A Troubling Situation

Over the past year I have been troubled by a number of occasions of marriage and divorce by people in leadership. One was a renewal leader who was reported to lead gatherings with great healings, signs and wonders. It was discovered that this leader was having an affair with a female worker. A group of leaders sought to intervene, but as reported, the renewal leader was unwilling to break the illicit relationship, divorced and then married the worker. Another prominent leader took him under his wing and restored him to ministry. To my knowledge, there were no biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage.

Today, such a situation is not at all unusual - even in the Messianic Movement. Often the final arbitration in these situations is left to the conscience of the minister. There is no final accountability to a group of senior leaders who are charged with investigating the matter and determining a judgment. Some years ago I wrote the book, Due Process, A Plea for Biblical Justice Among God's People to address these kinds of issues. In this article, I want to revisit some of the most important themes of this book. The Body of Believers is in a crisis of moral failure due to a misunderstanding of the Gospel and of the nature of the covenant community that is to be formed from the preaching of the Gospel.

Rightly Understanding the Gospel of the Kingdom

Sadly, there is still some confusion regarding the Gospel in its full New Testament meaning. The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is the good news that the Kingdom of God has broken into this world. It is the invitation to enter the Kingdom and to live in and from the Kingdom. The way into the Kingdom is through Yeshua, primarily as expressed by baptism in water, where we experience a co-death and resurrection in Him as taught in Galatians 2:20 and Romans 6:11. It is the good news of transformation and the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby we are enabled to be conformed to the image of Yeshua. The parting command of Yeshua in Matthew 28 was that, on the basis of entering the Kingdom, we are to disciple people to obey all of His commandments. We find in the teachings of Yeshua that the standards of the New Covenant are more exacting than in the Mosaic order. This is especially the case with the preclusion or severe limitation of divorce and remarriage in the New Covenant order. Because we are in Yeshua and have the power of the Spirit, this is no longer an option. This is one example of many where the standards of the New Covenant are more demanding.

Entering the Kingdom is expressed by becoming part of Covenant Community. It is not only about a prayer response to Yeshua so we will go to heaven. In the New Covenant Scriptures, New Covenant communities are the primary expression of the Kingdom of God. It is the way we live our lives together - in love, service and integrity, with high moral standards, with healing, signs and wonders in sharing the Gospel - that shows that the Kingdom is here. Wherever people are submitted to the rule of the King, there is the Kingdom. Though the New Covenant community is central to the manifestation of the Kingdom, the Kingdom is to be manifest in all the realms of human life.


By Daniel C. Juster, Director

Mutual Accountability Among Communities

New Covenant communities are linked in mutual support and accountability. We see this in the council that makes a universal decision in Acts 15. We see it in the offerings taken for the needy in the Jerusalem Messianic community. We see it in the apostolic letters that teach and rebuke multiple congregations that are accountable to them. Apostolic leaders tie together cities, believers numbering thousands are overseen by an eldership of the city as reflected in Jerusalem Congregation in Acts and in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2, 3.

Part of covenant community, to which all are called, is to recognize submission to a teaching eldership that is also a judiciary. This is the very meaning of eldership as an office rooted in Israel. The "elders who sat at the gate" were required to adjudicate judicial matters. The eldership is charged with maintaining biblical standards in their communities. This is the sense of Matthew 16 and 18 where Yeshua teaches on the nature of enforcing standards. The Keys of the Kingdom given to Peter and the Apostles is the judicial authority to bind and loose, that is, to forbid and permit behavior. It is the authority of judicial decisions backed by heaven. All members are required to maintain basic standards according to Matthew 18:15 ff and Galatians 6:1,2. We are to correct a brother or sister if they fall into sin. If they do not repent, they are to be removed from the fellowship. This is all part of showing the reality of the Kingdom in our midst. If we do not do this, the power of God will be withdrawn. The blessing of God will be lost to us.

