What Dad taught us

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:


I wonder what happened to the second letter writer, how the marriage and his life turned out.

I wondered the same as I cleaned up the text.

On the divorce-and-remarriage issue. I was once part of a church whose attitude to people who had remarried after a previous divorce, was to make to make them so unwelcome that most of them took the hint and left. Hence, no problem.

Tim - I am sure that you would not have done this in your own ministry, but is there a discussion to be had about how people who have remarried after a previous divorce are pastored?

Yes, there’s a discussion about that to be had, but time is short.

I’ll say that every church is filled with people who have divorced unbiblically as well as those who have committed murder and incest and rape and theft and adultery and (almost everyone) fornication… The distinction is the secrecy of most of these as opposed to the public nature of divorce.

So, I am always disgusted with churches and officers who focus on the objectively verifiable sins—often with some numerical quality—while conspiring to keep hidden the subjectively verifiable sins—usually with no numerical value. “Husband of one wife” is the classic in the former category while “greed” is in the latter.

Most recently, we’ve had a wonderful illustration of this principle watching Al Mohler, Russ Moore, the PCA, and all the Gospel Coalition dudes (as well as tons of conservative leaders in the church here in Europe and especially in the UK) condemn sodomite copulation and marriage while blessing sodomite aesthetics and dress and mannerisms and relationships. In other words, condemning any filth on the outside of the cup while leaving inside of cup entirely alone. Sodomite copulation and marriage is objectively verifiable while effeminacy is only subjectively verifiable. Then too, you can always take the tack of denying effeminacy is any sin…

Note Kevin DeYoung hanging with these guys, by the way. We need to get over our desire for celebrities. Have you heard me say that before?

Anyway, that’s my two cents on this “discussion.” Love,


I agree with all that Pr. Tim has said above. I would add this, however . . .

Marriage is a public social institution, not a private arrangement, like a sexual affair one hides from everyone else. The couple’s vows are not merely to one another, but also to the world, a declaration that henceforth they are by those vows bound to one another as to sex, as to family, as to property and various other family-mediated social and economic factors, and the rest of the world is to acquiesce in the consequences of those vows. And, so, it is no accident that divorce and the serial remarriage of divorced persons is so obvious. It cannot be otherwise.

Now, to acknowledge the spiritual/social/economic/familial consequences of divorce and remarriage is no sin. There are, additionally, ecclesiastical consequences (1 Timothy 3:2).

But, to think that to behave as if things which mar the outside of the cup are the only factors a congregation - especially its officers - are to consider is foolish and derelict, as Pr. Tim has pointed out. Just how a congregation and its officers are to relate to divorced and remarried Christians is a topic worthy of careful and thorough examination. But, such a discussion must begin with the Biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage. A wrong step at this point inevitably derails all that follows it.

Now, the sexual ethos of the unbelieving world today is so thoroughly trashed, broken, corrupted, and otherwise nasty that it is impossible NOT to find newly born believers riddled (as a group) with all sorts of sexual sins, and so many others. Consequently, any congregation that even minimally fulfills its Christ-given mandate to communicate the gospel to the unbelieving world . . . well, you see what sort of histories, habits, and values the churches will gather to themselves as they baptize new believers.

What to do, especially if you are a church officer?

Pr. Tim’s reply above mentions two things not to do: (1) focus on public sins in order to “validate” the church officers’ supposed faithfulness to their callings as shepherds. Or, (2) to ignore these public sins, or even to preach that in these enlightened times they are no sins at all.

The apostate communions within nominal Christendom have done the latter for many generations now, and the ostensibly orthodox or evangelical communions keep their silence rather than be mocked as hide-bound fundamentalists.

There is a third option which has served me well over the past fifty years of ministry, beginning in my very first pastorate - preach ALL of the Word of God. It has plenty to say about all of the sins common to man, including those attaching to marriage. It was fifty years ago that the elders of my first pastorate fired me for preaching that divorce and the remarriage of divorced persons violated our Lord’s express teaching in Matthew 5 and 19.

