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Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Thu May 03, 2018 7:31 am

I was in a conversation with a person on twitter regarding grounds for divorce. I shared your paper since I wholly support it. Surprisingly, he also said it was excellent and believed I was misreading it. I won't share who took what position, but could you answer the following question.

"Steve, if a spouse is un-repentant and un-relenting in their physical abuse of a Christian marriage partner, might this constitutes the breaking of the marriage covenant and establish the sinner as an unbeliever not content to be married?"
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Tue May 08, 2018 10:03 am

I thought it was interesting that 2 people who had previously read Steve's article and both knew Steve from personal experience could disagree so sharply on how to interpret Steve's paper. The disagreement mostly centered around a particular tension that exists in the article(s). Here are some quotes from Steve:

it is possible for a spouse to seek a divorce without being guilty of separating what God has joined. Such is possible in cases where the other spouse has effectively dissolved the bond by certain, biblically-defined misbehavior. In the Old Testament, the grounds are vague... some uncleanness (Deut.24:1). Jesus identified fornication as a type of uncleanness that rendered His otherwise strict teaching on divorce inapplicable (Matt.5:32/19:9). Paul gave similar status to an unbelievers desertion of a believing spouse (1 Cor.7:15). In such cases, the legitimate bond has illegitimately been put asunder (by the fornicator), but not necessarily by the party seeking the divorce (the innocent party). The divorcing party, it may be, is acting legitimately, merely making official what has become a reality by the others actions.


Here Steve is laying out the 2 'exceptions' to the basic 'no divorce' policy of the New Covenant
1. Divorce is permitted in cases where fornication occurred
2. Divorce is permitted in cases of desertion by an unbelieving spouse

The last (bolded) line is significant to the tension I'm referring to. In cases of fornication and desertion, divorce my not be specifically requested by the offending party. But the spouse may 'initiate' a divorce that is merely making official what has become a reality by the others actions.

But Steve later says

If your pagan spouse is willing to keep up the marriage, then you are instructed the same as others: do not initiate a divorce


Which could be taken to mean that even in cases of un-repentant and un-relenting physical abuse, a believer is obligated to stay married to the abuser.

Steve continues...

Marriage is a covenant. Covenants should never be broken but they sometimes are. A covenant broken by one party ceases to be binding upon the other party. Thus God Himself is released from His covenantal obligations to Israel because of her violation of her covenant. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the marriage covenant is a unique exception to this rule, and Jesus teaching on the topic in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 explicitly confirms that there are extreme conditions under which the general permanence of marriage may legitimately be regarded as optional, i.e., when one spouse commits fornication, the other may choose to continue the marriage, or else to end it. In the latter case, the divorcing party is not putting asunder what God has joined. The adulterous partner has already done that. The party seeking the divorce is simply formalizing what the other has made a reality.


The tension present in my twitter debate was this... Is Steve here stating the ONLY exception (cases of fornication) to the rule that believers shall not initiate divorce OR does his last line establish a PRINCIPLE that MAY apply to some other situations (like that of un-repentant and un-relenting abuse)?

Steve goes on...

Many offenses occur between married parties in the course of a lifetime, though most do not rise to the level of covenant-breaking so as to justify divorce.


Again, the tension is found in the word MOST. Is Steve suggesting that there may be a number of scenarios that could potentially break a marriage covenant (not JUST fornication)?

When such a destructive act of unfaithfulness occurs, it is sufficiently devastating to release even God from His covenantal obligations


Here, Steve is again talking about how sexual unfaithfulness really is a destructive enough act to break a marriage covenant. But would this potentially apply to other destructive acts like un-repentant and un-relenting physical abuse?

Near the end of Steve's piece, he seems to directly tackle the tension I discovered in my twitter debate. MIGHT un-repentant and un-relenting physical abuse constitute the breaking of a marriage covenant (in cases where the offending spouse either is an unbeliever or has been established as one using the Matt 18 guidelines)?

