The titled question is difficult to answer. When divorce happens, there has been a failure and breakdown somewhere by one or both people in a marriage. Tears, frustration, and pain are the result. Nonetheless, each church has to answer this question for itself, and below is the answer by me for my own church on the matter.
Let me clarify that I realize that many topics below are debated:
- Whether or not divorce is permissible beyond the Pauline privilege in 1 Cor 7:15
- Whether or not remarriage is permissible in the case of biblical divorce
- Whether or not a church’s officers can be divorced and remarried
- The meaning of “a one woman man,” a phrase from 1 Tim 3:2
- Whether or not Acts 6:1–7 actually speaks about deacons
- How to understand the Mosaic Law for believers today
- Baptist polity
This being said, my conclusions below may just be appreciated by no one but me, but I charitably put them here for the sake of those in my church and others to think of at least one way to apply the truth as it concerns a difficult topic.
To begin, it is helpful to remember the unique situations in which a Christian is permitted a divorce. Consider these three:
Moses allowed men to divorce their wives who had intentionally sexually sinned in some way (cf. “indecency” in Deut 24:1 with Matt 19:7; Mark 10:4), and Jesus did the same (Matt 5:32; 19:9). At the same time, we should remember that one’s first goal should be to forgive a spouse when sin has taken place, difficult though it may be. Jesus teaches us to seek how a marriage can last for life, not to seek loopholes for how it can end (Matt 19:3–6; Mark 10:6–8).
(2) denial of food, clothing, or marital relations (Exod 20:10–11)
Exod 21:10–11 instructed Israel about a female servant who became a man’s second wife. She was expected to be treated as a wife and nothing less, complete with the husband’s provision of food, clothing, and sexual relations. Otherwise, she was free to divorce and leave him (Exod 20:11).
(3) the desertion of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15)
From 1 Cor 7:15, Paul allowed a believer to let his or her unbelieving spouse to desert the marriage if the marriage could no longer be peaceful in light of the believer’s conversion.
To clarify, the verses above from the Law of Moses are not technically binding on NT believers today (cf. Rom 10:4). At the same time, when the NT has not clarified the mind of God further on a given matter concerning marriage, the Mosaic Law can be informative for us today, allowing us to make the conclusions above. Added to these conclusions is this: if someone has divorced on biblical grounds, such a one is no longer bound to the previous marriage and is free to marry again (see 1 Cor 7:15 with 7:39).
Given the incredibly short summary of the view above (which would have a book’s worth of clarifications if given the space and time―please don’t assume the worst from the above), when it comes to answering the question of whether or not pastors and deacons or their wives can be divorced and remarried (assuming the divorce and remarriage were biblically permissible), we should respect another church’s decision to answer this question with a yes.
My church’s standard as a whole is to have faithful divorcees (who may or may not be remarried) serve as much as possible but not in the capacity of being an officer in the church. There are at least two reasons, biblical and practical, that allow us to make this conclusion.
Since it is such a significant issue, it is best to include one’s marital circumstances in considering whether one is “of good repute” and “above reproach” or not (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 3:2). To clarify, one may believe that he himself or another has been divorced and remarried on biblical grounds, but others may not. To be safe, a church may choose to hold a high standard in this regard in order to avoid controversy and unnecessary slander by those who fail to understand the circumstances of a given divorce and remarriage.
Similarly, pastors must be “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim 3:7), that is, unbelievers. With this qualification in mind, it seems wise to include one’s marital circumstances in consideration of whether or not such a one could be slandered and disgraced by unbelievers, though their divorce and marriage were permissible by biblical standards. Given the fact that a deacon’s requirements are so similar to that of a pastor, though being “well thought of by outsiders” is not explicitly repeated as a requirement for deacons in 1 Tim 3:8–13, it seems safe to assume that deacons should be “men of good repute” (Acts 6:3), both in and outside the church.
Second, caution protects the church and candidate from controversy.
If a church does allow for an officer to be divorced and remarried, it would seem necessary (in keeping with congregational authority) that the whole church should know the circumstances of the potential officer’s divorce and remarriage in order to knowledgeably affirm that such a divorce and remarriage were biblically permissible, all in order to be able to knowledgeably vote that such a one should indeed be an officer of the church. Bringing the details of a divorce before the church can be unsettling for its members, especially if they are not unanimous in their beliefs on divorce and remarriage, let alone the situation at hand. Caution here, it seems, is to side with wisdom. Not only does this caution protect the church from potential controversy, but it also protects the potential candidate or his wife from having a significant disappointment explained to the church in detail.
In closing, while some may believe that such a standard unnecessarily excludes one from being an officer of the church, an answer to this tension would be that, if such a one truly desires to serve as much as possible in his church, he will find ample opportunity to do so whether or not he can be a pastor or a deacon.
As I pointed out above, my application of Scripture above is simply one way to answer the question of whether or not a pastor, deacon, or their wives can be divorced. I obviously prefer the conservative end of the spectrum for how to answer this question, but I respect the position of those who knowledgeably disagree.