I noticed last week that a lot of people were coming to this site to look for sermons on last Sunday’s Lectionary Gospel passage of Mark 9:38-50. If people want to find what I have preached in the past on this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage, they may struggle with conventional Google searches. The assigned passage is Mark 10:2-16. However, when I preached on it six years ago, I preached on Mark 10:1-16, because verse 1 makes a significant difference to understanding this difficult passage. So if you want to know what I’ve said on the painful subject of marriage and divorce, you need to go here.
(My last repost in this series. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to tell you what’s been happening.)
“If you get bored, then look at the windows.”
So said our leader at the beginning of a course I attended.
“They are beautiful stained glass, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you find what I say is boring.”
I didn’t need to gaze at the windows. But her self-deprecating comment reminded me of other occasions.
There was my friend Pete, struggling through a boring and lengthy sermon by an earnest and well-intentioned preacher. “I know exactly how many window panes we’ve got in the church,” he told me a few days later.
But there was also the time at college in Manchester. Once a year the college put on a lecture to which old students and friends were invited. A distinguished speaker was always invited. This was my first year. I wasn’t any the wiser.
He was well-known for his views on marriage. We, however, remembered very few of his views from that lecture. His inspiration level was that of window-pane counting.
Except that … we all latched onto one of the things he advocated. He said that given the fragility of marriage today, it should not be viewed as a life-long commitment but as something that should be reviewed by the couple after ten years. More like a fixed-term renewable contract. This was not what we expected to hear from a Christian speaker on the subject.
And so it was that over coffee afterwards, one of the students went around canvassing to start up the college wife-swapping club. He was generous enough even to include the single students.
Christians may be known for sharing (or we should be), but this is not an area to which our generosity is expected to extend. An early Christian leader called Tertullian said, “We share everything except our wives.”
I suppose our distinguished speaker wanted to take seriously the tragedy of relationship breakdown in our society. Being married now to a divorcée myself, I am not without sympathy to that concern.
I know too the statistics that suggest second marriages on average last fewer years than first marriages. I have heard the saying that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.
Yet for all this there is no way I want to model a relationship on the fixed-term renewable contract idea. My understanding of love must come from Jesus, whose love is unconditional, unchanging, and a covenant commitment of faithfulness.
Yes, that means relationships where we burn our bridges. But what kind of love is it that does not have risk and vulnerability at its heart?
I have been sitting on this post for three days. I’ve fiddled with it, wondered whether to publish it, but in the end I’ve decided to go ahead. Feel free to make constructive comments in response.
On Tuesday, Bill Kinnon linked to the latest sign of Todd Bentley’s return to public ministry. He has a new website that is a variation on his old ministry’s name. There is much talk on it of ‘restoration’. To me, it still looks like Bentley is rushing/being rushed (delete as applicable) back into the public arena.
Now I have to say I like the word ‘restoration’ when it comes to church discipline. It is Jesus’ intention. Church discipline is not violent vengeance. The aim is not ultimately to condemn but to bring someone’s life back in order in relation to God and the church. However, if some talk more about discipline than restoration, there is more talk about restoration than discipline on the new site, insofar as I can see. (Do tell me if I am wrong.) Yes, there are passing references to Bentley’s fall and the damage caused, such as in this article. However, it is also peppered with references to Bentley having ‘lingered with the Word Face-to-face’, so he still seems to claim Moses-like stature for his spiritual experiences. And that makes me nervous. Not because I deny the possibility of such experiences, but because it looks like they are being used to validate the spiritual superhero. How can you argue with someone who claims such an experience? It’s the charismatic trump card.
I see the references to having fallen from grace and past mistakes and so on, all on the same page that advertises all sorts of product. Guys I’m sorry, please give me eighteen dollars. What would be ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’, though? Some of it depends on how you weigh the thorny question of divorce and remarriage. I am not an ‘indissolublist’ (one who believes that any subsequent marriage after a divorce while the first spouse is still alive is automatically adulterous, because all marriages last for life whatever happens). I believe that the New Testament exemptions for divorce under certain circumstances only make sense if they end the marriage and leave the wronged partner free. Indeed, that was the position of my own wife when we first met. (See this sermon for an exposition of a relevant passage.)
But to me, I struggle to see how such exemptions could be relevant to someone like Bentley, although if I am right they would be true for his ex-wife Shonnah. From what I know (and I have to acknowledge there may be more that is rightly being kept from the public eye for the sake of Bentley’s children and ex-wife), I would normally expect that the Christian thing for Bentley to do would be to remain celibate. Sex is not a right; it is a gift. The same is true of ministry.
(By the way, I am not alleging that Bentley caused marital breakdown by actual adultery. I do not know, and I do not wish to pry. But what is undisputed is that it was the emotional involvement with another woman, and that has led to a new bond that should not have been made.)
There is an issue of public scandal to be addressed for the sake of public witness. For example, I have seen churches act decisively when scandal has rocked their congregations and their witness in the community. That such churches took action was respected by those non-Christians who had wondered about the standards of the church. Had the church not done so, there would have been a legitimate charge of hypocrisy. I don’t see an equivalent action in this case. Yes, Bentley had to step down from Lakeland immediately. But in only a few months he’s back back back. Is that right?
I am also aware that the ‘mainstream’ Christian Church has not always acted with integrity in this area. I know of an instance where a minister left his wife for another woman, whom he then married, and he was allowed to remain in the ministry. What message that sends to his ex-wife is deeply troubling.
And there is also then everybody else’s situation. None of us is without sin. Who can cast the first stone? If I am not perfect, what sin am I entertaining? How do we distinguish between the struggles we all have and outright flaunting of God’s word? Are there different degrees of sin? These for me are the most difficult questions of all. However, they cannot be used to disallow any possibility of discipline. The same Gospel – Matthew – that says ‘Judge not’ also has the clearest passages on church discipline. People have been clearly wronged. Relationships have been damaged. Injustice has happened here. The Gospel has been brought into disrepute. That must be addressed.
And if I am so imperfect, why even write about this? (I could even be writing for poor motives – like getting more hits for my blog.) That is because this whole sorry saga has unfolded in public and in the light of the massive public claims Bentley and others made about the Lakeland movement and the like, all of which were discredited by the actions of certain ‘apostles’ and Bentley himself. Following that, the restoration process is being played out like a reality TV show on the web. And as I’ve said before, you don’t do pastoral care like that. Right now, you still have to wonder what the motives are for getting Bentley back on platforms so soon. I continue to have some very cynical ideas about why, and I wish I didn’t.
UPDATE, 26th June, 2:00 pm: Maggi Dawn has a post here and she ends with some prescient words:
Rick Joyner’s voice welcomes you to the website, bigging it up with “God mobilising”, at this “strategic time”, “miracle power”, etc etc. There are links galore to Bentley’s teaching, and you can buy his books, and invite him to minister. OK, so allegedly he isn’t actually taking UP any invitations right now, as he is still in a period of “restoration”… still, you don’t launch a new website when you aren’t planning your comeback, do you?
That’s rather how I feel about the invitation/not taking up invitations issue.