Divorce Ponderings

There’s nothing more painful than the death of a marriage, no place where true grace is more needed. often the church sees divorce as the unforgiveable sin. How often have your heard the line, “Divorce never entered my mind. Murder, yes. Divorce, no.” Funny as it is, what that says is divorce is worse than murder! the other side, more common today, it a casual attitude: “divorce happens. Let’s get you into a recovery group so you can get on with life and find another spouse.” It’s not that obvious, but it comes out as a victim thing where the absent spouse if the sinner and the present one is just a wounded soul.

I’ve taken a first pass at a statement of divorce. I put it here, hoping I can get some good comments to move it toward some level of adequacy.

Biblical marriage is the publicly pledged, permanent, exclusive, covenantal union of one man and one woman, husband and wife for life. Jesus confirms the permanence of marriage, saying "they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

(Matt. 19:6). Building strong marriages and families is one of the church’s highest goals (Eph. 5:22-32; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). When a marriage runs into difficulty, the priority is true reconciliation, not just patching up. Anything short of that is a failure to honor God’s commandment.

The Bible prohibits marital unfaithfulness of all kinds, including neglect (1 Cor. 7:3-4), sexual unfaithfulness before or during the marriage (Gal. 5:19-21), and leaving a marriage for another person (Mal. 2:14; Matt. 5:32). Failure to honor the marriage vows is always sin (Ex. 20:14; 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4).

Divorce is when a marriage dies, when the soul tie, the life connection, between husband and wife is broken and cannot be repaired. Jesus addresses two specific things that can kill a marriage: hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8; Deut. 24:1) and sexual uncleanness (porneia Matt. 19:9). He is clear that there are no "approved" divorces, no circumstances where divorce is sin free. The grace agenda is always forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. But when that is impossible, where there is irreconcilable abandonment, death of the marriage, divorce is a reality. Even as Jesus condemns husbands who leave their wives for other women, He expects the abandoned wife to be remarried, charging the adultery to the husband (Matt. 5:32).

Divorce is always the product of sin, but it is not the unforgiveable sin. The goal will be to move divorced people to God’s grace, back to God’s pattern for life. That will begin with support so they will find forgiveness and cleansing for the trauma wreaked by the death of the marriage. That will always include personal sin, not just damage from the sin of the spouse and the circumstances. When restoration has brought the person back to wholeness, there is the possibility of another marriage. Though that marriage will always be overshadowed by the presence of the former spouse and the broken marriage bond, it can be successful when done under the care of the church, with honesty about sin, and the power of the Spirit for Christlike life. Grace never ignores sin, but works God’s healing in moving broken sinful people to God’s pattern for life and marriage.

Pondering Baptism

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Jesus’ great commission is to make disciples and the first step is to baptize them. When I read Peter’s statement of the gospel in Acts 2, he moves from Revelation, what God has done (Jesus is Emanuel, died, rose, exalted, poured out the Spirit) to Response, what we do (repent and believe expressed in baptism) to Results, what we get (forgiveness, new life of the Spirit, new community, new mission and new hope). The command to be baptized is right there with repent and believe. But whenever I teach it, the immediate response is “But you don’t have to be baptized to be saved.” When I ask what verse 38 means, there is just a refusal to follow what the text says.

So how do we understand baptism?

My current thinking is that conversion to baptism is like wedding to marriage.

We correctly require that a couple do a wedding, the public commitment of a man and a woman to life long marriage. The ceremony culminates a time of acquaintance, getting to know each other, romance, counseling, and engagement. We refuse to accept it if they just move in together, claiming they are married in their hearts or in the eyes of God. Many contemporary folk point out that marriage is not just a piece of paper or words said in a ceremony. That is certainly true. So the point is to make the ceremony expression of truth in commitment. Wikipedia notes that most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from Scripture or literature also may be incorporated into the ceremony. The ceremony is very meaningful when it expresses the reality of the loving commitment of the couple. A wedding could be an empty ritual, but it seldom is – other than in a Las Vegas quickie! The wedding ceremony is not sufficient for a marriage, but it is essential.

