DIVORCE AND RESTORATION:
This originally was a letter I had written to a Pastor who disagreed with an editorial I had posted in the BBF newsletter for Utah, of which I was the writer and editor from the mid to the late 1990s.
The first part has to do with restoration in general but the latter part deals specifically with the matter of divorce.
START OF LETTER
To: Bro. *******
Iíve never had the pleasure of meeting you; Iím looking forward to sometime doing so.
I would have answered your response to last issueís editorial in The Sentinel but this is going to be too lengthy to have done so. You have my permission to share this with any one you want. In fact, I stated in the newsletter that anyone wishing a copy of this letter can have one upon request.
Iíll try to answer your questions and comments as best as I can.
ONE. The immorality and attempts to escape the law, lying, adultery, and past thievery of some of those whom you mentioned that have come to Utah in the past to start or pastor existing churches in Utah is, as you said, something that "... just should not ever be so!" if their only reason for coming here was to escape responsibility for their actions. We must, however, temper that with mercy and forgiveness for those who have asked for and received Godís forgiveness for past sins and who have, if possible, made restitution to their fellow man for what they did. God is still in the business of restoration of the fallen. I am, however, not talking about those who are still mixed up in those sins. In their case, they need our help in getting things right with God and man.
Gal 6:1-2 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
To think that restoration is only limited to the person in the pew and not the man in the pulpit is totally contrary to biblical precepts and is based upon the erroneous concept, held by many, that a pastor is somehow perfect and above ever falling!
True, a pastor must be exemplary in word and deportment; but to think that he cannot ever fall or be restored after that fall is unscriptural and unthinkable. He would, of course, have to leave his church and go through a time of intense prayer, asking for forgiveness from God and those people that he (the erring pastor) has wronged, and try to return, pay back, or otherwise make proper restitution (in the case of thievery or fraud, etc.) to those wronged; but, after getting his life back in line with God, God could once again use him. It probably would not be in the same church for two reasons: one, because the members would have lost confidence in his ability to lead by example; and also because, as I have found personally, "God forgives- People generally do not!"
Therefore, we must be temperate in our dealings with people, both in the pew or the pulpit. Current sin must be dealt with in a scriptural manner; but, so must past sin. Just as there is no excuse for those who may have run here to Utah (or anyplace else) in order to escape their unresolved sins, there is also no excuse for an unforgiving, self-righteous, self-judgmental attitude toward those who have made things right regarding past sins. All of our judgments must be tempered with forgiveness, Christ given righteousness, and judgments based solely on scripture and not on preconceived notions given to us by manís judgments based on tradition and personal (oft times erroneous) beliefs rather than scriptural precepts.
We must keep in mind that whether in the pulpit or the pew, once past wrongs have been made right, then God judges by current righteousness, not position:
Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Ezek 18:21-22 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
If, instead of exercising a godly attitude and affection for a fallen brother, we treat him harshly and with self-righteous judgmentalness, then we again have to go to the Scriptures to set ourselves straight- our sin is only different from their sin, but we are no better than they:
Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
And to continue the thought of Galatians chapter six which was mentioned earlier in connection with the restoration of a fallen brother "...in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted..." we must remember that God tells us that we must remember who we are, Gal 6:3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
We are commanded to lift up the fallen brother, yes, but God does not give us the right nor the responsibility to judge his servants and their service to the master, and logically that would include the subsequent service of the fallen and restored Christian, whether a pastor or otherwise. God reserves that judgment, and all judgment, to himself.
Ro 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
God says that the Christian, fallen or otherwise (that would include all Christians- even pastors) must answer to Him, not us.
Ro 14:10-12 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, [As] I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
And as for our part concerning an erring brother (pastor or otherwise), God plainly maps out our part: unbounded forgiveness (such as Christ showed us)- even if it concerns multiple sins against ourselves personally.
Mt 18:21-22 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Our proper attitude toward a restored pastor (or any other Christian) has to be:
A. Help in his restoration.
B. Lift him up in anyway we can.
C. Forget the past for which he has asked and received forgiveness from God.
D. And pursue a course of peace by doing only those things that will edify him instead of tearing him down.
I think God summed it up very well for us in Romans chapter fourteen:
Ro 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for
peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
And to think that a pastor can somehow be expelled or disqualified from Godís call to service using his gifts, because of some sin, brings to mind another scripture:
Ro 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God [are] without repentance.
