Rampant Divorce in the American Church
|Someone asked me why I thought that the divorce rate in the American Church is not significantly different from the rest of society. Below are some of the reasons why I think that this is so.||
In my view the single greatest problem in the American church is the loss of the eternal perspective: there really are two places, one called heaven, the other called hell, and every human being is going to spend eternity in one place or the other. Heaven is so wonderful that we cannot comprehend its value this side of being there. Hell is so dreadful that no matter what it takes to avoid it, it is worth it. There is no one in hell who would not barter all he had owned in this world to be given an opportunity to exchange his current estate with that of anyone alive on earth, even in the worst possible circumstances: a woman being raped, a man being tortured, a convict in the worst prison in the world. As our Lord put it: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29, 30).
The second problem, not unrelated to the first, is what is often called “easy-believism.” Whether we are dealing with the “walk an aisle, say a prayer and never doubt that you’re eternally secure” version, or whether it is teaching people that they should never question their salvation as long as they have been baptized and are members in good standing of a local church, we are dealing with the same destructive phenomenon: carnal presumption. While the Bible clearly and unequivocally teaches that God declares a person as righteous through faith alone, the Bible also clearly and unequivocally teaches that real faith is always accompanied by a changed life, as the little Sunday School ditty puts it: “If you’re saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it.”
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:5-7).
And Saint John said: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:7-10).
The Church-Growth movement tends (thank God, not always) not to emphasize sin and grace but puts the focus on Jesus as a kind of self-help guru. “You can be a more successful business person with Jesus alongside you, helping you out” sells a whole lot better to unconverted people than does “You deserve nothing less than eternal damnation in hell. You must repent of your sins and cast yourself on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.”
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the members of America’s churches are lost and on their way to hell.
The third problem is a failure to take seriously that there are consequences to deliberate sin in this life, we do, indeed, reap what we sow: “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:31) Sexual sin is singled out in Scripture as a particularly egregious offense that calls down a “supernatural” phenomenon, the curse. This is seen so clearly in many places in Proverbs, particularly 5:3-23; 6:23-35; 7:4-27. Over and over again, I have seen Hebrews 13:4 literally carried out in people’s lives in this world: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
The fourth problem is a failure to press home the authority of Scripture alone over every area of life. As long as the Bible is simply a useful book alongside many other authoritative resources, people will never follow biblical standards with regard to the sanctity and permanence of marriage when the chips are down. People can concoct the damnedest excuses to bail out of a marriage that they no longer find emotionally fulfilling, and I am reminded of the wisdom of our Puritan and Presbyterian forefathers when they wrote:
“Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case” (WCF, XXIV, vi).
Under this heading one should consider the terrible toll that much pop-psychology has taken on people’s lives, both in terms of individuals no longer taking responsibility for their own actions and in their bailing out of difficult marriages for dubious reasons, utterly lacking divine approval. Oftentimes authors with little or no scientific verification pontificate authoritatively and give people justification to disobey God. The Church must both stand against such disobedience and be a pillar of support to people pressed down with life’s burdens.
Nothing is more destructive to two people building a solid, lasting and loving marriage than the notion that there is only one special person in the world for each of us, and only when we have finally found that unique person will we know true and lasting love. Twentieth century American films and songs helped to engrain this destructive approach to love in the Western psyche:
“Maybe I’m old fashioned, feeling as I do
Given people’s incredible abilities to deceive themselves, even fooling their own memories, they can go from one infatuation to another, vainly trying to recapture that first, fleeting blush of adolescent love, each time obscuring the beautiful memories of the first stages of an earlier relationship. They “fall in love,” get married and when the “honeymoon is over” and they get down to the everyday business of life, they discover that the intoxicating obsession they called love is no longer the dominant emotional force in their lives. They become depressed and restless. Then they begin to look with an increasingly critical eye at the person with whom they were “in love” just a few months before. They imagine, “This couldn’t have been the real thing, or it would have lasted.”
The fact of the matter is that any two people who are willing to submit themselves to each other according to God’s holy ordinance of marriage can come to love each other deeply. That’s not only true of a spiritual relationship, but of a deep and growing friendship, as well as exhilarating romantic and sexual love. Modern notions of sex and love assume that sex without romantic love is evil, that love should lead to sex rather than sex leading to love. But the Bible teaches that sex without marriage is evil, and rather than love leading to sex, sex was especially designed by God to create a lasting bond of love between two people. According to God’s plan each time a married couple engages in sexual relations, the bond of love and intimacy between them is nurtured. You might want to read more about this at “Marriage” and “Thoughts on Sex, Marriage and Celibacy.”