Bible Question:

Can a divorced man be ordained by a church to preach but not pastor?

Bible Answer:

There is great confusion about what a divorced man can do in a church. Some believe an elder or pastor who has been divorced cannot preach or  teach the Word of God. The purpose of this article is to answer the question, “Can a divorced man, who is not a pastor, be ordained to preach?” For the answer to the question, “Can a divorced man be ordained by a church to be an elder or a pastor?” please read, “Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor? — husband of one wife.”

Who Can Teach The Bible?

Can Divorced Men Be Elders and Pastors?

1 Timothy 3:2 is the first important passage to consider that helps us understand that a divorced man can be an elder or a pastor.

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach . . .  1 Timothy 3:2 (NASB)

Here we are given only a partial list of the qualifications for an elder. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 provide a complete listing of all of the qualifications of an elder or pastor. The qualification we will discuss is “the husband of one wife.” This qualification means that an elder must be completely devoted to his wife. He does not stare at the bodies of other women, does not lust after women, is not involved in pornography and does not have a mistress. This qualification requires that the man is completely devoted to his wife. The qualification does not prohibit a divorced man from being an elder. Yet, it would seem that if the man initiated the divorce he is permanently disqualified. Such action reflects on this pattern of life. Thus, a divorced man can be an elder or a pastor if he has demonstrated repentance and a pattern of life of sexual purity. This requires that a number of years have elapsed since most men can demonstrate good behavior over a short period of time. For more information please read, “Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor? — husband of one wife.”

In summary, a divorced man can be an elder or a pastor if he has proven himself faithful for a long duration of time and he did not initiate the divorce. A list of all the qualifications for an elder or a pastor is given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Both passages describe the pattern of life that must be true of an elder. Therefore, if a divorced man can be an elder or a pastor, then divorce does not prevent a man from preaching.

Who Is Qualified To Preach?

Then the next question that must be asked is, “Who is allowed to preach?” The first part of the answer is someone who knows the Word of God. In Hebrews 5:12 we are told that a teacher must know more than the elementary truths of the Bible. In this passage the Holy Spirit rebukes those who claim to be Christians because they were ignorant of  biblical truths. Notice how the Holy Spirit rebukes them.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. Hebrews 5:12 (NASB)

These Christians were not serious students of the Word of God. In Hebrews 5:13-14 the Holy Spirit tells them that they had been on a spiritual diet of milk. They were still spiritual babies and not mature. They were only on a diet of milk. 1 Peter 2:2 describes them. They did not like the spiritual meat.

. . . like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation . . . 1 Peter 2:2 (NASB)

For example in order to teach, Christians should grow in their knowledge to the point where they can name the books of the Bible in order. They should  be learning systematic theology, apologetics, early church history and what each book of the Bible is about. If they are to preach in the general church services, they will need to be able to study the meanings of words in the Hebrew and Greek since Bible translations often miss the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek text. There are individuals who believe that they know Greek because they can navigate through Strong’s Concordance, but have never had Koine Greek at a Bible college or seminary.

Many teachers are untaught and unstable in their teaching. 2 Peter 3:15-16 warns us about false teachers when he wrote,

. . .which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:16 (NASB)

They may be a polished speaker who can tell humorous stories and share personal experiences with those who listen, but they are going to be severely judged for false teaching. They may have a following and people may love their preaching but God does not (Ezekiel 33:30-33). The Holy Spirit warns teachers who make mistakes of stricter judgment in James 3:1-2.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. James 3:1-2 (NASB)

Character is another qualification a teacher must satisfy. The ideal qualifications a teacher or preacher must satisfy are those of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2-7) or at least those of a deacon and deaconess (1 Timothy 3:8-12). Additionally, his or her life should conform to that which he or she teaches.

. . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? Romans 2:21-22 (NASB)

Does A Man Need Approval To Preach?

Finally, we must ask, “Does a man need approval to preach?” The answer is yes he should be approved by the church leaders. 1 Timothy 5:22 refers to the approval of men to be elders.

Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. 1 Timothy 5:22 (NASB)

While the King James Version Bible (KJV) uses “ordain” in 1 Timothy 2:7 and “ordained” in Titus 1:5 to refer to the ordination of elders, 1 Timothy 5:22 actually refers to the process. It is called laying hands upon someone. It refers to a formal approval. But nowhere in the New Testament are we told that the church ordained men to just teach the Word of God. That is, teachers do not need a formal ceremony to be approved to teach, but the church must approve who teaches and who does not teach. The Holy Spirit Himself if selective in giving the spiritual gift of teaching to Christians (1 Corinthian 12:11). That is, the church should not just let someone teach because they want to teach. The church should determine the person’s training and the quality of their spiritual life before allowing them to teach. Do they have the spiritual gift of teaching? The evaluation of their spiritual life should include many questions, including the question, “Has the man been divorced?” The issues raised in the section “Can Divorced Men Be Elders and Pastors?” must be seriously considered.

Conclusion:

Men and women who do not meet the above qualifications should not be allowed to preach or teach the Word of God in a church, Bible study or on the internet. False teaching begins when someone desires to teach but is untaught and unstable. 2 Peter 3:16 and Romans 2:21-22 summarize the danger well. Untaught teachers whose lives do not conform to Scripture should be prohibited from teaching. Teaching by women is not to take place in the congregational services where men are present.

Suggested Links:

Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor? — husband of one wife
Why is the Bible at times difficult to understand?
Role of Women In The Church
Is a layperson accountable to God for false teaching in his church?
False Teachers & Their Followers
You Should Be Teachers
Would God allow believers to be tested by false teachers?
How To Identify False Teachers