Want to know something funny? Most of the divorced and remarried couples in the congregation publicly agreed with me that our Lord’s teaching comported with their own experience of the consequences of both divorce and also with remarriage.

Ross, how they should be pastored will depend on many varied factors, and so an answer to your question is a lengthy syllabus. Many whose hearts are tender toward God’s Word will need repeated assurances of our Lord’s grace and compassion on contrite sinners. Others will need gentle but repeated admonition toward their attempts to justify themselves and their marital status, especially if they are convinced that they were wholly innocent, especially if they “campaign” among the flock to justify themselves.

There are many additional ways that divorce impacts those entangled and defiled by a divorce and/or remarriage in their past. In some ways, their pastoral needs are no different from many Christian’s problems in reconciling himself to those things in his past “of which he is now ashamed” (Romans 6:21).

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Tangential question, maybe worthy of its own discussion.

Do you believe that remarriage can be valid for a divorced Christian, if they were divorced prior to their conversion, and their spouse has since remarried – therefore making marital reconciliation not possible?

I believe John Piper has taught that he holds to the view that in such cases, remarriage is still not permissible. I think Voddie Baucham leans that way as well, but not sure.


Speaking only for myself, I’d end up where Pr. Piper does. I do so because our Lord’s teaching in the gospels has in view those whom He is evangelizing. Certainly, when the Pharisees attempted to embroil Him in the rabbinic disagreements about the grounds for divorce, we cannot suppose He is speaking to believers who in their unbelieving past experienced a divorce! They are, in fact, unbelievers in Moses and the God who spoke through Moses (John 5:46).

The Romans make marriage by Christians an ecclesiastical sacrament, as if prior marriage while in unbelief were no marriage at all. This does not square with how our Lord spoke of marriage to unbelieving Pharisees.

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I’ve always thought what John allowed in his congregation said more than what he claimed he believed. If a man writes that all remarriages are adultery, how does he salve his conscience watching his flock and sheep remarry? This was the practice at Bethlehem and I’m no fan. It’s one thing to grant people their consciences over baptism. The Didache gives us some precedent for this concerning mode, at least. But remarriage which (he says) is adultery? And constantly practiced under one’s authority?

Which is to say I don’t take seriously the claim of a man that he holds to some idiosyncratic minority position that he is able to avoid the cost of holding, personally.

Then too, the Roman Catholic church has practiced annulment which is tantamount to divorce and remarriage as the Protestants called for, in reform.

Then too, I can’t prove it, but I’d put money on the fact that the men who say they don’t believe in remarriage even in cases of the Biblical grounds of porneia and desertion are no longer saying the historical (Cranmer by way of the Sarum rite of the eleventh century) liturgy for weddings we in Evangel Presbytery use (with updated language) which reads:

Therefore if any man can shewe any juste cause why they maie not lawfully be joyned so together: Leat him now speake, or els hereafter for ever hold his peace.

And also speakyng to the persones that shalbe maried, he shall saie.

IREQUIRE and charge you (as you will aunswere at the dreade full daye of judgemente, when the secretes of all hartes shalbee disclosed) that if either of you doe knowe any impedimente, why ye maie not bee lawfully joyned together in matrimonie, that ye confesse it. For be ye wel assured, that so manye as bee coupled together otherwaies then Goddes woord doeth allowe: are not joyned of God, neither is their matrimonie lawful.

At which daye of mariage yf any man doe allege any impediment why they maye not be coupled together in matrimonie; And will be bound, and sureties with hym, to the parties, or els put in a caution to the full value of suche charges as the persones to bee maried dooe susteyne to prove his allegacion: then the Solemnizacion muste bee differred, unto suche tyme as the trueth bee tried. Yf no impedimente bee alleged, then shall the Curate saye unto the man.

Nearly no one today knows why bannes and these words were required, until recently. Do these men who claim not to believe in remarriage after adultery or desertion use these words at every wedding they DO agree to officiate?

