Report of the
Study Committee: Divorce and Eldership
[1999 Yearbook, page 223]
"Divorce and the Office of Elder"
II. Concerns of the Study Committee
III. Biblical Exegesis
A. A study of the words, "above reproach" and "blameless" in I Tim 3:2 / Titus 1:6
1. The basic question
2. The definition of the words
a. Less than perfection
b. Characterization vs. specific sins
c. Present vs. past characterization
3. The consideration of past conduct as an unbeliever vs. present conduct as a believer
a. Titus 1:12
b. Eph 4:19
c. I Co 6:9-11
d. The background of the Apostle Paul
4. Cases in which divorce, or remarriage to a divorced woman is biblically permissible.
a. Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch
b. The Master's Plan for the Church, John MacArthur
B. A study of the phrase, "husband of one wife" in I Tim 3:2 / Titus 1:6
1. The Greek Construction
2. Possible Interpretations
3. Is Paul addressing marital status?
4. Is Paul addressing marital faithfulness?
IV. The Position of Other Evangelical Denominations
A. Assembly of God
B. Christian and Missionary Alliance
C. Conservative Baptist
D. Evangelical Free
E. Orthodox Presbyterian Church
F. Presbyterian Church in America
V. A Call for Caution and Discernment
VI. Resolution and First Reading
At the 115th Annual Conference of the BFC, the Board of Elders of the Royersford BFC, Pennsylvania, petitioned the body as follows: (Pg. 173-174, 1998 Yearbook)
Whereas, the Bible Fellowship Church acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of man, and submits to the written Word of God and to the Holy Spirit as its only sources of guidance and power in maintaining its redemptive life and work in the world, and
Whereas, the Elders of the Royersford Bible Fellowship Church want to avoid the pitfalls of permissiveness (allowing what God forbids in relation to who is able to serve as Elder) and legalism (forbidding what God allows in relation to who is able to serve as Elder), and
Whereas, it appears to us that there are inconsistencies in Article 108-4 and its subsequent defense as found in the majority report of the 1987 Yearbook (pages 132-157) as it relates to the possibility of a divorced man, or one married to a divorced woman, from ever being able to be above reproach, while implying that a divorced deacon, or one married to a divorced woman, is able to be above reproach, and
Whereas, it appears to us that there are statements in Article 108-4 and in its subsequent defense that are not objective judgments, but subjective and possibly prejudicial judgments such as the one found on page 150 of the 1987 Yearbookthat declares that the "sin of divorce disqualifies a man from serving as an elder . . . (because) . . . a divorced man or a man married to a divorced woman does not meet the Scriptural qualifications of 'above reproach'", and
Whereas, it appears to us that there are no explicit passages of Scripture that clearly state that a divorced man, or one married to a divorced woman, should by that criteria alone, disqualify him from ever serving as an Elder, therefore be it
Resolved, that the Board of Elders request that Annual Conference elect a study commission of five ordained ministers presently serving Bible Fellowship Churches to study the serious lack of exegetical support from forbidding divorced men, and those who marry a divorced woman, from serving as Elders in our churches based on the criteria alone, and be it further
Resolved that we also request that this study commission report back to the 116th Annual Conference with their recommendations.
Upon receiving the petition, Annual Conference passed the following resolutions: (Pg. 26-27, 1998 Yearbook)
Resolved, that the request from the Elders of the Bible Fellowship Church of Royersford, PA be received.
Whereas, the Board of Elders of the Royersford Bible Fellowship Church has requested that Annual Conference elect a study committee of five ordained ministers presently serving Bible Fellowship Churches to study forbidding divorced men and those married to a divorced woman, from serving as an Elder in our churches, therefore be it
Resolved that a study committee of five (5) ordained ministers presently serving a Bible Fellowship Church be elected to study divorce and the eldership and to report to the 116th Annual Conference.
The elected committee reviewed the reports of previous conference studies (1965, 1976, 1987 Yearbooks) as they pertained to the subject of divorce in general and the concerns of the eldership in particular. On the occasion of each study the dignity of the office of elder has been affirmed, retaining our current standard on the subject of divorce and the office of elder.
The adopted (yes, 62: No, 61) 1987 majority report, barring divorced men, and those married to divorced persons from serving in the office of elder, noted that "there is a distinct and unique dignity attached to the office of elder in the New Testament." The minority report countered that "while it is proper to uphold the dignity of the office of elder, it is unfortunate if this is achieved at the expense of the doctrine of grace."
The Faith and Order states (Article 401-1.9), concerning those presently in the eldership, ".that no man can be divested of this office except by deposition for failure to maintain standards of doctrine and life in keeping with the dignity of the office." Our inquiry relates to what a person has done or experienced in the past that might of consequence rule out any possibility of his ever becoming an elder in the church.
