Christian Pilgrim


Divorce and Remarriage


The subject of divorce and remarriage is always a very emotive one, especially as people who take sides on the issue are usually themselves personally involved in some way, with their feelings or emotions completely clouding their view so that they cannot make a rational judgment. It is significant that all the Biblical instruction we have to go by on this matter comes from single men, i.e. Christ and Paul, who could proclaim the truth clearly, without any accusation of being biased or involved in any way.

We need to instil into people their responsibilities before God with regards their marriages. Marriage is never to be entered into lightly, and it is the duty of the church to instruct young people properly. All too easily today the church just sits back and allows two people to get married who "feel" like doing so, with no instruction whatsoever. It is a terrible indictment on all the churches when they are seen to follow the masses and believe that feelings are what true religion is all about. Their leaders will be answerable to God for this behaviour.

Church traditions

Although divorce is not referred to a great deal in the early church fathers, it appears that almost all of them rejected even the idea of divorce, let alone remarriage. It is argued that because this is the view of the early church, then this must therefore be the true interpretation of biblical thought on the matter. However, it is well known that the early church fathers were clearly wrong on other issues, such as their asceticism for example, and so other factors could have influenced them in their views on this subject. It is certainly not true to say (as we have heard it said) that the "orthodox" view for 1400 years has been to ban remarriage after divorce, as some people would argue. Even if this was the case, since when has the majority always been right? Ask Athanasius or Martin Luther.

Some of the early church fathers did indeed question this position. Origen allowed divorce and remarriage to avoid worse sin, and Jerome defended a woman who divorced her husband because of his adultery, and married another. Augustine, on the other hand, believed that marriage was indissoluble, and that there was at least a moral obligation that it should not be dissolved. It appears, however, that the Eastern Orthodox churches began to allow divorce and remarriage for a variety of reasons from the sixth century onwards.

The Roman Catholic church turned the institution of marriage into a sacrament. This put it on a par with Baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is clearly not biblical to think of marriage in this way as it is not merely for the church (as the other two sacraments are), but a Creation ordinance binding on all men. The Roman church sees marriage as a union between two people for life, which no man can put asunder. To them, even divorce or separation cannot break this bond, and hence they do not sanction the remarriage of anyone whilst their spouse is still alive. Under canon law, however, a judicial annulment might be obtained. This does not mean that the marriage bond is broken, but it is rather a declaration that the marriage never existed. This is their "get-out clause," if you like. Other cases have shown that people could obtain separation from "bed and board" but, again, the separated parties were not allowed to remarry.

This idea that separation and divorce can never break the marriage bond is also the view of the Anglican church (at least officially), some of the stricter Anabaptist groups and the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRC) (although, interestingly, the PRC only adopted this view as their leader Herman Hoeksema embraced it himself in the 1930s1). Of course none of these groups would see marriage as a sacrament as the Roman church would, and most would see divorce (which they would equate with legalised separation) as legitimate, but only for adultery - neither party being eligible to remarry, as they would still be considered by the church as being "married" to their original partner until that original partner dies. There has however been plenty of opposition to this, in the Anglican church particularly. For example, Archbishop Cranmer proposed a revision of the canon law (which was never carried out) that would have included divorce for adultery, malicious desertion, prolonged absence without news, attempts against the partner's life and cruelty.2

This was in line with the Reformers generally, who allowed divorce and remarriage under various circumstances. However, how much of this was due to an over-reaction against the Romanist idea of marriage being a sacrament is very difficult to determine. Not that much literature was actually written on this subject by the Reformers, presumably because there were far more important things to write about and defend in the heat of the situation that existed at the time.

We know that the early Reformed confessions of Saxony (1551) and Wirtemburg (1552) both mention the subject of divorce and remarriage, and both agree on remarriage after divorce for the "innocent party."3 John Calvin was also of this mind. In criticising the abuses of the Roman church he says, "Moreover, they frame degrees of kindred contrary to the laws of all nations, and even the polity of Moses, and enact that a husband who has repudiated an adulteress may not marry again."4 Note here that he saw Moses as teaching divorce and remarriage in such circumstances.

