On Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Guidelines for First Presbyterian Church

by FPC Leadership on September 6, 2013

God’s intention in bringing a man and a woman together is to join two individuals into one union, a status which is to last as long as both members remain alive. An excellent wife is far more precious than jewels (Proverbs 31:10), and a godly marriage is among the richest blessings enjoyed in this life.

Marriage is a union of two sinners, and as such, no marriage fully experiences Gods original intention for the institution. Marriages between sinners can and should be God-honoring, loving, faithful, and joyful, but not all are. Some marriages are more characterized by pain and disappointment than by satisfaction and joy. Couples sin against one another, sometimes grievously, and some sins can result in serious consequences. Marriages do end, and the Bible has something to say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

What follows are the Bibles teaching about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The guidelines are written with the glory of God and the good of the church in mind, and are to be used as a guide to elders and pastors, an encouragement to couples, and as an aid to troubled marriages. As such, these guidelines are intended to help show the way, but are not a final arbiter of right and wrong in specific instances of marital discord. These guidelines are for pastoral counsel, and should be used as such.

Guiding Principles

  • Marriage is given by God to be a blessing to people, as a means to fulfill the cultural mandate (fill and subdue the earth), and to produce covenant children.
  • It is incumbent upon the church to promote godly marriages through the processes of premarital counseling for those who would be married at First Presbyterian Church; by encouragement for those who are married; by godly examples of marriage, especially by those who are in positions of leadership and authority; by assistance for those who face severe difficulties within the bonds of marriage; and by competent and compassionate counsel for those who would seek divorce.
  • Marriage is to take place between one man and one woman, and in view of the sexual union, results in the two becoming one (the one-flesh principle).
  • The parties of marriage are to be equally yoked (believer to believer or unbeliever to unbeliever).
  • The covenant of marriage is by Gods design to be permanent in this life, and is to be broken only by the death of one member.
  • Divorce is contrary to Gods purpose in marriage and is in all cases the result of sin, brings with it manifold harm to a multitude of parties, and does violence to the one flesh principle because it results in the dissolution of the covenant bond of marriage.
  • Divorce, however, is a reality in practice (because of sin), and while Scripture permits divorce in certain cases, it regulates and provides governing principles for all cases of divorce.
  • In instances where death dissolves the marriage bond, a person is free to remarry. In certain instances of divorce, a person is also free to remarry.
  • While Scripture knows of only three perpetual statuses with respect to marriage (single, married, or divorced), prudence may require temporary separation in cases of abuse (physical or otherwise) or other dangerous circumstances. Such a remedy is by nature temporary and is for the effecting of a proper resolution (the removal of the dangerous circumstance, in conjunction with reconciliation, or in some cases, biblical divorce).
  • The policies contained in this document are for the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS.

Of Biblical Divorce

  • Divorce, though in some instances permissible, is never mandated or required.
  • Our Lord gives one ground for divorce: But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). The ground for divorce is sexual immorality (Greek porneia), which entails those external sexual actions which would clearly break the one-flesh principle of marriage (i.e. they involve sexual union with a being other than ones marriage partner: adultery; homosexuality; lesbianism; bestiality; incest or other instances of gross behavior). The offended party in a marriage where sexual immorality has taken place is permitted to divorce.
  • Paul further elaborates on divorce: But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15). Such desertion entails physical leaving, and such instances which make the conditions of marriage as intolerable as physical desertion itself (judgments of which are best left to the discretion of the Session). This is not so much a second ground, as it is a practical acknowledgement that other than biblical divorce happens, and that a divorce is but making official what has happened in reality (i.e. the one-flesh principle has been violated by the unbelieving spouses desertion). The believing party in a marriage who is deserted by a non-believer is permitted to divorce.
  • In cases of desertion involving two professing believers, un-remedied desertion itself may cause the Session to determine that the deserting party is in fact an unbeliever (if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. I Timothy 5:13).
  • Temporary separation of the kind discussed under the Guiding Principles is not by itself desertion, and is not a biblical ground for divorce.
  • There are marriages which involve manifold troubles, heartache, and difficulties which nevertheless preclude a remedy of divorce.
  • Divorce is never the required response to sexual immorality or desertion; repentance, forgiveness and restoration are to be encouraged. Ones own view of a situation is subjective and often distorted, so objective, compassionate and wise counsel should be sought to determine the legitimacy of divorce in every case. To that end, any party involved in a divorce or separation is encouraged to seek the advice of the ministers or the elders.

Of Other than Biblical Divorce

  • Anyone who divorces for reasons other than those permitted by Scripture and who marries again commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)
  • Anyone who marries another who is other than biblically divorced from his or her spouse commits adultery; and anyone who divorces his or her spouse other than biblically and marries another commits adultery. (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:8).
  • Anyone who other than biblically divorces his or her spouse causes the spouse to become an adulterer or an adulteress (if he or she remarries); anyone who marries a person who has been other than biblically divorced commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

Of Biblical Remarriage

  • Whenever the one-flesh principle of marriage is broken by death, the surviving spouse may remarry.
  • Whenever the one-flesh principle of marriage is broken by sexual immorality or desertion, and divorce ensues, the offended party may remarry.

Of the Offending Party

  • The offending party, without reconciliation, commits adultery in any subsequent marriage.
  • In cases where the restoration of the marriage is impossible (either by the offended party exercising the right to divorce, or in case of remarriage of either party), should the offending party become sincerely repentant for the divorce, after a due season, and if the sincere repentance is confirmed by the Session, the offending party may be permitted to remarry.
  • The offending party in a biblical divorce should seek biblical forgiveness with the offended party, even if such does not result in the restoration of the marriage.
  • Hopefully, the offended party, in cases where the offending party earnestly seeks forgiveness, will forgive the offending party and act to reconcile the relationship, although the restoration of the marriage is not always required (though it may be preferred), as both Paul and Jesus grant permission to divorce.
  • The church will not permit other than biblical marriages to take place under the auspices of her authority, or permit her ministers to participate in other than biblical marriages.
  • Those who other than biblically remarry, and subsequently repent of that sin, are not to divorce out of the other than biblical marriage, but are to remain committed to the vows which were taken (even though such vows should not have been taken).
  • Those who other than biblically divorce, or who other than biblically marry, and subsequently become convicted of their sin, and by the demonstration of the sincerity of their repentance to the elders (though not by divorcing out of the unbiblical marriage), can experience forgiveness. Scripture knows of only one sin (namely, blaspheming the Holy Spirit) which cannot be forgiven.
  • Those who have been other than biblically divorced or who other than biblically remarry ordinarily will not be allowed to serve as church officers.