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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Can a Deacon or Bishop be divorced?

           Husband of one Wife  We’ve been studying about the qualifications of a Bishop or overseer in the scripture.  The focus has been on Titus, Chapter 1 but as we go, notice also the scriptures in I Timothy 3.  They repeat many of these qualifications and extend some of the same requirements to deacons or ministers who have not taken on the function of an overseer. In the Greek context of this, it is said that the word “must” makes all of the listed qualifications after of equal importance. Going down this list can be a tight endeavor for anyone and some requirements are seemingly harsh or difficult to meet, but it should be met to the best of the person's ability.  The way this is written, indicates that one qualification is as equally important as the other, and as followers of the bible, we should endeavor to meet those requirements and respect the intent and letter of law as much as the spirit in which it was written. 

    For those that have studied the original language of this passage, the idea is that the husband (man) should be bound in love to one woman (wife).

     (seeMias gunaikos andra” translated "a man of one woman" Greek original language discussion at

This particular injunction “husband of one wife” is controversial since many Christians interpret this scripture to mean a person who has never been divorced in any fashion-- ever.  Some Christian groups modify this and allow for divorce in the sinful past,  but not while professing salvation.  However your group comes out in this spectrum,  we will see by the end of this article why the majority of Christians hold that a divorced minister is not a desirable thing. 

In the Christian world, it is almost always a scandal when a preacher of any stature, evangelist, pastor, or teacher gets a divorce, especially if the spouse was saved.  If we scour the news, even husband and wife preaching teams are heading to divorce courts.  Because Christianity teaches so strongly on the relationship of the husband and wife and its connection to spiritual truths of the church, most consider this an extreme negative in qualifications to preach.   So much so, that it’s not unusual for people to leave congregations and churches over the issue.  One survey taken in 2007 noted that 38% of Pastors during a survey were in the middle of divorce.

 It is a disturbing growing trend to accept teachers and preachers with less than exemplary home lives.  We see figures such as Juanita Bynum and Bishop Weeks, Randy and Paula While, Benny and Suzanne Hinn and recently Eddie and Vanessa Long file for divorce and keep moving in their ministries and maintaining their ministries, and we begin to accept the worldly version of pastoral qualifications.  But the early church teaching makes it very clear that at the very minimum, a minister should have a stable home.  In all circles of leadership, people require their leaders to be examples in their home life. Any political candidate can attest to that.  Basically the thought is “if your own spouse can’t testify for you, and they lived with you, why should I have confidence in you?” That's a thought that is hard to argue.   Marital problems have sunk the career of many aspiring to leadership roles.

It’s clear in scripture that God’s ultimate desire is for the male/female relationship to be as Adam and Eve.  One woman and one man for life, “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”.

Here’s a quick study:

Clearly Paul wanted the candidate for Pastor or deacon to hold this standard in their lives.  This goes back to the idea that minister should be an example of the believers.   They should possess a solid marital relationship. By "husband of one wife",   did Paul mean that they could never have been divorced even in their sinful past?  Was this a prohibition against polygamous practices in the church?  Was Paul simply excluding unmarried people from such positions?    The most widely held view is that no person who has ever been divorced is eligible for the office of elder or deacon.   Although this may seem harsh, it’s clear in scripture that Paul makes a distinction between the average Christian and those that hold leadership positions in the church.  Some less conservative views fall below this idea and allow for divorces in the person’s sinful past, but certainly not while professing salvation.

Those examining a candidate for official office would have to examine the person’s case and see if it falls within scripture, especially if a re-marriage has occurred.

