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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.

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