Husband refusing to join a church as Biblical grounds for divorce

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Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Desertion and infidelity are the biblical grounds for divorce.
Even if a spouse were to join a cult it is not grounds for divorce.
Refusal on the part of the believing spouse to participate in unbiblical worship? Certainly.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Westminster Confession of Faith
(emphasis added)

Chapter XXIV
Of Marriage and Divorce

I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.[1]

II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife,[2] for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed;[3] and for preventing of uncleanness.[4]

III. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent.[5] Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord.[6] And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.[7]

IV. Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word.[8] Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.[9] The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred, nearer in blood then he may of his own: nor the woman of her husband's kindred, nearer in blood than of her own.[10]

V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.[11] In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce and, after the divorce,[12] to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.[13]

VI. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage:[14] wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.[15]
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Michael

Puritan Board Senior
I am in complete agreement Scott. I am just wondering about the "or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church" part and how that may be used by the opposing argument.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
We don't know the hearts of people. We don't know for sure if someone is saved or not. This is one of the reasons for church membership. If a person is a member of the visible church, under discipline, etc... then until proven otherwise we treat them as a believer. If a person rejects church membership we still can't know their heart, but for practical purposes we consider them technically unbelievers.

How does this work out? How many of you reading this and are members of confessional Reformed churches allow those who are not members in good standing of a church take communion? I assume persons who reject membership in a church are not allowed communion in most of your churches. Without commenting on the state of their salvation, they are technically considered unbelievers.

A related point: If a woman is told by her husband that she can not join a church, then she has no option but to disobey him. If he say she can't wear blue, she can't wear blue. If he says she has to kill their kids, she has to disobey him, and it's the same with church membership, since she is denying the means of grace God commanded her to be received.
 

Osage Bluestem

Puritan Board Junior
I believe that adultery, desertion with no hope of return, and if an unbelieving spouse wants to be released from the marriage, are biblical grounds for divorce.

The unbelieving spouse wishing to be released can fall into the catagory of desertion.

However, we are not allowed to divorce our unbelieving spouses because God can use us to bring them to faith.

Matthew 5:32 KJV
[32] But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:14-15 KJV
[14] For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
[15] But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I believe the desertion spoken of in 1 Corinthians 7 would constitute more than simply not joining the church (as serious as that is); in the 1 Corinthians context, it most likely involve two pagans who were married, and then after marriage one of them converted. The believing spouse then asks the question, "What shall I do?" Paul says, as long as the unbelieving spouse is willing to remain married, do not divorce. However, if that spouse actually "deserts" ("it's either me or God and if you don't stop this Christianity stuff, I'm leaving"), then it is permissible.

We need to very careful here; I've seen a lot of importing modern concepts into what actually constitutes desertion. :2cents:
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
We need to very careful here; I've seen a lot of importing modern concepts into what actually constitutes desertion. :2cents:
Amen. There are badly twisted scenarios that we are tempted to just fix through human means. How about the drug-addicted husband who occasionally claims Christ, hates the church, won't work, while his believing wife works two jobs and goes by herself to worship? He is very fond of saying he is pleased to live with her--after all, she's paying the bills.

Tough calls in our sinful world. But we are told that God sanctifies even broken households through the believing spouse.
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
Humor me, please, Tim. I don't see how your points speaks to the thread topic. Please make the application, if there is such.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am in complete agreement Scott. I am just wondering about the "or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church" part and how that may be used by the opposing argument.
What I understand this to mean, is that a believer never has biblical grounds when he abandons an unbeliever.

But if an unbeliever abandons a believer in such a way that neither the church nor magistrate can remedy the breach, then it is grounds for the (innocent) believer. (Remember, Scripture views marriage and its attendant vows as a contract)

Abandonment would be like disappearing without a trace, such that they could not be found, even by a court seeking them.

Examples of remedies?

Things like church discipline in the church.

Things like child support, alimony, child neglect through the magistrate.
 

Michael

Puritan Board Senior
Scott,

I am going to ask from the perspective opposite of my own...

