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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 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

A Question of Conscience

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About three fourths of the world’s Anglican bishops are meeting this week in Canterbury for a conflab. The main issue in the meeting is about conscience. The other fourth is boycotting the meeting as a matter of conscience.

Pretty big word, this. What is conscience? To some it is simply a feeling that can be manipulated, or claimed as a weakness with which to manipulate others, lest they “hurt one’s feelings.” This view seems to fit well with the “Modern” view that there is really no truth or knowledge beyond mere opinions. These bishops, though, as sworn servants of Christ, should be expected to think Christian-ly and follow a Christian meaning of that word.

In the New Testament we find serious warnings to respect the consciences of other Christians. Paul writes, “do not for the sake of your flesh destroy a person for whom Christ died.” He is there is talking there about respecting the consciences of others. Not that violating another’s Christian conscience is an insult or a matter of hurt feelings, but a mortal threat. The word here is not “insult” or, as some might suggest, “challenge,” but “destroy.” How is this? How is this?

In Hebrews we read about Christians’ consciences being cleansed of sin by the work of Christ’s Spirit in our lives, and of a resulting confidence before God. We read in Timothy about how some people will “depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” Each group is free from shame and guilt, but that is exactly where the resemblance ends. One is free from sin to know God, the others, well, just the opposite. For a Christian to cast away that confidence that comes from a cleansed conscience before God is the same as to defect from the Faith, and from Christ. For anyone, especially a leader in the Church of Christ, to reduce the question of “conscience” to a matter of personalities, is to declare themselves to be an enemy of the Gospel. Case closed.

Now who would want to be that foolhardy? As long as one has a conscience, there is hope. Let’s be praying for the consciences of the bishops in England this week!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 20 July, 2008 at 9:50

The Christian Life, or Prison Life?

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An illustration from yesterday’s sermon had a prisoner on death row, hopelessly awaiting his execution date to be set. The President shows up at his cell to offer him a full pardon. What does he do?

The text was Deuteronomy 11, where God is offering Israel a path of blessing, or of cursing. Abundance or famine, freedom or bondage. History, even the Hebrew Bible, tells us of their choices. Back in the sermon, the question was about whether the prisoner accepted the pardon or mocked the offer. If he were so foolish as to mock, we decided the President would not take it kindly. But let’s look a little closer at that picture, and how you and I might find ourselves playing a part. The pardon has been declared, and the prisoner sits in his cell, pardoned and free.

Many in the Church today might find ourselves sitting in just that cell. We have heard the sentence. “The wages for sin is death.” Everything we see is witness to the fact that we are guilty, and that we cannot make good the debt we have accrued against ourselves. But we have also heard the offer. Full pardon, yes, and freedom- freedom from the penalty, and freedom from the power of sin!

“That can’t be!” we reply. “We’re all sinners- that’s just the way we are, isn’t it?” We have heard the offer of freedom, but we keep staring at the walls of the cell. This is where we live! Can we even imagine living anywhere else than in the realm of condemnation? We read Romans 7, just the way we’ve been taught to read it- assuming that the “wretched man that I am” passages are somehow “more true” than the next chapter, which says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” and, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In chapter 6, in the very part that says, “The wages of sin is death,” the main point of that passage was using that “wage” to contrast the gift of life and freedom that Christ offers as it says, “ being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Simply put, if we are still sinners, then we are still under condemnation for our sins. If we have the “gift of God” which is, “eternal life through Jesus,” then we are “free from sin,” and the deeds of the flesh have no more power over all who have received the Spirit of God. As we also read in Romans 8, if anyone is in Christ and, therefore, Christ in them, then the “body (the power of the physical and mental temptation to draw us into sin)” is dead, and it is no longer our lusts and desires that keep us going, but the Holy Spirit, Himself. So if we do sin, it is not because that is our nature, but we are going against our new, Blood-bought, nature and resisting the Holy Spirit Himself, to do so.

