Divorce and Remarriage
Rev. John F. Brug
QUESTION: In light of Mark 10:11,12, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery,” why do WELS pastors officiate at the weddings of divorced persons? If a person divorces, shouldn’t that person be resigned to single life?
ANSWER: In Mark 10, Jesus says that obtaining a legal divorce to marry someone else cannot legitimize the new sexual relationship in that second marriage. Because the offenders sinfully broke a marriage to enter a new marriage, the new union is adultery even though the first marriage was legally dissolved. That the second marriage is legal by the state’s laws would not make it morally right according to God’s law. The church may not give its blessing to such marriages, which violate the sixth commandment.
QUESTION: When may a divorced person remarry in the church?
ANSWER: Scripture does not treat in detail the moral propriety of remarriage after a divorce. Clearly, persons who have suffered wrongful divorces, inflicted by their spouses, are free to remarry (I Corinthians 7:15, Matthew 5:32). Mark 10 must be read alongside the parallel passage, in Matthew 19:9, which states that where marital unfaithfulness has occurred, the innocent party may get a divorce without incurring guilt.
The question of remarriage by guilty parties who have repented of their sin does not receive explicit treatment in Scripture. Our general practice is that a guilty party may remarry if that person has repented and has sought reconciliation with the spouse whom he or she wronged.
The abandoned spouse, however, is not obligated to take the offender back. The abandoned spouse may even have married someone else before the offender repented, making any reconciliation impossible. If the abandoned spouse has died, remarried, or refused reconciliation, we would not absolutely deny repentant offenders the right to remarry. Remaining single may not be the preferred option, since this may subject them to sexual temptation.
In evaluating a request for remarriage from a person who sinfully ended a marriage by adultery or desertion, we look for repentance. Repentance carries with it a desire to stop committing the sin and to restore, if possible, what sin has ruined.
With repentance, therefore, we get also expect a genuine desire to restore the broken relationship, if possible.
Should reconciliation be truly impossible, there seems to be no absolute prohibition that prevents the repentant person from remarrying. This assumes, however, that, as far as one as can observe, the repentance and the attempt at reconciliation is equally genuine. There can be no “planned repentance” in anticipation of remarriage for that is not repentance at all.
The repentant person must also have the intention of living a godly life in the new marriage bond.
Because factors about a divorce may not be public knowledge, observers should be cautious but, judging a pastor’s decision to participate in the marriage of divorced persons. If a specific case creates questions or offense, the concerned individuals should speak to the pastor. In cases that likely will cause offense, it might be wise to explain the case to the congregation or church council.