Always Reforming: Divorce and Halloween

Two events in the life of our church passed by this week, that are deeply connected, though not at all on the surface: the introduction of a “white paper” by our elders, on our changed understanding of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, and Halloween. Divorce and Halloween?

Yes, when we consider what Christians were experiencing on October 31st, 500 years ago. It had been exactly 1 year since Martin Luther unwittingly launched the Reformation. The Bible had been “completed” for around 1400 years; the church had overcome the Roman empire; and Christianity was the dominant religion in the world. And yet, there had been drift, corruption, and forgetting. The church needed to grow in the truth. 

That is not to say that the truth was or is changing or malleable - not at all. But Christians needed a changed, clearer view of the truth. The analogy is the sun and the clouds: we say “the sun is getting brighter”, but in reality, the sun is always bright. We mean that our view is getting clearer, because the clouds are clearing. So it goes with the unchanging truth: Christians needed to clear away some obstacles to seeing it more clearly. 

This was true even after the Reformation. Our fathers in the faith wrestled for long periods over the nature of such matters as communion and baptism. We take for granted our understanding of these issues, but our knowledge stands on their controversy-burdened shoulders. 

In 1517, one indicator that reformation was needed, was how real people - especially women - were affected by others’ “being biblical”. Before the Reformation (and after), Rome was full of brothels, some reserved for visiting priests. All excused by Catholic dogma. That’s a more extreme issue than the one we faced in our discussions about divorce and remarriage, but it illustrates this point: when one’s following of one biblical doctrine appears to cause one to be unbiblical in another - take for instance Micah 6:8 - when in the course of being “biblical” one becomes unjust, unkind and arrogant, it befits us to take another look at whether we were ‘biblical’ in the first place.

Since the Reformation, Christians have always been reforming. It is hubris to say that the theologizing of the present-day American church is perfectly calibrated with the truth. The truth is still the truth. But “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now [we] know in part; then [we] shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)