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WHY CANNOT A BAPTIST PREACHER GRANT A DIVORCE

Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma

 

            There are diverse beliefs among Baptists as to marriage and divorce.  This Baptist preacher knows that he could not in a lifetime of two hundred years answer the questions that pertain to these two subjects.  He does not claim to have even most of the answers that arise about marriage and divorce, let alone all of them.  Any honest Bible believer will, he thinks, say the same.  But let us look, profitably, we hope, at some things concerning marriage and divorce.  Divorce was well known among the ancient Israelites.  So well known was it that God used divorce as an analogy as to His dealing with the northern ten tribes and as a warning to the southern two tribes.  Jeremiah records God's Words regarding this: “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also,” (Jeremiah 3:8).  One of the sins of ancient Israel that related to the marriage issue was that they were putting away their wives without giving them a bill of divorcement which would allow them to remarry.  God remedied that by commanding that a woman thus sent away or put away should receive proof that she was no longer married. This is clear from Deuteronomy 24:1 where the following words are found: “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.”  In an exchange of words with the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus dealt somewhat with the complicated matter of marriage and divorce.  “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery,” (Matthew 19:7-9).

            Historically the act of marriage was a simple matter.  Perhaps it can best be understood if we remember first that most often families were involved in selecting marriage partners.  This is illustrated in the story of Sampson.  In Judges 14:2 we read, “And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.”  Sampson's motive in all this is beside our point.  The custom of Israel was that marriages were civil contracts between couples with families making the agreements.  Earlier in those long ago days we read of Isaac lacking a bride and the story of Abraham sending his steward to obtain a wife for him.  About Isaac's and Rebekah's wedding we read these words: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death,” (Genesis 24:67). One commentator put it well: “And Isaac brought her into his mother’s tent — thus establishing her at once in the rights and honors of a wife before he had seen her features. Disappointments often take place, but when Isaac saw his wife, 'he loved her.'”  This is, by the way, the first mention of affection between a man and a woman.  And  it took place after they were married.  In this marriage the public acceptance of Rebekah by Isaac, the willingness not only of the young woman, but also of both her family and that of Isaac, and the intent of the couple to be man and wife – all publicly known – constituted their wedding.  Everyone knew this was not a “one night stand” nor a mere concubinage.  Rebekah was recognized publicly to be the wife of Isaac. 

            We know from the life of Christ that He attended at least one wedding while here upon earth.  The wedding He attended was not a ceremony performed by a priest or rabbi for that was unknown.  No doubt there had been a public procession in which the groom took his bride from her home to the place of the wedding feast.  Perhaps the Lord took part in this procession: we are not told.  Very likely the bride had young women friends to serve as her maids in this procession.  Everyone in their neighborhood knew of the intent of the couple and their families.  The feast with its many invited guests served as witnesses to the union of these two people in marriage.  With the consummation of the wedding all was completed.  Jewish men could take additional wives and could put away their wives by law, but the Lord Jesus said “but from the beginning it was not so.” Malachi argues for once-for-all marriages between one man and one woman by saying, “And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth” (Malachi 2:15).  God could have made more than one woman for Adam, Malachi says, but because He wanted godliness in the offspring, God only made one woman for one man.

            It seems to have been the Romans who introduced religion and ceremonies into marriages in a big way.  They often offered sacrifices, an iron ring was usually given by the groom to the bride, both the fathers' approvals were necessary and marriages were often arranged for financial gain, especially among the more affluent classes.  With the Romans, the wedding feast was usually held the day after the couple had consummated the marriage.  It is easy to see how that pagan Rome influenced the Catholics and brought about the “sacrament of marriage,” as enforced by that Popish religious organization.  However, nothing about marriage ceremonies being performed by either the Lord's preachers or the Lord's congregations is found in the New Testament.  Historically, Baptists of bygone days did not seek out their preachers to perform marriage ceremonies.  Having neither Divine nor civil authority to perform marriages, Baptist preachers were not involved in weddings. 

