A Guide to Reformed Dating
by Joshua Engelsma
Coming October 2019!
But Christians don’t have to follow these norms. The Bible gives us a better way.
It’s a way of chastity and wisdom. A way that understands that marriage—the end goal of dating—is for life. The person you marry will shape who you become spiritually. And that person will also be the father or mother to the children God is pleased to give you some day.
Pastorally and accessibly, Joshua Engelsma answers the practical questions of Reformed, Christian dating based on the truth that we must date differently—with marriage as the goal and scripture as the guide.
Approx. 160 pages
Book Club: $14.41
***This book will NOT be sent to all book club members. You must order this book to receive it.
Gold Star members will receive this title.
We have seen that the use of the passive (or middle) voice in the Greek of Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and Mark 10:11, 12 (even if we accept the translation in the passive or middle, which we do not) does not justify remarriage after divorce (at most it increases the guilt of the man who divorces his wife, but it does not permit the divorced woman to remarry). Luke records the teaching of Jesus on divorce in a different context, and in the active voice.
Since in Luke 16:18 Christ uses the active voice (and moicheuoo instead of moichaoo), a different argument is required to justify remarriage after divorce. In Luke 16:18 our advocate for remarriage clings to the present tense of the participles and the verbs: “Everyone putting away…and marrying…commits adultery.” This supposedly refers to the Pharisees who “were continually divorcing and continually marrying…The actions of divorcing and marrying resulted in continual adultery, actively destroying the very institution of marriage.”
Perhaps, to capture the fullness of the present tense, we could render it thus, although it would be an over-translation: “Everyone (who keeps) putting away his wife and (who keeps) marrying another (keeps on) committing adultery and the one (who keeps) marrying her who has been put away from (her) husband (keeps on) committing adultery.”
Nevertheless, I do not see how an appeal to the present tense helps the case of our remarriage advocate. In Matthew 5:32a the same phrase appears: “Everyone (who keeps) putting away his wife…” The point of the present tense is that when remarriage occurs the relationship that results (the second or subsequent marriage) involves the remarried persons (both of them!) in continuous, ongoing adultery. This is true whether the remarrying person is a Pharisee on his second or seventeenth relationship or whether he or she is a modern Westerner (even a church member or officebearer) on his or her second or third marriage. If the original spouse still lives, any subsequent relationship (second, third, fourth marriage) is adultery.
The first argument concerns the “voice” of the verbs in Matthew 5:32, 19:9, and Mark 10:11–12. In grammar the voice of a verb describes the relationship of the action of the verb to the subject of the verb. For example, “John eats an apple” is in the active voice, for John performs the activity of eating (John is the “subject” of the verb “to eat”). On the other hand, “The apple is eaten by John” is in the passive voice, for the subject of the verb (the apple) does not perform the activity of eating. Instead, the activity happens to the subject, for the apple is eaten.
Our advocate for remarriage writes,
The verbs in Matthew 5 translated “to commit adultery” are passive. The woman put away and the man who marries her are passive. The original husband is the only active agent in the adultery. He commits adultery against them… To say that the woman commits adultery is as false as can be.
If we attempted to translate Matthew 5:32 with passive verbs, it would read something like this: “Everyone putting away his wife [active]…makes her to have adultery committed against her [passive] and if anyone marries [active] the divorced woman he has adultery committed against him [passive].” This would make the remarried woman (32a) and the man who marries her (32b) the victims (rather than the culprits) of adultery. Our advocate for remarriage writes:
God is principally protecting the innocent. The wife who is put away for any reason other than fornication is wronged. God protects those. Adultery is committed against them wrongfully in that the dismissed woman and the man who marries her are made to appear as adulterers.
We should notice that in the mind of our remarriage advocate, the remarrying people (the divorced woman and her second husband) are not adulterers; they only appear so in the eyes of others. Only the divorced woman’s first husband actively commits adultery. If this were true, it would mean that the guilty party in the divorce is an adulterer and it would forbid him from remarrying. It would not forbid, so the argument goes, remarriage to the innocent parties. Sadly, few advocates for remarriage limit remarriage to the innocent party; they allow remarriage for the guilty and the innocent party.
