Bethlehem Blogs

December 13, 2018

Questions & Answers About Bethlehem's Relational Commitments and Proposed Changes

Brian Tabb

Elder; Academic Dean, Bethlehem College & Seminary

Bethlehem members have raised a number of excellent questions about our churchs Relational Commitments and the elders recommended revisions. We hope that this FAQ will help you prepare to vote on these proposed changes at the Annual Meeting this Sunday, December 16, at 5pm at the Downtown Campus.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Relational Commitments?

The Relational Commitments are designed to promote God-honoring authentic relationships among Bethlehem church members and to protect and preserve our community of faith. They address important relational issues, such as peacemaking and reconciliation, marriage and divorce, protecting children from abuse, counseling and confidentiality, and mutual accountability. The church adopted these Commitments in July 2008 and amended them in October 2009. The Church Covenant and Bylaws refer to these Relational Commitments.

Why are the elders proposing changes to the Relational Commitments?

For many years, the elders have held different positions concerning what the Bible teaches concerning the legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage. Over the past two years, the elders have spent considerable time studying and discussing the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage to pursue greater clarity and unity on these matters. At the July 21, 2018, Elder Retreat and the October 2, 2018, All Elder Meeting, the elders approved recommended changes to the “Commitment to Preserving Marriages.” The elders intend these proposed changes to make this section more aligned with biblical teaching and more functional and accessible as a governing document and as a shepherding document.  

What are the key proposed changes?

The proposed changes would streamline the guidelines regarding divorce and remarriage from nine guidelines to six, eliminate redundancy, improve clarity and readability, and conform this section to the style and length of the other Relational Commitments (from 1,600 words to ~1,000 words). The key changes include (1) revising guideline #3, which presents biblical grounds for divorce, and (2) removing guideline #8, which prohibits persons remarried after divorce from serving as pastors/elders and deacons of Bethlehem.

What does “abandoning the other spouse” mean in the proposed guideline #3?

The primary biblical basis for permitting divorce on the basis of “abandonment” or “desertion” is 1 Corinthians 7:15 (“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so…”). In his sermon “Divorce and Remarriage,” Pastor Jason Meyer argued that we should read 1 Corinthians 7 against the backdrop of Exodus 21:10–11, which protects the marital rights and physical needs of a vulnerable spouse. Abandonment is covenant-breaking behavior that directly and decisively attacks the essence of the marriage union. Abandonment includes spatial or physical separation where one spouse deserts the other. It also may include some abusive marriage conditions where one spouse is actively harming or endangering the other. As in matters of church discipline, determining whether one spouse has broken the marriage covenant by abandoning the other spouse requires wisdom and care.

Why do the elders recommend removing the guideline, “Persons remarried after divorce will forego positions of official leadership at Bethlehem called elder/pastor and deacon [1 Timothy 3:212])”?

The elders recommend this change for two reasons:

  • There are different interpretations of the phrase “the husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12. The current wording of guideline #8 reflects one view held by a few elders: “the husband of one wife” means that a man has never divorced his wife and has not married someone who has been divorced. However, a majority of the elders and most biblical commentators interpret “the husband of one wife” to mean that a man is “faithful to his wife” (as in the NIV translation). Thus, the recommendation to remove this guideline better reflects the diversity of views on the elder council about how to interpret 1 Timothy 3 rather than making the minority interpretation of “the husband of one wife” the official governing position of the church.
  • The Bylaws elsewhere clearly set forth the qualifications for elders and deacons and reference 1 Timothy 3 and other texts for support (see Article II, “Church Government”). The Relational Commitments focus on relational issues between church members, not qualifications for church leaders.

It is important to note that removing this guideline does not obligate anyone to vote for an elder candidate who has been divorced and remarried. The elders and church members should exercise wisdom and discernment when considering whether a candidate for church office is above reproach and meets the biblical qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Where do I go to understand more about the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce and the proposed changes?

Pastor Jason Meyer preached a five-part sermon series in Fall 2018 that expounds key biblical texts and discusses the proposed changes. These sermons are available on the church’s website:

Do you have further questions?

If you have remaining questions about these updates to our Relational Commitments, please submit them to Pastor Jason Meyer’s assistant, Jake Wood.

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