Illegitimate divorce and remarriage is serious sin. Malachi shows God's great hatred of such divorce and the consequences in the removal of His blessing from the corporate community. Because it is essentially covenant breaking and has devastating effects on children, it is worse than many other sins. The marriage covenant should reflect the relationship between Yeshua and His Church. I believe that one who commits such an act can be fully restored to fellowship if there is real repentance and a commitment to give effort to dissuade others from the same sin (this is restitution). However, eldership or significant leadership is forever precluded. One can never fulfill the requirements of a good testimony and marriage to one wife laid out in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

How Moral Violation is to be Handled

The only way such a standard can be enforced is if each local congregation has an eldership that will handle such matters judicially and if all believers understand that they are called to be submitted under such an eldership. In addition, an eldership of the city and inter-congregational accountability structures of eldership are crucial in maintaining standards so that one does not simply gain affirmation by running to another group. All believers should honor eldership judiciaries. This is the standard of the historic churches and the Jewish community. Such a judiciary is not only for divorce and remarriage, but also for all the issues of serious moral violation that require intervention.

We must discover this as a key to the unity for which Yeshua prayed. It is not the only key, but an important one. In addition, it is crucial that we begin to exhort and pray and move the Body to become a real Body manifesting the Kingdom of God and not just collections of individuals that meet in various places. We want the blessing of God and the extension of the Kingdom, not a "religious event" manufacturing corporation. As with the case above, an eldership is needed to judge this matter and to call on others to support the decision. Even an ad hoc eldership would be a great step forward. When we speak about recovering Jewish roots in understanding the Bible, this is a key part of it for the whole Church.

By Daniel Juster

Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

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13:57 07Apr10 The Rev. Dr. Nicholas A. Marziani -
There's an old expression in the church to the effect that when the priest/preacher starts really hitting pastoral paydirt, he's "gone from preaching to medddling". We in the clergy would all laugh a bit at that one and then we'd fall silent as we reflected and realized how disobedient and resistant too many church-folk are to real discipline. Elders/priests as judges? "Oy" comes the cry from the congregation - and I'm talking Yiddish-quoting Gentiles here! We are in a pickle in the Body of the Messiah, aren't we? Lord have mercy!!

14:19 07Apr10 Dr. Varghese L. Mathai -
Excellent article! Although it sounds like a new commandment in the context of Charismatic communities, what Dr. Dan Juster wrote is the very essence of New Covenant teaching in relation to life and relationships in Kingdom living! We can't alter God's commands as expressed on the pages of the New Testament with the majority opinion or preponderance of majority experience. Divorces and remarriages are not the sign of social adjustments based on the New Charismata, but the signs of an adulterous generation who propagate loose doctrines of grace and loose living! Serious repentance and strict measures in the process of restoration are vital and inevitable! Nothing less is an abomination!!!

14:33 07Apr10 Thomas C. Rath -
Ahoy! You have just printed an article about divorce and finally someone in a position of respect is saying what I have been saying all along! Stop it now. Churches that condone this practice are not in accord with scripture and set the worst example for those members who may do the same thing believeing it is all right. Thank you for your boldness in Yesh-a and speaking out.

15:30 07Apr10 Mark McLellan -
Great article, Wow! This is a timely and relevant article which hopefully will stoke the fires of rebuilding the walls of integrity and accountability within the body of Messiah. Thank you!

16:05 07Apr10 Karen C. -
I am please to see you teach this standard of living. It saddens me to see others we expect to hold steady give in to the world view.

16:46 07Apr10 Mitsi Burton -
I agree with you. Some leaders are writing their own gospel and their own laws. They eiher have not understood the Bible or have put it aside. The ministry of deliverance has been thrown out of the church. The consequence is that the body is under the influence of demons starting with the leaders. Once I was delivered from a demon that came from the pastor I then had. May we all repent and seek the deliverance the Messiah Yeshua bought with His blood.

17:14 07Apr10 Gary Parkhurst -
An excellent word my brother. I too have been troubled for some time by the whole issue of divorce in the Church, and especially among leadership. And surely this is one of the major reasons the Kingdom of God is generally so poorly expressed in our assemblies today. I contend our roughly 50% divorce rate (essentially the same as the post-modern culture around us) is directly related to an inadequate understanding of the covenant nature of marriage in the first place.

