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Synod 1987 – Response to a Comment

Synod 1987 – Response to a Comment

The following was a public comment in response to my post “Synod 1987 (1)”:

I have read this decision from 1987 and think that Synod erred in taking this position. Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word "marriage" in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument. Using this reasoning, we might easily infer from Jesus' words that the "righteousness" of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20 was a true righteousness, or that the "children of the kingdom" in Matthew 8:12 were true children of the kingdom.

The fact that Jesus speaks of an adulterous marriage should clue us in to the fact that He is not speaking of a true marriage in God's sight, because it is called adulterous for the very reason that at least one of the parties is still espoused to another and is not the proper spouse of the other party in the newly-contracted civil marriage.

But these and other objections were already raised in 1987. I hope that someday this decision will be revisited and corrected, D.V.

In the words of the commenter, “Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word ‘marriage’ in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument.”

In response to the commenter, I direct the reader to Mark 6:12-30, where we read the account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. In verse 17 we read that Herod had “married ” Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias was divorced from her uncle Philip and Herod had divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Both being divorced from their first spouses, scripture calls the relationship of Herod and Herodias a marriage (vs. 17).

It was the occasion of Herod’s marriage to Herodias that elicited John’s rebuke (see also Luke 3:19). Not only were Herod and Herodias both guilty of sinfully divorcing their spouses, but they increased their sin by marrying one another and engaging in an adulterous marriage as Matt. 5:32, 19:9, and Luke 16:18 plainly teach. And Herod knew that he was guilty of adultery of living in marriage with a woman who was another man’s wife. Because of John’s reproof of Herod for this evil and others, Herod added to his sin by “shut[ting] up John in prison (Luke 3:20).

While Herod was afraid to kill John because he “feared the multitude” (Matt. 14:5) and “feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy” (Mark 6:20), Herodias was furious at John’s condemnation of her sin and wanted him dead. And like wicked Jezebel who deviously saw to it that righteous Naboth was stoned to death for refusing to sell his inheritance (I Kings 21), Herodias cunningly used her daughter to take advantage of the perverse lusts of Herod in order to have the “just and holy” John beheaded. John the Baptist died a martyr for his testimony against the adulterous marriage of Herod and Herodias. In the adulterous generation of today, both in the world and the church, we can expect the same reaction when we witness to the biblical truth of marriage, divorce, and remarriage as it is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

It is especially during the Christmas time of year, the time of family gatherings, that pressure to silence our witness regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, and fornication is intense. There are those who want a carnal, earthly peace, apart from Christ who, in his coming, brings a sword (Matt. 10:34). So, they are shamefully silent about Jesus’ teaching of marriage and without rebuke welcome into their fellowship those who live impenitently in the sins of adultery and fornication, among others. And as Matthew 10:33 puts it, they “deny” Christ so that they may have the favor of their sinning relatives, as if Christ never came with a sword of division (Matt. 10:34-39).

But like John the Baptist, God calls us to martyrdom; maybe not physical death—yet—but the murder of our name and reputation for Christ’s sake, because of our confession of his truth, including his truth about marriage. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you (for confessing Jesus’ teaching on marriage), and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets (John the Baptist among them) which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them…And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:5-7, 11).


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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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