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Should a divorced man hold a church leadership position?

By John Thornbury

Dr. John Thornbury is pastor of Winfield Baptist Church in Winfield, PA

Here are some principles guiding me on this matter, as I have served in pastoral ministry 45 years, including 35 in this one church.

1. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, although it is a breach of the revealed will of God and always causes irreparable damage.

2. Since divorce is not the unpardonable sin, then that means that God forgives it. If God, the absolutely holy one can forgive it, why should not I, a poor sinner saved by grace, forgive it.

3. I believe, based on the well known passages in Matthew 5 and 19 that there is one and only one biblical ground for divorce and remarriage, and that is persistent, unrepented sexual unfaithfulness. Therefore I will remarry people who will tell me that their marriage broke up because of infidelity. I have no search committee to verify their testimony. I have read the arguments of those who claim that a divorced person must remain celebate regardless of the divorce circumstances, and am not impressed. The phrase "the child of God is not in bondage" in the I Cor. 7 passage, in my opinion, assumes that there is sexual infidelity.

4. We do not pry into the past of people when they join our church. We accept them as sinners saved by grace if they testify to a desire to "begin anew" as members of our church. An exception would be if they were involved in moral scandal in our area and the situation is well known. Then we would have to have evidence of repentance and reform.

5. The proscription that deacons and bishops should be the "husband of one wife" (In I Tim. 3) forbids polygamy, nothing more. Men who have been saved after a divorce, or who are victims (innocent party) of divorce after they are saved are not penalized and are welcomed as deacons. God used Paul, a persecutor and murderer, after he was saved. Is divorce worse than murder? We have never faced the situation of ordination of a pastor. Consistently, I would have to take the same position.

In summary, I believe that the efforts of the church today should be targeted primarily on PREVENTION and building up godly homes rather than in penalizing people who have been victims of divorce. I think it is a mistake to announce that 50% of the people who come into our doors will be permanently relegated to second class citizens (that is how many marriages break up now), when they are trying by the grace of God to straighten out their lives now.

This is very brief, with no Scriptural references, but I believe that our position is clear.
Hope this is helpful.

John Thornbury
Senior Pastor
Winfield Baptist Church
19 Ridge Road
Winfield, PA 17889

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