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PREMARITAL COUNSELING

A MINI-THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULLFILLMENT IN


M.A. (BIBLICAL COUNSELING)
.

By

Mahaveer Janapala
mahaveerjanapala@yahoo.co.in

Faculty

D. Rajendra Paul, MTh.

March 2007

‘CARE’ COUNSELING INSTITUTE


(Affiliated to TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition)
P O Box 965, Elkhorn, NE 68022 USA, www.topic.us )
ccareindia@yahoo.co.in
H. No. 9-2-754, St. Francis St.
Secunderabad – 500 025, India.
CONTENTS

1. Introduction 3

2. Sexual Anorexia 4

3. Marriage Exposition 14

4. The Family and The Church 17

5. Divorce and Remarriage 27

6. Social Perspective 35

7. Choosing A Mate 38

8. Affirmations and Conclusions 48

Bibliography 51
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1. INTRODUCTION

Marriage is a sworn fidelity, a solemn covenant between a man


and a woman, entered into before God, whereby He joins them in a life-
long companionship of love for and commitment to each other.

While God intends the marriage covenant should never be broken, it is


broken by the death of either partner, or in the case of adultery or such
willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil
magistrates. Such marital unfaithfulness is the grounds for a biblical
divorce.

God’s call is to love and to forgive. Divorce is not necessitated in any event
and Sessions should exhort couples considering such a step to actively
pursue reconciliation.

Divorce under any circumstances should not preclude continued attempts


to reconcile. Those who remarry after an improper divorce commit adultery
and are subject to church discipline. As with all other transgressions,
these too are covered by the blood of Christ and members may
be restored to fellowship when guilt is acknowledged and true repentance
for sin is expressed.

Church Sessions and Presbyteries must exercise diligent care in


considering divorced persons as candidates for church office.1

1. Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage, Adopted 16th General Assembly, June
1996, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, America.
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2. SEXUAL ANOREXIA

According to Patrick Carnes,

Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and


emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life. Like self-starvation
with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation with
sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts. The
preoccupation with the avoidance of sex can seem to obliterate one’s life
problems as with any other altered state of consciousness, such as those
brought on by chemical use, compulsive gambling or eating, or any other
addiction process. The obsession can then become a way to cope with all
stress and all life difficulties. Yet, as with other addictions and
compulsions, the costs are great. In this case, sex becomes a furtive
enemy to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of annihilating a
part of oneself.

Why someone fails sexually?

Carnes states under the subtitle of “Sex as Sleaze,” that

Religious traditions have, in fact, been part of this split way of understanding
sexuality. The ideas of sex as sin outside of the marriage and sex as duty inside
the marriage have gone far to undermine the acceptance of sexual pleasure as
normal or healthy.

Biblically however, we realize that the “frigidity” of “religion” has nothing to do


with failing sexually. It is clear that God’s design for sexuality is quite healthy
and normal within the confines of marriage. For instance, in the Old
Testament God gave direction for healthy and normal sexuality in the book of
Leviticus. Reviewing the Song of Solomon, one comes very close to blushing
with the beauty and romance suggested by this highly erotic and biblical text!
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There are also many New Testament texts that address healthy and normal
sexuality. If there were one pivotal selection of Scripture to point to why fail
sexually, let’s quote,

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his
own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when
sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my
beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from
above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no
variation or shifting shadow. James 1:14

What is needed to done to break the addiction?

Carnes states, “The healing journey starts with admitting there is a problem.
Remember that denial is core to the impaired thinking process.” He then goes
on to recommend therapists, 12-step groups and even his own material, while
giving support to the medical/disease model regarding this behavior.

Although it is agreed that the first step is admitting the “addict” has a problem,
the term addiction continues to bother in that it implies “helplessness.”
Picture helpless humans sucked into a bug light representing their addiction.
We laugh at this analogy, but ask disciples/counselees if a gun was held to
their head the first time they participated in feeding their lust. Without fail, the
answer is no. A choice was made and a continual choice is made to participate
in sinful behavior, whether it is “sexual addiction” or “sexual anorexia.”

John Stossel did a great commentary titled Is Addiction a Choice? In which a


secular investigative report was done on these very topics. The results were
quite humorous in that, after watching the report, it was easy to infer that
even secular people are fed up with the blame-shifting. There is no medical
evidence to suggest that a diagnosis of “addiction” can be applied to sexual
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addiction or sexual anorexia. With drugs and mind altering chemicals, there
is some evidence to suggest that after use they do affect the body. However,
self-control is still commanded by Scripture. It is hard to imagine someone
standing before God with the excuse, “Gee, God, I was addicted. You
understand, don’t you?” Welch’s statement on this as well,

Scripture, indeed, emphasizes that sin has many things in common with
a disease. For example, it affects our entire being, it is painful, it leads to
death and it is absolutely tragic. Yet there are also ways in which sin is
not like a disease. It is something we do rather than catch, we confess it
rather than treat it, the disease is in our hearts rather than our bodies,
and only the forgiveness and cleansing found in the blood of the Great
Physician is sufficient to bring thorough healing.

Why sexual acting out is an addiction?

Carnes suggests that “Both sexual anorexics and sex addicts feel powerless. In
that sense, the involuntary feelings of aversion in the anorexic are not different
from the unwanted feelings of arousal in the addict.” This powerlessness is a
continual theme with secular writers due to their limited understanding of the
doctrines of man and sin. Dr. Robert Smith states, “Many of these sexual
dysfunctions are the result of the sheer lack of dealing with problems because
of discomfort in talking about them.” Ed Welch states defines addictions as
disorder of worship and calls it idolatry,

In other words, Scripture permits us to broaden the definition of idolatry so


that it includes anything on which we set our affections and indulge in as an
excessive and sinful attachment. Therefore, the idols that we can see — such
as a bottle — are certainly not the totality of the problem. Idolatry includes
anything we worship: the lust for pleasure, respect, love, power, control, or
freedom from pain. Furthermore, the problem is not outside of us, located in a
liquor store or on the internet; the problem is within us. Alcohol and drugs are
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essentially satisfiers of deeper idols. The problem is not the idolatrous


substance; it is the false worship of the heart. We renounce living for God’s
glory, and turn to objects of worship that we hope will give us what we want.
Desired payoff? The purpose of all idolatry is to manipulate the idol for our own
benefit. This means that we don’t want to be ruled by idols. Instead, we want to
use them.

What Light Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 shed on sexual addiction?

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is
faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but
with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able
to endure it.

Jay Adams, in his expositional booklet on this verse states,

Most Christians who need counseling have one thing in common. Every
observant pastoral counselor has noticed this all-but-universal characteristic:
their conversation is studded with the word “can’t.” This common trait may be
explained in various ways. Some might suppose that it is indicative of a basic
weakness or inability that underlies their other problems This explanation
leads to the conclusion that these are people who constitutionally, or for some
other reason, really can’t do what God requires. That is, of course, an
explanation that accepts the counselee’s view that he is helpless. It also
renders the counselor helpless, you will notice. But there is another
explanation of this phenomenon: the biblical explanation is that men “cop out”
on their responsibilities and fail to accomplish their tasks because of sin.

God provides five ways for us to endure temptation: prayer, trust, His word,
accountability and focusing on Jesus Christ. It is very important that the
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immediate context of this verse be brought into this discussion. For instance,
1 Corinthians 10:12 states, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed
that he does not fall.” This brings forth the sobering reality that each of our
prideful hearts can fall. In Welch’s article mentioned above, he teaches us to
be compassionate about “addictions,” reminding us, for instance, of our own
failures to keep our January 1 resolutions to loose weight. The addictive cycle
has a lot in common with this struggle with sin. That God has provided a way
of escape does not give us license to throw our hands up and ask God to
deliver us. Rather, we must do the work of radical amputation (taking all
temptations out of our lives), radical appropriation (putting off unbiblical
behaviors and putting on biblical ones), and radical accountability.

1 Corinthians 10:14 is also highly instructive: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from


idolatry.” It can be a courageous thing to flee. Consider the example of Joseph
in the Old Testament. Did it turn out well for him? No, he spent 14 years in
prison for doing the right thing. We must tell our counselees/disciples that it is
going to take work and that there may be negative consequences.

What perverted teach the Christian Church about sexual addiction?

