much of a position to prohibit a marriage, if it is within the cultural legal-right of a person to marry? Our churches should forbid membership (or expel the immoral) to any who obtain a secular-legal samesex license, because no matter what the State says, it cannot make just what is morally reprehensible according to Scripture. But how will we respond if a wife-murderer--now a church member--gets engaged to someone? Is this fiancee a member of this same congregation or church body? Shall the church try to warn the non-murdering party about the other's past? Shall the pastor refuse to conduct the ceremony? Does the member (or both members) face discipline and excommunication when they show up one week having been married by a justice of the peace? I say we must deal with the people as they are, in the estate they are, regardless of our former counsels to one or both.

Let Rome do what it does, say what it says, deal with its internal "legal system" inasmuch as it functions as a kind of literal nation-state on the earth. Our churches have no obligation to imitate them. Our concerns are spiritual, though these concerns will have reflection and impact in the secular lives of our members who live under two governments. We should only take up particular questions, in real world situations, and rule on them with little concern for "precedent." We should avoid, whenever possible, entanglements like forbidding marriages. We should take Jesus' perspective, who rebuffed one fellow who came to him for a Messianic, kingly decision, Lk.12:13-14, "And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" Jesus was not going to supply that sort of rule in earthly affairs. Yet, there may well be some cases that the church cannot avoid, as issues are forced on them to deal with.
 
I was reading Thomas Aquinas recently and came to his question on whether wife-murder is an impediment to marriage. In answering the question he states that,

A canon (caus. xxxiii, qu. ii, can. Interfectores) says: "The slayers of their own wives must be brought back to penance, and they are absolutely forbidden to marry."

This raised the question in my mind as to whether a church has valid authority to forbid such marriages. I’ve been reading from here https://reformedbooksonline.com/on-guilt-innocence-in-breaking-church-ordinances-on-contumacy/ in trying to answer this question and it makes me wonder whether the Reformed would allow that a church can create such a law to forbid marriage to those who have killed their own wives on the basis that the next marriage would be scandalous?

And if so, then I’m wondering, how far into the personal lives of its members can the church’s laws extend? I can understand how a church might create rules about the time of worship and things relating immediately to the gathering of the saints and the public worship of God, but if it can forbid even marriages on the basis of scandal, what else can it forbid in the personal lives of its members on the basis of scandal?
Practically speaking, what woman in the world would marry a man that murdered his previous wife? I'm sure they are out there, but wow. Talk about a red flag. I can't imagine that conversation when it comes up. "So how did your relationship end with your previous wife?"
 
On a number of topics, your recent concern seems to be church-legislation. As Protestants, we don't do what Rome does, and create body of "canon law." Judicially, we deal with cases. We take particular situations to the bar of the word of God, and try to make a holy and just decision that has divine approval, that the final Judge and tribunal will ratify when he reviews what was done on earth. Different courts may rule in similar cases with different results, but since there is no "system" of courts here on earth (beyond a denomination's structure), the Supreme Court of Heaven is it. Ideally, on earth cases with great similarity end up with vaguely consistent results. But there is going to be flexibility as human minds from many congregations make their diverse efforts at finding the truth of a case, seeking the wisdom of God, and establishing justice in the kingdom of God.

Are the P&R churches today in much of a position to prohibit a marriage, if it is within the cultural legal-right of a person to marry? Our churches should forbid membership (or expel the immoral) to any who obtain a secular-legal samesex license, because no matter what the State says, it cannot make just what is morally reprehensible according to Scripture. But how will we respond if a wife-murderer--now a church member--gets engaged to someone? Is this fiancee a member of this same congregation or church body? Shall the church try to warn the non-murdering party about the other's past? Shall the pastor refuse to conduct the ceremony? Does the member (or both members) face discipline and excommunication when they show up one week having been married by a justice of the peace? I say we must deal with the people as they are, in the estate they are, regardless of our former counsels to one or both.

Let Rome do what it does, say what it says, deal with its internal "legal system" inasmuch as it functions as a kind of literal nation-state on the earth. Our churches have no obligation to imitate them. Our concerns are spiritual, though these concerns will have reflection and impact in the secular lives of our members who live under two governments. We should only take up particular questions, in real world situations, and rule on them with little concern for "precedent." We should avoid, whenever possible, entanglements like forbidding marriages. We should take Jesus' perspective, who rebuffed one fellow who came to him for a Messianic, kingly decision, Lk.12:13-14, "And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" Jesus was not going to supply that sort of rule in earthly affairs. Yet, there may well be some cases that the church cannot avoid, as issues are forced on them to deal with.
I would have said the same regarding church-legislation, but after reading, I’ve been surprised about how positively the Reformed seem to speak of it. It’s very interesting to me that they see the Jerusalem Council as legitimately forbidding something indifferent (eating blood) in the lives of its members. This raises a whole lot of questions in my mind as to what a church is able to legislate in the personal lives of members and whether this situation posed by Thomas (a church saying “you cannot get married if you murdered your first wife”) would be parallel to the issue of eating blood, both restrictions being imposed due to scandal and both restrictions relating to the personal lives of members rather than to church order.
 
Also keep in mind that Aquinas was ministering to a VERY different religious and legal atmosphere. And we aren't Roman Catholics. For that matter, Vatican 2 Catholics would probably not follow Aquinas either.
 