17:20 07Apr10 Tom -
The words "Disciple" and "discipline" come from the same root. Clearly, there can be NO Disciples where there is no discipline. The rules of marriage and divorce are direct and clear. If they insist on divorce, they must REMAIN divorced AND CELIBATE. No other Body of Believers can "take pity" on them and "restore" them to fellowship; that would be approval of a heinous sin. I've watched this all my life. It will NEVER get better; there will never be discipline until there is discipline! It will NEVER develop "gradually", it can't be imposed "gradually", it has to happen in a moment! Let those who walk away, walk away. If the Leadership will not stand on principle, who will? Certainly not those they lead! Congregations that insist on Proper Biblical discipline always lose members at the outset, but then begin to grow and become STRENGTHENED specificially because they stand on Principle and insist on disciplined conduct within the Community of Believers. JUST DO IT! There's no other way.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Indeed disciple and discipline are one.

18:32 07Apr10 Marika Kern -
AMEN AND AMEN to your article. I belong to such a congregation you describe, and thank God for it.

18:34 07Apr10 LAnderson -
What a good word. I find it so refreshing to hear you speak with conviction by telling straight up what the Bible says in matters such as this. I am filled with disgust at how these so-called "leaders" who are full of themselves and not full of the Holy Spirit who purposely and with intent and with their eyes wide open turn to willfull sin like adultery, divorce and remarriage, and then after all of that, think they should be able to minister from the pulpit and carry on just as if they did nothing wrong. And equally disgusting are the ones who "restore" them believing these immoral characters should be back in ministry. How can they be so blind? I personally know too many of this type of men who have been in ministry and failed morally. They didn't fail morally because the devil made them do it, they failed morally because they spent more time with the other woman than they spent in the Word learning the standards of scripture. I agree with you; make sure there is true repentance so they can be restored to fellowship, but don't let them get back into the pulpit. They have disqualified themselves. Thank you Dan Juster for saying what needs to be said.

19:30 07Apr10 anonymous -
Thank you for this short excerpt on the Kingdom of God and how it is to be established and manifested to the world. It is so refreshing to hear someone speak on this issue with the authority of Scripture. A number of us are hungry for this "living out the gospel" to begin. I agree that the covenant of marriage should be taught and lived out. The consequences of not abiding by the Lord's principles also should be taught and practiced.

19:46 07Apr10 Liz Rhodes -
Yes and amen! Covenant has come to mean so little. From marriage to the church/ecclesia as a covenant community. People don't realize the power in covenant relationship. Love the meaning of "binding and loosing". Didn't realize it was a judicial term. There's a great weight of authority with it than I first realized.

17:50 07Apr10 Lynda -
Excellent definition and explanation of eldership. This sort of leadership is rare in the body today, because it takes courage as well as spiritual maturity and discernment. 'Modern Christianity' is more afraid of driving off seekers than in making disciples.

23:55 07Apr10 Phyllis McDowall -
Yes this is more serious than we realise. It is not something that can be swept under the carpet.But with true repentance this sin can be forgiven and they can be restored but if they want to come back to being a teacher it must be that they can tell of their experience of what to watch out for and show that they have got God's approval not just man's and who are we to judge that.
God can restore but how can they be an example to the younger generation unless there is a clear repentance seen by all, not an excuse that they fell and they feel cleansed so here goes. There is a higher level of living the life through the cross which saves us from unrighteousness especially for being teachers.
We all need to walk humbly for it is by grace alone that we are saved not by our own works.

10:24 08Apr10 Pastor Sherry Sobcoviak -
I totally agree with what is said in this article. God's judgment first begins at the household of God. When we fall into a sin as just described we first need God's forgiveness and cleansing but then need to sit and be restored not placed right back into ministry. The healing of the marriage should be the first priority not stepping back into ministry. As a pastor my heart aches for all the sexual sins that I hear about in the Body of Christ, especially in marriages. We do not delight in seeing a person in ministry step down but that is the only way where true repentance and healing can come in their lives and the lives of their families. My prayer is God cleanse the Church so we can be a Bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish. Your article is right on and I applaud you for your stand. Keep bringing the truth forward to the Body so that we can be cleansed and still be useful in the Body of Christ.

11:33 08Apr10 Mrs. Jody Grant -
I believe in the covenant of marriage. The only grounds for divorce are death of one spouse and then divorce wouldn't be necessary. Jesus said men divorce because of the "hardness of their hearts" and he went on to say "It wasn't like this in the beginning." He also says, "If a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery." That is because the covenant of marriage is "until death".