It is not that Christians sell themselves short when they call themselves “sinners.” It is not humility to say that one’s sinfulness is too big an obstacle for God to overcome, but it is selling God very short indeed. There is plenty of witness, throughout the Bible, that Christ came to save us from our sins. None at all, however, to allow for the impression that it is just the penalty that He died for. If we are saved, we are saved from our sins. If we are freed from the prison cell, it is no longer our home but a new home awaits us, “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Let’s all leave that cell behind- There’s a world of daylight awaiting!

Written by Robert Easter

Monday, 2 June, 2008 at 15:23

Only Visiting this Planet

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A great hero to a lot of people, and a mentor to many, passed on to Glory this morning. Larry Norman, the first musician to use his musical “first language” (at least in the modern Western culture) pioneered was was disparaged as “Christian Rock and Roll” by a generation who still esteemed Fanny Crosby as the last word in hymnody. While not quite as prolific as Miss Crosby, Larry was responsible for songs like “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus,” “I am a Servant,” “The Outlaw,” and “Why Should the Devil (have all the good music).” Curiously, the last title was a tribute to Martin Luther, though many reacted as if he had attacked both the Church and her Lord in singing it.

For over ten years he was the only musician in the States singing for the Lord with contemporary styling, and one of very few to use a guitar. Besides his own talent, he graced us with such musicians as Mark Heard, Randy Stonehill, and Steve Taylor, and seemed to have borne much influence on Bob Dylan as Dylan did on his own work. Norman’s “Reader’s Digest,” “Six-O’Clock News,” and “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus” and such Dylan hits as “Serve Somebody,” reflect as much.

Having grown up in the only white family in an African-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Larry learned early to love the Lord with his all, and to put his heart and soul into what was put before him, and in his case that “what” was proclaiming the praises of His Savior, which he did with everything he had: A guitar, a heart of love, and a voice that never impressed but always reached straight to the heart. Having assisted with his sound at one concert, that was what came across without ever trying. A real man of God who will be sorely missed. Sing loud, Larry! You’ve finally got the ultimate Audience!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 24 February, 2008 at 20:28

Real Wealth

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Some people choose wealth, and achieve it. They make it their one goal in life, and whatever they do becomes an expression of that desire. Their choice of friends, if they go to church they find the one with the best connections,, etc. Sometimes they succeed, and find themselves climbing that slope which they expect to bring them to great happiness. The farther up they go the more the scene changes from being somewhat singled out in the crowd as the one with “ambition,” to being singled out by the crowd as the one with nothing but his ambition. No longer in the crowd, because the crowd “had nothing to offer,” there is now a lonely figure, alone, struggling up the slope toward “great happiness.” The many stories of those who have reached that peak, and found it dry and barren, have little effect in getting past their mantra of “but I’m different.”

On the other hand, we might observe that some choose poverty. For the sake of a simple life, and being accessible to one’s friends, poverty has its advantages. The main drawback is that, while the rich person has a measure of control over how much money they have the poor really doesn’t. And, for the most part, the rich is rich by choice, but the poor one is seldom poor by choice. Those that are, and honestly so, find that the way up is a lot longer than the way down. That probably explains the fellow that history just calls, “the Rich Young Ruler,” who wanted to be Jesus’ disciple. Jesus required of him the one thing he was most afraid to lose: Control. Likely all his wealth was from one of two sources. Either it was inherited, or it was made with wealth that was. To give it all up would mean staking his whole life on the teachings of this Rabbi- not just the intellectual or contemplative components, but down to how the next meal was coming. To choose poverty is to relinquish control, which is not a bad thing if it’s the Lord to Whom we relinquish. To his credit, and the Lord’s happiness and great glory, though the young lad turned back at that time, Church tradition tells us that the young man who was following Jesus from the edge of the group, wearing only one garment, was the same who had, “had great riches.”

