Category Archives: Christian life

Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?

 

I recall a man in a church who was known and respected by everyone. He volunteered to help when people were in need and provided wise counsel when people were struggling. At a congregational meeting, his name was put forward as candidate for elder. But an objection was raised: 20 years earlier he had been divorced after his wife left him for another man. Even though he’d been faithfully married to his current spouse for many years, some in the congregation wondered if his election as a church leader would violate the standard set by 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (niv)

A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (niv)

In Greek, the expression translated in most English Bible versions as “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.”

Some believe this passage implies that anyone who has ever been divorced and remarried is not permitted to serve as an elder or deacon. But this assumes that being a “one-woman man” means never being divorced. And that isn’t always the case.[1]

A number of other considerations must be taken into account in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy and other New Testament passages. The “one-woman man” standard doesn’t stand alone; it is part of a larger group. First Timothy 3:2-7 seems to teach that a person’s suitability to serve as a church leader rests not only on one qualification, but many. An elder must be:

 

         blameless

         temperate

         self-controlled

         respectable

         hospitable

         an apt teacher (teachable)

         not given to drunkenness

         gentle

         not quarrelsome

         not greedy or covetous

         a good manager of his household and children

         a seasoned believer

         of good reputation with outsiders

 

A couple of additional thoughts:

First, the criteria for church leadership doesn’t seem to involve sins committed prior to conversion. The apostle Paul, for example, persecuted the church and participated in the murders of Christians prior to his conversion, yet he became one of the most influential church leaders of all time.

Second, a fair evaluation of an individual should take all circumstances into account. Are those who have struggled to preserve their marriage after being abandoned by an unfaithful spouse really in violation of the “one-woman man” principle?[2] Not likely.[3]

[1] Many scholars believe that this phrase is talking about current character rather than past performance. According to this line of thinking, a twice-divorced person who has been faithful to their spouse for 15 years may be more suitable to serve than a never-divorced person who habitually fosters inappropriate relationships with persons other than their spouse.

[2] Jesus himself acknowledged that sexual sin was legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11).

[3] If a person’s suitability on the basis of one qualification comes into question, his evaluation should continue based on all of the rest. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds or occurred prior to his conversion so that he can be considered “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2) and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, he can be considered a “one-woman man.”

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Can believers be over whelmed with despair?

Followers of Jesus Christ often assume that faith, if genuine, will allow them to live above despair. But Jesus never promised His followers a life of ease. He tells them that if they want to follow Him they must take up their cross,[1] and in this life they will endure many trials and sorrows.[2]

There will be times in everyone’s life when darkness and hopelessness seem ready to smother us. It is often in these times that we truly become acquainted with the Source of healing and light and experience the greatest amount of spiritual growth. Scripture offers some striking examples.

Following his supernatural triumph over the wicked king of Israel and the prophets of Baal, Elijah fell into deep despair. Only then came awakening.[3]

Soon after Peter emotionally declared his dedication to Jesus,[4] he denied Him with curses.[5] Being painfully aware of his weakness prepared him for the central leadership role he would play.

The apostle Paul gave up his status in the Jewish community to follow Jesus Christ. He came to see how evil his former life and world view had been. Even so, this missionary apostle to the Gentiles “despaired even of life”[6] and agonized over his helplessness against the “flesh.”[7] The position of service to which he had been called required even further self-awareness and surrender.

Even Jesus in His human nature had to come to terms with his utter dependence on God.[8]

These examples make it clear that believers often face unexpected trials that, in the moment, have no discernable purpose. Trials like these can overwhelm us. But biblical examples of great people of faith also illustrate that experiences of stress, fear, and despair can spur our greatest spiritual growth.[9]

[1] Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27

[2] John 16:33

[3] 1 Kings 19:4

[4] Matthew 26:33-35

[5] Mark 14:66-72

[6] 2 Corinthians 1:8

[7] Romans 7:18-24

[8] Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:41-44; Mark 15:34

[9] Job’s story provides a good framework to help us understand our inevitable times of depression and feelings of abandonment. God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1), just as the accuser (Revelation 12:10) will test each one of us. But just as God set limits to what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12), He sets limits to what Satan can do to us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Luke 22:31-32). In fact, our Creator can even transform Satan’s attacks into a means of strengthening our faith and refining our love for others.  (1 Peter 1:6-7).

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How can we helpfully respond to the prodigals in our lives?

When people we love abandon us, it can be painful. The pain seems magnified when the person is also leaving, or seems to be leaving, their church and their faith. When this happens, it is natural to feel angry and confused. But for the Christian, the call is to move beyond the initial pangs of emotion to something that will reflect the light and love of Christ.