Is it possible in some cases, for someone who is divorced or married to a divorced woman, to meet all of the Scriptural qualifi-cations and in so doing, uphold the dignity of the office of an elder?
In answering that question the committee has, in addition to a serious review of previous reports, surveyed
various movements of church history and examined the conclusions of several other evangelical denominations
on this subject. While we recognize it is important to consider the cultural context of the church, our primary
study and consideration has been given to the sacred Scriptures with a specific focus on the biblical
qualifications for eldership.
II. CONCERNS OF THE STUDY COMMITTEE:
The study committee was duly impressed with the importance of its work. The following concerns were taken into consideration and formed a guide for us as we undertook this study.
They are listed as follows:
A. Our desire is to uphold the dignity of the office of elder.
B. To exegete Scripture accurately through proven methods of hermeneutics.
C. To state with compassion and conviction the clear teachings of the Scriptures.
D. To be persuaded, not by implications nor pragmatics, but by the clear teaching of Scripture.
E. To be sensitive to the spiritual welfare of others within the denomination, and towards those who look for guidance from our denomination, and towards those who might have internal conflicts with changing the present position of the BFC.
F. To be consistent in the application of biblical truth.
G. To biblically and compassionately address the concerns of those divorced men, or men married to divorced women who desire to serve the Lord in the office of an elder in our churches.
H. To seek the will of God through the dual means of a careful study of the Scriptures and a continual
dependence upon the Spirit to assist.
III. BIBLICAL EXEGESIS:
A. A study of the words "Above Reproach" and "Blameless" in I Tim 3:2 / Titus 1:6
1. The Basic Question:
An Elder must be above reproach and blameless in order to uphold the dignity of this office. Is it possible, in
some cases, for someone who has been divorced, or who has married a divorced woman to be capable of being
above reproach and blameless, hence upholding the dignity of this office?
2. The definition of the words "above reproach" and "blameless"
a. Less than perfection
The word for "above reproach" is , and the word for "blameless" is . In a legal setting, the words would convey
the idea that there are no grounds for accusing someone of wrongdoing. This is obviously a very high ethical
standard. However, they cannot be understood so as to imply that a man's character must be "perfect" (), or that
he must be without sin (). If that were the case, then no one would be able to serve in this capacity.
b. Characterization versus specific sins
Given the fact that the standard for becoming an elder is obviously less than moral perfection or sinless behavior, (we know categorically and personally that from time to time the best of men will commit acts of sin - some to a lesser or greater degree, and in a host of differing areas), it seems better that the words "above reproach" () and "blameless" (), refer to that which characterizes a man, i.e., is he characterized as a faithful husband, as a good father, as a godly man?
In some cases, it is admitted that the severity of one sin might possibly be of such an egregious nature that it would seem to characterize him in a such a way as to not be "above reproach" or "blameless". However, divorce is nowhere singled out in Scripture as automatically and universally to be of such a nature.
The words "above reproach" and "blameless", then, refer to that which characterizes a man's life - i.e., is he
characterized as being moral, honest, kind, self-controlled, etc. - not whether or not a man has committed any
one particular sin. Can a man who has been divorced or married to a divorced woman be characterized as a
moral, godly, loving, kind, gracious man who is above reproach and blameless? We believe in some cases the
answer would be yes.
c. Present versus past characterization
Both the context and the use of the present tense in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 would lead us to conclude that Paul is speaking about a man's present characterization or reputation, and not primarily about his past. Is there any pattern of sin or particular sin of which he would be guilty that would render him incapable of being characterized presently as being above reproach and blameless?
It is true that the concept of characterization must of necessity carry with it the idea of time. It must include looking at a man's past in order to determine whether or not he has lived long enough in a particular lifestyle that he could be considered above reproach and blameless today. Also to be considered, as stated above, is the severity of one's sin. Some actions might make it impossible to characterize someone as above reproach and blameless even after many years. Is there any sin in his pre-or post-conversion days that is of such an egregious nature that it would prevent him from being above reproach and blameless in the present? Divorce or being married to a divorced woman is not singled out in the Scripture as being automatically of such a nature. In some cases it indeed might, but to say that in all cases it does, is without support.
It is our understanding that the words "above reproach" and "blameless" refer to a general characterization of a man's present life as being a godly (though not morally perfect, or sinless) man. To apply this passage to a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman, we would seek to discern whether or not he is presently in a loving relationship with his wife, (if not remarried, whether his single life is in order), and whether or not his previous divorce or marriage to a divorced woman was of such an egregious nature that to allow him to become an elder would be unwise.
While being a divorced man or married to a divorced woman might in some cases detract from the dignity of the
office of an elder, it should not be concluded, nor can it be exegetically supported, that in all cases it
3. The consideration of past conduct as an unbeliever versus present conduct as a believer.
a. The background of persons in Titus 1:12
In the book of Titus, Paul authorizes him to appoint in every city on the island of Crete men who can function as Elders. There is a very serious problem, however, in that the people with whom Titus is ministering have been characterized in their pre-conversion days as being ". . .liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons"- vs. 12. If we allow that this statement is a generalization of the populous at the time, and not necessarily a blanket assessment of every single person, it nevertheless would imply that at least some of the people whom Titus had to appoint as elders were characterized by these sins.
