Synod 1987 (1)

There has been some discussion lately about the Protestant Reformed position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Those who are younger (perhaps 45 years old or younger) may not know that the Protestant Reformed Churches  have an official, synodical decision on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Let's go back to 1987.

I quote from Article 14 of Synod 1987 regarding the history of how the matters of marriage, divorce, and remarriage came to the Synod of that year (1987 Acts of Synod of the PRC, pp. 28).

      1. In May of 1986 Classis East took a decision in regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage in which it decreed that one married to a divorced person is indeed married and not at liberty to remarry as long as the spouse lives.
      2. The decision of Classis East was protested by several individuals... and one consistory.
      3. Classis East, after considering these protests, sustained their original decision of May 1986 in October 1986.
      4. Synod has before it seven appeals against these decisions of Classis East. Synod 1987 sustained “the decision of Classis East of May 1986 as explained and supported by Classis' decision of October 1986” (Acts, pp. 29). The decision reads,

       “That the marriage of divorced persons is a marriage before God and the Church, and though a sinful marriage, it is a legal union established by the State, as the servant of God” and that “a man divorced from a woman previously married and divorced has not the right to marry another for he is married and a proposed marriage would constitute remarriage while one's spouse lives.”

In sustaining Classis East, Synod grounded its decision on a careful explanation of several Bible passages. Grounds b. 2., b. 3. and c. read:

        b. 2. Jesus Himself calls the relationship between a divorced woman and the man whom she remarries, marriage, in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9.
        b. 3. Jesus, therefore, speaks of an “adulterous marriage."
        c. Because Jesus defines the union of a divorced woman and the man she remarries as marriage, in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9, the Biblical prohibition of remarriage applies to the man who was married to a divorced woman, as long as this woman lives (Luke 16:18) (Acts pp. 29, 30).

Grounds e. and f. of this decision are worth remembering as well.

        e. The decision of Classis East applies basic Biblical truths about marriage held by the Protestant Reformed Churches, viz. the life-long permanency of marriage and impermissibility of remarriage while a former spouse lives, to the case of one formerly married to a divorced person.
        f. The decision of Classis East in this exceptional marriage case serves well, practically, to guard against any weakening in the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches of the stand that a person once married may not remarry during the lifetime of the one to whom he was originally married (Acts, pp. 30, 31).

This decision of the Protestant Reformed Synod of 1987 also set forth the conditions under which those living in an adulterous marriage would be received into the fellowship of the church and the way in which one is free from the sin and guilt of living in an adulterous marriage. These binding decisions have very practical implications for all of the officebearers and members of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

More on this in the next post.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

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