There is a verse in Proverbs which tends to get translated two different ways. It is often read as a man ignoring the counsel of friends to do as he pleased. The other, as found in the King James and not many others, gives a picture of one forsaking all pleasures and distractions to seek “all wisdom.” Not being a Hebrew scholar I would have to consider that the difference would have to be more how it is read than how it was written. If we follow the Calvinist view that sin is the supreme force in this world, then the pessimistic reading would support that, The Bible says that, “..where sin abounds, grace that much more abounds,” and that would make God’s grace the greater, so I can thank the Lord for the inspiration,

“Through desire a man, having separated himself, mixeth and intermingleth with all wisdom (Pv. 18:1)”

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 8 November, 2007 at 9:36

How do we know?

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There are so many “flavors” of Christianity today, and so many Christians build our own Sundays (sorry!) from what flavors suit us at the moment. If there’s a health crisis, then healing may be at the top of the stack, if financial, then aspects of God’s providence, if we heard some new thing on the radio, then that might make to the dish as well. Again, some fill up on all “plain vanilla” while others insist on the “rocky road.” In one day, on the same “Christian” radio station a person might hear messages on an eternal salvation for just praying a particular prayer, some special prayer for shortening Grandma’s time in Purgatory, instructions on how to speak wealth into existence, or that God loves us all so much He really doesn’t care what we believe, or how we live. It almost seems that if a program needs some such spin to stay on the air. With all these interpretations for the same Book, how do we know what the Book actually says any more? Let’s try out these ideas.

When we listen or read, what is the source of the ideas? Sometimes a hint can be found just in what they say. A teacher that takes the credit either didn’t get it from God, or isn’t giving God the credit, and so stealing the spotlight from the One he’s supposed to be spotlighting. There’s an old adage that the world has yet to see what God can do through the life of one who does not seek a share of God’s glory The opposite is every bit as true: That we can only imagine how little use God has for a person who wants the glory for himself. William Ury says, “True theology begins in worship.” If the theologian/teacher starts off to take the credit for what they have to say then it’s safe to say that tree doesn’t have a good root system.

Speaking of worship-
In 1st John it says that we “know all things, because of the anointing…,” speaking of the Holy Spirit. Recently I heard one prominent teacher say on the radio that praying in the Spirit means intensely intellectual Bible study. If he considers his own intellect to be the Spirit of God, then what does that tell us about how far we can trust the rest of what he says? After all- he has just placed his own intellect in the place of God! God, however, has told us that, “no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation,” so one person’s opinion is just that. Rather, the anointing that is available to the Church is promised to “lead ..and guide (us) into all truth.” There is the office of teacher in the Church, and I have noticed in that office that whatever truths I bring to the pulpit (be it an oak pulpit or a bench on a picnic table), the same Spirit that is teaching me what to say is teaching the hearers as well, and most often has been teaching them along to be able to relate to the lesson I have brought. In other words, either God is doing the teaching, or noone is! In this way, we have the Spirit confirming in each of our hearts what it is He wants us to understand!

In the same line of confirmation, we remember that today’s Church is not all there is, or all the people that God has taught and worked through. It is always exciting to me when I find in the writings of others, especially minds far wiser or in times and places far removed from the world I know, an echo of some truth that the Lord has placed in my own heart as I read His Word. This is no boast, except on God Who is our Teacher, and brings “all things to our remembrance,” not just in remembering the words of Scripture, but what He meant when He gave them. So then we can judge teaching by the witness of the Spirit in our own lives, and in those whom He is leading.

Speaking of lives, another way of deciding if God is in a teaching is the effect it has on those that receive it. Sometimes we can see where it’s going without looking too far. If we know that the Bible condemns greed and coveting as sin, then we already have a clue when we hear someone say that Jesus died so we could have fat bank accounts and long shiny cars! On the other hand, the message may sound right, but are its followers proud and contentious, or living immoral lives? If so, then either it has some pieces that just don’t fit, or else has some pieces missing. This could well be why Jesus warned us about tampering with the details of His Gospel, and it’s all Gospel, from “In the beginning,” to, “Amen:” It’s all about Jesus! Stay tuned for some ideas on making sure we have the Whole Story!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 4 November, 2007 at 10:13