Going Through Old Things I Wrote

August 30, 2023 Mario Villella Discipleship

I was recently going through some old documents on my computer and found a couple of things that I wrote a while back but never released publicly. One of them is an article about a Christian view on the topic of mental illness that I wrote a couple of years ago. I recently re-read it and am not sure why I never published it in a church newsletter. So, I’ll probably send that one out sometime soon.
Additionally, I found this list (below) of thoughts that I had about church discipline cases that involve divorce. I wrote it in preparation for an elder meeting where we were discussing the topic, but I now think there’s no reason not to share the thoughts with you all. In fact, I think it might be good to share them now, as people can know that I did not write this recently in reaction to anything that just happened in this month, or even in 2023. These kinds of thoughts go through my mind when I hear about professing Christians considering divorce.

  1. 1. Divorce is a sin (see Mark 10:2-12.) So, the church cannot sit idly by when one of their own premeditates to do it.

  2. 2. Some divorces involve the sin of both spouses. When a husband and wife mutually give up on a marriage, they are both committing this sin.

  3. 3. However, some divorces may involve the sin of only one spouse.When a husband cheats on his wife (or vice versa) or when a husband walks out the door and abandons his wife (or vice versa) it could very well be that the other spouse is innocent and is not committing the sin of divorce. (See Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-15.)

  4. 4. There are no other reasons specified in Scripture (other than the two listed above: adultery and abandonment) where a person is said to be free of their marriage commitment and therefore free to divorce and remarry. It is only implied in Matthew 19:9 for adultery, and it is explicitly stated for the case of abandonment in 1 Corinthians 7:15. The historic protestant view is that these are the two reasons where a Christian could be free (from God’s perspective) from their marriage vows.

  5. 5. 1 Corinthians 7:11 seems to imply that there might be other occasions (other than abandonment and adultery) where a separation (even a long-term one) is permissible. Perhaps physical abuse would be an example of a good reason for this kind of separation. However, even in this case, 1 Corinthians does not give a full-on “get a divorce and be free to remarry” ticket, but rather expects the person to either reconcile or remain single.

  6. 6. In the case of people planning to divorce for neither of the above reasons, the church is to try to talk the person out of it, over and over again. If ultimately unsuccessful, the church is to remove the person(s) from the congregation and not associate with the person(s) socially (See Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.)

  7. 7. I have personally witnessed multiple occasions where Christians were on the verge of divorce, but then were talked out of it(sometimes even because of the threat of excommunication) and they are now happy/thankful that other Christians put obstacles in their way on the road to divorce.

  8. 8. Sometimes people might ask: “Why would this particular sin necessitate an excommunication when so many other sins don’t? I mean, Sylvia was rude to me in the hallway last week; why not kick her out?” This is a very good question that will be addressed in the next two points.

  9. 9. One reason has to do with repentance vs. non-repentance. Sylvia can and should repent (turn the other direction) and stop being rude in the hallway. If she does repent, there is no reason for church discipline. However, if Sylvia continues to say: “I’ll talk to the people in the hallway however I please! In fact, I’ll shove people out of my way if I need to!” then Sylvia should be subject to the same measures as the divorcers – multiple conversations aiming at repentance, and if ultimately unsuccessful, an excommunication. In that sense, the two sins would be no different.

  10. 10. However, there are some sins that cannot be handled relationally or institutionally. This is especially true regarding sins of the mind. Churches typically cannot discipline their members for the sins of envy, lust, or bitterness. And it’s not because these aren’t sins; they certainly are. But the sinner can easily deny them. And since they take place in the Christian’s mind, they cannot be confirmed by two or more witnesses like Jesus required for church discipline (see Matthew 18:16.) This doesn’t mean envy, lust, and bitterness aren’t seriously tragic sins. It just means that God will have to deal with them, because the church cannot. The church can only handle more obvious public sins like divorce, heresy, transgenderism, living with your boyfriend/girlfriend, routine intoxication, taking a job at a strip club, etc.

That is where the original document that I wrote ended. But I didn’t want this article to end with the words “strip club, etc.” So, I figured I need a concluding paragraph or two.
So, let me say this: the above list is very matter-of-fact. I like it because it concisely covers a lot of practical and theological ground. However, If I were personally meeting with someone who was struggling in their marriage, I would not simply list these things aloud like some kind of morality robot. These are things that may come up over multiple meetings along with a lot of other discussion and prayer. Nonetheless, I do believe that we as a church need to remember that divorce is truly a problem in the Christian community (because Jesus forbids it in many cases) and that church discipline is a real responsibility that we cannot shirk just because it is uncomfortable in our culture. I hope this list is helpful to you as you think through this important topic.
Lastly, if most of this is brand new to you – meaning, you didn’t know divorce was a sin and/or you’ve never heard of church discipline, feel free to listen to these sermons to catch up:
Postscript: this was written about divorces that are 'in-process' and wasn't meant to be applied to divorces from years ago. If you are a regular at Good News, you don't have to keep your first marriage a secret from us. That divorce that you went through years ago may or may not have involved sin on your part, but that isn't anything that we can address now, after the fact. What's done is done - especially if you've already remarried. (We don't believe God commands people to divorce their second spouse in order to remarry their first one. In fact, that second divorce would simply be an additional sin.) The main point of this article is to help prevent sins that are forming right now. It was not meant to shame people for sins they may have committed years ago, if they have now repented of them.
The person who wrote this article. Find out more information about them below.
Mario Villella

Lead Pastor / Elder

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