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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Previous articles in this blog series: 

https://rfpa.org/blogs/news/synod-1987-1

https://rfpa.org/blogs/news/synod-1987-2

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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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Synod 1987 (2)

In the last post I quoted from several sections of the Protestant Reformed Churches’ (PRC) 1987 Synodical decision regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In this post I want to point out that Synod 1987 explicitly spelled out the way in which there is “freedom from the sin of adultery” and the conditions under which one would be received into the fellowship of the church having lived in the sin of adultery. We read from the 1987 Acts of Synod,

  1. Classis East's decision is not the acceptance of a remarried couple (one or both of whom have been previously divorced) into the church upon confession of the sin of adultery.
  2. Rather Classis East's decision would lead us to accept into the Church only individuals upon their legal divorce (separation) and confession of the sin of adultery (p. 33).

And what did Synod 1987 declare about “freedom from the sin of adultery?”

One is free of the sin and guilt of adultery in this matter of an adulterous marriage, when: 1. He ceases to live (co-habitate) with his spouse in the adulterous marriage. 2. He confesses his sin of adultery before God and publically renounces his evil vows of marriage to a divorced person (Acts, p. 35).

The decision of Synod 1987 is the official, biblical and binding decision of the Protestant Reformed Churches on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. This decision is binding on all Protestant Reformed officebearers and governs their preaching, teaching, writing, polemics, advice, and all their ecclesiastical labors. This decision is binding upon every Protestant Reformed consistory, both the Foreign and Domestic Mission Committees and the Contact Committee.

And this decision is a governing principle in all of our ecumenical relations. It is decisive in our relations with sister churches. It is decisive when we make new contacts around the world and when these contacts ask for advice. It is decisive when we send observers to NAPARC. There is not one member church of NAPARC that agrees with the Protestant Reformed position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Indeed, all NAPARC member churches approve the adultery of remarriage after divorce. Protestant Reformed observers to NAPARC may not be silent on this issue.

Finally, this decision governs the lives of every member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. It governs the marriages of the members of these churches. It is an encouragement to those who have been abandoned by unfaithful spouses and must remain unmarried for the rest of their earthly lives. And this decision gives instruction as to our proper response to those, perhaps among our relatives, who live in the sin of adultery.

Luke 16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

I Corinthians 7:10, 11: “And unto the married I command, yet not I but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”

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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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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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