I have personally come across the sentiment, and have even had mentioned to me in so many words that, "we must attempt to keep the pastorate (meaning the pastorate generically) pure and clean by making sure that the heretics are kept out." That may very well be a noble thought and even sounds like a very godly endeavor, the problem is, however, that it is not found anywhere in scripture. No pastor has ever been commanded to keep the pastorate "pure and clean." We are told to "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure." (I Tim 5:22); but, that is talking about ordaining a man to the ministry; not keeping the pastorate pure. It is concerned with keeping ourselves pure; i.e., not partaking of their sins. We do have control over who we (meaning the church that God has given us to pastor) ordain to the ministry; but we have no control over who someone else may ordain to the ministry. And as long as "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," is still in the Bible, then all a pastor can ever be is a "saved sinner called out from among other sinners to lead sinners." And that means that the pastorate can never be completely pure and clean since it is always going to be filled by men who are sinners. That is why God never told us to be concerned with, nor did He ever give us the job of, "keeping the pastorate (generically) pure and clean;" but, He did tell us to make sure of the men that we are personally involved in ordaining to the ministry. To sum it up, it is only the ones we personally are involved with that we are held accountable for; not every man that comes to Utah to pastor. If a church calls him, then it is a local church matter that we cannot be involved in. I think we have a big enough job keeping ourselves pure. That is a full-time endeavor that leaves no time to worry about whether someone else in another church is pure or not.
"Keeping out heresy," is another phrase that has been given to me as supposed justification for running off a pastor in another church. Again I have to go to the Scriptures. The job of protecting against heresy was given to the local pastor to protect that local church of which he was pastor against the intrusion of heresy. (I Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20) But those warnings were given to the local pastors of local churches. Those pastorís responsibilities were to protect their own churches against heresy; not to get involved in the matter of protecting some other church against heresy by running off the other pastor.
The only passage that refers to heresy in general is I Pet 2:1. But that passage is not talking to the pastorís responsibility to keep out heresy in all of the other churches (Christianity in general); instead it gives a different responsible entity that protects from heresy. That entity is given in the latter part of the previous chapter.
II Pet 1:19-21 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.
Obviously it is the Scriptures that are being referred to here. The Scriptures are Godís protection against heresy and heretics. If the false teachers (which is part of the pastoral responsibility) stray from the Scriptures, then God know how to take care of them.
II Pet 2:9 The Lord knoweth how
to deliver the godly out of temptations,
and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
In short, our responsibility to protect from heresy is to the local church of which we are pastor. We are not given the responsibility of running off a pastor of another church because we think he is a heretic. That is Godís job and we dare not infringe upon His (God's) territory. We are not to attempt to coerce members away from that other church, we are not to involve ourselves in the affairs of that other church; it is Godís responsibility and if we interfere then God will judge us.
What about Titus 3:10 ? "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." That verse was given to Titus as a command that he was to deliver to those that he was to ordain in "every city." (Titus 1:5) Thus it was, once again, a local church command. He was to teach those new pastors how to handle heretics in their churches. It was not given so that they, the pastors, would reject one another for heresy and use it as an excuse for running the other guy off. However, it could be used to withdraw the ordination of someone who turned out to be a heretic. If your church ordained them, and if they then turned to heresy and would not change after several admonitions, then you could withdraw their ordination. But, if that other church that they pastored decided to keep them and maybe even reordain them, then there is nothing more you can do. That church belongs to Christ and it is His responsibility, not yours or mine. God will judge them without our help. Our concern and our only responsibility is protecting our own church from heresy, not the other guyís.
We must be extremely careful and fanatically conscientious in this matter of noninterference, else we may find ourselves fighting against God!
Acts 5:36-39 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, [even] as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God , ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
TWO. Another statement you made is that "... THE BURDEN IS EVANGELISM, NOT ANOTHER NEW STRUGGLING NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH." (Caps are yours.)
Concerning the first part, I couldnít agree more! Evangelism IS the answer; but, the command to evangelize was given to the Local Church (Mt 28:19-20); ergo, more churches- more evangelism.
You also stated that "Working together is not Godís way of starting new churches in the New Testament." The "working together" that I am talking about is the mutual cooperation between Independent Churches; such as WAS DONE in the New Testament. A man was sent out from a Local Church (sometimes he traveled with a group, like Paul did), then he (or they) won some to Christ, baptized them, and thus started another Church.
