Does Divorce and Remarriage Disqualify a Man From Being a Pastor?

"I would love for all followers of Jesus to come to a better understanding of 1 Timothy 3:2; not just for my sake, but for the overall health and sanctification of Christ’s body. To that end, I am thankful for the faithful and gracious teaching of Dr. Thomas Schreiner in the video below." - John Ellis

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Bert Perry's picture

....is that it might be really helpful in the discussion to translate "husband of one wife" consistently as the literal "one woman man", remembering that "husband of one wife" derives from the context--whether it is clear that the man belongs to the woman and vice versa.  I think a lot of the confusion over these passages arises from the fact that we drag in all other kinds of issues with the reasonable translation "husband of one wife."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Interesting that this topic comes up now - My adult Sun Sch class on Basic Theology is now in Ecclesiology, and we are looking at pastoral qualifications. Literally "of one woman man", with "man" the direct object of the verb "to be" and "of one woman" the qualifying phrase for "man". As far as divorce: To answer whether a divorced man can pastor based on the qualifications Paul lists would require a LOT of uncomfortable questions and honest answers. Truly "innocent" in divorce is rare. Forgiveness? Yes. Consequences? Yes. Gracious? Yes. Fidelity to personal conscience and Scripture? Yes. Since divorce is more common, it is not only one divorce you have to look at but possibly more than one. If you allow for one divorce, then why not 2 or 3? Who decides? Where do you draw the line? How about the man not ever divorced, but the potential pastor's wife has been divorced? Despite what some try to portray, divorce IS different than many other sins. Thus the theological and practical problems.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

pvawter's picture

A lot depends on your view of divorce and remarriage in general. As I read the Scripture, I see no positive case for remarriage after divorce, except in the case of the death of one's divorced spouse. Therefore, I cannot possibly affirm a divorced & remarried pastor. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Who decides?

The church.

Where do you draw the line?

At blameless.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Will he tell the church when he candidates?

I would imagine a church has done a background check and talked to lots of references, who surely would know. But I would also ask him.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Wally's comment, one opportunity (?) I get as the son of divorced parents is to meet my dad's girlfriends, and one in particular struck me; she'd been married to multiple alcoholics. Her life then turned around, to a degree, as she recognized that her "type" was the drunkard, and that she could sign up for more years of misery if she didn't recognize and avoid that type of person.

The same thing would apply for a pastoral candidate who had multiple divorces, even if it was multiple divorces because his wives all committed adultery.  In that case, either the pastor repeatedly chose poorly, or he repeatedly failed to disciple his wife, or both, and either case speaks to his ability to work with people--the pastor's chief job, of course.  So we might argue that a pastor with multiple divorces, but one current wife or less, might be found disqualified not because he isn't a "one woman man", but rather because he's not "apt to teach".  

Regarding the pastor with one divorce, I'd say you need to ask the person why it happened and what they learned (going through a "5 whys" kind of analysis if possible) from it no matter what, but a divorce before Christ (or resulting from a BC marriage) is probably a different thing than an anno domini divorce in terms of what it means for that person.  

And the gorilla in the room (or the Feltner as it were); you're going to want to look into how they handled dating, too.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Some allow a divorce before getting saved but not after getting saved. Apply that standard to another issue: child abuse, sexual abuse of someone, then getting saved in jail. Years later, wants to be a pastor. I doubt many churches would be eager to have as pastor someone convicted of child abuse or sexual abuse, even if it occurred years earlier before salvation. Again: This is why the question of divorce has so many problems. Sin ALWAYS complicates. After WW2, divorce increased across society. We live with the results today.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

John E.'s picture

Out of curiosity (and this, obviously, is directed at those who don't believe that divorce is an automatic disqualifier for the office of elder): if the candidate for pastor's first marriage and divorce happened several years before he became a Christian, would that change the nature of the questions you would ask? For example, and I think most of the SI readers are familiar with my backstory, if I were candidating at a church (not likely to ever happen, by the way), my responses to questions about my first marriage and divorce would be hard for most Christians (and, frankly, non-Christians) to process. My life before I became a Christian, including my first marriage, was far outside the realm of normal. Depending on the questions asked, I'm not sure how edifying or helpful explaining my first marriage would be in an interview. 

Related - a couple of years after I became a Christian, I returned to BJU. During the re-enrollment process, I honestly answered questions on the application about past alcohol use, drug use, and marriage/divorce. At the time, the application required the applicant to list every type of alcohol and drug used and how often. It also wanted a statement from your pastor at the time of your divorce about the divorce. Well, owing to my answers, the admissions office called me and asked me to come in for an interview.

