October 31, 2017 is the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, or as some call it, revolution. Among many changes to Christianity, the would be ‘reformers’ proposed that is a new theological doctrine; that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. In other words, modern protestant christians, and the reformers from 500 years ago, claim that the Holy Scripture has authority in all matters above anything any preacher says, above what any ancient church council said, or above any teaching of the Catholic Church.
I was raised a protestant (mostly pentecostal) christian, and believed that for years until….
As a young ‘would-be’ youth minister, I began working with troubled youth, most of them from broken, dysfunctional families. In working with these youth, even an amateur could quickly figure out that our society would be much better off with family units kept together, without divorce, in other words, mommies and daddies staying married.
As a student of the Bible, believing the Bible to be the sole rule for life and conduct, I searched for the Biblical basis that would allow men and women to divorce so commonly and yet still claim to be Bible Christians, even some would claim to be conservative Bible christians.
As a Pastor, I was ordained in the Assemblies of God, and was bound ethically and by my conscience to their teachings, fundamentals, and positions. In regards to marriage and family matters, their position was much in line with the rest of the Evangelical world, namely, that divorce though regrettable, is a necessary part of our modern culture. Divorce is bad enough, but as a Pastor, I was asked to officiate the remarriage of many who had been divorced. The position of my parent denomination dictated that I officiate. But I had an itch in my conscience. The response in the protestant world to any reservation about someone being able to remarry is typically, “it’s better to marry than burn with lust”, which is a scripture verse taken terribly out of context.
But who was I to say when a scripture was taken out of context? After all, Luther and the reformers gave every person in the world the right to read and interpret scripture, as the sole rule for life and living, with their own interpretation, with no authority outside of them and their Bible.
But yet when I searched the New Testament, I found no scriptural basis for the practice that was so prevalent(rampant divorce and re-marriage). As I was being drawn to the Catholic Church: her beauty and dogmatic and doctrinal truths, especially regarding marriage (family) and Eucharist, I was looking for someone to “talk me away from the edge” as it were.
I put together a short paper and sent it to 12 pastors and evangelists I trusted and knew well, asking them for their response and I promised them anonymity. I will be posting a couple of their responses but will not be posting their names. I did have farther conversations that are not itemized here. This letter was written very early in my journey to the Catholic Church, and my position now regarding Marriage, Family, Annulment, Divorce and Re-marriage is that of the Catholic Church, so please pardon any perceived inconsistencies.
Here is the letter I sent to my ministry friends for review, so long ago:
Questions on marriage Scriptures First
I Corinthians 7:10-16,
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Scripture seems to indicate in the New Testament that Divorce is not permitted. And at a quick read, seems to say from I Corinthians and from the sayings of the Lord, that for one harmed by continued adulterous lifestyle of spouse, or perpetual abandonment by spouse, has a remedy in separation, including the legalities of a divorce, from the spouse.
But I do not find in these scriptures clear permission for either party to remarry.
I have also read through our AG position paper and find a lot of words like ‘the church is forced to…’, and wording indicative of pressures from society to allow remarriage after divorce. And as a result of the pressures, finding a theological way to cope with these divorces and remarriages.
From these readings above, on their surface value, I read a prohibition of either party to remarry, and if they do remarry, is seems they become an adulterer. And a literal reading of I Corinthians 6:9, and Revelation 21:8, tell us that adulterers go to hell.
Salvation of souls being our concern, I am concerned. We profess Solo Scriptura, and advocate for a literal reading of the Word wherever and whenever possible. But in light of these scriptures, I find a discrepancy in that we add “better to marry than burn” to our instruction given to divorcees desiring remarriage, but the context is wrong. We also say that to fix what some would say are illegitimate marriages by means of making these people single again, or somehow married to their first spouse before God, frustrates Grace.
Grace is frustrated by resisting God. So if the prohibition is true to God’s intent, than following His intent, no mater the cost emotionally or otherwise, would perform the opposite of frustrating the Grace of God. The human factor; i.e.; emotional pain, financial toll, etc, must be a separate matter when compared to the intent or commands of the Holy Spirit for man. What I mean is, there are nearly an infinite number of ‘what ifs’, but ‘what ifs’ become more easily remedied when there is clarity from the Lord.
I have leanings toward a more literal interpretation of these passages, not based on real life examples. But leaning is based on the plain teaching I see, as well as the Sanctity and Holiness of the Institution of Marriage to God.
I am asking for your help in this matter, as it seems to be of the highest importance in our world where the family is under greater attack than ever. As well, we are told not to tackle these issues with millennials, in favor of a post modern approach with our teaching. Not to mention, the issue of Salvation.
When I wrote the above letter, I was just beginning to read and study the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, along with the doctrines, dogmas and councils. I had also begun to read the Church Fathers and what they had to say about the institute of marriage.
