Report of the

Study Committee on

Divorce and the Office of Elder


Introduction


             Few would argue the fact that divorce is a serious problem within the church of Jesus Christ. The church is not exempt from the problems that plague our culture. The church’s response to divorce must be clearly biblical. The church must seek to be Christ-like – neither more severe nor more lenient than Jesus Christ Himself was as He embodied “grace and truth.” While maintaining God’s holy standard, the church must also demonstrate grace in the midst of human failure. The BFC has clearly spoken that “divorce is the dissolution of a divinely instituted bond and a breaking of the relationship established by marriage.” The church “looks with disfavor on the practice of divorce on any grounds whatsoever and believes that the only scriptural basis for a severance of the marital union is adultery.” This study committee was directed by the 115th Annual Conference to examine the BFC’s position that “no person who has been divorced or who has married a divorced person for any reason may be a member of the Board of Elders.” The basis of this position has been that it is “not the severity of divorce, but the dignity of the office as detailed in Scripture that prevents a divorced person or one married to a divorced person from holding office in the Board of Elders in the church.”

             The conclusions and recommendations of this Study Committee were presented to the 116th Annual Conference. The Committee has concluded that divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from the office of elder. While disqualification from being an elder may be viewed as the norm, there may be extenuating circumstances in which a man who has been divorced or married to a divorced woman would fulfill the biblical qualifications for office. There must be caution and discernment in considering those exceptions within the context of a local church and persons involved. 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. The 116th Annual Conference adopted at 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.

             The Study Committee encourages members of Annual Conference to read the full report presented to the 116th Annual Conference for a full discussion of the basis of our recommendation. Because the BFC understands the Bible to teach 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, in some categories (i.e., academic / physical), higher standards and qualifications for ministers than for elders. This paper is the Committee’s response to the assignment given by the 116th Annual Conference as follows:

Resolved, that the Study Committee which studied “Divorce and Eldership” be directed to study whether a divorced man or a man married to a divorced woman be considered for ordination and report to the next Annual Conference; and further

Resolved, that the report on that issue be considered prior to the consideration of the second reading of the legislation regarding elders and divorce.

             The primary question addressed in this papers is, “Is it biblical to maintain a distinction between the moral qualifications of an elder and a pastor,” (i.e., between a ruling elder and a teaching elder)? Or, in other words, “can a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman be considered for ordination?” Our response takes the following outline:

             I. Biblical Considerations

                          1. Equality

                          2. Function

                          3. Qualifications

             II. Practical Considerations for Wisdom and Discernment


I. Biblical Considerations:

             When we seek the guidance of the Scriptures, we discover the following important truths about the correlation between elder and pastor.

             1. There is equality among them because they are one and the same office. The BFC acknowledges that the office of elder and pastor is the same, and that they share equally “the authority in and responsibility for the life of the church; [Article 204-2.2]” The Biblical basis for this is found in Article 204-1.1.

             2. While there is equality among them, distinctions can be made in reference to their function. The BFC acknowledges the distinctions of function found in I Timothy 5:17 between those whose primary responsibility is to teach, while others to rule. [Article 204-2.2].

             3. The moral qualifications are the same. Article 204-2.4 instructs us that “Elders, as leaders of the people, are chosen by the membership of the church on the basis of Scriptural qualifications.” Those Scriptural qualifications are found in I Timothy 3 and in Titus 1, and they form the same basis for determining the moral qualifications for an elder, and or pastor.

             The BFC acknowledges that the Biblical evidence clearly teaches the equality of the office of elder and pastor. There are no Biblical distinctions in the qualifications for a pastor or for an elder. Therefore, just as divorce alone, does not automatically disqualify a man from being an elder, so too divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from being ordained. 

II. Practical Considerations for Wisdom and Discernment:

             Because the ideal for Christian marriage is the Biblical pattern of one man and one woman for life, the ending of a marriage covenant through divorce would seem to ordinarily disqualify a man for service as an elder or deacon. However, under certain circumstances, a man who is divorced or married to a divorced person may be considered qualified to serve as a deacon, an elder, or a pastor. Five considerations may be weighed in judging the viability of a divorced man or one married to a divorced woman in being an elder, or in being ordained: culpability, resolution of the divorce, the disposition of church discipline, the amount of time since the divorce and the chronological relationship of the divorce to conversion. These considerations are purposefully stated as questions, because it is the ultimate responsibility of the local church and or the investigating body to determine before God the viability of each candidate.

