October 22, 2017

Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 8: Leadership

split.jpgDivorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 1
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 2: A Map For the Road
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 3: One More Question
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 4: The Law and The Prophets
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 5: Jesus
Divorce, Remarriage and The Gospel 6: More Jesus
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 7: Paul

I have a bit more posting on the topic of Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel to finish. Let’s look at the topic of church leadership.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (2) Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (3) not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (4) He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, (5) for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (6) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (7) Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (8) Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. (9) They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (10) And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. (11) Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (12) Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. (13) For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Divorce and remarriage does not appear, specifically, in Paul’s instructions regarding church leaders. There is, however, a phrase that opens up the issue for almost everyone who has ever considered the subject of church leadership in any tradition. What does Paul mean by “husband of one wife?”

I have no plans to participate in that exegetical contest. An excellent layperson’s overview of the options is presented at Christian Answers.net. My own study of the New Testament and the first century leads me to the following conclusions:

1) It does not refer to divorce. No one legitimately divorced would be called the husband of two wives. No one not legitimately divorced would be considered for church leadership. (Remember that Paul isn’t talking to a church full of Baptists with nomination forms. He is talking to Timothy, who is selecting these leaders.) Jewish tradition and Roman culture allowed divorce. It is unlikely that Paul was saying all divorced persons were disqualified without exception, especially those who might have been legitimately divorced before conversion.
2) It could possibly refer to two situations: 1) Singleness or 2) cultures where having more than one wife was accepted- polygamy- and potential leaders were understandably not interested in divorcing a wife and mother of his children. These interpretations, however, have major problems based on what we know of the historical situation and what is said in other texts (like those regarding widows. I Timothy 5:9)
3) It most likely refers, not to any state or condition, but to a quality of being a faithful spouse, not adulterous, but devoted to one’s spouse in an exemplary way. It is being a “one woman man” in character.

The emphasis of the entire passage is on the quality of marriage, home life and parenting as it affects a leader’s public reputation and ability to lead the church. There is no doubt that this excludes many divorced and/or remarried persons from church leadership. There should be no argument about this.

The question, however, is more complex. What about the person whose spouse abused them, committed adultery and then abandoned them? What about abandonment by a spouse long before conversion? What about the situations we have already looked at where the divorced person is not “bound?”

Is Paul saying that a church could not decide to set aside a legitimately divorced person with an exemplary Christian marriage as a leader? Such divorces might have happened for the exact reasons he specified in First Corinthians: the pagan spouse may have sought divorce on religious grounds. If a man’s pagan wife went back to her pagan family, and that man remarried, establishing a godly Christian family, would he be excluded from serving as a deacon? This seems, at least to me, to go too far. It requires that the spirit of the Gospel be cast aside for a rigid understanding of legalistic qualifications for church leadership.

Many of us know pastors and deacons who are divorced and are a great blessing to the church. I recently found out that a pastor I have known for years, a wonderful servant of Jesus and people, was divorced long ago. Today, he has a wonderful Christian marriage and family.

Thank God for the Gospel, that helps us to be “one wife” men and “one husband” wives, even when we may have experienced failures in those relationships in the past.