In 1560 in Scotland (the year of John Knox's reformation there), kirk sessions began to grant divorces, but in 1563 the Commissary Court was established in Edinburgh with jurisdiction over all Scotland in questions of marriage and divorce. From this court there was an appeal to the Court of Session, both these courts being civil courts. In 1573 an act was passed declaring that if either husband or wife deserted the other for four years without reasonable cause, and refused to return to co-habitation, this should be grounds for divorce. After that, divorce in Scotland was granted on proof of adultery or desertion of either spouse.5

The last hundred years particularly has seen a great increase in the number of divorces. It is now thought of as a fact of life that divorce must be allowed for any and every cause, otherwise we are limiting people's personal freedom too much, which, according to modern psychology, is the greatest evil. No longer is principle an issue, just as no longer do people believe in an objective truth, or an objective morality, i.e. an absolute right and wrong. The world needs to know once more that God is in the heavens, that there is an absolute right and wrong and that we shall all be accountable for every word we speak and every thought we think. Feelings will mean nothing in that day, rather, absolute truth and absolute righteousness will be the sole criteria God will use for judging every one of us, so we had better get it correct now, before it is too late.

1Prof. Herman Hanko, "For Thy Truth's Sake" (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000) pp.382ff.
2 ed. Walter Elwell, "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology" (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1984)
3 ed. Peter Hall, "The Harmony of the Protestant Confessions" (Still Waters Revival Books, Edmonton, 1992) pp. 461, 468.
4 John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" Book IV, Ch.19, para. 37.
5 ed. N. Cameron, "Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology" (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1993).

Westminster Confession of Faith

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) is a distillation of the most important doctrines of Scripture made by the best conference of Christian men that have ever existed together in one era, and, although only a human document, it can still be used to help formulate the biblical position on the subject. The two articles in question in the Westminster Confession, together with their proof texts, are as follows (Chapter 24):

V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.a In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorceb: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.c

VI. 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 as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriaged: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills and discretion, in their own case.e

aMatthew 1:18-20
bMatthew 5:31,32
cMatthew 19:9; Romans 7:2,3
dMatthew 19:8,9; 1 Corinthians 7:15; Matthew 19:6
eDeuteronomy 24:1-4

It is interesting to note at this point that neither the Savoy Declaration of 1658 nor the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 have these two paragraphs in them, even though they have the other four paragraphs on marriage from the Westminster Confession word for word. This seems to indicate that there was some kind of dispute over these paragraphs at that time. This might have been over the content of the paragraphs themselves, some people may have been wanting to tighten up a seemingly liberal view. However, it could also be possible that the dispute was simply about whether the subject of divorce and remarriage was a suitable subject for inclusion in a Confession of Faith at all, or whether it is more a case for inclusion in the Church Order instead, or indeed even left to the civil courts to legislate over.

Now, let us have a look at the teaching itself.

From these two paragraphs we see, firstly, that an actual act of adultery or fornication in and of itself does not break the marriage bond. All the Confession states is that it allows the innocent party to dissolve that contract, if they so wish. If they wish reconciliation instead, that's fine.

However, it is assumed by holders of the PRC/Anglican position that if the contract is dissolved, then both parties would be free to marry again. Hence, this is consequently seen by them as an easy route to take for anyone who is simply bored with their spouse. All they have to do is commit adultery, then the innocent party can sue out a divorce and the guilty party can go off and marry someone else anyway. Contrary to such an opinion, this is not the Westminster position at all. The Confession does not explicitly state the position of the guilty party in any of this. However, it does state the position of the innocent party, i.e. that they are free "to sue out a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead." Now if both parties were allowed to remarry after the contract had been dissolved, why on earth does the Confession only mention the innocent party? Why not mention that both are free to remarry? I suggest that it is because the guilty party is not free to do so. The proponents of the PRC/Anglican view are quick to assume that the guilty party is free to remarry because the contract has been dissolved, but nowhere does the Confession teach that they are. Rather the guilty party is under the ban of the church from remarriage.

This is the position of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. There is nothing in their Church Order about this; maybe when this was written they thought the Confession to be clear enough. However, their magazine has addressed the issue. In the February 1996 issue of the F.P. Magazine, for example, referring to the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales, we read: "Given the confessed adultery of both parties, we do not object to the divorce, though it would be unscriptural for either of them to remarry." (of course this was written before the death of the Princess of Wales). Now, if the PRC/Anglican criticism about the Westminster position is true, this divorce would free them both up to remarry, hence we can only conclude that they would both be under the ban of the church (and the state in an ideal world) to remarry, by reason of them both being guilty parties. This is, after all, no different from the PRC/Anglican view, except for the fact that the PRC/Anglican view would extend the ban on remarriage to the innocent party as well. Remarriage of the guilty party is not an option in either view.

Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:32

The scriptural ground for the Westminster position is based (amongst other scriptures) on Matthew 19:9:

"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."

The first half of this verse tells us:
(1.) Anyone putting away his wife for anything other than "fornication," i.e. NOT for a valid reason (i.e. she is NOT a guilty party), commits adultery if he marries another, because technically he is still married to his first wife as the divorce is for an invalid reason, and therefore should not be recognised.

(2.) The presence of the exception clause then clearly infers by good and necessary consequence that anyone putting away his wife FOR "fornication," i.e. FOR a valid reason (i.e. she IS a guilty party), does NOT commit adultery if he marries again, as he is the innocent party.

The second half of the verse tells us that anyone marrying her that is put away commits adultery because:
(1.) If it was NOT for a valid reason (i.e. "fornication"), she would still technically be married to her first husband.

(2.) If it was FOR a valid reason, she is the guilty party and therefore under a ban from remarrying, so if she does marry again it would be classed as adultery.

With regards Matthew 5:32, the first half of the verse is different:

"But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery.".

In this case:
(1.) If the putting away was NOT for a valid reason, it would cause the wife to commit adultery (if she married again) because she would still technically be married to her first husband.

(2.) If the putting away was FOR a valid reason, using the same logic as above, we conclude that this does NOT cause her to commit adultery - which it doesn't of course as such, as the putting away does not cause the adultery because adultery has already occurred. The adultery causes the putting away. This shows that there is no blame attached to the man if he was to put her away for a valid reason (and indeed remarry, although remarriage isn't really the issue here). He is not causing her to commit adultery (if she should marry again) as he would be if the divorce was on invalid grounds; it would be her own sin alone if she remarried, and he would not be culpable in this case, as he would have been in the case of divorce for an invalid reason.

It has been pointed out that other similar verses appear without the exception clause, i.e. in Mark 10:11,12 and Luke 16:18. However, we must ask the question: How many times must something appear in Scripture to be authoritative? Answer: Once. (In fact the exception clause appears twice actually). The other two instances in Mark and Luke without the exception clause are simply giving the "norm," i.e. no divorce "for every cause," as the Pharisees had wanted to be the case. "Fornication" is the exception rather than the rule.

Some people argue that because the exception clause is where it is in the sentence, then it must only apply to the divorce and not the remarriage. However, to believe that changing the sentence order around would make a difference is not true. Any other way would make the passage grammatically awkward to say the least. "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another, except it be for fornication, committeth adultery" is very bad grammar. The exception clause applies primarily to the divorce, and the "committeth adultery" clause applies primarily to the remarriage, hence the sentence is naturally structured to reflect this.

Now, how long does a guilty party remain under this ban of remarriage? There are three possibilities:
(1.) Until the death of the individual guilty party themselves.
(2.) Until the death of the divorced spouse (e.g. Diana, in the case of Prince Charles)
(3.) Until a credible profession of repentance on the part of the guilty party (if ever).

Position (3.) is the most common one taken in a vast majority of churches today. The argument goes that as we are indeed to forgive others upon a credible profession of repentance in our everyday lives, then this should be the case here. However, one can easily see the large loophole that this position opens up, in that the more liberal ministers and churches could just ignore the ban on the guilty party completely and allow remarriage anyway (which, alas, most of them do these days). Many such people are following John Murray in this. It is this interpretation that people are reacting against when they criticise the position of the Westminster Confession.

Position (2.) is the correct one (this would agree with the PRC/Anglican view in fact). An article in the F.P. Magazine for March 2005 states: "Mrs Parker-Bowles is now divorced but her former husband is still alive. Obviously Prince Charles is now free to remarry as his wife is dead, but his fiancée is not free to do so, and so the proposed marriage will not be scriptural." (This assumes of course that Mrs Parker-Bowles was not an innocent party in her divorce). So this is a very simple rule of thumb we have. The Confession states that the innocent party is to be treated "as if the offending party were dead;" so we can at least strongly imply (although technically it is not a necessary implication) that the guilty party is to be treated as if they were still married, in which case the guilty party may not remarry until their original spouse dies - even if that spouse has lawfully divorced and remarried someone else in the meantime.