Here's what Steve says:

If the abusive partner does not claim to be a Christian and the abused partner does, the matter may fall into the category discussed by Paul in 1 Cor.7:12-15. The believer is to be regarded as not under bondage to this marriage if a) the unbeliever is not content to dwell with the believer, or b) the unbeliever abandons the marriage. There are those who feel that these two conditions are in fact one, and that the only instance of the unbeliever being not content to dwell that can qualify the believer for this freedom is in the case of the unbelievers actual physical departure from the home. This may be correct, but not all would judge of the matter the same way.


Herein lies the tension. Does the abuser have to desert or verbally suggest divorce? Steve doesn't speak dogmatically here. He says it MAY BE CORRECT that the believer is bound unless desertion occurs. But it MAY NOT BE CORRECT.

Steve's next paragraph expresses thoughts on this tension...

For an unbeliever to be content to dwell in a marriage might be thought to imply more than simply a willingness to share the same roof and bed. It may refer to a willingness to dwell in a marriage according to the covenantal agreement made by both partners on the occasion of the marriage being first contracted. It is not likely that physical or sexual abuse was an agreed upon part of any couples wedding vows. The fact that a partner resorts to such behavior is thought by some to constitute a rejection of the marriage relationship, thus exhibiting a frame of mind that is not content to dwell in the sense that Paul had in mind. Deciding this question must be done under the judicious counsel of cautious, spiritual persons determined to honor Gods standards and capable of resisting the tyranny of their own sentiments.


Steve hasn't so much resolved the tension as re-stated it a bit.

I guess the debate I was having was basically this.

Does Steve believe that 'judicious counsel' could ever CORRECTLY come to the conclusion that un-repentant and un-relenting abuse does constitute the breaking of a marriage covenant?

The next paragraph seems to show Steve's answer to that question

Thereafter, an assessment must be made as to whether the abusive behavior rises to the level of the abusers being not content to dwell with the believing spouse (those involved in this decision-making process must make a genuine effort to find the mind of God on this matter). If so, then the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.


It seems to me that this is Steve saying that the judicious counsel, having made a genuine effort to examine the case, MAY conclude that the covenant has been dissolved by the un-repentant and un-relenting abuse. The offending party, having been established as an unbeliever, has broken the marriage covenant and has proven BY THEIR ACTIONS irregardless of their words, that they are not content to dwell in the marriage. In other words, they have essentially initiated a divorce without so much as asking for one. In such cases, the believer is allowed to formalize what has already become a reality because of the actions of their spouse.

But it is possible, apparently, to interpret Steve's next paragraph as Steve's rebuttal to this whole possibility.

Steve says:

It should be pointed out that persons unhappily married are capable of interpreting many unpleasant behaviors on the part of their spouses as abusive.Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are sometimes appealed to as grounds for separation and/or divorce in cases known to this writer. The question arises as to just what degree of unpleasantness in a marriage God may expect a Christian graciously to endure for the sake of keeping sacred vows. The Christian wife is urged to exhibit the same submissiveness to an unbelieving husband as she would were he a believer (1 Pet.3:1-2). Every Christian must be prepared to endure some degree of abuse from the world (John 15:18-21/16:33/1 Thess.3:4). Even some degree of domestic violence (Gen.16:6-9/1 Pet.2:18-21) or tormenting temptation from one in authority in the home (Gen.39:7-9) is sometimes to be endured for the sake of godly duty.


It seems to me that Steve is here qualifying (not rebutting) the above potentiality. He is saying that just because it is POSSIBLE that abuse could constitute the breaking of a marriage covenant and become grounds for the formalization of divorce, we should not be quick to go this route since the principle could be (and has been) severely... abused.

The three uses of the word 'degree' make it clear to my mind that Steve is saying there are degrees of abuse (I'd suggest the un-repentant and un-relenting variety where serious danger to the believing spouse and/or kids is present) in which the scenario does allow for divorce.

In sum, my twitter debate partner had read Steve's article(s) and has met Steve personally and believes that Steve would REJECT the idea (which some Christians have) that un-repentant and un-relenting physical abuse MIGHT constitute the breaking of a marriage covenant. This fellow believes that Steve only mentioned this view and then rejected it. I, on the other hand, had read Steve's article(s) and have met Steve personally and believe that Steve would ACCEPT the possibility that un-repentant and un-relenting physical abuse MIGHT constitute the breaking of a marriage covenant. I believe that Steve mentioned this possibility because it is legitimate in some cases and then cautioned against abusing the principle.