Concerning divorce before regeneration, as Fr. Bill indicates, marriage’s laws are universal. Marriage is a creation ordinance, and so its laws are applicable to eveyone everywhere and always. We may disagree as to what those laws are and how they should be followed, supported, and enforced, but we can’t deny they always apply to everyone. Love,

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@tbbayly, I may be a bit thick, but what’s the connection between reading the bannes and one’s view of remarriage? The historical connectiveness (or lack thereof) of the views held?

Thanks for the reply.

This makes sense to me, and I don’t disagree. Then again, I expect that you’d leave some room for sympathy for the fact that reform is difficult when you have a plurality of elders, and you’re trying to swim upstream against a current of deep-seated error in the church. Is it fair to say that as lamentable as it may be, sometimes the best we can expect is that one generation of pastors has to leave the seed of reformation for the next generation to pick up and run with?

All that to say, I am grateful when I hear seasoned pastors admit it when their own consciences take them further than the reforms they were able to enact in their own lifetimes and churches – even if it’s owing to their own cowardice or refusal to push as hard as they should have. It could be that they in fact didn’t really hold those persuasions in earnest, or it could be that they capitulated to their fellow elders for the sake of unity. Either way, it helps me think. Perhaps the recent topic of head coverings is a similar example (though that isn’t to say that an issue of decorum elevates to the nature of adultery).

To try to cut right to the candid, practical application question where feathers may be ruffled, do you believe that a man is disqualified from eldership in perpetuity if he has been divorced and remarried under any circumstance in his past, or are there circumstances in which such a man could still be qualified to serve as an elder?

Maybe the question is better asked in a different setting where particulars can be discussed. So feel free to dodge it. :slight_smile:

I believe I heard him say once that he and his elders disagreed significantly on the topic and the agreement they came to was that Piper could preach and teach his conscience, as well as never preside over the remarriage of a divorced person, and that the other elders could teach/practice differently.

Within my living memory—and I am not an old man—the Roman Catholic Church was very restrictive with annulments and remarriage. There were significant hurdles to clear. Now I am led to understand that it is basically a formality: de facto no-fault anullment.

You’re not “thick.” It’s always been the case that men bed a virgin with the promise of marriage. Think haystack and words of lifelong love. Fidelity. Banns provide opportunity for women bedded to testify to those promises (or others who know of them). In other words, if (as I think is inescapable, doctrinally) when men have vowed marriage and consummated it, then move on to another woman, the bannes are the opportunity for the abandoned wife to claim her husband, her child’s father. Does this make sense? Love,


The purpose of the banns makes sense (and it’s still legally required here in England). I’m not sure I see the connection between that and an overly restrictive view of remarriage.

As an aside, I’ve never thought of the banns in terms of giving significance to the haystack promises. Were those promises enforced in Calvin’s consistory records? I remember those situations being brought up, but did the elders demand marriage from the young men?

The connection I see is the vigilance, or lack thereof, at all the points of contention concerning the nature of the marriage vows, as well as how pastors shepherd their flock concerning them. My guess is that the banns are not understood in the UK any more than infant baptism (which is also commonly practiced there) is. So whether banns, or premarital counselling and the wedding liturgy, what’s consuming strongly opinionated men’s time is whether or not someone who’s “divorced” Biblically is “free” Biblically.

But peer under the surface and think about how many men and women being married without any apparent issue of “divorce” or “remarriage” are actually already married (private vows, for instance, which—yes—Calvin regularly adjudicated) so that the new union is adulterous. Even among the microscopic number of conservative (and even Reformed) Christian weddings that practice the historic liturgy of warning concerning God’s coming judgment, that warning and the nature of the sins that it is warning against are not explained so that everyone, including the bride and groom, hold their peace only because they haven’t the slightest notion what’s being asked or what the concerns should be, concretely.

As I think about it, this is directly connected with our propensity as pastors to focus our attention on things everyone knows about, especially if we can count those things (husband of one wife—see, it says “one”!), while we give hardly a thought to the things hidden which are more common and more of a violation of the making of their vows than legal and biblical divorce.