It might be objected that God would never allow anyone to be in a position whereby they have to live "as if" something, when that something is not the case in reality. However, we do have Biblical precedent for this, albeit in a slightly different context, in 2 Samuel 20:3:

"And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood."

Here we have David putting away ten of his concubines. Although this refers to divorce after polygamy, the thing to note here is that Scripture describes them after having been put away as "living in widowhood," in other words "as if" their husband was dead (which David was not). So we cannot dismiss this idea as readily as some people would like us to do.

Deuteronomy 22:13-29

In Deuteronomy 22, we have a series of situations with regards various related subjects and how to deal with them practically:
(1.) vv. 13-21 - a man whose new wife cannot prove her virginity.
(2.) v.22 - adultery with a married person (see also Leviticus 20:10)
(3.) vv. 23-27 - adultery with a betrothed person.
(4.) vv. 28-29 - fornication before marriage.

In the first three cases the penalty if found guilty is stoning to death. The promoters of the PRC/Anglican view are quick to insist that this was the penalty in the Old Testament for adultery, so divorce was not an issue, but (a.) why then is it that Moses allows divorce in Deuteronomy 24? And (b.) why then is it that Joseph, spoken of as a "just" man, sought to divorce Mary after he found Mary with child in Matthew 1:19? Surely, if he was a "just" man, as the text says, he would have sought to get her stoned to death. We see here in fact that Joseph had a choice, either to "make her a publick example" (which was stoning to death, after a fair trial by the public authorities), or to "put her away privily," in other words, divorce. The Old Testament law always allowed the choice.

Note, in the fourth case above (4.), that the penalty for fornication where no married person is involved is not stoning. The greater penalty of stoning for crimes involving at least one married party, shows the seriousness with which a crime against the ordinance of marriage should be held.

In case (1.), the penalty for the man if found wrong about questioning his wife's virginity, is that he may "not put her away all his days" (v.19). Note he is guilty of a crime, but not of adultery, rather the crime of giving a virgin in Israel a bad name. So stoning is not a suitable penalty for him, rather he is fined an hundred shekels of silver (payable to the father of his bride) and never allowed to divorce her as long as he lives. In case (4.), the penalty for the fornicator who lies with a virgin not betrothed is similar. He has technically not committed adultery as such (i.e. no married person is involved in the crime) and so is not stoned, but is fined 50 shekels of silver, and not allowed to divorce her as long as she lives. It seems here that he is forced to marry her, and on the face of it, it looks like a rapist is being forced to marry his victim, which seems rather unfair to say the least. However, comparing this passage with Exodus 22;16, 17, we see that there was a way out of forcing the poor woman to marry if she did not want to, in that "If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins." So a fine (payable to the father) could be imposed instead. The main point here is that in these two cases we have a specific statement that divorce would not be allowed all the man's days, i.e. this is a ban placed on a guilty party. So the idea of the church being able to place a ban of some kind on one party and not the other has a scriptural precedent. In this case it is a ban on divorce, in our case in question it is a ban on remarriage for a divorced guilty party.

Note also, in cases (2.) and (3.) above, that the penalty for adultery is the same as the penalty for betrothal, i.e. stoning to death. Also, the parties in a betrothal are referred to with words such as "husband," "wife" and "married" (see also Matthew 1:19). Hence we see that betrothal is treated in exactly the same way as marriage, the only difference between the two being that the parties have not yet officially signed a legal, public document or come into sexual union. This is interesting because some people argue (and many Strict Baptists argue this way) that the exception clauses in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 deliberately use the word "fornication" not "adultery" because, they say, it only applies to betrothal, and betrothal is the only state, in their view, from which one can get a legitimate divorce. But we see that the Bible makes no such distinction between betrothal and marriage with regards these things. Betrothal is not a "halfway house," it is marriage in everything but the final contract being signed and the sexual union. In fact, in cases (1.) and (4.), not having divorce available to the guilty party after marriage is a penalty, not the norm. The word "fornication" is used, not to provide a special case to refer to betrothal only, but to include many more sinful practices than just adultery, including sodomy (Jude 7), incest (1 Corinthians 5:1), and uncleanness with single or married people (1 Corinthians 10:8). Does this include something "minor" (in the world's eyes), like finding a pornographic magazine in one's spouse's possession? Yes, indeed it does. "Anyone who looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). But, as with any sin, we cannot legislate against thoughts alone; only when hard evidence comes to light can we go ahead and do something about it. Possession of a magazine of this nature could be used as that evidence, the only problem being that it might be difficult to prove this in a divorce court, as it would be difficult to produce witnesses, or proof that it hadn't been planted on the person without their knowledge and so on, but technically, yes, it is hard evidence of fornication and therefore could be used as just grounds for a lawful divorce.

Sexual union is the final stage in a marriage union, but it is not the whole of the marriage. Betrothal was equally as important, being everything else to do with marriage except for the final contract being signed and this union - i.e. it was a public, witnessed statement of intent to marry (and stay together), and public declaration of consent between both parties (Genesis 24:5-8; Genesis 24:57-58) and their parents (Genesis 34:4-6). All of these are necessary for a marriage to be declared valid. A marriage is not just sexual union alone, as can be witnessed by the woman of Samaria in John 4 who had five husbands, and the one she now had was not her husband (John 4:18). To have someone who is not her husband implies there is more to marriage than just sexual union, i.e. a public, official, recorded declaration of some kind must be entered into for the marriage to be valid.

Wilful Desertion

"Wilful desertion," according to the Westminster Confession, is also legitimate grounds for divorce. Again, proponents of the PRC/Anglican view think this also makes the Westminster view a very "low" view of marriage, but the Confession is very careful. Firstly the main proof text is 1 Corinthians 7:15, so it would only ever apply to an unbeliever "wilfully deserting" - believers would not have this option. Then the divorce is not in the hands of the couple to just "decide" to do it. Only "such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage" and "the persons concerned in it are not left to their own wills and discretion, in their own case." Of course, if found guilty, the deserter would be under the same ban of remarriage as if he had committed adultery, so again we have a suitable deterrent from doing such a thing. All this is a far cry from the easy divorce that the PRC/Anglicans would have us believe the Westminster view entails.

1 Corinthians 7:15 states:

"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.

In this scenario of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, the believer is not to try to get out of the marriage, as it is still a legitimate one, bringing forth "holy seed" indeed (v.14). So if the unbeliever is pleased to dwell with the believer then they should do so. However, if the unbeliever departs (v.15) then he or she should be permitted to leave. The word for "depart" here and in vv.10-11 is the Greek word chorizo, which literally means "separate." Divorce is a completely different word, apoluo. This is used by some people to suggest that this passage is not talking about divorce at all. This is not the case however, as the word chorizo is the same word used for "put asunder" in Matthew19:6 and Mark.10:9 - verses clearly talking of divorce.

This is also implied purely from vv. 12 and 13 alone:

"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. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him."

These verses state that if the unbeliever be pleased to dwell with the believer then let them not be put away. This clearly at least implies that if the unbeliever is not pleased to dwell with the believer, then this would be a valid reason to put him/her away (i.e. divorce).

A person whose unbelieving spouse has wilfully deserted them, can therefore legitimately sue out a divorce, but this can only be done after the church has officially declared the deserter an unbeliever, i.e. "as an heathen man and a publican" according to Matthew 18:17:

"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

This would need to be done, because the duty of the believer otherwise would be to stay single or be reconciled to the husband as described in vv. 10-11. An unbeliever outwardly proves himself to be an unbeliever by refusing to listen to the church and the state warning him, and his subsequent excommunication - the church and state have no way of knowing or declaring him an unbeliever otherwise.

It is never up to either party's will that the divorce goes ahead, it needs to be granted by the authorities. This is totally different to the divorce-on-demand mentality of today. The "wilful desertion" clause in the Westminster Confession gives church and state the power to divorce people, without it having to be for adultery, in exceptional cases, when an unbeliever insists on leaving. The deserted party would then of course be treated as a divorced innocent party and allowed to marry again, and the unbeliever who has departed as a divorced guilty party, under the ban of the church (and ideally the state as well) from remarriage.

What happens if the unbeliever, upon departure, insists on applying for a divorce themselves? They cannot have one, as the innocent party has done nothing wrong to warrant it!

