The Agora
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Divorce and remarriage statement

The following statement was prepared in 1950 by the Arranging Brethren of the Birmingham Central Christadelphian Ecclesia of that time; the author of this book having a part in drafting it. It appeared in "The Christadelphian" for July, 1950.

In dealing recently with a case of divorce and re-marriage, the Arranging Brethren of the Birmingham Central Ecclesia have given long and anxious consideration to the principles which should govern our attitude in such cases. Similar problems have arisen in other ecclesias and in existing circumstances may be expected to arise more frequently. It has therefore been suggested to our Arranging Brethren that a statement of the principles which have guided us in dealing with our own case may be of some service also to others.

A declaration of these principles was contained in a statement considered and endorsed by the Birmingham Central Ecclesia at special meetings... the declaration being in the following terms:

(1) The sanctity of the marriage relationship is set forth by Jesus and by his Apostles in very exalted terms. Its unique quality compared with other standards is based upon the fundamental principles expressed in Genesis (Gen 2:24) and is also set forth ideally in the union of Christ with his Church. In Revelation there appears the vision of the Marriage of the Lamb to his bride, for which marriage "his wife hath made herself ready" (Rev 19:7,8).

(2) The duties and obligations of husbands to wives and wives to husbands are also set forth with impressive beauty by Paul, notably in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 5:22-23) in which the love of Christ for his Church, and his giving of himself for it, is exhibited as the ideal to be emulated by wives and husbands.

(3) The teaching of the prophets reinforces these exalted views. For example, in Hosea the enormity of the sin of adultery applied in figure to Israel is denounced with severity on the one hand, while the appeal to the back-sliding nation to forsake this evil way and return to the Lord is made with extraordinary tenderness of thought and feeling. In the prophet Malachi, there is the passage, "The Lord the God of Israel saith that he hateth putting away", and the context makes it clear that God detests the insincere repentance on the part of any Israelite who has dealt treacherously with the wife of his youth. The teaching of Jesus himself as to the duties and obligations of the married state is set forth in several places in the gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets his own teaching against what was said of old time.

(4) According to Mat 5:31, Jesus said: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. 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."

In Mat 19:3-5, in answer to the question put to him by the Pharisees, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" Jesus took them back to the divine intention at creation: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (v 6).

To the second question by the Pharisees, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away?" Jesus replied that it was due to the hardness of men's hearts that Moses suffered this precept. This teaching maintains uncompromisingly the sanctity of the marriage relationship as set forth throughout the Scriptures.

(5) The disciples were astonished at the uncompromising nature of these declarations by Jesus, when according to Matthew, after he had thus declared himself, they remarked, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry". The Lord's answer is of great significance. He recognizes that the standpoint he has put forward is beyond the strength and determination of some; he did not modify in any way what he had already taught, but added, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it".

(6) It is plain from this teaching that estrangements between husbands and wives whenever and wherever they exist are incompatible with the high standard of conduct which the Scriptures thus set forth, and still more so is the existence of separation and the pursuit of divorce. In the light of this exalted teaching, it is considered that where estrangement is threatened between husband and wife it is a Christian duty to seek patiently and actively a renewal or resumption of normal relationship. Not only is this the duty of husband to wife and wife to husband but of those whose relationships to these would enable them to offer wise counsel with patient understanding and due recognition of the frailty of human nature. Where estrangement followed by separation has already taken place, and while re-union is still a possibility, the pursuit of divorce proceedings and re-marriage is a negation of the teaching of the Lord, inasmuch as the successful pursuit of such proceedings removes for ever the possibility of reconciliation. These considerations apply with added force where there are children.


A great change having taken place in current social standards as regards marriage contracts, and ignorance of Scripture teaching having become increasingly widespread, we believe it is essential that all applicants for baptism should assent to these principles; that with applicants who have previously been divorced, or having been divorced have re-married, this assent is especially necessary; and that before baptizing such, special consideration should be given to their knowledge, state of mind and general outlook regarding these principles. There is additional need to emphasize this course of action because of the recognition of desertion by the State as a valid legal ground for seeking divorce.

Acceptance of these principles should be required of all our members, but when a brother or sister fails to observe them there inevitably arises a separate and more difficult question. What action should the ecclesia then take? It is in the answer to this question that different points of view are found. There are those who would lay down a rigid rule which would disfellowship any brother or sister who obtains a divorce or marries a divorced person in all circumstances except those provided for by the "exceptive clause" recorded by Matthew. It would follow from this that any brother or sister so offending could only be received back into fellowship if he or she separated from the other party to the marriage. Those therefore who wish to lay down a rigid rule must face this consequence of it and must be prepared to call on the parties to separate. It should be borne in mind, however, that there are circumstances in which separation creates more problems than it solves, and many brethren and sisters are, therefore, unwilling to commit themselves irrevocably to a rule which would require separation as a condition of continuance in fellowship without regard for or any consideration of such circumstances. It is the unanimous view of the Arranging Brethren that we ought not so to commit ourselves.

While it must be recognized that divorce obtained by a brother or sister on any ground except that allowed by Jesus is a sin which cannot be overlooked, the ecclesia should not exclude the possibility of repentance. Further, while re-marriage by a divorced person, or marriage with a divorced person, are repugnant to the spirit of Christ's teaching, it is possible to envisage circumstances in which it would be unjust to lay down a course of ecclesial action without discrimination. The Arranging Brethren therefore consider that the present practice in dealing with known breaches of the Lord's commands should be maintained: where divorce, or re-marriage by a divorced person, or marriage with a divorced person, occurs, an interview should be sought, and withdrawal or other ecclesial action determined in the light of all the facts and of the principles referred to in earlier paragraphs.

In dealing with all offenders, we must remember that our aim should be, not only to admonish and rebuke, but also to restore. While endeavouring to maintain to the full the high standards of Christ's teaching, we must beware of slipping unconsciously into an attitude towards offenders which the Lord would condemn. To achieve the right balance in these matters in the spirit of our Lord's teaching, calls for prayerful and persistent effort and humility of mind.

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