Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Spiritual Death" As Grounds For Divorce?

After reading the post from Marriage Missions International, “Christians In Divorce Court”, I thought it was very necessary to understand who really does decide if there are legitimate grounds to divorce. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tony Evans sermon and view on divorce an how it is the responsibility of the church to judge. Dr. Evans also makes a brief explanation of his "divorce court" in a recent Focus on the Family broadcast. (Note:The article directs the reader to a link for the sermon on this post, but I found the link was to a different sermon and not the sermon indicated)

Dr. Evans believes there are 3 spheres which allow for divorce, but he also believes that it is the church who must make the call.  I would agree with Dr. Evans that "civil" laws on marriage divorce are only as good as how they apply to the Author of marriage. I also understand the thought behind Dr. Evans use of “Church Discipline” from Matthew 18:15-17, but I must say that his foundation is false because he believes there are legitimate grounds for divorce and the word of God proves him wrong. Here are his three spheres, with a noticeable disregard for the application of scripture to support these spheres. 

·       When immorality enters into a relationship —it is an allowance by God.

        When there is a non-Christian married to a Christian and the non-Christian deserts the Christian —then that is an allowance for the Christian to proceed with a divorce allowed by God…

        Removal from the fellowship of God to be excommunicated as to be under Spiritual death (1 Corinthians 5) (where there’s immorality, beating, or being a “striker,” being a violent person, for a person who’s not taking care of his family, etc.). It’s where the “supposed” Christian will not come under authority.

The first sphere is referring to the “exception clause” from Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. Dr. Evans stands by the Westminster Confession of Faith(WCOF) and the position from these traditions. More on the “exception clause” later. The second sphere is also from the WCOF handling of 1 Cor 7:15 in which it permits a believer to forsake a one-flesh covenant vow because the other spouse of covenant abandons him or her. More on this “Pauline Privilege” later…

The last sphere is what this the main topic of this post. Dr. Evans believes the church has the final say on determining the “spiritual”, not physical death of a person though Church Discipline. Thus, divorce may be permissible if it can be determined that the Church Discipline finds the “guilty” spouse to be “spiritually dead”.  This “spiritual death” applies to the first two spheres as well since one would be “spiritually dead” if they did not repent of immorality and they did not repent by coming back to restore the marriage after abandonment. We need to understand if this “spiritual death” is a permanent until physical death, or if this ‘spiritual death” is a condition that can be rectified with repentance and faith in Christ. 

Dr. Evans makes a strong case that the church is responsible to hold court on matters of Christ. I believe he is spot on with his understanding of church discipline and that believers must apply judgment to those who claim to know Christ but do not do what He says. He uses 1 Cor 6 and Mt 18:15-17 as the texts which determine the outcome of someone who is unrepentant of sin. Unfortunately, Dr. Evans tries to defend his “spiritual death” position as it pertains to marriage. The problem is that he first has to prove that “spiritual death” is a permanent state, and then he has to some how prove that one-flesh covenant marriage can end in this “spiritual death”, and not physical death (Romans 7:2-4; 1Cor 7:39).

I agreed with Dr. Evans on his position of church discipline up to this point:

And if he will not listen to the church, LET HIM BE TO YOU, AS A GENTILE and TAX-GATHERER.” In other words, HE IS TO BE VIEWED AS SPIRITUALLY DEAD! He is rendered a gentile, or a tax collector. Not only were tax collectors sinners… they were also ostracized because of their occupation. Jews didn’t have fellowship with tax collectors. In other words, they are spiritually dead. They, may be a Christian… but you can now relate to them… as though they are spiritually dead.”
Does this mean that a person is “permanently” spiritually dead with no hope of salvation? The answer is no. The prodigal son was spiritually dead for a time, but eventually he came to senses and repentance.(Luke 15:11-32) The same can be said of a spouse who did not repent after all steps of church discipline (Mt 18:15-17). This does not mean that a person will NEVER repent once church discipline is enacted and the person did not repent at the time the verdict was registered.

In Matthew chapter 9, the Lord calls Matthew (the tax collector) to follow him. He later went to his home and sat and ate with other tax collectors. Though the Lord did not fellowship with tax collectors, he did invite them to salvation in Him. A “spiritually dead” person is someone headed to the lake of fire. Would not a greater witness of the Gospel to a prodigal spouse be the actions of the believing spouse who remains in the covenant vow, trusting God’s position in the vow, praying and fasting for a fallen and hell-bound spouse…or is divorce and remarriage the answer? Which is a greatest example of the Gospel? I am not asking what the easiest road is, I am asking what the "correct" and God honoring road is.

“So, how does this relate to marriage and divorce? 1 Corinthians 7:39. As long as the mate is alive… either physically or covenantally… then you are bound to that person and the most you can do (1 Corinthians 7:10), is separate and remain unmarried or be reconciled. You don’t have grounds for a divorce as long as they’re alive.”

A spouse is in a one-flesh covenant which can only end in death…Not spiritual death, since there is no scriptural basis to say that a person can or may never repent and become saved. In other words, "You don’t have grounds for divorce because the spouse is alive and susceptible to the power of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit!" Your responsibility is to trust God and pray that your spouse would come to Christ. The church that is willing to assist this spouse by praying, caring and supporting this spouse, is the church that is willing to teach the purpose of scripture on marriage.

