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His Master's Voice
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Written by: C. W. Booth

Friday, August 03, 2012

Should I Divorce My Wife? What about Plural Marriages?

In recent months more and more emails have arrived to my inbox from tearful Christians informing me that they have been advised to get divorces from their current and legally wedded spouses whom they dearly love. These heartbroken Christians are presently married to their second and even third spouses.

A movement advocating the permanence of first marriages has been very active in instructing Christians who have been remarried to divorce their present spouses and to remarry their original mates. Emails to me claim that these remarried people have been told that they cannot receive the blessings of God’s forgiveness, or sometimes even eternal life, until they perform the work of repentance that involves divorcing their present spouse and remarrying their first or original marriage partner.

What a horrible outcome and miserable advice from a movement that seems to have started with such good intentions. While upholding the ideal of lifelong marriages they find themselves encouraging solidly married Christians to get divorces. May God forbid and prevent such unholy counsel. This is a case of: Good motives + bad doctrine = sinful advice to the most burdened Christians in the community.

Adding yet one more divorce to one’s to-do list is not the “good work” by which to win forgiveness from God. Such a notion that God wants us to get divorces is not found in Scripture. You are invited to read these two articles which explain the theological and biblical foundation behind the need for permanence of marriage, even TO YOUR PRESENT SPOUSE:




But what should a person do if they find themselves suddenly born again while still in a plural (polygamous) marriage? I have been asked this question, but have never yet responded. After studying, thinking, and praying on the matter, I have formulated an opinion on what Scriptures appear to say.

In a later post, I will try to outline what guidance the Scriptures seem to give on this complex and confusing matter.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Kicked Out of Church

There was a day when I was young, spiritually zealous, and naïve. My then fiancé introduced me to a fledging denomination which was also young, spiritually zealous, elitist, and immature. Though I detested the arrogant attitude of the denomination, the rest of it seemed a hand-in-glove fit for me and my bride-to-be. We even joined a team to plant a new church in a college town.

But elitism betrays a sinful heart condition, and therefore uncovers a motive issue far more serious than simple naiveté or immaturity. Arrogance and elitism reveal that the leadership and pastors of the denomination were working for personal gain (be it the power wielded by controlling larger congregations, the prestige of fame, or accruing a secure retirement account) rather than for the love of Christ and fervor for His kingdom and for His holiness.

Consequently, any person who threatened the size or fame of the denomination were targeted for dismissal, generally via the flawed Diotrephes Syndrome mechanism. Such objectionable people were simply kicked out of their local churches, and always this was done by leadership when they illicitly bypassed one or more of the four steps of “excommunication” or “church discipline” which Jesus described in Matthew 18.

To my knowledge there is only one process for removing a sinner from fellowship in a local church, and that is the process of Matthew 18. The only valid reason for ejecting the sinner is because the sinner refuses to repent, not because he is irritating or embarrassing to the leadership.

Most often the step of Matthew 18 that is bypassed is the third step: bring the offense of the sinner to the attention of the entire congregation and ask everyone in the congregation to approach the entrenched sinner and petition the sinner to finally repent. If he repents he is to be kept in good standing and cannot be dismissed. If he refuses to repent after a reasonable time, even with every person in the church talking with him, only then may step four be implemented: forced removal.

In that young denomination the leadership lived in constant fear of the congregation finding out the true nature of their umbrage toward the ones they wanted to remove from their churches. They feared the congregation would discover that the accused men were not unrepentant sinners but were merely irritations that threatened the leadership’s power, prestige, and income levels. Therefore, the pastors and leaders kept secret from the congregations the reason for the charges, the meetings that described the charges, and the actual confrontations with the accused. The congregations did not and could not participate as required by Matthew 18. One day the men were in fellowship, the next they were not.

When Matthew 18 is not followed (and that means all four steps are not being followed) and when someone is secretly and quietly ousted from a local church against their will, it is always a grievous sin by the church leadership against the accused, against the church, and against the Head of the Church (which is the Lord Jesus Christ). The excuse or rationalization made most frequently is, “But we had to violate Matthew 18 in the interest of protecting the reputation of the accused sinner…we do not want his reputation to be tarnished by these charges of sins.”

Yet, to have the church call the sinner to repentance is the primary point of properly implementing Matthew 18 church discipline. A person’s reputation in the church is secondary to their spiritual condition and to their repentance from known sin. To withhold step three (in other words, to not tell the church what the sinner’s sins are and to prevent the church members from confronting the sinner and asking him to repent) is to rob the sinner of the best tool that Jesus gave the church to turn a willful sinner from the error of his ways. To neglect step three is selfish and sinful on the part of the church leadership, always.

But are there not good reasons why the church leadership might choose to skip steps from Matthew 18? Actually, no, there are not any good reasons, only bad ones. The church is owned by Jesus and it must be governed by His rules and by His philosophies.

A person may only be discharged from a local church via the process of Matthew 18, there is no other biblical process given. There are not two sides to this story or to this debate. There is only the decree from our Lord. If we love Him we obey Him. If we disobey him we demonstrate our pride (self love) and our hatred for our fellow brethren. Let love win out, let Christ rule His church, follow Matthew 18 for the benefit of all.

Well, I am old, now. The leaders from the denomination we joined in our youth drove that organization into heresy, division, and chaos. Of course they blamed the congregations for being faithless instead of disciplining the leaders who introduced the heresies. Funny though, through all of this rarely has my zealousness for Christ flagged, but I feel my naiveté has actually grown. That is a personal failing I suppose, but I keep expecting and assuming church leaders will do the right thing, especially with regard to Matthew 18. I wonder when I will finally grow up, or even if I should?


This Post Script by Booth was written in response to a reader who agreed that "church discipline" when properly done is difficult but efficacious:

Yes, I agree, it is a hard road to walk when church leadership abuses Scripture for their own personal profit. I am still contemplating packaging together the stories of abuses that have happened to my friends (and to us) along with the learning points and proper responses for those so impacted. It seems there must be benefit to the church universal in such a thing; yet I am hesitant...

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is this: the church universal generally no longer teaches Matthew 18 from the pulpit and generally does not hold its people responsible to follow that command of the Lord, much less expect the people to hold the pastor accountable in the same way under Matthew 18 or 1 Timothy 5:19-20. In fact, I think most congregation members are terrified or horrified at the thought of having to hold their pastor accountable to Matthew 18...it is far easier to say, "I'll just trust that I am mistaken about his sin and that he is a good man."


Another Post Script by Booth was written in response to a reader who noted that all things, even abuse by pastors, is used by God for our good:

As you said, not everything always works out well FOR US, the confronters, even if we do the right thing. The "our good" from the trials of Romans 8:28 is the "conformity" to holiness elaborated upon in 8:29 and not a reference to happiness, joy, or prosperity. Our situation may well continue to get worse, but if our conformity to Christ grows then it is "our good."

Even more to the point, the "our good" is a reference to the church universal, all saints, according to Romans 8:27. So, when we confront sin and doctrinal errors in our leadership our personal circumstances may get worse but what we have done is for the longer term and broader good of the church universal. We are serving others in the future, for their benefit, and not necessarily improving our own circumstances. It is kind of like warfare, some must suffer today to free the children of tomorrow from sin and error. The perpetuation and purity of the church are more important than our present comfort.

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