Fellowship Questions and MDR

Marriage, divorce and remarriage (MDR) has been and always will be a source of controversy among God’s people. Some have taught that those who have divorced and remarried prior to becoming a Christian can remain in their current relationship after obeying the gospel. Recently there has been controversy over whether or not one who has been put away by his/her mate for just any cause can put away his/her spouse for fornication and remarry. There are other MDR questions, but recently I have seen these two lumped together and placed in the category of Romans 14.

Whenever questions like these arise, it is important for us to determine whether or not a certain disagreement relating to MDR ought to be a test of fellowship. Can we agree to disagree? Or must there be division? There are times for both. In matters of opinion, we must agree to disagree. In matters of the faith, we must not tolerate sin and error.

Romans 14 teaches us to maintain fellowship despite differences of opinion (Romans 14:1). If no sin is involved, fellowship ought to be maintained. Some may question if these two major MDR disagreements fall into the class of differences covered in Romans 14. Some brethren believe that both of these disagreements belong in Romans 14. Other brethren believe that neither fall under the category of disagreements discussed in Romans 14. How can we know? Simple. Ask the question: Does someone sin by practicing either position? If yes, then the disagreement is not over a matter of opinion, but of the faith. If no, then we may place the disagreement in the class of those in Romans 14 and maintain fellowship despite our differences of opinion. So, do either of these two disagreements belong in Romans 14?

The first of these disagreements arose because some were teaching that a non-Christian who had married, divorced, and remarried with no Scriptural authority to do so, then became a Christian, could continue in that relationship. The explanation for this was that alien sinners are not amenable to the law of Christ. Therefore, they are not under God’s marriage law until they become a Christian. This doctrine is often associated with Homer Hailey, one of the men who taught it. Does one sin when they practice this? Yes. Jesus taught, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus said, “Whoever,” which means the law applied to all men, not just His followers. If a man divorces his wife for just any cause, marries another, and then becomes a Christian, that second marriage is still an adulterous marriage. Sin is being committed. The disagreement over this issue does not belong in Romans 14.

The second disagreement is about whether or not one who has been put away by his/her mate for just any cause can put his/her spouse away for fornication and remarry. Some say that one can remarry, some say that one must remain unmarried. Does one sin by practicing either view? Obviously, no sin is committed by remaining unmarried; but can one put away his/her mate for fornication after being put away? When Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and married another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9), He taught this by implication: One may put away his/her mate for fornication and remarry. This is exactly what one does when he puts away his mate for fornication after being previously put away. Jesus allows this, so no sin is committed. Therefore, the matter does belong in Romans 14.

Some in such a situation would not be comfortable doing this (putting away his/her mate for fornication after being put away for just any cause). Many feel as though a certain procedure must be used in order to put away a mate. Many also believe there is a certain sequence in which events must happen in order to do this. These ones, if they ever find themselves in this circumstance, should not violate their conscience. However, they must not judge others who believes they can remarry in such a case. This is what Romans 14 is all about. The New Testament specifies the cause for putting away, but not procedure or timing. Let us unite on what Jesus taught – that one may put away his/her mate for fornication and remarry – and not divide over our opinions.

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