“If they are dead, they must be dead by God’s coroner. And God’s coroner is the church. Once they’re declared dead, then a declaration of death is always a freedom to remarry —because a woman is only bound to her husband, as long as he lives. So once he either dies, or is declared to be such (as a tax gatherer or a sinner) or as 1 Corinthians 5:5 says, “put him in the realm of Satan.” At that point, the party is free to remarry. Why? It’s because God has canceled out the previous marriage.”

You are not telling the whole truth, Tony Evans. You are adding to the word of God if you believe a person is declared “spiritually dead” by you are anyone else. You do not know the beginning from the end and you can never say a person is permanently “spiritually dead” with no hope of salvation. God has already set the covenant of one-flesh marriage from the beginning…one man and one woman for life. There is nothing you can say or do to end what God has joined in Heaven.

Also, read the WHOLE verse (1 Cor 5:5) pertaining to casting one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh….”so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” You cannot justify a divorce and remarriage to an innocent spouse by telling us 1Cor 5:5 cancels out a one-flesh covenant marriage. You cannot exegete this into the passage because the second part of this scripture takes into account that a person can eventually repent!

“God hates divorce. He never demands divorce. He only permits it. But He does allow it, when death occurs in order to preserve and protect the innocent.”

No He does not allow divorce. Read the scriptures, Moses suffered divorce to a hardhearted nation of Israel, and the Lord sets the matter straight! (Mt 19:4-8; Mk 10:6-9) The law of marriage is as it was from the beginning, thus divorce is no longer applicable to the New Covenant church. Your “spiritually dead” position has no scriptural support and contradicts the power of the Gospel and you also place the church above Christ and His view of marriage.

There are 3 options the Christian has (and by the way, the reason God says to be married “only in the Lord” is because GOD DOESN’T WANT IT TO BE HEAVEN and HELL EXPERIENCE TO BE MARRIED, if they can help it), a person whose mate commits covenantal death has 3 choices:
• To restore them to the relationship based on restitution. In fact, that always ought to be the 1st option, to see if we can fix what got broke. What if your mate does something that causes covenantal death, but they’re sincerely repentant? And how do you know they’re sincerely repentant? The Bible says “let them bring forth fruits of repentance.” There must be a demonstration or restitution that pays back the offended party, that lets them know they’re serious in their heart about what they just verbalized with their mouth as demonstrated by their actions.
They must be restored based on “their fruits of repentance.” And if they’re sincerely repentant, then the goal should be, if at all possible, to seek to restore them. (And that’s the reason why God accepted the marriage of David to Bathsheba. God took restitution out on David. He lost four of his sons as David had declared that the man who did this crime should be punished four-fold. So he lost four of his sons as payment back to God. He set him free to marry only after he had received restitution.) So if you’ve offended your mate, you need to pay them back."

This contradicts your whole position because you are saying that a person committed “spiritual death” but then they show fruits of repentance after you made it clear that when a person is “spiritually dead” your position states that there is no hope for that person and the innocent spouse is free to divorce AND remarry. Thus, the church cannot make a court decision to permit a person to apply for a civil divorce.

According to this logic, once a spouse is declared “spiritually dead” the “innocent spouse can divorce and remarry…Then two years later the former “spiritually dead” spouse shows fruits of repentance and finds that his wife of covenant is in a “remarriage”. Now if a “remarriage” is adultery as the Lord says it is, would not “remarriage” be out of the question in ANY case since it is a possibility that a “spiritually dead” spouse may come to his or her senses and repent? This is why the Lord is saying that “remarriage” is adultery because the one-flesh covenant can NEVER end in divorce.

“In fact, that always ought to be the 1st option, to see if we can fix what got broke.”

The fact is scripture is set up in a way that this is the ONLY option. Until you figure this out, you will continue to deceive yourself and others. If your position proves erroneous, which scripture declares that it is, then you are leading people into more and more sin.

• To divorce —when your mate has become covenantally dead, that is, to have them declared so by the church, which frees you up. (This was the option Joseph was going to take with Mary. He decided to put her away privately, when he thought the mother of Jesus had been immoral.)

That is “covenantally dead” as in Tony Evans having a pretty good idea that he or she will never repent...Come on Tony, you seriously believe what you teach comes from the word of God? Your position is so contradictory because you base it on ambiguous verses that are only complimented and made clear by the unambiguous verses. You are a Westminster Confession of Faith adherent who bases your position on the poor exegete of Matthew’s exception clause (Mt 5:32 and 19:9) and Paul’s privilege. (1 Cor 7:15)

Joseph was going to put Mary away because he believed she committed “fornication” during the year of betrothal since he was expecting his wife to be a virgin on the night of consummating the marriage. Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 aka the exception clause-This exception is always used to allow an "innocent" spouse to divorce and remarry in the case of the unrepentant adultery of the other spouse. This at one time was exclusive to "adultery" but is now associated with substance abuse, pornography abuse and other forms of sexual immorality.

