The Church ought to be a place of forgiveness and restoration, but many divorced folks find no second chance at their church!

Below is a commentary I found that takes a slightly different approach to this much debated topic. It clearly looks at the Bible and the topic of divorced men being deacons and uses the “present tense” arguement. If we clearly read the Bible as written does it not use the present tense? Doesn’t that mean currently, now, in this day and moment? It says nothing about a man’s past, if it did I would say all serving deacons now days would be unfit to hold office!

Commentary by: Rev Hodge.

Can divorced men be pastors or deacons?

I’ll bet you said the answer is “NO”. Many churches and denominations will not allow a person who has ever been divorced and remarried to hold the office of Pastor or deacon in church. But where in the Bible does it say that if a man has been divorced and remarried that he cannot be a deacon or a pastor. If you say it is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 which states: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” And in verse 12 which states: “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. “ I guess I missed it. I do not see where either verse says that you cannot be a deacon or a pastor if you have been divorced and remarried.

In some churches people who are divorced are considered so outside the spiritual realm that they cannot even be a member of that church. Some churches don’t even like them to attend. So where did this stigma and doctrine come from? The source is the miss interpretation of two verses that we just read. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” …. “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”

Let’s look at the whole passage for Scripture for just a moment. First for the Bishop or Pastor: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Then for the deacon: “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Being a pastor or deacon, is a special calling to a special office. No one wants to diminish the seriousness of the teaching in God’s Word or the importance of God’s plan and desire for “one man and one woman for a life time”. However, God’s plan was seriously jeopardized by the fall of man.

The first thing we need to know is that ALL these Qualifications are ‘Present Tense’.…Covering a man’s present life. If a divorced and remarried person can never be a deacon or pastor…than that is the only one of all of these qualifications for the pastor and deacon in First Timothy that goes back over a person’s entire life….even before they were saved! Even if the divorced person was the innocent party, some would say this bars them forever from these offices! The fact is, all of these qualifications are ‘present tense’, meaning… in this person’s present life.

Certainly there are things that will keep a person from this special calling. However to issue a blanket statement or policy is also to declare untrue what may well be a true God given calling that such an candidate may have. None of us have been ‘blameless’ over our entire life, for example. To take the view this passage is going back over a person’s entire life to look at their marital status is just not what the passage is saying! These qualifications refer to the present life of a man. Most deacons and pastors do not meet the “…ruling their children and their own houses well.” But they are still allowed to be pastors and deacons. Why allow a man to be a deacon or pastor who does not meet this qualification but not let a man who has been divorced and remarried?

Where is murder, adultery and fornication? Why are they not included in these qualifications? Are you telling me that divorce disqualifies someone from holding either of these offices but murder is OK, you can still be a pastor or deacon? Adultery and fornication are alright, go ahead and do them and later repent and we will still let you be a pastor or deacon.

One well known pastor was caught with a prostitute (adultery) twice and his church organization that will not allow a divorced person to be a pastor or a deacon asked him to undergo counseling for one year and they would reinstate him as a pastor. But not the poor guy whose wife divorced him. You cannot be serious!!! Where did these values come from? They came from a misunderstanding of what “husband of one wife” means.

The irony is, that some people who have been ‘married’ for years, but yet have been flirtatious, even had affairs in the past, or promiscuous before marriage, are still allowed to be pastor or deacon later on, but not the poor guy whose wife left him to perhaps run off with another man! To deny a Divine call of a man who, like all other men are broken vessels, has experienced the tragedy of divorce for legitimate reasons, that is, fornication, adultery, or abandonment by the female spouse; it could then be said that one is also denying the will of Almighty God.

What does ‘Husband of one wife’ mean?

In order to understand what Paul actually meant, it is vital that the Greek text be examined. The words with which we are interested in the Greek are, “Mias gunaikos andra” (“Husband of one wife” ). A literal translation of this passage would be “a man of one woman.” There is no word in Greek for our word “husband.” The word for “man” here is aner, the word for a male individual. When this word is used in a context of the marital relationship, it has the meaning of “husband.” The words “wife” (woman) and “husband” (man) are used without the definite article in the original language text, which emphasizes character or nature. Therefore the structure of this passage could easily be translated “a one-wife sort of husband.” Kenneth Wuest expresses this view in his translation of this passage, “He must be a one-wife kind of man in that he isolates and centralizes his love upon one women and that forever.” The phrase ‘husband of one wife’, was a phrase, common in that day, which meant a pastor or deacon had to be a ‘one woman type of man’…. not a ‘flirt’ or a ‘ladies’ man’…for obvious reasons!