Every missionary is a church planter, and we voluntarily cooperate in supporting them to start new churches. That is unless we, our local church, happens to be financially stable and affluent enough to send out a man to start a church and give him 100% of the money he needs to do so. I personally do not know of a church that can do that. There may be a few, very few, but most churches can not afford to do that- so we voluntarily cooperate to support the man and his work that God has led him to undertake.
Once a church was started, say by Paul, then there was mutual help and cooperation amongst those new churches and the other churches. One way was voluntary financial help:
I Cor 16:1-3 "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by [your] letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem."
(The inescapable conclusion gathered from the first line of this verse is that not only the Corinthians were involved in such voluntary financial aid, but so were various churches of Galatia. A widespread cooperation is in sight here.)
Other times it was just one church that helped keep the man of God going during tough times.
Phil 4:14-16 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.
The greatest church planter in the New Testament, Paul, new the value of cooperation. He knew that church planters and the pastors that follow them are co-labourers with God. That thought of co-labourers alone shows that a spirit of cooperation should prevail among all of the labourers- person to person, church to church, preacher to preacher.
I Cor 3:6-9 "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building."
Everything today is to be in line with the pattern set in the Bible, this includes voluntary cooperation between churches for the mutual benefit of each. No group of churches "starts" a church. That is totally the job of a local church; but as churches we are to help one another in the endeavor.
You misunderstood my statement in the article. When the statement was made, "Letís start some churches here in Utah," it was this spirit of cooperation that was being referred to; not, as you mistakenly referred to in parenthesis, "not an individual church, but a group like a denomination" starting churches. If I did not make that clear, then I apologize for not doing so. I assumed that since those reading the newsletter were predominantly pastors, the meaning would be clear. I also assumed that such statements as, "willingly helped one another... helped one anotherís missionaries... prayed for and encouraged one another... and yet retained their autonomy... work together... willingly cooperate with one another... to avoid duplication of effort, to make the best uses of our resources, and to give new works the support needed to get off the ground... work together in a scriptural manner without infringing on the autonomy of our local churches... guidelines for this kind of willing cooperation... in no way, nor are they meant to affect in any way the autonomy of our local churches... give direction to our combined efforts and to facilitate the willing cooperation between our churches to further the cause of Christ here in Utah... efforts of the UBF... Fundamental, Independent, KJV, Baptist Church is started, encouraged, and/or helped..." would make it plain to all, pastors or non-pastors, that it was ONLY the spirit of cooperation that I was referring to. I believed that an unbiased reading of the article by anyone would lead to that understanding. I did not believe that the "WE" or the "Letís start some churches" would be misunderstood and taken to mean that anything other than a church can start another church. (You and I and all of the readers of the newsletter know that no "denomination" nor anyone else other than a Local New Testament Church has the right to start another church.) I assumed that "stand up for the faith and see some significant numbers of souls led to Christ" would make that clear; since standing up for the faith would necessitate that the new churches would follow the scriptural precept of churches starting churches, which is part of our faith, and that the new churches would evangelize, which they are commanded and commissioned to do. Even the use of the word "guidelines" instead of "constitution" in the newsletter was meant to show and enforce the concept of voluntary cooperation rather than a church subscribing to a hierarchical denominational structure.
You also mentioned that what we donít need here in Utah is "another struggling New Testament Church." Every church in the New Testament was a "struggling New Testament Church." Jesus Christ struggled against the entrenched religion and had to get his tax money out of the mouth of a fish, had no place for His Church to meet, no place to call home, and even His disciples left Him except for the Twelve. Not to mention that even one of the Twelve was lost, a traitor, and used by the devil, and that they all eventually abandoned Him when He was captured in the Garden. Sounds like a struggling church to me!
Also we canít forget the religious and political struggles suffered by all of the subsequent Local Churches in the New Testament started from that original Local Baptist Church, started by Christ. If the persecutions, recorded in the Bible as suffered by those churches does not make it necessary to include them in the category of "struggling churches" then I donít know what does. The only earthly help they had was the God instigated help they showed for each other! They voluntarily cooperated amongst themselves to try and alleviate the suffering of their fellow churches. We need to do the same- cooperate so that those Local Church men that go out to start new churches from existing Local Churches wonít have to weather the storms by themselves! We need to let God use us to help them the way He used churches in the New Testament to help one another.
