2Co 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple …
Colossians 2:16-23 ESV Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (17) These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (18) Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism …
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible . (Eph 5:11-13) Jesus exposed evil. The Light of the World does that. His people are …
With some regularity I hear from people who tell me that they are on board with this issue of domestic abusers hiding in the church. They are excited that their pastor has “really had his eyes opened” and is “promising to stand with abuse victims.” And I have heard the same from various well-known Christian …
A victim of a very deceitful, habitually lying abuser shared an interaction she had with the pastor of a church she and the abuser attended. We thank her very much for allowing us to publish what this pastor told her. As is so typical, you see here the incredible arrogance such false shepherds have and …
Dealing With the Abuser – Part 2 Sermon 15 from the series: The Psychology and Methods of Sin A 21 sermon series on domestic violence and abuse First given on October 31, 2010 Sermon Text: Exodus 4 Last time we looked to the book of Nehemiah for a very clear example of how to deal …
Do you know why scientists conduct experiments? They do it to test their theories. They formulate a hypothesis in an attempt to explain some event or process observed in nature. Plants grow toward the light. Why? A hypothesis is offered, but then it must be tested. If the hypothesis is correct, then such and such …
You may remember the ESS debate in 2016. Many folks in CBMW teach / taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Trinity to defend their version of complementarianism.
When Liam Goligher asked Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination? the christian blogosphere lit up. Mind you, Rachel Miller, Aimee Byrd and a few others had been publicly challenging ESS; they didn’t get much traction probably because they are women. But when Liam wrote about it at Aimee’s blog, a big fire started. While it’s sad that the women didn’t get traction, I think Liam is to be respected for taking a strong stance against ESS.
Go to our ESS Digest to see the posts about ESS at this blog.
David Clyde Jones is remembered as the PCA’s chief ethicist of recent times (link). He trained generations of pastors at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he taught for 40 years. He commended my book Not Under Bondage.
Jones suggested that the Westminster Confession’s statement about divorce be modified in one small but very significant way.
The Westminster Confession was composed during the Puritan era. In chapter 24 the Confession says:
Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage, yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion of the marriage covenant as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage. (link)
David Clyde Jones
In view of the confusion over “wilful desertion” in the Confession and the growing number of divorcing and divorced persons in need of pastoral care, it is time to think about how the Confession might be revised to represent more clearly and adequately the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce. What follows is one effort in that direction.
The Marriage Covenant and Divorce
The proposal is to replace the word “desertion” with the phrase “repudiation of the marriage covenant” as follows:
Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage, yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion repudiation of the marriage covenant as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage”. ¹
I heartily second David Clyde Jones’s suggestion. Wilful repudiation of the marriage covenant covers simple desertion, constructive desertion and treacherous divorce. So it covers all the things I believe Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
When will more people stand with me? In particular, when will more leaders in the PCA (Americans and Australians) stand up and publicly call for reform? I know that some men in the church appreciate my work because they tell me so privately. But what I want to see is them speaking out publicly on this issue, and one way to do so is to comment at this blog.
A final thought
When victims of abuse want to divorce their abusers, one of the problems they often face is that the church assumes it can control the victim’s decision and punish the victim if she persists in pursuing divorce.
The Westminster Confession encourages the idea that the church has the authority to direct the abused to ‘remedy’ a marriage that is on the rocks. It also suggests that the church has power of veto over whether the victim may divorce. This idea remains prevalent in Presbyterian circles. Many non-Presbyterians have the same idea. People like Chris Moles say you should ask your own church leaders whether they allow divorce for abuse.
All these ideas tie victims up in knots and put them at the mercy of church leaders – many of whom are ignorant when it comes to understanding domestic abuse. If you are a church leader and want to learn how better to respond to domestic abuse, I’ve given you some some suggestions below.
Jones also submitted his paper for the PCA’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage to consider. That committee was appointed by the Eighteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and it gave its final report to the Twentieth General Assembly. You can read the final report here: PCA Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage
Abuse IS grounds for divorce. Most evangelical leaders are reluctant to say this outright today, but several eminent theologians In the sixteenth and seventeenth century said it. Today’s leaders need to take courage and follow their example.
