Questions on Marriage

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My sister (raised WELS Lutheran) married a Catholic man over ten years ago. She has continued as a WELS member, and he as a Catholic. They have gone back and forth attending Lutheran and Catholic churches over the years, but haven't officially joined one (they have moved several times). They just recently had their third child - the first was baptized Lutheran, the second was baptized Catholic, and the third is going to be baptized Catholic. Is it better for one of them to convert and raise their family under one denomination? Or, do they remain separate?

Your questions about faith are very important, and your concern for family members is commendable.   I can address your questions, and you can then determine what your concern for family leads you to do.

For starters, we want to understand what happens when churches baptize.  A Trinitarian baptism brings a person into the Holy Christian Church.  That says much more than someone was “baptized Catholic” or “baptized Lutheran.”  Baptism brings a person into the Christian Church.

But churches do more than baptize; they teach.  And at some point, baptized individuals are given the opportunity to profess the teachings of the church that has taught them.  Confirmation, for example, is a time when individuals profess that the teachings they have learned from their instruction in the Lutheran Church are the teachings of the Bible and are correct.

Obviously, the teachings of churches differ.  In your question you are referencing the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church.  A key is understanding that the differences between the churches are teachings—doctrines—and not “philosophies.”  A major difference of doctrine is the way of salvation.  Is salvation God’s gift, offered freely through his Son Jesus Christ, and received in faith?  Or, is salvation a combination of faith and works?  Those questions paint a picture of the huge contrast between Lutheran teaching and Roman Catholic teaching.

If a husband and wife hold to these different beliefs, a great unity in marriage is missing.  “Mixed” marriages like that might “work well,” as you indicated, but how so?  Often, they “work well” in that husband and wife are loving toward each, they raise obedient, respectful children and outwardly they have a happy home life.

But marriages like that do not “work well” when it comes to spouses trying to worship and commune together, and providing unified spiritual direction to their children.  What “works” much better is when husband and wife have a common faith and a common membership.

I do not know what your sister and her husband have done to examine the teachings of their churches.  They would benefit greatly from a study and discussion of what each church teaches about the Bible.  There are several books from our publishing house that could assist them in that study.  Keep in mind also that our churches regularly offer no-obligation Bible Information Classes, where people can receive an overview of the Bible’s teachings and answers to their questions.

Is there such a thing as annulment of marriage in the Lutheran church? What are the grounds for it? Also, while I know what the Bible says about divorce, provided both partners in the marriage stay faithful to their vow and don't get involved with another person romantically, is legal separation permissible and acceptable if the main motive is to resolve the issues that are causing problems in the marriage and the other goal is to get back together as soon as possible?

In the Lutheran Church there is no provision for an ecclesiastical or theological annulment of marriage. This means that we do not recognize any Biblical basis for declaring that a marriage that took place never really existed, theologically speaking. Roman Catholic marriage annulments are based on church laws and decrees, not the Bible. We do well, however, to distinguish a “theological” annulment from a legal, civil annulment. A civil annulment is part of the laws of the state in which you live and those rules are distinct and clear. A civil annulment declares that while a marriage took place, it was illegal and will not be recognized as valid. If an already married person gets married to another spouse — that is, when bigamy results, — the second marriage is declared illegal and void.

A formal separation, whether established legally or merely agreed upon by the partners, is a legitimate action as described and with the purposes stated by you. 1 Corinthians 7:5 establishes that kind of pattern, although with a distinctly different purpose (to devote yourselves to prayer) and also with the reminder that separations may bring with them other pressures (unfulfilled sexual urges). To seek a formal separation by mutual consent as described by you cannot be classified as wrong. But this should be done carefully, cautiously, with ongoing appraisals of the situation, and renewed resolve to deal with issues in anticipation of reunion. Pastoral counseling and perhaps other professional supervision is advised.

Does the church ever preach against racism? I have been in interracial marriage for almost six years. My husband and I are both Christians and love each other very, very much. I have two beautiful stepdaughters as well. My marriage is a blessing and God meant for my husband and I to be together. Yet, my parents and brother have totally disowned my own nuclear family because of their race/ethnicity. I have been married almost six years and they have never even met them. My parents and brother have been faithful WELS members for decades.

Yes, the pastors of our churches preach against racism and they preach on the topic of marriage.  Sermon texts have different focuses and our pastors preach on the basis of the content of the sermon texts.

Our pastors preach that God’s will is:  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Racism runs contrary to that command.  Our pastors preach that God instituted marriage and that marriage is to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:3-6).  There are no scriptural prohibitions of interracial marriage.

What our pastors preach and what some church members may think are not necessarily the same.  That seems to be your situation and that is unfortunate.  All I can really do from a distance is encourage you to reach out to your family and see if you can re-establish lines of communication.  If they really have sinful attitudes, that needs to be addressed.  Perhaps enlisting a friend, another family member or their pastor would be helpful in getting the conversation started.  I wish you and your family well.

