When the question of divorce concerns a man who has been called to preach, it is always controversial. There was a time when the possibility of hiring a pastor who was divorced was rare but by the 1980s, a growing number of clergymen were divorced and married. There are many divorced pastors serving in churches today, including evangelical, Bible believing churches. This is a greatly debated issue, particularly among conservative believers. Not all Christians and churchgoers are comfortable with the idea of a divorced pastor leading. Many believe divorced pastors cannot serve as a pastor or in a leadership role within the local church but is this biblical? Does even a ‘biblical divorce’ exclude a man from ministry?
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 to mean a man must be married in order to serve, thus removing single men from any opportunity of leadership service. Some of these interpretations can be problematic. What about a man who leaves his wife but refuses a divorce? What if his divorce was pre-conversion? What if the pastor is a womanizer? What if he is the innocent party and couldn’t save his marriage? Do these examples disqualify him from serving? What about the grace of God?
This is not to say that divorce is ideal. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, he told them that It was only allowed because of “the hardness of your hearts,” (Matthew 19:1-9). God’s intention was for one man and one woman to marry and stay together. He said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” The wedding vows state, “Till death do us part.” But as unfortunate as the reality is, people get divorced. The two cases in which God permits divorce are fornication (Matthew 19:9) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15). In those two cases, the marriage can be dissolved and the spouse is free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:28) without living in adultery.
In order to dive deeper into this question, let’s take another look at the list of qualifications for a bishop. First Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 say that the bishop must be the husband of one wife. But what does this actually man? If you read the Bible from Genesis through Revelation and come across these verses in 1 Timothy and Titus regarding the pastor’s marital status, you would say he could not be a polygamist. You would think that because many of the Old Testament men that you had read about had more than wife.
There are a number of polygamists in the Old Testament that are mentioned by name including Lamech, in Genesis 4:19, who was the first polygamist. Then there were Jacob, Esau, Elkanah, Ashur, Shaharaim, and many of the kings, like David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Ahab, Jehoram, Joash, Jehoiachin and Belshazzae. Even people who know very little Scripture know that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Today, among certain religions and cultures polygamy is still common. So when you come across a verse in the New Testament that tells you a bishop can only have one wide, you’re going to think that the Bible means exactly what it says. The man can’t be a polygamist, through his contemporaries in other religions may be and though many of the Jewish fathers were. It’s important to look at historical context when interpreting these verses.
The thought that 1Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 could be referring to a preacher who had been divorced and remarried wouldn’t even cross your mind, unless someone gave you that thought. You would remember that a man and woman who are divorced are no longer husband and wife (Hosea 2:2). Therefore, you wouldn’t even consider that Paul was referring to a pastor who had been remarried after scriptural divorce. You would know from the Bible that he still only has one wife. When a man is married, he has one wife. When he is divorced, he has no wife. When he remarries, he has one wife.
Many people believe that Christians van be divorced and remarried under certain scriptural conditions and still serve the Lord. They know the remarried couple is not committing adultery, even though they have been married before, because they were scripturally divorced. Neither are they polygamists, though their former spouse is alive. Most people understand that they only have one spouse. How then do they conclude that when a man called to preach is remarried he is disqualified to pastor? The Bible says that the bishop is to be the husband of one wife, which should be the same for anyone else who has been divorced and remarried. The definition of “one wife” doesn’t change because he’s called to preach.
The proponents of the doctrine that a man called to preach is disqualified to pastor use 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 6 to say that divorced men cannot pastor. Yet, you will not find the verse or verses to say that the bishop must not have been divorced and remarried. They are not in the Bible.