Divorce and Holy Communion


This post delivers a response to an article and comments that appear on The American Conservative website. The link is below:


The church leadership and faithful may want to humbly pray about this issue of communion. Worshiping in spirit and truth remains the vital principle of church life.

The Christian church has struggled for two millennia to maintain a balance between identifying and making understandable God’s truth and practicing that truth in love. In the early years of the church and beyond, identifying and defining what we as Christians believed and practiced assumed the greatest importance. What was the difference between Jews who believed Jesus was the messiah and those Jews who did not? Was believing in Jesus more important than obeying the Mosaic law? Must Christians continue to follow the Mosaic law to be saved? If not, how were we saved? What do Christians believe vis-a-vis the pagans and what in pagan philosophy still held as true within a Christian context?

In its desire to see the faithful take seriously and live the faith presented to them, the church often established rules for, and limitations to, Christian thinking and behavior. One of these limitations has been the right to participate in eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus Christ from which are received God’s grace for sanctification and salvation. One was not allowed to deliberately abide in unabsolved sin or an unrepented pattern of living and yet enjoy the refuge and strength of the sacrament. In fact, the church determined that such a conjunction could earn damnation.

Because the church wanted to be faithful to Christ, it has been emphasizing this former consideration of identity and definition. Thus, those persons who did not conform to the strict definitions laid down by the church were often shunned and denied participation in the sacraments. If the rebellion became hardened, those persons were excommunicated.

Unfortunately, it neglected the latter consideration, practicing truth in love, and infringed too much on God’s sovereign judgment. It lost sight of the reality of our human state and the abiding grace and mercy through Christ by which we “stride boldly up to God’s throne, the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:12).”

As Paul says, “No one is righteous, not even one.”

Now we can deal with the question at hand: May a divorced or remarried person receive holy communion? In the past, the Catholic Church has said, no.

Clearly, if a priest has absolved a person’s sin, the answer would have to change to, yes. By what right would communion be withheld?

We can focus: is a person still committing a sin or stuck in unrepentance if he or she remains divorced or, worse, if he or she remains remarried after having obtained a divorce? Does a person have to partner again with his or her former spouse? Does a person who remarried have to divorce his or her second wife (or third, etc.) and return to the first spouse to be out of a state of sin?

The realities of human living have complicated the resolution of that question. Does the church demand that a man or woman leave his or her new family? Can God’s will be accomplished in that fashion? Does a man’s or woman’s lone sin, divorce, negate what may be the Christian character of the rest of his or her life? Is someone who sins frequently, confesses it and is absolved, never masters his bad habits, but who does not commit adultery of any kind, in a better state than the person whose only sin is divorce and remarriage? I speak in the ideal to make an example.

Is it the church’s place to make these all these decisions to have an ironclad faith, or shall it leave at least some resolutions and outcomes to the Most High God who sees every person’s heart and who knows all but from a position of goodwill and justice.

I know about the scriptures, what we loose here, etc. I get it. Were those words meant to push us to create a vast body of new law like Moses’ and judgments therefrom, or were they meant to humble us and infuse within us caution and care as we exercised liberty, lest we sinners be the first to cast stones, each one of us, and we be no better than the blind Pharisees?

One must believe in God and his Christ to participate in the Christian life, of which the sacraments are key. Does one have to live perfectly? If not, how much imperfection is tolerable? Isn’t the purpose of participation in the sacraments to receive the grace needed to be sanctified and secured in one’s salvation? If so, why do we deny them to anyone? Will not God deal with the unrepentant sinner? Most of the time we don’t know what the exact spiritual state of a person is. People are great actors. We may think them great and eulogize them loftily at their funerals, yet they might be burning in hell.

How many of the church’s annulments of marriages are bogus and bought?

Do we want to refuse the sacrament to folks who are doing their best to honor God with the realization that they fell quite short the first time they spoke their vows? Or do we make it so that their confessed and repented sin survives and thrives and continues to besmirch them, disqualifying them from the sacrament?

Granted, in some sense we should be cooperating with God in the work he does; but how do we require that a person “earn” the sacrament in whatever fashion when what is “earned” is grace, an unmerited gift freely given to all of us, we the needy, already mired in our trespasses and sins?

Jesus explicitly forgave the adulteress without her asking while he exhorted her spiritual improvement in John 8.

Jesus did not say he forgave the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, but he did not reject her. He praised her for what was truthful in her reply to him about not having a husband, and, in a rare deviation from his usual pattern, presented himself as the ultimate reality which she understood her people had been waiting for, even though she had been married five times and at that time had a lover!

Christian liberty is an awesome gift. Like any liberty, it can be misused. Sometimes it needs to rest rather than to be exercised. The church and faithful should be aware of what Christ taught about marriage and divorce and they should pass it on energetically. They should not be energetic about denying someone grace or the means to grace, if that is even possible in God’s universe. The Most High will deal with the person who wastes or perverts his grace.


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