13:16 08Apr10 Lo Laqach -
I agree that we need to be accountable to the body of Messiah and to the terms of God's covenant! The law is now written on our hearts, and if we LOVE Messiah, we will obey His commands. Alas, most of us really do not know how to commit to our LOVE in our human covenants, OR in our spiritual covenant with Him. In both relationships it requires a choice to continue to LOVE.
My concern is that if we are having difficulty committing to LOVE both our spouses (and obey our vows) and our Eternal bridegroom, then how able are, how ready are we, to be just to our brothers and sisters in Messiah?

  -- Dr Juster replies: Yes, it is true. It is all a matter of discipleship. For example, if one is to love one's neighbor, one's spouse is one's neighbor. If believers, we are commanded to love brothers and sisters. A believing spouse is a brother or sister. Justice must be motivated by love. So this is all very tied together.

03:07 09Apr10 Erik Ronneberg -
Praise God for telling the truth. Divorce is an act of violence against children. The good news is Jesus as King Himself will act when the church refuses to act, as He did with Eli, He raised up Samuel.

  -- Dr Juster replies: May he raise up Samuels today!

12:48 09Apr10 Jesse Bruton -
This issue is explosive because you're calling for the community of the Spirit to function as outlined by our Master. Many people will agree with your position until it becomes a reality in their own congregation. The most heart-aching episode of our church lives was in just this sort of scenario. The pastor usually is a charismatic individual, so the sympathies of many undiscerning congregants blind them to the lack of genuine repentance. Many people believe that we must forgive such a leader without calling him to repentance at all. Almost always the pastor is seen as the victim of a judgmental church leadership. He is viewed as the ground-zero injured party while the more sinned-against parties (husband of the adulteress, wife of pastor, family of adulteress) are ignored. Other congregations in town harshly judge the church attempting to be biblical, and advocate for the pastor. Loving, restorative church discipline has so few success stories that we formulate our own (human) means of dealing with sin. But when even a few churches cooperate and respect the judgments of each other, it actually works! It is a beautiful thing to see beginnings of a true biblical community loving interdependently instead of autonomous, independent, and individualistic sects. May the body of Christ trust their Author of Life with His tough ethics as well as His graces. And may true, proactive, obedient love permeate it all to restore erring sheep to the Great Shepherd!

  -- Dr Juster replies: I agree so very much. I think this is why the local congregation needs to tie to an overseeing authority to help though such things. We do know of success stories in restoration with real repentance. How sadly rare.

18:24 09Apr10 Laura Boyd Reed -
I totally agree with your perspective, I always have. I have been so grieved more leaders have not stood boldly on this GOSPEL FREEDOM TRUTH.

16:18 10Apr10 Charles Reece -
What Messianic Jews' divinely-ordained responsibility is for them to establish a Halachic court for the Body of Messiah; just as one was long ago established during the early ecclesiastical days of the First-Century Church. Of course, this automatically entails that the Lord have ready Jewish "apostles" to serve as chief overseers or officers for the messianic congregations throughout the world. For example, in the Book of Acts, chapter fifteen, we can read on how the Jewish apostles, James and Peter, were appointed by the Holy Spirit, to settle the question as to whether or not Gentiles who were coming into the "faith" of Yeshua had to be circumcised. This apostolic court, was headed in Jerusalem, by the apostle, "James the Just", as Nasi [heb. "Prince", i.e. the Chief Justice of the New Covenant Sanhedrin] and headed secondarily, by Peter, as the "Av Beit Din" [heb. "Father of the House of Judgment", i.e. vice-president of the Messianic court]". This is the true and Biblically-correct way whereby the saints of God are to determine contemporary ecclesiastical laws by which to regulate the social order of the Body of Messiah. But until Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians together fast and pray that the Lord would "call-and-send-out" apostles for today's times; then perhaps the Messianic Jewish and Gentile Christian congregations will forever be "cursed" and confounded with sin, disorder, and lack of discipline thoroughout the entire worldwide Body of believers.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Yes, I would like to see such a loose association to deal with such things; first the city, then the region, then the nation and then international.

10:15 12Apr10 Denise Nielsen -
I agree that we can't expect God to bless a church that winks at sin and that we must have an accurate understanding of what the Gospel requires. We must go beyond the spirit of this age that we live in and into real Love and real Kingdom living.

