The SBJT Forum: Issues Relating to the Family -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: The SBJT Forum: Issues Relating to the Family
Author: Anonymous

The SBJT Forum:
Issues Relating to the Family

Editor’s note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. D. A. Carson, C. Ben Mitchell, Bruce A. Ware and Russell D. Moore have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. The journal’s goal for the Forum is to provide significant thinkers’ views on topics of interest without requiring lengthy articles from these heavily-committed individuals. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.

SBJT: To handle certain categories of divorce and remarriage cases within the congregation, some churches have established a kind of “ecclesiastical court.” What biblical warrant, if any, exists for this practice?

D. A. Carson: For some people, the expression “ecclesiastical court” may be a little off-putting. It may conjure up images of the Inquisition, or at very least of a room full of black-robed, foul-tempered, rule-driven hypocrites, untouched by the mellowing influence of human compassion.

Rightly understood, however, the notion of an ecclesiastical court may be rather helpful. In some parts of the English- speaking world, a “court” is any group that gives a considered judgment on some matter within their purview. In such contexts, Christians sometimes speak of the “Deacons’ Court” or the “Elders’ Court.” All they mean by the latter, for instance, is that the group of elders (pastors) in some church or other gives rulings on matters within the sphere of their responsibility. For instance, a church that practices church discipline must have some mechanism by which a decision is made as to whether or not some brother or sister should be taken before the entire body to be excommunicated (as in the terrible situation described in 1 Corinthians 5).

How does this apply to the matter of divorce and remarriage? It applies in at least two ways. Most Christians hold that divorce, although always a sign of marital failure and therefore something that God hates in principle, is concessively permitted under certain circumstances that (they believe) the Bible spells out. A slightly smaller number of Christians, but probably a majority, also hold that remarriage under those circumstances is also permitted. Inevitably, difficult judgments arise as to whether or not a particular case falls within the defined bounds. Who makes this decision? Should it not be the spiritual leadership of the church, i.e., those primarily charged with teaching and upholding the Scriptures—those very Scriptures from which our understanding of these matters derives? And hence, we appeal to the elders’ court (or, m...

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