Can a Divorced Man Pastor a Church?
by Pastor Philip Ayers
Can a divorced man pastor a church? This is a greatly debated issue among conservative believers. Those of you who know me realize I am very conservative in my doctrine and Biblical intrepretation. However, I do interpret the Bible differently from other Conservatives when considering the allowing of divorced men to pastor.
Most believe that a divorced man cannot serve as a pastor or in a leadership role within the local church. First Timothy 3 lists the qualifications for bishops (pastors, elders). The controversial second verse says, "The husband of one wife." Many believe this means literally one wife or never have been divorced. Others suggest it refers to bigamy or one wife at a time. Some teach it means a man must be married in order to serve, thus removing single men from any opportunity of leadership service.
These interpretations lead to many other problems. What about a man who practices homosexuality but remains married? Can he still lead a church simply because he is not divorced? What about a man who is a woman miser? Can he remain qualified because he is remains with his wife? Or what about the man who leaves his wife but refuses a divorce? What if his divorce was pre-conversion? What if he is the innocent party and could not save his marriage? Does God throw him out with the bathwater? What about the grace of God? What if his ex-wife dies? Is he now unqualified, because she is no longer living? What about the marriage that is never consummated? In the eyes of the law he was married? Is he now unqualified to pastor? Did our Lord intend such confusion when he inspired the Apostle Paul to pen the statement, "Husband of one wife." I think not.
It would seem that divorce is the unforgiveable sin. The church can deal with any other sin presented to it except divorce. Consider drunkards, for an example. Throughout history, former drunkards became famous and very successful pastors of God. Many former drunkards are pastors and they are in pulpits today.We listen to their testimonies, and praise God for their conversions. My father was a drunk, and his alcoholism caused my dear mother to commit suicide by lying down in front of a train. You say, how tragic! You are right, but my father could preach, according to these who hold to the teaching that a divorced man cannot. These same former drunkards would cry "grace, grace", but they deny the same grace "to all who have sinned and come short of the glory of God." It is time to "rightly divide the Word of God." Either grace is grace or it is not. Either God forgives, or we are all without hope! I thank God that He uses these mighty preachers in spite of themselves.
John R. Bisagno, in his book entitle Letters to Timothy, gives my understanding of the Apostle Paul's teaching. He says, "The best thinking today from Greek scholars is that it is impossible in the Greek for this expression "husband of one wife" to refer to a status. It must be a trait, It is not what one is, (i.e., married or divorced); it is what one is like, (i.e., faithful to his wife). The Greek text literally reads 'a one-woman man.' Paul is not referring to a leader's marital status, as the absence of a definite article in the original indicates. Rather, the issue is his moral, sexual behavior. Many men (pastors) who are married only once are not one-woman men. While remaining married to one woman is commendable, it is no indication or guarantee of moral purity. Contextualizing the passage, you find that every other qualification is an 'inclination toward.' It is not 'hard and fast.' It is not a status but a character trait of which Paul writes. The original pattern is, 'a one-woman kind of man,' not a divorced man. His character, not his marital status, is in view."
Bisagno continues to say, "The text does not say the pastor never once failed to be watchful; it says he is vigilant. It doesn't say he never once had a good laugh at a joke; it says he is serious. It does not say he never once misbehaved; it says he is of good behavior. It does not say he never once turned down a visitor to his home; it says he is given to hospitality. It does not say he never once messed up a sermon; it says he is apt to teach. It does not say he never once had a drink at the senior prom; it says he is not given to wine. It does not say he never once lost his patience; it says he is patient. It does not say he never once got into a fight at school; it says he is not a brawler. It does not say he never once wanted another's possessions; it says he is not characterized by a covetous spirit." I agree with his exegesis. God never intended the innocent to be punished, but old traditions die hard. Obviously, there are great differences of opinion and Bible interpretation on this subject. I greatly respect the men who hold to the old tradition in their interpretation of this one qualification. Some of them are my dear friends, and I hope they will forever be. However, I do not want to be one of those who shoot our wounded.
My former wife of 21 years is deceased, and I have been re-married for 18 years. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. It is God's gift to mankind. I do not try to change the minds of other Godly men, but I do pity their lack of understanding. To them I would like to ask a question. What will you do if your wife divorces you and you cannot stop it? Will you allow another person's decision to take you out of ministry? You say, "My wife would never do that!" Well my friend, others have made same boast. Are you sure God would cast you aside? Many God fearing men labor with leaving their call to ministry and God would not release them. I have experinced their deep pain and agony.If they could do anything else, they would gladly do it.
Consider this quote from Jesus found in Matthew 5:28, "But I say unto you, 'That whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." In verse 27 Jesus says, "You shall not commit adultery." I suppose that disqualifies every man who has ever lived from serving as a pastor, since adultery is biblical grounds for divorce. No man is innocent of this. Of course, this is foolish. It is about our hearts, my friends, not our status!