Rethinking the divorce issue: Let’s start believing the Scriptures

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Most SBC churches I know have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a church member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.  I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

The qualifications for deacons are found in I Timothy 3:8-13.  Verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  The “one wife” business, of course, has been interpreted in a dozen ways, everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all  (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades; sorry, Charlie!), to no in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.  On a related subject, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 where qualifications for pastors are found.  If verse 11 refers to the deacons’ wives there should be something earlier about pastors’ wives. But there isn’t. So many a church has decided verse 11 is referring to women deacons.  (Argue all you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

So, why then do our churches so consistently insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

I suggest the answer is found in Matthew 19:9.  “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  This clearly states that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, a remarriage is adultery.

A group of deacons in one church I served decided the church needed a line in the bylaws prohibiting a man married to a divorced woman from becoming a deacon.  They cited this passage as evidence.  I urged against this, saying the Timothy passage was sufficient.  (Long story short, they took it to the floor of the church anyway and a huge fight erupted.  Finally, they dropped the matter, and grew angry at the church for not following them.  I asked, “What do you think about deacons not following their pastor?”  No answer.)

Divorce continues to divide the church today.  Many a man or woman who has seen their marriage break up has had to learn first hand how poorly our congregations deal with this issue.

A man told me, “Had I murdered my wife, I’d have served maybe 20 years in prison, then got out and joined the church and could have become a deacon.  But all I did was divorce her.”  He was calling the church out for its hypocrisy, that divorce is a harsher crime to many in the church than murder.

All of the above is just to prepare us to look at one text.  I Corinthians 6:9-11 deserves to be carved in stone and erected in the front yard of our churches.  It’s that pivotal.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Such were some of you.

Such. Were. Some. Of. You.

You may have been those things at one time.  You might have been a thief or drunkard, a idol worshiper, and promiscuous. But no more.  You are saved.  Born again. A new creation.

You have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, you have been set apart as holy by the Lord God (sanctified), and you have been made righteous (justified) in Jesus’ name by the Spirit of God.

You may have been an adulterer.  Matthew 19:9 says you were if you did what Jesus said.  But you’ve been forgiven.  You are no longer an adulterer.  You are pure in the sight of God.

If we believed Scripture we would quit holding people’s past against them so long as they qualify in godliness and holiness.


19 thoughts on “Rethinking the divorce issue: Let’s start believing the Scriptures

      • ¿Distracted by romance? He was married and I assumed he was in love with his wife and I want to believe that there was romance already in his life.

  1. My first wife passed away after 18 years of marriage. Later on I remarried and we were called to Pastor a new church. After a few weeks one deacon pulled me aside and asked me “do you have two living wives?” I was appalled at the question because I had been totally open and forthcoming with the search committee. I thought for a moment and then responded “yes I do, one lives with me and the other lives in heaven!” I never was asked anything like that again.
    BTW, I agree with your article 100%.

  2. Brother Joe,
    As always, this post of yours is timely. However, I’m a little confused as to what your conclusion is at the end. I get that we should not hold divorce as the unpardonable sin, but does divorce prevent someone from holding an office in the church?
    I say this is timely because i have been struggling with my reading of the Bible. I do believe it is the word of God, but sometimes there “appears” to be contradictions. I dig ever deeper and in so doing, i find it’s my misunderstanding, not the scripture that is at fault. Yet sometimes, i do not find the explanation. However, a disturbing report on how there is a growing trend of Christians leaving the church. Although i’m not a fan of polls, i found this one striking. It says that the reason why these Christians are leaving is, “Ex-Christians often leave the Church because they don’t think anyone in the Church can answer their questions or make a case. It’s time for believers to accept their responsibility to explain what Christianity proposes and why these propositions are true, especially when interacting with young people who have legitimate questions. Rather than embracing a blind or unreasonable faith, Christians must develop an informed, forensic faith that can stand up in the marketplace of ideas.
    We know why young Christians are leaving. Now it’s time to give them a reason to stay.” I find this troubling. I grew up in a time when the Southern Baptist organization was second-to-none, in teaching the Bible. Is the emphasis as strong as in the past? It’s a serious question. One that i worry about. And yes, i feel the burden to do my part.

