Monday, February 25, 2008

Can divorced persons serve in the Church?

Question from the Indian River Baptist Church February newsletter

Q: Can those who have been divorced serve in the church?

A: It is important to note that there is no such thing as a "Scarlett letter" sin. All Christians were sinners saved by grace, and we are all equal at the foot of the cross. The apostle Paul took part in a murder, Peter lied, David committed adultery (and murder), and Moses had a bad temper (and, yes, committed murder). One's past sins do not debar her from service to the lord. Certainly the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is a lifelong covenant relationship between husband and wife. Yet the Bible also teaches that life brings people into situations in which the ideal is not always attainable, even by the redeemed--such as cases of adultery (Mattew 5:31; 19:9) and abandonment (1 Cor 7:10-16).

The Bible nowhere forbids divorced persons from serving in the church. Christ died for all sins, even divorce. Scripture does teach us that Pastors (i.e. “elders/overseers”) and deacons are to be the "husband of one wife" (I Tim 3:2, 12). But this is a notoriously difficult expression that has led to various translations and interpretations. Translated literally the phrase says "one woman man". The context never mentions divorce specifically. Many in the Early Church period took this phrase to mean that a pastor/deacon could never remarry even if his wife were to die (or else in life he would have had more than one wife). Others took this to mean that a pastor/deacon must be married. Today, most would reject these two interpretations. Others say the phrase refers to divorce (some making exceptions if the divorce took place before conversion, some making exceptions if it were a "biblical" divorce, still others making no exception). There is good evidence that the phrase "one woman man" refers to the faithfulness of the individual (regardless if a prior divorce took place). In other words, a pastor or deacon should be one who clearly and consistently demonstrates that his eyes are only for his bride. Even if this phrase does refer to divorce (which is not at all clear), than these two offices would be the only two restrictions upon divorced persons. All other positions within the church are clearly open to them.

In conclusion, divorce is not a "Scarlett Letter". While we mourn that it has occurred, and as a church must do all we can to prevent it, we do not hold the past mistakes of anyone against them (or else we would all be barred from God's service). Christ gave spiritual gifts to divorced persons, as he has to all believers. It would be sinful not to allow these precious members of Christ's community to exercise the gifts and talents Christ gave them. While it is possible that the office of deacon and pastor are not open to divorced persons, we cannot be certain. However, we are certain that such restrictions do not extend beyond this point.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

1 comment:

  1. With the exception of one Indian missionary who was divorced prior to conversion, all the men I know in the ministry who have been divorced, disqualify themselves in other areas as well.

    It is also interesting how many pastors that I know of change their position on teachings such as this when their wife leaves and/or children are insubordinate and accused of dissipation.

    I like what you said Sunday night- focus on marriage and loving your wife!!