That Liberal Manefesto On Adultery and Divorce, aka WCF 1646

Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

 Source: “The Westminister Confession of Faith” (1646), Chapter XXIV, Section V

Spring 08 in New Haven 033

“The Westminister Confession of Faith” (1646)…

a.k.a. that “liberal” manefesto on adultery, divorce, and remarriage

While I do not agree with the totality of the WCF (1646) as I have deep Mennonite–as opposed to Reformed–theological roots, I do strongly agree with its statement regarding adultery, divorce, and remarriage quoted above. These godly men centuries ago read their Bibles well in coming to these conclusions.


Please, forgive me, I entitled this article ironically.

The WCF (1646) is far from a liberal manefesto. But its position according to some views today in the evangelical world would cast it as such (see John Piper’s position and my thoughts here and here).

My heart breaks reading this statement of faith from over three hundred years ago! It breaks because it seems the church has taken major steps backwards in addressing adultery and adultery victims Biblically. If only this had remained the guiding principle in our churches, I am sure I would hear/read fewer ridiculous, awful stories about how faithful spouses were treated in the church.

Obviously, the men who wrote this statement were not concerned about making divorce “too easy” for adultery survivors. Rather, they were concerned about following what the Bible says on the matter.

Notice they do not qualify the permission to divorce and remarry for the faithful spouse.

  • They do not insist that the faithful sposue make x-number of attempts at reconciliation following the adulterous betrayal before he/she is allowed to divorce.
  • They do not blame the faithful spouse for the divorce in these matters at all.
  • Maybe most surprisingly, they do not insist on asking whether or not the adulterous spouse is truly repentant. Apparently, the state of repentance of the adulterous spouse is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the faithful spouse is permitted to divorce.

Adultery is serious.

God takes it seriously.

The Bible takes it seriously.

The Divines who wrote “The Westminister Confession of Faith” (1646) took adultery seriously, too.

These godly and learned men refused to add to God’s word on the matter of a marriage violated by adultery. They simply stated that it is lawful to both divorce the adulterous spouse and remarry afterwards “as if the offending party were dead” (emphasis mine).

I take heart. We are in good company holding to the positions espoused on this website concerning adultery and divorce as they are aligned to the position of godly, Christian men dating back centuries. And I would add, they go even further back to Jesus and Moses.

We are not alone.

For we are standing on the shoulders of giants in our faith tradition.