Yesterday, James MacDonald shared some teachings on adultery and divorce in a broadcast entitled: “Putting Your Heart in Your Marriage – C.” It was part of his ministry “Walk in the Word.” He is going through the Ten Commandments and hit the one that prohibits adultery (see Exodus 20:14). Here’s the link to that specific broadcast (click here).
First, I want to applaud Pastor MacDonald for actually preaching on this commandment. He did not just lump this commandment in with all the others glossing over it but actually spent time addressing the adultery prohibition specifically. Bravo!
Second, I am encouraged by how clearly MacDonald is able to articulate why adultery is such a problem in God’s eyes. That is a good start. Plus, he does a good job making it clear the adultery partner must be completely cut out of the cheater’s life (e.g. no being Facebook friends) for repentance to have taken place.
Finally, MacDonald recognizes some marriages are so far damaged by unrepentant adultery that divorce is the best option left for the faithful spouse. I was glad to hear he is not adamantly against all divorce for Christians.
That said, I did detect some significant problems in what he taught–from my perspective as another pastor and adultery survivor–
1. MacDonald interprets “porneia” in Matthew 19:9, for example, as only about unrepentant ongoing adultery.
If you did not go to seminary (or take New Testament Greek), you might be forgiven for believing from MacDonald’s exegesis that Jesus used a verb when describing this exception. That is false. “Porneia” is a noun. Nouns do not have tenses.
His argument falls apart once that fact regarding “porneia” is noted. That said, it concerns me that he even tries to make an argument this way as it is very misleading at the best.
I wonder if he is teaching this as his own conviction on the matter because he is uncomfortable with how “liberal” the Bible text actually is–namely, it allows for divorce (or the death penalty) after “just” one instance of adultery (e.g. Duet. 22:22, Mt 1:19, Mt. 5:32, and Mt 19:9).
2. MacDonald insists the cheater only answer the faithful spouse in generalities never giving specifics, even if asked.
He calls this an act of love. Plus, he exhorts the cheater to be truthful.
I have a problem with this sort of counsel for many reasons. Refusing to answer the question and only sharing part of the truth is not being truthful or loving. This does not serve the faithful spouse or the soul of the cheater but rather keeps the sinful deeds in the dark.
We are supposed to expose sin to the light (e.g. Ephesians 5:11).
Imagine the pain the faithful spouse would experience as he or she uncovers the details withheld by the adulterous spouse at some later date–whether intentionally or not. MacDonald does not seem to account for that scenario and how damaging to the marriage that is.
Another problem I have with such an exhortation is how the adultery partner(s) already knows this stuff. The only person in the dark is the faithful spouse. In other words, MacDonald is–at least, indirectly–encouraging dark, secret-keeping from the faithful spouse.
The soul-tie between the cheater plus adultery partner needs severing and telling the wronged spouse what happened is a good way to do so. To refuse to tell the faithful spouse says to me that the cheater would prefer to save face or protect the adultery partner than love his/her spouse enough to tell the truth–i.e. the whole truth. It is really selfish and far from loving.
Yet another problem with not sharing specifics is how it leaves the cheater to stop the behavior on the honor system. The faithful spouse is not allowed to know enough to know if the cheating spouse has stopped cheating in reality. Accountability is not there.
Generally, I think it is foolish council to take a known liar and cheater at his/her word. An adulterous spouse is both. It remains to be seen–by verified action–if liar and cheater are/were only past identities.
3. My final point is a common problem with many pastors teaching on these matters.They fail to recognize lives are at stake. MacDonald does not mention getting tested for STDs.
I encourage faithful spouses to be tested if they even suspect sexual contact took place. This ought to be a low threshold matter demonstrating care for the faithful spouse–i.e. the cheater volunteering to get tested for STDs and showing the faithful spouse the results.
Not giving specifics cuts to this sad reality as well. The faithful spouse ought to know if he or she was put at risk for STDs by the adulterous behavior of his/her spouse. That is a detail needing sharing. Plus, the detail of whether or not sexual contact took place is necessarily–similarly–as well. It is not repentant or loving to withhold this information from a faithful spouse.
While I am glad MacDonald tackled the adultery prohibition, I wish he had researched the subject a little better and recognized the existential risks involved when adultery has taken place.
MacDonald does make some good points in his talk, especially about why adultery is so serious to God. However, he misses the mark both in his exegesis of Jesus’ words in Matthew as well as his counsel regarding only giving generalities when confessing the adulterous behavior to the faithful spouse.
It is a start, though.
Hopefully, I have helped fill in the gaps here in this post. This is an example of why Divorce Minister: Taking Adultery Seriously exists.
We still have a long way to go in the evangelical Christian community in providing sound teachings on these matters…