Divorcement For The Kingdom’s Sake
By Don Martin
We are now inundated with a myriad of false doctrines pertaining to divorcement. Many have been carried away with the mental divorcement mentality; thus, allowing them to condone and fellowship post divorcement putting away. For forty years, I have been stressing relative to divorcement precisely what I am convinced Jesus meant to be accented: The act of putting away must be correct or all subsequent action is sin and the only cause for acceptable divorcement is fornication, the fornication of the guilty mate (Matthew 5: 32, etc.). Many seem to not understand this basic and precluding truth. “The issue is marriage to another, not divorcement,” we hear. The issue is two people maintaining the vows that they have exchanged one to another in the presence of God, a marriage for life, fornication being the only possible reason for the undoing of the bond (Malachi 2: 14, Matthew 19: 4-12). If more brethren had been placing the stress where Jesus placed it, they would not have had opportunity to manufacture all the aberrant theories about mental divorcement, etc. Again, if the divorce is not the result of fornication, the innocent putting away the fornicating mate, then all else is wrong, regardless of the passing of time, the number of subsequent marriages, children born into these relationships, etc. (Romans 7: 3f., I Corinthians 7: 2f.)!
One matter that we are hearing more of today is the so called, “Divorcement for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Since I cannot read this expression in the scriptures, I must be told what it means. One preacher who has promoted this teaching more than any of whom I am aware and exerts tremendous influence, especially on young preachers teaches:
“a. A person may have to divorce his mate to break an unscriptural marriage (Matt. 19: 9). In this case, one is divorcing for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (from a sermon titled, “When Is Divorce A Sin?,” by Mike Willis).
To quote this teaching more fully:
“...one has an obligation to stay in his marriage until and unless his responsibilities to his mate interfere with his responsibilities to God. He must leave ‘for the kingdom of heaven’s sake...A person may have to leave his mate to become or remain a Christian (Luke 18:29-30; 1Cor. 7:15; Matt. 10:34-48; Luke 14:26). In this case, one is divorcing for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” (Mike Willis, Ibid.).
One might say, “Brother Martin, they present scripture to support their position!” It is important that we point out that the proponents of “divorce for the Kingdom’s sake” typically start with an illustration, mix it with other cases that are of a different sort, and then draw a conclusion, a conclusion that they apply to both sets of examples. I say this because in their general application, they are referring to marriages having a bond or marriages that God has joined. In their first case (“a.” in the above), it is a marriage to which the couple has no right at all and it is fornication. Hence, any “divorce” in the first case would simply and only be civil compliance, since there was never a marriage bond (see addendum 1).
Let us look at this scripture we are being told teaches divorce for the sake of the Kingdom. First, consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14: 26:
“26: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14).
Jesus is teaching that his followers must love him more than all others. To use this verse to teach divorce for a cause other than fornication is to make one verse contradict another (Matthew 19: 4f.). Marriage (scriptural marriage) is for life. Death ends the bond and fornication provides the innocent mate with the option of terminating it, other than this, there is no cause.
Mike Willis lists a number of reasons for divorcement. One may divorce a mate if that mate runs up bills, is abusive to the children, or for one’s emotional health (Ibid.). Mike even includes divorcement due to developed hostility between the couple. All of this Mike calls, “Divorcement for the sake of the Kingdom” and insists that Luke 14: 26 is teaching such. Consider Luke 18: 29, another proof verse for divorcement for the sake of the Kingdom:
“29: And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake…” (Luke 18).
Jesus’ statement is in answer to Peter’s question pertaining to the apostles leaving all to preach and be with Jesus (vs. 28-30). To imagine that Jesus is teaching divorce for reasons other than what he has expressly taught is utter and irresponsible use of the scriptures. Jesus does not even have in mind marital difficulties such as a mate incurring bills, children abuse, or one’s emotional health. The context is not marital hostilities.
I have done my share of working with people with marital difficulties. I have seen all the problems that are being listed as reasons for divorce. However, I cannot inform the people in these marriages that they have the option of divorce when they do not. What has happened is a preacher who believes in “divorce for the sake of the Kingdom” offers divorce as an option, I know of some who even demanded it, knowing that such would not allow marriage to another because there has been no fornication. However, after a while, the “wrong mate” marries another and then these men say to the mate they view as the “right mate,” “Now you can divorce for fornication and be able to marry another.” (See addendum 2.)
Jesus taught only one reason for divorcement for an apparent reason: To preclude all the chaos that has now been introduced by those not content with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ reason plus…do not equal one reason, regardless of how “fair” these other reasons may sound. I certainly believe in putting Jesus first over all, including a mate (Luke 14: 26; 18: 29). However, I do not believe such entails divorcement and the rejection of the marriage duties that we have accepted when we engage in the marriage vows (I Cor. 7: 2f.). These men thus teaching have not only created basic and initial error, but they have also helped to open the door for all the current flood of false teaching on divorce and marriage to another. (Addendum 3.)
Addendum 1: Those who contend that the innocent put away or a divorce for a cause other than fornication allows a second putting away, due to the first not being scriptural, just civil, need to realize that while Jesus does not authorize a divorce for a cause other than fornication, he still recognizes its reality and forbids any post divorce action (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9).
Addendum 2: Since I have mentioned Mike Willis, I believe I should state that I personally do not know what Mike teaches regarding the possibility of marriage to another after the “wrong mate” marries. However, through the years, I have observed that most of these men will concede the possibility of marriage to another, even in the circumstance of a living mate, using the same flawed and emotional reasoning that resulted in their first erroneous conclusion. It should also be noted that many of these men are also misusing I Corinthians 7: 15 to offer the circumstance of acceptable divorcement for a cause other than fornication. It is strange that they look to I Corinthians 7: 15 for justification for divorce without fornication and ignore the very context of the verse, a context that is arguing against divorce. Also, a careful and complete study of verse 15 shows that Paul was not referring to the marriage bond, but to being reduced to the state of spiritual slavery. Paul, we need to observe, has the “unbelieving mate” threatening to leave. In such a case, the Christian has no control.
Addendum 3: Rather than face these issues and challenges, Mike Willis continues to whine and complain, claiming that since he is not the only man who has taught divorce for the sake of the Kingdom, he should not be the only focus. I must admit that I have targeted Mike Willis. The reason for this focus on Mike is because his teaching is the only teaching of which I am aware being presently disseminated and because of the influence that Mike exerts