Highest View of Marriage

It seems that the holders of the PRC/Anglican view tend to think of Westminster Confession people as having a very "low" view of marriage and they a very "high" one, whereas we would suggest it is the other way around. In the PRC/Anglican view, a man can commit adultery a thousand times, and his wife could do nothing about it and would be duty bound to have the cad back (the only other alternative being some kind of separation with no possibility of remarriage until the death of one of them, but even then they would still believe it is their duty to have them back if at all possible). The Westminster position on the other hand is that if one of the parties commits adultery once, the innocent spouse can (if they so wish) sue out a divorce straight away, kick the wicked adulterer out of the house, and put them under the ban of church and state from ever marrying again. That is a high view of marriage. That would make anyone think twice about adultery.

Objections Considered

1. Does this not make adultery the unforgivable sin? No. All it does is force on someone a ban on remarriage. This is not lifted even on a credible profession of repentance. The person has to live with this ban upon them until the death of the original spouse. We all have consequences of sin to live with. Maybe we used to be a bank robber and trapped our hand in a safe door, maiming it for life whilst in the process of robbing a bank. We could subsequently be truly converted and become a member of a church, but we still have to live with a maimed hand, gained as the result of our sin, for the rest of our lives. The same applies if in our unregenerate state we may have covered ourselves with tattoos etc.. The same also applies if we were a guilty party in a divorce. We could truly repent, and be accepted (back) into church membership, but we would still be under a ban of remarriage until the death of the original spouse. Being a "divorced guilty party" is a declared state, like being "single," or being "married" or being a "divorced innocent party." It is not a sin as such, so repentance is not able to extricate anyone from such a state (albeit it is the consequence of sin).

2. What happens if a "divorced guilty party" remarries whilst the original spouse is still alive, either in a state ceremony, or in a ceremony in another church with laxer views than that expounded here? The church should not recognise any marriage unless it is in keeping with its own laws. So, in the above example, the new partnership is unlawful in the eyes of the church, and the parties would not be recognised by the church as being married, but rather as living in adultery. The Church can only recognise Biblically valid marriages, divorces and remarriages, not invalid ones entered into via the state or other laxer body which allows such things. So long as a certificate of marriage is signed and records are lodged after a public declaration, any valid marriage is deemed lawful by the church, even if it took place outside of the church itself. But unbiblical (i.e. invalid) marriages are not to be recognised by the church, e.g. in cases of polygamy, same sex couples, remarriages after invalid divorce etc. We are quite happy to say "No!" to sodomite marriages, so why are we not as forthright in condemning marriages of divorced guilty parties?

This again is the position of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as stated in a "Protest re Family Law (Scotland) Bill 2005" sent to the Scottish Parliament, which includes the following: "The Synod further protests the right and privilege of the Church to consider those aspects of this law which are at variance with Scripture teaching on marriage and divorce, as defined in the 24th chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as unlawful for the purposes of ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction."

3. What if the spouse is no longer traceable? How do we know when they are dead, and so when the guilty party is eligible to remarry? It is not likely that this would occur in this modern age of record keeping. However, if the person admits to being a guilty party, we must try to trace the spouse by whatever means possible. If we fail to do this, they must, on their own admission, not be allowed to remarry until the death of the spouse can be proved. The death of the spouse must be proved before the ban can be lifted. If they lie, and do not admit to being a guilty party when in reality they are, and no record is available to say that they are, the church must treat them as it would an unknown polygamist. If a polygamist comes forward for marriage in the church, and the church is unaware of their being married to another person, the church must accept a credible profession, and admit them not only to church membership, but indeed to marriage. Banns are read in church, and records investigated, but if nothing comes to light they should be allowed to marry with the church's blessing. If, subsequently, the church finds out that they were a polygamist, or a divorced guilty party, (i.e. already had a spouse, or was "as if" they had a spouse), then the remarriage would have to be immediately declared unlawful, the church must then insist that the partners cease living together (otherwise it would be adultery), and the guilty party disciplined accordingly.


The correct position on divorce and remarriage therefore is that a guilty party after divorce is put under a church ban of remarriage for the rest of the lifetime of the original spouse, "as if" they were still married, even though the marriage contract has been dissolved by the divorce, and maybe the innocent party has married someone else.

Any other position than this, either on the one hand brings undue suffering to the innocent party by not allowing them to remarry when they have done nothing wrong; or on the other hand allows marriage of the guilty party in through the back door, and creates all kinds of difficult situations in the church, as indeed does every case of not disciplining sin after the biblical manner.