We know that God "hates" liars (Prov 6), and that no liar would ever be able to enter into heaven (Rev. 22:15). Titus could not fulfill Paul's ministerial directive to appoint men to be elders who are above reproach and blameless, if their "past behavior" presently characterizes them as "liars". "Brutes" would refer to people who lack moral sensibility. The fact that they are characterized as being "evil" would lead us to believe that these are men who have been involved in all kinds of immoral activities. This could include a host of various sinful activities of which divorce, in some cases, might be labeled as such. Again, Titus could not fulfill Paul's directive if their "past behavior" was held against them. The fact that they have been characterized as "lazy gluttons" would also disqualify them from attaining the high moral qualifications for being an elder if their past were held against them, and if they were unable to change. (II Thess 3:6-15).
Thus we conclude that past moral failure does not automatically linger so as to characterize one's present
behavior. It is possible to have been a miserable wretch in the past, but a very godly man in the present. It is
possible to have been an unfaithful husband in the past, but a very faithful husband in the present. If other past
moral failures do not automatically linger so as to characterize one's present behavior, then divorce or marriage
to a divorced woman, whether or not on biblical grounds, would not automatically rule out the possibility of
having a good present testimony.
b. The background of unbelievers in Ephesians 4:19
We know that Paul had a very strong ministry in the city of Ephesus and that a number of elders were appointed in that city (Acts 20:17-18). In Ephesians 4:18,19, Paul gives a general description of unbelievers as those who "are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."
The word "impurity" ( ) is synonymous for sexual immorality. He admonishes them to lay aside their former life (vs. 22), and that they were formerly darkness, but now are children of the light (5:8). It is quite reasonable to assume that some of the elders in the church at Ephesus had backgrounds which involved "every kind of impurity", (or sexual immorality - of which in some cases divorce or being married to a divorced woman might have been involved).
If men who had this type of background were able to become elders, they could only do so if they had reached
the standard of being "above reproach" or "blameless". If their past (of which divorce or being married to a
divorced woman could have been true of some of them) were automatically held against them, they would not
be able to be "above reproach" or "blameless". But apparently - by the grace of God - men who were in the
past characterized as being involved in "every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more", were able to
overcome such a characterization, and to do so sufficiently so that their present behavior characterized them as
being "above reproach" and "blameless". If their previous sins were not automatically held against them then
neither should divorce or being married to a divorced person be automatically held against those who would
aspire to the office of elder today.
c. The characterization of unbelievers in Corinth - I Corinthians 6:9-11.
In verse 11, Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that some of them were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. It is not unreasonable to assume that among those who were sexually immoral and adulterers, that in some cases, this would describe those who had been illegitimately divorced or illegitimately married to a divorced woman.
We know from Acts 18:11 that Paul had ministered among the Corinthians for one and one half years. We
would assume that as in Ephesus, Paul had appointed Elders in that church for that was his general practice
(Acts 14:22-23). But how could he appoint men to such a dignified position who were involved in such
undignified actions? The answer is given to us in vs. 11, that because of the grace of God, they "were washed,
..sanctified,.justified." Obviously, their past was not held against them even though some of them likely would
have had divorce somewhere in their background.
d. The background of the Apostle Paul - I Timothy 1:12-15
It is Paul's admitted testimony that he is the worst of sinners. By his own admission he was "once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man." Even though Paul was not a divorced man, by his own assessment he was the worst of sinners. If there ever were anything such as "permanent marks" or "stigmas" from past behavior, then by his own admission his life would have been permanently stained. Yet his past was not held against him.
If his past were held against him, how could God have appointed such a man to a position in which he had to be
"above reproach" and "blameless"? He was however, able to do so because His grace alone made him
"sufficient" (KJV), or "competent" (NIV), as a minister (II Co 3:4,5). And this same grace that enabled the worst
of sinners to attain the high ethical standard of being above reproach and blameless must also be available to
make those who are divorced, or married to a divorced woman, above reproach and blameless.
