Stuff Christians Believe That Really Aren’t True (Like Divorce Being a Sin) — Part 1
The statistics show about half of American adults are divorced, although in recent years the cultural acceptance of cohabitation has effectively reduced divorce decrees. In the church it’s no different and hardly immune. The dissolution of Christian marriages, including many pastors, elders, deacons and other church leaders, is a common refrain. I’ll confess my first marriage failed. Its definitely not something in which I’m proud, but it happened and I’ve grown as a result.
Despite its cultural normalcy, the divorced (current and former) inside the church walls are still largely viewed as second-class, shameful and even sinful people. In the Roman Catholic Church, a divorce excludes a person from participating in the Eucharist and “is a grave offense against the natural law” because it constitutes immorality (and, depending on who’s interpreting, mortal sin). In many conservative, particularly evangelical, churches a divorce will end the professional career of a pastor, remove an elder/deacon/leader from Christian service and paint a scarlet letter on all who experience marital breakup. As one church leader once pontificated to me, finger wagging, “Divorce is a sin” and being divorced is a state of “sinfulness.”
So where do we get these notions about divorce? Not surprisingly, its mostly out of tradition and dogma.
The Catholic Church originated the divorce problem by citing marriage as a sacrament (1184 AD, Council of Verona). Yes, marriage is sacred as both Scripture and tradition attest. However, it’s not a means to experience God’s Grace or salvation. But in medieval times Roman Catholicism certified marriage as a vehicle for “experiencing God’s saving presence” and to channel “God’s grace to all those who receive [it] with the proper disposition.” This is error. Marriage cannot save nor impart Grace. Furthermore, once you make marriage sacramental it naturally causes dissolution to be heavily condemned. Divorce is never a good thing but is it sin or sinful? Many Christians think it is.
Biblically, marriage is a Holy Union where a man and woman enter into a sacred lifelong, Divinely ordained relationship that ceases when a death occurs (“until death do us part”). Marriage reflects the Triune Nature of God and is soaked in relationship. Since there is no marriage in heaven, according to Jesus, marriage is a purely earthly human experience. The execution of this marital contract creates the divorce problem and this is where the Catholic Church and many Protestants err.
Ironically, in God’s eyes and the biblical record, a marriage doesn’t commence with “certificate of marriage” nor dissolves with “certificate of divorce.” That’s where marriage becomes a human, legal and civil matter. Man created divorce and plenty of civil rules about marriage. God merely allows divorce. From God’s view marriage begins when a man and woman seal their lifelong commitment in a sexual relationship. This is what Jesus taught: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Sex is the God’s super-glue for marriage. In fact, there is no “marriage” without it.
TO BE CONTINUED…