False Vows do not a Covenant Make – by Pastor Dietrich Wichmann
Pastor Dietrich Wichmann contacted us after discovering ACFJ and we invited him to write a guest post on this subject of vows and covenant. Many thanks, Pastor Wichmann. He provided us with these biographical details:
I am an ordained minister of the Church of England in South Africa, currently serving two congregations in the province of Kwa-Zulu/Natal. I have a passion for expository preaching and biblical counselling. I received my theological education at an evangelical seminary in Basel (Switzerland) and the George Whitfield College in Cape Town (South Africa).
I was born in 1977 and grew up on a farm among the Zulu people in South Africa. My German name betrays my Lutheran heritage, to which I am deeply indebted. In addition to my vocation as a pastor, I am a musician at heart with a great love for sacred music of the early baroque period. My favourite Christian author is Martin Luther. My favourite Christian artist is Johann Sebastian Bach. I love going surfing with my brother-in-law. I also love the fly-fishing experience. I am equally hopeless at both. Here then is the post he wrote for us:
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me… (Isaiah 29:13a)
His marriage vows amounted to nothing but a blatant lie. Behind those sweet and solemn words, he had every intention to the contrary – every intention to harm, to cheat and to beat her. The abuse began within the first week of their marriage, and began a devastating story that has prompted me to ask a searching question about the nature of a true marriage covenant: in the case where marriage vows were made with false or malicious intent, would that constitute a covenant of marriage in the eyes of God?
The Bible provides us with clear principles by which this matter can be judged.
To begin with, we need to recognize that a false vow has been made. In God’s eyes, this is a serious offense. Not only has the offender acted deceitfully, in the case of a Christian marriage vow, he has taken the Lord’s name in vain. Notice how serious the offense is in God’s eyes:
“… you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God” (cf. Lev. 19:12, NKJV).
It is clear from this prohibition that a false oath in the LORD’s name amounts to a profaning of His name. It is worth noting that the following verse – vs. 13 – forbids abusive behavior: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him” (ESV). God therefore sees a connection between false oaths and abusive behavior. (After all, why else would a man swear falsely if not for selfish gain?) With regard to the marriage covenant, the point is this: if a false vow has been made, the name of the LORD has been profaned. Biblically speaking, I would think that a true marriage covenant is always honoring to the LORD. It follows therefore that a marriage covenant, whereby the name of the Lord has been profaned, is not a true marriage covenant. If the name of the LORD has been profaned by the marriage ceremony, the ensuing ‘marriage’ would surely be an evil thing in the eyes of the LORD.
A true marriage covenant requires both parties to agree to the terms of the covenant. This agreement must come from the heart, as was the case with Rebecca (Genesis 24). In the case where young women are forced into marriage, giving outward consent to the terms of the covenant, it cannot possibly be said that a true marriage has been constituted. Surely, our God-given consciences would deem such marriages as a great injustice and an evil thing. The point that follows is this: the constitution of a true marriage covenant requires a true and cordial consent from both parties to the terms of the covenant.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, in any marriage covenant, the bridegroom agrees to be a husband to the bride, i.e. to care for, to protect, to nourish, to remain faithful to her. If the bridegroom is not agreeing to this from the heart, he is not agreeing to this at all. If he is not in agreement to being a husband to the bride, he is simply not in agreement with the terms of the covenant. While he might appear to agree to the terms – verbal consent with every intention to the contrary (as was the case above) – such a ceremony may constitute a marriage covenant in the eyes of man, but it cannot possibly be a true marriage covenant in the eyes of Him who searches heart and mind.
The victim described in the opening story has every right to question whether the abusive man in question is actually a husband. In God’s eyes, he did not agree to the terms of the marriage covenant. From God’s point of view, he is therefore not her husband. If she divorces this man, she may be consoled by the fact that there was no covenant of marriage to begin with. Abuse victims are often burdened with the pronouncement (and mis-translation of Scripture) that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). But victims deserve to be consoled with the truth that God hates a certain kind of marriage – the kind of marriage that profanes his name due to false vows. She would also deserve to be consoled that she has every right to a second chance for a true covenant of marriage.
I conclude as follows: In the case where marriage vows have been made with false or malicious intent, in God’s eyes the marriage is nill and void; what is more, such a marriage would amount to blasphemy on the part of the abuser who made the false vows (Leviticus 19:12). The wronged spouse is free to take all necessary steps to leave such a relationship and to call upon the civil courts to recognize the invalidity of such a non-marriage.