Wuest Says in his WORD STUDIES IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT (Volume 2, p53); “The entire context is one in which the character of the bishop (pastor) is being discussed. Thus, one can translate, “a one-wife sort of a husband,” or “a one-woman sort of a man.” We speak of the Airedale as a one-man dog. We mean by that, that it is his nature to become attached to only one man, his master. Since character is emphasized by the Greek construction, the bishop should be a man who loves only one woman as his wife.”

In a culture where men were frequently tempted toward unfaithfulness, Paul made it clear that an elder in the church was to be a “one-woman man”—loyal to his wife and to her alone. Paul stressed the character and nature of a godly man in these verses rather than marking a single experience in his life for inspection.

Chuck Swindoll says in his EXCELLENCE IN MINISTRY study Guide on First Timothy (page 41) “…phrase literally reads, “one-woman man.” As simple as that sounds, it has been the subject of numerous interpretations….(some) have interpreted the phrase to mean that a candidate for overseer must never have been divorced in his life, including in his unsaved years. But this seems to be too restrictive…in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, where he permits–though He does not promote–divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality. So what does ‘husband of one wife’ mean? Taken in its most basic sense, it means that an overseer, if married, must be married to only one woman (which excludes bigamy, polygamy, and homosexuality) and must be devoted to his wife (which excludes promiscuity and an unhealthy marriage).”

Spiros Zodhiates one of the greatest Hebrew and Greek scholars says in his HEBREW-GREEK KEY STUDY BIBLE in the footnotes on page 1475 under 1 Timothy 3:2; “The expression mias gunaikos in known in Greek grammar as…’a one-woman’s husband,” not a ‘ladies’ man, in other words. The total context speaks of the moral conduct of the bishop and the deacon. He should be totally dedicated to his wife and not be flirtatious.”

As John MacArthur Jr. notes in his NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY ON FIRST TIMOTHY page 104-105; “Paul is not referring to a leader’s marital status…rather the issue is his moral, sexual behavior. Many men married only once are not one-woman men. Many with one wife are unfaithful to that wife. While remaining married to one woman is commendable, it is not indication or guarantee of moral purity. Some may wonder why Paul begins his list with this quality. He does so because it is in this area, above all others, where leaders seem most prone to fall. The failure to be a one-woman man has put more men out of the ministry than any other sin. It is thus a matter of grave concern. …Others maintain that Paul here forbids remarriage after the death of a spouse. As already noted, however, this standard, like all the rest refers to moral character, not marital status. Further, the Scriptures permit and honor second marriages under the proper circumstances….Still others hold that this qualification excludes divorced men, from spiritual leadership. That again, ignores the fact that Paul is not referring to marital status. Nor does the Bible forbid all remarriage after a divorce. In Matthew 5;31-32 and Matthew 19:9, our Lord permitted remarriage when a divorce was caused by adultery. Paul gave a second occasion when remarriage is permitted, when the unbelieving spouse initiates the divorce. (1 Cor. 7:15). While God hates all divorce (Mal. 2;16) He is gracious to the innocent party in those two situations. Since remarriage in itself is not a sin, it is not necessarily a blight on a man’s character.”

Another aspect of the construction of these verses concerns the use of the word “must.” It should be noted must controls the entire section of the qualifications of the elders. With this in mind, it is important that all the qualifications be treated with the same emphasis. It seems that this characteristic (husband of one wife) is usually judged on a harder scale than many of the other conditional qualities.

Should we also disqualify a man who’s children are not always “under control?” The Scriptures tell that an Pastor or deacon “must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (I Tim. 3:7), should the church then investigate any bad feelings on the part of others toward the proposed candidate? In a sense, the answer to both of the above questions is yes; all the qualifications are very important. Yet, there is an aspect of this matter that can not be overlooked, the possibility that these qualifications were given as guidelines; not as unbending standards of measure.

The aspect of the relativity of the qualifications of the Pastors and deacons can be seen by comparing the lists of qualities given to Timothy and Titus. These two lists are virtually the same in all manners except one; in the forbidding of a recent convert. Paul does not give this qualification to Titus who was ministering in Crete. Perhaps this is because the church in Crete was a young church and did not have any members who had been believers for a very long time. The principle here is that the ideal Pastor or deacon will live up to all of Paul’s standards, yet there must be a provision that allows a person to minister where the need arises; regardless of whether or not he perfectly fulfills the qualifications. If this is the case, then the qualification of “husband of one wife” should also be viewed somewhat relative.

