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Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. -Hebrews 13:4, NRSV
With the above Scripture in mind, I want to share some thoughts on the damage John Piper’s convictionalistic (i.e. making a command out of his own conviction in interpreting Scripture) has on sincere Christians facing the impossible situations of unrepentant adulterous former spouses and/or abandonment. As I said in my last post, this is not a personal attack on a godly man but rather a disagreement about the content of his teachings on these matters.
Notice Hebrews 13:4 does not mention divorce in its exhortation to honor marriage. Divorce is not marriage’s primary enemy as it seems in this verse. Rather, the writer identifies other activities as in direct threat to marriage. The verse is an exhortation against the sins of adultery and fornication. These sexual sins defile the marriage bed as the author of Hebrews writes. He does not write that God will judge divorcees. Nor does He say that divorce defiles marriage. Consistent with a broader interpretation of “porneia” in Mt 5 and 19, Hebrews puts the spotlight on broad sexual sin being the threat to honoring marriage.
While I am not unsympathetic to John Piper’s push against easy divorce, I believe his solution is an over compensation and pastorally damaging one at that. In my last post, I pointed out how I see his position is not coherent and in accord with Scripture (link here). I would add further that it stands outside Reformed Protestant tradition as voiced in the Westminister Confession of Faith (1646). Theologian Wayne Grudem makes that point in his clarification of his theology on divorce and remarriage (link here). My point in this is that Piper is pushing both against the texts and church tradition in making this draconian stance on no divorce after adultery and no remarriage after divorce except to one’s former spouse as long as he/she lives.
On a personal and pastoral level, this stance is hurtful. Piper is stating that this is a demand of Scripture. However, he is taking a stance on an interpretation and not a command found in Scripture while ignoring the clear commands against actual adultery. This is hedging awfully close to spiritual abuse as it is making a command out of an extreme conviction (i.e. a conviction that is not held traditionally by Protestants over the years as evidenced in the WCF of 1646).
In addition, I see this stance as enabling sin. It enables the sin of the adulterer/adulteress by NOT taking adultery seriously by putting the focus primarily back upon the sinner to repent. Treating it as the same as any other sin the Church has committed against Christ may be theologically correct, but it certainly is a minimizing of adultery’s especially heinous impact on faithful spouses and their families/friends. Furthermore, it feeds into the entitlement mentality for adulterers and adulteresses that they are entitled to full reconciliation whenever they want it. I think that is sick and not the mind of Christ on these matters.
True repentance from adultery seems to get the short end of the stick in this view. Hosea’s call for repentance is not mentioned. Piper simply focuses upon the reunion–nevermind that Hosea instructs Gomer that she cannot have another man sexually after buying her back (see Hosea 3). Even in this extreme case of waiting–do we really want to make an extreme case the rule, by the way–Hosea and God set limits.
Adultery is not acceptable. Repentance is required.
What hurts my heart about positions like Piper’s is how it causes incredible suffering for faithful spouses. These spouses have already been abused and are extremely vulnerable after being sucker-punched by their faithless partners. Now, the pastor is telling the faithful spouse that God demands that they remain married to the person who raped their soul. Or they need to wait for them to come back in the event that the cheater has abandon them running off after other lovers. Notice: this position is not qualified with the need for complete repentance upon the cheater’s part. So, it actually encourages an atmosphere of potential continuing abuse as the divorce is what needs to be avoided primarily–not the ongoing adultery and accompanying sins. Plus, this position is less merciful to the faithful spouse than the Law of the Old Testament, which demanded death to the adulterers/adulteresses (Deut 22:22). That alone should give one pause in accepting it as a faithful interpretation of the Biblical texts.
Finally, what does this say to the population of those who chose to remarry after their spouses committed adultery? It says to them that their remarriage is as bad as the adultery committed against them and God. That may be Piper’s position on these matters (not 100% certain but it seems to be a clear inference from his teachings on the matter), but I find such a position an abomination and shameful for a godly man to even seriously consider as coming from God.
So, evangelical leaders take note:
You want to know why divorced Christians feel uncomfortable coming to your churches. It is teachings like these that send a clear signal to divorcees that we will be viewed as the true sinners regardless of what happened to us. We can have our souls raped in the most intimate human relationship and then be told such sin/trauma is no worse than any other sin before God. We owe it to God to keep our commitment to the person who just defiled the covenant and gave God the middle finger.
Shooting our wounded would be more merciful than this.
Thankfully, this position is not true to what the God of the Bible teaches on the matter of divorce after adultery.