MDR: Introduction

In internet discussion forums and blogs, the controversy regarding the Bible’s teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage are so common that it gets its own acronym: MDR. The topic is so controversial that some forums actually bar discussion on the topic. You see, some people struggle to be polite when it comes to the doctrine of divorce.

And we struggle to be open minded. Indeed, in many places, having the “right” position on MDR is considered essential to one’s salvation. Get one nuance wrong, and you’re branded “liberal” and driven from the church.

And we ought to be emotional. Divorce is tearing up families and society. We ought to be angry. But here’s where I differ from so many: the solution to divorce is not better doctrine but better marriages. Even if Paul came from heaven and told us clearly exactly what the rules are, we’d still have failed marriages.

Nor should we blame more lenient no-fault divorce laws for the high divorce rate. These laws make divorce easier, but they certainly didn’t create the motivation to divorce. Rather, before these laws were passed, many a husband and wife lived in love-less, empty marriages, often living apart, and were married only in the barest legal sense.

As soon as the no default divorce laws were passed, thousands got divorces, but these thousands already wanted to be divorced.

Among Christians, the motivation to stay married shouldn’t come from the laws of the state. The motivation comes from Christ and his unconditional love. Seeing how Christ loves us helps us know how to love each other. I mean, if the only reason a couple refuses to be divorced is because state law doesn’t allow it, well, in God’s eyes, they aren’t really being obedient, because they have disobedient hearts.

You see, the cure to our awful, embarrassing, shameful divorce rate isn’t new laws or even tougher doctrine, it’s changed hearts — which means perhaps the highest pastoral need in our churches is training for stronger marriages. Build good marriages and we won’t have to worry so much about God’s will for divorce!

In short, while I think it’s very important that our church leaders develop a truer, more Biblical doctrine of divorce and remarriage, the far higher priority is that our church leaders develop truer, more Biblical marriages. And this means classes on marriage, seminars on marriage, skilled marital counselors and coaches — and lots of them — all encompassed in a truer, more Biblical doctrine of grace.

After all, until we understand — and feel — God’s forgiveness, we’ll not be able to forgive our spouses. Therefore, leaders, I think you’ll fail to deal with your members’ marital problems until your church embraces grace. I mean, if you teach your members that they must disfellowship all who are in any error, how do you suppose they’ll apply that lesson at home?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to MDR: Introduction

  1. Boy, I could say a lot on this topic. Since I've lived thru many of the issues related to this topic.

    However, the most important thing to say is that just like every other sin, divorce and remarriage are forgivable sins.

    But that aside, my wife and I now facilitate the Dynamic Marriage class published by Family Dynamics Institute. If someone wants to make a real difference in marriages at their congregation, this is a great place to start —

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, David. Family Dynamics does a great work.

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    I know of four churches in MS that split over MDR in the last five years. I know many people who have lost their faith over this issue. It is not only MDR but other sins that we have deemed worse than others or very sadly unredeemable. This is an unbiblical development of our pietistic white middle class culture and a distortion of Grace of God. The only sin that is unredeemable is that which denies the Holy Spirit and turns its back on God and looses its faith.
    There is one young man who no longer believes in God because of how the elders in one congregation dealt with the issue. His mother left his abusive father and eventually married another very good man who was really the dad to this boy. Then when they moved back home for a job they came to the church in MS that she had grown up in. The elders promptly told her that she would have to divorce her existing husband and try to remarry her ex-husband because divorce was only justified under fornication or adultery. So she did what they said. The little boy now a young man will tell you he just can't believe in a God who would require his mother to be married to a man who hit her and would never stop. He will also tell you that he cannot believe in a God who took the only good man, his step Dad away from him. Stories like this one abound.
    I believe (know) that our traditional doctrine on MDR no matter how well intentioned has caused just as much pain and suffering as the “No fault divorce” phenomenon.

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