And as for those who steal sheep, whether they be those who have come in and stolen members from existing churches to start their own church or those who may already be here and are stealing sheep from other churches, I think I made my view on that very clear in the article. It is WRONG and God will judge them for it- no matter what kind of justification they may drum up in their own little minds! The man who comes in to start a church MUST win the lost and then start a church from that group of new converts; you are right, there is no other way! But, a spirit and show of cooperation from the churches already in existence here in Utah will help him in his endeavor! And, as I said earlier in this letter, the more Churches the more evangelism and the more churches started from that evangelism- that is the cycle that has repeated itself from that first Church started by Christ; and that is the reason that we have local New Testament Churches today in which you and I were saved and are able to even be here pastoring churches in Utah.
Evangelism and churches cannot be separated. Scriptural evangelism is the commission given to the local church. Therefore, the more local churches the more evangelism- IF that new local church follows the commands of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and wins others, then baptizes them, then teaches them to do all that Christ said to do; and Christ came to win the lost and start the Church. He won first and then started a church- that was because He was Christ, the one who started it all. Since then, the commission to evangelize was given, by Him, to the local church. That means that the two are now inextricably intertwined. The man comes to a town and evangelizes and then he organizes the church; but, you canít have one without the other because originally He came from a Local Church with itís authority to start another church. All I am advocating is that we co-labour with God and His man that He led here in the same spirit of cooperation that characterized the churches of the Bible; and that we do this in a scriptural way to eliminate some of our duplication of effort and allow us to be the best stewards that we can of the money and resources that God has given to the churches that we pastor. And I have seen too many good men of God frustrated in their service to Christ because of other Christians not only refusing to help but actually fighting against those men by interfering in the Local Church (started by that man out of another local church) and decimating that new work by interfering with it and itís members to either try to get them to get rid of the pastor or leave and come over to their own church- "because he is not scriptural." God can take care of the errors of His man and His Church and we are commanded to stay out of it! We are also commanded to help edify that man if we are able to do so.
THREE. One final matter.
You mentioned that men have come to this state with "too many wives... multiplicity of wives in other churches." I could say that I was not aware of any polygamous Independent Baptist pastors here in Utah or anywhere else for that matter; but, I do not believe that is what you meant so I will address the question, and objection, that I believe you were presenting by that statement. If I am wrong and a problem of polygamous pastors is what you really were referring to, please call and correct me.
For now, however, I believe that what you really meant was that divorced men have come to start churches in Utah. In order to answer that I am going to have to get into a rather lengthy discussion of scripture and comparisons of them because I donít think anything less would do justice to the concept nor answer your objection to divorced men pastoring.
All that I ask is that you prayerfully consider the following under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let the Scriptures speak to you and do not let them be colored by any preconceived ideas taught to you by someone from your past, no matter how good of a Christian they may have been and no matter how much you respect them; let God speak to you instead.
Consider the following scripture before you judge God by any manís teachings:
Ro 3:4 ... yea, let God be true, but every man a liar...
Now, on to the study.
I. First precept- That a divorced man has "many" or a "multiplicity" of wives.
To understand why this is an erroneous belief we will first clarify the Bible teachings on marriage and divorce.
A. God instituted marriage. (We all agree on that.)
B. Godís perfect will is that it is one wife for life. (We also all agree on that.)
C. BUT- God does
1. Because of the hardness of our hearts He SUFFERS it to be so; but, it is not His perfect
Mt 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
ecw, ekhí-oh, to have or hold, and is in the present tense.
2. But once the divorce is in effect, neither spouse is recognized, by God, as still being the spouse of the other person..
Jn 4:17-18 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
In this passage of scripture Jesus is saying that He agreed that she had "no husband," currently, even though He knew that she "had five husbands," in the past. The tense of the words must be brought up here because tense will be important in a later part of this study.
"have," in the KJV is in the present tense in the English. (Since there have been many attempts by "scholars," to question the KJVís accurate rendering of the Greek, we will, in this study, simply verify itís accuracy by referring back to the Received Text to allay any such pretensions.) The Greek word translated as "have," in the KJV is the word
"hast had," is from eceiV, and is the past tense of ecw.