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be
things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others:
yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a
right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they
are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive
grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing
unto God. Despite the fact that the foregoing quote from the Westminster
Confession of Faith may seem harsh regarding Carnes, no doubt that he
assists and helps many people. However, he cannot truly help a Christian, just
like a Christian cannot truly help a non-Christian; both provide band-aids. It is
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also important to remember that Christians bring glory to God while non-
Christians do not. Carnes has astutely observed that the church may be
prudish at times when it comes to discussing sex and sexual issues. Much
gracious and biblical teaching should be done on this topic, and perhaps even
more in pre-marital counseling sessions. However, Carnes methodology (12-
steps, revisiting the past, disease model, genograms, exercises mentioned in
his books, etc), are disagreeable as these are superfluous band-aids that never
address the heart and specifically the idolatry in a person’s life. Dr. Smith
states it succinctly,

It is important to recognize that sex dysfunction is a marriage


problem, not the husband’s or wife’s individual problem. Biblical
sex by definition is a two-person relationship and responsibility.
Both husband and wife must cooperate in solving problems. While
dysfunction is a result of sexual habits of thinking and action,
dysfunction itself may become a habit. These habits will need to be
replaced by biblical ones. Retraining and relearning are a part of
this. People with these problems do not need sex therapy; they
need biblical counseling. Not only do biblical counselors deal with
causes, they correctly use the Bible in solving problems, keeping
biblical goals in mind. Biblical counseling provides both short-term
and long-term accountability; changing habits takes time and
requires accountability. Biblical counseling does not attempt to do
band-aid work on a serious problem but provides the loving major
surgery that leads to permanent change.

What Can the Christian Church Teach perverted about healing


from sexual addiction/anorexia?

First and foremost, the church can teach Carnes that his theology is wrong
with regard to such topics as the sovereignty of God, depravity of man, sin,
and man’s need for a savior. With a more scriptural theological perspective,
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one can see that the church does have ministries in place to deal with sexual
addiction/anorexia. Thinking specifically of such ministries as Christian
Counselor Education Foundation and National Association of Nouthetic
Counselors.

In continued frustration with the way Carnes deals with the topics of sexuality,
the writer interviewed his wife (who was sexually abused and who was tempted
to be highly sexually anorexic) about her thoughts on Carnes’s 12-steps,
revisiting the past, genograms, etc. Her answer was riveting and biblical. She
stated that despite what she had endured in the past, she understood that she
was still obligated to respond biblically, and still responsible to obey God. In
short, she recognized she was bound by God not to repay sin with sin, and not
to use the sins inflicted against her as excuses to sin against others.

Carnes’ understanding of Christian theology leaves much to be desired. He


could certainly benefit from reading Dr. Robert Smith’s book Biblical Principles
of Sex, as well as from learning the differences between Roman Catholicism and
Evangelicalism. Further, a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty might
improve Carnes’ theories dramatically. Adams summarizes the impact of
theology in counseling in this way:

A counselor’s theology, and his use of it in counseling, then, is


neither a matter of indifference nor a question of insignificance.
Rather, it is an issue of the most profound importance. Truth and
godliness, the reality of God and the welfare of His people are
inseparable. The godly man, who copes with life, is always the one
who has appropriated God’s truth for his life... All counseling that
measure up to the biblical standard must fully acknowledge both
the tragedy of sin and the fact of human responsibility; it must
reckon with God’s ultimate purpose to glorify Himself in His Son
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and in a people redeemed by His grace. While all things will turn
out well, they do so not apart from but precisely because of the
responsible action of the Son of God who came and actually dies
for those who from all eternity had been ordained to eternal life.

With regard to the problem of the past, there is a movement today in


Christian counseling to get the counselee to revisit his past and much talk
about generational curses (cf. Exod. 34:7), but drawing out genograms to
wallow in your family timeline of sins gives an unbiblical focus to sinful
behavior. More importantly, Ezekiel 18 and John 9:1-3 demonstrate that this
understanding of the “generational curse” motif is entirely misguided. A
generational curse is not one that is revisited in the lives of subsequent
generations, but one in which the curse on the sinner impacts the lives of his
contemporary relatives because their lives are intertwined. It is not suggest
that Carnes’ theology could be improved by studying the misguided approach
to generational curses.

However, there are some very good approaches to the problem of the past from
which Carnes’ might learn quite a bit. One of the best biblical presupposition
outlines regarding counseling and the problem of the past was written by John
Bettler, and it also relates to disciples/counselees who have are experiencing
sexual “addiction” or “anorexia” and responding biblically. It is edited from its
original plural to personal in total agreement,

1. A counselee’s personal past has a significant influence upon his


development of his manner of life. It cannot be that the counselee is a helpless
victim whose manner of life is determined by his past.

2. A person creatively interacts with and interprets past events and


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incorporates his interpretation into his manner of life. It cannot be that a


counselee so constructs his past that it has no necessary existence in history.
Just as God acts and explains or interprets his actions, so the person
interprets the actual events in his life.

3. The Christian should seek to interpret his past as coming from God and for
God’s glory; the unbeliever will distort the event with an explanation that does
not honor God’s truth. He will resist the truth and endeavor to believe the lie.

4. A counselee is not always aware of the assumptions, values, and habits


which shape his manner of life. It cannot be that there exists within the person
an “unconscious,” i.e., an unexplored and largely inexplicable entity which
drives his behavior.

5. Exploration of a person’s past may help to reveal to himself his manner of


life. It cannot be that such exploration is always necessary to produce biblical
change.

6. Change occurs in the present. It involves repentance for the distorted values
and habits of a false manner of life, and the putting on of godly values and
behavior patterns in the present. It cannot be that change occurs in the past
through the reliving of past experiences or through emotional release of stored-
up emotions (a process commonly called catharsis).

7. God is sovereign over all the events of a person’s life and works
providentially through those events to make Christians more like Christ.

The main goal for discipline the person dealing with “addiction” or “anorexia” is
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to teach him to obey as outlined in Matthew 28:18-20. Simply pontificating


from the pulpit and providing lists of do’s and don’ts is far from helpful. No
amount of 12-steps, revisiting the past or moral relativism will free the “addict”
or “anorexic.” Only when a heart change occurs does a life change occur:

It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for


holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin. No,
we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! It might be well if
we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our
progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms “obedience”
and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am
unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am
saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I
am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely
on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are
defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to
entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade
the truth a little. We need to brace ourselves up, and to realize that
we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We
need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no
longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the
risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to
work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate
God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of
holiness.2

2. Derek R. Iannelli-Smith, Reflective Review of Sexual Anorexia by Patrick Carnes,


Reformed Perspective Magazine, Volume 7, Number 16, April 17 to April 23, 2005.
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3. MARRIAGE EXPOSITION

Before considering the breakup of a marriage, let us look at the biblical


perspective concerning this relationship. In speaking of
a husband and wife, Malachi says:

...the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your
youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your
partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made
them one? So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith
with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of
Israel. (Mal.2:1416)

The prophet here makes the important point that marriage is


not primarily a mutual contract between two people; it is rather a sworn
fidelity, a solemn covenant between a man and a woman,
entered into before God, whereby He joins them in a life-
long companionship of love for and commitment to each other.

Scripture tells us that marriage is God instituted from the beginning of


creation (Gen.2:1824) and that marriage, from both the wife’s
and the husband’s perspectives, reflects the relationship between Christ
and His Church (Eph.5:2233).While “this mystery is great” (Eph.5:32), at
the very least we see that God is intimately involved in the marriage
covenant.1

What the Bible Says About Marriage

1. Marriage is a DIVINE INSTITUTION.

Contrary to some contemporary opinions, marriage is not a human

1. Optic., Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage.


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institution that has evolved over the millennia to meet the needs of society.

If it were no more than that, then conceivably it could be discarded when it

is deemed no longer to be meeting those needs. Rather, marriage was God’s

idea, and human history begin with the Lord Himself presiding over the first
wedding (Genesis 2:18-25).

2. Marriage is to be regulated by DIVINE INSTRUCTIONS

Since God made marriage it stands to reason that it must be regulated by


His commands. In marriage, both husband and wife stand beneath the
authority of the Lord. “Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain
who built it” (Psalm 127:1).

3. Marriage is a DIVINE ILLUSTRATION.

In both Old and New Testaments, marriage is used as the supreme


illustration of the love relationship that God established with His people.
Israel is spoken of as the “wife of Jehovah” (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea
2:19-20). The Church is called “the Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:22-32). It
can be said that the Christian marriage is sort of a “pageant” in which the
husband takes the part of the Lord Jesus, loving and leading his wife as
Christ does the Church; and the wife plays the role of the believer, loving
and submitting to her husband as the Christian does to the Lord. Thus,
Christian marriage should be an object lesson in which others can see
something of the divine-human relationship reflected.

