SanctiFusion

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Remarried, and Ordained?

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north_dakota_abandoned_farmhouse “..The Husband of One Wife”  An odd phrase, to our ears today. One husband to one wife, one wife to one husband, isn’t that the way it works? But the New Testament requires a candidate for Church office be that kind of husband. What does this mean?

In modern churches it is common for that phrase to mean that if a man has been divorced, or remarried, he is disqualified because he is either no longer the husband of the wife from whom he is divorced, or if remarried, then he is still actually the husband of two wives. Alimony could be a factor in this, but it is not. What is the source of this thinking?

During the monastic movement of the Middle Ages there was a strong trend toward a formalised sacramentalism. What this means is that, for instance, while being baptised is a sign of one’s having come to faith in Christ, “Formalism” would say that the sacrament of baptism causes the conversion. With this kind of thinking, reading a passage in which Jesus says, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” gives the idea that the marriage bond, that is, every marriage, is something mystically created by the will of God and is therefore more sacred to God than the lives of the people in that bond, and that it is impossible for that bond to be violated. One way of looking at it would be to suppose that at a wedding ceremony, after the vows (the covenant) have been repeated and witnessed before God and the Church and community, and the priest, rabbi, or minister says, “I now pronounce you man and wife. What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” that the second sentence anulls the vows and makes his own pronouncement the grounds for the marriage. It no longer matters that they have vowed to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to one another. Those are the conditions of the agreement, but the sacramental statement has just made the marriage unconditional. If unconditional, then in effect each partner is allowed, even licensed, to break all the vows, to break, disgrace, and endanger one another, all the time their misdeeds having no effect on the “marriage.” After all- Marriage is a “sacrament.” The Bible says so, doesn’t it?

To offer an answer to this, we have to consider two things. First, we need to see that a sacrement, as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace,” is an indication. It is not in itself the cause of anything. But how do we have the idea that Marriage is sacramental? We read in 1st Corinthians thp at the marriage relationship is a “musterion,” a puzzle or a revelation, which reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the Greek New Testament called it, “musterion,” the Latin which the monks in Europe would use translated it as “sacramentum.” This was a fair translation in the 4th century when Jerome used it, but words do change their meaning over time, as reflected in the way in which the word shifted over the next 800 years from what could indicate a grace given to being the grace itself. In other words, God taught Paul that he could use the love between a husband and wife as an example (musterion) of Jesus’ love for the Church, and about a thousand years later that became the ground for so many mystically-minded celibate men to presume a kind of “sacramental” aura over each individual marriage which had nothing substantial to do with any marriage in particular. But did Jesus say that marriages could not be broken?

If that had been the case, then Jesus, Whom Christians know and experience as the Word, Incarnate, was contradicting himself. He had given instructions, through Moses, that a marriage could be terminated, for the sake of the wronged party, as a means of protection and for the continuation of the nation (“Be fruitful and multiply.”), and in His Sermon, He had said that, “not one jot or tittle (of the Law) will pass away until all things have been fulfilled.” Divorce, which was instituted in the Law as a “way of escape (2nd Corin. 5:17),” guaranteed the right to remarry, thus declaring the former covenant null, void, and unenforceable. The (former) husband of the first wife was free from that bond and could go on to build a family with another wife, with no disgrace, but rather with the support of the community. In his second marriage, he would still be, “the husband of one wife.” But what about the Corinthians, and the Church today?

The Greek culture had developed, according to Philo, largely from the Jewish wisdom brought there by the Diaspora from Babylon, or possibly from the Samaritan dispersion. Their understanding of divorce, then, was similar to Moses’. For someone to remain single was unnatural. Such a one was not upholding their civic duty to provide children for the next generation and might be taking an unhealthy interest in other’s mates. Why would someone want to remain single, anyway? If someone were divorced, it was in order to have the right to remarry at some point, and probably with little delay. What was Paul’s response?

In 1st Corin. 7 Paul was responding to a letter which had proposed that a celibate life was a good thing (v. 1). Indeed, he said, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (v. 2)” While he does spend some discussion in this chapter on the practical advantages of celibacy he then goes back (vv. 25- 28) to point out that, for betrothed or divorced, marriage is yet an acceptable choice. How should we understand this today?

