Can Divorced Men Serve as Ministers or Deacons?
It is a familiar story. A man who serves as a minister or deacon of a church gets a divorce. Immediately, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, he is forced to resign. In addition, he is forbidden to serve as a deacon or minister in the future, no matter how much time has elapsed since the divorce. So, all at once he looses his family, his career, his church and possibly his home (if he lives in a parsonage or some form of housing owned by the church). This total loss of everything he holds dear is devastating on every possible level. But does it have to be that way? Does the Bible really say that a divorced man cannot serve as a minister or deacon?
To discover the answer, let's look at what the Bible actually says on the subject. There are only three verses of Scripture that directly address the subject: 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6. These verses were written by the Apostle Paul to two of his younger students, Timothy and Titus. He gives identical instructions to each of his students on the qualifications of ministers (called elders or bishops). Only in his letter to Timothy does Paul list the qualifications of deacons, which are almost identical to those of ministers. Paul gives these qualifications to Timothy and Titus to help them in the selection of ministers and deacons in the churches they serve. One of the qualifications Paul gave to Timothy and Titus is that men who serve as ministers or deacons must be "the husband of one wife." This qualification has been taken to mean that a man who is divorced and remarried cannot serve as a minister or deacon, because he has been married more than once. There are three reasons this opinion is incorrect.
Divorce Is Not Mentioned
The first reason why it is incorrect to say that the Bible says that divorced men cannot serve as ministers or deacons is because divorce is not mentioned in the passages which list the qualifications for those positions. To say that the phrase, "husband of one wife" refers to divorce is to read into the passages something that is not explicitly stated, thus distorting the original meaning of those passages.
The second reason it is incorrect to say that the Bible says divorced men cannot serve as ministers or deacons is that the passages which discuss the qualifications for each position are written in the present tense, indicating the current condition of the individual, not his history. In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul wrote that a bishop "must be [translated from the word 'einai' - the present infinitive form of the Greek word 'eimi', which means 'to be']... the husband of one wife." He is to be the husband of one wife NOW. A man who is divorced and remarried is currently the husband of one wife. In 1 Timothy 3:12 Paul wrote that deacons must "be [translated from the word 'estowsan' - the third person plural present imperative form of the Greek word 'eimi,' listed above, which means 'they must be'] the husbands of one wife." Once again, he is to be the husband of one wife NOW. In Titus 1:6 Paul wrote that an elder is to "be [translated from the word 'estin,' the third person singular present indicative form of the Greek word 'eimi,' mentioned above, which means 'they are']...the husband of one wife." Yet again, this is the present tense, the current condition of the man. He is to be the husband of one wife NOW. What is in the past is in the past. God's grace covers the transgressions of the past for those who repent and believe, even sins against one's spouse. (1 John 1:9) Sins of the past should not be held against a man. His current condition should be examined to determine his fitness for service as a minister or deacon.
Divorce Means It's Over
Some would argue that because marriage is a life-long covenant, God does not recognize a divorce; therefore, a man that is divorced is still married to his first wife in God's eyes, making any subsequent marriages adulterous or polygamous, violating the "husband of one wife" requirement for ministers and deacons. Although marriage is a life-long covenant, there are situations which break that covenant. Jesus said that divorce and remarriage is adultery, except in the case of "sexual immorality." (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) If the spouse is guilty of sexual immorality (infidelity), the innocent partner is permitted to divorce and remarry. The Apostle Paul wrote that someone is no longer bound to a spouse who leaves them, and that those who are "loosed" from a spouse do not sin if they remarry. (1 Corinthians 7:15, 27-28) These are exceptions to the general rule that marriage is life-long. Furthermore, when speaking to the "woman at the well," Jesus told her that she spoke truly when she said that she had no husband, although she had five husbands in the past and was living with a man that was not her husband. (John 4:16-18) If God does not recognize divorce, Jesus would not have made that statement. Divorce, right or wrong, ends a marriage. When it's over, it's over. The innocent party is allowed to remarry. Such circumstances should not be held against a man seeking the position of minister or deacon.
For the reason listed above, it is incorrect to deny a man the opportunity to serve as a minister or deacon because of a prior divorce. The Bible simply does not teach that divorce disqualifies a man from service as a minister or deacon.
There are those who will also argue that divorce violates the requirement that ministers and deacons "rule their houses well." (1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12) Once again, the Bible refers to the current condition of the man, how he currently manages those who are currently members of his household. Whatever may or may not have happened in the past is irrelevant.
Can divorced men serve as ministers or deacons? Yes.