Marriage - Divorce & Ministry



Part Ten – Christian Service and Divorce before Salvation


As we demonstrated last week, the theology of God’s directives on divorce and remarriage is only valuable if it can be applied practically to the Christian’s life. We started this process last time with the question of “fairness”. This week we will continue with the impact of divorce and remarriage on Christian service and in the realm of the unbeliever.

1) What impact does remarriage after divorce have upon the Christian and his walk with the Lord? Are there any restrictions in his ability to service because of his remarriage? The Bible places two restrictions upon the remarried (after divorce) Christian. They are not to serve in the position of pastor or the position of spiritual leadership in the congregation. We must go to 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 to gain God’s view on this matter.

a. The Position of the pastor. In 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6, Paul declares that the pastor must be blameless. Thayer’s lexicon says the Greek word for blameless means “not apprehended, that cannot be laid hold of; hence, that cannot be reprehended, not open to censure, irreproachable”. In other words there is nothing in the pastor’s life that can bring reproach or censure. This is very important, for the pastor is to lead the congregation both in what he teaches and how he lives. Therefore, if there be anything in the pastor’s life would inhibit his ability to set a godly example of the qualifications of a pastor, he should not be allowed to serve as a pastor. 

With this mind we must now look at what follows. The pastor is to be a one woman man. The implications here is that pastor, if married, must be committed to one woman and one woman only. This would eliminate pastor’s who are polygamists and pastor’s who have not been true to the covenant that they made with their original wife. They may have cheated on their wife or they have divorced her to marry another. Such a man should not serve as a pastor. 

Even though this may have all happened a long time in the past and is now under the blood of Christ does not change the facts. If the man has divorced his first wife and remarried another, he is no longer an example of a one woman man. Some may say but he is now living true to his second wife and has been committed only to her for many years. However, his remarriage has removed his ability to be “blameless,” above reproach, as a living example of what it means to marry and keep oneself true to one’s mate as long as their mate lives.

The fact that more and more churches are accepting pastors and leaders who are remarried after divorce, is one the key contributing factors to the rise in divorce and remarriage among Christians. The members of the church look at their pastor as their spiritual example. If they see that their pastor chose divorce and remarriage, and seem to be no better off for the experience they therefore draw the conclusion it must be alright for me as well.

b. Position of spiritual leader. Paul carries this idea over to the other spiritual leaders of the church in 1 Tim. 3:11. The deacon is to be “blameless” and in verse 12, he like the pastor is to be “a one woman man.” The leadership of the Church is to set the example to the rest of the congregation on how to live and walk. If they are divorced and remarried they have marred the example God wants set for the whole of the congregation.

The conclusion we must draw is that divorce and remarriage does restrict the believer from serving in the position of the spiritual leadership of the church. However, there are no over restrictions given in the Scriptures. With this noted, if the remarried believer is right with God then he/she may serve in any other capacity of ministry the church has to offer. The congregation should recognize that divorce and remarriage is a sin however it should not stand in the way of us loving our brothers and sisters or of their ability to serve the Lord. Therefore the congregation should accept them as they would any other believer and encourage them to be active in their service for the Lord.

Please note that after writing this section on leadership and divorce I have had the opportunity to further study the matter. I have not changed my conviction concerning a divorced and remarried man serving as a pastor. He should not. The position of pastor is a higher calling than that of elder and/or deacon (Eph. 2:11) and as such he is held at a higher standard. However regarding the Deacon or Elder I have come to the following conclusion which is now the position of our congregation. Click further to learn more

2) How does divorce impact a believer who was divorced and/or remarried before he was saved? In other words, before the believer was a Christian and had access to God will on this matter, he/she was involved in a divorce. Do the same rules and restrictions that govern a Christian who is divorced hold if it happened before their salvation? Though this is one question yet there are two aspects to this question.

a. #1: if the believer was divorced before salvation but not remarried, does he have the right to remarry? After all, were not our sins washed away under the blood of Christ the moment of salvation? Was not this sin committed in ignorance of God’s law and therefore should not the consequences be less for them then it would be for one who is a Christian? In response to this question, let us note several points.

First, though he was an unbeliever when he was divorced does not necessarily mean he did this in ignorance. Many unbelievers are familiar with the teachings of God on this matter. Most people are familiar with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which correctly teaches that God hates divorce and remarriage. Likewise they are probably aware that Christians in general have taken this same position. Any unbeliever who has attended a wedding at a church conducted by a minister should have heard God’s teaching of this subject. 

More important than this, to get married one must know what he is doing and is saying when he takes the vows of marriage. He knows that it is a binding agreement recognized by the state and thus as any contract, he is bound by the law to keep his part of that contract. Now many unbelievers and unfortunately many Christians as well, do not pay close attention to what they are saying. However, that does not hold them any less guilty when breaking God’s law. 

For example, if I see a speed limit sign on a road but I do not pay attention to what it says and so I blissfully drive 15 mph over the speed limit, when the police sees me go by I should expect to be pulled over for speeding. If I plea innocent because of ignorance with it keep me from a speeding ticket? Sorry officer, I saw the sign but I just did not pay close attention to it as I did not think it all that important at the time. See if the officer let you off on that excuse! How much more God

Secondly, sin is sin whether it is committed by a believer or an unbeliever and therefore usually has the same consequences. For example, if I embezzle money from my employer and then get saved, can I expect to walk away from the consequences of my action because I was unsaved when I did it? Or if I commit murder and end up in prison for life and then become a Christian, does this now make me free to walk away from the penalty of my sin? The answer to both of these examples is no. Yes we are forgiven for the sin we commit as unbelievers and the eternal consequences of that sin is removed, but the present consequences of those sins must still be faced and lived with regardless of the change in our spiritual status.

It must be concluded that regardless of our knowledge of God’s rules before salvation, the present consequences are still in effect. If I get a divorce while unsaved, getting saved does not free me to remarry. God would still have me remain true to the covenant that I made with my mate until death separates us.

b. #2: if a believer is divorced and remarried before he is saved, do the restrictions placed on remarried Christians apply? As we have already observed, our salvation does not negate the present consequences of our actions that we committed before salvation. Therefore whether we are remarried before or after salvation, whatever restrictions are placed by God on the remarried individual are still in effect. 

In conclusion we see that the divorced and remarried Christian is to be received into the body of Christ and forgiven even as God has forgiven them. They are to be encourage to serve the Lord in the various ministries of the church. However, they are not to serve in the positions of pastor and leadership of the congregation. Likewise the rules and consequences that govern the Christian regarding divorce and remarry govern the unbeliever if he does not realize it. Therefore, when he becomes a Christians, though his sin has been forgiven of God and He is justified before Him, yet the present consequences of sin must be lived with until that great day when we see Christ.