Ask Steve: Israel and the Church

July 27, 2015 10:02 pm

Israel 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have often heard talks about whether the church is the new Israel, or whether Israel and the church are distinct? Can you explain to me your beliefs on this issue, and why this issue matters to Christians (if at all)?

Answer: The correlation between Israel and the church has been a topic of immense debate for centuries, with opinions differing even amongst the godliest of men. There are only really two major views on this subject: 1. The church has become the new Israel in the figurative sense. God transferred all of the ancient covenant promises and benefits from ethnic Israel to the church. This view is called supercessionism, or replacement theology, and is popular amongst the Reformed branch of Christianity. 2. The church and Israel are distinct entities. The unconditional covenant promises to Israel remain intact to this day, which means there is still a future plan for the redemption of ethnic Israel in the last days. This view is called restorationism, and is prevalent amongst the dispensational and fundamentalist branches of Christianity, along with many Messianic Jews.

One’s view on this topic does not constitute a redefinition of the gospel or Christian living, which means that it is a secondary issue that Christians can agree to disagree on. However, a Christian’s belief about this issue does affect his hermeneutics (Scripture interpretation method), ecclesiology (church government) and eschatology (timing of the tribulation, millennial), which is why it is still a big enough issue for local churches to be separated by it. Depending on where you stand, it will affect your interpretation of nearly 1/3 of the Old Testament (prophetic passages), as well as key eschatological passages in the Gospels, Romans, and Revelation. That is why a Christian should have clear convictions regarding the meaning and relationship of Israel and the church, especially if they want to become teaching pastors or elders at a church.

My view is that Israel and the church are distinct. I don’t come to this conclusion because I have a particular bias toward ethnic Israel or Orthodox Judaism. I believe this because it seems to be what the Old and New Testament clearly teaches when comprehensively pieced together and understood in its plain sense of communication. I believe that when Scripture is read through grammatical-historical hermeneutics, God outlines a picture of Israel’s unique identity and future redemption. One would need to allegorize many portions of the Bible in order to equate Israel and the church as one and the same, or read New Testament theology into the Old Testament. However, we know that what God intended to communicate to the Israelites in the Old Testament cannot mean something different than what He intends to communicate to the church. This means that if God declared that He would redeem and restore national Israel (in the Old Testament), then He will redeem and restore national Israel. Now it is just a matter of timing.

The first reason to believe in the distinction between Israel and the church is the innumerable Scriptural references that teach it. For example, Jeremiah 33:6-7 prophesies, “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first.” Concerning the future reign of the Messiah King, Zechariah 14:10 declares, “All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem…People will live in it, and there will no longer be a curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security.”

These are only a few of many prophetic passages in the Old Testament that indicate a reversal of fortune, redemption, and healing for Israel. The nation of Israel will be protected and delivered in the last day, being transformed from a waste land into an utter paradise of beauty and prosperity, where the Messiah would rule from His throne. Scripture is very specific in the details, such as when it speaks about the penalty of those nations that do not go up to Jerusalem to honor the Lord Jesus when He reigns in His millennial kingdom: “If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the LORD will smite the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths” (Zech 12:18).

The perspicuity of Scripture testifies to the truth of this observation. These prophecies, including its exact details of geography or events, would be completely mysterious, if not meaningless, if God intended it to only be a symbol pointing to the church. The Apostle Paul reaffirms the truth of Israel’s redemption in the last days in the New Testament era, when he writes in Romans 11:25-26, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery – so that you will not be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved…”

Israel 1The second reason that Israel and the church are distinct is God’s unconditional promises to Israel. In Genesis 12:3, we see God establish a unilateral, unconditional covenant with Abram. The terms of this covenant is that God would bless Abram with innumerable descendants (Israel), that they would inherit a land (Canaan), and that they would be a blessing to other nations (salvific plan). In 2 Samuel 7:12, we observe God’s institution of the unconditional Davidic Covenant with King David. The king would have a particular descendant who will “establish his kingdom.” As the rest of the verse reads, “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This points to the coming of a King who would perpetual the life of David’s throne until the end of world history. Finally, Jeremiah 31:31-33 speaks about the unconditional New Covenant that God makes with Israel: “I will put My law with in them and on their heart I will write it…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