             1. Culpability. While it is rare that either party in a divorce is without any fault, one party may be less at fault or may have exerted greater effort in resolving the problem. Who initiated the divorce, and the circumstances of the initiation should be considered. What steps were taken to resolve the issues that threatened the destruction of the marriage covenant?

             2. Resolution of the Divorce. Attention should be given to the way in which the divorce was resolved both in the life of the individual and the ongoing relationship with the divorced spouse. Did the person being considered for office express genuine repentance for sinful actions? Was Christian counsel sought? What is the current relationship between the individual, the former spouse and his children? What arrangements for custody and visitation of children have been made?

             3. Disposition of church discipline. If a church was involved during the breakdown of the marriage, that church should be consulted and its actions respected. If a man is under disciplinary restrictions, what are they? Is the former church willing to recommend the man for a leadership position?

             4. The amount of time since the divorce. Although time alone does not remove the fact of a divorce, it gives an opportunity for a person to give evidence of a blameless character required of prospective leaders.

             5. The chronological relationship of divorce to conversion. A divorce which was clearly prior to conversion or which occurs during the time of spiritual infancy may not be as grievous in terms of leadership qualification as one which occurs to an established believer.


Conclusion and Resolution:

             The Study Committee on Divorce as it relates to the office of Elder recommends to the 117th Annual Conference the following:

Whereas, Annual Conference has previously clarified the position that divorce does not automatically exclude a man from serving as a deacon in the BFC, and

Whereas, the material passed at first reading last year and being considered for second reading this year only refers to elders, and

Whereas, it makes sense to address these two offices together in this Article of Faith, therefore be it

Resolved, that we amend Article 108-4 that was passed at first reading last year to the following:

“Because of the qualifications and dignity of the offices of Elder and Deacon, 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.” And further

Resolved, that the amended Article 108-4 be considered for second reading.

 

Whereas, the biblical evidence clearly teaches the equality of the office of elder and pastor, and

Whereas, there are no biblical distinctions in the qualifications for an elder or a pastor, and

Whereas, divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from being an elder, therefore, be it

Resolved, that divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from being ordained, and further

Resolved, that this Study Committee strongly recommends that the local church, the Ministerial Candidate Committee, and the Credentials Committee consider the guidelines presented in Section II of this report in the examination of prospective candidates for elder or ordination, and further

Resolved, that Article 108-5 be added to the Faith and Order as follows:

 

“Because of the qualifications and dignity of the office of Pastor, when considering a man for ordination, the Ministerial Candidate Committee and Credentials Committee 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.”

 

Study Committee on Divorce as it relates to the office of Elder: G. Wayne Clapier, Chairman; William G. Schlonecker, Secretary; Brian H. Cooper, Richard B. Ravis, Jacob J. Susek, Jr. Additions to the Committee as per the 116th Annual Conference were Dennis Cahill as a representative of the Credentials Committee and Richard Taylor as a representative of the Ministerial Candidate Committee.



Appendix - 1

 

Qualifications for an Elder

 

             An elder is an “overseer entrusted with God’s work” [Titus 1:7]

He is to be a STEWARD over the people of God and the program of God

 

I. His CHARACTER Before God - The Issue of RESPECT

*Without personal integrity and being a man others can respect, it would be impossible to lead others.

 

 1. Above Reproach

 2. Blameless

 4. Temperate

 5. Self-control

10. Not addicted to much wine

11. Not violent (gentle)

13. Not love of Money

14. Not for dishonest gain


19. Not a recent convert

21. Not overbearing/self-willed

22. Not quick tempered

23. Loves what is good

24. Upright

25. Holy

26. Disciplined


II. His CONDUCT Towards Others - The Issue of RELATIONSHIPS

*Without the ability to enter into meaningful relationships with other people, it would be impossible to lead others

 

Himself

4. Temperate

5. Self control

6. Disciplined

10. Not addicted to much wine


His Wife

3. One wife


His Children

15. Home manager

17. Children obey / Respect

18. Children who believe and who are not wild


His “Others”

11. Not violent

12. " Quarrelsome

21. " Overbearing

22. " Quick tempered

23. Good report

 7. Hospitable


III. His COMPETENCY to Lead - The Issue of RESOURCES

*Does he have the ability to lead the people of God in the program of God?

