Christians, divorce, and church discipline

What has church discipline got to do with divorce? If you are a Christian, depending on the tradition that you come from, there may be a practice of church discipline. From the outside looking in, the church may or may not have a good reputation for doing well with this practice. The basic idea is actually to extend as much opportunity as reasonable and safe for grace.
The whole theme of Matthew 18 as a chapter is forgiveness. There is one part of Matthew 18 that describes church discipline. Or the mechanism for excommunication if excommunication is to happen. It goes like this:
  1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, and if he repents, then you have gained your brother.
  2. If he does not repent, then go to him with two or three witnesses.
  3. If he still does not repent, then tell the church leadership.
  4. If he still does not repent, then let him be to you as a non-believer.
I say that if this would apply to any brother or sister in the faith, then why would you not apply this in marriage. It seems like if you apply it at this low level, why would you not do the same thing in marriage, for the major offenses.
You’re not going to go through a church discipline process every time your husband leaves his socks on the floor. Or every time your wife gives you a look that means you’re in trouble. Those are part of life, those happen. But for the major offenses: abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction. If it is safe to do so, then going through the church discipline process may be appropriate. (In the case of abuse it may not be safe to do so).
I imagine that would be different than what people in struggling marriages have experienced for the last 50 or 60 years from the Church. It would be interesting.
Now, what that would look like in your church, in your context, really depends on several things:
  1. Your theological structure,
  2. your church tradition,
  3. the leadership structure of your church,
  4. and then the particular practice of your church.
This may or may not work. But if you want to get support from your church to save your marriage, this might be something to consider.

By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling