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Is a divorcee acceptable to God as a deacon?

I wish to establish two definitions: (1) A spouse who desires a divorce and willingly enters into it when there is no biblical justification is in sin and is a divorcer.

This could be one or both spouses. (2) A spouse who is committed to staying in the marriage, giving up self-rights and trusting Christ to make it work and yet is still divorced by his spouse is adivorcee. There is a big difference between these two terms, indeed, between these two people.

I believe many of us have been mistaken by believing that God’s Word disqualifies the divorcee to serve as a pastor or a deacon. God does not heap further rejection upon divorcees by disqualifying them for life from leadership in the body during the very time they have been so devastated by the injustice done to them by their spouse’s sin. God’s grace is far and away greater than the grace many Christians extend to these brothers or often even to themselves.

I’d like to examine God’s attitude about disqualifying men for leadership. We can get a much more intimate view into the personal lives of Old Testament saints than those in the New. Many of the narratives involving O.T. leaders are quite comprehensive whereas this is not true of New Testament characters, Jesus excepted. I will cite David as an O.T. spiritual as well as civil leader.

David had several wives; this is not God’s plan for marriage. In addition, he lived under the Law which commands, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery.” David murdered; David was an adulterer as he had many wives simultaneously. The man broke God’s Law as a believer. He was guilty and the Law demanded its pound of flesh. Not only was he guilty of breaking God’s law, but if he committed those acts (murder/polygamy) today, he’d be guilty of breaking civil law as well. You could reach him c/o the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth. The only leadership opportunity for him would be as a helper in Chuck Colson’s prison ministry.

Let’s construct a chart depicting David, his wives and his sons. The letter “V” stands for the virgin wives the polygamist David took, whereas the letters “AM” stand for the wife he took via adultery and murder. You’ll recall that he forced Bathsheba into adultery and married her after murdering her husband. Under each of these wives we’ll place an “S” to represent the sons which were produced by David through them.

DAVID

V V A V V V V V V V AM
S S S S S S S S S S

Pretend that you and I were God’s confidants who stood in His holy presence during David’s day. He confides that He is going to honor David and one of his wives forever by bringing His holy Son, the virgin-born Savior of the world, from their descendants. He asks us to write the name of the wife we’d suggest He should select for the honor.

That would have caused me a problem. My problem would not be which name not to choose. I would feel that if I voted for Bathsheba God would vaporize me! Or if I peeked and saw that you had marked her name on your ballot, I’d fling myself to the far side of the room in case His aim was wide as He zapped you.

But, Bathsheba was God’s choice! How on earth can you explain why He chose her over the neat little virgin gal David met in Sunday school? I know how.

I can explain it. It’s very clear to me. It’s the same way that I can explain how He could have chosen a bum like me for His forever family and then made me the leader of a ministry. Fantastic, unimaginable, undeserved grace, my dear friend, grace.

You and I quote and sing the psalms David wrote both prior to as well as after committing murder and adultery. His most precious ones may well be the ones he wrote after his terrible failure. We all anticipate hugging his neck when we get to heaven, having him over for supper, sitting in his den while he spins glorious God-honoring stories of his earth walk. Even the most hard-nosed, legalistic Christian delightfully anticipates such a scene as I have described. They’ll vote for David to be mayor of their suburb in heaven and rightfully so. And God agrees. He, too, honors David in His Word as one of His all-time favorites.

But, after all, David was …well, he was David, that’s all. We all know that David was an especially gifted leader, that God has a special place in His heart for David. God apparently had David under a different set of standards than He has us plain vanilla types at SCBC, right? Yes, that’s exactly right. David lived his entire life as a believer under the condemnation of the Law while some others lives under God’s forgiving grace! The different standard is that David had to sweat out getting God’s forgiveness moment by moment, day by day through a system of animal sacrifices while you and I have been “made alive together with Him (Jesus), having (been) forgiven… all (that’s A-L-L as in total) our transgressions” (Col. 2:13). We stand forgiven and righteous in the very presence of the Holy God “with nothing He can even chide us for.” David would have been amazed to see the favor under which we live.

