Divorce and Remarriage: Taking a Stance Against the Anabaptists

DISCLAIMER: A commenter accurately pointed out that this is too broad a sweep. It may be too harsh, too, but not for the people I am speaking of. My experience with the anti-remarriage crowd may only be the most outspoken of them. Though I have found them mostly to be Pharisees, I may be judging only a small portion. The following is written to the harsh ones I have experience with, and if you have experienced their condemnation too, I hope this will help deliver you.

I wrote the following on Facebook:

If, as many are saying, God will not forgive those who have divorced and remarried and allow them to repent and go forward still married, I would rather to go to hell with my godly divorced and remarried brothers and sisters than endure the hell of fellowshipping with those who are obsessed with condemning them. I say this from 28 years of experience with such people.

I did not offer an explanation on Facebook, but I will offer one here.

In Cookeville, TN, there was once an amazing little horse-and-buggy community consisting of mostly people from an Anabaptist background (Amish, Mennonite, German Baptist Brethren, Hutterite, etc.). We loved to visit there. The fellowship we experienced in the various homes was refreshing. so much so that we thought about moving there.

I asked their leader about fellowship outside the community if I lived there. Would I be able to share the Lord’s table with Christians in Cookeville who lived righteously, but also wore belts and tapered their hair. He said no, and I told him that’s too divisive for me. We still visited regularly. We were served meals in their homes, even the leader’s, and I was included a couple times in discussions about church history with all their leaders.

I loved them, but we could not participate in their divisiveness over their community’s particular standards. The most divisive issue they held, which they rarely had to deal with because everyone knew they held to it, was that every divorced and married person whose first spouse is still living is an adulterer.

That doctrine, held by Anabaptists since the time of the Reformation, has a fairly large following among Protestants today, many of whom got this doctrine from the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist are stringent about the doctrines, but are generally polite and peaceable in nature. Those outside the Anabaptist communities who have adopted this doctrine are not so. They hold this anti-remarriage position with ferocity and devote much of their “ministry” to promoting it.

To be fair, the Roman Catholics–and, I suppose, most Reformation Protestants–would have agreed with them in the 16th century.

The reason is that Europe had been under Roman Catholic control for centuries. While the clergy were corrupt in many ways from top to bottom, the Church itself would not authorize divorce or remarriage. The most famous incident, of course, was King Henry the VIII’s remarriage that led to the creation of the Church of England. 

Before the Roman Catholic Church, however, Roman emperors and the Senate were in charge of southern Europe and Barbarians controlled northern Europe. Divorce was so common in the Roman Empire at that time that a Carthaginian lawyer once said that Roman women longed for divorce like it was the natural consequence of marriage (Tertullian, Apology 6).

If Romans divorced often, then those who heard the Gospel must also often have been divorced and remarried. Despite this, after reading thousands of pages of early Christian writings from around AD 90 through AD 250, there is no record of any Roman convert being told they had to separate from a spouse because they were in a second marriage. There is a record, in Hippolyptus’ Apostolic Tradition, of converts being told to get rid of their concubines in order be baptized, but nothing about splitting up a remarriage.

I, and probably you as well, have met dozens of Christians, divorced and remarried because of diverse circumstances, who love the Lord and have influenced others to follow Jesus. There is no denying that they have the Holy Spirit. I have experienced the unity of the Spirit with them that we are commanded to make every effort to preserve (Eph. 4:3).

It may seem logical, from things written in the New Testament, to condemn their remarriage, but the letter kills and the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6). We are spiritual and life-giving people. Those who adhere to the letter can go on condemning and spiritually killing, but we who are spiritual must bring life.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
This entry was posted in Bible, Early Christianity, Gospel, Modern Doctrines, Unity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Divorce and Remarriage: Taking a Stance Against the Anabaptists

  1. Paul Pavao says:

    Thank you, Chris.

  2. Pilgrim says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for this post. I am not sure I fully agree and I would like to ask you for clarification, if you may. I am open to – and if fact have in the past – welcome a brother who is in 2nd marriage because I think more hurt and damage can come from them splitting up this marriage and going back to first one. However, what if someone is in their 1st marriage and they come to you and say: we can’t go any longer, we are divorcing. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 seem very clear, he even adds an exception case so its not a general statement but a clear instruction. If one divorces his wife, he leads her to adultery, and by remarrying commits adultery himself. It’s one thing to say: let’s be forgiving and gracious to the people in such circumstances, and quite another to say: let’s be OK with what they do. What do you think?

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I agree with you, I think. I believe God is much more concerned about going forward than looking backward, unless reparations need to be made. I am all for making reparation. Going forward, I am all for telling a married couple that divorce is not an option AND working towards making sure that the marriages in our church(es) are preserved by good teaching. Training for husbands and wives may be a necessity in our churches because so many people today have been raised without a good example in their parents. There are excellent resources for free on the internet, and if our churches are in real fellowship, then counseling can come often and early across a coffee table without a professional. We do need to stem the tide of single-parent families by solid teaching, holy living, denying ourselves, and training our people.

  3. cgatihi says:

    Hi Paul,

    I didn’t see the particular FB post you speak of but thanks for your explanation here.

    I honestly struggle with the seemingly hard-and-fast way you speak of those who hold to a “remarriage is adultery” position as necessarily non-spiritual. Isn’t that posture in and of itself divisive?

    I still don’t understand what repentance is for someone who has committed adultery (in the words of our Lord Jesus according to, for example, Luke 16:18) by remarrying while a living spouse is still alive.

    Also, is someone who takes Paul at his word in, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9, being of the letter (and thus non-spiritual) by saying that those who practice homosexuality (to name just one sin) won’t inherit the kingdom? I honestly don’t understand how one who takes Paul’s words here (or Jesus’ words in Luke 16:18, for example) with eternal life and death seriousness is being necessarily non-spiritual. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding you.

    Even though we disagree on this topic, I do greatly appreciate you and your ministry, brother.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I’m sure you’re right that my stance was too general, but I really wanted to distance myself from these people. I better put a disclaimer in the post because maybe I have only interacted with the most outspoken of them. They seem like Pharisees to me. Part of the reason for the post on Facebook was to let people know that the hard toe-the-line people that often comment on my posts do not represent me. On the other hand, Glenn Roseberry would disagree with post vehemently, or at least I think he would, and I would never want to disparage him. The same with the anecdote I gave at the beginning of this post. The leader of that community has gone on to be with God. The family invited me to the funeral, and his sons have always treated me with the utmost respect. I would never want to disparage any of them, either, though I guess I excused them in my blog post anyway.

      • cgatihi says:

        This makes alot of sense, Paul. Thank you for clarifying and adding the disclaimer. I totally understand where you’re coming from and do agree with you that there is a certain spirit with which fellow believers can hold certain convictions that is totally Pharisaical. I know that proclivity in my own flesh and I do desire to make war against it. But, that being said, I do find there to be a delicate balance so my main push back isn’t to say that you are wrong on the divorce/remarriage topic but to say that I think it’s possible for one to hold this divorce/remarriage conviction you disagree with without being Pharisaical (albeit quite difficult). And I’m very encouraged to see that this is the disclaimer you have added. Thanks again, brother.

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