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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

Curing Apostasy

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There is a major problem in the Church today. Whether we are talking about the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, or Independent Baptist, Free Presbyterian, or the various Brethren churches, there is a problem that is costing the Kingdom countless lives every day; and the greater the problem grows the smaller it gets in the eyes of the leadership. Sadly, this is not even a contradiction.

Looking at a website a few minutes ago, there was a mention of praying for American bishops who had yet to come to faith in Jesus Christ. The sad news is that there likely are some. The sadder news is that they are probably quite few. Why is this sad? It’s an old truism that a convert to Liberal Christianity is a rare bird to find. Liberalism just does not have a lot to offer that the average sinner does not already have. Freedom to sin? Why even call it sin? A broad range of opinions? Go to any pub, flower club, or lodge! Tight camaraderie? Stop by your local Kiwanis, Rotary, or motorcycle club and get all you can handle! So why would an unbeliever want to convert from agnostic to skeptic? Liberal Christians, especially the clergy, are seldom “made,” but far more often unmade. Talk with, say, an Episcopal priest about how he or she came to enter the clergy, and you will hear the same kind of “calling” story you would hear from, say, a Congregational Methodist. Later in the conversation, though, the Episcopalian might go on to reveal just how open he or she is Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 14 September, 2008 at 19:20

Posted in faith, growth, hope, restoration

"Only Believe!" Or, not. . .

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“Believing is more important than what we believe.” It’s strange that nothing seen allows such an approach, yet we like to think that the Unseen is the same as the Imaginary. A child once thought that everything was just as it appeared. A box, with knobs and dials in the right placement, would play music. Another box, with the right markings, would tell the time. What he did not see made all the difference, didn’t it? An unknown belief or attitude in one’s fiance can make a world of difference in one’s life over the years, and a charge on a small bit of wire can change one’s whole outlook on life in an instant. When it comes to faith, it is just the same, only more so. In Romans we read that, “the gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation.” Now, if one’s doctor says, “The instructions on this medicine bottle are crucial for your recovery,” how wise is it to leave that bottle on the shelf, or apply the medicine according to mood, opinion, or hearsay? Is merely possessing the medicine enough to restore health? If we will take the doctor’s advice on earthly matters so seriously, when the best he could do was allow us a few moments to this life, what of a message, that is proven by the life and resurrection of the Son of God, that promises us eternal life? What, exactly, is that message? Is there anything in this world more important than finding out? Rather than leave this hanging on such a precipice, we do have some definite signposts to follow. Please stay tuned for some crucial particulars!

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 19 August, 2008 at 21:38

The Great Egg Question

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Which came first, the chicken or the egg? A lot of the answering depends on the queen. Confused? Well, the thinking is that some claim the “Queen of the Sciences” is mathematics, and some say theology. If we make Mathematics the “queen,” then are we saying that all other sciences serve Math? That we learn Physics, Chemistry, or Biology in order to better understand the world of numbers? Or would it be better to say that we use Math to straighten up the details for the other disciplines?

If, though, we say that Theology is the queen, are we recognising that the others serve to enhance our understanding of God? The Bible tells us that God is the Creator, that He created the Universe as a means of revealing His real nature, and that He wants to bring every human being into a deep and loving relationship with Himself. Interestingly, all that we learn from the “hard sciences” about this world in which we live- yes, the whole Universe for that matter- just happens to dovetail with what we read in the Bible, though written between 1,900 and over 3,000 years ago.So, back to the chicken house: Which came first? Philosophy can only ask the question. What we are willing to believe bout that question is really a matter of religion, isn’t it? If we follow the Religion of Science, then we accept the latest hypothesis (scientific jargon for, “Gee, what if…?”), and obediently call it “true.” A long chain of mutations, with no fossil record of any link in that chain, occurred, and the offspring of a great, cold-blooded lizard became small, feathery, and warm-blooded. Purely a “religious” idea, and counter to anything that hard science has to offer in terms of its observed laws and supported theories, it only differs from the old medieval idea of rags producing rats by injecting the magic words, “over millions of years…”

On the other hand, rather than give our slavish obedience to the Religion of Science, what if we look into the Science of Religion? Simply accept, as possible, the notion that God might really be God, and examine the evidence that other such scientists have discovered in the past. Was it Einstein who said that we can only see as far as we have by standing on the shoulders of giants? If we study Moses, Isaiah, Luke, Paul, (Ireneaus, Basil, or Gregory of Nyssa…), allowing that their experience and findings might actually be valid, there’s a real
possibility of not only settling the Egg Question, but a lot more as well!

Written by Robert Easter

Friday, 4 July, 2008 at 9:44

A Full Life, and an Empty Life?