4. Marriage is a COVENANT.

From the earliest chapters of the Bible the idea of covenant is the framework
by which man’s relationship to God is to be understood, and which also
regulates the lives of God’s people. A covenant is an agreement between two
parties, based upon mutual promises and solemnly binding obligations. It is
like a contract, with the additional idea that it establishes personal
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relationships. God’s covenant with Abraham and His descendents is
summarized in the statement, “I will be your God, and you shall be my
people.” Marriage is called a covenant (Malachi 2:14) -the most intimate of
all human covenants. The key ingredient in a covenant is faithfulness, being
committed irreversibly to the fulfillment of the covenant obligations. The
most important factor in the marriage covenant is not romance; it is
faithfulness to the covenant vows, even if the romance flickers.

5. Marriage is a whole-person commitment

God meant marriage to be the total commitment of a man and woman to


each other. It is not two solo performances, but a duet. In marriage, two
people give themselves unreservedly to each other (Genesis 2:25; I
Corinthians 7:3-4). “What God has joined together let no man separate,”
declared our Lord (Matthew 9:6). “Till death do us part,” is not a carry-over
from old fashioned romanticism, but a sober reflection of God’s intention
regarding marriage (Romans 7:23:2-3; I Corinthians 7:39).3

3. Guidelines for Marriage and Divorce, Perimeter Church.


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4. THE FAMILY AND THE CHURCH

I. The Family
A. God’s Delineation of the Distinctive Roles of Husband and Wife
in Genesis 3
We can further delineate what is entailed in the roles of husbands
and wives in marriage and family by taking careful account of the
focused description that God gives of each in Genesis 3 on the basis
of the truths first outlined in Genesis 1 and 2 at the dawn of
human civilization and in a setting that antedates any particular
culture or society. In this chapter, He gives the effects of sin, not
only as it brings death and separation from God to all humans but
also in its effects on men and women in their respective maleness
and femaleness. In doing so, God relates the effect of the curse
respectively to that portion of His creation mandate (as already
established in Genesis 1 and 2) that most particularly applies to the
woman on the one hand and to the man on the other hand. God
had said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and
subdue it; and rule over . . . every living thing that moves on the
earth” (Genesis 1:28, nasb). Now He relates the curse to that aspect
of the creation mandate that is the particular responsibility of the
woman and of the man and in so doing indicates the particular role
that He has determined each is to fulfill. Thus, for the woman He
speaks of her pain in childbirth (i.e., while seeking to be fruitful)
and the struggles (as we have noted above) that will surface in the
husband/wife relationship (Genesis 3:16): “To the woman he said, ‘I
will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will
give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he
will rule over you.’” In short, God speaks about what is unique to
her as a woman, namely, being a mother and a wife. To the man He
speaks of the difficulties he will have in his toil (i.e., while seeking
to subdue the earth) to secure bread (Genesis 3:17-19): “Cursed is
the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all
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the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and
you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you
will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you
were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Thus He
delineates what is the main calling for man, namely, the
responsibility of breadwinner and provider for his wife and family. It
will be helpful for all our discussion to keep this perspective in view
and realize that it is the perspective God has given and not some
“Victorian” or “traditional” view that has grown up out of some
society or culture and been adopted unwittingly as the Biblical
norm.

Therefore it is important in marriage and the family for a man to realize his
responsibility as the primary breadwinner and to assume that responsibility
willingly and gladly. It is equally important for a woman to realize her
responsibility as the primary one to care for the children and the home, as
these verses indicate, and as Proverbs 31 (see below) also indicates. This will
provide the security and necessary time and energy for the woman to bear
children but also to be with the children in their formative years when they
are very dependent on their mother and need her presence. It is in this spirit
that the Apostle Paul encourages young widows “to get married, bear
children, keep house” (1 Timothy 5:14, nasb). Christ’s apostle exalts the
home and women’s duties in it and encourages women to be “busy at home”
(Titus 2:5).

Sad to say, when these distinctive emphases are not maintained, children
often fail to develop healthy sexual identities (see Chapter 17 in this
volume), and marriages tend to break up because husband and wife are no
longer dependent on each other but are increasingly independent, ready to
go their own ways.

B. What About the Wife and Mother Working Outside the Home?
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Some Christians have interpreted Titus 2:5 (“workers at home,” nasb) to
mean that any work outside the home is inappropriate for the wife and
mother. But the fact that wives should care for their home does not
necessarily imply that they should not work outside the home, any more
than the statement that an “overseer” in the church should “manage his
own household” (1 Timothy 3:4-5) means that he cannot work outside
the home. In neither case does the text say that! The dynamic
equivalent translation of Titus 2:5 by the niv, “to be busy at home,”
catch the force of Paul’s admonition, namely, that a wife should be a
diligent homemaker. Moreover, Proverbs 31:10-31 depicts a wife and
mother whose support for the family extends well beyond ordinary
domestic chores (cf. e.g., verses 16 and 24: “She considers a field and
buys it . . . she plants a vineyard. . . .She makes linen garments and
sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen,” nasb). Since Scripture
interprets Scripture and its teaching is consistent and unified, we
realize that the picture of Proverbs is not contradicted by the Apostle
Paul.

Furthermore, we must realize that the emphasis on the home is the very
point of the Proverbs passage. The woman in Proverbs works to care for
her family and to fulfill her responsibility to her family (cf., e.g., verses 21
and 27). She does this not only for her children but also to support her
husband’s leadership role in the community (verse 23). She is seeking the
good of her family. Furthermore, she seeks to aid the poor and needy by
her labors (verse 20).

Here, then, are keys to the question of a wife and mother working outside
the home: Is it really beneficial to her family, does it aid her husband in his
calling, and does it, in correlation with these first two, bring good to others?
Can she do it while still being faithful to her primary calling to be wife and
mother and to care for her home? It must be noted that even though the
woman in Proverbs has not sought to “find herself” or to make her own
career, but rather to serve her family, in the end she receives praise from
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her family (verses 28, 29) and recognition for her labors (verse 31) because
she has conducted the whole endeavor in obedience to the Lord she
reverences (verse 30). The decision in this realm must not be unilateral on
the part of the woman but made under the leadership of her husband as the
head of the marriage and the family.

C. Decision-making by Husbands and Wives

This brings us to the question of responsibilities and processes for decision-


making. The delicate balance that must be maintained is that of the
husband’s leadership in a situation in which two equal image bearers of God
are involved. The husband must honor his wife (1 Peter 3:7, “grant her
honor as a fellow-heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be
hindered,” nasb) and respect her views, opinions, feelings, and contributions
about the issue at hand, and he must do so in a way that takes into account
both his and her strengths and weaknesses (1 Peter 3:8, “husbands . . . be
considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the
weaker partner”). He must not give over the leadership to the woman as
Adam did to Eve, for then to him also the rebuke given to Adam will apply
(“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,” Genesis 3:17, nasb).
Neither should he act rashly and harshly as Nabal did, not seeking the
sensible and wise advice that his wife could and would have given him (cf. 1
Samuel 25:2-26:38). After all, the wife is given to the husband to be his chief
“helper” (Genesis 2:18). The husband and wife should seek to come to a
mutually satisfactory decision after discussion and through prayer and
seeking the principles of God’s Word, and they should do so under the
leadership and guidance of the husband, who should initiate this process. In
a world of sin in which both husband and wife are beset by the limitations
sin brings to our understanding and to the evaluative and decision-making
process, there will be times when a consensus may not be reached. In this
situation, it is the husband’s responsibility to exercise his leadership role
and make the decision. The wife needs to submit to that decision (unless the
decision is clearly and intrinsically evil [cf. 1 Samuel 25:14; Acts 5:29]).
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D. Decision-making as It Relates to Changing Jobs and Relocation to


another Community

In a highly mobile age, it is appropriate to consider job location change.


Therefore, to illustrate the matter of decision-making, let us take the
question of changing jobs and relocating the family. Let the question be
compounded by assuming that the wife also has a good position. In this
case, let us assume that the wife is not inclined to move because she likes
the locale and she does not want to give up her own paying job. This is
understandable.

