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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage IV: What About Pastors?

The final consideration in the question of divorce and remarriage regards pastors.

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.

(1 Ti 3:2-7)

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men , sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as  he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

(Titus 1:6-9)

The operative term in the Scriptures for a bishop’s (pastor’s, overseer’s, elder’s) marital status is this – he must be the husband of one wife. What is certainly inarguable is that he cannot be polygamous. What seems to also be at least more likely than not (and seldom mentioned) is that he should be married! The question at hand is whether “husband of one wife” means “not remarried”.

Whatever one’s answer to this must be, it has to mirror their view on the possibility of a marriage being broken by something other than death. That is, if divorce and remarriage are permissible, than the remarried person remains the husband of one wife. If there is no possibility of the marriage bond being truly broken, then a remarried person is polygamous and disqualified.

Oftentimes, however, people’s views on divorce and remarriage do not extend to their view of who can and cannot be a pastor. Many believe that divorce and remarriage are permissible, yet do not believe that a pastor can be remarried. Why is this? Do we honestly believe that they must be more godly than we?

That may be a shocking statement, but what an assertion implies is that some of us are less sinners than others. The other implication would be that while my pastor has a laundry list of things he must be, I am somehow exempt from the list – that I do not have to also be the rest of it - “above reproach, not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination, not arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined”.

These pastoral qualities are qualities all Christians are to possess, and to dissociate them from us is to deceive ourselves. Thus, our interpretation of Scriptural warrant (or lack) for divorce and remarriage must mirror our interpretation of this verse.

That being said, recognizing that we are sinners does not mean we should not expect a pursuit of godliness in our pastors. This is scriptural prescription, and a man who does not meet these requirements should never be selected for the office. If a man is divorced and remarried because he committed adultery against his first wife and divorced her, the pastorate is not his call, no matter what he may think.

My position mirrors my position on divorce and remarriage, which I developed in the comments section of the last post in the series. A man who suffers divorce for his wife’s adultery, physical danger to the family (this must be a truly rare case!), or abandonment and remarries is permitted to be a pastor.

Addendum: A pastor who experiences the divorce should at least temporarily step down. The lack of order in his own house during such a period Scripturally prohibits him from serving, not to mention the massive emotional turmoil he would be in. How can a man going through a divorce counsel others on marriage? I don’t know how long such a sabbatical from ministry would last, nor am I even sure if he could return as the pastor of his church. However, the importance of a pastor’s role in the life of a church is such that a man who is under fire at home and certainly unfocused for many months and even years is not a proper vessel during that period.


  • I disagree - what better pastor to have than one who's been through the turmoil of a divorce. How much more understanding would he (or she) be of the difficulties that their parishioners might be experiencing within their marriages than a pastor with no experience of divorce. (That's not to say I advocate divorce and would make it a requirement for the job of pastor).

    That's my first hand experience of pastors (we call them differently over here of course - vicars, rectors, priests etc.). I've known two who've been divorced and it improved their ministry no end.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 8/17/2006 06:40:00 PM  

  • "Many believe that divorce and remarriage are permissible, yet do not believe that a pastor can be remarried. Why is this? Do we honestly believe that they must be more godly than we?"

    Amen and amen!

    "If a man is divorced and remarried because he committed adultery against his first wife and divorced her, the pastorate is not his call, no matter what he may think."

    But here, I think you are completely wrong. The problem is that you completely omit any notion of forgiveness. If he committed adultery and got divorced as a result, he is no longer married. He was at fault. But he may be forgiven. And, if he repents and is forgiven, can we really say that God may not then call him to a role of leadership? If we deny this then we say that forgiveness is an illusion, that our sins are not truly set at naught - "as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our sins from us", as the psalmist says.

    If we take forgiveness and restoration seriously then we can no longer hold people's past sins against them - for God certainly doesn't. This isn't to say that we should appoint inveterate gambers as church treasurers (a quite different issue - placing someone in the midst of temptation to a besetting sin!). But if someone is divorced because of their own infidelity and yet repents and is forgiven and restored, how can we say categorically that God cannot call them to any role that God chooses? (Any remarriage is a red herring here, for the reasons we've discussed - it's all about the divorce.)