    • Blind faith in the Holy Trinity, His son as the sacrifice that give us salvation, and in the Bible is the foundation of Christianity. When we believe God in “blind” faith, He then reveals Himself to us in so many ways. Psalms 91 instructs us to Honor God, Trust God, and call on Him. When we do this, God protects us and our families, he answers our prayers (including answers concerning scripture), and He gives us long life. My husband and I were each divorced when we met. We have been married 44 years. We were baby Christians and did not understand much in the Bible. We believe God brought us together for the purpose of being soul mates and having our two children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild. How could a body of people over-rule God’s will?

  3. The church has forgotten that many divorces are because one party committed adultery, was abusive or a drug addict and alcoholic but the other wasn’t. God knows this and the church should not hold the innocent party accountable for the others indiscretions but they do. God is the judge , not the church. I had a Church Elder try to keep me from joining a church because I was divorced from a mentally and verbally abusive man and he divorced me. I had psychological proof by a psychiatrist who counseled us of his horrific treatment. God doesn’t expect us to live in marriages that don’t abide by his word, but He also doesn’t want us to be miserable and scared. This needs to change. God still loves me and knows i did everything possible to make the marriage last but my ex didn’t. Wake up church.

    • Thankfully that man is not typical of very many of our people. I’ve been Southern Baptist since 1959, and although I’ve met all kinds, I’ve not met a member who would try to block someone divorced from joining the church.

  4. Romans 3:23… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
    James 2:10… For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

    With these 2 scripture, NO ONE is qualified to serve. Since we all have sinned we can not keep the whole law, thus, we are guilty of all sins. Yet we try basically to say the divorced is guilty more than we are. But, the scripture says “guilty of breaking all of it”.

    I do believe if someone has been divorced that they must prove themselves worthy of serving (but all entering the ministry should do that too). Getting divorced and they going in the ministry the next week is not good. It falls under the ‘not a new believer’ type item. Sadly, even pastors who commit adultery is let back into the ministry before getting their life back in order, as in “managing one’s household”. I don’t think we can set 10 rules and say you have to do them and then you can be a minister or deacon or any other position in the church. We must seek the heart, the repentances, the forgiveness that one has sought and received.

    Where do the scriptures like 1 John 1:9 ” If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purity us from ALL unrighteousness.”
    and Hebrews 8:12 “for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins NO MORE, and Hebrews 10:17-18, “And He adds; their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where theses have been forgiven, THERE IS NO LONGER any sacrifice for sin.” , and remember Isaiah 1:18. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

    If we believe these scripture are true, and if God can forgive and forget and use someone who has sinned, shouldn’t we are followers of Christ do the same?

    Since none of us are perfect, we have to look at the passages on leaderships as guidelines, and things we must strive to live daily. IF NOT, then any minister or deacon who have become angry most resign, for the same passage we use to say a man cannot be a pastor or deacon if they are divorces also says they must not show anger. They would cover about every deacon in the deacon meetings I have been in.

    But I do think we must prove ourselves to be Godly men who strive to follow and use God’s Word in EVERY part of our life.

    For everyone’s information. I was married at 18, right out of High School. If quit college and got married because I did not believe one should have sex before marriage. In less than a year my wife left me for her boss. I found myself divorced at 19 and marked for life (I thought)…. if we had lived together, or just had sex without marriage, I would have been accepted as worthy. I am now 65 years old, been married 40 years, gone to Bible college, have a degree in Education, Counseling and D. Min., degree. In my 35 years of ministry I have served as Minister of Children, Education, Youth and the last 6 years of my ministry as a pastor of 2 different small churches. Am I worthy, NO, but I have been forgiven and God has forgotten my sin and remembers it no more. Each and everyday I strive to grow closer to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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  7. I am remarried and although technically retired from pastoring, I preach fairly regularly. How would you discern if my qualifications for preaching are suitable given your last sentence: “If we believed Scripture we would quit holding people’s past against them so long as they qualify in godliness and holiness.”
    In other words what qualifies as godliness and holiness? Maybe a Nicodemus would qualify?

    • I doubt if a Christian would define godliness and holiness so broadly as to include a Pharisee. Raymond, I think you know the answer to your question, my friend.

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  9. The article seems inconclusive. I have not received enough clarity. For example, I thought 1 Cor 6:9-11 refers to people’s past before they accepted Christ. How does this apply to someone who is already born again and then gets divorced? What exactly is the scriptural basis for churches to permit divorced persons to become (or stay as) pastors and deacons?

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