Divorce and Reconciliation During the Reformation

Divorce Cake.jpg

Here is a quote on how marriage and divorce was handled in Geneva from Kingdon and Witte’s book. 

A marriage, once properly contracted, consecrated, and celebrated was presumed permanent. The married couple was expected to maintain a common home. Both parties could be called to account for privately separating-particularly if there was suspicion of adultery, harlotry, concubinage, or sodomy. Couples who ‘wrangled and disputed with each other’ were to be admonished by the Consistory to ‘live in peace and unity’-with severe cases of discord reported to the congregation for popular reproof or to the Council for criminal punishment. Husbands were forbidden to ‘ill treat,’ ‘beat,’ or ‘torment’ their wives, and were subject to severe criminal if they persisted. These sanctions became increasingly severe in later years as the Consistory and Council sought to clamp down on domestic abuse. The [Marriage] Ordinance made no provision, even in extreme cases, for the traditional halfway remedy of separation (without divorce). An ethic of perpetual reconciliation of husband and wife coursed through the Ordinance, with ministers, magistrates, and members of the broader community all called to foster this end.

What is meant here is not that the rulers would allow a wife to stay in a physically dangerous situation. What he means by “separation” is the freedom to live apart from one another without ever getting a divorce. This was common in the Middle Ages because the Roman Catholic church believed divorce could not be granted for any reason. Therefore husbands and wives often separated without ever divorcing. Protestant leaders would remove a woman from a dangerous situation, but this was not a permanent solution, unless it led to divorce. In every case, the assumption was the parties would either reconcile or divorce.  Continue reading

Rick Phillips on Singleness, Marriage, and Divorce

Here are some short, but good posts by Rick Phillips where he answers some specific questions he received at a recent conference. While I would not agree with every jot and tittle, the main teaching is solid.

In this post he addresses why there are so many singles if marriage is so important. All four points are good, but the first one is excellent.

Here he addresses dating a non-virgin. It is a balanced post showing that sexual purity is a goal, but dating (or for me courting) a non-virgin is not automatically a bad thing. I think this is important because in some ways we have made sexual sin a permanent stain. Past sexual sins should be discussed, but the key is the person’s current relationship with Christ, not their past transgressions.

Here he addresses the Biblical grounds for divorce. The post is not ground breaking, but it does give a succinct presentation of what I think is the Biblical teaching on divorce.

Finally, he addresses whether or not Christians should get civil marriage licenses. Again solid teaching here.

Violence and Divorce

Here is short post from the archives.

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America’s military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God’s Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it Biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are simply interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?

Divorce in Reformation Europe

I just finished reading Robert Kingdon’s book Adultery and Divorce in John Calvin’s Geneva. In this book he examines four specific cases of divorce in Geneva and what those cases can teach us about how views on divorce changed during the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation divorce was impossible. There were various ways to get out of a marriage including annulment and legal separation. But there was no divorce.  Calvin and other reformers, including Beza and Vermigli, changed this during the 1500s. However, while divorce was permitted it was still extremely difficult to get one. The only reasons for divorce were adultery and desertion. Here are some thoughts from the concluding chapter of Kingdon’s book.

“Divorce was now possible in Protestant Geneva, however, it remained difficult. A petitioner for a divorce always had to make a compelling case that adultery or desertion had occurred, a case that could withstand the scrutiny of a full trial.  It was never enough for a husband and wife simply to declare that they had become incompatible and no longer wished to live together…Furthermore, an attempt, sometimes quite strenuous was almost always made to persuade the couple to resolve their problems without divorce, to forgive each other, and in token of this fresh agreement to participate in a formal reconciliation ceremony.”

Kingdon goes on to note that most divorces took a long time to be approved. In the four cases described in the book, one took two years, one petition for divorce had to be filed twice, nine years apart, and one man was separated from his wife for eight years before divorce was granted.  He also notes that in the entire period of Calvin’s ministry in Geneva (1541-1564) only twenty six divorces for adultery were granted and far less for desertion. In other Protestant areas divorce, while allowed, was almost unheard of.  Basel had less than three per year. Neuchatel had less than one per year . Zurich was around 5 per year. Kingdon goes on to say that from 1500-1592 there was .57 divorces per 1,000 people per year in Basel. In 1910 the rate was 55.8 divorces per 1,000 people per year. The point here is that despite Protestants opening the door for divorce it was still almost impossible to get one. Kingdon cites one author who notes that widespread divorce rates did not take hold on continental Europe until the early 1800s.

All Protestants felt the innocent party in a divorce was free to remarry. Many, especially Beza who wrote a book on divorce after Calvin’s death, felt that the guilty should remarry as well. It would keep them from sexual immorality.