4. Cases in which divorce or marriage to a divorced woman is biblically permissible.
Our premise here is that, if in some cases, being divorced or being married to a divorced woman is biblically permissible, then an action that is permissible cannot automatically render someone from being unable to be above reproach or blameless. The BFC in Article 108 affirms that there are some scenarios in which to be divorced or married to a divorced woman is permissible.
a. If a man has not committed adultery, and yet his wife divorces him against his will, his divorce may not necessarily mean that he has sinned. He has obviously not sinned to the degree of being guilty of a sufficient reason for causing the divorce. Being innocent, therefore, of any valid cause that would permit a divorce, his divorce does not automatically brand him as being unable to become above reproach or blameless. If he is without sufficient sin in this sense, then no proper "accusation" can be leveled against him - he is "blameless" in that sense and is, therefore, able to be above reproach.
b. If a man is married to a woman who unrepentantly commits adultery, he does have the option to sue for divorce. He should seek to forgive. Even if he does, it does not require that he stay in the marriage relationship. If she is unrepentant, and if he chooses to divorce his wife, he has done nothing wrong. If he has done nothing wrong, then a biblically-executed divorce leaves him "innocent" of any wrong doing. If he does nothing wrong, then his actions should not leave a "permanent mark" or "stigma" upon him. If there is no mark of wrong doing, or serious failure in God's sight, then he is able to uphold the dignity of the office of an elder.
c. If a man marries a divorced woman, whose divorce was caused by her previous husband's adultery, then
both she and her present husband have done nothing sinful, wrong or undignified. If their actions are not wrong
or sinful, if no accusation of wrong doing can be leveled against them, then he must be able to be above
reproach and blameless. If he can be above reproach and blameless, then he is able to uphold the dignity of
the office of an elder.
a. Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
"We also must determine whether or not a man who divorced and remarried prior to his conversion is under reproach. Would, for instance, a man who has lived in faithful union with his Christian wife since his conversion qualify to be an elder? Ed Glasscock, I believe, rightly argues against holding pre-conversion sins against a new man in Christ who desires to shepherd the Lord's people:
"Certainly one cannot attempt to make the qualifications of I Ti 3 apply to a man's life before he is saved. If God has forgiven him and made him a part of His church, why do Christians hold his past against him?.. It does not seem possible that by Paul's phrase in I Ti 3:2 he intends to hold a man's pre-conversion sins against him.To judge a man's spiritual qualities on the basis of a sin committed before he was saved, before he was capable of understanding God's will or Word, and before he has the power of Christ's life within him is to create a false standard that detracts from God's wonderful grace and which also fails to deal with the real issue of I Timothy 3."
"It must be stated, however, that unlike other pre-conversion sins, a divorced and remarried man might be in a
vulnerable condition which could lead to embarrassing circumstances or subtle reproach. Each local assembly,
with its elders, will have to judge for itself whether a prospective elder or deacon is actually under reproach
because of divorce and/or remarriage in his unconverted days. Yet the issue of reproach can be unjustly used
by sinister (or even well-meaning) people. That is why it is equally important that the saints judge such
situations in the full light of the New Testament's glorious doctrines of forgiveness, grace, and new life in Christ."
(pages 194, 195).
b. The Master's Plan for the Church, John MacArthur
"The Greek text indicates this is referring to a present state of blamelessness. It doesn't refer to sins that the
man committed before he matured as a Christian - unless such sins remain as a blight on his life. (No one is
blameless in that sense.) The idea is that he has sustained a reputation for blamelessness." (pg. 216).
If it is agreed that "Scriptural exegesis is most critical", then it should be agreed that it cannot be exegetically supported that a divorced man, or a man who has married a divorced woman, has automatically disqualified himself from being able to be "above reproach" or "blameless".
On the contrary, there is exegetical support that demonstrates the ability of some men, previously involved in all sorts of sinful, immoral and impure behaviors (of which divorce and remarriage to a divorced woman could naturally - in some cases - be included within these categories), can indeed by the grace of God, attain the status of being above reproach and blameless.
If a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman is able, in some cases, to attain the standard of being
above reproach or blameless, then he is able also to uphold the dignity of the office of an elder. If he is able to
uphold the dignity of the office of elder, then he should not be automatically excluded from pursuing that office.
The following syllogism is both logical and biblical:
An elder must be "above reproach" and "blameless" in order to uphold the dignity of the office.
It is possible in some cases for a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to be "above reproach" and "blameless".
Therefore it is possible in some cases for someone who is divorced or married to a divorced woman to uphold the dignity of the office of an elder.
Since in some cases, a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman is able to uphold the dignity of office
of an elder, one who is divorced or married to a divorced woman should not automatically, on that basis alone,
be excluded from this office.
B. A study of the phrase "Husband of one wife" in I Tim 3:2 / Titus 1:6
1. The Greek Construction
The phrase " " in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 is key to determining whether divorce disqualifies a man from
the office of elder. Indeed, if this phrase can exegetically be shown to definitively mean "an elder must never
have been divorced," then the debate ends quickly. But if the phrase does not necessarily carry that meaning,
then our work must continue. The King James Version and the New American Standard Version translate this
phrase, "husband of one wife," while the New International Version renders it, "husband of but one wife." The
Greek phrase literally translates to "a one woman man" or "a one wife husband." The same phrase is used in
the plural in 1 Timothy 3:12 referring to the qualifications of deacons (KJV-"husbands of one wife";
NASB-"husbands of only one wife"; NIV-"husband of but one wife"). In 1 Timothy 5:9 the same Greek
construction is used relating to the qualification of a widow to be placed on an approved list. In this verse, the
phrase " ", literally translates to "a one man woman." The KJV renders it, "having been the wife of one man."
