Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Heresy in the House

I had a practical, pastoral question to explore. I can say up front I don't have any specific, detailed answers to the scenario I am going to present, but I would be curious for any input my readers can offer.

I was listening during the last week or so to one of my favored radio talk shows and a caller told the host how her and her husband were divided politically this election year. When they were married about 12 years ago, both of them were conservative in their politics, but over the last 8 years, the husband has steadily become more liberal in his views to the point he will be voting opposite his wife. The host asked the lady if this division was causing any strain in their marriage, and though she affirmed it was not, her hesitancy told me she wasn't being entirely honest.

At any rate, the conversation got me to thinking. Certainly it is one thing for spouses to have opposite opinions regarding politics. I would imagine such a sharp disagreement would create a bit of tension in the home. But it is quite another thing when a couple disagree spiritually over biblical doctrine.

The scenario I wanted to propose involves a couple who get married and are both solid, Bible believing Christians. They attend church together, are actively involved in various ministries, etc. What happens then, if one of individuals begins to develop conflicting beliefs? Say for example, the husband becomes a liberal, United Church of Christ guy, abandoning his gospel orthodoxy to embracing full on universalism. Or perhaps both were Orthodox Presbyterians and the husband comes to embrace open theism? Worse yet, he leaves the church to start his own cult group.

All of these examples I have heard about, or seen happen over the years. Some of the congregations have dealt with the errant spouse with discipline, and out right disfellowshipping, but that still leaves the Bible believing spouse to live with the heretic, as it were.

My questions to anyone willing to leave a comment:

  • Have you ever had to deal with a situation like this in your church?
  • How did you or your church handle it?
  • How do you counsel the spouse who has not embraced spiritual heresy?
  • If the spouse is a wife, and the husband insists upon her attending his heretical church, what would be your counsel to her?
Just a note to my immediate circle of friends. I am not speaking of any specific situation, so don't be wondering if I have someone in mind. I don't. I am just thinking out loud here about a real possible situation, that I know for sure has happened in the past to folks I know about. I figured if I know about certain couples where one spouse has embraced heresy, and the other hasn't, then I figure others out there have also encountered similar situations as well.

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OpenID barrydean said...

Excellent questions. Most American churches today would not give it a second thought or concern if a spouse were to leave for a heretical church. Most churches do not follow up.

We have experienced this is our church. Our church practices church discipline following the pattern of Matthew 18. It is done in love with the intention of restoring the individual who has fallen away.

I have never been a part of any counsel with spouse but I would imagine the elders discipline with the full knowledge of the believing spouse.

As for your final question, I would personally counsel the believing wife to obey her husband and pray fervently for his restoration. God is sovereign and He may or may not leave her in that situation.

7:45 PM, July 20, 2008  
Blogger Ellen said...

I disagree with barrydean on the last point.

It may be different with a spouse that is already an believer, but consider:

If a wife comes to the Lord and becomes a believer, coming out of a horrific lifestyle which her husband still enjoys, would we not counsel her to obey God rather than man and align with a local, Bible believing congregation?

What if the husband says, "you're not as much fun as the old wife...I want the old wife back, I don't like this new wife." Would we not urge her to stand firm, obey God's Word and do not forsake fellowship and emerge herself in the church?

On what basis do you instruct a wife to forsake meeting together with God's family? She is going to be in a fragile spiritual place to start with; she will need more support from the family of God, not less.

9:23 PM, July 20, 2008  
Blogger Steve Lamm said...


These are some challenging questions.

I've had some similar situations where a professed believer abandons sound doctrine for heresy of some kind.

Depending on the seriousness of the theological issue involved, church discipline might be in order. Loving confrontation from the elders is certainly called for.

As to a couple of your other questions:

"How do you counsel the spouse who has not embraced spiritual heresy?"

They need to continue to honor their marriage vows and obey the Bible's instructions (i.e., Ephesians 5:22-33). Of course, they should pray earnestly for their spouse to repent and return to the faith.

"If the spouse is a wife, and the husband insists upon her attending his heretical church, what would be your counsel to her?"

I've seen some very misguided counsel given to women in this situation. Usually they are counseled to obey their husbands and submit to his demands. In effect, such counsel urges a wife to obey her husband's sinful demands rather than God!

A wife should obey the Lord's command to worship with true believers. Since her husband is the one who abandoned their original marriage situation for a heretical one, she should not feel compelled to follow him into sin.

Let's remember what the Lord said about the divisive impact the Gospel can have on households, marriages, friendships and families (Luke 12:51-53).

Steve Lamm

9:50 PM, July 20, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Just to take it up a notch. I know of one instance where a husband started his own little cult house church. He moved out into a rather rural area to be away from all the 'worldly' people.

I can't speak to the orthodoxy of his wife, and whether or not she supported his new found position as a cult leader, but what if she didn't? She would be way out from among other Christians. He forbids her to see other believers. Tough questions, especially in the light of wanting to encourage her in the faith and not lose heart.

Continued thoughts?

7:21 AM, July 21, 2008  
Blogger Ellen said...

Having been a woman married to an unbeliever (especially with small children), I would still counsel her to continue to meet together with Christians.

He is not pleased to live with her as a Christian.

7:41 AM, July 21, 2008  
Blogger Joe Blackmon said...


Ok, this is on my lunch break so it's probably not very well thought out. I agree with Ellen that any councel given would have to be that you should obey God first and any other authority second. I don't think that gracious submitting would be in order where the husband was asking her to violate a clear directive of the Bible or a matter of her conscience. Of course, that's just my two cents.

9:27 AM, July 22, 2008  
Blogger Carl said...

I have a question: if the scenario in the post does occur would this be an acceptable reason, Biblically speaking, to obtain a divorce? If one holds to orthodoxy while the spouce embraces clear heresy on essential doctrines, is divorce acceptable?

4:45 PM, July 23, 2008  

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