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CHURCH OFFICE HOLDING AND DIVORCE
Divorce is spreading through America today. A century ago, divorce was hardly ever thought about. Those who got divorced were thought of as being wicked individuals even by an unsaved society. Parents, with divorced children were ashamed to go out into public. Those who had been divorced were often scorned by society and held up for contempt. To be labeled as a divorcee was a symbol of shame. However, through recent decades, divorce has become a regular part of the everyday American life. This has not been a sudden change. In 1920, one out of seven marriages ended in divorce. In 1940, one out of six did. In 1960, one out of four did. In 1970, one out of three did.(1) Today, almost one out of every two marriages ends in the divorce courts. Divorce has gradually become accepted by American society. Television shows chronicle the lives of divorcees hopping from marriage to marriage. Hollywood film stars flaunt their immorality through their multiple marriages. Talk shows on television and radio interview divorcees who explain, to the ovation of the audience, why they
took the step of ending their marriage. Psychologists and psychiatrists churn out volumn after volumn explaining why divorce is necessary and should be accepted. And today, the United States even has a
President who is divorced. The man to whom America and the world looks to for leadership, is a divorcee. Truly, divorce is a pressing problem in today's society.
But society is not the only area which has been overrun by divorce. The churches of America are filled with divorced people. Many churches have more divorced members than married members. What is worse though, is the fact that the church offices are filled with divorced people. Divorced Sunday School teachers teach the little children. Divorced ushers greet the visitors and seat them. Divorced musicians sing in the choir and provide special music. Divorced deacons help the pastor in the care of God's house. And in
some cases, divorced pastors lead God's flock. What used to be a shame in an unsaved society, is now a common accepted occurrence in fundamental Baptist churches. Are the churches simply helping to meet the needs of a changing society? Or are they sinning against an Almighty God? The purpose of this paper will be to answer that question.
(1)Charles Ryrie, You Mean the Bible Teaches That... (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p.45
GOD'S VIEW OF DIVORCE
The Bible teaches much on the subject of divorce. From the garden of Eden to Malachi, from Christ's teachings through the Pauline epistles and on to Revelation, God's view of divorce is taught. A knowledge of Scripture, taken in the light of other Scripture, should serve to provide an understanding of God's opinion of this Pressing problem.
Basic Scriptural Teachings On Divorce
Marriage was instituted in the garden of Eden. God created man, and out of man He made woman. In Genesis 2:22-24, God performs the first marriage.
And the rib, which the Lord had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.
Here God sets down His view of marriage. It is assumed that verse twenty-four was spoken by God. He says first of all that the man should cleave unto his wife. Webster's dictionary defines cleaving as "to adhere closely, to stick." This carries with it the idea of permanency. God did not tell Adam to cleave unto his wife until he got tired of her, or even until she fell into sin. Man is commanded to leave his parents, and the bond which he has with them, and transfer that bond to his wife, and to stick to her. God then says that "they two shall be one flesh." "By leaving of father and mother, the conjugal union is shown to be a spiritual oneness, a vital communion of heart as well as of body."(2) God uses the term "one flesh" for a reason. The married people are no longer two individuals, free to lead their own lives, whether together or separately. Rather, they have been joined into one being: one body, one spirit, one well. They in God's eyes, exist only as one individual. They cannot go in opposite directions, or in other words, divorce. They are one, forever. Thus, God's first teaching on marriage indicates that it is a permanent condition with no excuse for dissolvement.
Another Old Testament passage which is very dogmatic concerning divorce is Malachi chapter two. Verse eleven states that "Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem." Verse twelve states that, "the Lord well cut off the man that doeth this." Verses fourteen through sixteen explain what this horrible sin is.
(2)C. F. Keel and F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d.), p. 90.
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou has dealt treacherously; yet is she thy companion and the wife of thy covenant. And did He not make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore, take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away...
It seems very plain from this passage that God does not sanction divorce. The term "putting away", is the same Hebrew word which is found in Deuteronomy 22:19,29, where Moses is definitely speaking of divorce. God says in Malachi 2:16, that He hates divorce. The word "to hate" is a "word naturally used only as to sin, and so stamping such divorce as sin."(3) God is spoken of in Proverbs 6:16-19 as hating certain things, among them being: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among the brethren. Deuteronomy 16:22 speaks of God's hatred of idolatry. Deuteronomy 12:31 speaks of God's hatred of heathen abominations. Amos 5:21 and Isaiah 1:14 speak of God's hatred for worship without righteousness. Thus it is along with these sins that divorce is placed in regard to God's feelings about it. Verse fifteen of Malachi two teaches again that God made the man and woman one flesh in marriage. His will is for there to be a unity between husband and wife. Any breaking of that oneness is an abomination to God.