I would have said the same regarding church-legislation, but after reading, I’ve been surprised about how positively the Reformed seem to speak of it. It’s very interesting to me that they see the Jerusalem Council as legitimately forbidding something indifferent (eating blood) in the lives of its members. This raises a whole lot of questions in my mind as to what a church is able to legislate in the personal lives of members and whether this situation posed by Thomas (a church saying “you cannot get married if you murdered your first wife”) would be parallel to the issue of eating blood, both restrictions being imposed due to scandal and both restrictions relating to the personal lives of members rather than to church order.
I suppose what’s strange to me about these examples (of the church forbidding eating blood and marrying after murder) lies in that the church is making a determination on these non-ecclesiastical matters. It’s true that these things are scandalous, but why/how is it the church has authority to make these laws? It is as if a school teacher or your boss at work were to forbid you from eating blood because it is scandalous or marrying after murder on the same grounds.
 
I suppose what’s strange to me about these examples (of the church forbidding eating blood and marrying after murder) lies in that the church is making a determination on these non-ecclesiastical matters. It’s true that these things are scandalous, but why/how is it the church has authority to make these laws? It is as if a school teacher or your boss at work were to forbid you from eating blood because it is scandalous or marrying after murder on the same grounds.

1,000 years ago the line between church and society was blurred. Many canon laws were designed to regulate order in society.
 
Practically speaking, what woman in the world would marry a man that murdered his previous wife?

A different dynamic, but perhaps some relationship to that question, an unfortunate number of women who get out of an abusive relationship go and find a new man to abuse them. In some cases it's a feeling that they can fix them.
 
It’s very interesting to me that they see the Jerusalem Council as legitimately forbidding something indifferent (eating blood) in the lives of its members.

Genesis 9 may or may not apply (there are arguments for and against), but that's why they didn't just treat it as indifferent.
 
I would have said the same regarding church-legislation, but after reading, I’ve been surprised about how positively the Reformed seem to speak of it. It’s very interesting to me that they see the Jerusalem Council as legitimately forbidding something indifferent (eating blood) in the lives of its members. This raises a whole lot of questions in my mind as to what a church is able to legislate in the personal lives of members and whether this situation posed by Thomas (a church saying “you cannot get married if you murdered your first wife”) would be parallel to the issue of eating blood, both restrictions being imposed due to scandal and both restrictions relating to the personal lives of members rather than to church order.
I chalk it up to Reformed folk (then and now) not yet having recognized the end of Christendom.

I don't think the Jerusalem Council's judgments have as often been interpreted accurately as they might have been; I don't believe their ruling was in regard to an adiaphoron, but on the whole (in three parts) gave guidance to the Gentiles on how to interpret the OT (the Law of Moses in particular) with respect to them and their full inclusion in the NT church.

In short, the moral law excepted, all of Moses was done away, including the ceremonial demand for circumcision; the law might safely be consulted to explain to the Gentiles in their forgetful ignorance what behaviors constituted sexual immorality; meats sacrificed to idols inculpated partakers in idolatry (a moral law violation) and ought to be avoided--this stricture required other clarification such as Paul supplies later in his epistles; and if there was any other law of God that appeared more universal in the historical progress recorded in the sacred history (ala law forbidding eating blood) that should be minded by the Gentiles so long as there was any question of conscience or needless offense about it (which is to say, even if this law is brought under the Old Covenant ceremony and eventually done away, yet the Council gave a safe interpretive guide to the Gentiles handling holy writ seeking the mind of God).​

The church should avoid overstepping the limits of its supervisory authority. Human governments have a tendency to seek an increase in control at the expense of liberty, in the case of the church even at the expense of Christian liberty. This habit must be intentionally resisted by church governors. Church government should be extremely reluctant to make extra rules over the private lives of its members beyond that which the word of God dictates. The proliferation of law does not encourage grace-motivated obedience, or stronger conformity to the moral law.

At one time the church in the West began to function as a de facto preserver of social order, due to the collapse of central State authority that only returned slowly over a long period. In some senses this was helpful to people, even unbelievers; but in the long term (as everyone pretty much was made a church member by default irrespective of faith and commitment to the church in its proper role and function) we find the church does not make a good policeman. It can barely do well attempting proper church discipline over its professing membership, using biblical church government.

When a church governor claims temporal authority over geography, and eventually extends those claims over other (all!) secular human authorities, it is plain that empire has gone to someone's head. Biblical church government cannot cope with the claims, and other expedients are inevitably sought out. Canon law is only one example of the nonsense that men resort to. Why does Rome's emperor (pope) have a Secretary of State? The simple answer is that this church through its head and bureaucracy imagines itself along the lines of a literal nation state (despite its loss of most of its exclusive territorial possessions).

The real relation of the church on earth and its government to other nations is, yes and truly, as a "peer," but not as one that treats with them, with one head of State interacting with another directly or through his minions. The elders of your local church are "peers" with (for example) a county councilman, or a state or national congressperson, or a presidential cabinet member; these "levels" of secular governance do not have good parallels with Christ's church. Biblical church government (see a Presbyterian book of church order, look to the opening statements) recognizes that every elder's meeting, no matter the size, exercises the whole of church power, entrusted to the whole church and its elders. For this reason, the local church or a denomination comprised of many congregations expressing itself as a whole takes the demands of secular authority "under advisement." More often than not, the church should comply with these alien powers; but sometimes the church should say, "With all due respect, we must obey our Sovereign, and yours."

Having digressed just a bit... the historical reasons for why the church may have expanded its management of affairs into a totalitarian sphere is interesting, but only for the sake of recognizing what happened and why; and hopefully not to seek again to replicate but repudiate the effort. If in a present or future instance a Session or Presbytery or Assembly of the church takes a prudential step of command over its members in something ordinarily left to personal, Christian prudence because of a crisis; the same body should be prepared to review its decision at any moment, possibly with a view toward eliminating that control, returning that power to the membership individually. How rare it is, when a human government acts on principle and rapidly as possible relinquishes the power it has taken in an emergency authorization (with supposed limitations), and settles back into a relatively less domineering mode, seeing as its main interest preserving the liberty of the members.
 
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