Therefore, it is incontrovertible that in the Bible Jesus agreed with the fact that the woman currently had no husband even though she had five husbands in her past.
3. He also teaches that even divorce for fornication is only allowed, i.e., God only suffers it to be so; but, it is not in His perfect will.
Mt 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts
suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Mk 10:5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the
hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept."
Christ, in these passages, was trying to show the sanctity of marriage to the Jews who divorced their wives for various reasons, showing them that only because of the hardness of their hearts was divorce allowed at all; and to clarify that, originally, it was only for sexual impropriety ("nakedness" Deut 24:1) that the Law allowed them to put away their wives, and not for "every cause" as the Pharisees said in Mt 19:3. So He reiterated that divorce because of adultery was allowed but, taking into account the phraseology already mentioned, it is obvious that He was not saying that divorce was approved of by God in any way shape or form but only that it was allowed.
The godly thing to do in the case of adultery would to be to forgive your wife; as you would anyone that transgressed against you; however, He knew that most men would not forgive adultery so He allowed divorce for that reason.
4. Therefore, to apply all of this to our current study- even though divorce is NOT in Godís perfect will, still, He does recognize it as being the termination of the marriage to the spouse.
II. Second precept- That divorce disqualifies a person for service to God.
We will begin in the Old Testament and work forward to the New Testament to show the error of this precept.
A. Starting at the top.
Letís start with the most important person in the Bible- God.
God divorced Israel- does that disqualify Him from being God?
Jer 3:8 And I saw, when for all the
causes whereby backsliding
Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given
her a bill of divorce;
B. "The Old Testament Priests could not be divorced; therefore, a divorced man is disqualified from serving as a pastor." Letís examine that conclusion to see if it is valid or not.
Those priestly qualifications were given under the Levitical Law (Lev 21:14), which is not for modern day usage. It was given to the Hebrews and the application for believers today is that it is an example of the perfection required to approach God directly. Today we all have that perfection, in Christ, and we all are priests, in Christ. (Rev 1:6; 5:10).
One other allowable application would be that it was a type of the perfection of Christ as the true High Priest, which allowed Him to approach the true throne of God, in Heaven, to present His own blood as an acceptable sacrifice for our sins ; but, that is part of another study which we donít have the time nor the space to go into right now. However, it would be a valid application.
Suffice it to say that to apply those Levitical requirements to the pastorate is, obviously, to do violence to the types and teachings of the Old Testament. In addition, it does violence to the New Testament doctrines of Grace and the equality of the perfection, and the concomitant fitness for use in service to God, of all believers, in the eyes of God, because of Salvation and the resultant immediate Sanctification before Him, in Christ.
C. We find that God even ORDERED
His people to divorce their wives on one occasion.
1. Those wives not of the people were to be put away. (Ezra 9:10-10:44)
Ezra 10:11 Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.
Ezra 10:19 And they gave their hands
that they would put away their wives;
and [being] guilty, [they offered] a ram of the flock for their trespass.
2. But today, under grace, if a Christian makes the extreme mistake of marrying a lost person, or if one person in an existing marriage gets saved and the other doesnít, are we to follow that teaching from the Old Testament? Absolutely not, we are commanded to stay with them and not put them away (not divorce them). (I Cor 7:10-13)
D. If the unbelieving spouse leaves we are not under bondage.
Many say that the passage following those we just mentioned in First Corinthians gives a scriptural reason for separation, not divorce.
I Cor 7:15 But if the unbelieving
depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister
is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace.
It is true that the Christian should try to affect reconciliation in such cases; but, if the departing one refuses to reconcile and chooses to divorce the believing spouse, then God does not hold the believer responsible for the actions of the departed spouse, nor is the believer under bondage to the spouse that left and subsequently divorced them. The believer, however is commanded to not initiate the divorce from the departed spouse.
E. The Law bound a woman to her husband as long as he lived. Taking into account the fact that divorce is wrong, we must however bear in mind that we are under Grace, not Law. This still does not give a Christian the right to divorce; but, it does mean that a divorce is just as forgivable a sin as any other sin. All sin is under the blood, no matter who commits it, including divorce.
Ro 7:2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to [her] husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of [her] husband.
That we are not under law is seen by the fact that Christ died to fulfill the Law for us.
