Unduly joining together–comments on Heth and Wenham

“What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Let it not be! We who died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

“For certain men stole in, those of old having been written before to this judgment, ungodly ones perverting the grace of our God into unbridled lust, and denying the only Master, God, even our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).

The following quotes are from Gordon J. Wenham’s & William E. Heth’s, Jesus And Divorce (my comments interspersed):

“Some of the precepts of Scripture are difficult to accept and often make the Christian uncomfortable as he considers the implications of these teachings for his own life and the lives of those to whom he ministers. This is certainly true with respect to the conclusions we have reached in this study. One of the most difficult problems facing a minister of the Gospel is  counselling [sic] the divorced and those already remarried. How does one move from a careful exegesis of the relevant texts to the heartbreaking problems of those who seek his counsel in this matter? Carefully exegeting the texts is one thing, but the manner in which God’s word is conveyed to believers facing divorce and the issue of remarriage is quite another.”

The Biblical teaching that remarriage while the previous spouse still lives is adultery, is one thing; but whether or not any professing Christians will obey the message conveyed is quite another.

“There are ethical problems involved, certainly, but there are also standards involved for those who by faith desire to be Christ’s disciples and experience His joy in fullest measure (John 14:20; 15:1-11; 17:13). Jesus’ disciples did object to His firm stand on divorce and remarriage. They said, ‘If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry’ (Matt. 19:10). This attitude makes the attractiveness of marriage contingent upon the possibility of divorce and remarriage to another. The disciples had an anthropocentric outlook. They felt that their designs for their own ‘well-being’ had to be better that their Creator’s design just communicated to them via the Messiah Himself. But remarriage was clearly not better for them in His teaching. He said it was adultery.”

The disciples, initially, did not like the implications of this teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. For if the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, then you might as well never get married (i.e., remain a eunuch perpetually) since you will end up being a eunuch anyways if your wife commits adultery against you. You will be the innocent party who Jesus said would be “caused to commit adultery” if you remarried. And so the options in this case, are either committing adultery or the obedient commitment to a life of “eunuchcy.”

“Jesus then responded to their objections: ‘Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.’ This does not mean that Jesus’ standard for the marriage relationship applies to some Christians but not to all Christians. ‘Those to whom it has been given’ are Jesus’ disciples, the ones to whom He granted the knowledge of ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 13:11 = Mark 4:11, cf. vv. 33-4). All who would be Christ’s disciples are called to this standard of marriage just as they are called to lay down their lives for their friends (John 15:13); to cut off hand and foot and pluck out their eye to avoid sin (Matt. 5:29-30); to take up their cross, which is God’s will for their life, and follow Christ no matter what it may cost (Mark 8:34); and to believe that ‘whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it’ (Matt. 16:25). Though the standards appear to be impossible our Lord would say to us, ‘With God all things are possible’ (Matt. 19:26). He calls each of His disciples to a life of grace and faithful dependence upon Him so that He might bring about His own image in us whether He uses a good marriage or a broken marriage…”

Multitudes of professing Christians are extremely desirous to save their adulterous lives, and so they shall lose it at the judgment if they be reprobates.  But if the aforementioned adulterers be unsaved elect, then God will cause them to repent and believe in due season.

As you’ll see below, Heth and Wenham believe that God can use a “broken” (some of which are adulterous) marriage as a way to bring “His own image.”  And thus, according to Heth and Wenham, an adulterous marriage is not a marriage that should be repented from, but rather one in which they continue to live “a life of grace and faithful dependence upon Him.”

“Those couples who have already remarried after divorce may be wondering how their situation fits into all of this. We believe that you should see that your present marriage is now God’s will for you. You should seek to be the best husband or wife you can be, rendering to each other your full marital duty. If you come to the realisation [sic] that Jesus calls remarriage after divorce the sin of adultery, then call sin ‘sin’ rather than seek to justify what you have done. We believe this will bring great freedom to your marriage and will break down barriers to ministry you may have encountered before. As one divorced and remarried couple responded to the apologetic attitude of the dean of a Bible Institute as he explained their policy of not granting degrees to those who remarry after divorce: ‘Don’t apologize for your policy. We know now that we have done is wrong; but that isn’t going to keep us from preparing to serve the Lord as best as we possibly can.'”

