Divorced Pastors

National Association of Christian Ministers How to Series: Answers to Controversies #

What Does the Bible Teach About Divorce, Remarriage, and Ministry?

by Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder


Divorce has been a topic of great confusion among believers of the Christian faith.  It is our goal here to briefly address the position we the National Association of Christian Ministers hold regarding ordination and divorce.  We do not seek herein to address the topic exhaustively, but rather to offer a straightforward approach with simplicity.

Perhaps it is fitting to first address divorce as a whole -including all Christians whether they are ministers or not.

A) Reading the OT, one would quickly conclude that God permitted divorce AND remarriage.

Deu 24:1-4

(1) When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorce and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

(2) And when she has departed from his house, she goes and becomes another man’s;

(3) and the latter husband hates her and writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house; or if the latter husband dies, he who took her to be his wife

(4) her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife after she is defiled. For that is hateful before Jehovah. And you shall not cause the land to sin, which Jehovah your God gives you for an inheritance.

The above demonstrates that a letter must be issued to free to woman to marry another -even if she is unclean.

B) The NT is where most of the confusion about divorce begins.  This confusion is due to a shameful lack of attention to Christ’s words.

Jesus preaches his most famous sermon in Matthew chapter 5 (the sermon on the mount). During that message he made this very important distinction:

Mat 5:17-18

(17) Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill.

(18) For truly I say to you, Till the heaven and the earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the Law until all is fulfilled.

Because of this statement people seem to get lost in whether or not Christians are under the law. Yet to do so misses the entire point of his statement.

In simple terms Jesus is saying, listen, I am about to say some things that sound contrary to the law. However, do not think that I have come to change the law. If you think that I am changing the law, you have misinterpreted my words.

The bottom line here is that Jesus told us not to think that the things that he was about to say were “changes” to the law.

Then 13 verses later he says:

Mat 5:31-32

(31) It was also said, Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.

(32) But I say to you that whoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever shall marry her who is put away commits adultery.

From verse 31 we can be sure that Jesus is referencing Deu 24:1-4.  However, the things that he says here sound very contrary to what the law states. He seems to say that divorce is forbidden except for adultery, and that it is forbidden to marry a divorced person.  Yet the law clearly states that divorce is permissible and that it is indeed acceptable for the divorced to remarry -hence the reason for the letter of divorcement. The letter of divorce was an official statement that declared that the separated was free to be joined with another.

In light of these things, we know that the law was passed to Moses from God.  Therefore, the law is flawless, holy, and no less credible than the very words of Christ.  Jesus affirms this concept saying that “not one jot or tittle will pass from the law”.  Additionally, if we interpret his words as “overriding” the law, Jesus has already told us this interpretation is wrong.  Remember, he clearly said “do not think that I have come to change the law”.

If we analyze the whole sermon on the mount we find some outlandish statements about plucking out eyes, cutting off hands, permitting people to rob us, unjust anger interpreted as murder, instructions not to resist evil (or defend ourselves), and the instruction to “be perfect”.  If we are to take these statements literally, we must accept them all literally (not just the passage about divorce).  Therefore, every person who has ever lusted must pluck out their eye if they are to be obedient to Christ.  He did not qualify to instruction as plucking it out only if one cannot stop the sin.  He said “if” it causes a sin, “pluck” it out.  There are approximately 3,000,000,000 million Christians in the world, yet most of us have never met a fellow believer who has taken this literally and acted on the instruction.

Jesus also said that we should not resist evil.  Therefore, what business do we have defending ourselves?  If an evil person breaks into our home and rapes our spouse and kills our children, in obedience to Christ we should just stand by and watch it all -facetious tone intended here.  Doesn’t this sound absurd?  Most would agree it does, yet so many have taken his words about divorce, spoken in the same passage and context, and interpret it literally.  This defies all proper exegesis and hermetical approaches to interpretation.  Even Christ tells his disciples before he ascended into Heaven to “buy a sword” (Luke 22:36).  He surely did not tell them to purchase swords for the sake of cutting bread at communion services -facetious tone intended.

