The Hungarian Christians of 1562 Had More Sense than the No-Divorce-for-Abuse Preachers Today
Does an abuser disturb the conscience of his victim? Does the abuser live in a constantly unquiet, peace-destroying manner?
Recently Barbara sent me a four volume set compiled by James T. Dennison, Jr. entitled Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. I have been skimming through them to see what they had to say about marriage, divorce, and possibly domestic abuse. And what I am finding is that anyone who claims that THE true and obvious Christian doctrine on these subjects allows for no divorce for any reason, or no divorce for abuse, is, well, just plain ignorant of church history. The fact is that some Christian churches and believers who have gone before us DID allow divorce and they allowed it for abuse. [Actually most Christians have at least allowed for divorce in cases of adultery or desertion].
Let me show you two paragraphs from the Hungarian Confession of Faith, 1562 —
Fourth: [reason for divorce], the cause of religion, i.e., when one of two unbelieving partners is converted and the other remains an unbeliever. If the unbeliever is unwilling to remain with the believer, let him go away. Or if the unbeliever persecutes the believer for his faith, disturbs his conscience, and is constantly unquiet. In such cases, a brother or sister is not under bondage because the Lord has called us to peace (1 Cor 7:15). Let either the believer or the unbeliever go their way for the sake of peace and conscience.
There! And what is abuse if it is not the persecution of a wicked, unsaved spouse persecuting the believing spouse for their faith? Does an abuser disturb the conscience of his victim? Does the abuser live in a constantly unquiet, peace-destroying manner? YES! And yet in our day people like John Piper and others insist that their teaching is the only teaching, that theirs is binding, that theirs is the Word of the Lord which everyone is bound to obey or else be guilty of sin before God and put out of Christ’s church. What arrogance!
And that is not all that the Hungarian reformers had to say about this —
Sixth: [reason for divorce], the case of assault and homicide, i.e., when the one partner seeks to kill the other. Let the attacker be punished for his homicidal intention; let the innocent party [divorce] and marry in the Lord.
We have written more than one post and also included in our books that abusers are murderers. Abuse slowly but surely kills. It destroys one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. The abuser is a reviler who, even if he never uses his fists, assaults his victim regularly. The Hungarian church of so many centuries ago recognized this and gave instruction that the abuser be punished. Yet today most churches not only refuse to punish the abuser, but they embrace him as a fellow Christian and the punishment most often goes to the victim. Do you realize that the absolute ‘no divorce for any reason’ position (like Piper’s) actually requires remaining married to a murderous spouse. You say your husband shot you and you nearly died? Well, he’s still your husband!! That is the cruel insanity these guys are trying to bind us with.
Here is one more paragraph from this confession that I find very interesting and refreshing. It concerns the authority of ministers —
And this we understand to be the legitimate vocation [calling] to the ministry, and not teaching a gospel other than what the Lord taught and commanded that it might be preached to all the peoples (Gal 2), not tyrannically lording it over the consciences of those before whom they serve (Luke 22; 2 Cor 1; 1 Peter 5), because they are the kingdom and inheritance of the Lord (2 Cor 4).
See it? This confession maintains that pastors and elders and local churches have no right to “lord it” over the consciences of believers. [Actually most of the reformed confessions have a very similar clause in them]. Lording it over simply means commanding and ruling over someone as if you were their king. Not so said the Hungarian church. Ministers do not have authority over the consciences of the flock. Their authority only comes from the gospel, from the Word they are commissioned to preach, and they are not to go beyond that. I maintain, and I suspect the Hungarian Christians would have agreed with me, that when church leaders forbid an abuse victim from divorcing their abuser, they are in fact lording it over that victim, exercising an authority that Christ has not given them, and thus guilty of abusing Christ’s sheep for which they will one day have to give Him account.
Today, church leaders and Christian authors often teach as if their take on marriage, divorce, and remarriage is “gospel,” the only true doctrine to be found in Scripture. And yet they seem to be oblivious to the fact that it is not at all difficult to find examples in the history of the church of Christ’s people who taught otherwise. In their arrogance and ignorance they demand that the flock obey them even though conscience, the leading of the Spirit, and common sense dictate another course.
Christian, you are free to divorce an abuser. And you are free to remarry, in the Lord.
Our FAQ page What About Divorce?