What is the CRC Position on Divorce and Remarriage?

What is the Christian Reformed Church’s position on divorce and remarriage? Can someone who is divorced and remarried serve as an elder?

For many years the CRC operated with an “innocent party” or “guilty party” approach to divorce and remarriage. After repeatedly trying to come up with a comprehensive moral framework for assessing what is a “biblical divorce,” Synod pivoted in 1980 to a different approach. First, it rejected the language of “innocent party,” “guilty party,” and “biblical divorce.” Rather, it stated, “although the Scripture speaks clearly in terms of principles regarding divorce and remarriage, it is neither possible nor wise for the church to attempt to construct a legal code which would cover all cases or all the circumstances that would apply.” Second, it located primary responsibility for pastoral care and possible discipline not with synod, but with the local consistory, “for it has the most intimate and accurate knowledge of the situation of divorce and contemplated remarriage.” And the report warned that the church must be cautious in making judgments, saying the church must “speak with clarity where sinful conduct is overt and apparent,” but immediately adding: “However, recognizing the limits of human ability to discern the subtlety and intricacy of human motivation, the church must recognize the limits of its ability to assess guilt and blame in the intimate and private turmoil of marital distress.”

Today the CRC still considers divorce to be against God’s Word and God’s intent for marriage but recognizes that sometimes divorce occurs in this broken world, and local elders can best determine when discipline is appropriate, working pastorally with the individuals involved in each situation.

So, a divorced and remarried person can serve as an elder. Many have served well, also as deacons and ministers. In each case, the church council needs to discern whether there is repentance and forgiveness, who has suitable gifts to serve in a leadership role, and who can best serve in the offices of the church at a given time. But as long as they are confessing members in good standing, these persons are eligible for office and can be nominated by the council and elected by the congregation.

About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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