What does the Bible say in regard to getting married by elopement or quick marriage in a courthouse and then doing a renewal of the vows at a later date?

The Bible says nothing at all about the place (church or courthouse) or officiant (pastor or judge) for the establishment of a marriage. This is fully in the realm of Christian freedom and therefore subject only to Christian love, wisdom and discernment, and a concern for how other believers might perceive it (in case the weak might stumble spiritually and misunderstand). Marriage is really a civil matter, but Christians usually want to have the Word of God and prayer prominent at the occasion. So clergy (authorized by the civil authorities to perform weddings) and churches serve them.

The mention of elopement and civil weddings often causes the subject of motives and circumstances to surface. These deserve the attention of every bride and groom and their respective families. Are they avoiding church and God’s Word for a particular reason? Are they honoring their parents or hiding something from them? These and other similar questions are deserving of attention. But assuming that Christian faith, hope, and love are present and accounted for, civil marriages are just fine. And a later “consecration of civil marriage” can be done and will likely be appreciated by all Christians involved.

What does the Bible say about the role of husband and wife? Is the man the boss of his wife in a marriage?

The simplest answer is: “No.”

Yes, Scripture speaks of the husband as the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), but that is vastly different from what is often meant when we speak of a “boss” in our culture.

In what way?

Is the man as head more important than his wife, on the top position on the totem pole of important people in the family? No. A Christlike head knows that in importance before God, there is no difference between male and female since both are equally redeemed and valued in the blood of Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

Is the man as head able to make sure that what happens around the house is what he wants to happen, regardless of the wishes of his wife? Is he the “king of his castle?” No. A Christlike head knows that he is not called to lord it over or dominate his wife, but he is called to love and serve her as Christ loved the church—making her needs and concerns his first priority, just as Christ did for us (Mark 10:42-45; Ephesians 5:25-28).

Headship in Scripture is, at its heart, humble leadership that has as its prime concern the spiritual and physical welfare of all others whom God has placed in that head’s care. Headship is not perk and privilege; it is an awesome responsibility to be God’s representative in caring for others. Yes, there is a bit of Christ’s authority whenever God gives someone such a position of responsibility, yet that authority is not to be used as a club or a threat. That authority is a solemn trust from God to be used for the benefit of those in our care. It is a trust that needs to be exercised wisely as those who will give an account to God for the trust he placed in us as his representatives.

Where we fail in that, we run to Christ’s forgiveness. There at his cross, we find the strength of his grace to live out this awesome responsibility of being representatives of his selfless love in our homes.

One last thought: please notice that in Ephesians 5 Paul does not address husbands about being the head. He does not tell them to make their wives submit! He speaks instead to wives and urges them to respect their husband’s headship. When Paul does speak to husbands, what does he say? He speaks of sacrificial love patterned after Christ. As husbands, we have more than enough to concentrate on right there. If we carry out that self-sacrificing love well for the spiritual and physical needs of our wives, we will have carried out headship well.

In 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19 we read about the gift of continence. How does one know if one has this gift? I am single and so far all my attempts to find a life companion have failed. Would this be an indication that I should turn my mind to choosing to "live like an eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven"?

In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul expressed gratitude that God had gifted him with the ability to have self-control in sexual matters and not “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).  For that reason, Paul explained that the single life suited him well.  For others who did not have that gift of self-control, he saw the benefit of marriage, furnishing opportunities for sexual intimacy to take place without sin being involved.

Do you have that gift, you wonder?  You have to ask yourself how content you are with your present circumstances.  You have to ask yourself to what extent, if any, sexual temptations confront you and how you deal with them.  The apostle Paul made it clear that the single life he experienced was not for everyone.  For those who do not have self-control in sexual matters, he advised marriage.

There is so much about your situation that I do not know—your age being one of the most important pieces of information.  I say this only for information’s sake:  I know individuals who did not marry until later in life—some in their 50s.  They were content with their lives apart from marriage and were not going to marry just for the sake of being married.  I commend them for that attitude.  When we recognize that God’s design for marriage is to be a lifelong union, we do best in being very deliberate in how we approach it.

Your questions definitely deserve a fuller and more personal response.  For that reason I would encourage you to speak to your pastor about these matters.  God bless you.

Is divorce a forgivable sin according to the Bible?

I do not know what prompted your question, but in an attempt to give an adequate answer, I will stress three things: First of all, divorce does involve or give evidence of sin, real sin, on the part of one or both of the marriage partners seeking the divorce. God’s revealed will and desire is that marriages be lifelong.

Second, the sin or sins normally connected with a divorce are certainly forgivable. Christ paid for all sin and God delights in pardoning all sinners. The personal enjoyment of forgiveness, of course, assumes that the sinner is brought to repentance and thus takes both the sin and the work of the Savior seriously. Only a lack of repentance and a willful despising of the gracious working of the Holy Spirit in unbelief fit the “unforgivable sin” category.