In short, today we have a church culture which, because of a mistake by celibate mystics some 1,000 years back, puts divorced people in an undefined category somewhere between regular fellowship and irredeemable. Though they may have divorced as a last-ditch effort to save their lives or the lives of their children, they, being divorced, cannot be a regular part of the fellowship and, on the other hand, must surely never remarry! No Scripture supports this approach, though many reprove it. To make matters worse, if a candidate for ministry has a divorce in his past, and especially a remarriage, this same superstitious misreading of Scripture bars him from doing what God has called him to do, and so bars the Church from hearing the messenger God has sent. In a culture in which nearly everyone is affected in some way by divorce, the preacher most qualified to minister to such is the one preacher denied the opportunity to do so. It is hard to imagine the pain this kind of policy creates and prolongs; it is hard to imagine the number of called and qualified pastors whose ministries are cut short and destroyed; it is hard to imagine the number of people who are denied Gospel ministry; but most of all it is hard to imagine how God is glorified through such a confused sense of “obedience.”

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 4 October, 2009 at 21:54

The “Christian Minority”

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In Western society the Church is in the minority. In even the “Bible Belt” only a minority of the population is actually in church on a given Sunday, or is even nominally active in a church. This much is known and noticed. Yet there is enough of a minority that it should have a significant influence- far more than it does, especially in terms of real evangelism. What is the problem?

In actual fact, the “active” Church is far smaller than what is recognised. We start with recognising that 80% of the work, as in any organisation, is done by 20% of the membership, but then let’s look at that membership.

In any given church today, between 55% and 80% or more of the congregation is women. Church traditions vary from one group to another, but it is safe to say that of the roles most directly linked to the ministry of the church, most of them are closed to women’s participation. Without getting close to approaching the Women’s Ordination question, we do well to ask of the Lord had the same policies when He chose women to announce His Resurrection to the men and defended a woman’s right to sit at His feet to learn theology. There were men and women receiving the Spirit in the Upper Room, Philip’s four daughters preached (one may preach (proclaim) without prophesying, but prophesy without preaching?), and it was not uncommon for Paul to recognise female “co-labourers” in his epistles.

Due to factors better discussed elsewhere, the Church has over a 60% divorce rate to a 50% rate outside. In many churches, divorce is seen as a permanent disqualification for service in the Church, except maybe something behind the scenes like knitting or taking a turn cooking for the men’s breakfast. This, of course, is seldom a problem since once a person does divorce they generally become an unwelcome stranger to their best friends, and are gone within a month. This is a majority of the Church’s adults, lost to their churches. Very often, these are people who have risked all they had to save their marriages, and possibly survived the break-up only at the very highest cost, only to see their best friends all to ready to believe any bad thing heard or imagined against them. Not only does this cost the churches some good people, but the ones who stay are poisoned by the violence they have done to their hurting brothers and sisters.

So, then, before examining the increasing marginalisation of seniors and the all-too common practice of giving the “prominent” members full reign in church matters, and before bemoaning that the noble 20% are carrying the load, we have already reduced the number eligible for much else but parking cars down to 20%. If only 20% are allowed to serve, and the 80/20 rule applies, that means that the churches are presuming to carry on with the talents not of 20%, but of closer to 4% at best. And that 4% can’t even claim any great dedication, since they’ve reduced themselves to such an “elite” group by running off all those who wish they could serve. Now if we take that 4%, and divide out the ones holding to an authentic Christian faith in the face of so many innovations, and find what part of that group is not affected by a sense of prejudice and elitism in their having “attained” that status, we might be close to identifying the actual, living, Church.

Faithful Reader, if you’ve read this far, please take this as it is intended: Not to build a spiral of ill-feelings, but to encourage, exhort, beg everyone to examine ourselves in light of the revealed truth and love of God, and apply ourselves to be “part of the solution,” regardless the cost. The Gospel went out to the known world, at first, with no more than what meets at your church on a Sunday. That was with all the technology of a scribe’s brushes and the back of a strong mule. Once the Christians are right with God, once we’ve turned from our own prides and prejudices, and been transformed and anointed for the work we can finish the job, but not before. The time to repent, to learn, and to act is now.