    "A pastor who experiences the divorce should at least temporarily step down."

    There, I think you're right. But that's more a practical matter than one of scriptural teaching. Someone going through such a time can (as you said) not carry out his role properly. And it would also be a kindness to them, to give them time and space to sort themselves out.

    " A man who suffers divorce for his wife’s ... physical danger to the family (this must be a truly rare case!)"

    Less rare than you might think. It's a hidden cause, because many men are too ashamed to admit that they are abused by their wife. Far more so than women to admit their abuse by husbands. It's the flip side of our culture's sexism.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 8/18/2006 06:36:00 AM  

  • Ruth,

    I think you misunderstood. The philanderer is the one I spoke of (and others who have non-scriptural divorces). A divorcee due to their former spouse's infedelity and abandonment is what you are speaking of, and I agree that they are permitted to be a pastor and do have some experiences to draw on that otehrs may not.

    I don't think they are better than a non-divorced pastor, because the counseling should be the same regardless.

    As best I can tell, one's own adultery does not break THEIR marriage bond, only their spouse's - if they desire. There is no prescription for divorce, of course. If this were not true, cheating on your wife would be a justification for remarriage!

    How about a repentant murderer? Would he be disqualified from pastoring? I don't see that he is. For whatever reason, God had prescribed that a pastor MUST be the husband of one wife, and as we've discussed, merely being remarried does not make one so.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 8/18/2006 10:49:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    I think we've got a difference here - I don't see how a marriage bond / contract / covenant can be broken on one side only. If it's broken, it's broken. Surely we cannot say that a man still has a wife when she no longer has a husband? We can say that he is guilty of sinning against her, for breaking the marriage, for all sorts of things. But we cannot say that he is still married if they have got divorced.

    Similarly, your example of the murderer is worrying, because it sets up the classic problem of seeing divorce as worse than murder - we could accept a murderer as a pastor but not an adulterer? Is adultery really that much worse than murder? Surely, in either case, we are looking for evidence of repentance, forgiveness and redemption. If we see those, the sin doesn't matter. If we don't see them, the nature of the sin is irrelevant.

    The problem is, I think, an over-literal application of the Bible - you're trying to make the words apply to situations that they're not addressing (here, based on an interpretation of divorce that I think is faulty - that the bond may be broken on one side only). If someone divorced their wife simply because they were bored and then got remarried, I might well agree with you. However, if the previous marriage has been dissolved by a strong divorce (owing to adultery) then it's gone. A man with this past is unmarried - sinful but unmarried. If the sin is dealt with then the ex-marriage is no further barrier.

    At least, that's how I see it.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 8/18/2006 11:08:00 AM  

  • The totality of Scripture teaches neither conclusion reached here. Looking at the passages we don’t see a ‘level of spirituality’ but a set of qualifications. I Cor 12 should teach us clearly enough that it is not some ‘level of spirituality’ that is required. Each gift, each office, is filled with a member of the body. In that we are all equal.

    But as each gift is given to different people, different people are qualified to differing offices. A woman, just because she is not qualified to be an elder, husband, or father… is not at a lower spiritual level. Someone without the gift of teaching, but with the gift of service, is not less because he holds the office of deacon rather than elder.

    An elder must be a man who is married, and has children, and has his household in subjection with all gravity, and is given to hospitality, etc. He must not be someone who was widowed and remarried, divorced and remarried, polygamous, or single… not because these people are somehow at a lower spiritual plane (although they may, of course, be greatly sinning, or have greatly sinned, to be in the state they are in!) but because they don’t meet the qualifications.

    Someone who is busy putting a step family together, has lost a child or wife into disobedience, has an adopted child that is not yet in subjection… these people have plenty to do in ruling their own household… they are not to be subjected to the task of ruling the house of God.

    It’s not like a scouts merit badge, or batting on a little league team, where everybody has to get their turn, or their chance.

    15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.19And if they were all one member, where were the body?

    By Blogger von, at 9/09/2006 03:24:00 PM  

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