Can divorced people be ministers or deacons?

15 Jul

Yesterday, I blogged about what led me to wonder about the concept of divorced deacons and ministers.  Today, I thought would be a good time to lay out my final thoughts on the matter.  Over the last year, I have occasionally put snippets of my thoughts on Facebook or an older blog I have.  My father always warned me of taking one verse out of context and trying to make an entire theological argument.  I truly feel this is what has happened with this issue. 

So for those who may not know the issue, the problem comes from several verses in different books of the Bible describing a similar situation.  In I Timothy 3, Paul says “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.”  In Titus, he says basically the same thing.  And that is pretty much it.  Now, to be sure, the Bible does say that God made man and woman to be married and we shouldn’t divorce.  In Matthew 19, Jesus says that if “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” These are all very simple to understand. 

However, I still feel churches take this as much too cut and dry.  If you look at the verse in Matthew, Jesus makes an exception for those who divorce do to sexual immorality. And yet, many churches still will not allow people who divorce for those causes to be deacons or ministers.  To go a step further, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states that “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.”  Paul states that if a Christian is married to an unbeliever that is willing to stay married, the Christian is not to divorce due to religious differences.  He goes on to explain that the marriage may draw the unbeliever to Christ.  But a few verses later, he states that “if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”  So, Paul establishes that Christians aren’t at fault if an unbeliever leaves their Christian spouse.  Another famous passage that deals with a similar issue is found in the Old Testament book of Ezra.  There the men had married pagan women and realized that was keeping them from fulfilling the covenant God established with their forefathers.  They (priests included) went to Ezra and confessed the sin and declared they would put the foreign wives and children from them.  Ezra agrees with the people’s plan and in fact commands that they “Now honor[a] the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.” Obviously, divorce is not always the wrong answer.  It might not be the best situation or God’s original plan, but humans so rarely fit into God’s original plans. 

To go the ultimate step, though, in the book of Jeremiah chapter 3, God describes Israel’s situation in His eyes.  They had routinely failed to live up to their covenant with Him.  After betraying Him time and time again, He finally had had enough.  And in verse 8, God states, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”  God used the term divorce in His relationship to Israel. 

If you ask me, the topic is now opened to the notion that divorce is not some all consuming sin, from which we can never recover.  So what stops divorcees from being deacons or ministers?  Surprisingly, some would claim the problem is when the person remarries, and is no longer “husband of ONE wife.”  They then follow the claim with the belief that the Bible never talks of remarriage as a viable spiritual option.  And yet, in the same chapter of Jeremiah, God speaks of a part of the law from Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy 24, the Law states that if a man divorces a woman, and she remarries, she is not to return to the first husband for any reason.  In fact, it says that would be detestable to the Lord.  In Jeremiah, God quoted that passage and states that Judah was trying to return to God after leaving Him time and time again. 

So is there any other viable option for what Paul meant when he referred to the “husband of one wife?”  I think this relates to a cultural issue that most Americans don’t think about.  In Biblical times, and in many places in the world still today, polygamy was an issue.  Abraham had multiple wives, as did Jacob and David and many other saints from the Old Testament.  The issue is largely not mentioned in the New Testament, but it was still around in places, like it is today.  Some might claim that God always came out against polygamy, so why would Paul specifically be mentioning it in this passage?  The point is God didn’t always come out against it.  In fact, in 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba, he says God wasn’t made that David had taken another wife, but with the nature of the act.  God says He gave David his throne and the wives of Saul.  He even stated if that wasn’t enough for David, He would have given him more. 

Polygamy was a valid issue.  And in many of the situations previously mentioned, the fact that the men had many wives caused problems, whether accepted or not.  Jacob’s wives constantly tried to one up the other.  Many of Abraham’s problems began when he took Hagar as his concubine and fathered a child with her.  Solomon, of the 700 wives, specifically fell into great sin by being led astray by his wives.  Perhaps Paul was warning that a man with such issues wouldn’t be able to lead the church? 

Finally, God forgives sin.  Yes, we still have to deal with repercussions of sin, but God forgives.  There are other requirements that surprisingly get mentioned rarely in the discussion.  Deacons aren’t supposed to be quarrelsome or violent, and yet often times deacons and ministers today are quite argumentative.  Not all are but some are.  Many famous Bible leaders would fail due to this requirement, like Moses who murdered a man in anger or Paul, who had persecuted the church. Also, Paul stated that the leaders were to manage their own families and children well.  Similarly, today’s church leaders often struggle with these topics and so did famous Bible men like Eli and Samuel. I am not trying to say people who don’t quite measure up in these respects should be cast out from their roles.  I just find it odd that this one particular point gets taken so seriously, while all too often we turn blind eyes to the other requirements.  Honestly, few, if any of us, would truly completely measure up to God’s plans.  But the great thing is, God uses failures to make wonders.


2 Responses to “Can divorced people be ministers or deacons?”

  1. cj carr July 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi James,
    Candace here from EDU 651. I appreciate all your research. I have wondered some of the same things only from a different perspective. You see, I grew up in an unchurched home. My mom was agnostic/atheist and my dad claimed to be BaptLuthapalian, whatever that was. I think it was that he had a good share of his church experience with army chaplains, but it was difficult to discuss, so we didn’t.

    Anyway, my religious path was free and clear so I was able to go in any direction I chose. I spent a lot of time in the Episcopal church and then 3 years ago I became Catholic. Strange ending huh? Well it was the right path for me, but not for everyone. Anyway, our deacons can be married, but if their wife dies or they get divorced, they cannot remarry. There are always exceptions. We even have some married priests. I am going to suggest that you research the Catholic faith on this subject. There are mamy good websites. I don’t think you will be able to change church doctrine but you may be able to understand it better. I do believe that the most important thing is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God Bless You.

  2. jaymzsc July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Hey! Thanks for the comment. I am a “pentabaptacostal” so I understand being a “mutt.” I love studying religion and theology. I will certainly try and see what I can find.

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