“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6).
“Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).
There has long been a controversy over the matter of the pastor’s marital standing, whether or not he can be divorced and continue in the pastorate, yet God has made it clear that He intends for the pastor to be a man who is above average. He cannot do things other Christians might be able to do. The pastor must be “blameless” in some very clearly defined areas of his life.
We know this is not speaking of any sort of sinless perfection. The Bible doesn’t say the pastor must be perfect; it says he must be blameless. There is a big difference.
The requirement of being blameless does not mean, either, that the pastor must fit everyone’s idea of what a pastor should be. That would be as impossible as attaining sinless perfection!
What God requires is that the pastor be blameless by the specific standards that are set forth in Scripture.
Let us examine those standards in light of whether or not a divorced man is qualified to hold the office of pastor.
I. THE PASTOR MUST NOT BE DIVORCED BECAUSE HE MUST BE BLAMELESS IN HIS REPUTATION BEFORE MEN.
“A bishop then must be blameless ... Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:2, 7).
The first thing to consider is that the pastor must be blameless in his reputation before men. A divorced man, no matter what the cause for the divorce, does not have the spotless reputation in his family life that a pastor must have. His divorce is a handle that the devil can take hold of to harm the work of God. The blemish of divorce can used against his ministry and against the church. It will hinder his ministry. And since the church’s testimony is far more important than the feelings or ambitions of any individual, divorced men should refrain from pastoral positions.
One reader of an earlier edition of this report wrote to ask the following question: “Satan can and will use any sin a pastor has ever committed to try and tarnish the work of God and his Kingdom. If one has struggled with porn or any other fleshy sin, that is a strong handle as well. Would you say for them not to become a pastor?”
My answer to this is that though every type of sin can be forgiven and forgotten, all sins do not have the same type of abiding consequences. Believers and unbelievers alike understand and sympathize with men who have struggled with sin in the past and have gotten the victory. (By the way, if a man is still “struggling with porn,” he has no business in a Christian ministry. What I am addressing here are sins that are in the past.) If he had a problem at one time with some type of sin, whether it be drunkenness or pornography, and he has been saved and has gotten victory in his life, that is not something that the devil can use effectively as a blot on his ministry. If the devil tries to dredge up such things from the past, it backfires on him, because the pastor can testify of the grace of God that gave him the victory, and he can encourage others that they, too, can have the victory.
But divorce is a different type of thing, because it is permanent and has abiding consequences.
What if the divorce were for the cause of fornication? It appears in Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19 that divorce might be allowed for such a cause. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery...” (Mat. 19:9). Even so, divorced men do not have an unblemished reputation in the eyes of men.
What if the divorce occurred before the man’s conversion? Is he not forgiven? Certainly he is if he has repented, yet by the divorce, there is permanent damage to his ability to hold certain offices in the church.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean a person will avoid consequences for past sin. A man who, in a drunken condition before salvation, has an accident and loses a limb, will be handicapped the rest of his life even if he gets saved. King David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but he suffered for the rest of his life as a consequence. (The fact that David was not removed from being king does not mean that a pastor can remain in office regardless of what he does. The office of king in Israel was a matter of physical lineage and was very different from the office of a pastor.)
This applies to the person who was divorced before his conversion. The sin is forgiven and he can enjoy the manifold blessings of the Lord, but scars will remain throughout his earthly life. One consequence is that he is restricted as to the type of office he can hold.
Someone has asked, “What about the apostle Paul? He was a murderer and a blasphemer against Christ?” Yes, but those actions, once they were forgiven, did not leave the type of abiding consequences that divorce does. Some sins have abiding consequences that affect the rest of one’s life.
II. THE PASTOR MUST NOT BE DIVORCED BECAUSE HE MUST BE AN EXAMPLE OF GOD’S PERFECT WILL
“The elders which are among you I exhort ... be ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1, 3).