When examining the qualifications of a pastor or deacon, it is important to look at the overall idea of the passage as well as the specific grammar and construction. These qualities were meant to show that a leader in the church must be a godly man. The Pastors and deacons of the church were to act as examples, to the church and the community, of Christ-like living. This is seen in Paul’s first qualification, which most believe to be the key to all of the other specifications, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach.” This condition sets the tone for the remaining qualifications, including the question of marital status.

It is important to look at the overall godliness of the prospective elder. All too often, Pastors and deacons are chosen on the basis of availability and willingness to serve, abilities and “work related” activities. Many church leaders are chosen because they are experienced businessmen or because they are influential in their community. Although these are characteristics that are “handy” to have available, they are not nearly as important as true godliness. If the Church is to have an impact on this world, it must strive to understand these important passages. Although a definite interpretation of this qualification for elder cannot be given, Paul’s warning stands clear; a godly church needs godly leaders. We must be very careful who we entrust with this responsibility.

What About the Old Testament?

Some believe a passage in the Old Testament also prohibits Divorced men to serve in the Church. The passage is Leviticus 21:7 which list certain requirements for the Old Testament priests under the Mosaic Law and they were not to marry a divorced woman. “They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God.” (Leviticus 21:7)

Some would automatically assume from this passage that a New Testament Pastor cannot be divorced or remarry. However, if one wants to hold that position, he runs into some difficult problems from this passage because it also states in v18-19 that the following physical characteristics also barred a man from being a priest: “For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted , or brokenhanded ,” Lameness, blindness, a broken foot, a broken hand, a bad back, a dwarf, or ‘he that hath a flat nose’! The fact is, the qualifications for a priest was under a different dispensation than we are in the New Testament Church. Otherwise, men with bad backs or flat noses would be out of the ministry!

Deacons or Ministers with bad backs or flat noses need not apply…. This reasoning which says a divorced person could never be pastor or deacon would allow a person convicted earlier in life of murder or other heinous crimes….or one who had molested children, to be a pastor or deacon later on in life, but the poor guy whose wife left him…..could not! Recall that the Apostle Paul in his former life as Saul was responsible for the imprisonment and death of great numbers of believers before he was saved! (Acts 26:10-11) Is divorce worse than what Paul did?

Why would it be improper to disqualify Paul from service for the hideous crimes and sins he perpetrated against God and His people before he was saved, and proper to disqualify another who was guilty only of a foolish choice in marriage partners?

Dr. John Rice says in his Book, DR. RICE HERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS, p339-340; “I believe that any of these major sins (wrong divorce, drunkenness, murder, etc.) can be forgiven and are forgiven when there is honest repentance. Then when God has forgiven and when one has done all he can do to repudiate and undo the sins of the past (which of course, can never be undone entirely and sometimes not at all), and when he has taken time to live it down and proved himself a dependable, trustworthy Christian so that his usefulness is not hindered by the past, then he might do whatever God calls him to do and whatever God’s people trust him to do….I do not believe in passing a rule that one who has ever been drunk can never be a deacon or preacher; likewise, I do not believe in passing a rule that one who has ever been divorced cannot be a deacon or preacher. And my reason is very simple; there is no such rule in the Bible.”

The logic is just not Biblical…. Remember a deacon is simply a ‘servant’ or ‘helper’ to the pastor to free him from everyday tasks of care of the church so he can concentrate on prayer and study of the Word of God. To say a man who has been divorced several years ago cannot even be a ‘Pastor’s helper’ or deacon, is just not what this verse is saying at all!

Even if a man was the guilty party of divorce several years ago, even after he was saved, this verse is not barring him from these offices! Remember, these are all present tense qualifications in the Greek. Certainly no candidate for pastor or deacon has been ‘Blameless’, for example, over his entire life!

But, the question is, has he been ‘blameless’ in the eyes of the public in the past few years and above reproach? Remember if this ‘NO DIVORCE DEACON/PASTOR VIEW’ is correct, than this is the only one of these qualifications that goes back over a person’s entire life! The Greek verb tense is the same on all of these, however, and refers to a person’s present life.

It is amazing to me how some good folks have taken a self-righteous view of this verse and interpret it to mean a poor person who has been divorced and remarried has committed the UNFORGIVABLE SIN in some Christian circles! Someone has sarcastically said, ‘If you want to stay in the ministry, you’re better off to murder someone than to divorce someone…..they will forgive you of MURDER, but not divorce!’

What about the innocent party……I have heard some say, “Well, there is no such thing as the ‘innocent party’ in a divorce…there was probably failure in some ways to both parties..” That is an unfair statement. You do not know that. To say that divorce is always the ULTIMATE FAILURE OF THE HOME and that both parties are always to blame is just not fair!

