"When Is It Adultery?" by Mark Gungor
Is what Jesus said true? Seems like a pretty straight forward question. Born again Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God would quickly give an emphatic “yes” as an answer. But I would like to challenge believers in an area where they say Jesus’ words are true but aren’t necessarily living like it. It’s a rather sad indictment on Christianity today that we even have to ask: Is what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage being adultery true? What’s more shocking is that almost no one I ask seems to be able to give an answer to the question!
Divorce is common among people in churches today. Statistically, divorce is occurring among believers at the same rate as non-church couples—actually at an even higher rate than atheists! Christians are most often divorcing not because of an affair or sexual unfaithfulness but for any reason under the sun—everything from “my spouse isn’t meeting my needs” and “he/she isn’t my soul mate” to “we just can’t get along”. Sometimes very strict churches will take a real hard line and say that you can never remarry after divorce or else it’s adultery. They maintain that you must live alone for the rest of your life, no matter the circumstances, even if a person was divorced prior to becoming a believer. Undoubtedly, people have been hurt by that rigid stand.
If you read the bible, you’ll see that Jesus was actually very strong on this. He said if a man divorces his wife for any other reason but sexual unfaithfulness and she marries someone else, she commits adultery. That’s pretty strong. The fact that people apply that with no exception, even to those who made the decision to divorce when they were not believers, is pretty harsh. But that’s not the common practice in most churches today.
Most churches are not taking the extremely strict stand on divorce and remarriage. In fact, too many don’t take any stand. What I see as a bigger problem, and occurring more often, is that now you can get divorced and remarried for any and every reason—biblical or not. I think the casualness churches treat marriage with is wrong. People divorce their spouse, then they just move on to the next person and the church remarries them as if it’s no problem. To me it’s like a version of wife swapping and the church just smiles and thinks it’s no big deal. We’ve gone to the other extreme on this and it needs to be dealt with.
So when is remarriage adultery?
Remember, Jesus said remarriage in situations other than when sexual unfaithfulness has occurred, is indeed adultery. My question to churches is: When is that true for Christians today? When is what Jesus said ever true when it comes to the revolving door of marriage among believers? I’m concerned that there are so many excuses and exceptions that divorce and remarriage is not considered adultery in any situation. Today there are so many exceptions that we end up invalidating the very words of Christ. I do think adultery is a real deal breaker and the bible clearly makes accommodation for it. Other than this, I tend to be very conservative on this and in my church, but for a marriage that ended because of adultery committed against them, I will not remarry a person. (Unless it’s back to their original spouse, which I have actually done!) They can go somewhere else and find someone else to marry them.
People will come up with all kinds of scenarios and ask me the question, “What about domestic violence or abuse? Or alcoholism?” Look, I’m not God and everyone has to deal with their own conscience on this. But again, here we get into this area of excuses and exceptions. Do you really think there was no such thing as men hitting their wives in Jesus’ day? Then why didn’t he mention that excuse? Women say, “I’m divorcing my husband’s because he’s an alcoholic”. Do you really think people we’re alcoholics in Jesus’ day? Come on, we’re talking about over two thousand years ago when people were pretty barbaric. You think our culture is bad now? It was worse then! According to Jesus, there was only one excuse…that was sexual unfaithfulness.
Now, all kinds of people have been remarried in these types of “non-adultery” situations—do I think they’re all doomed? No. Are they supposed to divorce the new spouse because it’s not according to the bible? Certainly not. There is no way to go back and unscramble all the eggs, but I think as Christians the ideal is to follow God’s word, stop all the divorcing, and do it right in the first place. Then it wouldn’t even be an issue!
People make mistakes
I totally understand that people make mistakes, often times before they were saved and came to Christ. Then later they become born again, have repented, they are part of the church, and are serving Jesus. That’s a completely different scenario and of course God’s love and grace are greater than virtually any situation. My concern is that Christians use grace as a license to do what’s wrong and then they think, “God will just forgive me.” Yes, God forgives, but Paul writes in the bible and says we should not use grace as an excuse to do the wrong thing. I’m afraid that’s where we’re at in the church today.
A standard needs to be set
Truly, at some point, a standard needs to be set. I think churches have virtually no standard anymore and we need to start taking this very seriously. When you say “I do”, it means you did—till death do you part. We must realize that there is a biblical standard that has been ignored and it’s time for the Church to quit treating it so casually and answer the looming question: When is what Jesus said ever true? If we can’t even answer the question, we are in a really bad place.