Jesus offers us two visions of how we can react through the parable of the prodigal son: the father and the dutiful eldest son. Their reactions to the lost son’s return can instruct us as we engage with and respond to those who have abandoned the church.

The father, who could have easily become bitter from the hurt his youngest son inflicted, chose to forgive and offered the returning son open arms instead of a closed heart. He didn’t question his son about the sins he had committed. He didn’t ask his son to promise or do anything in order to be welcomed back. The father’s pain did not overpower his capacity for love.

On the other hand, the eldest son’s heart was full of bitterness and a sense of injustice, feeling that his lost brother did not deserve to be welcomed back. How easy it can be to react this way. How easy to ask, “Why does he (or she) deserve my love and rejoicing?”

When the prodigals in our life return to church for a holiday service or a wedding, how will we react? The unconditional love of the father for the lost and returned seems almost impossible for us to emulate…almost. As long as we think of emulating the Father’s unconditional love as our duty, we aren’t very likely to do it, and we run the risk of becoming like the older son. But love is not merely our duty; it’s our destiny as followers of Christ.

The church is the body of the risen Christ in the world. Something new and powerful happened when Jesus rose from the dead. It was the start of God’s Kingdom—His new creation breaking into our fallen world. And one day, when Jesus returns, he will finish that recreation. Until then, God calls us to reflect the reality of His future Kingdom in the present by how we relate to each other today.

When people leave the faith, we can react in a way that reflects old way of the fallen world as pictured by the eldest son, remaining “faithful” but all the while growing resentful and self-righteous in our dutiful obedience; or, we can react like the father, taking the new creational path of love, peace, and reconciliation, longing to pour our love out to those we have lost.

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Should I Feel Guilty about Grieving My Dog’s Death?

Don’t ever feel guilty about grieving the death of a pet. We are saddened or distressed when valuable possessions are broken or lost. But grief at a pet’s death can be deeper than the loss of any inanimate object. A dog may not be “worth” nearly as much in dollars as an antique, but the real value of “man’s best friend” is not monetary. Dogs aren’t things; they’re companions. They’re not man-made objects, but conscious beings—masterpieces of the Creator. There are ways in which a pet dog in its innocence can be our “best friend,” touchingly responsive to our moods and emotions.

Although they aren’t created in God’s image like human beings, higher animals share many remarkable qualities with us. They exhibit traits like joy, loyalty, affection, and courage. They also help us discover much about how to live fully in the present moment and enjoy the beautiful world that God has made.

Grief for a pet is real and valid because the relationship between them and us is real. The emotional impact of a family dog’s death is a real and significant loss, although on a lesser scale than that of a friend or family member. A pet’s death offers opportunities for learning important lessons about the grief process and preparing for future losses that will hurt even more.

We often find it easy to love our pets unconditionally because of their own loyalty and unconditional love for us. However, if our sense of loss at the death of a pet is more severe than the sense of loss of human friends and relatives who have died, we should consider why. Even in a world cursed with sin, we should miss human relationships more than relationships with pets. In this sense, the grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

It’s never healthy to suppress or deny your grief. Mourning the death of an animal that has shared your life experiences for years will be painful, but attempts to deny it will have negative consequences. Don’t forget the relationship you had with your dog any more than you would forget your relationship with a human loved one who has died.

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Why do Christians disagree so much about the Bible?

The Bible is an ancient and complex book, and not always easy to understand. That is why so many people have differing views about subjects as foundational as the Lord’s Table and baptism, and even more variation on topics like church government, spiritual gifts, and end times. Entire denominations and church movements have been formed around a collective understanding of what they believe the Bible teaches on these subjects.

Many assert that disagreements are a result of others who are unwilling to follow what the Bible “plainly” teaches. “Those churches,” they may think, “just don’t take their Bible seriously.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is often not true. The closer we get to the people we disagree with, the more we find that they are often godly, sincere, and informed individuals who desire to do and believe what the Bible teaches just as much as we do.

“It’s clear we just have two different opinions on this topic,” my friend jested. “You have yours and I have His.” Watching his finger point to the heavens, I couldn’t help but think how this humorous gesture communicated so much about how I often mistake my understanding of what the Bible says for what the Bible actually does say.

If we really listen to those we disagree with, we might not only start seeing their biases, but ours, as well. Our beliefs—like theirs—are affected by culture, economic status, family, place in history, and even our own denomination’s emphasis on certain doctrines and issues. Is it possible that we often don’t see another person’s perspective because we are looking to ourselves, not Christ, as the ultimate source of truth? Perhaps a way forward is to humbly and honestly admit our own imperfections and shortcomings. Then we can begin to work through our disagreements together with a focus on Jesus Christ.

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