This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What is the Assemblies of God’s position on divorce and remarriage?
To understand the church’s view of divorce one must first understand its position on marriage. The Assemblies of God believes marriage is a sacred, holy and monogamous union between a man and a woman. It involves a lifelong covenant, a solemn, purposeful, willful, binding agreement made before God, a man, and a woman [(Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:14) ].
Because marriage forms the foundational element for a healthy society, the church believes low marriage standards are hurtful to individuals, to the family, and to the cause of Christ. Yet the prevalence of divorce in our culture demands that the church deal with this tragic issue.
Divorce. The Assemblies of God discourages divorce with strong teaching on the sanctity and permanence of marriage. This stand is obviously more stringent than the permissive attitude of society in general and the judicial system's interpretation of the laws of the land. The strong feeling of the church against divorce grows out of the clear statement in the Bible that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and that no human being should separate two persons joined together in holy matrimony (Matthew 19:6). Yet the reality of divorce forces the church to draw from Scripture guidelines for instances when God's ideal is not maintained.
Scripture regulates divorce as it pertains to Christians by providing guidelines for two separate groups: marriages in which both partners are Christians; and marriages where only one spouse is a Christian. In the first case, where both husband and wife are professing Christians, neither party is ever to seek a divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11). In the second case (the mixed marriage) the Christian husband or wife should never initiate or seek a divorce from an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). There are only two exceptions that allow for this initiative. A Christian may divorce a spouse only when his/her partner is repeatedly committing the sin of adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9), or if the spouse refuses to live with him/her and departs (abandonment) (1 Corinthians 7:15). Both exceptions present the believer with an option; but never a mandate. A better course whenever grace enables it is to forgive marital infidelity and seek healing in the marriage. This choice is especially desirable in cases where children would be further hurt and the family destroyed through divorce. Abandonment (a long-term physical withdrawal from the home with neglect of the responsibilities, support, and duties required of one partner within a marriage) would also prove the spouse's sinful conduct and could eventually allow for divorce.
Abuse poses another threat to marriages. Thousands of women and in some cases men face serious battering and other forms of abuse from their spouses. God is concerned with the physical safety and well-being of all. He does not look lightly upon such actions within marriage or families. In such circumstances a period of separation without divorce may be justified and useful for the healing of persons. If after serious attempts of counseling and reconciliation the abusing spouse departs (abandonment) rather than turning from actions of abuse, 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 permitting divorce would possibly apply.
Remarriage. If there are biblical grounds that permit divorce, does that also justify remarriage? Though Old Testament Law permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), it placed limits on remarriage by prohibiting husbands from remarrying their former wives whom they had divorced. In a second marriage the wife was bound to the new marriage covenant. After forming the second marriage covenant she was not to go back to her first husband. The teaching of Jesus seems even more restrictive. He forbade the remarriage of divorced persons, condemning such as an act of adultery (Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18). By remarrying, the divorced person commits adultery and also causes the new partner to commit adultery. Jesus, however, made one exception to this rule: marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 5:32, 19:9).
Under what conditions then may remarriage take place? Jesus taught that if a divorce occurs under a biblical exception as stated earlier, one is free to remarry. In other words, one who has been divorced because of the repeated adultery of a partner (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) is not bound by the former marriage and is free to remarry. The exception clause ("except for marital unfaithfulness") refers to a continuing lifestyle of sexual immorality, not necessarily a single act. Wherever possible, sexually immoral practices should be dealt with through repentance, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation, thus saving the marriage. In no case does Jesus command divorce when unfaithfulness has occurred; He simply allows it. Nor did Jesus command remarriage when divorce has occurred. However, from Matthew 19:9 it seems that Jesus understood that the divorced will often remarry. Remarriage, like the first marriage, should be "in the Lord" (with a Christian).
The second exception for the remarriage of a divorced person is found in 1 Corinthians 7:15. When an unbelieving spouse is unwilling to remain in the marriage and initiates a divorce, the believer is set free from the marriage and can remarry if he or she so chooses without committing adultery.
Where these exceptional circumstances exist, the question of remarriage must be resolved by the believer as he or she walks in the light of God's Word (1 Corinthians 7:15,27,28). Remarriage is a new contract or covenant. Even though the first covenant, because of sin, did not endure, the new covenant must be treated with all the love, commitment, and permanence the first marriage contract should have received.
At times, the primary victims of divorce and remarriage (those abandoned and abused) have been treated as outcasts in the church. However those who have gone through divorce, and in some cases remarriage, are persons God loves deeply. He does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11, James 2:1). The church must receive with love and compassion all who are repentant and desire to follow Christ. For this reason, membership in an Assemblies of God church is open to everyone. There is only one exception. In no case should a person living with a member of the opposite sex (without actually being married) be accepted into membership. Such living arrangements are sinful in practice and unacceptable to God as they lack the seal of lifelong commitment before God and as such constitute fornication. Couples living together, but unmarried should be instructed in the Bible’s teaching on marriage and guided to observe God’s law in forming a monogamous lifelong marriage covenant in Him.
Children are greatly victimized by the wake of divorce. All too often a parent or parents who pursue divorce become so embroiled in meeting their own perceived personal needs, they never stop to consider the full impact of their actions on their children. To children, divorce brings great emotional trauma. The fallout is felt for years and in some cases a lifetime. Persons who find themselves contemplating divorce would do well to consider the full implications of such an action and its impact on children, extended family, and friends. The church is called to reach out to all who are hurt and love them as Jesus does...especially the children (Matthew 18:1-6).
Another concern has to do with the effect of divorce and remarriage upon the qualifications of those who would serve as pastors, ministers, elders, and deacons. Leaders are held to a high biblical standard. They are to conform to the requirement that they shall be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2,12). Some have interpreted this phrase to mean the spiritual leader should not be a polygamist. But polygamy (marriage to multiple partners at the same time) was not practiced by first-century Jews or Christians, thereby eliminating this argument as a possible context for the apostle Paul’s admonition. The Assemblies of God believes pastors and church leaders, should be those who have not been the guilty party in initiating a divorce. In situations where ministers are the unwilling recipients of divorce they are not to remarry because of their role as moral examples.
Though the remarriage of divorced persons is called an act of adultery by Jesus, this does not mean that the remarried persons are living in a state of perpetual adultery. Persons who have remarried and now understand God’s truth should be led to repentance for that sin and into a clear pattern of thinking about what the scripture teaches. They are not to divorce and return to their former marriages. Further divorce is a confusion of grace. Nothing is gained by committing another mistake in an attempt to rectify a previous sin. Furthermore, the Old Testament forbade a divorced and remarried partner from returning to the original partner (Deuteronomy 24:4). The divorced and remarried, no matter how grievous their past sin or faults, upon genuine repentance can be forgiven and restored to function in truth and integrity as part of God’s family.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The delineation of this position is found in the Assemblies of God position paper, "Divorce and Remarriage " approved by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, August 1973.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.