Recently I have come across some novel arguments to justify remarriage after divorce while the original spouse is still living. I will not name the advocate of remarriage on the blog: suffice to say that on social media he began commenting on a video link to Prof. David Engelsma’s lecture at the British Reformed Fellowship Conference (2018), “Unbiblical Divorce and Adulterous Remarriage: A Scandal.” He labeled it “proscribed heresy” and called those who agreed with the lecture “hypocritical legalists” who “damage the church and mock the grace of Christ,” adding that we were “perfect illustrations of the haughty Pharisees,” and called us to repent. Then he called our position “false, anti-Reformed, and unbiblical,” as well as “schismatic and destructive of true Christian compassion.” He argued (correctly) that neither Luther nor Calvin agreed with our position, which Prof. Engelsma fully admits in his book Marriage: The Mystery of Christ and the Church. While we admire the Reformers, they were (sadly) not strong on the subject of divorce and remarriage. This is reflected in the otherwise excellent Westminster Confession of Faith.
Because I did not want my answer to be buried in a long Facebook thread where the advocate for remarriage made his novel arguments, I decided to make it public here. I hope it will serve as a witness to the truth of the unbreakable marriage bond. Some of the arguments from Greek grammar are quite involved, so I ask for the reader’s indulgence.
In addition, I am not interested in attacking personalities or churches. I am merely interested in the arguments, especially exegetical arguments, for God’s word is the final arbiter on this and all matters.
I should point out right at the beginning, however, that knowledge of Greek grammar is not necessary for the child of God. The King James Version of the Bible is an accurate translation of the original Greek and Hebrew, and no theologian or pastor should give the impression that the Bible cannot be comprehended without recourse to the original languages: we believe in the perspicuity of holy scripture, that is, we believe that the Bible is clear, so clear that, if a child of God has a good translation, he can understand the scriptures; yet the Bible is so profound and rich that the greatest theologian cannot plumb its depths. Moreover, we believe in the office of believer according to which every child of God has the blessed privilege of knowing and understanding God’s word without the need of “experts” or a “priestly class” in the church.
In addition, the main issue is clear. Marriage is a lifelong, unbreakable bond between one man and one woman, in which the two become one, enjoying intimate fellowship with one another, which fellowship, both in the Old Testament and New Testament reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. In scripture God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16); and even when he gives his adulterous, unfaithful wife a “bill of divorce” (Jer. 3:8), he still declares himself married to his people (v. 14), and he never takes another people (i.e., the Lord never remarries).
“How did this marriage turn so cold when, once upon a time, it was beautiful and loving? The young Christian couple shared everything together and lived as one. The years passed and their relationship deteriorated to a mere outward performance of duties and responsibilities. Sometimes they verbally attacked one another. Usually, they did not talk at all. Each prided himself/herself that the other was not worthy to know his/her inner thoughts. Rather than constructively discussing the problem, this silent treatment was a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Its main purpose, however, was to inflict pain. “How,” begs the question as we ask incredulously, “did this happen?” No one remembers the events for sure, but an offense took place along the way. It may have been relatively small, yet one angry comment led to another one back. There were no sincere apologies and plenty of grudge bearing. The couple continued to go to church regularly, sit next to one another, and the congregation was none the wiser. Though they resided in the same house, they lived separate lives. They wept sore, but there were no cries for forgiveness, no cries for mercy. Their children suffered and grew up confused and bitter. The End.”
—Mrs. Margaret Laning writes about 'Marriages and Mercy.' Read the rest of her article in the upcoming March 15, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer.
As promised in an earlier post on believing sound doctrine, I wanted to write on doctrines which the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) hold dear and which give us the right of separate existence within the Reformed church world. One of those doctrines is the doctrine of marriage, the biblical view of marriage which we maintain in the PRC. I begin with the doctrine of marriage because of an article a reader sent me—a very sad article—from The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, which illustrates what inevitably comes to pass within churches that refuse to submit to, or abandon, what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I will quote from that article later in the post.