If a husband is not a member of a church, how can church discipline help? Or what if a husband is a member but will not submit to church discipline?

Do these things warrant divorce under the Confession since the church has no remedy?
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Humor me, please, Tim. I don't see how your points speaks to the thread topic. Please make the application, if there is such.
I am simply saying that "not joining the church" is not to be equated with "desertion" as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7, which would imply the abandonment of the spouse. My second paragraph was an extension of that thought, where I only wanted to put out that some folks place fast and loose with the word "desertion." One denomination, for instance, once interpreted "desertion" to mean that the feelings of one spouse had simply grown cold for the other. In other words,, desertion seems to be made pliable to fit the terms for "no-fault divorce." I want us to avoid the idea that if the marriage isn't somehow "perfect," then abandonment is somehow taking place and the Christian has an excuse to end the marriage.

:oops: I just realized I was not the "Tim" in question. I knew that; everyone calls me Marrow Man on here. :doh:
 
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tcalbrecht

Puritan Board Junior
Scott,

I am going to ask from the perspective opposite of my own...

If a husband is not a member of a church, how can church discipline help? Or what if a husband is a member but will not submit to church discipline?

Do these things warrant divorce under the Confession since the church has no remedy?

Divorce is not permitted unless there is real desertion. The Confession says, "or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church". If the church cannot remedy the desertion by her lawfully appointed means, then the spouse is free to remarry. However, even if the spouse is excommunicated, as long as they are living at home the other (believing) party may not divorce.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Scripture Proof
Chapter XXIV (6)

[14] MAT 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. 1CO 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. MAT 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Michael Turner
If a husband is not a member of a church, how can church discipline help? Or what if a husband is a member but will not submit to church discipline?

Do these things warrant divorce under the Confession since the church has no remedy?
The Scripture proofs show the statement has in view a believer being abandoned by an unbeliever. The question is whether God, and by consequence, the church would recognize dissolution of the contract on that basis... and thus allow re-marriage by the innocent party, in this case, a believer.

The Confession summarizes the doctrine of Scripture to say, yes, if there was no remedy either in church or magistrate to repair the breach.

The breach is the failure to uphold the basic marital contract entered in to.

In theory, church discipline is not dependent on the "willingness" of a member to "submit" to it. It is based on the "keys of the Kingdom" God gave His church to exercise that authority.

For example, let's say a man runs off with the church organist, a woman who is married to another man. The church could proceed en absentia with discipline, up to and including ex-communication. This would be an authoritative declaration in the Kingdom of God (I realize it is not viewed as such commonly in our generation, even in many churches). But God backs that authority.

So, what is the effect?

Well, a church cannot validly marry them (any church).

Their second marriage would be adultery.

The particular church would be turning them over to the chastisement of the Lord, outside the church.

What would God do with their situation?

I don't know, shut off from the ordinary means of grace... but they will not be living happily ever after. A few stories of church discipline I'm aware of have had drastic ends.

A person who rebels against God openly, rejects the authority of the church, and is declared "as if" an unbeliever is not free. He is under the chastisement of God, outside the protection and benefit of His people.

In his falleness, man imagines that is "freedom." But the Scripture describes it about as close to hell on earth as can be.

GI Williamson, in the Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, discusses this in relation to the Confession. http://www.cepbookstore.com/p-284-the-westminster-confession-of.aspx
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Yes, Wayne, it was a set up to an application ;-)

Tough calls in our sinful world. But we are told that God sanctifies even broken households through the believing spouse.
Does the unbelieving spouse in that passage have the right to leave?
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Yes, Wayne, it was a set up to an application ;-)

Tough calls in our sinful world. But we are told that God sanctifies even broken households through the believing spouse.
Does the unbelieving spouse in that passage have the right to leave?
The unbelieving spouse? My guess is that the unbelieving spouse would think he had the "right" regardless of Scripture, but according to the Creation ordinance of marriage, he does not. I was thinking more about whether the believing spouse had the right to leave.

To clarify, my scenario was this: Wife works two jobs, is a faithful believer, pays rent. Husband doesn't work, hates church, does illegal things, but he is pleased to live with his wife.