The New Testament contains several passages concerning divorce. Christ himself taught on this subject on several occasions. One of these instances is found in Mark chapter ten. The Pharisees came to
test Christ, and asked Him if it were lawful for a man to put away his wife. Christ asked them, "What did Moses command you?" They responded, "Moses suffered a man to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away." Jesus then responded,
For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept; but from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh, so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
The Pharisees wanted to catch the Lord in a trap by their questions. Thus they related Him back to the law of Moses, where Moses did give the grounds for divorcement among the Hebrews. This law for divorcement is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The law says,
(3)E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885), p. 484.
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house, or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife, her former husband, who sent her away may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord.
On the surface, this would appear to be God's provision for divorce. However, an examination of all the Scriptures indicates that it is not. At Moses' time, divorce was running rampant through the Israelites. Christ in Mark 10:5 said that this law was provided because of the hardening of the hearts of the Jews to God's precepts. Men at Moses' time put away their wives in an instant of time.
When Deuteronomy 24 was written, the Jewish people had followed the terrible sin of the Egyptians in wife swapping, putting away their wives for the least cause, and had degenerated marriage to a very primitive status.(4)
Moses realized that this was a dangerous situation, and thus wrote a law for the proper enactment of a divorce.
This permissive law of divorce was one of those "statutes" given to the Israelites that were not absolutely good, but only relatively good; not the universal and perpetual law, but a provisional enactment suited to the demoralized state and peculiar circumstances of the Hebrew people.(5)
Thus, Moses was not encouraging or even approving divorce, rather he was simply setting down some guidelines in order to protect the women. "But for (the law of) divorce the woman might have been the victim of tyranny, rigour, and death."(6) In enacting this law, Moses put down three steps which must be followed in obtaining a divorce. These are; first: it must be a written document, second: the document must be given into the woman's hand, and third: the first husband cannot remarry the wife if she has been married to another. These three steps, "served as a protection for the woman being divorced, and also caused delay, which might give time for reflection and readjustment of relationships."(7)
(4)William Hopewell, Marriage and Divorce (Cherry Hill: William J. Hopewill, 1976), p. 5.
(5)William Jones, Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 300.
(6)Ibid., p. 301.
(7)J. N. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), p. 454
Another purpose for this law was to show that if a man did get a divorce, then he could not remarry the woman if she had been married to another. It is interesting to note that the reason that this was forbidden is that the woman becomes defiled when she marries another. "This moral defilement is not removed by divorce from the second husband or even his death, but is an abomination, a stain upon the land, as much as incest and licentiousness."(8) This is the first passage in Scripture which teaches directly the wickedness of remarriage after divorce. This subject will be dealt with more fully in a later section.
All this has been discussed in order to show that the law of Moses concerning divorce was 'given because of the rebelliousness of the Jews. Matthew 19:8, which parallels this passage, teaches that Moses did hive a law, "but from the beginning it was not so." Genesis 2:23-24 have clearly been shown to teach that God's plan for marriage is that of a lifelong unity. This was God's original plan. God has "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Thus, His law at the creation must be His law today. Christ quotes from Genesis 2:23-24, and then adds an even stronger statement of His own, "What, therefore God hath joined together, let not man put assunder." God has joined two people in marriage. Any man, be he a minister, a lawyer, or a judge, has no right or ability to separate them. Thus, Christ teaches in no uncertain terms that divorce is not in God's plan, nor is it allowed under God's law.
The apostle Paul also taught concerning divorce. The first of these teachings is found in Romans 7:2. Here Paul writes
For a woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
Here Paul teaches that the wife is bound under God's divine law to her husband as long as he lives. When the husband dies, the woman is completely freed from her legal and moral obligation to her husband. She may marry or not marry as she chooses. But as long as her husband remains alive, she is not to divorce him to marry another, or for that matter to divorce him for any reason. She is legally bound to her husband. It should be noted here that these verses apply to both the husband and the wife. Almost all of the divorces both at this time and during the time of Moses were initiated by the husbands. Thus, most of the Scripture passages deal with the matter of divorce from that standpoint. However, the wife may not divorce her husband any more than the husband may divorce his wife.
(8)Jones, op. cit., p. 299.