When world conformity gets a foothold in a denomination of churches, one manifestation of that worldliness is a corruption of and departure from the scripture’s teaching of marriage. First, the church begins to allow divorce for reasons other than fornication. Along with this, those who are biblically divorced (because of fornication) and are the “innocent party” are allowed to remarry. And, as inevitably follows, because divorce breaks (they erroneously argue) the first marriage bond, the “guilty party” is allowed to remarry as well. This follows logically.
Because God's Word is clear the churches allowing this behavior and the individuals in the churches divorcing and remarrying with the approval of the officebearers know very well that marriage is a lifelong bond and that divorce for reasons other than fornication is sin (Matt. 19:9; Romans 7:1-3). But, there is a way around these plain teachings of scripture. Those who are unbiblically divorced and want to remarry must confess their wrongdoing to the church. And after this confession of wrongdoing, which the church gladly accepts, they are free to enter into an adulterous marriage and live as members in good standing in their churches as open adulterers—maybe even alongside the spouse from their first marriage whom they cruelly abandoned.
Confession of wrongdoing, not repentance (a turning from sin), is all that is necessary. And they say, the "grace" of God allows for this. One can ask these adulterers, as did the prophet Jeremiah (7:8-10), "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery....and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" And their answer as practicing antinomians is "Yes!"
As mentioned earlier, Judy Cook, author of the article "Divorce Care" in the March 17, 2017 issue of The Banner, accurately represents the reigning view of divorce and remarriage that has taken hold in the Reformed church world. In the name of "love" she promotes blatant disobedience to the will of God regarding marriage. She writes:
The heartache of a broken marriage should not prevent individuals from being able to move forward into a new beginning with a slate cleansed by God and affirmed by their brothers and sisters. Divorce, after all, is not the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit.
Going through a crisis is an opportunity for change, but only those in the crisis are in a position to define what that change needs to be and how it can happen. Every marriage is complex, and mistakes will be made—sometimes with drastic consequences. But couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences, and their faith in God.
As the body of Christ, we are called on to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly, and to build up rather than tear down. Prone to sin, we bless, love, and build up imperfectly, creating pain in each other we don't intend—also with respect to our divorced brothers and sisters. Let's remember that the ability to forgive is the central command that lets us experience a life of peace, even in the midst of our sins and sorrows.
Ms. Cook is advocating marital lawlessness, that is, marital antinomianism within her denomination, the CRC. Having abandoned the doctrine of the authority of scripture, having perverted the gospel of grace and having flatly disobeyed the Bible's clear teaching on marriage, the CRC and other Reformed churches find themselves drowning in the sins of fornication and adultery and their dreadful consequences. And Ms. Cook's solution to the scourge of divorce, broken homes, and damaged children in her denomination? "Couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences" (emphasis mine—AJC). Further, those in the church who are witnesses to these sins "are called to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly"....and "forgive." There is no mention of the authority of God's Word, the clear teaching of God's Word concerning marriage, or the power of God's grace to forgive those who repent of their sin of adultery.
That the Protestant Reformed Churches exist as a separate denomination within the Reformed church world is justified, in part, by our confession that marriage is a lifelong bond, broken only by death, that is a reflection of God's everlasting covenant of grace. This bold confession we will address in the next post, Lord willing.
For those interested in reading how departure from the scripture's teaching on marriage developed within the mother church of the PRC, the CRC, read the 1956 Acts of Synod of the CRC which can be found at this link: http://www.calvin.edu/library/database/crcnasynod/1956agendaacts.pdf. The inquisitive reader should go to pages 15-17; 55-59; 117-119; 285-327; 379-80.
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.
A suffering marriage can be explained by many issues: lack of communication, squabbling over finances, a severe trial that has driven a wedge between the spouses, sharp personality differences, disagreement over childrearing, etc. But I wonder if most marriage problems, if not all, grow from one basic root: prayerlessness. Satan is working feverishly hard to break up marriages—is that not evident today? The devil knows well how quickly a marriage without prayer and scripture spirals downward.
