Divorce, Remarriage, and Church Offices
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 12:48pm
ANOTHER QUESTION ON DIVORCE: How does Scripture apply to a man who was married and divorced as a non-believer, then has married again as a believer? How this would apply to his qualifications for church leadership as defined in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12?
MY ANSWER: If a man was BIBLICALLY divorced as a non-believer, then he was morally free to remarry (regardless of who was the guilty party), either before or after becoming a Christian. Thus his present marriage is the only legitimate and valid marriage, and he should do all he can to preserve and nurture it.
If the man was married and UNBIBLICALLY divorced as a non-believer, then he was not morally free to remarry until something happened to truly break the marriage bond (i.e., sexual activity by either party, or remarriage by the other party). A legal divorce per se does not break the marriage bond, and—this is very important—becoming a Christian does not break the marriage bond. Thus, if there was no sexual activity after the divorce by either party, and if the spouse was not remarried, then the man was not morally free to remarry; and when he did remarry (even as a Christian), he committed a sin. Both he and his new wife should sincerely repent of the sin committed by beginning the new marriage, accept and be at peace with God’s forgiveness, and then put all of this in the past. The new marriage is now the only legitimate and valid marriage, and should be preserved and nurtured. The new couple is NOT “living in adultery.”
How does this relate to the qualification for elders and deacons, that a man must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; see v. 12)? In my judgment this qualification is not about whether a man has been divorced and remarried; it is about his present (not his pre-Christian) understanding of and commitment to God’s teaching about and purpose for marriage. Literally the qualification is that he must be a “one-woman man” (“mias gunaikos andra”). I.e., he must (now) be thoroughly committed to God’s original purpose for marriage as a life-long, exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman; and his present marriage must be a solid testimony to that commitment.