Here are a couple of the responses I received from some well known, but for now, unnamed protestant ministers:
“Brother Josh this is a very deep subject. I remember when the AG held to the very literal understanding of these text. I also was at the G C in Kansas City when they changed their position on this matter. I was grieved in my spirit and almost turned in my papers then. I spoke to Brother XXXXXX and my Superintendent. concerning my feelings on this matter. XXXXXX was in agreement with me on this issue. I knew that this was going to be the end of the AG and that this would open the door to anything. I would like to talk to you about this matter. Maybe tomorrow. I am not preaching. This is a very sensitive subject. The World and the Church is now full of this.”
and from another…
“Bro Joshua, concerning your article on divorce, I take a different but similar interpretation on those scriptures and the whole subject of divorce/remarriage. First God ordained marriage and He hates divorce. The Jews of old turned divorce into an easy way out of a marriage relationship. If the man wasn’t pleased, for ANY reason, by his wife, it was viewed as a legit reason for divorce. A similar thing has happened today in the world and church. Divorce should NEVER be viewed as a way out of a marriage for things that just don’t please a person. BUT at the same time, I believe there are scenarios in marriage/divorce that the Bible does not specifically deal with. For example, what if a couple marries and divorces and remarries before being saved? Does God hold them guilty of living in adultery? I don’t believe so. What about the cases where there is severe physical abuse on a regular basis? Or abuse to children through drugs/alcohol? I believe to interpret the scriptures on marriage, without understanding other scenarios, is extreme literalism and it can destroy the grace of God from being able operate in a person’s life. I totally understand that one could take this as an open door to compromise on marriage, but that’s not the case at all. Marriage should be honored above all relationships except one’s relationship with God. This is a short version of my take on it. God bless!”
Both of these men, I believe responded with the most amount of love and mercy they could given their own formation and teaching they’d received. But one can easily see in their responses that while they obviously love deeply and sympathize with those in difficult family situations, they both lack any outside authority or leadership on this most important matter.
Another minister mailed me a book, which I appreciate, but the book outlined numerous ‘what ifs’ and situations. These responses from men that love their respective flocks are based on real life and hypothetical situations. Another word for that is ‘situational ethics’, or ‘moral relativism’. I realized that these men, like me, without an outside authority, were left to lead each individual as we saw fit in each situation. I realized we had nothing to build on but 500 years of conjecture and individual interpretation of the scripture.
I carried on a dialogue for a few months with these and other learned protestant ministers with no conclusion, resolution or consensus, which is common to men with opinions.
We had been 500 years divorced from authority, and authority instituted by Christ himself. I do not propose that these or any family issues are easy or do not require compassion. What I propose is that when the protestant reformers demanded things their way and divorced themselves from the Catholic Church, they began a heritage of divorce that trickles down to our day and age and ultimately trickles down to the complete destruction of the family imminent in our western society.
When the foundation of a movement is divorce it will be beget more divorce. This is the eventuality of protestantism: a constant protesting of authority. A constant moving to protest even the authority of The law of God.
When the foundation of a movement is built on anyone’s personal interpretation of the Bible, we will have millions of interpretations. This is the opposite of worshipping God in communion, which is what Jesus wants us to do; worship God in communion with each other and with Him. It is impossible to properly worship God if not in communion with the Body of Christ. But now that anyone may interpret anyway they see fit, then they exclude others, making their own ‘true body’ of Christ (so called), and farther splinter Christianity, hence more divorce.
Worshipping God in communion means that there is commonality. There is a common salvation. As St. Paul said, “one faith, one baptism, one Lord…”.
So when we see the celebration of 500 years since the reformation, please remember, we are seeing 500 years of divorce from Christ’s Church, divorce from civility, divorce from beauty, divorce from Sacraments, divorce from the original Bible, and divorce in the family, as each man has become a law until themselves.
And that is one of the core problems and components that leads to protestantism failure, “every man is a law unto themselves”. So when one disagrees, they ‘protest’, and think/say, “I don’t agree with that, or this…”.
When men celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the reformation, they’re celebrating the fracture of christian society, the degradation of religion and the traditions of men (the protestants) being practices. They’re celebrating atheism and agnosticism, which is the eventuality of protestantism. They’re celebrating the modern acceptance of moral relativism and situational ethics. They’re saying there is no absolute truth.
No, I reject the reformation and the divorce of society and christian culture.
Without Magisterial Authority, men (and women) will continue to interpret the scripture to fit their situation.
So to the protestant I say, Christ did not leave us without shepherds, he did not leave us without a church or leadership. There is a bulwark of truth. There is a foundation that has not been destroyed, though it has been under attack. It’s built on the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, it is the Catholic Church.
Let us return now to the faith of our fathers.