The husband should give due weight to all of these concerns. The two
should pray about the matter and seek to understand each other’s
perspective and the good of the family as a whole, including the long-range
as well as the short-range perspective. This decision-making must consider
the total welfare of the family and not simply the benefits of the job. At the
same time, it must include obedience to the creation mandate, on the part of
the husband particularly but also the wife, who has agreed to be his helper
in this responsibility, to fulfill to the best of his (and their) ability his
primary calling as the one to be involved in work to support the family. A
decision not to take the job and not to move, in light of the needs of the rest
of the family, would be quite appropriate as long as no veto or coercion on
the part of his wife has in actuality usurped the leadership or caused the
husband to forfeit or surrender it. However, should he become convinced
before God that the move is in the best interests of his family and will allow
him and his wife to best fulfill the creation mandate and best glorify God, he
should sympathetically lead the family through this transition, seeking to
explain why the move is right from his perspective?

In such a case, it seems that two factors besides his general responsibility
as leader are key elements. First is the recognition that the man, more than
the woman— whose focus and energy are to be directed inward toward the
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family (cf. again Genesis 3:16-17 and Proverbs 31:27)—is called on to fulfill
his role by directing his time and energy outward from the family in the
work area (cf. again God’s evaluation of what is characteristic of man as a
male, Genesis 3:17-19). Second, the woman is created to be the man’s
helper (Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9). From these perspectives, the
husband’s work must take precedence (when necessary) over the wife’s, and
she must be willing to help her husband fulfill his calling in this realm even
if it means that she must give up her position. A clear perspective on this
subject will eliminate or remove many conflicts that could arise in this area.

E. Caring for the Children


The care and management of the home and children is another area in
which Christians need to implement Biblical principles carefully. The
Scriptures present the direct management of the children and the
household as the realm of responsibility of the wife and mother. First
Timothy 5:14 says that wives is “to manage their homes” (niv). The
Greek word oikodespoteo¯, which is rendered “manage,” is a very
forceful term. Proverbs 31 indicates some of the many ways in which
this management is carried out (cf., e.g., verses 26 and 27: “She opens
her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the
bread of idleness,” nasb). The husband must recognize this calling
and grant her the necessary and appropriate freedom of operation
under his leadership. At the same time, the wife must recognize that
her management is to be conducted in submission to her husband’s
leadership, who is responsible for the overall management of the
household (cf. Titus 2:5, “to be busy at home . . . and to be subject to
their husbands”). The Apostle Paul says that the man is responsible to
manage his own household well (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Although the wife
and mother will have the most contact with the children, especially
when they are young, and therefore will have the most direct
responsibility for supervising them, the husband and father is held
responsible for instruction and oversight of the children (Ephesians
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6:4; 1 Timothy 3:4). It is imperative that fathers and mothers carry out
this joint task in such a way that the leadership of both over the
children is maintained and the headship of the father over the family
is manifest. Thus neither should allow the children to play one parent
off against the other in seeking to contravene the other’s commands or
prohibitions. The parents should resolve those questions in private
away from the children; in public they should uphold each other’s
decisions, especially the mother upholding the headship of the father.
Fathers should exercise an appropriate leadership by being careful to
avoid exasperating or provoking comments or commands (Ephesians
6:4; Colossians 3:21) that not only discourage or anger their children
but also provide occasion for their wives to feel the necessity of
intervening and make it more difficult for them to be subject to their
husbands’ leadership. Exasperating or provoking comments or
commands include commands that are unjust and comments that are
given in a callous or unfeeling way. All parental give-and-take before
children should manifest mutual respect and communicate before the
children that the husband genuinely loves and respects his wife and
the wife, too, respects and desires to submit to the leadership of her
husband and their father. Such an attitude can itself be the best
setting for the children to learn their own necessary submission to
both father and mother.

The division of duties in the home and household must take seriously the
respective roles of the woman and the man and their equal importance
before the Lord and in the home. The direct care and supervision of the
children is the specific calling of the wife/mother (cf. again Genesis 3:16; 1
Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:5). It would be unnatural in the normal family setting
for the husband/father to assume this task and to surrender the task of
“breadwinning” to his wife. This is not to say that he is not to be as
concerned and as involved in the training of their children as she is, but
rather that he does so in correlation with his responsibility as the primary
provider.
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F. The Allocation of Other Duties and Responsibilities

Other duties and responsibilities should be allocated in such a way that the
feminine and masculine proclivities come to their natural expression and the
strengths and weaknesses of each partner are recognized and their mutual
dependence on each other for distinct roles are a help to both. Yet we must
realize also that there are many things in the daily affairs of a household
that the specific teachings and broader principles of Scripture do not
categorize as either “masculine” or “feminine.” Here we must allow freedom
and variation and not attempt to go beyond what is written in the principles
we affirm and teach.

II. The Church


There are two basic Biblical truths relating to men and women that must be
affirmed and upheld in the life of the church. The first is their equality as
bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and as fellow Christians (Galatians
3:28; 1 Peter 3:7). The second is the leadership role to which men are called
by God in the church so that by apostolic injunction, based on God’s
creative action, women are not allowed “to teach or exercise authority over
a man” (1 Timothy 2:12, nasb).

A. The Use of Women’s Gifts: The first truth has as its corollary that
women are to use their gifts in every way that Christians in general are
to do, except for those areas explicitly prohibited by Scripture. This is
seen in Paul’s treatment of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 11-14, where
women are excluded only from speaking in church (1 Corinthians
14:34-35) where congregational “teaching” is involved (1 Corinthians
14:26; notice that the items listed in verse 26 correspond with the
subjects dealt with in verses 27 and 35 [with only the first item, “a
psalm,” not dealt with in these verses] and in particular notice that
“teaching” [nasb] in verse 26 is the one-word description for the
“speaking” Paul will deal with when it comes to women in verses 34
and 35).10 These women are recognized as properly participating in
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praying and prophesying, for example, but are only asked not to throw
off the cultural sign of their submission when they do so (1 Corinthians
11:1-16). Some very practical deductions and applications can be
drawn from these principles. If all other members of the church
participate in voting at congregational meetings, then of course women
members equally share that right. If all other worshipers are
participating in the worship by sharing and praying, then women also
should participate equally. The church of Christ, its men and women,
must be equally concerned to uphold both these aspects of inclusion
and any necessary exclusion in fidelity to God’s Word. One must not
draw the false conclusion that the Scriptures are opposed to women
teaching or exercising any kind of leadership. Instead, women are
encouraged by the Apostle Paul to teach other women and to make full
use of their gifts in that realm (Titus 2:3-5). Just as Paul directs how
tongue speakers and prophets may use their gifts in accordance with
God’s order, so he encourages women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-
5).

Similarly, the New Testament commends the activities of women in various


sorts of ministries except those that would violate the male leadership
principle. This range of ministries is summarized in the following words:
Several passages indicate that women are involved in diaconal tasks and
appropriate teaching situations. A sampling of those activities may be seen
in the following: older women are called upon to teach and train younger
women concerning their responsibilities to their husbands and children
(Titus 2:3-5); wives (gunaikas) are referred to in the midst of the description
of male deacons (1 Timothy 3:11); Phoebe is designated “a servant
[diakonon] of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1); Paul refers
in 1 Corinthians to women praying or prophesying (11:5); and Priscilla and
Aquila, that inseparable husband-and-wife team, in a discreet and private
meeting expound to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
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This brief Biblical summary, as true as it is and as helpful as it is, reminds
us by these examples of the wide range of ministries available to women in
the kingdom of God. The Danvers Statement, Affirmation 9, in this wide-
ranging perspective and broad sweep, has attempted to express that range.
Its words serve as a fitting conclusion to this particular section:

With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism;
with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the
gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition,
homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration,
neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to
make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling
ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.

B. The Biblical Principle of Male Leadership in the Church Alongside


our insistence on women’s legitimate participation in the life of the
church, we need to remind ourselves again that the apostolic teaching
insists on men being the primary leaders in the church (just as in
marriage) and therefore excludes women from that role. The clearest
statement is 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not allow a woman to teach or
exercise authority over a man” (nasb). The contextual setting of this
statement makes it plain that the apostle is speaking about women
publicly teaching men in the religious realm and exercising authority
over men in the Christian community. It is the male/female role
relationship based on creation that requires this prohibition (cf. 1
Timothy 2:13). And thus, since the church by definition includes both
men and women, those situations where both are present are
situations in which this prohibition is in effect.4

4. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, A Response to Evangelical Feminism,


Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991, Crossway Books Wheaton,
Illinois.
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5. DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

The confessional statement of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church on


the subject of “Divorce and Remarriage” is found in
the Westminster Confession of Faith(24.5,6, & 7) and in the Book of
Worship (§54) as follows:

It is the divine intention that persons entering the marriage covenant


become inseparably united, thus allowing for no dissolution saves that
caused by the death of either husband or wife.