18:11 12Apr10 anonymous -
This is a topic that was laid very heavily on my heart a few months ago after reading the passage from Malachi and Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount. It can't be any clearer - I am grieved deeply over the destruction divorce has caused to kids and families, and I have never seen Jesus' words and Paul's words about remarriage after divorce preached in a church or sermon. After reading this article, I was even more grieved, as I realized the system that needs to be put in place to unite our churches to stand on the Word and turn this ship around. I guess it is being brought up by the Holy Spirit right now for a reason, and it is time to join with the Lord and birth it through our prayer/intercession.

21:45 14Apr10 John Thompson -
I've recently been listening to a man speak about house churches and house church networks. I like the idea very much, but one thing he does not have in place (maybe doesn't even have on the road map) is eldership/bishops/deacons. I wonder very much how all of these are supposed to look, since I agree that small congregations are to be desired in so many ways. (So many things fall into place when you look through the lens of a house church.) Do you have ideas as to how those types of leadership would work? Especially when thinking through the lens of a house church network?

  -- Dr Juster replies: We know that the organization of the churches of the 1st century was mostly in houses, but they did not consider house congregations autonomous. They were all linked in an eldership of the city and also had apostles, prophets and elders leading their joint union. That is really what we look for. Until God restores unity in the city, I think we need to see house congregations connected to accountable associations and streams.

10:31 20Apr10 Warren Hauser -
Too often, in the past, such so-called elders end up trying to micromanage/control the lives of those that "submit" to them and thus have been another example of how a controlling spirit has been used by the father of lies to prevent the real truth from being made manifest. Until the leaders are willing to not only meet with other leaders in the city, but to encourage the sheep to do the same in the neighborhoods where they live, proper leadership will not, imho, be made manifest. The "shepherds" seem to be fearful of loosing sheep "their sheep" to other "shepherds" in the city (and thus revenue?). They are "afraid" sheep that have been hearing other shepherds (even those with whom the same leaders may "fellowship" with) may get wrong doctrine (infected by the sheep with not such a good "shepherd" "elder" etc. as themself). The step described by Dan is a good one, but is not possible, imho, until the shepherds both by example and word encourage the sheep to use hospitality (a Spirit given gift to every believer) in their own God Ordained neighborhoods with other sheep and even shepherds from "other flocks" by inviting the other sheep in their neighborhood into their homes for meals. Some leaders have tried to do this only if they can get all the sheep from their flock to move to the same neighborhood thus still avoiding the sheep from one flock from mixing with sheep of another flock.
What is described in Dan's article will not, imho, be possible until what I have briefly described begins to take place in each neighborhood throughout a city - to which end I am writing a book that will hopefully be published next year. Most small groups are setup on the bases of what shepherd/elder the sheep are listening to rather than on the basis of the neighborhoods (walking distance or in country places those farms round about) where the sheep live. The idea is to keep "our sheep" on track (out of fear?)and away from their neighbors who are listening to another shepherd in the city where they live. For some flock based small groups they may invite those not "members of our fold" in hopes of getting them into our fold.

  -- Dr Juster replies: In other words brother, this will not work until the shepherds come to be committed to the vision of what things look like on the pages of the N. T. !

11:39 03May10 Alan Whitmoyer -
The battle cry of the American Revolution was "No king, but King Jesus". Unfortunately, we as Americans have forgotten our roots. If we were to truly make Christ our King, then we would do whatever it takes to heed his word. In many cases, we have not only rebelled against evil, but we have in many ways rebelled against God.
I am a gentile brother who looks at the church and sees how the structure of many congregations is just plain wrong. In fact, it is just plain not found in the Bible. Where in the Bible did God grant a committee or council to have authority over a pastor? Where in the Bible do you see a democratic vote taken as to place anyone in the office of Pastor? When church government is out of balance with the teachings of the Bible, then how then can the church govern Biblically? The authority of the set man is taken away and God's blessing cannot be on it.
When God's word is heeded and Church governments are set up as God has intended, then the power of God will be manifested properly and His people will rise up with the power of God in their midst as it has never been seen before.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Eitan Shishkoff: Yosi & Yom HaAtzma'ut
Marty Shoub: Remembering Until Swords Are Beaten Into Plowshares
Asher Intrater: Passover And Baptism
Asher Intrater: Luke Ten