Kingdon adds that the death penalty was occasionally used on notorious adulterers, which would of course be a de facto divorce. However, this form of punishment was not common in Protestant or Roman Catholic circles.

Malachi 2:10-16

I have such a hatred of divorce that I prefer bigamy to divorce. Martin Luther

God is the witness to every marriage ceremony, and will be the witness to every violation of its vows. Thomas V. Moore

The statistics on divorce are alarming. By now, we have heard them so often that the news bounces off us and has no impact. Even if you take a best case scenario, divorce is rampant in American culture and in the American church. At the best divorce is around 30% in the American church and some put it over 50%. It should come as no surprise that Satan, the master tactician, continues to attack one of the central ways God advances his kingdom. Without a unified home, there is no raising of godly children, there is no picture of Christ and the Church to the outside world, and there is no strengthening of the Church. Satan doesn’t hate marriage. He hates God, Christ, and His Kingdom. Very few things destroy the work of the kingdom as quickly as failed marriages. However, what may come as a bit of surprise is that the desire to be loosened from our marriage vows is not a new sin. Jesus addresses this head on in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-12. And now in our study of Malachi we come to chapter 2, which contains one the most extensive teaching on divorce in the Scriptures.

This third disputation in Malachi continues the theme of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Unlike in 1:6-2:9, the people under God’s microscope are not just the priests, but all of Israel. This section is the most famous in Malachi because it deals directly with divorce. It is not hard to understand, but the applications are very important and frequently ignored.

The key phrase God uses to describe Israel’s attitude is that of faithlessness or treachery. The term is used in verses 10, 14, 15, and 16. Israel’s faithlessness is seen in two areas. First, instead of marrying Israelite women who worship God, they marry pagan wives. (2:11-12) God calls this profaning the covenant. Malachi says that the Lord will cut off from among the people anyone who marries a pagan. Notice that, just like our earlier passage, the Israelites are still bringing offerings, despite living in sin. (vs. 12) Second, the wives they have they treat with contempt and divorce with ease. (2:13-16) Notice here that marriage is referred to as a covenant. It is clear from Ephesians 5 that if marriage is similar to the relationship between Christ and his church then it is a covenant. But only here in Malachi and in Proverbs 2:17 is the word covenant used in describing marriage. God says both that unfaithfulness in marriage and the failure to marry godly wives show a general unfaithfulness by Israel where they do not live as if God is their father. (vs. 10)

Applications
• Our faithlessness in relationships shows our faithlessness to God. The Apostle John says the same thing in I John 4:20. We see the connection here between the first and second great commandments. (Matthew 22:35-40) At no point can we say we love God, if we hate those around us, especially our wives and children.

• The state of our marriages shows the state of our hearts. Divorce and treating our wives with contempt means we are far from God. We lament the divorce rate in America and we should. But there are many Christian marriages where the husbands treat their wives poorly. God considers this treachery and will not let it go unpunished. Just because you are not divorced does not mean your marriage is thriving.

• Christians are to marry Christians. The intermarrying of Christians with pagans will bring a curse upon God’s people. Paul makes this same point in II Corinthians 6:14-18.

• Weeping, tears, and emotion are not a substitute for obedience (vs. 13-14) This does not mean we never weep or cry out to God, but we must want to obey him as well. Mere display never pleases God. He does not accept it if it does not lead to growth in obedience.

• Marriage is a covenant and therefore is not to be entered into lightly, nor to be exited easily. There is no stronger bond in Scripture than a covenant. The way we treat the vows we make on our wedding day says a lot about our character. Do we see the vows as flexible and easily abandoned? Or do we believe that they are unto death?

• One clear purpose of the marriage covenant is the raising of godly children. (vs. 15) There are more reasons for marriage than this, but to exclude this reason it to gut marriage of one of its primary purposes. A marriage that purposely excludes children is a marriage in rebellion against God.

• God hates divorce. (vs. 16) Unfortunately, the American church does not. Thus we sit under the curse of God.

• Divorce is equal to violence. (vs. 16) What is interesting about this is many modern socially minded Christians who shout from the rooftops against violence are perfectly fine with divorce. How odd, since according to Malachi, they are one and the same.

• Twice in this section the men of Israel are urged to take heed to their spirit. (vs. 15 and 16) Divorce and contempt for our wives arise out of the heart. There may be external factors, such as finances, that put pressure upon a marriage, but in the end divorce comes from sin that has taken up residence in the heart. As Proverbs says, we must keep/guard our heart. (Prov. 4:23)

Social Justice and Divorce

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to freqently discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America’s military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God’s Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are just interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?