However, the weaknesses of one or both partners may lead to gross


and persistent denial of the marriage vows; yet only in cases of
extreme unfaithfulness(physical or spiritual), unfaithfulness for which
there is no repentance and which is beyond remedy,
should separation or divorce be considered. Such separation or
divorce is accepted as permissible only because of the failure of one or
both of the partners, and does not lessen in any way
the divine intention for indissoluble union.

The remarriage of divorced persons may be sanctioned by the Church


in keeping with the redemptive gospel of Christ, when sufficient
penitence for sin and failure is evident, and a firm purpose of
and endeavor after Christian marriage is manifested.

Divorced persons should give prayerful thought to discover if God’s


vocation for them is to remain unmarried, since one failure in this
realm raises serious questions as to the rightness and wisdom of
undertaking another union.

If the Minister has any questions about the readiness of


a divorced person to remarry according to these principles,
the Church Session should be consulted and its concurrence sought.
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Any discussion of divorce and remarriage should be conducted in a spirit
of genuine humility. Few experiences in life are more agonizing than
the dissolution of a marriage. We realize that conclusions cannot
be reached lightly, but only on the basis of a prayerful and diligent study
of the teaching of God’s Word. Difficult ethical problems arise in any
divorce, and very few of these problems are so simple that right judgment
can be easily made. Parties that are “innocent” are seldom to be found.

DIVORCE IN THE SCRIPTURE

According to the dictates of Scripture, marriage is for life. Clearly, God’s


standard is chastity before marriage and fidelity
afterwards, and Scripture teaches that divorce is always an abnormality
arising out of human sinfulness.

But to say that God intended the marriage covenant should never be broken
does not mean that the marriage union is therefore unbreakable. For
example, it is broken by the death of either partner. Moreover, in
Old Testament times, divorce was tolerated although not divinely approved.
We discover from Deuteronomy 24:14 that Moses was not instituting or
encouraging divorce; he was simply attempting to regulate it in
a culture whose practice of it was out of control. It is important to note that
the word “adultery” does not appear in these verses for the very good reason
that under the Mosaic Law, the punishment for adultery was death by
stoning. Divorce was obviously an established custom, which is
neither commanded nor condoned in this passage.

However, the Mosaic Law in general assumed the practice of divorce


(Lev.21:7, 14, and 22:13; Num. 30:9; Deut.22:19, 29). Divorces were even
required when the postexilic people of God who had married foreign women
were commanded to “put them away” (Ezra 911; Neh.9:2). Nevertheless,
the Old Testament makes it very clear that God does not look favorably
on divorce. Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives
because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from
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the beginning.” (Matt. 19:89)

When Scripture says that a man shall “cleave to his wife” (Gen.2:24), this
is a covenantal term used elsewhere when the Israelites were challenged to
“cleave” to the Lord with affection and loyalty” (Joshua 22:5). The prophet
Malachi affirms (Mal.2:1416) that it was because of the multiple divorces
in Israel that God was withholding His blessing and no longer hearing their
prayers.

In the New Testament, Jesus calls His people to be faithful to the clearly
defined will of God as expressed primordially in Gen.2:24,
and quoted and enlarged upon by our Lord in Matt. 19:46:

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that the Creator made them


male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his
father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall
become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one. Therefore, what God
has joined together, let man not separate.”

One renowned theologian shows the extreme importance of these words of


our Lord when he says,
Now it was of course precisely the order of creation that Christ
came to restore; therefore, the restoration of the order of creation
should manifestly be taking place in His body the church, which is
composed of new creatures, or renewed creations in Christ.
The Christian Church, accordingly, has a special responsibility to bear
witness in its practice as well as in its doctrine to the sanctity of
the marriage bond. Of all the spheres of human society it least of all
should show that ungodly hardheartedness which requires
the divine standard to be accommodated to the debased level of man’s
fallen state.

BIBLICAL AND UNBIBLICAL DIVORCE

As noted above, marriage is a sworn fidelity, whereby God joins a man


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and a woman in lifelong companionship. Nevertheless, divorce is permitted
only in circumstances of grave repudiation of the marriage covenant, namely
adultery and willful, irremediable desertion. The original text of
the Westminster Confession, as approved by the General Assembly of
the Church of Scotland in 1647, is very emphatic when it states,
“Nothing but adultery or such willful desertion as can no way
be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate is cause sufficient of
dissolving the bond of marriage.” The offended party in such circumstances
is free to remarry, as if the offending party were dead.

In Matt. 5:3132 and 19:39 Jesus cites’ marital unfaithfulness’ as


the sole grounds for biblical divorce and remarriage. This word,
porneia, is usually understood as sexual sin. However, a better
translation would follow the New American Standard Version in
rendering it “immorality.” In contrast to moicheia, which is always
translated “adultery,” porneia refers to all kinds of sexual immorality
which breaks the one flesh principle.

Jesus emphasized the sanctity of marriage: “What God has joined together,
let man not separate.” (Matt. 19:6) While the Pharisees and scribes said that
the Law demanded divorce under certain circumstances, Jesus said,

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must


give her a certificate of divorce. ‘But I tell you that anyone who
divorces his wife, except for ‘marital unfaithfulness’ causes
her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries
the divorced woman commits adultery. Matt. 5:3132

The Law indeed commanded that a certificate of divorce be written, if


there were to be a valid divorce. But that is a very different thing from
saying that they must divorce. God’s call to us is
to love and to forgive. Therefore, divorce is not necessitated even by adultery.
There must always be the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation
and this should be seriously pursued – indeed married couples who
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have experienced a break in covenant faithfulness should strive to repair
their relationship through forgiveness, reconciliation and personal
transformation before divorce proceedings are initiated. The story of Hosea
illustrates God’s active role in the marriage covenant and reflects God’s
covenant love for His people. In obedience to God’s command, Hosea
pursued Gomer and accepted her as God restored the covenant relationship.
Likewise, the Session should encourage the offended spouse to
offer forgiveness and reconciliation with the hope of
drawing the offending spouse back to right relationship in the marriage.

Pastors who become aware of potential divorce situations within


the church, either through the parties involved or from outside sources,
should encourage both partners to seek Christian marriage counseling,
either from the church staff or from other qualified counselors. God’s love,
forgiveness, and healing power should be emphasized, especially
where the offending spouse (who committed the marital unfaithfulness)is
repentant and the offended spouse is reluctant
to forgive and unwilling to continue in the marriage.

Christ’s teaching is that if a divorce takes place on any other grounds than
that of marital unfaithfulness, it can have no sanction from God, and any
new marriage which follows is an adulterous act, since from God’s
standpoint the original couple is still married to each other. Matthew
19:9 indicates that a valid divorce (on the grounds of marital
unfaithfulness) entails the right to remarry.

Paul, in 1 Cor.7:12-15 cites the case of a man who becomes a Christian


after marriage. His wife, however, remains an unbeliever but is willing to
continue living with him. The injunction is that he is not to divorce her.
But if she were to leave him, she is to be allowed to do so. Desertion is
the destruction of the marriage which the Christian spouse was unable to
prevent. The believer in such a case is not bound (that is, he or she is
free to divorce and remarry) ; for Paul says,” God has called us to live in
peace.” (1 Cor.7:15)
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This implies that in the case of a serious breakdown of a marriage– even
when both parties are believers and peace has given way to open warfare, as
in the case of extreme incompatibility– it may be better for
the couple to separate, temporarily at least, rather than to continue in
a relationship that has become intolerable. But in such a circumstance,
there should be no resort to divorce, let alone any intention of entering into
a second marriage. In the case of such a separation, they
are either to remain single, or earnestly work toward effecting reconciliation
(1 Cor.7:1011).

Some would understand Matt.19:9 to restrict biblical divorce only to cases of


physical adultery. However, we agree with John Murray that
the issue addressed there is what constitutes legitimate remarriage. In
other words; Jesus’ point is if one remarries without a biblical divorce, he or
she is committing adultery. Further, such a restrictive understanding of
Matt.19:9 cannot account for Paul’s grounds of desertion in 1 Cor.7:12-15.
To reconcile these passages we must search
out the overriding principle from which they both derive, the one flesh
principle of the marriage mandate (Gen.2:24; cf.Matt.19:5; 1 Cor.6:16;
Eph.5:2829).Both adultery and desertion break the one flesh relationship.

