Abuse and Divorce: The Case Against the “Permanence View”
Revelation 3:14-16 ESV (14) “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (15) “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
I suppose that our Lord’s words here to the lukewarm church at Laodicea could possibly not mean that He would reject them forever if they did not repent, but “spitting out” of His mouth does tend to lead us to that conclusion. Similarly His warning that He would remove the lampstand of the Ephesian church out of its place if they did not repent sounds rather final as well.
But here is my point. There are numbers of Scriptures in the New Testament that indicate that Christ does indeed divorce His “bride” when that bride turns out to be unbelieving, disobedient, and false. This all runs quite counter of course to the teachings of people like John Piper who claim that divorce is never permissible and argue from the model of Christ and His church. Consider however:
Acts 5:1-5 ESV
(1) But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, (2) and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (3) But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? (4) While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (5) When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
I suspect some people would try to argue that Ananias and his wife Sapphira were actually genuine believers and this business of striking them dead was just a form of discipline from their heavenly Father. I don’t think so. I think this was a public exposure of false brethren. A rather final divorce. Here is another divorce of professing Christians:
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 ESV (11) But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Jude 1:4 ESV (4) For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
These “hidden reefs” as Jude calls them a bit later obviously profess to be Christians. That is how they “creep in.” Jude says that the Lord will judge them. Once again, Christ divorces a false, unfaithful bride. He disciplines and purifies His true people and will never let them go. But as He dealt with Israel in the Old Testament, so the author of Hebrews tells us He deals with those who profess His name today:
Hebrews 2:1-3 ESV (1) Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (2) For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, (3) how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard,
And once more:
Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV (7) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, (9) where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. (10) Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ (11) As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” (12) Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (13) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (15) As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (16) For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (17) And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19) So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Hebrews clearly connects the experience of these false Israelites in the OT with our experience in the New Testament era. Anyone who hears Christ’s voice and bears the name Christian, but in the end hardens his heart and is unbelieving and disobedient, will never enter heaven. Christ will reject them. He will, I would say, divorce them.
One more time:
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV (21) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Therefore, when a Christian finds themselves married to an abuser, and even (perhaps especially) when that abuser claims to be a Christian, how is it not Christlike to divorce that abuser? How is remaining in such a “marriage” a model of how Christ deals with people who claim to belong to Him but in fact do not? Not even the true, genuine local church is to allow such a person to remain in its ranks but is to put them out. To divorce them, we could even say.
“Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” The words of the Lord Jesus Himself.
For further reading
The book Not Under Bondage is packed with scriptural arguments for why the Bible gives three grounds for divorce: abuse, adultery and desertion.
Online articles that give scriptural reasons why Piper’s divorce doctrine is wrong:
Two posts which show how Piper’s doctrine has had horrific effects on victims of domestic abuse: