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Article 07 - Common Sense and Divorce/Remarriage

Common Sense and the Divorce/Remarriage Issue

Jon Gary Williams

On several occasions over the years, preachers and teachers have advocated that non-Christians are not subject to the New Testament teaching regarding divorce and remarriage as found in Matthew 19:9, Romans 7:1-6 and Romans 13:9. They say these texts apply only to a marriage between two Christians. This teaching has created controversy in a number of congregations, and many brethren and non-Christians have been misled.

A few years ago I wrote to a brother who was well known for holding this position. This was to inquire exactly how much responsibility he believed the non-Christian has to the marriage relationship. I asked these three questions:

"Does God recognize the marriage of two non-Christians?"

His response was "Yes."

"Can either of these non-Christians violate their marriage?"

His answer was "Yes."

"Exactly how can the non-Christian violate the marriage relationship?"

He offered 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which speaks of "adultery" and "fornication," implying the non-Christian could violate the marriage by committing the act of adultery or fornication.

This series of questions was followed by a fourth:

"Could not this violation of the marriage by a non-Christian include a case of divorce and remarriage?"

His answer was "No."

I then wrote him a fifth question:
"Based on what you have told me thus far, am I correct in assuming you believe it is not a sin when a non-Christian breaks a marriage relationship and begins to live "legally" with another person?"

I illustrated my point with this actual incident:
Last year I was approached by a lady of our congregation whose non-Christian husband was planning to leave her for another woman. She asked me to try and help. I talked to this man, and he admitted that what she had told me was true. I explained to him that it was wrong for him to divorce his wife, break up his home with three small sons, and get married to this other woman.

I then asked him: "Brother, do you believe I did right or wrong in so advising him?"

No direct response came but rather a three-page single-spaced, mimeographed response titled "A Hard Question." Apparently copies of this response were made available for others as well.

The first two pages contained a list of other difficult to answer questions about divorce and remarriage. Finally, on page 3 he gave what amounted to an indirect answer. He wrote. "I could not tell him that God did not permit him to divorce." I interpreted this to mean that he believed I had done wrong in advising this non-Christian that it was sinful for him to divorce his Christian wife and marry this other woman. This is exactly what his answer implied.

In my last letter to this brother I wrote:
"I believe you are too good a man to really believe this non-Christian did right in the situation described, but your position forces this conclusion. Hence, you felt it necessary to give an evasive reply. Would you tell me plainly did I do right or wrong? Was the doctrine 1 taught contrary to divine will or in harmony with divine will? It seems to me you have no alternative but to say 1 did wrong. And this is saying, in essence, that all gospel preachers have been in error who preached it is sin for a non-Christian to divorce his wife and marry another to gratify his lust of the flesh."

The position that one, just because he is a pagan, can forsake his mate, divorce her and marry another for selfish gratification violates all principles of godly morality and common sense. It violates the Golden Rule as well as God's plan for marriage from the beginning (Matthew 19:4-8).

Brethren who have been misled by this false teaching need to remember that any doctrine that leads to an illogical and anti-biblical conclusion and practice must be fundamentally wrong. The conclusion that it is wrong to tell a non-Christian he cannot violate the marriage relationship by divorce and remarriage violates all common sense and biblical morality. It is an affront to our sense of good judgment and an encouragement to those who wish to live in sin.

May God help us not to forsake the use of good old common sense and to stand always for the decency and morality taught in the Bible.