Mt 5:17 Think not that I am come to
destroy the law, or the prophets:
I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
And the fact that ALL sin, which would include divorce, is under the blood and forgiven is such a basic precept of Christianity that I donít think it is even necessary to go to the many supporting scriptures that prove that fact.
F. "But the qualifications for a pastor given in I Timothy and in Titus disqualify any divorced person from being a pastor." This is a statement that I have heard repeated many times.
We will examine the scriptures to see if this is a correct interpretation of those scriptures.
The two passages begin, essentially, the same way. Therefore, we need only examine the first one because a right understanding of it will be applicable to the common teaching of both.
I Tim 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...
1. First, letís examine what is
actually being said here and compare it with other scripture.
a. "be" The word "be" is in the present tense in the KJV. Remember, however, that we mentioned earlier that some people erroneously question the KJV, so to once again dispel such pretensions- the Greek word from which "be" is translated is the word, "einai," which is in the present tense and is a form of a verb meaning to be or exist. Itís meaning cannot be construed to mean anything other than a current condition. There can be no connection with past conditions associated with this word by any stretch of the imagination.
b. The comparison with other Scripture.
1) We have already shown, from scripture, that God does not approve of but does recognize divorce. In that earlier segment we have shown that Christ himself did not consider a divorced person to be still married to their previous spouse.
2) We now will examine some other scriptures to see if God would word things different if He meant to include past actions, in this case, past marriages. This will help clarify if this passage in First Timothy is to be taken as a list of qualifications only predicated upon current status- i.e., does it mean present status only, as indicated by the word "be," or does it mean something else. To clarify the matter, God has made it simple by including another passage concerning marriage to only one person and, in that other passage, He makes it clear that He is including ALL marriages from oneís past.
I Tim 5:9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under
threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,
is from the word gegonuia, which is from ginomai, which means to come into existence by creation, or, in the form used here, and in the context of the verse, (and in total vindication of the KJV rendering) it means that the person is to have always been the wife of only the one husband.
3) It is obvious that God says what He means; and to prevent misunderstanding He then clarifies that meaning with other scriptures. In First Timothy 3:2, He plainly talks about a current state that someone is to be in to qualify for a particular place of service; and then in First Timothy 5:9, He talks about an ongoing state, existing from the past to the present, for qualification for particular services provided by the church to itís members. Comparison of the two clarifies the meaning God intended to convey to us. It shows us that He says what He means and we cannot, or should not, confuse one meaning with the other. He has even helped us in this endeavor by giving us scripture to compare with scripture so that the meanings will be made clearer by such comparisons.
2. Also, the qualifications in I Tim chapter 3, extending from verse :1 to verse :7, are in the form of a list. We cannot take just one of the qualifications and lift it out of context and say that it alone means something or that it is to be interpreted in a different manner from the rest of the list. We must take it in context; and the context here is a list of things that a bishop (pastor) must "be," as a current state of existence.
a. The list is: "blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity... Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
b. If we are going to take the list in the context that God meant, then we must say that all of these qualifications for someone aspiring to the pastorate are conditions that they must meet in their life right now; i.e., they are things that they must "be" right now.
c. If, however, we erroneously believe that they are conditions that must have been met from the past to the present, then we would have to also believe that ALL of the conditions are to be viewed that way, not just the one about "one wife." And if that were the case, then there is not a man alive that would qualify for the pastorate.
d. God even clarified the fitness for use problem for us in another scripture. He tells us that we no longer "know" (give consideration to or perceive) any person after the flesh (their flesh.) Because of full Salvation the flesh has been put to death and we "know" Christians only as new creatures in Christ; and that makes even the vilest fit (in Christ) for service to God, whether in the pastorate or in some other place of service.
II Cor 5:14-18 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And [that] he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now hence-forth know we [him] no more. Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
e. As it is easy to see, we cannot take one qualification out of the list and treat it different from the rest of the list. We must take every one of them one way or another; and to do otherwise would be to do inexcusable violence to those scriptures.
G. One final piece of scripture.
"What about Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Mk 10:2-12?" These passages have been used to try and show a multiplicity of wives for those divorced for any other reason than adultery. I have also heard this passage used to teach that a person divorced for any reason other than adultery is committing adultery with their new husband or wife. And that included a pastor that was previously divorced for any reason other than adultery. I could say, once again, that even adultery is a forgivable sin, but that would be too easy. Instead, letís see what these scriptures really teach.
