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?