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Since Paul said that divorce is forbidden, and Paul's letters are to be taken as word of God, why do some Protestant churches (Church of England for example) permit divorce?

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Many protestant churches do not allow divorce. –  Flimzy Jul 9 '12 at 4:40
@Lev I would urge you to think about your question again. There are lots of Protestant churches with different views on it, so the question is too broad in its scope. –  Monika Michael Jul 9 '12 at 4:45
Allowed by whom? Are you asking why God allows it, why the church leadership allows it, why the community allows it, or why the individual feels that they are "allowed" to do it? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 9 '12 at 5:02
@Jas3.1 Exactly! –  Monika Michael Jul 9 '12 at 5:16
@Narnian yes you are correct...thankfully there are wonderful websites like this one that somewhat help clear up misunderstandings :))) –  Charles Alsobrook Dec 23 '13 at 15:23

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think there are two basic answers to your question. The first, and simple answer is:

  • Many Protestant churches do not allow divorce. Some congregations deny membership rights to people who are divorced.

The more direct, and also more complex, answer to your question is:

  • Many protestant churches permit divorce because there is simply nothing they can do about it.

    Divorce is a legal right in most places, regardless of whether the church allows it. Many Catholics get divorced, too. Although in the eyes of the Catholic church, such a divorce (and possible remarriage) is not recognized.

    The consequences of divorce within the church are usually rather minimal. A divorced person cannot remarry in a Catholic ceremony, for instance. Many protestant churches and pastors will have similar restrictions, refusing to allow a ceremony of a divorced couple in their facilities, or refusing to officiate the ceremony for a divorced person.

    However, beyond refusing to allow or officiate marriages, and possibly refusing membership rights to divorcees, there's very little any church can do to prevent divorce.

    The same is true of practically any practice that is considered sinful in the eyes of the church. A church can only do so much in "discipline."

    A second issue, beside the fact that churches are essentially powerless, is the concept of forgiveness.

    Many churches are willing to forgive pass transgressions such as divorce, especially if they happened prior to conversion.

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+1 for differentiating between the church's recognition of the spiritual effect of marriage and the legal rights that accompany it. –  asfallows Jul 9 '12 at 20:29
Needs to be edited per recent edit to the question. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 10 '12 at 7:45
Forgiveness is an important element. Adultery/divorce is not an unforgivable sin. Requiring the person to make a credible confession of faith would quite reasonably include a credible repentance from past transgressions which may require receiving special counseling as well as attempting some reconciliation--not necessarily a return to marriage as remarriage might have occurred--; but barring from membership would seem to be declaring the sin unforgivable. –  Paul A. Clayton Nov 27 '12 at 20:33
@PaulA.Clayton: Perhaps. It's all subject to interpretation. But that's really beside the point--some churches have such rules (including Catholic churches--which doesn't really relate to the question). –  Flimzy Nov 28 '12 at 7:31

As Matthew 19:18 states,

Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Jesus is clearly pointing out that divorce is, in fact, legal. It is bad, but it is permissible. To turn it into an iron-clad law is then much like laws concerning the Sabbath - Jesus values the individual over the institution, even an institution as great as marriage.

(Note: Not advocating, just explaining the rationale!)

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Not bad. +1 for a very accurate answer from Scripture. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 10 '12 at 7:44

I think that the biggest issue is the exception in Matthew 5:32:

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

The Catholic Church takes that phrase to mean, "except in the case of unlawfulness" (which is why there is an annulment process), but many take it as an "out." Regardless of the merit of such an interpretation, it seems that that "escape clause" has been used a bit more than it should be.

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This is sufficient to explain why some denominations allow divorce in the case of adultery, but would you be able to add information about why some churches allow divorce in other cases, if any do? –  asfallows Jul 9 '12 at 20:27
Nevertheless, it is impossible to infer that "fornication" means "adultery" for these are two different sins and this information is explicit all over the New Testament. Adultery means cheating. Fornication means having sex with someone without the consent of God. The protestant interpretation is simple out of question, unless you are deliberately trying to bend the scriptures to mean something totally diferent than intended. –  user3517 Nov 27 '12 at 18:35
It would be worth asking on hermeneutics.SE about historical context, I've read that it's more complicated than just a plain reason for divorce. –  Pavel Nov 27 '12 at 19:16
1 Cor. 7:15 speaks of not being bound to an unbeliever who leaves. If a person rejects church discipline for reconciliation, that person might be considered outside of the church and so abandonment might permit divorce even if the person never has sexual relations again. Of course, this can be trivialized such that a person leaves the church just to divorce and remarry--not much (if any) better than committing adultery so that divorce would be acceptable. –  Paul A. Clayton Nov 27 '12 at 20:10
@All "saving for the cause of fornication", does it appear in the earliest manuscripts? –  Paul Vargas Feb 27 '14 at 17:06

some Protestant denominations, like Anabaptists, are as negative about divorce and remarriage as are Catholics.

to answer directly the title question, i might say that it's because of either

A. the Pauline exception


B. because of a practical and compassionate utilitarian ethic that understands if and when the earlier marriage is, in any possible context, salvageable or reconciliable. if there is no hope for the original marriage (like, perhaps, the other former spouse remarried a 3rd party) can be salvaged, they might think that nothing particularly good is being solved by a lifelong prohibition to marry.

and then if they remarry anyway, what should the church do in response? i have been involved with a church of repute that has literally excommunicated a member (who was the choir director and worship music co-director) for divorcing his wife and marrying another woman who was a former member of the church. i do not know what the consistent Protestant response to divorce is, and i wouldn't say that this one example is typical of Protestants, but it is Protestant while also more specifically Anabaptist.

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I'm downvoting because of the poor grammar. It has been a persistent yet easily remedied problem. –  fredsbend Jul 29 '14 at 19:44

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