I Corinthians chapter seven is another important passage on divorce. Verse ten states, "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord. Let not the wife depart from her husband." Verse eleven reads, "Let not the husband put away his wife." Verse thirty-nine mentions what has been previously discussed. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord." Paul teaches the Corinthian believers that they are not to separate or divorce. Paul shows in verse ten that this is not his commandment, but rather it is the Lord's. Verse eleven speaks strictly against the husband divorcing his wife. These verses, coupled with those in Romans, show beyond any doubt that Paul believed that divorce was against the commandments of God.
The Exception Clause
Down through the centuries, individuals have claimed that there is an exception to God's seemingly eternal law against divorce. This exception is found in Matthew 19:9. It reads,
And I say unto you 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery, and whosoever marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery.
Many individuals use this verse to prove that there is an excuse for divorce. However, one must question whether or not this really is an exception. Many verses have been shown which indicate that marriage is an eternal tie which must never be divided asunder by man. Can it be that this verse and a similar one in Matthew 5:32 indicate that the other verses do not actually mean what they appear to say? There is a hermeneutical principle which states that the large number of clear passages are superior to one unclear passage.(9) This principle would indicate that since the whole of Scripture teaches the permanency of marriage, perhaps these two verses are really not providing the exception which they appear to be.
It is the opinion of this writer, based upon previously cited Scriptures and a knowledge of Jewish customs, that Matthew 19:9 does not provide an exception to the permanency of marriage. In order to understand this passage, one must be acquainted with the marriage customs of the Jews. The Jewish marriage consisted of three parts.
First of all there was the engagement. Secondly there was the betrothal. Thirdly, there was the consummation. The engagement was merely a promise to marry. The betrothal however is the important part in this discussion. Edersheim writes,
At the betrothal, the bridegroom, personally or by deputy, handed to the bride a piece of money or a letter, it being expressly stated in each case that the man thereby espoused the woman. From the moment of betrothal both parties were regarded, and treated in law (as to inheritance, adultery, need of formal divorce) as if they had been actually married, except as regarded their living together.(10)
(9)Hopewell, op. cit., p. 9.
(10)Ryrie, op. cit., p. 49.
It must be remembered that the wedding itself is not being spoken of here. At least an entire year had to pass between the betrothal and the marriage.(11) No consummation had taken place.
Among, the Jews, the betrothal was so far regarded as binding that, if marriage should not take place, owing to the absconding of the bridegroom or the breach of contract on his part, the young woman could not be married to another man until she was liberated by a due process and a paper of divorce... Betrothal became marriage when the bridegroom took the bride to his home and the consummation of the marriage took place.(12)
Thus, by Hebrew custom, two individuals could be considered man and wife even though they had not been officially married. It appears then that this is the relationship to which Jesus is referring in Matthew 19:9.
The incident of Mary and Joseph portrays this very custom. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, not married. (Matt. 1:18) When Joseph found out that she was with child, he was minded to "put her away
(divorce her) privily." He undoubtedly believed that she had been unfaithful to him. Thus, he decided to divorce her before two witnesses rather than make a public display of her.
The choice of vocabulary in Matthew 19:9 is important also. The word porneia (fornication) is used rather than the word moicheia (adultery). Thayer defines porneia as "fornication, i.e. illicit sexual intercourse in general."(13) Although this may include sexual sins after marriage, it is generally applied outside of marriage. Moicheia on the other hand, "clearly
refers to sexual sin within the marital status."(14) Christ chose His words carefully to show that he was not talking about divorce between married people, but rather between betrothed people only.
It is obvious from the preceding arguments that the "exception clause" applies only in the betrothal state. This, view clears up all the problems.
(11)Hopewell, op. cit., p. 13.
(13)Joseph Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh : T. and T. Clark, 1901), p. 532.
(14)Hopewell, op. cit., p. 12.
First of all, it allows for the permanency of marriage which Christ taught and still includes an exception for those who are betrothed. Secondly, it explains the process by which Joseph planned to put away Mary. Thirdly, it explains why Matthew, who wrote to the Jews, included the exception while Mark and Luke, who wrote to Gentiles who did not practice the Jewish custom of marriage, did not include it. Thus, the real teaching of Matthew 19:9 is this: Whosoever puts away his wife, except it be during the betrothal period for fornication, and marrieth another, committeth adultery.
Nothing much has been said about the relationship between divorce and adultery. The seventh commandment reads, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." God hates adultery. Thus, any relationship between divorce and adultery should help to indicate God's feelings about divorce.
