October 17: The Presbyterian View on Divorce

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Secular Analysis of Marriage and Divorce

Time Magazine in its October 17, 1927 issue had an article on how Presbyterians view  the grounds of divorce.  Listen to its report:  “Presbyterian rules have held that only desertion and adultery are legitimate grounds of divorce.  In this, Presbyterians have been more liberal than most Christian denominations. Most admit only adultery as a divorce cause. A Presbyterian minister might properly marry a divorce[d person, but] only if the person were the innocent derelict of discretion to judge marital innocence. Amiable pew-holders occasionally have tried to strain his [the pastor’s] good will.”

As usual, when the secular press tries to understand church matters, they usually err in that matter. The Presbyterian “rule” on the grounds of adultery is none other than the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 24, sections 5 and 6. It was treated back on the October 8, “Through the Standards” section. It can hardly be interpreted as being “more liberal,” seeing that this creedal standard was formalized in the early seventeenth century.  Presbyterians find a specifically defined allowance for divorce in the texts of both Matthew 19:8-9 and 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. The part about the “amiable pew-holders occasionally have tried to strain his good will” is true. The only word this writer would dispute in that quote is the word “occasionally.”

But it would be far better if the Christian church would ramp up its teaching on Christian marriage. That is what needs to be the focus from the pulpit, in the Sunday School rooms, on marriage retreats, and in the counseling room. This retired pastor preached  a yearly marriage series on Sunday mornings every Lord’s Day between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day during his 38 year ministry. Each year, attention was given in the Christian education curriculum to some aspect of married life. Sometimes this discussion occurred during Sunday School and sometimes during a weekday study. Weekend marriage retreats were also planned and held regularly.  And most importantly, there was a firm policy that the pastor would not officiate at a marriage without the couple having first attended several sessions of required biblical counseling.

Far better to get the facts on the grounds of divorce, not from the secular main-line media, but from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Words to live by: The statistics of divorce are much too high for our evangelical and Reformed churches. We need to be more faithful to our marriage covenants, made not only to God, but also to our spouses.

Through the Scriptures:  Matthew 8 – 11

Through the Standards:  Union with Christ, and Christians

For further study :
PCA position paper on divorce and remarriage (1992).

WCF 26:1
“All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”

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