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 26 September, 2009 at 21:21

May the Divorced Remarry?

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divorce trauma3
This question has plagued people now for centuries. The consensus in many “Bible-believing churches (should this be redundant?)” is that Jesus said it was an absolute no-no because God has decreed that every marriage is forever, end of discussion. But is this the case?

Before going farther, there is no intent here to encourage anyone to take the marriage vows any less seriously. “Til death do us part” still means the same thing and, as many of us know, divorce can be even worse than death for those so-affected. If you are married, then unless your life is in real danger, that is, if at all possible, make it work, please! Many go running out that “back door” only to find themselves slammed through the brick wall on the other side of the doorway.

If Jesus said that divorce is a sin, and that those divorced must stay single, then we have an interpretation problem. In the Sermon on the Mount He had said that He would not be changing “one jot or one tittle” of the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it. As a body, it is “fulfilled” when every figure and prediction has come to pass. At present count, the 2/3 which covers the Second Coming and the Kingdom Age is yet to happen. The Law, then, including the parts in which God gave the statutes for divorce as well as the parts for honoring parents, respecting others’ property, and loving God with our all, are still in effect.

“Giving divorce?” Yes, before the Giving of the Law divorce did not exist. A man had all rights in the marriage, including to expect a deserted wife to wait for him indefinitely in case he wanted to come back in a few years and sell her and her children on the auction block. God, through Moses, changed this for His people. “For the hardness of your hearts it was given” Jesus said. To protect the injured party from continued neglect, abuse, or infidelity the Law allowed a clean break, with a certificate to show that person was free to remarry or, as Moses wrote it, “free to go where she will.” Marriage, even remarriage, was the norm because of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” and the male-driven economy which made it nigh-to-impossible for a woman to strike out on her own. This would have been the exception, not the rule.

If we but recognise that Jesus is, Himself, the Word, the Logos, of God, then we see that for Him to change course with any detail of the Law would be for Him to contradict Himself as the Law-Giver. It was not His purpose to outlaw divorce, or any other detail of the Law. As much as it can hurt, and yes it can be about like an amputation, if the amputation takes years to complete and the anesthetic is in short supply. But like an amputation it is not done for cosmetic purposes unless one is either incredibly dense or psychotic, but to save a life. In like manner, for the Church to marginalise the divorced would be like a handicapped parking spot being open for all but amputees.

Is this the whole story? Not by a long shot. There is more- We have yet to touch on Jesus actual words on the subject, or the implications in the Church for leadership, or the charge given to modern pastors and leaders for dealing with the situation as it stands. But this is a good spot to stop for questions. What’s yours?

Written by Robert Easter

Wednesday, 9 September, 2009 at 20:21

The Suicides of the Fathers

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Reading of a famous writer, whose young life had been marked by his own father’s suicide. How tragic! And yet, how real to so many. The father’s eyes had turned inward. Inward to his own weakness, his own inadequacy: His humanity. It was too much for him, and he withdrew. Withdrew from the company of others he saw as beyond helping: Unwilling, unable, or else unfit, at any rate he withdrew- from human company, from his family, his son, from life.

Is this unusual, or was it just that his method was more pronounced? What of fathers today who don’t swallow a pistol, or kiss a Freightliner? How many children today grow up with Daddy in the picture, but realise as they mature that he was only posing? That Daddy was already dead to them, dressed in his burial suit as he vanished into a grave of career, ambition, or drink? Escaped from human company, from his family, his son, from life, pursuing a dream, inheriting a nightmare. The greatest tragedy is that he is never alone, has never escaped, but the nightmare he inherits becomes the mother’s life, and a legacy for his children. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 9 August, 2008 at 16:07

The Wounded Healers

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So What about Divorce?

“A bishop shall be the husband of one wife…” So says my beloved KJV. One piece of a verse, we hear so often in discussing someone’s (un)fitness for ministry. To some,the thinking is that if a man is divorced, he is no longer a husband, but if he remarries he has somehow become the husband of two women? This verse, along with others about head coverings, hair styles, jewelry, clothing, and diet, have been used from one time to another to prove a point, and sometimes the point is exactly in line with the meaning of the passage. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 29 September, 2007 at 4:19

The Wounded Healers

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So What about Divorce?

