The questions were raised to our Elders Council several weeks ago: Is a man who’s been divorced, or divorced and remarried, disqualified from the role of pastor, elder or deacon? Is he automatically out? Does he fail the one-woman-man test of 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6? May he serve the church just as any other man?
We believe the Scriptures say that No, he is not necessarily disqualified and No, he does not necessarily fail the one-woman-man test and Yes, he may be qualified to serve the church just as any other man.
I wanted to share our view. It's shown below. Our view also has been incorporated into our Principles of Doctrine, Governance and Practice.
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The Bible teaches that marriage is designed by the Lord to form a lifelong, singular relationship between one man and one woman. Divorce is a human invention that was instituted because of the hardness of heart of both men and women. Divorce destroys the Lord’s vision for marriage and its benefits; divorce damages families; divorce destroys marriage’s illustration of the gospel (Ephesians 5:23); divorce weakens the fabric of society. Despite these consequences, the Lord also offers abundant grace and mercy to overwhelm the sin of men and women.
Although marriage is designed by the Lord to be a permanent earthly bond between one man and one woman, the Scriptures also teach that marriage is dissolvable. Death of one of the marital partners, for example, dissolves the marriage and frees the living spouse to remarry (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7: 39).
The Scriptures also describe two exceptions that allow for divorce:
1. God allows a husband or wife to divorce and remarry if his or her mate has committed adultery. Divorce in that case is not required, but would be allowed. The marriage could be reconciled despite sexual unfaithfulness. However, reconciliation is not always possible (Matthew 19:3-12).
2. If a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever divorces (abandons the marriage) rather than continues in the marriage, the marriage would be dissolved. The believer would be free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).
In both exceptions, the innocent spouse has not committed adultery. Also, the innocent spouse either has not sinned in any way or has not sinned in a way that should destroy the marriage.
Despite the simple specifics of these two exceptions, it is clear that sinful men and women sometimes manipulate and posture in order to feign innocence and seemingly fulfill one or both of these exceptions in order to impersonate the innocent party. A spouse, for example, may use sinful means to drive the other toward an adulterous affair. Or a spouse may make it impossible to live peaceably at home, and thereby eventually drive the marital partner to abandon the marriage. Nonetheless, the Scriptures affirm the exceptions cited. Responsible pastors and elders must prayerfully, thoughtfully discern the specifics in each circumstance and reach justifiable and right conclusions.
The Bible requires a pastor-elder to be a one-woman man, but a man divorced and remarried under one of the two exceptions has not committed adultery. It is permissible for a man divorced and remarried under either of these two exceptions to serve the Lord in the local church as a pastor or elder or deacon.
In addition, a man who has been divorced outside of the two exceptions is not automatically disqualified from serving as a pastor, elder or deacon. If, for example, the man in question has remarried and has remained faithful to his wife, he could qualify as a pastor, elder or deacon despite a history that included an unbiblical divorce. If the man is repentant for his role in the original marriage's dissolution, has demonstrated repentance and is faithful to his wife, he could fulfill the qualification from Titus 1:6 as a one-woman man.
If a man is disqualified from church leadership because he was divorced or in other ways sinful before his salvation to Christ, then the Apostle Paul also should have been disqualified from spiritual leadership in the local church. Paul said of himself in 1 Timothy 1:12-14: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Before his conversion, Paul certainly was neither peaceable nor self-controlled.
What about an existing elder whose marriage is falling apart to the point of divorce? The elders obviously must hear from both the elder and the elder’s wife and perhaps others regarding the details and specifics of the circumstances that have done such severe damage to the marriage. It is likely that the elder in question would be required to step down at least for a season in order to free him and his wife to save the marriage. The elders hold the responsibility and the authority to discern what is best for the church and, secondarily, what is best for the marriage and for the man serving in the elder role. The church elders’ first responsibility to both the man and woman is to help them preserve their marriage.
Each man who desires the elder role must be willing to have his life examined for qualification. The qualification of being a one-woman man may seem the sole focus in the issue of marriage, divorce and re-marriage. However, perhaps equally important is a discussion connected to the requirement that a man be a good manager of his own household (1 Timothy 3:4). As Paul notes in 1 Timothy 3:5, . . . if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? A man who has been divorced may need to consider whether his leadership of his family in the home contributed to the divorce. Did his sin drive his wife or his children away from relationship? Rather than presume the answer to be Yes, the answer must be discerned through thoughtful and compassionate examination of the man’s life and conduct.