Steve, if you have time, please weigh in on who has more accurately interpreted your position :)
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby steve » Tue May 08, 2018 11:55 am

Hi Matt,

Thanks for bringing this ambiguity in my article to my attention.

I have to say that I have remained deliberately undogmatic about this issue, and consider it to be a matter of the interpretation of what it might mean for one to be "not content to dwell" with one's spouse. This is why I appeal to the intervention of "the judicious counsel of cautious, spiritual persons determined to honor Gods standards and capable of resisting the tyranny of their own sentiments."

I can easily see unrelenting and potentially dangerous physical abuse to be a renunciation of one's vows to "love, cherish and protect" one's spouse. One who wishes to keep a partner around only as a punching bag, clearly, has no intention of being "married," by any recognizably Christian definition.

If my interpretation were to be wrong, I would hate to be found unnecessarily keeping an innocent and endangered spouse in harm's way, or, contrariwise, to be granting to one, who ought to be enduring hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, permission to initiate the dissolution of a marriage. I think that counsellors closer to the case (rather than a generalized written article like mine) would be in a better position to judge the individual circumstances, and to determine whether a spouse, who has technically remained in the home, has de facto abandoned the marriage. Where sound spiritual counsellors determine, upon strong evidence, that such is the case, I would not interject any criticism of their decision.

I am always inclined to counsel against divorce, even where grounds exist, but, I do not consider myself to have the last word on the subject. I always have said that separation for the sake of safety is a legitimate alternative to divorce. If a husband is a repeated physical abuser, whether or not this were seen to rise to the level of "grounds" for divorce, I think a woman should find a safe house for herself and the children. The violent criminal (assault and battery is a crime, after all) should be arrested.

If I were this woman's counselor, I would urge her not to divorce (or at least not to remarry) until such a time as she had undeniable certainty that such was justified. An evil man left to himself will probably find another woman eventually. However, it should be the desire of the wife that her husband will be supernaturally changed by Christ, and will become a suitable husband to her again.

The bottom line: I think that some cases of abuse would rise to the level of grounds for divorce, but I think that many forms of "abuse" would not, and, where they do, I do not think divorce is the only, or preferred, option.

The line below the bottom line: I did not write the article in order for people to consult my opinion as a final authority, but only to present, as best I knew how, the biblical teaching on a complex question, and to urge readers to greater fidelity to the biblical principles involved.
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Tue May 08, 2018 12:20 pm

Thank you, Steve, for your reply.

Just to give you a little context, the 'debate' came as a result of a post by Russell Moore (southern baptist author/speaker/leader).

He tweeted
"The Bible teaches, in my view, that divorce is ethical in cases of sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32) or abandonment (1 Cor. 7:25). Abuse makes a home unsafe and constitutes abandonment."

I responded (in basic agreement)
"Unrepentant (continuing) abuse also establishes the person as an unbeliever (Matt 18) and the abuse is an obvious sign of initiating an end to marriage (1 Cor. 7)"

It is the nature of twitter, unfortunately, to not add much nuance. I don't think Russell Moore would be quick to advise divorce (even in abuse situations). Nor would I. I agree with what you said in your response to this thread.

But, perhaps because of this lack of nuance, another brother protested against the position held by both Moore and myself. His name is Royce Van Blaricome. He considered the view unbiblical. I shared your article with him because I think it does an excellent job of showing that there is some room for thinking that in SOME ways and SOME cases it might, in fact, be the proper application of biblical principles.

But that's when I discovered that he'd already read the article and knew you personally. At that point the conversation took a turn for the worse because he felt I was purposefully mis-representing you. He claimed you would never take such a position that I was advocating and that I had seriously mis-read your article. He focused on the sections where you talk about how Christians must be willing to endure suffering and that marriage takes courage and isn't for wimps. He eventually concluded that I was a theological liberal, a false-teacher.
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Wed May 09, 2018 11:10 am

I thought this was a fair article by Roger Olson today
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolso ... r-spouses/

An interesting section from this article...