Do you value your marriage? Search the scriptures with your spouse. Do you desire a strong relationship? Pray with your spouse. This is one of the disciplines of the Christian life.
Here are some practical guidelines for approaching this worship within marriage.
Many readers of the RFPA blog live in West Michigan. What follows is a news item from the Grand Rapids area that illustrates the growing anti-Christian spirit of the world in which we live and how believing a basic biblical truth can quickly get one in trouble with the federal government of the United States.
Donald and Ellen Vander Boon own West Michigan Beef Company Co., LLC , a meatpacking plant in Hudsonville, Michigan. They employ forty-five people. As their website states, "West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do." It is the religious convictions of the Vander Boons that has them in trouble with the United States Department of Agriculture. Yes, you read it right, the USDA.
The story begins in 2015 when Don placed an article defending marriage as between one man and one woman on the break room table of his facility. The article was set on a table that was already cluttered with mainstream media news stories reporting on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing "gay marriage." A USDA public health veterinarian and inspector in charge on-site at the facility noticed the article, read it, and had it removed. Further, he reported the incident to a USDA Frontline Supervisor. This resulted in a meeting with Mr. Vander Boon, the supervisor and the on-site inspector. Mr. Vander Boon was threatened that unless he refrained from putting literature on the break room table supporting marriage between one man and one woman, USDA inspectors would be removed from his plant, effectively putting him out of business and leaving his forty-five employees without work.
The natural question is: "What do USDA inspectors inspect?" Reading material on the break room table would not be the first thing that comes to my mind. I would hope that a USDA inspector would be concerned with the health and safety of the meat the facility is processing. But in the world in which we now live, this is no longer the case. Notice, Mr. Vander Boon did not distribute the article to all or some of his employees. He did not ask them to read it, much less ask if they agreed with it. He merely added it to the stack of reading material already on the table.
USDA managers and supervisors have, per a recent "Anti-Harassment Policy Statement", been instructed to monitor for "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment[s]". "Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, bullying, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats, intimidation, written or verbal disrespectful comments, and graphic material that insults an individual or protected group." Yes, USDA inspectors now have the authority to inspect far more than meat. They are on the lookout for "hostile work environments", likely those of the Christian variety. The full policy statement can be read here.
Mr. Vander Boon has acquiesced to the request of the USDA to remove the "offensive" article from the break room table. Refusal could result in the closing down of his business and the loss of jobs for his forty-five employees. He has, however, filed a complaint with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Since filing his complaint he has heard nothing from the USDA other than that his complaint has been received and forwarded to the USDA Civil Rights Division. Lawyers for Mr. Vander Boon have written a letter to newly elected President Trump asking the he "direct the Department of Agriculture to rescind its unlawful harassment policy and lift the restriction on Don's speech."
While the Trump administration may rescind some Obama era anti-harassment policies, we know very well that the days are increasingly evil and the place of the Christian becomes smaller and smaller in this world. What about the Protestant Reformed professional or business owner who has copies of the Standard Bearer lying on the table in his waiting room or lobby? Or what if a RFPA book makes its way on to the break room table of a Protestant Reformed shop owner? Can a government inspector responsible for the oversight of his business demand the removal of that "offensive" religious literature, or risk being shut down, because its presence creates a "hostile environment" for employees and customers? The possibility is not far-fetched.
That events like this are taking place should not surprise us. Our Lord, in his Word, tells us that we should expect these things. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (I John 3:13). "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).
Knowing that the world will hate us and that our place in this world becomes smaller, we more eagerly look for the return of Christ our King, who will say to us at his return, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).
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.
The April 15, 2016 issue of The Standard Bearer is a special issue devoted to the topic of Reformed Marriage.
Some of the articles you will read in this issue are:
- Marriage for Life: A Blessing
- The Reformed Wedding Ceremony
- Still Using the Reformed Marriage Form?
- Wedding Receptions: Sanctified Celebrations
- Children: Calling and Blessing
....and much more!
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