Only a few examples need to be given from Scripture. Mark 10:11 states, "whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery." Romans 7:3 states, "So, then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adultress." Matthew 5:32 reads, "'whosoever shall put away his wife... causeth her to commit adultery, and whosoever marrieth her that is divorced committeth adultery." These few verses clearly show that divorce leads to adultery. A divorced person who marries is committing adultery. An individual who marries a divorcee is committing adultery. The Bible even goes so far as to say that the man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery. Thus, since God's Word expressly teaches that adultery is sin, and since divorce leads to adultery, then it is only logical to assume that God hates divorce as well.
Marriage As A Type
The marriage relationship between a husband and wife is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church. Ephesians chapter five teaches this truth very plainly. Verse twenty-three states, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." Verse twenty-five states, "Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church." Marriage is used as a type in other Scriptures as well. In Jeremiah 3:14, God says that he is "married" to Israel. The opening portions of Hosea show the prophet's marriage to the adulterous Gomer as being a type of God's relationship to Israel. Revelation 19:7 speaks of the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride. What does this all mean? It means that even as Christ's love for Israel in the Old Testament, and for the church in the New Testament, is permanent, so also should be the love between a husband and wife. A marriage
which ends in divorce creates a type that has Christ divorcing His bride. God is very particular in the types which He chooses and in the way with which they are handled. Numbers 20:10,12 shows what happened when Moses destroyed the type of Christ as the Rock once smitten, when he smote the rock the second time. He was forbidden to enter the promised land. When God sets up a type, He does not want it tampered with
or destroyed. The marriage union between a husband and wife is a type of Christ and the churches. As Christ and the church will never be divorced, neither should a husband and wife be divorced.
pg. 8 & 9
THE CHURCH'S VIEW OF DIVORCE
It has been plainly seen from God's Word that divorce is sin. God has emphatically stated that He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). He has shown that divorce leads to, and causes, adultery. He has shown that marriage is a type of Christ's relationship to the church and thus should never be dissolved. Finally, He has shown that there is absolutely no exception to His divine law. It can then be said once and for all without fear of contradiction: Divorce is sin.
Having established the sinfulness of divorce, what should be the church's view of those who have been divorced? Should they be allowed to pastor? Can they hold an office in the church? Can they usher? Should they be allowed to teach Sunday School? Should they sing in the chair These are all important issues, and they must be faced in view of the alarming number of divorcees who fill the Baptist churches of America today.
I Timothy chapter three and Titus chapter one give the qualifications for pastors and deacons. Each list gives as one of its requirements that the pastor or deacon be "the husband of one wife." Matthew Henry describes this as:
not having given a bill of divorce to one, and then taken another, or not having many wives at once, as at that time was too common among both the Jews and Gentiles, especially among the Gentiles.(15)
Some have taken this passage to mean that deacons and pastors, because of their office, may not remarry even following the death of their spouses. To this Fairbairn responds:
It is of what the individual pastor is or has at any particular period during his pastorate that the apostle is speaking. If he should, after being deprived of a wife by death, become married to another, he is still a man of one wife; for the previous relationship no longer exists, it was dissolved by death - dissolved absolutely and forever, since in the life to come the flesh and
blood relations of this life are unknown.(16)
It appears then that this qualification for pastors and deacons simply indicates that they may not be practicing polygamy, whether sanctioned by a divorce or not. Along these same lines, the pastor is required to "rule well his own home" (I Tim. 3:4). A man who is in a divorced state is obviously not one who can rule his home well. Seeing as the husband is to be the head of the home, it is only natural that he should take responsibility for the divorce, no matter whose fault the courts say it is.
(15)Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol VI. (McLean: McDonald Publishing Co. n.d. ), p. 815.
(16)Patrick Fairbairn, Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1874), p. 139.
Thus, the plain Scriptural teaching of the Bible is that pastors and deacons may not be divorced and serve in those offices. Logical reasons could be cited, but they are unnecessary because of the plain Scriptural mandate. These reasons will be mentioned however in further discussions.
The Bible is very plain concerning divorced pastors and deacons. But what about other positions in the church which are not spelled out explicitly; such as ushers and Sunday School teachers? It is the opinion of this writer that no divorcee should hold any of these positions.
First of all, there does appear to be a Scriptural mandate for this. This mandate is found within the qualifications of pastors and deacons. While it is true that they only name those two particular offices, it is also true that no other positions are really mentioned in the Scriptures. There are no Sunday School teachers or ushers. There are no church soloists. Thus, in addition to being the requirements for pastors and deacons, they appear to be general requirements for church leadership. After all, if it is good enough for the pastor, it ought to be good enough for the usher. The usher is to be just as much of an example for the cause of Christ in the community as the pastor is.