The NASB says, "having been the wife of one man" while the NIV says, "has been faithful to her husband." The
issue before us is whether this Greek construction definitively addresses a man's marital status (i.e. never
having been divorced) or a man's moral and marital character (i.e. fully devoted to his wife, a faithful husband).
2. The Possible Interpretations:
What are the possible meanings and implications of the phrase, "a one woman man" or "a one wife husband"
when taken literally? Not all of the options are equally accepted, however, each meaning is possible from the
construction and meaning of the Greek.
a. An elder must be married.
The man who desires to be an elder must not be single. Taking it a step further with 1 Timothy 3:4, which
indicates an elder must keep his children under control, it would also be necessary for him to have children. Of
course, Paul had already addressed this situation in 1 Corinthians 7:7, 32-35, and to demand that a man be
married to be an elder would seem to contradict Paul's teaching. This narrow interpretation would also preclude
a widower who had never remarried because he would not presently have a wife. Scriptures teach that upon
death of one's spouse the partner is released from the bond of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:39). The BFC does
not understand this phrase to mean that an elder cannot be single.
b. An elder must not have been widowed and remarried.
The "Expositor's Greek Testament" concludes that a widower who remarries is in violation of this qualification. It
states that a "one woman man" is "a married man, who, if his wife dies, does not marry again." (Expositor's, p.
111). This is allowable from the Greek construction, however, it would seem to contradict Paul's teaching in 1
Corinthians 7:39-40 where Paul approves of remarriage after the death of a spouse. The BFC does not
understand this phrase to mean that an elder cannot be a remarried widower.
c. An elder could be a man who has married a divorced or widowed woman.
The phrase addresses the husband's situation, and taken literally, would allow a man who married a divorced
woman to be an elder as long as it was his first and only marriage. A man who married a divorced woman
would not be in violation of the command to be a "one woman man" or a "one wife husband." He would be in
compliance with this qualification. He would be no less a "one woman man" than the man who married a widow.
The BFC presently does understand this phrase to mean that an elder cannot be married to a divorced woman,
however, it does allow an elder to be married to a woman who has been widowed.
d. An elder could be a divorced man who has remained single.
A man who has been married and divorced but has remained single would not be in violation of this qualification
as long as he has remained faithful to his wife and not pursued another relationship. He remains a "one woman
man" and a "one wife husband" even if she has broken the marriage covenant. It should be noted that today's
divorce laws in many states have been revised to allow a spouse to obtain a divorce without the partner's
agreement. The BFC presently does understand this phrase to mean that an elder cannot be a divorced man
who has remained single. The present position implies that a divorce automatically prevents a husband from
being a "one woman man" or a "one wife husband" regardless of a godly response and action.
e. An elder must be a man who is a faithful and devoted husband to his wife, regardless of what his previous marital status has been.
This option understands the phrase to be addressing a man's present marital character and faithfulness. Paul's
concern is not whether a man was divorced in the past or what kind of husband he was in the past. Paul's
concern is that an elder presently be a godly example of faithfulness, devotion, and love toward his wife.
Obviously, that example does not simply appear overnight and must be tested by time. A man might have been
a very poor husband at some point in his past, however, that would not prevent a man from ever becoming a
godly husband in the future. Paul's qualification would not preclude such a man from becoming an elder simply
because he was a poor husband in his past, as long as he had become a godly husband. The BFC does
understand this phrase to mean that an elder cannot be a divorced man for any reason, whether remarried or
not, unless that divorce and remarriage is to the same woman.
f. An elder must be a man who has never been divorced and remarried for any reason.
This option understands the phrase to be addressing a man's marital status. In this understanding, Paul's concern is not so much the quality of a man's marriage as whether there has been a divorce in his background. The divorce automatically disqualifies him from ever becoming an elder regardless of the time and circumstances of that divorce or even his present status as a godly example of marital faithfulness, devotion, and love. This is the present position of the BFC. While not discounting a man's marital character, the primary meaning of Paul is understood to be a man's marital status.
g. An elder must be a man who is not married to more than one wife at a time.
If this option can definitively be proven exegetically, and Paul had this in mind, then Paul's concern here was not whether a man was ever divorced but whether he was a monogamist. While some evangelicals have come to this conclusion, it does not appear to this study committee that this was Paul's primary concern for the following reasons:
(1) The Scriptures, while allowing polygamy in certain Old Testament situations, never condoned it, but conversely, established the standard of monogamy as God's pattern for the church. Jesus Christ affirmed the Biblical pattern for marriage. It would not appear necessary for Paul to emphasize an already existent Biblical injunction.