The scripture allows for three situations for re-marriage: 1) A person whose mate has passed away ; 2 )the unbelieving spouse has left (divorced) the saved one, then the saved person is not barred from re-marriage; ( I Cor 7:15); and 3) If the marriage was dissolved on biblical grounds i.e. sexual infidelity (Matt 5:32-33 and Matthew 19).
If a saved person exercises a divorce option outside of the precepts allowed by scripture (sexual infidelity), this can be evidence of spiritual trouble on the part of the saved person because they are refusing to be bound by the Word of God and precepts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and commitment to the marital relationship and keep vows of "for better or worse, richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part”.
Even in the most liberal of religious settings and beliefs, the action of divorce is treated very seriously even when sexual infidelity is involved.  In other words, it is not treated as an automatic first option solution to the problem. 
(See more liberal websites on the subject such as Divorce Hope ).  
Because the overall message in scripture is for the husband and wife to stay together through good and bad and not be torn asunder,   even in the case of infidelity, a good Pastor will make considerable efforts  to  heal the wounds of the marriage, even when an unsaved spouse is involved. Why?Because the goal is the salvation of that home.  It is not an automatic directive in a case of infidelity to reach for the nearest divorce lawyer. Marraiges can be healed, homes can be restored.
In cases where both parties are Christians at the time of the divorce, consider the following from an evangelical site on this issue:
“However, if a believing wife and husband have sought divorce and the husband has remarried and is now seeking the office of elder or deacon, this would require a much deeper investigation into the circumstances. If the grounds for divorce were not biblical, then the subsequent marriages are suspect. I would not be inclined to allow such an individual to stand in church leadership because this would reflect poorly on their character and they may indeed be married in the eyes of God to two women. Paul instructs a married woman who leaves her husband to remain unmarried unless it is to be reconciled to her husband (1 Cor. 7: 10-11).”
My former pastor, when I was teaching a lesson on marriage and divorce, even went further,  and said that if a person who is saved divorces their saved spouse, and remarries, “they are unbelievers”.  Strong words, but we can safely say that self/the flesh certainly took precedence over the Word of God somewhere.
Divorce between two Christians has always been a controversial issue in the majority of Christian churches.  Why?  The strong teaching in scripture of loving our enemies, forgiving those that have wronged us, or persecute us, and reconciliation among Christians .
Matthew 5:23 - Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Matthew 5:24 - Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (KJV)
This all place a heavy responsibility on the couple to be at peace.  An Elder or Deacon has to be able to teach on the home and be an example of the believer, as Paul instructed Timothy, especially in their home life.  This is extremely difficult hold the idea of being an example, if you have openly divorced another Christian.   Such a divorce says in an open way that this person could not get along or reconcile with another saved individual.  That is a difficult hurdle for anyone to cross if they value the tenets of scripture.
In any religious circle, from conservative Catholics to liberal Evangelicals, it is a serious situation for a person to have been divorced as a church leader-- period.  This is never taken lightly.  The circumstances of the divorce whether in the sinful past or in the saved present, need to be carefully examined by ministers and especially if a divorce occurred between two people professing salvation.  If the grounds are not biblical, it would not be advisable for that person to proceed as a candidate for such an office.  Paul’s rule for this qualification that the person should be the “husband of one wife” at the very least is a call for a current, stable marital relationship.   Most studies on the subject conclude that divorce is never something desirable in a bishop or a deacon and the biblical teaching and context support this thought.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor

Biblical Qualifications of Overseers (Titus 1:5)

So let’s talk about the qualifications of a Christian Pastor. Titus 1 and I Timothy 3 talk about the offices of a Bishop and Deacon. This is a subject not often given much deep study. Mostly, we assume that seminary alone prepares a person for this position. A person can go or not go to seminary, but the importance in scripture is on character, integrity and the effective functioning as a Shepherd.

Let’s start with some definitions:

The Greek work for pastor is “poimen”. The literal meaning of the word poimen isshepherd. English translations of the Bible translate poimen as the English word “pastor” onlyone time in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11 when referring to it as an office:

Ephesians 4:11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (KJV).


This word “Poimen” (Poy-mane) however itself appears 17 times in the New Testament: 4 times it is used of literal shepherds caring for literal sheep; 8 times it refers to Jesus as the Great Shepherd of the church; 4 times it refers to leadership of true believers, as either true or false leaders; 1 time it is as an office in the church. gives these two definitions for the Greek:

a herdsman, esp. a shepherd

a.   in the parable, he to whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow


a. the presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly: so of Christ the Head of the church

1.   of the overseers of the Christian assemblies

2.of kings and princes

The Near Eastern shepherd had the task of watching for enemies trying to attack the sheep; to defend the sheep from attackers; to heal the wounded and sick sheep; to find and save lost or trapped sheep ; to love them, sharing their lives and so earning their trust.*

It is clear from these definitions that a Pastor was a caretaker.

Little is discussed in the New Testament about this role and how it was to be carried out except the indication of Shepherding. The office is mentioned in Ephesians 4 as a function or role to be performed and not as an official title.

Let’s get straight to the Bible on this subject.


Paul wrote Titus and Timothy some qualifications for an overseer.

The King James Version states:

Let’s use the Amplified Bible for more clarity:

5For this reason I left you [behind] in Crete, that you might set right what was defective and finish what was left undone, and that you might appoint elders and set them over the churches (assemblies) in every city as I directed you.

6[These elders should be] men who are of unquestionable integrity and are irreproachable, the husband of [but] one wife, whose children are [well trained and are] believers, not open to the accusation of being loose in morals and conduct or unruly and disorderly.