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Warren Chastain of OMF, writing in Perspectives, makes a remark that most people speak of an altar of sacrifice, but usually manage to turn it into a stage for seeking applause. Too often in our own churches we see individuals who have a “cross to bear” which garners them all kinds of respect and support among the congregation at-large. One story has been told of a woman who would stand to ask prayer every Sunday night for her unsaved husband, often salting her pleas with the latest news on her sufferings in that marriage. After a couple of years a new preacher came to that church and decided to spend some time on her husband. Not a lot of preaching, but a good amount of time spent fishing or playing golf. The husband did become a Christian, but the biggest surprise was the man’s wife. She was furious! No longer could she be the star of the prayer meetings and the darling of the sewing circle. Suddenly her credibility was about what kind of Christian she was, how closely she herself related to her Lord, and the fruit that relationship bore in her own life. All those years invested in self-pity had done nothing for her own Christian walk, and the most glorious thing that could have happened for her affected her as if she had been robbed.

What kind Christians are we? A previous piece on this site covered some basic meanings for that word: Whether we are born in a “Christian” culture, grow up in a “Christian” home, “convert” through some ritual (Holy Baptism, “praying the prayer,” etc.), or whether we are actually living “by the faith of the Son of God.”

A preacher I once knew would butter up the congregation with words about how they were, every one, “filled with the Spirit” and use other such words to paint them a picture that they were all just as complete, consecrated, and holy as God intended. Then he would go on to say how badly he wanted to see revival. If everybody’s already so holy, then what was lacking? One 19th Century evangelist wrote that the first thing needed for revival was for the people to be anxious about their own souls. This fits perfectly with Paul’s words, that we should, “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” Notice, now, that he did not say, “work for,” but “work out.” A maths prof would give us sheets of problems with the answers already printed on the sheets. It was one thing to have the answers given to us, but to go through the process of working out the steps in between made the difference between seeing the answer and having the answer: God wants us to not just be aware of it, but to possess salvation. That preacher had not worked it out that the Gospel is not just “God is for us,” but also about “God in us!” Jesus didn’t give his life for us to say, “gee, thanks” and continue to lie back in our sins, but to be raised up in newness of life and apprehend, by the power of the Spirit, the fullness of the life of Christ in our own existence here on earth. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” was Paul’s bragging point for the Philippians: Not just “Christ for you.”

So, can we get something if we keep our hands in our pockets? Can we embrace the crucified life with our arms folded? There were seven churches that Jesus to whom Jesus dictated letters. Some were healthy, some he gave stern warnings, but the one which was the most sternly warned (Some might even say He was on the point of giving them up!) was the one who was the most assured. Can we learn something from this?

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent”

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 1 March, 2008 at 18:24

The Long View

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When I was a kid, my parents had a little pontoon houseboat, which I would take a turn steering from time to time, and later a time or two steering a river tug with a barge. Now, if you’re steering a fast boat it’s simple enough to head for a spot and throttle on, but on something bigger it might be a few minutes before a turn of the wheel has any effect on your course. The difference is that the helmsman on the bigger vessels needs to have an eye on his trail as well as his heading. In seeing the beginning point and the trail left from the propellers abaft as well as the point toward which she’s headed the helmsman can have a better understanding of how straight his course has been- whether he’s been over- or under-steering, tending left or right, etc., and how to stay better on course.

Over the years, I’ve been in a number of different churches, and responded to a number of different philosophies. With all the variations one to another the focus always seemed to be on the “right now.” Whatever the leaders’ impressions were about “What God is doing,” or “What we need,” right now was the key question. Of course, this leaves room for all kinds of variations. If we take a close look at Holy Scripture we find that God does not change, cannot lie, and will not turn away from His plan; so unless He went on vacation just after Pentecost and just now remembered He has a Church on this planet (Nope- scratch that: Forgetting is not an option either!) His Spirit has been confirming His work, and word, to pastors and teachers over the last 1970-odd years.

Hebrews 12 tells us that all Believers, from the beginning to the end, are in fellowship one with another. When we gather for worship we may only see the people in that room, but our prayers and singing are part of a harmony that stretches around the world, through time, and includes saints in Heaven as well as on earth. One of the practical aspects to this is that, since God doesn’t change, and we can tell with little trouble that human nature really doesn’t either, we can expect that the Apostles and their disciples, etc., had to ask God’s guidance on a lot of the same issues we face today. We have the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, and so did the Church before us. It is one thing to be thinking on Holy Scripture and the Spirit give us an insight, or an answer to some difficulty, and it is good to have that insight confirmed through a friend, but it is another thing altogether to see the exact same message in the writings of someone from 200, 900, or 1,900 years ago. On the other hand, sometimes the Lord uses some of those older scholars as a hint for us to re-think our own assumptions in our own place and time. In time, we learn to correct our steering, avoid some snags, and make it to Harbor for the great Celebration. I can almost imagine some of the conversations, with, say, Gregory or Macarius asking a “modern” Christian whether one of their letters had helped him or her at such a time, or a Christian from the year 2050 thanking John Wesley for helping them out of their own religious fog with his sermons. We’re all in this together, the Lord is our Navigator, and the fact that so many scholars from so many eras have stayed His course through all the shoals and cross-currents of their days is a testimony for us all to learn from.

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 23 February, 2008 at 17:45