Theodore Beza, William Perkins and William Ames were Puritans who said abuse is grounds for divorce
Theodore Beza, disciple of John Calvin
Theodore Beza, 1570
…we know him also to be a deserter who does not refuse cohabitation, but obstinately demands impious conditions.
… another question occurs: what should the faithful spouse do when indeed cohabitation is not denied, but either hazard of life is incurred or something is either to be done or endured against the true religion. I respond that these two distinctions are to be observed.
First, either the unfaithful [spouse], whether intentionally or unwittingly, persecute the faithful spouse, or the persecution arises from some other direction.
If the former, the faithful spouse really has a suitable excuse for shunning her domestic enemy for no other reason than that she should consider her life and conscience, and I would decide in this case nothing other than if the unfaithful spouse himself had departed for another. To depart from someone and to drive the other away by threats or force are the same thing.
But if such persecution should assail [the faithful spouse] from some other direction, the faithful spouse should act at length more moderately than if she should cherish an enemy in her home and bosom.
Nor is its to be doubted that if the unfaithful spouse should attend the faithful with conjugal love, should provide for her life in every way, in this case the faithful spouse rather should bear whatever you will than that it should be her duty to abandon the unfaithful spouse.
But if the unfaithful spouse does not care as is right that the faithful spouse is in peril, no one does not see, I think, not only that he is a deserter, but also that he may be shunned with a good conscience as a traitor.
— for source of this quote, see footnote 1.
See UPDATE below about Theodore Beza.
Only three years after Beza wrote this, the Scottish Parliament in 1573 enacted legislation which allowed divorce for desertion. (see footnote 2)
William Perkins 1609
Like unto desertion is malicious and spiteful dealing of married folks one with another. Malicious dealing is, when dwelling together, they require of each other intolerable conditions … Here it may be demanded, what a believer should do, who is in certain and imminent danger, either of loss of life, or breach of conscience, if they both abide together.
If [this danger is] from the stranger, then the husband either takes upon him the defence of his believing wife, or not; if he does, then she ought to abide with him. If not, she may depart and provide for her own safety. Again if the husband threatens hurt, the believing wife may flee in this case; and it is all one, as if the unbelieving man should depart. For to depart from one, and drive one away by threat, are equivalent. (3)
William Ames 1632
For if one party drive away the other with great fierceness and cruelty, there is cause of desertion, and he is to be reputed the deserter. But if he obstinately neglect, that necessary departure of the other avoiding the eminent danger, he himself in that plays the deserter. (4)
(2) Marriage and Divorce: a Report of the Study Panel of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland 1988) 28; cited by David Clyde Jones in his paper The Westminster Confession on Divorce and Remarriage (Covenant Seminary Review, p. 21, n. 13.)
(3) William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie, 1609, p. 88; cited on p. 194 of the PCA Report (ibid.)
118 [spelling updated into modern English]
(4) William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof, 1632; cited on p. 197 of the PCA Report (ibid.) [spelling updated into modern English]
UPDATE relating to Theodore Beza added 16 Feb 2019. Since some people don’t read comments on blogs, I am pasting here some words Ruth Magnusson Davis wrote in her comment on this post.
Beware of Theodore Beza. He was a fierce religious persecutor who taught that heretics should be killed (see his book ‘Concerning the punishment of heretics by the civil magistrate’). He also taught that magistrates (Puritan judges and executive officers) could rebel against superior powers and even kill their kings and queens, which teaching led to much civil disturbance and civil unrest. (See his book ‘Right of Magistrates,’ which was essentially Roman Catholic. The pope’s canon laws taught that the pope could lead a revolution.) This was completely contrary to Thomas Cranmer, who taught the complete obedience of subjects to their king, in the evil day and in the good.
In a great many ways, Beza taught contrary to Archbishop Cranmer. He despised Cranmer’s prayer book and wanted it outlawed in the Church. During the Puritan revolution, prayer books were publicly burned in St. Paul’s Square.
Also contrary to Thomas Cranmer (and also Martin Luther and William Tyndale) Beza fought against baptism by women, and wanted to “sharply punish” women who baptized infants. From his chair in the Geneva Academy, he inveighed against this in a 1566 letter to Bishop Grindal, complaining that it is “much grievouser [than the] most filthy superstitions, as crossing and kneeling at the Communicating of the Lord’s Supper,” and a “filthy error” which springs “from a gross ignorance of the matter of the sacrament.”