(2) Polygamy is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, raising the question of the extent of the problem. If it were a common problem, it would seem that Paul would have addressed it directly in the many opportunities he had to confront it head on (i.e. in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, etc.).
(3) The religious and cultural climate of Paul's day make it unlikely that he was referring primarily to polygamy. Neither the Romans nor the Jews tended to engage in polygamy. (The Master's Plan for the Church, John MacArthur, p. 219). Some have noted that polygamy was even illegal in the Roman Empire (Sharpening the Focus of the Church, Gene Getz, p. 146).
As demonstrated above, the Greek words and construction alone cannot definitively settle which of the above
Paul had in mind when he wrote the elder qualifications. The question becomes one of context and comparison
with the rest of Scripture. In his book, "Biblical Eldership," Alexander Strauch states regarding 1 Timothy 3:2,
"Such an absolute, unqualified statement (and the Bible contains a number of these difficult phrases) must not
be given precedence over Scripture's general, clear teaching, nor must it be allowed to create contradiction.
The Bible's general teaching regarding marriage is clear. One incidental, highly debatable, brief phrase cannot
be allowed to cast a cloud of confusion over that which is plain." (Strauch, p. 192). The meaning of this phrase
hinges on whether Paul was addressing primarily "marital status" or "marital character and faithfulness" in
describing the qualifications of an elder.
3. Is Paul addressing "marital status" (i.e. divorce and remarriage)?
If this is true, the sense of this qualification becomes that the elder must "never have been divorced." Exegetically, some who support this view cite 1 Timothy 5:9. The Greek construction, " " is literally a "one man woman" or a "one husband wife." The premise is that in this verse the requirement for a widow to be placed on the qualified list for assistance was that she was over sixty years old and was a "one man woman" or a "one husband wife." It should be noted that the KJV and NASB translate this phrase, "having been the wife of one man," while the NIV translates it, "has been faithful to her husband." The former translation focuses on marital status while the latter focuses on marital faithfulness and character. To use this verse as a support for the divorce disqualification of an elder, one must interpret 1 Timothy 5:9 as a widow who was never divorced. However, can it be said that this must be true? The intent of Paul's words in the context seems to be that the widow must have been a faithful wife of her husband. It cannot mean that she could never have had another husband because in verse 14 Paul encourages younger widows to remarry. This would destroy their status of being a "one man woman" and their hopes of ever being placed on the list were their present husband to die. It is difficult to accept that Paul would have been instructing the church to exclude from the list a woman who had been married and divorced years earlier, had remarried and been a faithful wife until her husband died, and now was left with no one to care for her.
If Paul had wanted to say that a divorced man could never serve as an elder, he could have said it precisely and clearly. In no other place in Scripture when Paul is addressing the issue of divorce does he use this Greek construction. The Greek words, and are used by Paul and Jesus and could have been used in the list of qualifications of elders but were not (Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:2,4,11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:11-13). If a divorced man is disqualified from becoming an elder, it cannot be proven on the exegesis of this phrase alone. And if Paul had wanted this to be the case, he could have said it precisely and clearly. To hold such a position one must appeal to other supporting data including the following which have been addressed previously in this paper:
(1) The biblical view of divorce in Scripture precludes such a man from maintaining the dignity of the office.
(2) The biblical view of divorce in Scripture precludes such a man from being above reproach and blameless.
4. Is Paul addressing "marital faithfulness and character?"
If this is true, the sense of the qualification becomes that the elder must be "a faithful and devoted husband to his wife." This view merits support for the following reasons:
(1) The list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are primarily character qualifications of the heart. To understand "one woman man" in the same way is consistent interpretation.
(2) If Paul desired to explicitly forbid divorced men from serving as elders, he could have used precise language to do so.
(3) This view in fact more clearly addresses the heart of Paul's concern. A man may be married to the same woman for a lifetime and remain anything but a "one woman man." He may be flirtatious and insensitive to the needs of his wife.
(4) This view allows for the harmonization of otherwise difficult situations (i.e. a man divorced previous to salvation; a man divorced according to biblical allowance; a man married to a woman divorced according to biblical allowance; a man who has committed an act of adultery in his past is not prevented from becoming an elder even though he has violated the sanctity of the marriage covenant).
(5) Understanding the Greek word for woman, as a genitive of quality which carries the meaning, "a
one-woman kind of man. Strauch states, "Viewed this way, Paul is not referring exclusively to the marital status
of the prospective elder, but to a character trait - just as he does with most of the other qualifications for elders."
(Strauch, p. 192-193).
