Can the congregation handle divorce?

Recently, in discussing a lesson on 1 Corinthians chapter 6 with a group of believers, I asked whether anyone had every sued anyone else in court. I was met with blank stares and head-shaking. I asked whether anyone had been sued. Blank stares and head-shaking. Then I asked whether anyone knew anyone who claimed the name of Christ and who had sued or been sued. Even blanker stares and shakier head-shaking.

We discussed Paul’s admonition that believers should not take their cases before pagan courts and judges, and that God equips congregations with people who are fully capable to decide disputes, citing the example of Moses and Paul’s suggestions that believers will judge both the world and angels.

At this point, my group agreed in principle, but was largely at a loss for concrete examples, from their own experience, of believer suing believer.

Then I explained that divorce is a lawsuit.

There was neither blank stares nor head-shaking. Glazed eyes, perhaps.

When confronted with the truth that believers’ disputes should be settled within the congregation, most of us can grasp the application of that truth to one believer’s claim that another believer used bad concrete to pave his driveway.

But our proverbial head explodes when attempting to apply biblical truth to the settling of divorce disputes, and we suppose that such matters should be left to “experts”. It is true that divorce poses thorny and difficult legal questions, the implications of which must meet with standards set by the state. If a congregation were to decide the issues involved in divorce, the resolution should be reviewed by an attorney and submitted to him for appropriate court filings.

Yet why should the congregation — the believers involved in divorce — immediately vault over the wisdom of the church in favor of the “pagan” court? Biblical marriage is an inherently spiritual issue, and the severing of it — whether on biblical grounds or without them — involves serious spiritual issues. Civil courts care nothing about those spiritual issues.

Congregations should certainly be involved in such discipleship that allows it to detect coming marital problems and head them off before it ends in divorce. But if that effort fails, and divorce is inevitable, who better than the church to preside over the issue and demonstrate the grace and peace of God as much as possible in that situation?

Every congregation of Christ-followers whould be willing to address martial problems before they end in divorce. But they should also be prepared to handle the divorce itself, and not to rely upon pagan courts to resolve spiritual disputes.

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