Why is adultery...cause sufficient for dissolving the bond of marriage?


As it is a radical breach of marital fidelity, violating the commitment of
exclusive conjugal love. Why does the departure of an unbeliever in
a mixed marriage leave the believer free to remarry? (1 Cor.7: 1516).
Because violating the commitment of lifelong companionship is
a radical breach of marital fidelity. The exceptional circumstance
common to both instances is
willful repudiation of the marriage covenant.

Ongoing physical abuse and attempted murder may be examples of


actions which the Session may determine breaks the one flesh principle.

If there is “hardness of heart” and the parties are unable to reconcile and so
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proceed to divorce, the Session must indicate that it strongly disagrees with
that action, while maintaining lines of communication and love to both
husband and wife. Even divorce should not preclude continued attempts
at reconciliation, until one spouse remarries or refuses reconciliation in
such a way as to reveal him or herself to be, in effect, an unbeliever.
Attempts to reconcile are mandatory after an unbiblical divorce– the Session
should exhort the spouse(s) under its jurisdiction to continue as long as
reconciliation is possible. Reconciliation should be encouraged in the case of
biblical divorce as well, that God may be glorified in the healing of
relationships among his people.

In light of Scripture’s clear teaching on the sanctity of marriage and God’s


strong opposition to and restrictions on divorce, surely Christians
cannot condone the easy accessibility to divorce in our contemporary
society. Increasingly we must emphasize the lifelong commitment implicit
in the marriage covenant, and especially in Christian marriage which
should be a constant witness to God’s order of creation and to
the new order of recreation in Christ.

WHAT ABOUT REMARRIAGE?

May those involved in a divorce without biblical grounds ever remarry?


Or can the offending spouse in a biblical divorce ever remarry? Jesus
explicitly teaches that those who are involved in a remarriage after an
improper divorce commit adultery. Although members may
come under discipline for remarrying after an unbiblical divorce, there is
always the prospect of restoration of that member if he or she demonstrates
true repentance. The blood of Christ is sufficient for the sins of all
true believers. The Session should actively work towards this end.

However, when one of the spouses in a former union remarries, we may


conclude that the other is free to remarry
because the former marriage relationship has been permanently broken by
the remarriage. The Church must be careful not to sanction unbiblical
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marriages; but, as noted above, when a former spouse has remarried, or
refuses reconciliation in such a way as to reveal himself or herself to be, in
effect, an unbeliever, remarriage to another person becomes a valid option
for the other party in the light of 1 Cor.7. Before anyone remarries, even
under these conditions, that person should demonstrate “sufficient
penitence for sin and failure,” and manifest “a firm purpose of an endeavor
after Christian marriage.”

The Session should encourage anyone considering remarriage


to participate in counseling to ascertain their penitence and desire for
a Christian marriage. In addition, they
should be encouraged to prayerfully consider if God may be calling them
to remain unmarried, as Paul encourages in 1 Cor.7:8, and in view of
that fact that “one failure in this realm raises serious questions as to
the rightness and wisdom of undertaking another union” (WCF 24.7).

What about those cases in which people have been involved in an unbiblical
divorce before becoming believers and have since remarried?
Wise and loving pastoral oversight should encourage such individuals
to seek God’s gracious forgiveness, in the assurance that
He will forgive them and accept their present marriage. Does this mean that
in this case God has changed or lowered His standards? Not so. But it does
mean that even divorce and remarriage under such circumstances, serious
though they are, are not unforgivable sins, but with all other transgressions,
are covered by the blood of Christ.1

1. Optic., Position Paper on divorce and Remarriage.


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6. SOCIAL PERPECTIVE

Family structure in the United States changed rapidly in the second half of
the twentieth century. A wide variety of family forms increasingly replaced
the two-parent family norm. In 2001, 69 percent of children lived in two-
parent families, down from 77 percent in 1980 (Federal Interagency Forum
on Child and Family Statistics, 2002). Divorce is common. About half of all
recent first marriages are expected to end in divorce (Ooms, 2002). Of
children born into two-parent families, 34 percent will experience a
disruption of their parents’ union by age 16. One-third of all births are out-
of-wedlock. And couples opting to cohabit rather than marry are becoming
an increasingly common phenomenon. Forty percent of all births occur
within cohabiting unions rather than marriages (Bumpass & Lu, 2000).
Some European countries also experienced a precipitous decline in marriage
rates but have recently seen those rates level and even rise (Ford, 2002).

A vast accumulation of research suggests that children do not fare as well


in these alternative family structure forms as children living with their two
married biological parents. Numerous studies indicate that children
growing up in single-parent families experience worse outcomes than
children growing up in two-parent families (Acs & Nelson, 2001; Amato &
Keith, 1991; McLanahan & Sandefeur, 1994; Wu & Martinson, 1993). And
many studies show that divorce, specifically, is correlated with negative
effects on children’s well-being (Amato, 1993; Amato & Keith, 1991; Chase-
Lansdale, Cherlin, & Kiernan, 1995; Chase-Lansdale & Hetherington,
1990). Even when parents remarry, a synthesis of the research suggests
that this does not appear to improve outcomes (Amato, 1993).

Recent research also suggests a relationship between marriage and positive


outcomes for adults. Married couples build more wealth on average than
singles or cohabiting couples, while divorce and unmarried childbearing
increase the risk of poverty for children and mothers (Lupton and Smith,
2002). Individuals who are married are found to have better health and
longer life expectancies than similar singles (Lillard and Waite, 1995).
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Married mothers have lower rates of depression than cohabiting or single
mothers (Brown, 2000). Research also shows that unhappily married adults
who divorce or separate, on average, are no happier than unhappily married
adults who stay together (Waite et al., 2002).

Relationship Programs
A diverse set of relationship programs currently exists to improve
relationships and marriages. Marriage and relationship education
programs vary by sponsoring organization, curricular focus, client learning
style, and target population. They are developed from government,
research, or faith-based initiatives or they may operate privately for profit.
Programs may operate in mental health centers, hospitals, public
assistance offices, churches, or universities, among other places. Curricula
deal with topics such as communication, parenting or finances. Providers
utilize formats that may be instructive, group-oriented, or analytic, and
programs may operate with different group sizes and treatment dosage
amounts. The programs reach many populations, including individuals
(e.g. youth, fathers, mothers), couples (e.g. pre-marital, married), and
families.

While the interpretation of outcomes research on marriage and


relationship programs is complex, experts in the field suggest generally
there is promising evidence that couples can learn specific skills to
improve their relationships (Stanley, Markman, & Jenkins, 2002).
According to these experts, couples can learn to reduce patterns of
negative interaction and maintain higher levels of relationship
satisfaction. They noted that in some studies, higher-risk couples show
the strongest program effects, and some studies have found that the
beneficial effects appear to last up to five years after the training.

U.S. Policy Response


Recently marriage has become a national issue of public policy in the United
States. The Bush Administration has proposed that the Federal government
dedicate $300 million a year as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy
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Families (TANF) program to "help couples form and sustain healthy
marriages." Proposed legislation focuses on eight allowable activities:

1. Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills


needed to increase marital stability and health.
2. Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills,
and budgeting.
3. Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs,
which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict
resolution, and job and career advancement, for non-married pregnant
women and non-married expectant fathers.
4. Pre-marital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples
and for couples or individuals interested in marriage.
5. Marriage enhancement and marriage skills training programs for
married couples.
6. Divorce reduction programs that teach relationship skills.
7. Marriage mentoring programs, which use married couples as role
models and mentors.
8. Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid
programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described in this
subparagraph. 5

5. Jane Reardon-Anderson, Matthew Stagner, Jennifer Ehrle Macomber, and Julie


Murray, Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and Relationship Programs,
Funding: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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7. CHOOSING A MATE

Marriage is, undoubtedly, a wonderful institution ordained by God (Genesis


2:18-25). One of the ways that Christians can testify and model before the
unbelieving world the beauty of a healthy, Christ-centered marriage, is to make
sure before getting married that we have made a wise choice in our future
spouse, one who is truly going to honor and uphold the sanctity of their
marriage vows.

Unfortunately, many Christians who would give serious thought and


reflection before purchasing a car or a home, would never apply the same
amount of scrutiny before marrying their future spouse – one, who in the
end, is going to have a far greater impact (whether positive or detrimental)
upon their lives than would the purchase of any material object.