He hasn't literally abandoned her because he is still present. But he provides no support and puts her at risk. She certainly has the legal right to put him out of the house and cut off support as long as he is putting her in legal jeopardy, but I'm not quite ready to say that he has deserted her such that divorce is warranted by Scripture.

But the passage refers to a much happier set of circumstances, I think. You have an unbelieving spouse who, by God's grace and probably natural revelation, is pleased to fulfill his or her God-ordained role in a marriage. We've seen this often: The hardworking husband who takes his believing wife to church every Lord's Day, sits with her, takes her home, and yet refuses to believe in Christ. She is definitely to stay with him.

Or even the indifferent one who loves his (or her) spouse, couldn't care less about God or church, but does not interfere with that aspect of the other's life. No question, they stay together.

As an example, I recall Murray Rothbard, an atheist, saying that he loved his presbyterian wife and told the Randists to take a leap for suggesting he divorce her on the grounds of her irrationality. I think that is the type of mixed marriage the passage talks about. (Staying away from the idea of whether the believing spouse was converted before or after marriage--once married, it is a solemn thing, rightly done or not).
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
That was a typo, Vic, sorry. Let me rephrase it. Does the believing spouse have the right to remarry if there was no adultery involved? Why or why not?

1Co 7:13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
1Co 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
 

Michael

Puritan Board Senior
Scott,

Your example does not exactly relate to the thread topic. Would you support a wife who sought to divorce her husband because he either would not join a church or even if he was a member if he would not submit to church discipline (even discipline that had nothing to do with adultery)?

I'm sure that question could have been worded better but I think you get the drift...
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
That was a typo, Vic, sorry. Let me rephrase it. Does the believing spouse have the right to remarry if there was no adultery involved? Why or why not?

1Co 7:13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
1Co 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
I think the phrase "not enslaved" (or not in bondage) answers it. It looks as if the believing spouse, once abandoned, is no longer under any the law of marriage and is free to remarry.

Of course, Mark 10 is important. From that it looks like the one initiating the divorce is not to remarry. Here, I think, is where our modern ideas interfere with what scripture is saying.

For example, the unbelieving spouse leaves with no forwarding address. The believing spouse is forced to initate a legal divorce in court to formally establish the separation. I think the unbelieving spouse "initiated" the divorce, despite the fact that the believing spouse signed the petition.

Under that understanding, I think the believing spouse is free to remarry because he or she is not under the law of marriage and has been told expressly that he or she is free.

But this line of discussion is going astray from the original question. Maybe it needs another thread.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
I should point out that I agree whole heartedly that we need to avoid splitting hairs to justify something God hates. Believe me, I was on the recieving end of it and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. And when I brought it up on that other thread it was in the context of how important it is to disobey a husband in certain circumstances. But to continue

I believe that adultery, desertion with no hope of return, and if an unbelieving spouse wants to be released from the marriage, are biblical grounds for divorce.
I do not think that you should think of desertion in terms of only distance.

1Co 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
1Co 7:3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
1Co 7:4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
1Co 7:5 Do not deprive one another
 

Michael

Puritan Board Senior
Tim, that passage from 1Cor 7 is clearly about sex in marriage. Are you suggesting that if one partner does not oblige the other with sex that it constitutes a desertion that would warrant biblical divorce? We all know that this the common understanding in the civil courts of our land, but do you think that is what God is revealing here?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Scott,

Your example does not exactly relate to the thread topic. Would you support a wife who sought to divorce her husband because he either would not join a church or even if he was a member if he would not submit to church discipline (even discipline that had nothing to do with adultery)?

I'm sure that question could have been worded better but I think you get the drift...
We're starting from a premise of the Westminster Standards that the only grounds, in God's eyes are:

1) adultery
2) believer being irremediably abandoned by an unbeliever

There are no other grounds, in God's eyes, while the two parties are alive.