The dude who interviewed me was a really nice dude. Like, super nice. I remember how shocked and confused he was by my past (I probably didn't need to be as forthright on my application as I had been, but, as a new Believer, I was trying to be honest). Regarding my divorce, at first he insisted that I needed some sort of statement from a pastor who had counseled me during the end of marriage or, at the least, a friend who had been a deacon or a Sunday school teacher or something who had counseled me. I explained to him that at the time I was an atheist and didn't receive any counseling from anybody, much less any Christians and most definitely not a pastor. He listened gravely and with a look of growing worry on his face as I gave a more details about what had happened and what my life was like at the time. He then insisted again, albeit very kindly, that the school needed some sort of statement, asking me, "Isn't there a friend who was there at the time that we could talk to about it?" I told him that I could give him the phone number of a couple of people but that I wouldn't advise him to call them since I couldn't vouch for how they would treat him on the phone and the kinds of things they would say after finding out he worked at BJU.

The whole thing got sorted out fairly quickly after the higher-ups recognized that my situation was way outside the norm for incoming BJU students. At the time, I found it somewhat amusing how the school's policy and procedure concerning admitting students with a less than stellar past, shall we say, was ill-equipped to handle circumstances like mine. So, again, I'm curious what types of questions a pastoral search committee would need to know about someone like me that would help them determine if the divorce was disqualifying or not. 

WallyMorris's picture

Another aspect of this issue: A pastor and his wife divorce, and the church overwhelmingly votes to keep him as pastor, despite that he said if he ever divorced, he would resign. Example: Charles Stanley.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

WallyMorris's picture

Some other Biblical principles to consider:

An Example   1 Tm 4:11-12

Peace & Building   Rm 14:19

Damage to the work   Rm 14:20

Careful in judgment/evalutations   Rm 14:10

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Charles Stanley, it's very instructive how his wife described the divorce; that her ex-husband had his priorities, and she simply wasn't one of them.  The real priorities in his life would have included publishing, I believe a radio show, and building a mega-church....but not making disciples in his own home.  Perhaps this...imbalance was encouraged by a book he considered (considers?) quite foundational, a little tome called "Think and Grow Rich."  

Now walk that through.  Is there another prescription for the pastorate there, or two, that might come into play?  Perhaps "lover of money" might be in play?  Lover of fame?  Importance?

I would love to believe that a man can become a megachurch pastor without falling into grievous sins like this, but Stanley, as well as other recent names like "MacDonald" and "Feltman", are working hard to disabuse me of that notion.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Regarding Charles Stanley...

Anything you say after that, Bert, is pure gossip. You and I have no idea what happened to the Stanley's. And quite frankly, its none of our business. You don't go to his church, nor do I. You have never met him or his wife (maybe in some book line at most... you don't know him) So why the urge to talk about him?

Larry's picture

Moderator

To me, the issue is whether or not he is blameless. That is the main qualification. Can a man who is divorced be blameless? Perhaps. it depends on a lot of factors, in my mind. But if we keep the focus on blameless, I think the issue at least gets a bit easier. That is not to say that a divorced man could be a pastor. I am just not convinced that it categorically prohibits it. 

 

WallyMorris's picture

In Bert's defense:

I am the one who first mentioned Charles Stanley. Bert was responding to my statements.

However, the issue with Stanley is more than gossip. Stanley, his wife, and their son Andy made public statements and sworn statements in court documents. Using those as reference is not, by itself, gossip. If we follow your logic, then we can never say anything about any pastor since we do not go to that church. That would mean that we can never say anything about Driscoll, MacDonald, any homosexual pastor, any liberal pastor, any immoral pastor, etc.

The topic of this discussion is pastors and divorce. Charles Stanley is perhaps one of the most well-known current pastors who are divorced. His situation is "fair game" for a discussion such as this.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

When we declare something to be "pure gossip", even beyond the fact that I was actually going (thank you, Wally) on things like sworn court statements, let's consider why we would, sans evidence, declare something to be gossip.  

The obvious inference is that the speaker wishes to declare that certain claims can not be admitted into evidence, and when someone does that without knowing the actual nature of the evidence, it amounts to little more than a shout down. 

It's allowable, IMO, to point out that something is indeed hearsay when it's that, or if it doesn't even qualify as hearsay, but....that presumes that we've done the work to figure out whether an allegation is direct evidence, hearsay, or tertiary/etc.. information.  We don't get to just declare something to be "gossip" or "speculation" without providing evidence that it is indeed so.  Or, if we try, we ought to be rightly seen as "people who will shout each other down".  We also might infer that we are "people who reflexively defend people in their own theological  or personal orbit", or, more succinctly, "nonthinkers". 

That implies, of course, that a gut check for both Wally and I is whether we will apply the same kind of scrutiny to people in our own theological orbits.  For me, that means the GARBC, ABWE, FBBC in Ankeny, Cedarville, BJU, and the like.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.