Once again we have two passages of scripture with a common teaching; so again we need examine just one of them because the context is the same for all and the context is the explanation for all.
Remember that in textual interpretation there are two cardinal rules:
1. What is the common context of these scriptures?
Mt 19:3 The Pharisees also came unto
him, tempting him,
and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to
put away his wife for every cause?
Mt 19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses
then command to
give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
The context of this verse is: a question about The Law; and if you read the passage in Matthew chapter five you will see that the context there is exactly the same. (Mt 5:31-32)
2. What scripture would be used to interpret this scripture?
Deut 24:24:1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour 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. ("uncleanness" refers to sexual impropriety such as fornication)
This passage also shows that this is a matter of The Law; and clarifies the sections in question by stating exactly what The Law really says.
Now back to the New Testament passages.
3. Since the context is "a question about the Law." And the answer to that question is clarified by the passage in Deuteronomy chapter 24, then we now can understand what Jesus was really saying in the New Testament passages.
4. What Christ was actually saying was that ACCORDING TO THE LAW, anyone putting away his wife for any reason other than the one reason clearly PROSCRIBED BY THE LAW, adultery, was guilty, UNDER THE LAW, of committing adultery if he subsequently remarried. And He reminded them of this necessary cause for divorce UNDER THE LAW, by telling them the consequences if they did not meet that LAWFUL REQUIREMENT!
Mt 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
5. Therefore to teach, as some do, that divorce for any reason other than adultery causes one to have a multiplicity of wives or that to remarry is to enter into an adulterous relationship is to do violence to the scriptures. To do so is to take an answer that Christ gave to a question of Jewish Law, one given in and for that specific context, and try to apply it out of context in a broadband type of application. We are told that we are not under The Law but under Grace. So letís not try to put ourselves "under the Law," by making such an application; not to the person in the pew nor the person in the pulpit.
6. Remember, Christ was teaching, in accord with many other scriptures, that God does not APPROVE of divorce FOR ANY REASON, not even under the Law; but, He does ALLOW it for the cause of fornication, and that only because of THE HARDNESS OF MENíS HEARTS!
There are many other questions and points that could be addressed and many other passages of scripture that could be used to answer them. However, I will stop here and pray that these will be sufficient to explain what I believe and why I believe that I hold a scriptural position in this matter. For now, I will summarize.
A. We must take the whole list in First Timothy as meaning one or the other. Either they all are present conditions necessary for service or they are all conditions that had to have been met from the past to the present. We cannot have it both ways, it must be one or the other; and all of the list must be taken to mean whichever way we choose to interpret the passage. They ALL must mean one or the other; not most one way and whichever one we want to choose the other way. And the scriptures make it plain that present conditions ONLY are being spoken of in the passage; therefore, all of the qualifications must be viewed in exactly that same way. In the polygamous and otherwise generally immoral atmosphere then existing in Ephesus it is easy to see why God had Paul write this passage to Timothy. Polygamy was just one of the things prohibited along with many other things in the list which addressed the problems that were rampant at that time. Things have not changed much, if at all, today. Here in Utah we see many of the same conditions today that were found back then, including polygamy. And God still prohibits those same things for those aspiring to be pastors today as He did for those who aspired to the office back then.
B. You can choose to disagree with me on this matter if you like; but God has made it very clear to me in His Word. However, as God told us in Ro 14:5, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." And we are also told in Romans 14:28, "... for whatsoever [is] not of faith is sin." Therefore, if the scriptures have not persuaded you then nothing I can say matters, or should matter, and you must follow what you believe. Please extend to me and others the same right, in conscience before God, to also believe what we, by faith, understand the Scriptures to teach.
I believe that you are wrong; but I do not judge you harshly for that. Neither would I break fellowship with you over the matter. You are Godís servant and you answer to Him, not me. On the other hand, I and the others that believe the scriptures teach something different than you believe in this matter, are also Godís servants; and we answer to Him, not you or anyone else, for our service to Him. God has given us the right to do so; but I am asking you to agree with Him in this matter.
We all must heed these scriptures and apply them not just to the pew but also to the pulpit.
