Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

“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).

Many churches have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a 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.

In the qualifications for deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13), verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  That “one wife” business 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), to no one in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.

Likewise, 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 which gives qualifications for pastors.  If this refers to the deacons’ wives, shouldn’t there be something about pastors’ wives? But there isn’t. So, many have decided verse 11 refers not to wives of deacons, but to women deacons.  (Argue if 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.

Why then do our churches 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 seems to state very clearly that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, remarriage amounts to adultery.

The deacons in one church I served decided the bylaws needed a line prohibiting a man married to a divorced woman from becoming a deacon.  They cited the Matthew 19:9 passage as evidence.  I urged against this, saying the Timothy passage was sufficient.  Long story short, they took it to the church anyway and a huge fight broke out, the congregation equally divided.  Finally, the deacons dropped the matter, and grew angry at the church for not following their leadership.  I asked, “What do you think about the deacons not following their pastor? I told you not to bring it to the church.”  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 out the church for its hypocrisy, in effect making divorce a harsher crime 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.

Let’s encourage our churches to believe God’s word.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

  1. I’ve told many people that divorce is not an unpardonable sin. God forgives, cleanses, and restores. If we believe this, we shouldn’t permanently disqualify individuals from using their gifts to help us with the ministry. We need them on our teams to do the work of the church! Without listing many supporting Scripture, I’ll leave it at this. God specializes in forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration.

  2. When I went through an unwanted divorce in 1979, I realized that divorce is a failure to meet God’s standard for marriage….we failed in that, and thus we sinned by “missing the mark”. Confession of that (including owning my own part as neglecting my family while doing “God’s work at the church) resulted in absolute forgiveness, including the opportunity to begin again. I was prepared not to pastor again because of attitudes among church people on this matter. However, as I was on my face before God, He showed me Romans 11:29 “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” and Philippians 1:6 “I am confident of this one thing: He who BEGAN a good work in you will PERFORM it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Amazingly I did not miss a Sunday serving in God’s church, and am still serving a wonderful church and in my 35th year as their pastor. I said, “God I’m available, I will discuss this up front with any search committee, and leave the rest to you. And God has kept His word. Give me someone who has been broken and put back together and I will show you a thankful servant. I know I am blessed beyond measure…all Glory to Jesus!

  3. Thanks for that word. As a former Baptist minister who went through a divorce I can really appreciate all you had to say here. The church I was serving at the tine of the divorce loved me, saw beyond my circumstances, and allowed me to serve there. I soon learned, however, that there was no future for me in the SBC beyond that fellowship. Following the divorce God blessed me with a series of second chances. A second chance at a spouse and new family, and a second chance to serve Him as a PCA deacon,, choral director, and Church Administrator. I learned that even as I failed to have the perfect marriage experience suitable to fit the established expectations, so we as believers fail to be perfect in our forgiveness and our expectations of each other and our leaders. I cannot be angry or hurt at what I have been through. I have been wondrously blessed and celebrate the journey I have been on. Truly, it made me who I am. Yet, I hurt for those who find themselves on a similar road. Thankfully, when we do not have the strength or faith to hold on to our Shepherd, He has the power to hold on to His own and rescue His wayward or hurting sheep. He is the God of second chances.

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