Monday, July 13, 2015

Part 1: Must Infidelity be Confessed to a Spouse? A Rebuttal to Questionable Counsel from Russell Moore

Part 2, here
Part 3, here
Part 4, here

A year ago I read an article at The Gospel Coalition which contained a transcript of Dr. Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on this issue of disclosing infidelity to a spouse and you may read it here. The case dealt with a man who had an affair some years ago which only lasted a week but who had struggled with whether or not he ought to confess this to his wife. In his communication to Dr. Moore, the guilty party also shared that in weighing whether or not to divulge this to his wife, Russell Moore should know that his marriage is already fragile and that he is not even sure his wife is saved and if so, she certainly is not a mature believer thus, such a revelation may simply be too much for the relationship to bear (I have paraphrased the letter with its implication).

My rejoinder will be in four parts. Parts 1, 2 and 3 will be addressing Moore’s counsel and Part 4, my own observations and recommendations. Here is the first section of the documented solution Russell Moore offers:

First Section of Moore’s Advice

I do think that you need to tell her and for several reasons: One of those reasons being, you have sinned against her. Your having this adulterous affair is a sin against your wife, and until you have confessed to her and until you have repented to her I don’t think you are finished with the process of repenting. Biblically she has ownership—that is radical language, I Corinthians, chapter 7—she has ownership over your sexuality, and so your sin affects her, even if she doesn’t know about it. And it affects her in several ways: one of them being you have joined yourself with some other woman outside of your marriage, which has a spiritual, mysterious effect, Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 6. 

Repentance and confession

While Moore is earnest and correct in identifying the fact that the man’s infidelity is a sin he qualifies the unfaithfulness of the man as sinning against his wife in a manner which by default, requires admitting this to her. My first question to Russell Moore is by virtue of what Biblical edict is this derived?

It cannot be Matthew 18 since Matthew 18 requires one to be aware of an action against themselves in order to be offended. Further, it involves the offended party confronting that person, not the offender going and confessing something unknown.

As well, it cannot be referencing James 5. When the James speaks of confessing sins “one to another”, it has to do with admitting what both parties know. That is, both parties are aware of a sin that one party has committed against the other but one of the parties refuses to acknowledge the offense, just as Matthew 18 demonstrates.

What many erroneously believe about James 5 is that we are to indiscriminately use our brothers and sisters in the Lord as personal priests for confession. That is not the context of the James passage which has to do with being disciplined by God via health issues for sins against someone we refused to acknowledge and to whom we owe a confession. And if you look at the larger text which starts at the beginning of the chapter James is writing or enumerating specific sins against others which bring divine discipline when we refuse to acknowledge them.

One might argue that confessing to a spouse is not indiscriminate but owed since he or she has been sinned against. And again, in order to be sinned against, a conflict arise and then a conflict resolved through confessing or admitting a sin to the offended party, requires the offended party to have knowingly been acted against and the offender resolving it by admitting or confessing their offense . In the case of James, they are being commanded to confess to the party(s) against whom they have knowingly offended and to be restored to health and from divine discipline (as well as fellowship with one another). This does not mean an offense has not been committed but how it is viewed, Biblically, with respect to appropriate resolution which includes confession, must be qualified based on the variables involved. And in just a bit I will speak to that.

The woman caught in adultery (John 8) and brought to our Lord was instructed by Christ to “go and sin no more”. However, the fact is, being caught in adultery would certainly include her sinning against one or more parties. The Lord did not direct her to go personally confess to any such person(s) but to abandon her sinful practice. She acknowledged her sin and was instructed to stop. Her repentance was qualified by our Lord as going and doing this sin no more. One might argue that it assumes her confessing to the parties whom she has offended but any such assumption is an argument from silence and has no real weight.

The union of husband and wife

Russell Moore appeals to his audience with the proposition that marital infidelity must always be confessed because a spouse has joined him or herself to another and that this has a "spiritual, mysterious effect". While this argument has the attractiveness of piously elevating the institution of marriage to a spiritual construct (it is a divine institution for certain but that does not make it a spiritual construct just as government is a divine institution but not a spiritual construct), it really leaves a great deal to be assumed and worse, errs with the Scriptures.

Let’s look at the passage to which Moore is referring in 1 Corinthians 6:

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

The Scriptures, in 1 Corinthians 6 talks about two unions:

  • Our union to our spouse in which it states, “The two shall become one flesh”
  • Our union to Christ which states, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him”
Dr. Moore may claim, as long as he wishes, that the union between husband and wife is spiritual but the text is quite clear, it is not, it is fleshly. This seems to be a grand oversight by Dr. Moore. Look again. Marriage is not a spiritual context or spiritual union but a carnal or fleshly one (the two become one flesh, a single institution and if one simply thinks beyond this and to the entire world and the implications of Moore’s suggestion that it is a spiritual union, we must conclude then, that the unregenerate or spiritually dead, cannot possibly be married because they are not alive spiritually thus, cannot be joined spiritually).

Further, there is a spiritual union mentioned in the text but it is with Christ. That is the one to whom we are joined spiritually.

The fact is Russell Moore simply fails to pay careful attention to the passage. While 1 Corinthians 6 does reference marriage and its union and the husband and wife becoming one flesh, it neither states or even hints that the marital union is spiritual and where a spiritual union is mentioned, it is that of the believer with Christ.

So at best, if one is going to introduce the “spiritual, mysterious effect” argument (which Moore actually never even made, he simply asserted it), this passage does not qualify seeing that Moore erred in his interpretation and subsequent application of it. This is not to say there is not an effect on the marriage but no such mysterious spiritual effect, as Dr. Moore describes, is present in the text.

Finally, here in the midst of the very passage referencing immorality and a married man joining himself to a prostitute this qualifier regarding who is sinned against is given which is prima facie (italics mine):

18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

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