When Paul wrote this qualification for a man to serve as an elder, what was his intent? Paul did not intend to
address each potential situation in a man's past marital status, but rather, to insure that any elder in a local
church be a faithful, devoted husband, committed to his wife in an exemplary fashion. If Paul intended to
address a man's past marital status, he could have done so in more precise and clear language. But the
language Paul does use IS clear and precise as it describes a man's present relationship to his wife. To
conclude that a man who has been divorced (or married to a divorced woman) can NEVER again be a "one
woman man" raises serious questions even beyond the issue of elder qualifications. These qualifications, while
specifically describing the elder, are a goal for every man. "If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer"
(italics added for emphasis) indicates that these are worthy pursuits for all men. Could a man who was once
characterized as a thief ever become known as a hard working, honest man? Could a man who was once a liar
ever become a man of integrity? Could a man who was once characterized as immoral ever become known as
a moral, righteous man? Could a man who was once in bondage to alcohol ever be set free and known for his
sobriety and temperance? Could a man who was once greedy, quarrelsome, or undisciplined ever become
known for his generosity, gracious spirit, or exemplary self-control? In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul states that in
Christ we are not what we once were. Can it be said, then, that a man who was once divorced can never
become a "one woman man" again, fully devoted and loving toward his wife? While a man's overall life is to be
evaluated and a man's past marital status mayrender him "under reproach" in some situations, it cannot be
argued from this qualification that a man is precluded from the office of elder solely on the basis of past marital
IV. THE POSITION OF OTHER EVANGELICAL DENOMINATIONS:
While we believe the Scriptures are our only authority, we recognize that godly men in our day have sincerely
sought God and have wrestled with these same issues and biblical texts. The following summary provides an
overview of other evangelical conservative denominations and their understanding of the qualifications of elders
as it relates to divorce.
A. Assembly of God
An elder may not have been divorced and remarried, however, this is made as a recommendation which is not binding on local congregations.
"Since the New Testament restricts divorced and remarried believers from the church offices of bishop or elder and deacon, we recommend that this standard be upheld by all our assemblies (1Tim.3:12; Titus1:5-9).
However, we recommend that all other opportunities for Christian service for which these believers may be
qualified be made available to them. It is understood that recommendations are not binding, but local assemblies
shall maintain the prerogative of setting their own standards (in accord with provisions of Article XI of the
Constitution)." (Position Paper of The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA))
B. Christian and Missionary Alliance
Divorce or being married to a divorced woman does not automatically disqualify a man from eldership. Great caution is urged. Eligibility for eldership is left to individual congregations.
"Discretion, however, must be exercised in the choice of divorced and remarried persons for places of leadership in the church. While all believers are equal members of the body of Christ, not all members are qualified for every office in the church. The elder (spiritual leader) and the deacon (business leader) in the church are to be filled by those of moral and spiritual qualifications, whose pattern of exemplary Christian living is so established that it may be followed."
(Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, An Instructional Statement of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church)
C. Conservative Baptist
Eligibility for elders (pastors) who have been divorced or married to a divorced woman is decided by the local congregation which ordains them.
D. Evangelical Free
A pastor may not have been divorced or married to a divorced woman for any reason. However, exceptions are
made in extenuating circumstances. Eligibility for elders who have been divorced or married to a divorced
woman is left to the local congregation.
E. Orthodox Presbyterian Church
There is no official position. The session or presbytery takes into consideration the circumstances of the divorce
and decides accordingly, but would not automatically on the basis of a divorce disqualify someone from
becoming an elder.
F. Presbyterian Church in America
An elder may have been divorced for any reason as long as Biblical repentance, forgiveness, and restoration has taken place.
"the General Assembly [is called to] remind the Church that in order to be considered for church office the parties concerned in such cases must have been rehabilitated sufficiently in the confidence and respect of other Christians as to be able to fulfill in an exemplary way the requirements of church office with regard to marital and family relationships. The General Assembly reminds the Church and its courts that even when such care is exercised as is urged in this and the foregoing recommendation, there may be circumstances in which it would be inadvisable, even though technically permissible, for divorced/remarried persons to serve as church officers."
(Position Paper of the Presbyterian Church in America, Qualifications for Office of a Divorced Person)
Conclusion from other denominations:
While we are accountable to God as a denomination for our own decision in this matter, it is helpful to recognize
that our "sister" denominations of the same evangelical, conservative tradition have come to different
conclusions than our present Bible Fellowship Church position.
A CALL FOR CAUTION AND DISCERNMENT:
The decision to allow a divorced man to become an elder in some situations is not to be taken lightly. There are concerns that arise regarding its implementation in the local church. The key to implementation is wisdom on the part of the existing elders to discern whether a man meets all of the qualifications to become an elder. If he does, including presently being above reproach, blameless, and a devoted, loving husband in the eyes of those in his church and community, then he may be considered to become an elder. The conclusion of this study committee is that divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from the office of elder forever.
