Friday, January 9, 2009

On Slippery Slopes

Some people who are dear to me are in a painful situation because their church deacons are working to lower the leadership standards for their church by removing the standard that pastors and deacons cannot have been divorced.
(1Timothy 3:1-7 NKJV) This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Any suggestion that divorced men should be included requires explaining away the clear teaching of scripture. Nobody reading these requirements automatically says, "Clearly divorced men are the people being described."

Instead there is an unceasing flow of rationalizations.
  • It isn't fair to divorced people who are otherwise godly men.
  • All our sins are forgiven when we are saved.
  • Some great Bible characters were polygamists.
  • "Husband of one wife" doesn't necessarily mean "not divorced."
  • The Bible gives some "just causes" for divorce (e.g., a wife's immorality - Matt. 19, or an unbelieving spouse's refusal to be married to a believer - 1Cor. 7).
But these are all just human rationalizations. The text clearly teaches that the requirement is men who are of the highest possible qualification as evaluated by their relationships - especially with their families and with other people so that they are BLAMELESS as far as having anybody inside or outside the church who can pin charges of ungodliness on them.

It is not a question of fairness to divorced people who may well be godly people. It is a question of God's qualification. A person who had lost one eye might be perfectly fit in every other way, but he will be disqualified from being a jet fighter pilot.

It is not a question of sins forgiven - but a question of God's qualification. God makes it very practical, "... if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" A man's marriage and child rearing are his first priority from God. If he hasn't been able to keep these things in order (and that without the additional stresses of Christian ministry) why would you give him the responsibility of a similar task in caring for the church family? This is not a matter of sin or a question of whether the person was saved or not saved - but a matter of proven ability.

Rationalizers are sure to suggest that people who used to be promiscuous, or people who used to be drug addicts, or people who used to be criminals might be free by these standards to serve in leadership after they are saved. But not if the formerly promiscuous person has a long trail of broken lives and children behind him. How could he claim to have a good testimony among these who are outside the church? Not if the former drug addict needs to spend all of his time fighting his addictions, or if he has burned out his brain so that he can no longer think straight. Not if the criminal is in prison for his crime or is forbidden to be around children because of his past. He may be forgiven by God, but his past actions have a direct effect on his present life situation.

Does "husband of one wife" mean "not divorced?" Those who promote allowing divorced men to serve, throw a flurry of grammatical and technical arguments at this phrase. Let me put the argument differently. Which of these is absolutely beyond the shadow of a doubt qualified as a "one woman man?" 1) A godly man and good husband who is married and has never been divorced or 2) a godly man and good husband who has both a wife and an exwife?

But even if you took "husband of one wife" out of the passages on qualifications - what is there about "blameless" and "rules his own house well" that suggests divorced men as qualified? How can they have their children in submission with all reverence when their children live with the former spouse? (Or should we rationalize that children by a former marriage are no longer his children?) Do you really think that blended, mixed and shaken families are what are in view in these passages?

How about the Bible's just causes for divorce? How would they qualify a man as a pastor or deacon? Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is not part of God's design for marriage.

The Bible is clear that "God hates divorce." (Mal. 2:6) When the religious scholars of Jesus day tried to use the "just cause" argument on Jesus, He said that these laws were given because of the hardness of their hearts and not according to God's design. Jesus' standard was the highest (Matthew 19:6 NKJV) "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” The only relief that the exception clause in verse 9 provides is that if your wife is immoral then you didn't inititate the immorality - it doesn't recommend divorce. The disciples understood this as prohibiting divorce and said it would be better to remain single under such a strict rule. (Matt. 9:10)

Serving as a pastor is not a person's inalienable right. Serving as pastor or deacon is not something for which you are assumed qualified until proven unqualified.

No! You must be proven first and your marriage history is part of the proving ground!
(1Timothy 3:6 NKJV) not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
(1Timothy 3:10 NKJV) But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
But, alas for my dear ones who are undergoing this barrage of rationalization to change the standard at their church. There is no way to stop this train.

The rationalization is already a loss. When people are willing to decide what they want to do and then rationalize their way through the scriptures to do it, it is too late... They have already made a fatal error. They have already abandoned their commitment to the Bible as the authority for faith and practice. Instead of taking it at face value, they are willing to manipulate it to get the results they want.

They should have been more careful. The modernists of the early 20th century played the same basic game. Why not divorced men? What about men who have been divorced two or three or four times? Why not men who were divorced after they were saved but now have been "restored?" The rationalization works for any of these.

While we are at it, why not women pastors? Are not some women more qualified than some men? The Bible say that in Christ, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV) So why not have women as pastors and deacons? And then, why not homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered people?

Why indeed? The modernists all ended up there, because once they abandoned the authority of the scripture - the plain sense of scripture - the standards of God as opposed to the rationalizations of men - they had nothing to stop them from going all the way down.

It is a slippery slope.

How sad.

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