Over the years, numerous Christian deeply regret the choices that they have
made in their wives or husbands. Some have ended in divorce while others
have remained married in spite of constant strife and tension within the home.
Most, if not all, have made the same mistake: They failed to fully examine the
character and level of Christian commitment of the person they intended to
marry. Wrapped up in the emotional splendor of courting someone they found
attractive, they allowed their critical faculties to go to the wayside and, thus,
were unable to discern the folly of their decision. A large percentage of these
problem marriages were due to immature and untaught Christians naively
choosing persons who were outright pagans or nominal Christians at best.
While such marriages can sometimes be saved, many of them cannot because
of pride, hardness of heart, adultery, and numerous other sins which pollute
the marriage vow. Those rare marriages that remain intact – in spite of
continual strife and turmoil among the partners – is usually a form of God’s
judgment upon the believer for making unwise or unscriptural choices in a
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mate. It is hoped that the following points – while not exhaustive – will help
those who are considering a marriage partner to make choices that are wise
and glorifying to their Creator who graciously gave us the institution of
marriage.

#1. The Importance Of Making A Wise Choice At The Outset:

a. It helps to prevent future heartaches and marital problems. Do you want to


be spared the tears, the heartaches, and the guilt which comes when we ignore
the wisdom of God’s Word in choosing a mate? Make sure, then, that you
choose a person who is truly regenerate, who has character, who is mature and
responsible, and who possesses a common set of values. The prolific writer and
Bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), has wisely stated the following
regarding marriage: “In no relation is so much earthly happiness to be found, if
it be entered upon discreetly, advisedly and in the fear of God. In none is so
much misery seen to follow, if it be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, wantonly
and without thought.” Thomas Gataker, has likewise written, “It is not evil to
marry, but good to be wary.”

b. It helps to preserve your testimony as a Christian family before the eyes of


the watching and unbelieving world. Part of the reason why so many
unbelievers mock the virtues of a Christian marriage, is because they see little
genuine difference between their marriages and those of so-called Christians.
You’ll give the pagans an even greater opportunity to laugh when they see the
level of tension and carnality that exists in your home because you foolishly
married a heathen or nominal Christian.

c. A healthy marriage relationship helps to encourage and strengthen your


commitment to Christ. On the other hand, how encouraging is it to constantly
drag with you everywhere a spiritually-dead corpse in the form of an
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unregenerate pagan? Making a prudent and Scripturally-wise choice in a


marriage partner will do much to direct one’s life on a continual path of
holiness – for as J.A. Motyer has said, “Marriage is not a concession to our
sinfulness; marriage is a provision for our holiness.”

d. It helps to promote peace and stability within our busy and fast-paced lives.
Life itself has enough problems, but why exacerbates those problems by
marrying someone who is shady in their character or who has very little
commitment to Christ?

e. A good marriage helps to provide our children with a loving and stable
environment. But how peaceful and stable is that environment going to be
when married to one who possesses the opposite of your values and whose
goals rise no higher than this present world?

f. It helps to model what a Christian marriage should be for future generations,


thus insuring the continuance of the marriage institution. With so many
abandoning and ridiculing the blessing of marriage within our culture, there is
an urgent need for Christians to make wise spousal decisions and practically
model what a healthy, Christ-centered marriage should look like.

#2. What Relational Concepts/Principles Must Be Foundational In A


Mate?

a. There is absolutely no justification for knowingly marrying someone who is


not a believer (1 Corinthians 7:39). To do so, exposes not only your
disobedience to the revealed will of God, but brings into question your status
as a child of God or, at the least, the quality and maturity of your Christian
walk. Moreover, it is a fools game to engage in “missionary dating” (i.e., dating
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unbelievers in hopes of evangelizing them). It places the believer in incredibly


tempting situations (Matthew 4:5-7), thus potentially discrediting his testimony
if he should fall.

b. While there is no precise and definite rule on this, it is the better of wisdom
to court for a relatively long period of time before getting married (perhaps for
two or three years). This allows for greater opportunities to see the true
character and person that one is intending to marry. It’s easy to put on a mask
and conceal the immoral skeletons hiding in one’s closet for a period of time,
but it’s much harder when such props have to be maintained over many
months. Longer courtship’s help to solidify and deepen the relationship,
develop and improve communication skills, ferret out any differences in roles or
child-rearing philosophies, and insures that one is making a prudent and God-
glorifying decision.

c. It is probably not wise to court a newly converted believer. Not only is time
needed in order to prove the genuineness of their conversion, but they need
time and space in which to develop a deep relationship with Christ; one that is
not distracted by another’s affection and time that is not robbed from Christian
ministry in order to pursue courtship activities.

d. It is not wise to court immature or irresponsible persons, regardless of how


physically attractive they are or their Christian status. It may seem
unnecessary and patently obvious to point this out, but it is amazing how
many Christians will wreck havoc on their marriages because they ignored
such obvious danger signs as immaturity and irresponsibility when they were
courting.

e. It is probably not the wisest to court those in the process of recovering from
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an emotional break-up. In the majority of cases, they’re still emotionally


attached to that person and are often quick to dump their new love interest if
given the chance to return to their old flame. Besides, would you really want to
pursue the possibility of marriage with someone on an emotional roller-
coaster? Can you really be sure that their interest in you is not temporary filler
until someone else comes along?

f. Seek to establish a similar marital philosophy and goals before getting


married. Make sure that you’re both thinking alone the same lines since it will
help to prevent or reduce any future confusion about leadership roles in the
home, child-rearing, and the numerous issues that newly-married couples
must face.

g. Consider and value the opinions of mature Christians (perhaps the elders of
your assembly) regarding the personal and spiritual qualities of your selection
in a marriage partner. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise
man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15; see also 13:10).

h. Center your courtship on the things of God (e.g., Bible study, church-related
activities, and ministry) and not merely “fun” or social events. While there is a
time and place for fun activities, these should not dominate the relationship
nor should they cause us to abandon our ministry commitments unto the Lord.

i. The discerning Christian man, as leader within the courting relationship,


should not place himself in a setting or environment where the potential of
fornication can be realized. It is much wiser to court in a small group of other
couples or even having a chaperon present who can oversee the event and hold
you both accountable.
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#3. What A Christian Woman Should Look For Or Avoid In A Mate:

a. Spiritual Maturity and Christ-likeness: Is he serious about his walk


with God? How long has he saving known the Lord? What do his closest
friends think about the level of his Christian commitment? The truth is,
the woman who is serious about her Christianity will desire – and only be
content with – the man who is likewise devout and serious about his
Christianity! The Christian woman who settles for anything less –
particularly the woman who is “desperate” because she sees herself
getting older – should justly expect much turmoil and frustration in her
marriage as well as relatively little fruit in her spiritual walk. Although,
admittedly, there are rare exceptions, this in no way justifies settling for
a “nominal” Christian (which, in most cases, is nothing more than an
unregenerate pagan cloaked in religious attire).

b. Personal Responsibility: Is he responsible in maintaining a job, paying


his bills, and in meeting other personal or social responsibilities? This
will tell you much about his level of maturity.

c. Ethical Behavior: Is he an ethical person? Is he known as a liar or


cheat? Does he constantly stretch the truth? What do his closest friends
think about his moral character?

d. Watch out for the man who is rude or disrespectful to his parents
(Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). This is an important indicator of how
he will treat you once married. Be alert also to the man who has not
spoken to his parents in years and has stopped all mutual
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communication. In some instances, this might be justified; but, in most,


it’s an indication of hardheartedness.

e. Watch out for the man who brags of his previous female conquests
(sexually). Most likely, he’s intending for you to be his next victim.

f. Avoid the overly macho types. They’re filled with pride and usually can’t
see beyond themselves. The same also applies with the man who is
always talking about himself. Such people are too self-centered to give
themselves in sacrificial service to others.

g. Watch out for the man who has serious difficulty in communicating
with you. Since communication is an important element to a healthy
marriage, why would you want someone whose expressions are limited to
grunts and one-liners? While I grant that men are not as expressive as
women, an emotionally-stable partner must be able to communicate, to
some extent, his thoughts, feelings, and future goals.

h. Watch out for the man who has worldly interests and is easily
attracted to carnal pursuits (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Such a man is
spiritually unstable and is destined to bring misery to anyone who is
foolish enough to marry him.

i. Avoid men who are effeminate or who struggle with their sexual
orientation. It is much wiser to avoid the man altogether who has come
out of the homosexual lifestyle, since homosexuality is an especially
wicked sin to overcome and, most likely, there will be the constant drive
or pull to return to that lifestyle. The potential of serious marital
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problems and heartaches is all the more increased when courting former
homosexuals. I freely acknowledge, however, that some couples have
been able to sustain a healthy, well-balanced marriage in spite of their
previous lifestyles – and the New Testament clearly recognizes that
homosexuals, by the sovereign power of Christ, can be delivered from
such vile practices (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Even still, the woman who is
considering marriage to a former homosexual ought to, at least, be aware
of the unique and potentially harmful problems that await her.

j. Avoid men who are wimpy and unable to make leadership decisions in
their life. Such men are usually lacking in direction and the motivation
needed to be true leaders in the home. Watch out also for the man who is
excessively attached to his mother and her opinions.

k. Along the same lines, watch out for the man who is looking for a
mother-figure, not a wife. These type of men are notorious for abdicating
their leadership role within the marriage.

