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Lawfully Joined

JOE CREWS




Joe (Joseph A.) Crews (1924–1994). 
This sermon 
comes from 
a respected 
church evangelist 
and founder of 
the Amazing Facts
radio ministry, 
well known around
the world. 
Pastor Crews 
unflinchingly 
advocated the 
unvarnished 
(hence often 
unpopular) truths 
of Holy Writ over 
some 553 radio a
nd television 
broadcasts, 
as well as the 
printed page. 
To many he 
represents the epitome
of “conservatism”; 
to all he was the consummate 
Bible-believing 
Adventist. (Sermon
taken from his 
Creeping Compromise [Frederick, Md.: 
Amazing Facts,1977], pp. 94-101)              
                               
                              

Try to picture two kinds of family scenes for comparison purposes. In one home there are three wives, all married to the same man, each with one or more children. The families live together and the husband and father of the three families is always there to give disciplinary authority and security to the overall household.

Now picture another situation. A man has been married to three women in succession. They have all borne him children and have been put away by divorce one after the other. The families are living apart, and the children are growing up under the trauma of financial and emotional insecurity without a father.

Which of these imaginary situations do you perceive to be worse? The law of the land forbids one and accommodates the other. Perhaps if we could look at all the aspects purely from the social and humanitarian standpoint, we would say that the latter scene is worse than the former. Viewing it from the traditional Judeo-Christian position we would probably condemn the first family as being more clearly in the wrong.

Looking at it solely from the Biblical perspective, is there really much basic moral difference between the two situations? According to the Scriptures, marriage is a lifetime commitment. To divorce an innocent companion and marry someone else is even more strongly condemned than the popular polygamy practiced in Old Testament days. Both are frustrating to God’s plan and purpose. The children probably suffer more under the divorce procedures than under the polygamy plan, but neither can be defended nor tolerated under the searchlight of revelation. Whether several wives are married at the same time, or in succession, the will of God is violated.

How can we explain the contradiction between Christian practice and Bible principle on this point? More and more church members are acting as if there were no restrictions on the number of marriages they can contract. The moral conscience of entire denominations has shifted and adjusted to the massive incidence of divorce within the church.

Although the majority of Christian bodies have given formal assent to what the Bible teaches about divorce, there seems to be very little done in publicizing their position. Church officials and pastors often have to be pressed for a clear-cut statement of the official doctrinal position. The reason for this may hinge upon the embarrassing number
who have continued as divorced church leaders with the tacit approval, at least, of the congregation.

Unfortunately, if problems of divorce are not dealt with at the time they arise, it is impossible ever to sort out the issues and take any action later on. Because many such cases involve charges and countercharges, often unsupported by evidence, pastors are reluctant to be drawn into the explosive morass. Church boards also stay away from
the unpleasant task of having to take sides against one of their own who has, perhaps, been a respected past leader in the church. Consequently the issues are left fuzzy. It is easier to give the benefit of the doubt and many guilty spouses are allowed to remain in unconditional fellowship even after remarriage.

Admittedly there are difficult complications which seem to defy human solution. Each individual case is marked by its own bewildering circumstances. There may not be any satisfying answer that will be completely just and equitable for each party involved. But whatever action is taken by the church should be in complete harmony with the
Bible counsel on divorce, and that counsel is not muddled or ambiguous. Jesus stated in the most positive language that only one condition could justify the act of divorce and remarriage, and that was adultery. “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 19:9).

Please note that Christ charges adultery against a husband or wife who divorces a spouse and marries someone else, except when that spouse has been unfaithful. If the companion has been guilty of fornication (porneia, or sexual impurity) the exception would provide for the innocent one to divorce and remarry without guilt.

The unusually severe position of Jesus on this subject of divorce has been the subject of endless debate. Even His Own disciples were astonished at the uncompromising nature of His position. They said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (Matthew 19:10). There was no ambiguity in the minds of those disciples about what Jesus meant. They understood that He was forbidding all divorce and remarriage except on the grounds of adultery. Christ’s response to their amazement confirms that they had the proper understanding of His statement. Until fairly recently, much to their credit, it can be said that most Protestant and Catholic church bodies have interpreted the words of Jesus very much like those listening disciples did. Unfortunately, with the mushrooming divorce rates, the Biblical doctrine has appeared more and more offensive and disagreeable to the growing number of divorcees within the church. Attempts have been made to reinterpret the doctrinal position of some of the churches on the subject, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

It would be proper, at this point, to consider a sampling of the Spirit of Prophecy counsel which guided the early Seventh-day Adventist Church in the strong Biblical stand it took on the divorce issue.

“A woman may be legally divorced from her husband by the laws of the land and yet not divorced in the sight of God and according to the higher law. There is only one sin, which is adultery, which can place the husband or wife in a position where they can be free from the marriage vow in the sight of God. Although the laws of the land may grant divorce, yet they are husband and wife still in the Bible light, according to the laws of God.” The Adventist Home, p. 34.