 

             6. Respectable               27. Sound in Doctrine

             7. Hospitable                 26. Disciplined

             8. Able to teach             15. Home Manager

 

Appendix - 2

 

Questions for a Prospective Elder

 

I. His Character before God - The Issue of Respect:

             1.          How long have you been a believer?

             2.          What is your personal program for spiritual development?

             3.          Have you ever been charged or convicted of a crime other than traffic offenses?

             4.          How do you honor God with your finances? Do you tithe?

             5.          Tell us about your moral life. Is there anything in your present life or past behavior that would potentially disqualify you from serving as an Elder?

             6. Have you had any direct answers from prayer?

 

II. His Conduct towards Others - The Issue of Relationships

             1.          Describe for us your marriage relationship? Can we talk with your wife?

             2.          How do you exercise spiritual oversight over your wife?

             3.          Is she supportive of your desire to become an Elder?

             4.          How do you exercise spiritual oversight over your children? Can we talk with them?

             5.          Are they supportive of you becoming an Elder?

             6.          How do your children evaluate you as a spiritual leader in your home?

             7.          What is the spiritual condition of your wife and children?

             8.          Can you give us some references from:

                          [a] your employer

                          [b] your neighbors on both sides of your home

             9.          How do you handle conflict?

             10.        In what ways do you demonstrate a hospitable spirit?

 

III. His Competency to Lead - The Issue of Resources:

             1.          What are your spiritual gifts?

             2.          Explain your evaluation of your ability to teach?

             3.          In your estimation, what must a person enabled by God’s grace do in order to be saved?

             4.          What has been your previous church involvement?

             5.          Explain your feelings towards the Mission Statement of our church.

             6.          Are you in complete agreement with the Faith and Order. 

             7.          Can you tell us why you think God is leading you to become an Elder?

             8.          Are you committed to fulfilling the requirements of this office as outlined in the Ministry Description?

 

Appendix - 3

 

Qualifications for a Deacon

 

From the nature of the word, we learn that a deacon is to be a SERVANT to the people of God and to the program of God

 

Note: The statements below are taken from the NIV, and from I Tim 3:8-13, Acts 6:3

 

I. His CHARACTER Before God - The Issue of RESPECT

*Without personal integrity and being a man others can respect, it would be difficult to serve others in a profitable manner.

 

             1.          He is to be worthy of respect

             2.          He is to be sincere, honest and trustworthy.

             3.          He is not be to be a drunkard

             4.          He is not to be a pursuer of dishonest gain

             5.          He is to hold to the deeper truths of scripture with conviction

             6.          He is to be full of the Spirit and of wisdom

 

II. His CONDUCT Towards Others - The Issue of RELATIONSHIPS

*Without the ability to enter into meaningful relationships with other people, it would be difficult to serve them in a profitable manner.


Himself

Honesty


His Wife

One wife


His Children

Home manager



His “Others”

Sensitive to needs


III. His COMPETENCY to Lead - The Issue of RESOURCES

*Does he have the ability to serve the people of God and the program of God in a profitable manner?

                          1.          Has he been tested?

                          2.          Does he have a good relationship with his wife?

                          3.          Does he have a good relationship with his children? Are they under his control?

                          4.          Does he have the affairs of this household in order?

                          5.          Does he have a good grasp of the church’s doctrine?

[The following is the decision of the Annual Conference taken Wednesday morning at 9:00am regarding the preceding material -


Report of Committee to Study Divorce as it Relates to Eldership (see page:)

            Resolved, that the report be accepted:


            LeRoy S. Heller led the Conference in prayer concerning the First Reading legislative resolution presented by the Committee to Study Divorce as it Relates to Eldership, imploring God to grant us wisdom concerning this difficult issue.

 

Whereas, the biblical evidence clearly teaches the equality of the office of elder and pastor, and

Whereas, there are no biblical distinctions in the moral and spiritual qualifications for an elder or a pastor, and

Whereas, divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from being an elder, therefore, be it

Resolved, that divorce alone does not automatically disqualify a man from being ordained,

                        and further

Resolved, that this Study Committee strongly recommends that the local church, the Ministerial Candidate Committee, and the Credentials Committee consider the guidelines presented in Section II of this report in the examination of prospective candidates for elder or ordination, and further

 

Resolved that the following legislation be adopted at First Reading: 

Resolved, that Article 108-5 be added to the Faith and Order as follows:

 

“Because of the qualifications and dignity of the office of Pastor, when considering a man for ordination, the Ministerial Candidate Committee and Credentials Committee 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.”


[FIRST READING]

YES - 86; NO - 41]