#4. What A Christian Man Should Look For Or Avoid In A Mate

a. Spiritual Maturity and Christ-likeness: Is she truly serious about God?


Did she just recently decide to be spiritually-minded since meeting you?
Many people (both men and women) suddenly get “religious” when they
discover that the person they’re attracted to is a church-going Christian.

b. Is she responsible in her personal affairs? Does she meet her financial
obligations if any? Is she a responsible employee? “House and wealth are
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an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord”


(Proverbs 19:14).

c. Watch out for the woman who excessively gossips, since such a
woman will more than likely be a source of strife and tension with others
because of her inability to keep matters private. Any man who hopes to
one day serve in a pastoral function should also be wary of the woman
who gossips, since she may be one of the means to discrediting his
ministry among church members who need to have confidence that their
private matters won’t be spread to the church-at-large. “He who goes
about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a
gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).

d. Avoid domineering women. This kind of woman will most assuredly


fight with you over leadership issues in the home. “It is better to live in a
corner of a roof, than in a house shared with a contentious woman”
(Proverbs 21:9; see also 25:24). Godly men should seek for the kind of
qualities mentioned in both the Proverbs 31:10-31 and 1 Peter 3:1-6.
Along the same lines, it is probably wiser to also avoid loud or boisterous
women since they are particularly inclined to provoking conflict in the
marriage.

e. Watch out for the woman who excessively spends money, since it will
probably be a point of contention in the marriage. More than that, it
reveals a materialistic spirit and the foolish gentleman who chooses to
marry her will probably incur much unnecessary debt throughout his
life.

f. Watch out for the woman who is discourteous and disrespectful to her
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parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). This is an indicator of how she


will probably treat you.

g. Avoid the woman who dresses provocatively or who wears revealing


clothes. It is a clear indicator that she lacks discretion, propriety, and
modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-10); and has been overly influenced by worldly
fashion standards. It also demonstrates that she is less than sensitive to
the visual temptations that all men struggle with.

h. Women who are continuously jealous or easily suspicious of your


unfaithfulness (unless you deserve such suspicion) should be avoided. It
indicates personal insecurity, immaturity, and lack of trust in the
marriage bond.

i. Avoid women who are idle or unproductive in their daily lives (Proverbs
31:10-27; Titus 2:3-5). This also applies to the woman who is continually
dependent upon others to provide her purpose and meaning for her
existence. In other words, lacking self-motivation, she constantly needs
other people to stimulate and motivate her. If a woman proves to be lazy
or idle before the marriage is consummated, it will most likely occur and
continue after the wedding day. Generally speaking, they turn out to be
poor homemakers and sacrifice very little for their families.6

6. Darryl M. Erkel, Qualities to Look For – Or Avoid – In a Potential Mate,


Biblical & Practical Wisdom for Choosing a Marriage Partner.
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8. AFFIRMATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

Further affirmations are relevant to this discussion:


1) Paul reminds us in 2 Cor.6:1415, “Do not be yoked together with
unbelievers....What a believer has in common with an
unbeliever?” Such teaching clearly implies that it is not only
unwise but indeed sinful for a Christian to enter into a marriage with
a person who is not a Christian. It is incumbent upon churches
to apprise young people of the dangers inherent in being “unequally
yoked,” and to encourage them to seek only Christians as potential
spouses.

2) While all Christians are admonished to conduct themselves in


a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ(Phil.1:27), those persons who
are called to positions of leadership in the church have an especially
solemn responsibility to behave in an exemplary manner in every
area of their lives, including their sexuality. It is particularly
incumbent upon teaching and ruling elders to set a Godly
example. St. Paul insists that the elder “must be above reproach,
the husband of one wife” (1 Tim.3:45), which implies that he must
be faithful to the “one flesh” marriage covenant. A similar requirement
is made for deacons (1 Tim.3:12).

Let’s concur at this point with the position of the Presbyterian Church in
America that anyone “who is divorced in accord with biblical principles,
whether remaining single or having remarried, may serve as a church
officer.”

Church Sessions and Presbyteries must exercise special care in the case of
persons considered for church office that have divorced or remarried on
unbiblical grounds. In such situations, guilt must
be acknowledged and repentance for sin expressed. The persons
concerned must have been rehabilitated sufficiently in the confidence
and respect of other Christians as to be able to fulfill in an exemplary way
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the requirements of church office with regard to marital and family
relationships.

Sessions should consider that even when such care is exercised, there may
be circumstances in which it would be inadvisable, even though technically
permissible, for such divorced or remarried persons to serve as church
officers. It should be noted that serving as an officer of the church is
a privilege, not a right. Community awareness of the situation might also
be considered so that not even apparent scandal is attached to the church.
Above all, Sessions should follow scriptural guidelines carefully in
dealing with present or prospective church officers who have been divorced,
keeping foremost in mind that the honor of Christ be made manifest in
the church and the community.

Congregations within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church can take many


helpful steps to minister the redemptive love of Christ to their members who
go through the tragedy of divorce and to reach
out to those outside the Church who are suffering the aftermath of divorce.
Some effective steps to be considered are:

1. Pastors preaching sermons regularly on topics which will strengthen


family life within the church.
2. Churches expanding their educational and fellowship programs
to include:
a. regular Bible studies on Christian marriage and the roles and
b. Responsibilities of husband and wife;
c. Family seminars and marriage enrichment workshops;
d. Regular couple’s retreats;
e. Making available books on biblical marriage and family
development.
3. Pastors undertaking continuing education in premarital and marital
counseling.
4. Congregations requiring effective premarital counseling for all couples.
5. Special counsel being given to those who have been
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divorced and are contemplating remarriage. In the light of church’s doctrinal
standards:
a. Is God’s vocation for them that they remain unmarried “since
one failure in this realm raises serious question as to the rightness
and wisdom of undertaking another union?” This question
should be explored with sensitivity and an
earnest desire to help them work through the implication of such
a possibility.
b. Assurance should be received that these persons have come, or
desire to come, to genuine faith in Christ, in order that they may
demonstrate “sufficient penitence for sin and failure” and manifest
“a firm purpose of and endeavor after Christian marriage.” (WCF
24:6)
c. If the Church is satisfied that remarriage is justifiable,
the candidates should be offered participation in a divorce recovery
program in which past failure in marital relationships is honestly
confronted, so that such realities as guilt, resentment, frustration,
fear and anger resulting from the first
marriage are not carried over as a time bomb to destroy
the second marriage.
6. Pastors training mature Christian couples with strong marriages
to assist in pre marital counseling.
7. Congregations having a support group for those who
have gone through a divorce and are seeking to redefine and reestablish
their life within the fellowship of the church.1

1. Optic., Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage.


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9. BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage, Adopted 16th General


Assembly, June 1996, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, America.

2. Derek R. Iannelli-Smith, Reflective Review of Sexual Anorexia by


Patrick Carnes, Reformed Perspective Magazine, Volume 7, Number
16, April 17 to April 23, 2005.

3. Guidelines for Marriage and Divorce, Perimeter Church.

4. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, A Response to Evangelical Feminism,


Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991, Crossway Books
Wheaton, Illinois.

5. Jane Reardon-Anderson, Matthew Stagner, Jennifer Ehrle Macomber,


and Julie Murray, Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and
Relationship Programs, Funding: U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services.

6. Darryl M. Erkel, Qualities to Look For – Or Avoid – In a Potential Mate,


Biblical & Practical Wisdom for Choosing a Marriage Partner.