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    FAQ 59

    Divorce and Remarriage:
    When Does a Believer
    Become an Unbeliever?

    Q. I'm slowly starting to understand how serious divorce is thanks to your articles. But I'm having problems knowing where exactly the line should be drawn between justifiable divorce and not. I am divorced. I divorced my husband, who used to be a Christian, but has now become a Buddhist. He tried to stop me practicing my faith and slept around with other women. I divorced him for that (sleeping around). When we married he was a believer but now he isn't. Now I want to marry polygamously. Was I right to divorce him? And would I be committing adultery if I remarried? What would have had happened if he had remained a Christian but his behaviour showed he wasn't - what if he had then deserted me? Would that constitute grounds for divorce?? I am very confused.

    These matters are never simple and every case is, at least to some degree, unique. Let's start with the hypothetical example you gave because I know many have been wondering about this, so this would be an ideal opportunity to address it.

    What does a woman do who is married to a man who claims to be a Christian (or Messianic), confesses Christ, but lives, for example, a life of abuse and fornication or adultery?

    If he is committing adultery with a married woman, then there is no doubt in my mind that the wife has immedate grounds for divorce. As a Christian/Messianic she has, of course, the moral obligation to forgive and seek reconciliation if the husband is genuinely repenting. If he carries on committing adultery and/or abandons her, then she is no longer required to remain true to him. The convenent is broken.

    If he commits fornication by sleeping around with unmarried women than he is obliged to marry them all. However, there are other factors in the equation. If the wife is not sympathetic to polygamy, and refuses him because of their exclusive monogamy-only marriage covenant clause, then he is in a real dilemma, because he can't force his first wife to accept the new wives and he can't abandon the women he has slept with either. If the women refuse to marry him, then he is released from the obligation to marry them, but is still in sin and must repent to Yahweh and his wife. Such cases can be complex and must be dealt with on an individual basis.

    If the husband continues to commit fornication and/or is committing other grievous sins habitually and wilfully, is he still technically a Christian/Messianic? And if he wants to terminate the marriage (as an 'unbeliever'), can he do so per pro Paul? When does a Christian/Messianic cease to be a believer?

    It is over this theological point that Christians/Messianics disagree according to their denominational biases. Some would claim that 'once a Christian, always a Christian', so the question is moot. Others, like myself, believe that a man can lose his salvation by habitual, unrepented sin. But can man really decide when a believer becomes an unbeliever? Is it even possible? Or was Paul only talking about those who have never been Christians/Messianics in a situation where in a pagan family the wife converts but the husband renmains an unbeliever and deserts her?

    I'll be perfectly frank - I don't know the answer to this question if all I have to go on is the biblical data because the Scriptures do not, in my view, cover this eventuality. I'm still not 100% sure if this is even a legitimate question.

    So let me address your specific situation instead. Your husband formally renounced Christ and became a Buddhist. In my mind he is now an unbeliever. The fact that has also fornicated (and perhaps committed adultery?) indicates that you have a ground for divorcing him, namely adultery. If he abandoned you as an unbeliever (a Buddhist) then that, in my judgment, constitutes grounds for divorce per pro:

      "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Master: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Master, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But Elohim (God) has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:10-16, NKJV).

    But if he has not renounced Christ, yet behaves as a heathen, the question is really one of when grace is expended and when, in Yahweh's eyes, the man is to all intends and purposes a heathen. One thing is for sure, no hasty answer is possible. The life of such a man would have to be reviewed over a longish period of time so long as there is any doubt. The wife certainly has the right to separate from him but cannot remarry until the question is settled.

    The negative grounds for divorce are more or less clear cut:

      "What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of Elohim (God) with idols? For you are the temple of the living Elohim (God)" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NKJV).

    We are told:

      "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, NKJV).

    Whilst we must be scrupulpous in observing the Torah (Law) laid down by Yahweh, where there is doubt we must exercise a faculty that employs heavenly logic such as revealed here by Paul. Ultimately, unequal yoking is not only inhibiting but harmful to the spiritual life of both the marriage and the Church (Messianic Community) because Tahweh requires that the behaviour of individuals be aligned with the vocation of Messianic Israel as a whole. And a priority of the Lord is that we should not be "under bondage". The Christian/Messianic, to be fruitful in his or her works, must accept that "Elohim (God) has called us to peace". If we can sanctify and, hopefully, save an unbelieving spouse, then as Paul says we must remain together with them in sancrificial love, even if that does disturb our peace. But if it is clear that this is a dead-end, then we must, if we are being placed into bondage, seek liberation and peace.

    As ever we face the dilemma between justice and grace, between law and mercy. The degree of our Christlikeness will be reflected in how we we use our weights and measures, and why we do. I don't suppose there is any such thing as a perfect balancing act, nor do I believe there is a single formula for every marriage situation. Having laid out the basic law, Yahweh gives us a measure of freedom to arrive at our own decision - a decision that will shine a spotlight on the degree of our spirituality or lack of it. And I believe that people will arrive at different decisions based on their personal sanctification.

    Where the Word is not clear, where the situation seems grey, then I will counsel - and recommend that others counsel as well - and allow those involved to arrive at their independent decisions. Whereas some marriage disputes are clear-cut, others are not.

    What of the Christian/Messianic lady I recently met who unwisely ignored Paul's Corinthian instruction and married a Moslem? Religious tension in the family was inevitable, especially as she was a committed witness for Christ. The husband committed fornication (and perhaps adultery too) and in the end she took the initiative and divorced him. Was she right? It is possible to argue for both sides of scriptural judgment. Only Yahweh ultimately knows what is right and wrong in such a case.

    That a believer can become an unbeliever I have not the slightest doubt. The question is knowing when. And there's still the question of how far a person can become an "unbeliever" so as to qualify him for the Corinthian divorce statutes of Paul. Is there such a thing as a 'bad believer'? What are the minimum requirements for a person to call themselves a 'believer'? How does one measure personal faith/trust? What works should be looked for as evidence of true faith? How far do you go?

    I do not have all the answers for these questions. I have some of them, I believe, but these may just be my own opinions. As a minister and a Judge in Zion I must, of course, make decisions when married people come to me to resolve such matters. They are most unenjoyable experiences, to say the least, though one inevitable feels more at peace when the issues are clear-cut. And it is especially hard when a divorced woman comes to you wanting to marry you and you must consider the righteousness of Yahweh before your own desires. Given the high incidence of divorce in our modern society and the numbers of divorced women seeking polygamous marriage, such difficulties are becoming very common ideed. Sometimes the cases are so complex, having involved so many different people, that no simple solution presents itself. And it's at times like these that all the parties, who were unbelievers, must repent, wash the slate clean, and start all over again as babes in Christ.

    In such tangled knots we must often rely on direct revelation from the Almighty, preferably through the mouths of two or three prophetic witnesses independently of each other. I am particularly blessed to now (2003) have three or four other co-patriarchs who are able to assist me in making such judgments and I am sure I shall be relying increasingly on them for their inspired counsel. So far we have enjoyed an extraordinary unanimity which bodes well for such cases in the future.

    So, can a believer become an unbeliever? Yes, but only Yahweh for sure knows when.

    Author: SBSK

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    First created on 22 July 2001
    Updated on 3 May 2016

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