Ro 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Ro 14:10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought
thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Ro 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
D. We are Independent Baptists because we believe that Christ set the church up that way. Therefore, instead of judging one anotherís service to God, we must take care to love one another and take every precaution that we do not cause a fellow labourer to fall away from what he believes God has called him to do.
We can see this as we finish the thought God was expressing in Romans chapter four:
Ro 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [his] brother's way.
Remember, if we do cause a brother to fall away from what he, in faith, feels that God has called him to do, then we are causing that brother to sin.
Dr. Brown up in Washington State summed it up for me when I was new in the ministry. He said that he disagreed with me in this matter (I was divorced before I was saved, and so was my wife, and yet I KNOW that God has called me to the ministry); BUT, he (Doc Brown) thought I should do what I felt that God has called me to do and not worry about what he or any other preacher thought! He also told me not to wear my heart on my sleeve or the "Crows would come along and peck it off." That was the best piece of advice that any preacher ever gave me and I will be grateful for it to my dying day! God has used that phrase to encourage me when preachers have tried to destroy me in the ministry; and there have been three or four that purposely set out to do just that, some over the matter of divorce. I learned to keep my eyes on God and not on men; and to let God show me if He approves or disapproves of the way I serve Him. It has allowed me to stave off the bitterness that could so easily result from such attacks against me.
I personally know of pastors that have stolen sheep from other churches and have used the excuse that "the other church isnít really a church because the pastor has been divorced. So why donít you folks come on over to our church, after all it is a REAL CHURCH!"
Iím sure that using the word "heretic," or some other Bible word, seems to justify such actions; but it doesnít. Many of the churches of The Revelation were full of "heresy" or "error" but Christ still said they were HIS churches, not the pastorís. Therefore, to fight against any church because of some actual or perceived error or heresy, and then to meddle in the affairs of that church, is to actually be in a fight against God and Christís church, not the pastor of that church. We must leave them alone and let God deal with them and their errors.
If we have the opportunity to restore a fellow Christian, be they in the pew or the pulpit, then God says it is our responsibility to do so.
If you come across any fallen brothers, in the pastorate or otherwise, please send them to me since one of my burdens in the ministry is the restoration of the fallen and the binding of the wounds of my fellow soldiers. You may not with all conscience be able to work toward such restoration, especially of pastors that have fallen in the area of divorce; but I can and must, also with all conscience, try to affect such a restoration. Likewise, you may not feel that a divorced man can aspire to the pastorate; or even, as some believe, be used to preach and/or teach. Send them to me also and I will, again with all conscience, encourage them to do what they believe God has called them to do, whatever that might be. With Godís help and the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we both will follow our consciences and convictions in this matter of divorce and usefulness to God in the areas of preaching and pastoring.
Godís perfect will is that no one would ever divorce; but, He uses what we give Him to work with and He has had to use fallen man to carry out His will ever since Adam and Eve. And the sin of divorce, once forgiven in Christ, will no more disqualify someone for service to God than any other forgiven sin would.
The best route for all of us, and it is only that because it is the scriptural route, concerning other pastors and their churches is: let God take care of His own because He can ALWAYS do a better job than we ever could; and, furthermore, it is HIS responsibility, not ours.
Brother, you pray for me and I will pray for you. I have found over the years that we cannot become bitter and contentious or, if weíve already become angry, we cannot stay angry with someone that we are praying for. God wonít let us! The prayer that helps me keep the proper perspective and attitude is,
"God, please do whatever you
have to do to make
BOTH OF US better servants for you!"
It works for me!
I am looking forward to meeting you sometime. We can have some fellowship in a manner befitting Christians; fellowship in the spirit of common ground and not one of contention such as happens all to often among the brethren. I am sure that your intention in this matter is the same as mine. If it should be otherwise, then I pray that our paths do not cross since there is already to much contention among Christians and I know that it grieves God when it happens. Therefore, to avoid grieving my Lord and Saviour, I would have to walk away from such a contentious encounter. Neither one of us would want to be part of such an unbiblical and, therefore, unchristian meeting. Grieving God in such a manner would be as repugnant to me as I am sure it would be to you.
This letter was written in the spirit of Christís love and in the spirit of edification and as an answer from one Christian soldier to another; and I pray that it will be received in only that way.
Christís servant in Ogden,
Dr. T.E. VanBuskirk
Pastor- Dr. T.E. VanBuskirk