Let me give an example from my pastoral ministry, and it’s just one of many similar ones.

Let’s say a bride marries and finds out after the wedding that he’s not interested in sex. Counseling doesn’t help and years later he’s still not loving her as all marriages under the sky require at God’s command. What does the man who wrote a book about how his church remarries Biblically divorced people but he believes personally that his sheeps’ marriages are adulterous and they’re living in adultery; what does this author and pastor say to the woman whose marriage hasn’t been consummated years after the vows were given and received? Not being cynical, I ask also and more intensely if he’d even know, and I think not.

Now you have written a book dealing partly with Owen’s pastoral care and you know how men in the ministry in past centuries were conscientious to care for their flock first by knowing them. From my knowledge of pastors across most of a lifetime now, it’s quite common for men to write articles and books posturing themselves as having this or that theological oddity which is, of course, very principled, while it is exceedingly rare for those men to demonstrate in their discussion of that oddity even a modicum of pastoral sensitivity and wisdom. Rather, it’s word studies and a smattering of allusions to this or that aspect of church history without engaging the banns, premarital counselling, pornography, annulments which are legitimate, annulments which are hypocrisy, couples living together after one or both is divorced from a prior spouse who have had children together—although they are not married to each other, etc.

That last one is so frequent (if, that is, the pastor has sinners in his church, and not just the righteous). So what does this pastor do with his (I say unbiblical) moral scruples with that couple and their children? His choices are tell someone under him on the pastoral staff to marry them because he can’t due to his moral scruples, but make it clear that he hopes he will marry them because it will normalize their sex and stabilize the permanence of commitment of their father and mother to the children. Pastoral stuff like that.

On the other hand, maybe he would tell the couple they should remarry their first spouses and split the children between those marriages? Or maybe he’d tell the couple they could live together with their children as long as they promised not to have adulterous sex? Or maybe he’d tell the man to move out and do visitation with the children? Or maybe avoid asking questions because, as a matter of fact, he’s famous and has a big church and never takes phone calls and runs around the country preaching to other pastors’ sheep, so he has plausible deniability out the wazoo. Who would ever bother wasting his time with the specifics of his rams, ewes, and rams; who would explain the smelly details of this particular suffering household among his own sheep, especially when the particulars here would be such a bombshell dropping on his well-known moral scruples about remarriage?

But back to principles. There’s reason the Reformers rejected the Roman view and practice of no divorce. What was that reason? And did they allow people to remarry if their spouse had committed porneia or abandoned them? And do we see the same sort of pastoral love and sensitivity and firmness and judicious weighing of particulars as we read today’s men’s explanations of their doctrinal and moral commitments concerning this matter?

That’s where I think we need to look and stand—with the Reformers. I don’t buy John’s private conscience in view of his staying and serving in a church where so many of his flock were living in “adultery.” But more, I don’t buy it because the arguments are bad and quirky across Protestant history, to boot. I don’t buy it because the men I’ve known in the pastorate who say they reject any remarriages after Biblical divorces have never shown me the sort of pastoral care for their flock that permeates the works of Owen, Calvin, Luther, and Bucer. This is a judgment, I know, and judgments can be sinful, but pastor to pastor, I will say that I’ve always felt this position was more an attempt to avoid getting messy and coming to smell like the sheep than it was trying to love and protect the sheep from sin. In other words, the position always seemed to be saying and telling people more about the man himself than the man’s care for his flock.

But who knows? I could be completely wrong about all the above. I’ll only add that the best reference for normal pastors to use with their congregations is the PCA Position Paper on Divorce, which I’ve recommended here and many other places before.

With affection,

PS: I’ve read a good bit on this, and preached two sermon series. Attached you’ll find my former congregation’s statement which may be helpful to some, here.


The upload button isn’t working, so we’ll see when I can share the statement on divorce.

Yes, that does make much more sense. Thank you.