The truth is that Jesus rarely ever spoke in “literal” terms. In passages such as these he was using a philosophical approach to teaching known as the hyperbolic method. This approach is to make statements in their most extreme form in order to convey a less extreme message. We do this all the time. Consider the statement, “I am so hungry I could eat a horse”, or, “Mom will be so angry she will have a cow”.  No one really thinks that we will eat a horse, or violate the laws of biogenesis and birth a cow. In like manner, no one should lift up serpents, drink poison, speak to mountains, cut off their hands, pluck out their eyes, etc. To take such instructions literally is to think like children with polarized perceptions of everything being simply black or white.

Therefore, we conclude that Christ was not revising the law, and while it might not be the preferred decision, divorce is permissible.

Now we are prepared to address the question of divorced ministers.

The question has been raised, “can a divorced person serve as a pastor, minister, etc.?”

There are really only two passages of scripture in the New Testament that may remotely raise question to the area of ministry.

1Ti 3:2

(2)  Then it behooves the overseer to be without reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, well-ordered, hospitable, apt at teaching,

Referencing potential overseers:

Tit 1:6

(6)  if anyone is blameless, husband of one wife, having believing children, not accused of loose behavior, or disobedient.

In both of these passages the Greek word for “one” wife is “mee’-ah” which may be interpreted as “one” and the Greek rendering is literally to be “a one woman man”.  In other words, overseers in the church should not be polygamists, or playboys, or “ladies men”.

If we try to apply the reasoning that ministers must have been only married once, then  we must conclude a few absurdities

Absurdity 1) It states that overseers must be the “husband” of one wife.  Therefore, all ministers must be male.

Absurdity 2) It states that overseers must be the husband of “one wife” .  Therefore, they must indeed be married.

Absurdity 3) Following Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5, if they become adulterers for marrying after divorce, then they are doomed to live in the sin of adultery as long as they stay married.  Therefore, divorced people who have remarried are adulterers and cannot be saved:

1Co 6:9-10

(9)  Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers, nor homosexuals,

(10)  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Yet we have an even bigger problem. If they get divorced from their second spouses to end their adulterate states, according to Deuteronomy 24, they are not allowed to return to their first spouses.  Now we really have some inconsistencies.  In one line of thought divorced people are adulterers because they are still married to their first spouses, yet they are not permitted to return to their first spouses to reconcile their first marriages.

In spite of these things, we even see Christ recognize divorce and remarriage as legitimate when talking to the woman at the well:

Joh 4:16-18

(16)  Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband and come here.

(17)  The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have well said, I have no husband

(18)  for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband. In that you spoke truly.

From these things we must conclude that the subject of divorce is confusing.  However, some of the church’s interpretation of the matter both denies the power of God to forgive sin, and lacks sound reasoning. Therefore, it is the NACM’s position that God permits divorce, and forgives sin, and that divorced ministers who have been called by His grace may continue to serve Him with their callings.

Closing Thoughts

Divorced Ministers have a tough time because sometimes they are not as accepted and are treated in a different way than other married couples. Sometimes people look down on them and don’t see the reason for divorce when divorced. It is important to note that there are good reasons for trying to save a relationship. For example: love, commitment, and the nuclear family.

Some people are unwilling to believe that marriages can be saved even though they may have been in a relationship for a long time. It may seem like the only way to save the relationship is to go through with the divorce.

However, it is also important to note that some divorces are well justified, and may be the only means by which to resolve long time conflicts between couples. After all, it is hard to love your neighbor when you hate your spouse.

Divorced Ministers can find support from others in different ways than most couples. They can talk about their issues with their pastors or in church, and they can use the resources available to them to improve their relationship. If they are not married yet and don’t want to go through with the divorce, then they may want to get married right now and start over. The decision is really up to the couple; everyone needs to make the choice they think is right for themselves.