The subject of ordaining a divorced man to be an Elder (Pastor, Bishop), or a Deacon, is one of those issues that most local churches wish would just go away. Of course, this issue will not go away because of the militant cultural pressures placed on congregations to first cast doubt on the meaning of Scripture, mitigate its impact, and then boldly contradict what is plainly, and simply taught in Scripture.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).
“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
An appeal to place these passages in the context of an argument against polygamy does not resolve the issue, because what are modern day serial marriages but legalized polygamy? Even Roman marriages were monogamous as an institution. A Roman citizen by law could have only one spouse at a time.
One of the great problems in Rome was multiple divorces, and multiple remarriages. History is repeating itself in America, and the culture is influencing the church. Surely the church must have a higher standard than the world. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).
The Bible does not say that an Elder, or Deacon, can have “One wife at a time after each divorce” but is to be, “the husband of one wife” or, a “one woman man.”
A good question would be this: “How many wives can a man have with serial marriages? Two, three, four? How many times can a man be divorced and remarried, and still be placed in the highest church leadership positions?” It is not a foolish inquiry given today’s cultural proclivities.
Someone might argue that sin is sin, and one sin is as great as another. That is true, though the Bible does indicate degrees of punishment for various sins, if that discussion wants to be engaged in. Divorce is a sin which can be, and is forgiven, based upon gospel repentance. But divorce is sin. God hates divorce. It reflects a hard heart, according to Jesus in Matthew 19:8.
Qualifications for a church office is a separate issue from whether or not a particular sin can be forgiven. There are consequences to certain actions, one of which is disqualification from holding an official church office. The Lord has a right to organize His church the way He wants it organized, and to place people in the leadership, and in the servanthood role, those HE so chooses.
The real question is this: “Has God appointed the candidate in view to be an Elder, or a Deacon?” If God has made the choice, then the church is simply affirming those whom God has honored.
Will God ordain a person contrary to His Word? No. That is not possible. Therefore, let the church open afresh the Bible, and see what God has to say about church leadership qualifications.
If the Bible is not opened, if Scripture is not appealed to, then what will happen is that people will want to promote their friend to a high church office. People will want to feel good about not being “judgmental” and put Biblically unqualified people in leadership positions. If the Bible is not read, the various Biblical qualifications will not be known, or discussed fully. That is the danger. The church will not remember it is commanded to judge righteously. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
A man might want to be an Eder, or a Deacon. That is a noble desire. However, God might say, “No!” through His Word, and through His church. When the Church can say, “Yes” to an individual is when there is evidence that a qualified person is full of the Holy Spirit, and there is a congregational consensus.
“And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:5-6).
If a church is divided on this issue of ordaining a divorced person, then a manmade procedure that violates the New Testament principle of consensus, by forcing a Parliamentary move, with a majority rule of a quorum, cannot possibly be honoring to the Lord. God’s work should be done God’s way in order to get God’s blessing.
There is something else. The candidate for the office of an Elder, or Deacon, must first be tested for the purpose of approval. “And let these also first be proved” (1 Tim. 3:10). This is often not done. The Bible instructs the church not to lay hands suddenly on any man. “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22).
Historically, the Protestant community believed that all faith and practice is to flow from the Bible, not be read back into it. Sola Scriptura was a royal cry of the Reformation.
There is one final thought. Any decision by a local church to diminish the moral qualification of an Elder, or a Deacon, should not be done because of the moral issue involved. The Ten Commandments were not voted on. The Sermon on the Mount was not voted on. The qualifications for a church leader were not voted on. Something is either intrinsically right, or wrong.
If it is right for a man to reflect the relation between Christ and the church, then leave the image alone, and let the qualification stand. Jesus said to His Bride, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If this is not a correct image, reflected in the qualification of a church leader, then simply change it without a vote. But, do not vote on a moral issue. There is no Biblical precedent. There will be God’s blessing, and church unity, when there is persuasion from the Word of God that an action is pleasing to the Lord.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10).