The second thing to consider is that the pastor is to represent God’s perfect will before this world. If the pastor is not a pattern for God’s will, there will be no such pattern, and standards among God’s people will fall to the level of the world. This has happened repeatedly, and we see it all around us today.
What is God’s will about marriage? The Word of God clearly says that God is against divorce.
“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away...” (Mal. 2:16).
“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from the husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:1-11).
God allowed divorce because of the hardness of human hearts, but it has never been God’s perfect will. As Jesus said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts allowed you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mat. 19:8).
Since the pastor should be in the business of upholding God’s perfect will, he should not be a divorced man, no matter what the cause of the divorce.
In many parts of the world divorce is no longer looked upon as a bad thing. In some states in America a divorce can be obtained almost as easily as a driver’s license. Some pastors in liberal denominations perform divorce ceremonies to help remove “the guilt and stigma” associated with divorce. This is wrong. We should be kind to those who suffer divorce and we should love them with Christ-like love, but the world also needs to see that God takes divorce seriously, even if society and apostate denominations do not.
What does God say about the marital bond? “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mat. 19:6).
If these biblical truths cannot be seen in the marriages of our church leaders, where will they be seen? If a pastor tries to warn against divorce and remarriage, yet he himself is divorced and remarried, how seriously will people take heed? If he tries to educate the church on effectual child training, but his family is broken and scattered and his children reprobate, how effective can he be?
Believers need to see God’s will in the lives of their leaders. Can a divorced man truly set forth the right standards for young people (or older people, for that matter)? Will they take him seriously as he tries to teach them what God thinks about marriage?
The institution of marriage is under fierce attack. God’s people need to see that a successful Christian marriage is possible and that children can be trained and disciplined before the Lord so they are “not accused of riot or unruly” but rather are “in subjection with all gravity” (Titus 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:4).
Where are the churches going to see these things if not in their pastors?
III. THE PASTOR MUST NOT BE DIVORCED BECAUSE HE MUST PREACH THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD.
“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Third, the pastor must not be divorced because he has to preach the whole counsel of God, and if he has a broken family and a crippled marital status and his children do not have a good testimony, he is not in a position to preach some things with complete authority.
People tend to discount preaching when it is done by a man who has serious blemishes in relation to the things he preaches.
Christians often have marital problems serious enough to lead to divorce if not corrected. A pastor must be a man who can share with them God’s perfect will for marriage. He must be able to exhort couples to avoid divorce, to stay together and to work things out by God’s grace. His own marital life must back up his exhortations. Otherwise his counsel will not have as much effect.
He must be a man who has demonstrated in his own marriage that God’s plan and God’s grace are sufficient for holding a home together.
A divorced man cannot do this, regardless of the cause of the divorce.
BUT GOD HAS CALLED ME
I have heard men say that God would not allow them to get out of the pastorate after their divorce, that God had called them and His calling is without repentance.
That is their business before God, but I don’t believe God operates contrary to His Word. When He lays down standards for the pastorate, He is not going to lead a man to go contrary to them.
Our feelings about God’s will are very undependable.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool...” (Prov. 28:26).
We can easily be led astray by our feelings. We must therefore depend upon what the Bible plainly says and not upon what we feel.
Many women are absolutely convinced that God has called them to be pastors. They feel so strongly about this that they would rather die than quit. You can quote Scripture to them all day long and it has no effect, because they are living by their subjective experiences.
Yet they are wrong. Scripture is very clear on this. “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...” (1 Tim. 3:2).
If such a woman is saved, she will be ashamed at the judgment seat of Christ because of her disobedience to God’s Word, but in this present time she is entirely convinced that God has called her to pastor.
Likewise, many men who feel that God has called them to pastor aren’t qualified to do so by the standards of God’s own Word, and are therefore flying in the face of clearly defined Scriptural teachings.
A wise man will be content to be what he is qualified to be, not what he might like to be.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
A man’s calling needs to be tested by the Word of God. If I am not qualified to do something, I should not do it, no matter how much I desire to do it and no matter how strongly I “feel” called to do it.