In a similar way one comes to Jesus in a similar way to getting to marriage. You get to know Jesus, check things out, get some counseling and then decide to connect. Taht culminates in baptism, beginning the new life of being a Jesus follower. Baptism is the public expression of a person’s commitment to Jesus, a confession of their repentance (change of mind or values, allegiance to a different God – or as I say it, changing my mind about who is God around here) and faith (trusting that what God says is really true). There is a vow given, a pubic proclamation by an authority (I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Just as a wedding seals the intent to marry, the baptism seals the intent to join with Jesus and His body.

Weddings and baptisms are more than a ceremony. Something actually happens in the performance. When a couple exchange vows and rings and I pronounce them husband and wife, they become something they were not before. Similarly, if baptisms were done right, the ceremony would be the seal and beginning of something that had never been there before.

I can no more imagine baptizing babies than doing a wedding for babies. What is more common in my sphere of influence is delaying the ceremony for years after conversion. When I ask why the delay, the answer is some variation of “we need to be sure it’s real.” That seems a little like a man and a woman moving in together “to be sure we really love each other!” The biblical pattern is that when people make the commitment to Jesus, they are baptized immediately to express that commitment. Baptism could be an empty ceremony, but it far less likely when it is tied immediately to the commitment of Jesus.

I recently saw pictures of a father baptizing his daughter, of a woman baptizing a woman she helped become a disciple of Christ. Those were full of wonderful to see. I baptized a young woman who was out of a very abusive background who had found forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus. As we prayed in the big baptismal pool at Living Hope Church on Easter, the truth of what Jesus meant in her live went deep. I would give anything for a video of her face as she came out of the water.

Let’s make baptism a celebration, a commitment, a rich ceremony of the beginning of new life!


Holy Spirit Thoughts

A friend asked me about the Holy Spirit, so I thought I’d post thoughts here and see who can correct me.

Many now agree that there is an initial incorporation/indwelling work of the Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:13) and also an ongoing empowering work which can be quite dramatic at times (e.g., Acts 4:31ff). Which gets the title “baptism of the Spirit” is still point of controversy as is how much emotion is good in a normal church service.

I think the very common absolute distinction between talents and gifts is very misleading. Paul’s point is that whatever ability the Spirit has given should be used for Jesus. When you get the ability or whether it is more “supernatural” or more “ordinary” is not a major point. If you are good at prophecy (supernatural), use it for Jesus. If you are good at computers (natural), use it for Jesus. That’s why no Bible passage ever goes into discovering your spiritual gift. You already know what you are good at and what you enjoy doing, though there may be more to learn there, of course. The emphasis in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 is how to use it. I concur.

On tongues, there are a number of levels. In Acts 2 it is speaking human languages unknown to the speaker for the sake of ministry. It shows that the Babel curse is being overcome in the New Covenant (lots to say here!) That is the supernatural gift. It still happens today where people speak in unknown languages to preach the gospel, for example. I’m inclined to think the 1 Cor. 14 interpreter thing is about people speaking Phrygian in Greek churches. Let them speak in Phrygian only if an interpreter is present since the point isn’t display, but edification.

Another level is praising God in non-linguistic ways. It’s what many call spiritual languages. I think that’s fine. Just don’t say that’s a better or more spiritual way to do it. Especially in our “spiritual” culture, people often think things that are “mystery” are more special than things that are rational. It’s not so. Remember that all the Bible was done in rational language and Jesus never used a spiritual language, apparently. I also want to extend that from speech to music or images and such. There are many ways to praise God.

At another level, there is a gift of being able to learn languages quickly or to communicate even when there is no common language. I have a gift of being able to minister effectively through a translator. Whatever the talent is, use if for Jesus.

The heart of prophecy is proclaiming the Word of God powerfully. In most cases, OT, NT and today, the Word is the Bible. Sometimes it is new revelation. The old distinction between forthtelling and foretelling is an attempt to get at this, though I think that divides into two categories more so than it should.