Heth and Wenham tell those couples who are living in the sin of adultery to realize that this is “now God’s will” for them. They are obviously not talking about God’s decretive will. They mean that a life that is characterized by the sin of adultery is now God’s preceptive will for them. Heth and Wenham have admitted that this marriage is adultery. And at the time of the writing of this book (1984), both of them disagreed with the Westminster Confession of Faith, and so they do not buy the Westminster devil’s “as if dead” distinction. Instead of calling adulterers and adulteresses to repentance and faith, they simply call them instead, to be the best adulterers and adulteresses they can be. “Okay, so you’re living in adultery; the least you can do is be faithful to one another in your adultery.” How vile and repugnant is that advice?

And of course, on Hethonian and Wehamian terms, who cares if they call sin ‘sin.’ Who cares if they seek to justify this sin of adultery or not? For whether they own up and say “sorry” or not, they can still continue to live a life characterized by the blatantly immoral sin of adultery. All you people out there living in adulterous relationships just need to say you’re sorry — but don’t change a thing. Likewise, those ministers of Satan counseling people in adulterous relationships need not worry about Biblical repentance — all you need to do is get them to say they’re sorry; not only will this bring great “freedom” for their adulterous marriage, but it will “break down barriers to ministry you may have encountered before.”

“We also have theological reasons for believing that maintaining your present marriage will accomplish the greatest good.”

Sure. If you first reject the Bible and buy into pernicious pragmatism. Heth and Wenham already admitted the Biblical fact that this marriage is an adulterous one — but nevertheless they seek some way to justify telling the filthy to remain filthy still.

“First, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 clearly forbids restoration of marriage to a divorced partner after one of the partners has consummated a second marriage. Such a restoration of marriage is called ‘an abomination before the Lord’ (Deut. 24:4). Now according to our understanding, this Deuteronomic regulation is based on the idea that marriage creates a permanent relationship between the spouses –‘the two become one flesh’– a principle endorsed by the New Testament. Ideally, where Jesus’ principles have been understood and obeyed, the situation envisaged by Deuteronomy should never arise for His followers. But where it has arisen and remarriage following divorce has occurred, it would seem wisest to adhere to the Deuteronomic provision. To act otherwise and seek to return to your former partner may or may not succeed, but it will surely bring great grief to your second partner.”

Heth and Wenham have shut a person up to an “either, or” dichotomy — a rock and a hard place, so to speak. It’s either continue in adultery with your second partner, or it’s go back to your former partner and commit an “abomination.” Heth and Wenham would not have you to grieve your poor adulterous mistress, and so they will have you two continue in your unbridled adulterous lusts. In short, it’s an “either, or” false dichotomy since they leave out clearest and wisest option, which is repentance.

“Secondly, all Christians, from the apostle Peter onward, recognise that their past sins have inevitable consequences which we cannot alter. But however blatant our past denials, Christ still offers us forgiveness and the opportunity to love and follow Him in the future” (John 21:15-19).

Are they implying that adultery cannot be altered by a given individual? It seems like it. Heth and Wenham condone and endorse blatant antinomianism by teaching as a true doctrine you indeed must continue in adultery that grace and forgiveness may abound.

“If this study has perturbed you, because of your own past failures or because of the way you have counselled [sic] divorcees, do not forget that Christ came to save sinners. None of us can pretend to be above reproach in the realm of sexual morality when we measure ourselves by our Lord’s standards (Matt. 5:27-30; John 8:1-11). All of us need to claim His daily forgiveness and grace if we are to be transformed into His likeness. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8-9). So let us praise Him for His mercy and dedicate ourselves anew to serve Him more faithfully in the future” (Gordon J. Wenham & William E. Heth, Jesus And Divorce, pp. 199-201).

This last paragraph, in effect, says this: You are not above reproach in the realm of sexual sin and so you had better bite your tongue if you are even thinking about condemning these people as lost adulterers, and us (i.e., Heth and Wenham) as lost for our “charitable judgment” of those who continue in sin that grace may abound.