I closed the previous post by promising to present cases for both sides of this argument. So, I might as well go ahead and jump right into that. I’ll start with the scriptural case for a divorced man serving as a pastor or a deacon. Then I’ll offer the scriptural case against such a situation. Ready? Here we go.
The Case For a Divorced Man Serving As a Pastor or a Deacon
Potential Evidence #1: The same Paul who wrote that the pastor or the deacon must be “the husband of one wife” also wrote: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29, N.K.J.V.). The context for this verse is Paul’s teaching that God’s setting aside of Israel is not permanent. One day (at Christ’s 2nd Coming) a remnant of Israel will embrace Jesus as Messiah. However, with that context understood, the verse might possibly also be used to say that if God truly calls a man into the ministry or the deaconship, that calling is irrevocable, no matter what happens in the man’s life.
Potential Evidence #2: In Ephesians 4:11, Paul says that God has given “gifts” to the church and these “gifts” are in actuality spiritually gifted people: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. This means that an authentically God-called pastor is a man who has the spiritual gift of pastoring. Well, since the indwelling Holy Spirit is the one who imparts the spiritual gift to the Christian (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), and since the Spirit indwells the Christian until the Christian’s actualized day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), it stands to reason that the God-called pastor never loses the spiritual gift of pastoring.
As for deacons, there is no spiritual gift of deaconship, but the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant.” Ideally, then, a deacon would be a man who has either the spiritual gift of “ministry” (Romans 12:7) or the spiritual gift of “helps” (1 Corinthians 12:28). If the office of deacon began with the story found in Acts 6:1-7 — as most commentators believe — we see these two spiritual gifts on display in the first group of deacons.
Potential Evidence #3: The epistle of 1 John 1:9 is written to Christians, not lost people. And what does the epistle tell us about any and all sin in the life of the Christian? 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (N.K.J.V.).
Clearly, this promise applies to sin that is associated with a man’s divorce, remarriage, etc. Therefore, the question that can be asked is, “If God forgives the man of all sin, is it fair for a church to take sin that God has forgiven and hold it against the man when it comes to him being elected as a pastor or a deacon?” That’s a legitimate question.
Potential Evidence #4: The qualification “the husband of one wife” is only one of a lengthy list of moral and spiritual qualifications that should be met by a pastor or a deacon. In regards to the pastor, the other qualifications that Paul names in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are as follows: (all of these from the N.K.J.V.): “blameless,” “temperate,” “sober-minded,” “of good behavior,” “hospitable,” “able to teach,” “not given to wine,” “not violent,” “not greedy for money,” gentle,” “not quarrelsome,” “not covetous,” “one who rules his own house well,” “having his children in submission with all reverence,” “not a novice,” “must have a good testimony among those who are outside” (meaning outside the church), “having faithful children not accused of dissipation (debauchery) or insubordination,” “not self-willed,” “not quick tempered,” “a lover of what is good,” “just,” “holy,” and “self-controlled.”
In regards to the deacon, the other qualifications that Paul names in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are as follows (all of these from the N.K.J.V.): “reverent,” “not double-tongued,” “not given to much wine,” “not greedy for money,” “holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience,” “tested,” “being found blameless,” “ruling their children and their own houses well,” “their wives must be reverent,” “(their wives must be) “not slanderers,” (their wives must be) “temperate,” and (their wives must be) “faithful in all things.”
I’ve taken the time to list every one of these other qualifications because the point needs to be made that Paul didn’t single out “the husband of one wife” from all the other qualifications. He didn’t write that qualification in bold letters. He didn’t underline it. He didn’t make it the one deal-breaker on the lists.
Truth be told, there are men — married men who have never been divorced — who are serving as pastors and deacons in churches all around the world who miss the mark by a wide margin regarding some of these other qualifications. For example, a man’s marriage might be fine but his children might be spiritual disasters. Or, he might be eaten up with a greed for money or have a real problem with alcohol. So, why do we ignore the other qualifications and come down like thunder on candidates who have been divorced? Doesn’t that make us hypocrites who have selective standards?
Okay, that covers the scriptural case for a divorced man serving as a pastor or a deacon. Now let’s look at the scriptural case against such a situation. Just as I offered four pieces of scriptural evidence for the first case, I’ll offer four for the contradictory case.
The Case For a Divorced Man Not Serving As a Pastor or a Deacon
Potential Evidence #1: In Paul’s description of the qualifications for a pastor, he says that a pastor should be a man “who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Timothy 3:4). He then offers some parenthetical commentary on that qualification by adding: “(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (N.K.J.V.). Similarly, he says of deacons: “…ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12, N.K.J.V.).
In light of this qualification, it might be argued that a divorce, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, shows that a man has had trouble in ruling his own house well and is therefore unqualified to serve as a pastor or a deacon. For example, how likely is it that a couple who are experiencing marital difficulties will seek counsel from a man whose own marriage ended in divorce? It’s no more likely than parents with disobedient children seeking counsel from a father whose own children are rebels.