So, grounds would not include refusing to go to Church, proving themselves out apostate, refusing to submit to church discipline.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Tim, that passage from 1Cor 7 is clearly about sex in marriage. Are you suggesting that if one partner does not oblige the other with sex that it constitutes a desertion that would warrant biblical divorce? We all know that this the common understanding in the civil courts of our land, but do you think that is what God is revealing here?
It would highly surprise me if any mature session in the PCA, OPC, ARP etc.. hadn't made at least one ruling over the years of either adultery or desertion in the case of one partner withholding sex. Or at least not many sessions. Remember words like adultery are summaries of types of behaviors, and are expanded in both Scripture and our confession.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
BTW before I offend anyone, it was a complicated case that I was referring to, and while I think it can be defended if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have posted anything on that other thread.

It's on going, so bare outline only. Man and wife both confession Christians, man develops big problems, becomes very cruel, rejects all established churches, won't let her go to confessional church, etc... I'm asked for advice, and I talked to my pastor and several of the older, wiser people here privately, and everyone was unanimous, that a ruling of excommunication could be made which would free up the wife and allow for a divorce. That doesn't settle whether she could get married again, though.

I'll drop the claim in the form I made it. But in general, adultery and desertion aren't just a spouse sleeping with someone else or buying a one way ticket somewhere. The Scripture I posted, Michael was just a bit above the divorce section and tied in with it.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Tim, that passage from 1Cor 7 is clearly about sex in marriage. Are you suggesting that if one partner does not oblige the other with sex that it constitutes a desertion that would warrant biblical divorce? We all know that this the common understanding in the civil courts of our land, but do you think that is what God is revealing here?
I will have to look up the specifics later, but I do know that some of the Reformers believed that withholding sex could be grounds for divorce.
 

Michael

Puritan Board Senior
TimV said:
It would highly surprise me if any mature session in the PCA, OPC, ARP etc.. hadn't made at least one ruling over the years of either adultery or desertion in the case of one partner withholding sex. Or at least not many sessions. Remember words like adultery are summaries of types of behaviors, and are expanded in both Scripture and our confession.
I'm sorry but this just doesn't seem to comport with Scripture. In examining the scope of adultery there are no doubt varying levels of sin. But I can't imagine anyone suggesting that adultery of the heart (lust) the way Christ described in Matthew 5 includes a suggestion as grounds for divorce.

Now if a husband, for instance, was cheating on his wife and thereby withholding sex from her in favor of another, then the grounds for divorce would seem to be based the act of adultery itself. From that point, the divorce is lawful and there is no reason that anyone needs to even consider the withholding part. Keep in mind that an adulterer can commit his/her sin with another and "not withhold" from his/her spouse too.

However, let's say a wife has lost her libido, suffers from depression, and refuses sex to her spouse for one reason or another--yet she has not pursued another man. Can he divorce her? From what I find in Scripture I would say no way.

-----Added 12/8/2009 at 06:19:30 EST-----

TimV said:
I'll drop the claim in the form I made it. But in general, adultery and desertion aren't just a spouse sleeping with someone else or buying a one way ticket somewhere.
At this point I would agree on the desertion part, but tentatively. Surely a host of unique examples might need to be carefully considered. The greater danger, it would seem, would be to define desertion in such a way that *we* would be satisfied to approve divorce, rather than God.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
However, let's say a wife has lost her libido, suffers from depression, and refuses sex to her spouse for one reason or another--yet she has not pursued another man. Can he divorce her? From what I find in Scripture I would say no way.
So a wife won't let her husband touch her for say 2 or 3 years. Would you say that was sexual immorality on her part, keeping those verses in mind?
 

Michael

Puritan Board Senior
TimV said:
So a wife won't let her husband touch her for say 2 or 3 years. Would you say that was sexual immorality on her part, keeping those verses in mind?
My initial reaction would be that she would be guilty of disobedience, not necessarily desertion. There are plenty duties to being a wife beyond the bedroom.

If a wife refuses to let her husband touch her for that long, there is surely a deeper problem(s). This would have to be sorted through obviously.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
If a wife refuses to let her husband touch her for that long, there is surely a deeper problem(s). This would have to be sorted through obviously.
But is it sexual immorality?
 
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