Matthew’s account (Mt 5:31-32 and 19:9) can only be viewed through the NT knowledge that this Gospel was written to Jewish Christians who understood that “fornication” (except for fornication-verses 5:32 and 19:9) was a sin that allowed a Jewish betrothed husband to put away his Jewish betrothed wife because she was not a “virgin” on the night of the consummation of the marriage. The whole foundation of Jewish marriage was understanding that a wife was to be pure and unblemished, and “except for fornication” can only be viewed in the context of pre-resurrection Jewish betrothal. It is poor and erroneous hermeneutics to teach, preach or believe that divorce is applicable to post-resurrection believers and the context text of Matthew’s account corroborates with the unambiguous texts of Mark 10:11,12 and Luke 16:18.

• You can choose to live continually with your covenantally dead spouse —even though they’ve committed an act and even though they’re unrepentant for their sin. (1 Corinthian 7:13-15) Here he sets the scenario, that the covenantally dead person or the unbeliever (he’s either an unbeliever, or he’s functioning as an unbeliever), wants to stay in the marriage relationship. If he’s willing to function, as her husband, and she’s willing to function as his wife —He says don’t leave.

1 Cor 7 says a believer is “commanded” not to leave a “unequally yoked” spouse (2 Cor 6:14) if he or she is pleased to live with you because you are in a one-flesh covenant.  What makes you think that God allows the covenant to end if the unequally-yoked spouse abandons the marriage? Again, you are using 1 Cor 7:15 out of context and in the context of the WCOF.  Verse 7:15-aka "The Pauline Privilege" This interpretation is often misused to validate a divorce and remarriage for the believer when his or her unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage.

Taking 1 Cor 7:15 out of context places this interpretation on contradicting grounds to other verses in the chapter. Abandonment is not grounds for divorce, and neither does it permit the believer to “remarry” another. In context, the verse is calling the believer to “peace” knowing that he or she was not at fault for the abandonment of the departing spouse. The believer is not to feel guilt or shame for the abandonment of an unequally yoked spouse who decided to leave the marriage. However, even though he or she abandoned the believer, they are still bonded in the covenant marriage until death do they part. Thus, remarriage is not an option since divorce is not applicable to severing a one-flesh marriage covenant. This correct interpretation corroborates with the bookends of Paul’s teaching on the one-flesh marriage covenant. (1 Cor 7:10,11 and 1 Cor 7:39)

 “What do you do if you’re already coventally dead? GOOD NEWS —God has the ability to raise people from the dead!”

Amen, which is why your position on divorce and remarriage is not only confusing, it is erroneous, contradictory and damnable heresy. It is a double-minded theology and as you can see, Dr. Evans’ “spiritual death” contradicts the power of the Gospel in the life of a person in desperate need of a Savior. It would glorify God if the church would teach the truth about marriage. Thus, when a spouse is in unrepentant sin, he or she would be brought to repentance by enacting Church Discipline with the purpose of bringing such person into fellowship with the Lord.

The reconciliation of the marriage is the final step. It is the final step because the first step is saving someone’s soul from destruction. An unrepentant spouse needs to see a Church that will discipline the prodigal spouse, and at the same time provide and care for the innocent spouse. An unrepentant spouse will witness a spouse that not only remains in covenant, he or she will see a spouse who prays and fasts for the salvation of a spouse headed for death…both physical and spiritual.  

In conclusion, I pray that Dr. Evans would reconsider his “spiritual death” theology and teach that physical death is the only way a one-flesh marriage covenant can end. I thank the Lord that He did not abandon and divorce me when I was far from Him. It was His grace and mercy that brought me out of the pit. As a believer, I have to believe that everyone has the opportunity to experience a new life in Christ. The Gospel is for the contrite and brokenhearted, thus we must never say that anyone can be beyond eternity in Christ...much less than the person we vowed to remain true till death do we part. We need to be patient with the Lord and trust Him even when all hope seems lost…and then remind ourselves that is exactly what He did with us.

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

In Christ's love,


Note: After publishing this post, UDIU wrote a similar and very concise post in rebuttal to "Christians in Divorce Court" and thought is very worth mentioning.

What? The Bride of Christ Deputized as “Gods’ Coroner” ?


Unilateral Divorce Is Unconstitutional said...

Ha! Great minds think alike - we both independently ended our respective blogs with the same scripture.

I think I detected a bad bible reference: "The first sphere is referring to the “exception clause” from Matthew 19:5 and 19:9"

Since Matt. 19:5 is part of God's definition of holy matrimony, did you mean Matt.5:32 here?

Neil Novotnak said...

I did. Thank you for the correction!:)

David Stiles said...

Amen brother Neil!

Thank you for standing firm on God's word and shining His light on marriage, divorce and remarriage.

I pray for all standers out there to stand on God's promises despite the circumstances and the attacks from the enemy. Don't give up. Stand strong. Show the love of Jesus to your prodigal spouses through your longsuffering and faithfulness.

I pray for all prodigals to yield to the Holy Spirit's calling, for the Lord to open their eyes to the deceitfulness of sin and turn to Jesus. And I pray for God to give them eyes and hearts for their covenant spouses.

Brother Dave