Potential Evidence #2: The Bible does teach that the husband is the head of the home (Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 3:1; Genesis 3:16), but what needs to be understood is that headship is about responsibilities rather than rights. So, while a husband might delegate certain roles in the marriage (handling the finances, picking out the furniture, etc.), what God won’t allow him to do is delegate the responsibility of the overall health and welfare of the marriage. And what does this principle of the husband’s headship have to do with divorced pastors and deacons? The answer is that it might be applied to the circumstances of any divorce, no matter which spouse had the greater part in causing the divorce.
The Bible’s classic example of the responsibility of the husband’s headship is the story of Adam and Eve. Even though Eve was the one who first ate the forbidden fruit and in so doing crippled the couple’s marriage, when God came looking for them He specifically called to Adam and asked, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Why did He ask for Adam? He did it because in God’s eyes it’s the husband who first has to answer for any marriage problems that occur on his watch. You see, even if the wife is the one who commits the sin, the question can be asked, “What did the husband do or not do that led her to that course of action?” That is the price of headship.
In Adam’s marriage, apparently what he didn’t do was adequately teach Eve the one law of the Garden of Eden. That law was: Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What many people don’t realize is that Eve hadn’t been created yet when God imparted that law to Adam. Genesis chapter 2 is the chapter that goes into the most detail about the couple’s creation, and in that chapter Eden’s one law is given in verses 15-17. That’s noteworthy because Eve isn’t created until verses 21-22. This means that, evidently, God left it up to Adam to teach the law to Eve.
Surely Adam carried out that duty, but somehow he didn’t do a thorough enough job with it. As evidence of this, we see that when Satan (speaking through the serpent) questioned Eve about the law, she couldn’t even quote it correctly. Concerning the fruit, she added in “nor shall you touch it” (Genesis 3:3). That was the world’s first case of adding something to the word of God, and it was an indicator that Adam hadn’t done an ideal job in teaching his wife Eden’s law. Even though his failure didn’t rise to the level of sin, it did help create an atmosphere in his marriage by which sin could more easily enter into the picture.
Potential Evidence #3: Sin that has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven by God can still carry lasting earthly consequences. When David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah, killed (2 Samuel 11:1-27), God forgave David of the sin (2 Samuel 12:13). That didn’t mean, though, that David’s sin didn’t bear lasting consequences. For one thing, God raised up adversity that plagued David and his family until his death (2 Samuel 12:10-12). For another, the baby boy that was conceived from David’s first night with Bathsheba died shortly after being born (2 Samuel 12:14-23).
Along the same lines, let’s say that a pastor has an affair with his church secretary. The affair causes the man’s marriage to end in divorce and the whole scandal becomes very public. Can that pastor confess his sin, repent of it, and receive God’s forgiveness for it? Absolutely. But what he can’t do is put the genie back in the bottle of him meeting the qualification about having a good testimony (reputation) among those who are outside the church.
Proverbs 6:33 touches upon this when it says of an adulterer: “Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away” (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine). If that last part sounds ominous, it’s because it is. Just ask David. As he found out, the reproach of some sins sticks with you long after you receive forgiveness for the sin and are restored back to right fellowship with God.
Based upon all this, in the situation of a divorced man — particularly one whose sin was the cause of his divorce — it doesn’t automatically follow that him receiving God’s forgiveness of his sin makes him eligible to serve as a pastor or a deacon. You say, “But God forgave the sin.” He did, but the issue isn’t whether or not God will forgive sin. He will. The issue isn’t even whether or not God can still use that man in His service. He can. The issue is whether or not that man is qualified to fill the specific role of pastor or deacon. That’s another question altogether.
Potential Evidence #4: In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (N.K.J.V.). There is much debate as to why Paul had to guard his self discipline so closely. Perhaps it was to guard himself against committing the sin of sexual immorality that he mentions in 1 Corinthians 6:18. But the important lesson that we can glean here is that Paul thought it was possible to actually become disqualified (“a castaway,” K.J.V.) from the ministry.
Here again we aren’t talking about a man not being able to do anything in God’s service. We are talking about him holding specific titles in the church. For Paul, he could have become disqualified from serving as an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher (Ephesians 4:11). For the divorced men of today, it might be them becoming disqualified as pastors or deacons. At least that’s one plausible interpretation.
Now, as I head for home with this post and this series, let me say that I’m not the czar of pastors or deacons and don’t want to come off sounding like I am. What I’ve tried to do in this series is draw attention to a controversial, complex, and (let’s just say it) downright emotional issue in our churches and present the various facets of that issue. Like most of you, I don’t enjoy having to deal with this stuff. In my case, though, I’m a pastor who sometimes has the responsibility of ordaining deacons. That means that I don’t have the luxury of just saying, “Oh, I don’t want to think about that. Let someone else figure it all out.” No, I am that someone else.
Rest assured that I haven’t written these posts to “get” anyone. My own house has far too much glass to it for me to be throwing rocks at anyone. I’m just trying to live up to the standard that Paul spoke of during his speech to the elders (pastors) of Ephesus. He said, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, N.K.J.V., emphasis mine). Sometimes that whole counsel isn’t easy to declare, but it still needs to be declared. We can only wish that it was always easier to interpret and we were always in 100% agreement as to its interpretation and application.