As I have explained here several times before, I believe in what I call “the necessary” by which I mean moral emergencies in which a disciple of Jesus Christ must do something less than ideal—to protect himself/herself or others. Otherwise, I would be a pacifist. I’m not. “The necessary,” a “moral emergency,” is a situation in which the action is neither right nor wrong but simply necessary. It participates in both right and wrong but transcends the dichotomy. It is forgivable precisely because it is necessary. Sometimes separation and divorce are necessary even when the particular cause is not spelled out in the Bible as an exception to the otherwise unbreakable covenant of marriage.

What advice would I give to a wife or husband being chronically abused by her or his spouse? Leave! Then, I would advise the abused wife or husband to get counseling and urge her or his spouse to get counseling. Do all possible to heal the marriage but do not submit to abuse. (And by “abuse” here I mean physical abuse and mental-emotional abuse but not mere irreconcilable differences.)

I would call such a situation of abuse within a marriage a “moral emergency” that could lead eventually to dissolution of the marriage if the abuser continues to be unrepentant and refuses to get the needed counseling to change.

Does the Bible support my position and policy? Not explicitly. But is it consistent with biblical concern for the vulnerable, the weak, the suffering? I believe it is.

On the other hand…far too often contemporary churches, even “evangelical” churches, are extremely permissive with regard to divorce—as if the Bible says nothing at all about it and as if secular courts of law determine when a marriage is dissolved
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby steve » Wed May 09, 2018 11:33 am

Hi Matt,

I don't remember meeting Royce Van Blaricome. I just did a little research online and found he may live in Washington State, where I have many listeners and have met many people at meetings I have held there. In any case, he has no inside information about my views, other than what I have written and said publicly. I admit that my views on this one point are fuzzy.
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Wed May 09, 2018 4:38 pm

By the way Steve, I wanted to respond to another comment you made above

The line below the bottom line: I did not write the article in order for people to consult my opinion as a final authority, but only to present, as best I knew how, the biblical teaching on a complex question, and to urge readers to greater fidelity to the biblical principles involved.


Yes! My interest in sending him your article was not b/c you're a 'final authority' but for exactly the reason you mentioned.

What interested me (as I don't take internet 'wars' very seriously) was that 2 people could read the exact same article thoroughly and come away with very different takes on the tone of some of your statements. I read you as 'open' to the possibility that a godly counsel could come to the conclusion that the marriage covenant had been broken. He read you as recognizing some hold that view, but 'dismissive' of it.

I suspect you'll be hearing from him via email. He feels he has 'trapped me' b/c he asked me a question about whether sexual neglect could potentially be grounds for divorce. I gave the same basic answer. If a person is un-repentant and un-relenting in their sexual neglect of a marriage partner, they are established as an unbeliever. In such cases, I would recommend the Christian spouse stay married, but I would not rule out the possibility that total sexual abstinence could in some cases constitute sexual unfaithfulness or a lack of contentment to be married. My position is that each case is unique and must be dealt with carefully.
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Re: Settle a Twitter debate for me Steve :)

Postby mattrose » Wed May 09, 2018 4:44 pm

A further note on this issue

The Wesleyan Church (which I am a part of) made a mistake (in my opinion) on this topic

When the question of whether abuse was potential grounds for divorce, the issue was debated vigorously. But in the end, it was decided to add abuse as a THIRD CATEGORY of potentially legitimate ending to a marriage (after sexual unfaithfulness and desertion). I believe this was a mistake because it sets a bad precedent (if you can add a 3rd category, why not a 4th, 5th, etc.?).

What would have been better, in my opinion, would have been to recognize that there is some room within the 2 biblical 'valid endings' to marriage for cases of abuse. Jesus' exception clause leaves some room for interpretation (what constitutes sexual unfaithfulness?). And Paul's desertion clause leaves some room for interpretation (what constitutes desertion?). I think this is healthy because it allows godly counsel to examine individual cases carefully.

One of the major problems fundamentalists have is that they are so dogmatic about most everything that the very thought of nuance and 'case-by-case' kind of thinking is repugnant to them.
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