7For the bishop (an overseer) as God's steward must be blameless, not self-willed or arrogant or presumptuous; he must not be quick-tempered or given to drink or pugnacious (brawling, violent); he must not be grasping and greedy for filthy lucre (financial gain);

8But he must be hospitable (loving and a friend to believers, especially to strangers and foreigners); [he must be] a lover of goodness [of good people and good things], sober-minded (sensible, discreet), upright and fair-minded, a devout man and religiously correct, temperate and keeping himself in hand.

9He must hold fast to the sure and trustworthy Word of God as he was taught it, so that he may be able both to give stimulating instruction and encouragement in sound (wholesome) doctrine and to refute and convict those who contradict and oppose it [showing the wayward their error]. (Titus1:5-9).


The reason for these directions can be seen in the nature of the office. The idea of an official office is that this person should be above reproach because they are a standard bearer for what they represent. They are to provide the church leadership and so be representatives of what is taught and cannot afford to be guilty of certain things. This was not the average pew sitter and so the standards for this position were higher.


A Pastor as a church leader has the task of convincing those that oppose sound doctrine of the correct teachings of Jesus Christ, and cannot put himself in a position where people will not have confidence in his testimony. At the very least, no one should be able to point a finger at his conduct within the church, or outside the church, with any unresolved issues. All saints have an obligation to right any wrongs, but a Pastor especially because of his position must go to the furthest extent to correct this so that the message of the gospel will move forward unhindered.

These requirements put great emphasis on integrity.

As we keep go through these qualifications, let’s keep in mind that the person must already possess these qualities when they are acknowledged in their ministry.
Let’s start with Verse 7: A bishop must be blameless:


This is a quality that has to do with integrity, perfect in conduct; no one (saved or unsaved) can say that this person has stolen from me, wronged me, behaved in appropriately toward me, or treated me unfairly. If such charges are made they must be addressed and resolved. They should be above reproach in conduct at the time they are ordained or acknowledged in their ministry. By default, this cannot be a person that is causing offenses in the church.

Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: I Cor 10:32; Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed 2 Cor 6:3; It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbles or is offended, or is made weak. Romans 14:22; Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend I Cor 8:13.


The love shown to the body of Christ is extremely important not just for the Christian but doubly so for Overseer who is charged with caring for their soul. How many Pastors and ministers do we see today that live their lives as if they have no connection to the body of Christ or how their actions will affect others. We could go down a list of public pastor figures that have made this mistake by bad conduct, numerous divorces, lewd behavior; financial misdeeds with little care how this affects the flock. It is one thing when a fellow pew sitter does something erroneous, but another altogether when a minister or pastor does the same thing and they are your spiritual caretaker. Paul was giving Titus and Timothy qualifications for a very public office. It is an office of high ambassadorship.


Here is one example of an integrity issue a person can have that would affect the church. I was asked one time, about a person being qualified to be ordained. According to my understanding of the scripture, and what I had seen of their conduct, they were barely qualified to even be acknowledged as a minister at the time. They habitually accused people without much proof, and consistently brought charges about people to the ministerial body without discussing the problem with the person first. I had personally brought these deficiencies to their attention, and at the time I was asked this question, they had never corrected this behavior. This behavior from a non minister , even though unbiblical, could be a matter of growth and prayer. However, if a minister practices ignoring scriptural procedures and fairness (Matthew 18:17) they cannot be qualified to help teach the church. These principles have to be a part of their very being and they should not have to be constantly reminded to follow scripture. The desire to uphold scripture should be lifeblood of their heart and not a last minute thought. This neglect would cause too many offenses and hurts in the body of Christ, and if supported, damage the reputation of the ministry.


It should be natural for a minister or aspiring elders to love the Word of God and to want to exhibit biblical conduct.They should be addicted to obeying the Holy Spirit and word of God, and even if mistakes are made, it should be straightened up immediately.


A person who represents the gospel should have integrity in: scriptural application (sound in teaching), humility, money matters, fairness toward others, a willingness to correct wrongs, and must be easy to approach and discuss issues with. A congregant should never feel threatened by their behavior and they should certainly hold a reputation for being even handed in judgment.


As a minister, there have been times, I have apologized or worked on resolving matters where I have not felt I was in the wrong, but apologized anyway, for the sake of integrity. Which is more important? My being right and proven right or this person being able to receive messages God has given me that will help them? I think the latter would be more important, and it is. Especially if I were called to Shepherd and care for souls, this should be first on my heart and not an afterthought.


So God will teach a minister/and especially an overseer how to be blameless and stay above reproach. When it comes to the care of men’s souls, as we go into these scriptures, we will see why Paul says this person cannot be “self-willed”.


Next time: The husband of one wife.