            Our title raises this question: 'Why Cannot A Baptist Preacher Grant a Divorce?”  Why, because the government will not allow him to do so, of course.   This ought to prove once and for all to every reader that marriages are civil unions regulated by the state.  Until the fairly recent attainment of  “respectability,” (since colonial days in North America) Baptists were, like the apostles, considered “the offscouring of all things,” (1 Corinthians 4:13).  That being the case, Baptist preachers were not legally recognized.  It was the domain of priestcraft to unite “church and state” and “solemnize” the marriages of those given permission to marry by the government.  Having no mandate in the Scriptures to conduct marriage ceremonies, Baptists were not bothered with the matter.  Historically, when Baptists were forbidden to preach or to baptize, they continued the practices because they were commanded by God to do so.  But in those bygone days of persecution, Baptists never supplanted civil governments by performing marriages.  Were all those old-time Baptists and anabaptists married in God's eyes – without a true preacher officiating in a non-existing Baptist meeting house?  Were Baptists who sought out state-church ceremonies married “in God's eyes?”  Were slaves married in God's eyes who were instructed by their masters to marry by “jumping over the broomstick?”  Were “Gypsies” married by doing the same thing in Great Britain?  Were American pioneers “married in God's eyes” who, without the possibility of either a license (because they lived without an organized government) or a “preacher” to marry them?  If they solemnly promised each other to live as husband and wife and were recognized as such by their relatives and neighbors in the western wilderness were they “married in God's eyes?”  And were those pagans whose intent was to live together as husband and wife “married in God's eyes?”  Were Isaac and Rebekah and the couple whose wedding feast was attended by our Lord – were those marriages real and genuine and were those marriages recognized by God?

            It is priestcraft pure and simple to think that a religious ceremony is required in order for a couple to be married.  Marriage is a civil matter, regulated by civil governments.  There is no instruction or authorization or even a hint that God's preachers are to perform marriages.  Neither is there any warrant or hint that Baptist folk ought to be married in Baptist meeting houses.  Immediately someone will ask, “Are these things then prohibited.”  Legally and logically they are.  “Expressio unius est exclusio alterius” means “the specification of one thing is the exclusion of a different thing.”  That is a legal principle.  It is also a logical conclusion.  Did God specify what His preachers and His congregations were to concern themselves with?  Did Christ leave His Baptist congregations with a commission to preach the gospel, baptize converts and teach them to obey the commandments of Christ?  Are these things specific?  If so their very nature prohibits preachers and congregations from performing either marriages or divorce ceremonies.  The Catholic Church claims the exclusive right to marry her members and the right to annul marriages.  Baptists have never dared, thus far, to have the right of annulment, but why not?  Do the things specified by Christ in His commission leave room for preachers and congregations to engage in entertaining spiritual goats?  Or bringing Popish traditions and ideas into the thinking and practice of Baptists?  Or bringing in the Mormon and pagan ideas of polygamous marriages?  Can an apostate preacher ordained by a false church that preaches a false gospel marry a couple - “in God's eyes?”  Should Baptists require their converts who were not married by Baptist preachers to be remarried?  Can a couple be “more married” by having been married by a Baptist preacher in a Baptist meeting house than any other marriage recognized by the civil government under which they live?

            We have asked a lot of foolish questions, some will say, and we grant it.  But our point is to show that many marriage customs which differ from today's do not make a couple unmarried.  After God created Eve, He “...brought her unto the man.  And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  (Genesis 2:22-23).  God did nothing more than create a help meet for Adam and bring her to him.  God did  not say 'Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?' nor did He ask the same of Eve.  Adam expressed his intent publicly: angels, demons, Satan and God heard him if they were listening.  No prayers were prayed.  No blessings were pronounced.  No rings were exchanged.  No vows were spoken.  But the intentions of Adam and Eve were to live together as husband and wife and this was  publicly stated.  And so they became “one flesh.”  With the consummation of the marriage they were joined in wedlock.  The word wedlock, by the way, comes “from the Middle English wedlok, from Old English wedlāc,  marriage bond, from wedd pledge + -lāc, suffix denoting activity.”  Oh, it was anciently  the activity of making a pledge that made the marriage bond – according to Merriam Webster's online definition.

            So then, in summation, we think, along with John Gill and others, that Baptist preachers have no business being in the marrying business.  Marriage is a civil matter governed by civil laws.  Couples are not “more married” by being in a ceremony in a Baptist meeting house than if at the city hall, registry office, or office of a justice of the peace.  Man-made wedding ceremonies do not and cannot bring God into a marriage any more than the man-made sprinkling of infants can bring God into the heart of the unbelieving infant.  Essentially, we think three things are required for a marriage to be valid: first, the intent of the man and woman; second, the public nature of the joining together of the man and woman and their intention; and third, compliance with whatever civil requirements exist as legislated by the government under which the man and woman live.  

            Baptist preachers cannot grant a divorce unless they are also a civil judge.  Why?  Because the civil government did not give them that authority.  Baptist preachers cannot marry people in obedience to God because He never instructed them to do so.  Only if given that  right and authority by a civil government can Baptist preachers  become servants of the government and act upon the permission (license) given by the government for a couple to marry.  And so we ask one more question: whose servant does a Baptist preacher become when he solemnizes a marriage?  We think it obvious: he is doing what the state requires.  Paul reasoned thus in Romans 6:16: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey...”  When any preacher obeys the state in performing marriages as prescribed by that government he is a servant of the state.  He cannot be said to be a servant of Christ in that matter for Christ neither authorized him to do such a thing nor told him how to do it.  Selah.

 

 


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