Honesty with History and Scripture

Honesty with History

The first witness:
The Holy Spirit revealing Scripture

Scripture says there is safety in many counselors, and when faithful believers in history confirm what the Spirit taught me on this issue I will hold it in some value (though not equal to Scripture). The writings from history can also be thought of as second and third witnesses.

A second witness:
I may be wrong but my understanding of the early church is that they did not break up ANY marriages, and there was only a punishment (no communion until the death bed) when someone was in the church and left (against counsel) to get divorced and remarried and then tried to return. I recommend an audio cassette tape on this issue by David Bercot. It is in the Scroll Publishing catalog online on the web.

A third witness:
Chapter 23 of the book The Secret of the Strength by Peter Hoover has a number of quotes on this issue by Menno Simons and other "original" Anabaptists. From my understanding the Anabaptists did not break up second marriages until the late 1800s. I personally read an old copy of the Mennonite paper of the late 1800s (Herald of Truth). In it was a report about the Virginia Mennonite Conference which considered the issue and came to the same conclusion as the original Anabaptists. In the next issue this was retracted upon "pressure" from Mennonites in Indiana. I've heard that the influence in Indiana was from PROTESTant fundamentalist teachings (Moody Bible Institute?). This should make one wonder which is the real "liberal" or "conservative" position, not that those labels matter. Let us all do what Christ would do, no more and no less.

Update: On July 21, 2007 added a link to this article: The Anabaptist Position on Divorce and Remarriage

The original Anabaptists doctrine was still around about 350 years later, and has only been different for about the last 120 years.

In the October 1998 (or a close issue) of "The Sword and Trumpet" there was an article about the liberal Mennonites changing the historical position of the Mennonite Church on divorce and remarriage. No mention was made that apparently for the first 350 years or so the Anabaptists held a position more similar to the liberal Mennonites today! The article seems to infer that the current conservative position is the historical position. I think that hiding the real historical position to slam the liberal Mennonites is dishonest.

My ancestors (on both sides) were Anabaptists so I have some interest in this topic. I was a member of an "ultra conservative Mennonite church" about 10 years ago so I have some experience in that realm too. They had just voted me in as Sunday school superintendent a few weeks before I left (I did leave on good terms) but am not too welcome anymore since my beliefs on divorce and remarriage are different than theirs. I think the ultra conservative Mennonite churches today (the last 120 years) are very different from the historical Anabaptist church (the first 350 years) in many ways. I don't think Menno Simons would be welcomed as a member in these churches because of what he believed.

Most every "denomination" around has a few pet doctrines that they make a priority. I've seen how other (false in my opinion) doctrines are passed on from generation to generation by continual pressure and misinformation. This issue is one of those.

Mennonites often criticize the Baptists for promoting being a soldier or a policeman. I have witnessed in our home school material (much from Baptists) how this doctrine is promoted through misinformation and purposefully (so it seems) ignoring the testimony of believers in the history of the church.

But the Mennonites largely do the same thing on the remarriage issue. They usually don't want to acknowledge the reality of the past Anabaptist history on this issue (up until the late 1800s).

It seems easier to our flesh (and more right to our logic) to be "hard on sin", rather than extending mercy as God asks of us. Take the Puritans for example. It seems to be the nature of the "religious" to go overboard in discipline.

Honesty with Scripture

A book about divorce and remarriage by Joseph Webb (who is not Mennonite) has been popular in Mennonite circles. In the back of the books there are four and a half pages of Scripture references (a very large list). Jeremiah 3 is nowhere to be found in that list, nor could I find anything about this passage in the book. Now why would a book that purports to cover this critical topic fail to mention the very chapter where God Himself divorces Israel? Don't you think that seems a little odd? Not when there are statements in the book that directly contradict Jer. 3.

If I remember right (I don't have the book at the moment) Mr. Webb makes statements like: "Nowhere in the Bible does God tell people to divorce because of adultery" (in the OT they were stoned). Of course he leaves out Jer. 3 where God Himself divorces because of adultery. I find it very hard to believe that Mr. Webb does not know about the Jer. 3 passage. Any book that claims to reveal truth about divorce and remarriage that does not discuss the passage where God Himself initiates a divorce and makes Himself a divorcee is not worth reading in my opinion.

A while back I was speaking with an older Christian about this issue. When I mentioned Jer. 3 he got all upset. "Where did you find out about that passage?" he wanted to know. I found it by studying this issue with another brother in prayer and fasting. This older Christian was sure that I was told about this passage by some book besides the Bible. I was shocked. He was very upset that I knew this passage existed, as if he would rather it remain hidden from view.

NEW! February 19, 2005 update:

I met Mr. Webb today and obtained the latest edition of his book (fifth printing). Thankfully he now has a section of his book that discusses Jeremiah 3. He makes only two points in one paragraph about verse 1.

First, he quotes the Jer. 3:1 verse from the KJV which begins with "They say" and says this means that God the Father and Jesus Christ disclaimed the Father's authorship of the Deut. 24:1-4 passage. In Matt. 5 Jesus repeatedly says "you have heard" so I think that using "They say" in this manner is doubtful. Also, Deut. 24:1-4 says that returning to the former spouse is an abomination to the Lord (not only to Moses).

Second, Mr. Webb quotes the Jer. 3:1 verse from The Living Bible which says that Israel "married many lovers" and states that this shows that God is refuting the Deut. 24:1-4 passage restriction. This translation (if accurate) would certainly have a lot different interpretation than "playing the harlot with many lovers" (KJV) or "you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers" (NIV). Since The Living Bible is a paraphrase I can't accept Mr. Webb's argument here (until further Hebrew scholarship proves The Living Bible's interpretation is correct).

It seems that Mr. Webb likes to quote from The Living Bible quite often. I find this suspicious when that paraphrase says something completely different than the real translations (KJV and NIV) that I am familiar with (see Mark 10:9 as one example).

On page 98 of his book Mr. Webb states: "After divorcing Israel for her adulteries, God..." but on page 112 he writes: "...there is no Scripture that says adultery is grounds for divorce. I challenge anyone to show me one verse that teaches it". Since we no longer are to stone people, I'd say the passage in Jer. 3 and also the Matt. 5 & 19 passages all say that adultery is grounds for the man to divorce his wife.

July 21, 2007 update: Added link to this article that exposes more problems with Webb's book: A Review of Two Books & Two Opposing Views . Please note that I don't entirely endorse the other view expressed.

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