Third, some have been observed saying that, despite all this, divorce is sometimes treated as though it were unforgivable. This may stem in part from pastors and spiritual leaders striving to stress the seriousness of this sin coupled with its epidemic spread in our society. There are seldom any real winners, only losers, in a divorce. This may also stem from the popularity of what has been called “planned repentance” in divorce cases. This means that people willfully and wrongly seek a divorce with the conscious plan of “repenting” afterward, after the deed is done. Biblically speaking, that is not the pattern of true repentance. “Repentance” that is humanly planned and produced is not the real thing and is not accompanied by forgiveness.

Abuse was mentioned in my mother's church sermon as grounds for divorce. This brought up a discussion in our family of what are the biblical grounds for divorce. I've read abuse could be considered malicious desertion and could be grounds for divorce. But I wasn't quite able to determine what exactly was meant by this. I would appreciate some clarification if possible.

Beyond physically deserting a spouse, the Bible does not specifically list other ways in which malicious desertion can take place (I Corinthians 7:15).  As malicious desertion is characterized by sins that are unilateral, willful and permanent, it could take the form of physical or emotional abuse, refusal to have sexual relations with one’s spouse, or refusal to support the spouse financially.  Because of the complexities of relationships, Christian discernment and pastoral counseling are essential when it comes to determining malicious desertion.

I got married a few years back. Well, I got married for all the wrong reasons. I am now in the process of a divorce and my soon to be ex was very abusive: very, very controlling. He had raped me numerous times in our marriage. I finally had it. I have continued to ask for forgiveness. I know God has forgiven me. But I know in the Catholic church divorce is looked down on highly. My dad was kicked out of the Catholic church for divorce. So my question is.... what is your view on divorce? I am going to make a better choice in my next marriage because seeing that my ex wants nothing to do with my daughter is hard on me. Even though my mom helps, it's still hard. So seeing the circumstances, what would be your answer, and what is your view on divorce?

I am truly sorry to hear about the abusive situation you experienced.  Hopefully you are talking to trusted counselors about your family life.

As you asked about church body’s view on divorce, I can pass along this statement that you will find elsewhere on this website:  “The Bible and Lutherans teach that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It is a partnership in which the man is the loving head. Marriage is established by God. It is a holy relationship not to be broken. A married person sins if he or she divorces without a biblical reason. Before God, no divorce is valid except in cases of fornication or desertion. The tendency to consider marriage as unimportant results in great harm to the family, the church, and the nation.  Genesis 2:18; Ephesians 5:24,25; Hebrews 13:4; Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15; Psalm 51:10”

God help you to find healing and strength through the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.

My wife is seeking a divorce from me because she believes I'm abusive. She looked for advice from the pastor who directed her to our counselor. The counselor told her that divorce is the path she should take. Obviously there are more details to the whole situation, but is divorce the right step in this case?

I am not able to answer your question because, as you indicated, there are “more details to the whole situation.”  Malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15) can take the form of abusive behavior.  Your pastor is best suited to answer your question.  More than that, he is in a position to minister to you and your wife—using God’s law to expose sin and using God’s gospel to bring the comfort of the forgiveness of sins when sins are confessed.  I pray that God will bring help and healing to you and your wife.

My fiance and I are due to be married next year and while we were planning we realized we were going to have too many guests for his home church. I am not WELS but I have no objection to being WELS. My home church is the First Congregational Church of Christ and is very big and would fit all of our guests and is in a location that all of our family could get to. My soon to be husband wants his WELS pastor to officiate so I was wondering if he would marry us in a different church. This has nothing to do with switching religions, just a place for our ceremony.

You will want to ask your fiance’s pastor that question.  Officiating at a wedding in a rented facility, even another church, does not in and of itself violate scriptural fellowship principles.  Including officiants and/or worship leaders from that church would violate scriptural fellowship principles (Romans 16:17).  Do talk with your fiance’s pastor.  He will also be glad to explain to you the doctrinal differences between your church and your fiance’s church.

Abuse was mentioned in my mother's church sermon as grounds for divorce. This brought up a discussion in our family of what are the biblical grounds for divorce. I read most of the Q and A under divorce and found that "malicious" desertion could be grounds. But I wasn't quite able to determine what exactly was meant by this. I would appreciate some clarification if possible. I thoroughly enjoy your magazine and read it cover to cover each issue. By the way, did you know that another church body has a magazine called Forward in Christ? I Googled Forward in Christ and was surprised to learn it wasn't the WELS version.

Beyond physically deserting a spouse, the Bible does not specifically list other ways in which malicious desertion can take place (I Corinthians 7:15).  As malicious desertion is characterized by sins that are unilateral, willful and permanent, it could take the form of physical or emotional abuse, refusal to have sexual relations with one’s spouse, or refusal to support the spouse financially.  Because of the complexities of relationships, Christian discernment and pastoral counseling are essential when it comes to determining malicious desertion.

I’m glad to hear of your enjoyment of Forward in Christ.  Yes, there is another magazine by the same title.  And, as you noticed, there is no connection between the two.

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