How can we consider such an action? How can we revere David’s being our leader/mentor, but say that our (innocent-of-the-sin-of-divorce) brother is unqualified? I’d like to suggest an answer to that. It is because we have visible proof (biblical text) of God’s having extended grace to David. Were it not for that, there are some among us who would preclude his name’s being placed in nomination as a deacon if he were our contemporary. We must accept by faith that God grants grace to today’s divorcee. By refusing to do so, we’ve got stricter standards than God has. I appeal to you to take this to the Holy Spirit for verification.

If God would write in the heavens in smoke that it’s okay for divorcees to be deacons this issue would be dropped. We’d all agree that not one man would hold out to enact the proposed rule. We must see that He already has written His grace toward divorcees “in smoke“. We are basing our position upon the O.T. Law and the religious traditions of men; then we are seeking to document this position from the New Testament. As a result, we’ve made second class body-members out of the divorcees, as if God has put them on the shelf and they’re not even guilty of the sin of divorce!

The flesh can only relate to God through rules, formulas and regulations; it constructs and maintains its “comfort zone” in this manner. But, God has decreed that it is only by the spirit that we can relate to Him and to one another. Although the emphasis of this paper is upon the divorcee, even in the case of the repentant divorcer (for whom restoration of the marriage may be an impossibility due to a second marriage, unwillingness of the divorcee to remarry, etc.) forgiveness and the grace to begin again is what Christianity is all about. That’s how God dealt with David.

I am a biblical inerrantist. I have a hatred for sin. But, the longer I walk with God and study His Word, the more convinced I become that even though His hatred of sin is intense, His love and His grace extended to us are far and away greater than any of us can imagine. I am not campaigning for a casual attitude toward sin, God forbid. Nor am I supporting the idea that the church should place men who live impure lives in positions of leadership. My case rests with God’s forgiveness and restoration rather than disqualifying men for service based upon law.

Let’s examine 1 Tim. 3 which sets forth the criteria for Christian leaders. They are: to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, manages his household well, keeps his kids under control, not a new believer, has a good reputation with the outsiders, dignified, not double-tongued and holding to the mystery of the faith.

We all support those criteria in First Timothy because it is God’s Word. You notice that thedivorcee is not mentioned. How can we explain biblically why we would enact a church policy that a divorcee cannot serve as a deacon yet have no policy on some of the written criteria from the Word in our selection process? Are all deacons “able to teach;” do all open their homes to strangers and visitors on a regular basis (“hospitality“); do all pass the test of being able to manage their own house (no unruly kids, no use of installment debt for cars, clothing, furniture, etc.); God’s Word says, “If he can’t manage his own family then don’t vote him into a place of leadership in Mine” (1 Tim. 3:5).

The First Timothy passage above is quite clear on all of the criteria but one. There is much disagreement concerning the phrase “husband of one wife“. It was not uncommon to have more than one wife simultaneously (polygamy) in that culture and some scholars interpret this phrase as referring to a man who is living with more than one woman. Ryrie points out that one way to misinterpret it would preclude a single man from leadership because he is not the “husband of one wife“. The widower who remarries would also have had “more than one wife”, but we certainly wouldn’t interpret the passage as precluding him.

Today, God is rapidly allowing Satan to attack Christians’ flesh and all false restraints (cultural taboos) which historically have regulated the moral fiber of our culture. The social stigma of divorcing has been a false restrainer for decades. It wasn’t God that restrained; it was fear of rejection by peers which restrained. To divorce would result in social ostracization so many who were unhappily married simply toughed it out. But many church members today, both high and low profile, are divorcing (for unbiblical cause) in epidemic numbers. A commitment to obey God was not restraining them; it was cultural pressure to conform to the taboo against divorce. Their restrainer was the flesh and now that God is allowing Satan to test it, it is crumbling. Only “He who restrains,” the Holy Spirit (See 2 Thes. 2:7), will restrain Christians in these last days.