Can a divorced pastor or elder hold church office?

A Divorced Pastor and Church Office

The question of a divorced pastor or elder holding a church office has had much attention in recent years. The Bible gives the qualifications for an elder/pastor, found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In these verses, we read that a pastor is to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:3).

This phrase “one wife” has been variously interpreted as meaning that (1) all ministers should be married; (2) polygamy and concubinage are rigorously forbidden to ministers; (3) a divorced person should not serve as a bishop, and (4) ministers are not to remarry if widowed. 

Those who favor the first explanation point out that when Paul’s statements regarding marriage are viewed in their context, it was the “present distress” that led him to stress caution (1 Corinthians 7:26, 28). For Paul did not minimize the divine order of the home, which God instituted in Eden. The fellowship of husband and wife is one of His divine means for the proper spiritual development of both, as Paul himself teaches (Ephesians 5:22–33; 1 Timothy 4:3; Hebrews 13:4).  

The second explanation says if a church leader fails to exemplify the highest moral standard, he loses his position of leadership.  

Those who favor the third explanation point out that, even as the Jews recognized the most unimportant grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32), some of the early believer were excusing divorce for reasons other than adultery (Matthew 19:8, 9). Therefore, a bishop divorced for any reason would be unqualified as a spiritual leader. 

The fourth explanation has received substantial support through the ages even though nowhere in Scripture is remarriage after the death of a first spouse condemned, nor is it considered detrimental to spiritual leadership.  

One fact is clear, the bishop is to have an untainted account of marital history, which would serve as a worthy pattern for his members and set him as an example of godliness. 

In the Case of Divorce Before Conversion 

Some ask the question: What if a person went through a divorce, got converted and then later on, he was called for the ministry, can he serve the Lord in the capacity of a minister? 

The Bible teaches that God hates divorce which is against His will (Malachi 2:16) but the good news is that God forgives sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Therefore, the divorce in a person’s past life should not ban him from the ministry especially when he is not a recent convert and his life has been blameless for a good period of time and he meets the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. 

In His service,
BibleAsk Team 

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