Does divorce mean disqualified? I know of and have attended churches where that question is answered with a resounding “yes.” It is certainly a “yes” if the question is about being called as a pastor, a deacon or even teaching Sunday school. A friend of mine completed all of his coursework for a Master of Divinity degree with the exception of one class. The course he lacked was no longer offered so it was arranged that he would read an assigned book, write a paper and graduate. Around this time, it was discovered that he had been through a divorce which caused the seminary to declare he was “disqualified” to receive a divinity degree since this degree prepares one for church leadership. This has not been completely resolved today. So, does a divorce mean permanent disqualification for certain roles in the Body of Christ? I would submit no, not necessarily. I believe we are taking the primary passage that speaks to the matter and focusing on a little tree while missing the forest (bigger picture).
And the Bible says…..
Let’s take a look at the passage where the Apostle Paul is inspired to write to his spiritual child and partner in ministry, Timothy. Paul is giving Timothy instructions to appoint Overseers (leaders) in local churches, along with characteristics to look for in candidates:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NASB)
There you have it, fifteen characteristics to look for in local church leadership:
- Above reproach
- The husband of one wife
- Self Controlled
- Able to teach
- Not addicted to wine
- Not quarrelsome
- Free from the love of money
- Manages his household well **keeping his children under control with all dignity**
- Not a new convert
- A good reputation with those outside the church
Now that you have looked over the list, I have a question for you to consider – why does number 2 seem to be the primary qualification that is dwelt upon? Look my Bible-believing friends, I could go into the reasons that 1 Timothy 3:2 is not a “divorce disqualifying doctrine,” but in lieu of that dissertation I will suggest one point. The list above is a list of positive and negative characteristics that would help or hinder relationship. The pastor (overseer) and the church are to have a close and intimate relationship. To take that list, focus on one of fifteen, and then make it a black and white “yes no checkbox” is missing the entire point. Our God is a God of relationship, redemption, grace, mercy and restoration. Wouldn’t it be nice if His Body (the church) emulated Him in that regard? God inspired Paul to give Timothy a list of characteristics to look for in leadership candidates that would foster and not hinder healthy relationships. It is not a checklist of disqualifiers in one’s history but current characteristics that promote healthy relationships. Depending on your church denomination (or doctrine) number 8 is made more stringent than what Scripture calls for and the rest are widely ignored. Why? Actually, number 13 goes beyond being ignored. It is a joke and accepted that preacher’s kids (PK’s) are “the wildest.” Have you answered my question about #2 above? Allow me to suggest an answer while you ponder. Perhaps we dwell on number 2 because it is easy. “Is there a divorce anywhere in your past?” No = you’re in / Yes = you’re out. Well, you’re in if we hear you preach and you keep our attention. It is easy because it is a rule. In the church we seem to prefer rules to relationship. Rules are easy…. relationship is hard. We take the qualification, “husband of one wife,” translate that to “never been divorced” and make it a simple rule. I will resist the urge to exegete this passage based on what was going on with the Gentiles in that region where Timothy ministered and simply say that I prefer the New Living Translations rendering of this verse: He must be faithful to his wife…. But in any case, preferring rules to relationship is not a new phenomena. Remember what our spiritual forefathers told Moses when they were to meet God at the foot of Mount Sinai? They did not want to hear God and stand in His presence. Rather they requested Moses go, hear God by himself and then come back and tell them what to do (Deuteronomy 5:27). Thus, they got “the Law” AKA the “Old Covenant” – a boat load of harsh rules which lasted for about 1500 years until a New Covenant was purchased by Jesus which brought us back to relationship.
Relationship Over Rules
The Law is not God’s will for mankind; God wants relationship with us. But we, at times, are drawn to rules. Rules require less thought. Rules require less effort. A black and white rule (have you ever been divorced?) is much easier than getting to know a person intimately and finding out whether or not they: have integrity, are patient, prudent, respectable, etc…. That takes effort! Relationships are hard, but close relationships (God and people) is how we are designed to flourish. Healthy relationships are God’s will for each of us. As you can see by the list above there are many qualifications for leadership other than status with the opposite sex, but considering most of those would take much more effort. It is much easier and safer to simply apply a rule that you can execute so succinctly in under 5 seconds. “Divorced?” “Yes.” Boom – done!
Perhaps I will deal with why we take this qualification: keeping his children under control with all dignity and chuckle that pastor’s kids “PKs” are a synonym for an unruly child another day? Until then, choose relationship over rules….. even though it’s harder.