“A bishop shall be the husband of one wife…” So says my beloved KJV. One piece of a verse, we hear so often in discussing someone’s (un)fitness for ministry. To some,the thinking is that if a man is divorced, he is no longer a husband, but if he remarries he has somehow become the husband of two women? This verse, along with others about head coverings, hair styles, jewelry, clothing, and diet, have been used from one time to another to prove a point, and sometimes the point is exactly in line with the meaning of the passage. Sometimes not. What about this one?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the Cross is a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks. Most Christians have probably read that passage several times, but unless we understand the thinking of the Jews and the Greeks of his time we’re not likely to understand how the contemporary Hebrew expectations about Messiah, or the accepted Greek philosophies concerning death effected how they viewed the Lord’s crucifixion. In the same way the New Testament if full of specific answers that we sometimes read as applying to different questions than the ones that were being asked at the time. One preacher told me one time that the passage in Ephesians about the Spirit “sealing” us “unto the day of redemption” was referring to the vacuum seal of a Mason jar, even though that invention was 1900 years away when Paul wrote that down!

Divorce in the 20th Century made two major impacts on our thinking. The first was when it became the scandal de jour that people in the movie industry began divorcing and remarrying at a whim. Apparently at that point a good number of sermons were preached against that abuse of holy matrimony. A question that was not being asked then seems not to have been answered in those sermons. The question was about divorce-and-remarriage, just like what Jesus said, that “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. .” The implication is even plainer, I’m told, in the Greek, of ditching the one woman to get the other, as in one maneuver. He also said that “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery,” so Jesus was recognising that, far from being the universally “unpardonable sin,” there is not necessarily any condemnation even related to it!

Divorce, they say, is messy business. Two people have been “one:” tied together like heart and lungs. then they are torn from each other for any of a number of reasons. Often the one has already set their course long ago and withdrawn or destroyed their ties to the other, while the other was trying to maintain the relationship or was possibly unaware of the deceit that was being played. Increasingly today the husband is the one who is left with the pain and disgrace and the wife goes on with her life. Paul said, in 1st Corinthians 7, “..if the unbelieving / unfaithful (same word in the Greek) will (choose to) depart, let them depart: A brother or sister is not in bondage in such a case, but God has called us to peace.”

The passage we started with, from Timothy, says the overseer of the Church can only have one wife. To interpret that as present and past tense at once is a burden on the grammar, and to hang that burden on Jesus’ words about divorce is adding a whole new question to the answer, presuming to put words in the Lord’s mouth! As the Holy Ghost tells us in Paul, “God has called us to peace.” We won’t, here, but a study through the New Testament on what the word, “peace,” but stretching and stacking verses to add to a brother or sister’s misery does not fit the description!

We see from experience that divorce is increasingly common, it is messy, with a lot of pain, at least on one side of the picture, and that an increasing number of “injured parties” in these cases are the men. Most church pastors are men. We are called to peace, and peace implies healing. This presents the Church with a task too important to overlook. Jesus came to Earth, not as one “untouched with the feelings of our infirmities,” but suffered just like we suffer. Just so He could say He did? No, but so He would be qualified to stand in our place to intercede before the Father, and so He could minister to our pains with full understanding of what we’re really going through by experience as well as omniscience. He is the ultimate “Wounded Healer.” In Church today are many thousands of divorcees yearning to minister to others, knowing the pain that is there. There are, likely, thousands of would-be pastors who would be highly effective in reaching people who are going through that kind of pain. People who feel uneasy around those who have “perfect” marriages or else, too often, the “perfectly marrieds” feel threatened by those scarred by divorce. Rebecca Pippert wrote a book some time ago with a great title: Out of the Salt Shaker. If salt is left on the table for too long, it will harden to the bottom of the shaker and resist being shaken out. “Wounded healers” have had their worlds jarred and shaken, and many are ready to be poured out for the Gospel: as the Church, let’s join them!

Written by Robert Easter

Friday, 28 September, 2007 at 22:19