I think of Charles Stanley as the First Baptist Church of Atlanta who has a powerful ministry on radio and TV called ‘IN TOUCH’. His wife walked out on him. He was not unfaithful. She just walked away. She filed for divorce. He still prays for her to come back. His Church asked him to remain and be their pastor.

Some folks who had been influenced by this poisonous teaching about divorcee, left the church because Pastor Stanley was DIVORCED! Radio stations in this area have canceled his radio program. He has remained at First Baptist Atlanta and at IN TOUCH and the ministry and church have grown and been blessed more than ever!

Many of the same preachers who scream vehemently against Divorced preachers and deacons hold a Scofield Bible high in the air and wave it backwards and forth. I wonder if they know that Dr. Scofield was divorced and remarried? The very place they should get help, they were ostracized even further! Someone has rightly said, the church is the only army that will shoot its own wounded soldiers.

Jesus Couldn’t serve as deacon in some churches….

The truth is that God himself could not even be a pastor or deacon in some self-righteous churches….without getting a special waiver. The Lord, you will recall, had a divorce (Jeremiah 3:8) from the nation Israel!

“And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jeremiah 3:8)

H.L. Ellison gives few good thoughts from his book DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE: “..One’s past history may not necessarily portray his present character. It is possible to have a good marital history of single marriage and have a ‘cat-calling’ character of wandering affections at the same time…On the other hand, it is also possible to have a sorrowful marital history of a broken marriage while having a personal character that is above reproach. The tragedy may not have been of his own making, as noted with the prophet Hosea…The passage in 1 Timothy 3:2….puts the emphasis where Jesus put it, on the heart and present character, rather than on outward record of marital history. The emphasis is not so much on what a man ONCE was, but what he NOW is….”

Ellison continues… “There is an inevitable inconsistency…. How far should these restrictions be carried? If they cannot be deacon or pastor, can they serve as usher? Collect offering? Or would that be too close to the duties of a deacon? Would they be allowed to pray or read Scripture from the pulpit, or give their testimony from the pulpit? Would that be too close to ‘preaching’? To press it further, would the divorced person be allowed to sing in the choir or sing a solo? Or would such a performance border too closely to the concept of ministry? I have not heard of any such church who restricts divorced folks from being deacons or pastors from contributing to the offering plate, however.”

A preacher who was ready to ‘clean house’, as he put it, declared that no person in his church who had a previous marriage could sing in the choir, hold any position in the church, or even serve as an usher! “I don’t believe in second marriages!” he said. A close friend of his (who had divorced and remarried) said to him in private, “I know you have only married once, but did you ever have a sexual relationship with another woman?” (Being close friends, neither considered this conversation too personal.) With some hesitation the pastor admitted there had been some involvement with…two women…long before he was married to his wife. “Well,” replied the other man, “you have been married to THREE women and never even divorced the first TWO. I have been married only TWICE, but I got a divorce!”

A man give his testimony about how God saved him from a very wicked life. Though raised in church, he had rebelled at an early age, became involved with gangs, got into drugs, cursed God, chased women, living with one than another, though he never legally married. Then he got saved, went to Bible School where he married a Christian girl, and is now an ordained minister.

We can all rejoice in what God has done for him. But there is a serious INCONSISTENCY here. The denomination which ordained him does not allow divorce and remarriage (in the ministry or in deacons). Had he married even ONE of these women he lived with, any marriage after that would not be ‘first’ marriage and ordination would have been refused!

The inconsistency of this double standard says, in effect, Don’t get married–just live with different ones. God will forgive this, and if you do finally get married it will be a first marriage. But if you marry and it doesn’t work out, you can never get married again…and certainly never be a deacon or minister!

H.A. IRONSIDE says in his book WHAT IS THE ANSWER? (Question 36); “Is it permissible for a man who has been twice married, the first wife having been divorced because of immorality….to hold the office of a deacon (or pastor)?” Answer: “….in the case such as you mention, the first wife has been divorced both legally and scripturally, ….the man is qualified for the office of a deacon (or pastor) if the life is otherwise right.”

Some of the most faithful men I have known have been divorced…. Some of the best men in my church over the years of my ministry have been men who have been through divorce and remarriage, and sadly, some of the biggest trouble-makers and hindrances to my ministry have been men who have been married for 20, 30, or 40 years to the same woman!

The Church of all places, ought to be a place of forgiveness and restoration, and many poor divorced folks find no second chance at their church! Many good folk are not being allowed to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in many churches just because some folks have not correctly interpreted this passage in 1 Timothy!

Think about it….. is it not reasonable to suggest that we reexamine our thinking, and carefully consider the possibility that the church has misunderstood what the Bible really says?


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