One of the more common things seen in ordination/deacon/pastor/minister qualifications is “the husband of one wife.” This choice of words is taken from a few verses in 1 Timothy 3 (2 & 12). The Bible makes it very clear that anyone who would be serving the church must live a life that is “above reproach” (Titus 1:6). Being the husband of one wife is part of the criteria for living a life that is above reproach. However, no where in any of these passages does it mention the word “divorce.”
Divorced men in the ministry has always been, for me, a rather touchy subject. Those that know my family well know that my dad, who is in ministry, has been divorced. It was a marriage that he tried to save, but his ex-wife was insistent that she was leaving him due to an affair. It has been, hands down, the biggest obstacle for him to overcome while trying to minister in the local church. The more I have seen him in combat with it, the more I have become so convinced that the Baptist church has it wrong when it comes to divorced men serving in ministry. I don’t know of a more devoted man to Jesus Christ and the church than my dad; and because of a mistake made over 25 years ago, he is having to revisit it over and over again any time he serves in ministry.
I never shy away from discussing with a fellow believer what Scripture means by “the husband of one wife.” Oftentimes, especially in the Baptist church, I have found more disagreements than agreements. I may be viewed as a liberal (!) when it comes to this subject, but I do have very strong feelings about this and Scripture to back it up. And in the midst of reading Scripture trying to figure out what God means by “the husband of one wife,” I learned something.
God couldn’t pastor a Baptist church.
In Jeremiah 3:8, we find this verse:
[Judah] saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I [God] had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.
Jeremiah has spoken a word from the Lord comparing Israel, God’s bride, to a whore. God believed that after Israel had messed around with other loves (pagan gods, idols, sinful acts, etc.), she would come back to Him. When she didn’t, “He sent her away with a decree of divorce.” Israel was unfaithful to God. Even though God was prepared to forgive her and hope that she would return to Him, she didn’t. This is why, in Malachi 2:16, God tells us that He “hates divorce.”
GOD’S BEEN DIVORCED!!!!
Based on criteria set forth by individual churches, because God had divorced Israel, He could not be a minister, let alone a pastor, in their church. How in the world do we respond to something like that? Are we placing divorce as a higher sin than murder or prostitution or former homosexuality or drunkenness? It certainly appears that way.
The more I have studied those verses in 1 Timothy, the more I am convinced that it does not refer to divorce or polygamy. I am convinced that it refers to the kind of man who is a faithful husband that leads his family well and takes the role of spiritual leader seriously. A man who daily spends time with the Lord through prayer and Bible study. A man who makes sure that he is doing everything he can to present his spouse as “holy and blameless in the sight of God.”
We can all agree than sin is sin is sin. Christ holds no one more accountable for their sin than anyone else. We are all judged the same way. More importantly, we are judged by God and not by a ministerial search committee. PRAISE GOD.
With that in mind, why did God use Paul when he had spent the majority of his life mass-murdering Christians? Why did God use Solomon, a man who had multiple wives AND concubines? Why did God use David, a man who committed adultery and then tried to cover it up with murder? The answer is simple: He used them because He forgave them and He changed them. He had a higher calling for them, despite the horrendous sins they had previously committed.
I firmly believe that my dad has been forgiven and changed by God since his divorce. I see it in action every single day. If God has forgiven him and other men like him, why can’t churches do the same to men that are trying to faithfully serve God despite their sin of divorce? Who do we think we are adding qualifications to what God has ordained simply because it suits our needs? Shame on us if we ever do such things.
It really says something about our churches if we would allow Paul, a former slaughterer of Christians, to pastor our church rather than God, who’s been divorced. Let us never become churches that “go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).