This leads to the next point. What kind of testimony does the church have in the community when its leadership is divorced: The church is supposed to be a model of purity and holiness. The community at large will understand divorcees having their membership in the church, but might shy away from it if the leaders are divorced. After all, even the unsaved know that churches for generations have frowned upon divorce. If they have been to the church, they probably realize that the church feels that divorce is a sin. But if the church preaches against divorce from the pulpit, yet entertains divorce in its positions of leadership, then its hypocrisy will be a blazing light for all the community to see.
Some will try to argue against this by stating that God forgives and forgets. That is indeed the case. However, even though the sin and guilt are forgiven, that does not erase the individual's past and its effects. This is the case in divorce. God commanded the man and woman to be one flesh. Once that union was broken, regardless of subsequent spiritual decisions, the facts of history cannot be altered. When the divorcee gets up off his knees following salvation, is he not still living in a divorced state? When a divorced and remarried woman finishes confessing her sin to God, is she not still living in adultery? The average fundamental Baptist church would never dream of having a known adultress teaching in the Sunday School. Yet, this is exactly what a divorced individual is, according to the Word of God. The sin of divorce logically carries a permanence with it. The problem of living in sin is that which keeps an individual from serving in an official capacity within the local church.
There is another aspect of divorce which indicates the severity of its punishment. Marriage is a type of Christ and the church, and divorce destroys this type. As previously stated, God punishes those who destroy these types. When Moses struck the rock the second time, he was forbidden to enter the promised land. Even after he confessed, he was still forbidden to do it. Why was the punishment so severe? Was it because he was angry with the people? No, he had been angry many times before. Was it because he had sinned? No, he had previously murdered an Egyptian and not been punished so severely. The problem was that he had destroyed the type of Christ as the Rock once smitten. When a man gets a divorce, he destroys the type of Christ as the head of the church, and The one who loves the church. It is only logical that the punishment for this would be as lingering as the punishment that Moses received. Confession did not wipe away what Moses had done; neither can it wipe away a divorce.
Divorce is sin. From the objective statements of Scripture to the types of Christ, it is clear that God hates divorce. Fundamental pulpits must thunder out against this horrible menace which has taken over many churches. But these same churches must see to it that divorced people do not hold offices within the church. Leadership standards for pastors and deacons which forbid divorce are plainly taught in Scripture. Yet these standards could, and should, be applied to
all areas of church leadership. Divorcees who are remarried are called adulterers. Adulterers, regardless of when their salvation occurred, should never hold any leadership position. Thus, it seems that no divorcee should hold any leadership position in the church. They should attend, and they may be members. They should do everything they can to win the lost to Christ. But they should never be put in a leadership position where the church is, in effect, putting its stamp of approval upon their lifestyle. This would include even maintenance men who are employed by the church and receive a paycheck from them. It would seem very improper to have a divorced person on the payroll of a church that preaches a Bible which says that divorce is sin.
Fundamental churches today are filled with divorced people. By allowing them to hold offices, the church is simply accenting their lifestyle and imparting this acceptance to both church members and visitors alike. Thus, it is safe to say that no divorced individual should ever hold a position of leadership within a fundamental Baptist church.
This section was included in the constitution of a Baptist church.
RE: The church's position on the Divorce Issue and the responsibility of said persons in church activities.
Because the Scriptures definitely teach the purity and permanency of the marriage relationship in that once two people are joined in holy matrimony, they are joined until physical death;
Because the Scriptures distinctly reject divorce and remarriage as God's plan for life;
- And because the local church must stand true in doctrinal purity an its leadership must exemplify the Person and standard set by Christ its Lord and Saviour: (Genesis 2:18-24, Mal. 2:14-15,
Matt. 5:32, 19:4-10, Mark 10:2-11, Luke 16:18, Rom. 7:2, I Cor. 7:39, Eph. 5:31, I Tim. 3, Titus 1, I Thess. 5:21-22)
It is the position of the Pastor and Board of Deacons that anyone who is divorced and remarried and who is truly, and Biblically repentant can be brought into the church membership, but must not be permitted to hold any elected office or position of authority (namely, the following: Sunday School teachers and helpers, children's church teachers and helpers, VBS teachers and helpers, WMF officers, young people's directors, leaders, and sponsors, choir directors, or any other position of leadership in the church).
(I Cor. 6:9-11, 13, 18; Acts 6:3; I Tim. 4:11-12; Titus 2:2)(17)
(17)Hopewell, op. cit., p. 26.