“Your [one contemplating divorce] ideas in regard to the marriage relation have been erroneous. Nothing but the violation of the marriage bed can either break or annul the marriage vow...Men are not at liberty to make a standard of law for themselves, to avoid God’s law and...standard of righteousness...God gave only one cause why a wife should leave her husband, or the husband leave his wife, which was adultery. Let this ground be prayerfully considered.” Ibid., pp. 341, 342.

“There are many unhappy marriages because of so much haste. Two unite their interest at the marriage altar, by most solemn vows before God, without previously weighing the matter, and devoting time to sober reflection and earnest prayer. Many move from impulse. They have no thorough acquaintance with the dispositions of each other. They do not realize that the happiness of their whole life is at stake. If they move wrong in this matter, and their marriage life proves unhappy, it cannot be taken back. If they find they are not calculated to make each other happy, they must endure it the best they can.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 120.

In one situation Mrs. White counseled that the moral offender should be permanently excluded from church membership. Details of the moral lapse are not clarified in the letter (later included in vol. 1 of the Testimonies). The recommended action shows that some violators of God’s law should trust for salvation outside the church.

“It is impossible for E to be fellowshipped by the church of God. He has placed himself where he cannot be helped by the church, where he can have no communion with nor voice in the church. He has placed himself there in the face of light and truth. He has stubbornly chosen his own course, and refused to listen to reproof. He has followed the
inclinations of his corrupt heart, has violated the holy law of God, and has disgraced the cause of present truth. If he repents ever so heartily, the church must let his case alone. If he goes to Heaven it must be alone, without the fellowship of the church. A standing rebuke from God must ever rest upon him, that the standard of morality be not lowered to the very dust.” Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 215.

Based upon such statements from the Spirit of Prophecy and the unequivocal statements of Christ on the subject, the position was taken and held through the years that ones who deliberately abandoned an innocent spouse to enter a marriage relationship with another person would be committing adultery. They would be disfellowshipped from the church, and, furthermore, as long as they continued to live in that sinful relationship with someone whom they were Biblically forbidden to have, they could not be received back into church membership. 

This is in perfect accord with the Bible requirements of repenting and forsaking the sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13 ).

For many years the church operated under this sound spiritual principle with a minimum of controversy and discord. But as divorces became more commonplace in the world, the divisive custom began to make more and more inroads into the remnant church. Following
his favorite mode of attack, Satan intruded little by little into the family of God with his pernicious, creeping compromise. Divorces for many unscriptural reasons became more frequent. Later the guilty, remarried spouses were bringing their new companions and applying for readmission into the church. Often the applicants were talented individuals who had once served as respected leaders and officers in the church. Sympathies were aroused, and deep emotional feelings began to favor the finding of some way to get the disfellowshipped ones back into the church.

Almost anyone can empathize with fine, gifted people who ask for baptism, especially when they appear deeply sincere and committed. It is easy to take the impulsive position that these applicants should be accepted posthaste and assigned church responsibilities equal to their ability. But should such a decision be made on the basis of our feelings, or should it be made on the basis of the Word of God? As much as we might want to ignore it or deny it, these people have committed adultery, and are continuing to live in a relationship which the Bible calls sin. If God condemns this state of things, can the church dare to give its approval?

By baptizing and receiving them into the body of Christ, we are assuring the candidates that they are children of God and are received by Him. But how can we comfort people with this assurance if they are still living out of harmony with God’s law, and if God really does not approve them? Would it not be offering dangerous consolation which might lull them into a fatal acceptance of a nonexistent security?

Some might object to this course on the basis that forsaking the sin in this instance would involve breaking up another marriage, and two wrongs could never make a right. The answer to that objection is that we should not urge upon them what to do about their relationship. We can and should tell them exactly what the Bible says on the subject.
Indeed, these people knew that truth long before they willfully involved themselves in the adulterous marriage. 

This is what makes their situation so serious. The church should make it very clear that it can give them no comfort and approval beyond what the Bible gives.

No pastor has any right to make an exception to what the Word of God teaches about adultery. The church and its ministers should let this couple know that there is no earthly authority which has a right to go beyond the counsel of God; therefore they do not qualify Biblically to enter the body of Christ. This is not saying that they cannot be saved. God has authority to make any exceptions He wants to make on the Day of Judgment. In His omniscience He understands the motives and secret circumstances, but He has not given His church the right to make exceptions, neither the conditions under which those exceptions could be made. Lines must be drawn where they are drawn in the Bible, and emotional personal sympathies should not be allowed to weaken that decision.

Even if a church or pastor could be found who would accept a couple into church membership, even though they were living in an adulterous relationship, this would not enhance their chances of being saved. God’s disapproval of the sin of divorce and adultery must be registered so as to impress the guilty ones of the awful nature of this
transgression. Under the convictions of the Holy Spirit they will have to decide what to do about their unlawful marriage. No one should urge them to break up their present marriage. They must decide what should be done for their own salvation. Whatever their
decision, the church should then encourage them to be faithful, attend church, and trust in the mercies of God. But to accept them back into the church would be altering God’s Word to meet our desires instead of God’s conditions.                      
                                                                    

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