THE CHARGE THAT THOSE WHO ARE OPPOSED TO DIVORCED PASTORS LACK COMPASSION.
Many try to frame the discussion about divorced pastors in terms of compassion and forgiveness. I have been repeatedly charged with a lack of compassion and a Pharisaical spirit.
This is a cheap shot that dodges the real issues, and it is completely untrue.
I think of a man who was one of the first converts in one of our missionary churches. His wife left him after he turned to Christ from Hinduism. So did his oldest daughter. I have great compassion for this man. I have done everything I can to help him. He is a faithful man, and within the bounds of what he is qualified to do we have given him ministries and opportunities for service, including ushering, counting offerings, and leading a prayer meeting.
I think of the hymn writer Charles Weigle. His biography is available on our web site as a free eBook (The Life and Songs of Charles Weigle). Though he was a compassionate Christian evangelist, his wife left him. His wife came to him one day and said, “I’m leaving, Charlie. I don’t want to live the life you are living. I want to go the other way--to the bright lights.” Their only child, a daughter, left with her. That very night Charles saw them off on a train to the other side of the country. Five years passed before he wrote another song, but God healed him. His wife died as a consequence of a life of sin a few years after she left. He remarried and continued in evangelism and hymn writing.
I think of the man who led me to Christ in 1973. When God called him to preach, his wife gave him an ultimatum that if he preached, she would leave and take their infant son. It was a heartbreaking choice, but he put Christ first, and she did leave. He had dedicated himself not to remarry and to travel and preach the gospel. That’s how I met him when I was a hitchhiking hippie.
Anyone who thinks I have no sympathy for such cases is desperately wrong. I know that I am nothing, and it is only by the grace of God that I did not marry before I was saved and that I was in the position afterward to marry a godly, spiritually- and doctrinally-likeminded woman in God's perfect will.
Yet I am still convinced that divorced men should be content with ministering to the Lord in the capacities that are open to them apart from the pastorate. No man has to be a pastor. Let that office be held by men who are without blame in their marital status, men who can be an example of God’s will in the matter of marriage and child training, because if the pastor is not an example of God’s will in such things, who will be?
A CALL TO PREACH IS NOT NECESSARILY A CALL TO PASTOR
A man might argue, “God has called me to preach, therefore I must be a pastor,” but the call to preach is not necessarily the call to pastor. To have an effective preaching ministry, it is not necessary for a man to be a pastor. He can preach on the streets. He can preach from house to house. He can preach in jails and nursing homes. He can preach in the highways and byways. He can teach the Bible in a variety of contexts.
Let me give my own testimony. I know that God has called me to preach. I believe that I have four of the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-8).
I have the gifts of prophecy, teaching, exhorting, and ruling. My prophetic gift is not foretelling, but forth telling after the fashion of 1 Corinthians 14:3.
God has called me to preach and teach, but I also know that God has not called me to be a pastor.
There are five types of ministry-gifted men mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 that God has given to the churches to build up the saints for the work of the ministry.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
It is common today to use the term “called to preach” synonymously with the call to the pastorate, but the two are not necessarily the same.
Not only must a man’s calling be tested by the Bible, but it must also be tested by the church. This is what ordination is about. It is the church’s recognition of a divine call (Acts 13:2-3). If a Scriptural, spiritual church does not think God has called a man to a certain ministry, he would be unwise to push himself forward in that thing. As Charles Spurgeon said to his Bible students,
“I have noted ... that you, gentlemen, students, as a body, in your judgment of one another, are seldom if ever wrong. There has hardly ever been an instance, take the whole house through, where the general opinion of the entire college concerning a brother has been erroneous. ... Meeting as you do in class, in prayer-meeting, in conversation, and in various religious engagements, you gauge each other; and a wise man will be slow to set aside the verdict of the house” (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students).
From 47 years of Bible study and prayer, my conclusion is this: If you are “called to preach,” seek opportunities to preach, but don’t be a pastor unless you are qualified.
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
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