Refusing to Baptize the Divorced and Remarried

Refusing to Baptize the Divorced and Remarried

Another MDR question. One reader (who obviously is not familiar of “our group”) wants to know, “Who would refuse to baptize or demand that a divorced and remarried couple divorce again especially if they are now happily married and have children together?”

My response:

Some preachers and leaders in the “Church of Christ” do. I have a friend who is Catholic and he is refused “communion” because he is divorced so I guess they do it at least in some sense. If I understand it right, the Catholics believe in the “indissolubility” of marriage and therefore do not recognized divorce and remarriage for any reason. They believe that the Church decides who is married and who is not regardless of what the couple involved do or believe. Some of our brethren believe like the Catholics concerning the “indissolubility” of marriage but they make an exception when one of the mates commit fornication but then only the “innocent party” can ever remarry. I am sure there are a few others who do not accept the MDR couples unless and until they divorce and remain single or go back to the first partner…which is usually not even possible in most cases.

According to my understanding neither of these views is true as I explain in my book and the “indissolubility” of a marriage has never been true whether they are married in the Catholic Church, Church of Christ, or outside the Church. God authorizes divorce for sexual unfaithfulness (Matt. 19:9) as well as for desertion and marital abuse (1 Cor. 7:12-15). It is wrong to teach married people that they have to put up with “abusive mistreatment” or that they are “still in bondage” to one who has abandoned the marriage…regardless of who teaches it or how long it has been taught. We all believe that if it can be worked out, it should, but that is not possible in all cases. We all believe that marriage should be for life and that is the way God originally designed it, but the question usually is, “What do we do with those whose marriage did not work out and they have started over in a new marriage relationship?”

As far as I can tell most of us in the Church of Christ do not refuse to baptize those involved in MDR, but, believe it not, there are still some (probably only a few nowadays) who refuse to baptize them unless they divorce. Others will baptize them, but then treat them like “second class” members of the church…and there are still quite a few of these in our brotherhood. It is a serious issue among us and most of those who reject those involved in MDR do so out conviction and, in my judgment, a serious misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches. I certainly do not believe that they are “hypocrites” or that they just want to “hurt” people. I believe that in almost all cases they are sincere and think that they are doing the right thing based on what they have been taught and/or on what they believe the Bible teaches. But the results are the same and most of those involved in MDR are turned away by them because those involved in MDR rightly refuse to break up their families and leave their children without “married” parents. There is no “gospel” in that kind of message…at least not for them. As a group we have made a lot of progress along these lines since I became a member back in 1970, but we obviously still have a way to go. This is the reason I wrote my book on the subject. There are numerous other good books on the subject written by our brethren who believe MDR couples can be forgiven of marital mistakes and go on from where they are without having to divorce again and live single. I have had a lot of positive response to my book, especially from those involved in MDR as well as from numerous preachers and other leaders in our group. Of course, I have also been criticized for it, but the good responses I have personally heard have been really great and most encouraging. As you most likely know (and if you don’t, you should), I am far more concerned about the souls of those MDR couples and their children who want to come to Jesus than I am about the opinions and/or criticisms of those who seek to “break up marriages” and “destroy established families.” If they can sleep well with that decision then all I can say is…sweet dreams! But I personally believe that those who have made bad marriage choices and decisions need to be treated like all others who come to Jesus for salvation. Most of us have been forgiven of such sins as pride, prejudice, fornication, lying, drunkenness, covetousness, hate and a host of other sins in our past, and I believe those who have made bad marriage choices or sinned against their previous mates need to be forgiven and go on from where they are just like we do/have regarding our sins of the past. Paul clearly said that converts should “remain” in the state in which they were called (1 Cor. 7:17, 20, 24) and he later specifically applied that statement to married couples in the context (1 Cor. 7:27). My book is dedicated to those who have been “hurt” or those who have “hurt” others in failed marriages and have come to Jesus for forgiveness and healing. Divorce is rampant enough in our country without church leaders demanding more…but, believe it or not, it does still happen! But again, as far as I know, most of us in the Churches of Christ are opposed to breaking up established families.

One final point. Refusing to baptize those involved in MDR has never been the norm as far as I can tell. For example:

One of the most conservative and influential men among our churches (at least at one time) was Foy E. Wallace, Jr. He had this to say years ago about breaking up families and destroying marriages.

It is in this connection that the apostle added in verse 20, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” and it should serve as a check to some marriage counseling preachers who are so readily disposed to break up marriage relationships that are not in conformity with their own immature human opinions. (Comments on I Corinthians 7, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND THE CIVIL STATE, pg. 45)

H. LEO BOLES (another very influential brother) wrote years ago, when ask about a preacher who refused to baptize a lady involved in MDR:

I think that if I had been the preacher, I would have baptized her…. It is a fearful thing to hinder or keep anyone from obeying the gospel. I do not want to have to answer for such a sin. I have had a few cases like the one described above, and I have baptized the parties and left it with them to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. (Questions & Answers, Sermon Outlines & Bible Study Notes, pp. 63 & 64)

Hope this helps! God bless! Thank God for Jesus! (2 Cor. 9:15).
Wayne Dunaway

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