In light of this, elders and congregations will be encouraged all the more to examine a man's life to insure that he is truly biblically qualified. A man cannot be assumed to be a "one woman man" nor to "manage his own household well" simply by surface appearance. It is wise to talk with any prospective elder's wife and when appropriate even his children to receive their input. While unconventional, there may even be wisdom in talking with an employer or employee. A qualified man would have no problem with such information being sought. Children, particularly teens, are brutally honest, and while such information must be received with discernment, it could prove enlightening even to the man. Certainly, there are situations where behind the scenes of what appears to be a "wonderful" marriage and family, there is a wife who is hurting because of subtle neglect and a lack of sacrificial love. The qualification to "manage his own household well" means much more than never having been divorced and having his children living at home in relative peace. There are elders who remain in the office but have lost their spiritual impact and respect within the church and community because of family problems. The dignity of the office of elder must be upheld, however, that involves much more than merely disqualifying divorced men. Elders and congregations are urged to take very seriously the biblical qualifications in their entirety and to select men only after careful prayer and examination.
There are several important factors to contemplate before considering a divorced man for the office of elder. Because of the emotional pain and unpleasant aspects of any divorce, a man should be distanced from the divorce by significant time. His emotional and spiritual healing should be evident and time tested. While it is unwise to set a specific number of years because situations vary, it seems reasonable to assume that five to ten years is not excessive in allowing time for these issues to be resolved. If a man's divorce remains a major issue in his life, both to him and to his congregation, it could indicate that he would not be a wise selection for elder at that time. When children are involved in the divorce, special precautions should be taken as well. When there are problems and issues resulting from the divorce which recur in such a way as to keep the divorce present in people's minds, it would seem to be unwise to select such a man for elder. While allowing for divorce in the case of adultery, the BFC maintains that God's standard is always forgiveness and reconciliation. The possible reconciliation of a divorced man to his wife and his view toward such reconciliation should be taken into account. The issues surrounding divorce are often complex. As much as possible, those issues must be resolved. A man's relationship to his former wife and to his children must be "peaceful" as far as it depends upon him. He shall have taken responsibility for his own part in the marriage failure. He shall have demonstrated repentance, sought forgiveness, and experienced restoration to the Lord and to the church in a manner appropriate to his particular situation. When that has taken place in a previous church and setting, information should be sought whenever possible. It may be wise, when possible and appropriate, to speak with the former spouse. It is impossible to cover every scenario that may take place. The purpose in this paper is to raise the issue that extreme care must be exercised when considering a divorced man for elder. But extreme care is always called for whether or not a man has ever been divorced.
The decision to allow a divorced man to be an elder must be made in light of a particular church's conviction and receptivity. It seems wise to this committee to allow each particular church to determine whether it is in its best interest to allow a divorced man to become an elder. A particular church may choose to allow a divorced man under certain, but not all, circumstances to become an elder, being sensitive to the uniqueness of the congregation and community.
Because the BFC understands the Bible to teach the plurality of elders and views the pastor as an elder, to
allow a divorced man to become an elder raises the possibility of a divorced man becoming a pastor. Currently,
The BFC maintains higher standards and qualifications for ministers within the BFC. While allowing a divorced
man to become an elder, it is possible to conclude that it is wise to maintain a higher standard to the office of
minister as it relates to divorce. The scope of this study committee focused on divorce as it relates to elders,
and further study is necessary to determine whether a divorced man or a man married to a divorced woman may
V. RESOLUTION AND FIRST READING:
Whereas, an elder must be "above reproach" and "blameless" in order to uphold the dignity of the office, and
Whereas, it is possible in some cases for a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to be "above reproach" and "blameless", and
Whereas, it is possible then in some cases for a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to uphold the dignity of the office of an elder, and
Whereas, an elder must be "a one woman man" in order to uphold the dignity of the office, and
Whereas, it is possible in some cases for a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to be "a one woman man", and
Whereas, it is possible then in some cases for a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to uphold the dignity of the office of an elder, therefore be it
Resolved, that the Study Committee recommend to the 116th Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church for First Reading, the changing of Article 108-4 in the Faith and Order to read as follows:
"Because of the qualifications and dignity of the office of Elder, each particular church shall give careful consideration to ensure that a man who has been divorced or who has married a divorced woman is presently characterized as above reproach, and if married, faithful to and exclusively committed to his wife."
Whereas, this position may allow for the possibility of a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman to be considered for ordination within the Bible Fellowship Church, and
Whereas, the Bible Fellowship Church presently maintains distinctions between the minister and the elder (Article 204), and
Whereas, further discussion is needed on the possibility of a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman being considered for ordination, therefore be it
Resolved, that we recommend that Annual Conference provide for further study on whether a divorced man or
one married to a divorced woman can be considered for ordination.
Committee To Study Divorce and the Office of Elder: G. Wayne Clapier, Chairman; William G. Schlonecker, Secretary; Brian H. Cooper, Richard B. Ravis, Jacob J. Susek, Jr.