"What God Has Joined Together . . .Let Not Man Separate"

The four examples below are true stories but the names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Example 1: Jane and her husband decided to divorce after months of arguing and fighting over their church's changes in major doctrines and beliefs.

Example 2: Sally and her husband divorced after joining a smaller church organization and being judged "spiritually incompatible" by "church authority." She believes "the church" has authority to rule in all areas of her life. He doesn't.

Example 3: Because of doctrinal differences, Bob left the big church group that he and Jill had attended since they married. In Jill's mind, he became an unbeliever so she divorced him and remarried. A couple of years later, Jill left the same church group over similar doctrinal differences.

Example 4: Dan had a difficult marriage for many years, but the ministers in his church organization continued to tell him to work out his problems. Later, he joined a new organization where the ministers listened only to his side of the story and encouraged him to divorce and remarry. His second marriage had similar problems.

The instability in church organizations typically affects families in many ways. Even marriages that are strong and stable will be affected, but those that are less stable could be destroyed. Children are devastated and depressed over their broken home. Emotional problems result with physical problems following.

This article is not addressing those in abusive relationships, who may have a real reason for a separation or divorce. It is addressing couples who have had at least some cooperation and family success and believe in marriage commitment. After recent religious troubles and related marital troubles, some are confused over the issue of church authority and loyalty versus family loyalty. We hope to deal with these issues.

How to Weather The Storm

1. Pray and seek our Father's guidance in your marriage. Also, ask others to pray for you. Study good books on marriage and apply laws to a happy marriage. If you both believe the Eternal brought you together, it is inconsistent to believe He is now breaking up your marriage. Consider who is breaking up your marriage. Maybe you have a false concept of "church unity" if achieving it requires the destruction of your divinely given family.

2. Counsel with people who will encourage you to work together to save your marriage. In saving your marriage, you will save yourself, your children, your relatives and in-laws much heartache and distress. There are many organizations that produce educational resources for achieving family harmony. A local public library and local Christian bookstore may be helpful. Also, you may send for Friends of the Family Library to borrow good books, cassette tapes, and videos (many from Focus on the Family, see accompanying article) on marriage and family: 3127 Old Lorena Road, Lorena, Texas 76655. Also, try Family Life Today in Little Rock, Arkansas: 800 FL TODAY.

3. (For Examples #1 and #3) Try attending different congregations together if that makes a more peaceful home. Flexibility and "give and take" is what marriage is all about. You have probably already heard some doctrinal error in a previous congregation that you have attended—you can probably deal with hearing some more temporarily until your marriage is stable again. This purpose is to save your family, your marriage and your life as you know it. One week, attend the wife's church preference and the next week, attend the husband's church preference. I know personally of couples who practice this and it works for them. If this does not work for you, try doing what a minister's wife tried doing: she did not agree with many doctrinal changes occurring in her church yet her husband did not discern it as quickly as she did. She went to church with him but took a book and read it during services in order to "keep her sanity." This gave her husband "time" to work through the difficulty and sustained marital harmony. They have now moved on together to another fellowship. If there is still contention over basic beliefs, then, for the sake of the marriage, you can agree to disagree, and accept each other's differences.

Some "ministers" quote Matthew 10:37, but wrongly apply it to their particular church group, instead of to Christ. In this way, they justify splitting up marriages.

4. (For Example #2) Seriously question and study the statement of a "minister" who claims that you and your spouse are "spiritually incompatible". What does this mean? How can a couple live happily for years, have several children blessing the marriage and be physically compatible, but be "spiritually incompatible"? Or does that mean that the "ministers" use that term when they attempt to keep members for their own social, financial, and security reasons? Disagreeing on spiritual issues is O.K.; we have free moral agency. Supporting the right family (yours), is more important than supporting the right church group.

5. (For Examples #3 and #4) Realize that Jesus Christ (Yeshua) is our authority and wives and husbands are to please one another. Has the church ever been placed over a wife to rule in place of her husband? Some wives place "church authority" over their husbands. Is this biblical? "But I want you to understand that Christ is the Head of every man and the husband is the head of his wife and God is the Head of Christ" (1Cor 11:3, NRSV).

On the other hand, if some husbands were not so overbearing, then the wife would not have to resort to outside authority to receive fair treatment in her life. Some husbands think they are authorized by the Bible to relate to their wife as a dictator would. The scriptures about submitting one to another are ignored (Eph 5:21, 1Pet 5:5). Obviously, the relationship should be one of endeared companionship and equal respect, not of one controlling another. Couples who think religious differences are separating them, might consider if religion is just an excuse—there may be other unsolved problems that are the real cause of marital difficulty.

Examples of "church authority" in the Bible seem to be regarding "church matters": preaching the gospel, planning services, scheduling activities, etc. If the Apostle Paul did not have a command "from the Lord" regarding believers with unbelieving mates (1Cor 7:12), how do "ministers" today claim to have authority to make such decisions for people?

There has been much grief for countless ones over the divorce and remarriage decisions made in past years in some churches. I personally know of a woman who became interested in biblical truth in the 60's. She and her husband had a long, happy marriage, that was blessed with children. Years earlier, her husband had been married and divorced. The "church" refused to let her come to their meetings until she divorced her mate. She was devastated as she put great value on the happy family she was blessed with. She never went back to that fellowship. The members of that particular fellowship were instructed to stay away from her as "she prefers her family over the truth". This is an example of some of the distorted teachings many have experienced.

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mat 19:4-6).

In our modern world, we may think it is easier to live without a complete family, but is this what our Creator wants us to do? The emptiness people feel after a divorce is quickly erased by a second marriage, but what they had in the early years of the former marriage is forgotten. And the relationship lingers with the children, grandchildren, in-laws, numerous relatives and acquaintances made during the former marriage. Let us prove our marriage commitments by honoring and preserving relationships the Eternal gives us.

—Marleen Edwards

(Editor's Note: By What Authority, by John A. Difley addresses questions like who should be serving us, how should servants be chosen, what are their duties, are they divinely authorized, is ordination always of God? This 10-page article is available on request.)

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