All three of these eternal covenants have not come to its full results yet. The teachings of covenant theology are that all three of these covenants were somehow fulfilled in the church. This not only produces a number of difficulties, but contradicts the essence of a biblical covenant, especially a unilateral one where the full responsibility is on God to carry out the promises to the other party (Israel). Covenants cannot be broken, altered, or transferred (Gal 3:15). Nowhere in Scripture is there a clear, detailed explanation that the covenant promises transferred to the church, or that Israel was only a prophetic type that pointed to the antitype – the church. The only explanation as to why Israel had not benefited from these covenant promises yet is that it is an eschatological event yet to occur. This is the only reasonable position to take if one truly believes in the clarity of Scripture and the integrity of God’s faithfulness.

The third reason to believe that Israel and the church are distinct is historical. If the church is the new Israel and God pronounced His judgment on the nation during the apostolic era, why does Israel still exist today? If God wanted to make this lesson known concerning the “new Israel” that is the church, then the best way to have done this is to obliterate both the Jerusalem Temple and the Jewish people so that the mere “shadow” or “type” would no longer be necessary, since the substance came with the church. Rather, we see the ethnic people of Israel survive through the centuries, including major attempts to exterminate the race, and reconvene in Palestine to revive national Israel (in 1948) once again!

This bizarre phenomenon cannot be explained but by the intentional design of God to preserve the Jewish people, possibly for an eschatological purpose. We know this divine agenda is reasonable because God preserved and delivered the Jewish people during the 7-year famine in Egypt (Genesis 40-50), the Egyptian oppression and slavery (Exodus), the assassination attempt of Haman during Artaxerxes’ rule (Esther), and the return from exile in Babylon (Ezra, Nehemiah). Extrabiblical records also reveal God’s mercy upon the Israelites during the intertestamonial period when Antiochus Epiphanes tried to destroy the Jews, and, most recently, when Adolf Hitler pursued the same course of action. If God has a plan to preserve the Jews and bring them back to the homeland in which Jesus would return to rule on His throne, it makes reasonable sense that Satan would target the Jewish people in order to thwart God’s future plans. Yet Scripture speaks about national Israel’s rebirth (Is 11:11-12; 66:8; Ez 37:21-22) and Messiah’s reign in that land (Zech 12; Rev 20:1-10).

As I stated, the Israel and church issue at the heart of the dispensational and covenant theology debate is not significant enough that it should thwart the unity of churches that are exclusively focused on the gospel, evangelism, and holy living. However, this issue affects how one approaches and interprets Scripture, which is why it is important for ministers to assess the goal of his ministry and the extent of his expository preaching when candidating at churches. This issue is also significant because it can determine, to a large extent, whether churches support and show a high regard for the state of Israel. God promises in Genesis 12:3 that He blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel. If this is true, then it is logical that Satan would want to discourage people from supporting Israel or from thinking that Israel is more “chosen” than other nations on earth. If the church wants to reap in God’s richest blessing, then one of its practices should be to pray for and evangelize national Israel.

 

Recommended Resource: Has the Church Replaced Israel By Michael Vlach

Ask Steve: The Clarity of Scripture

July 21, 2015 12:23 am

Prayer

 

Currently Reading:

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

by Timothy Keller

Category: Prayer / Christian Living

2014, Dutton

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. Is all of Scripture equally clear to everyone without distinction? If not, what qualifications must be made to the doctrine?

Answer: The clarity of Scripture is captured in an ancient doctrine called perspicuity. It is a central belief in the Christian faith, and is one of the aspects that describe the inspiration of Scripture. It is the belief that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who genuinely seek to understand and practice it. In other words, the words of Scripture are straightforward, clear, and understandable to every person on earth.  It is not mystical, relative, or open to every interpretation. A person does not need to be an intellectual or genius to understand the Bible’s teachings. A person does not need a committee or a hierarchy of leaders to interpret the Bible’s main messages for him. A person does not need to go to seminary in order to decipher the Bible’s meaning and/or true intent. The words of Scripture are written in a way that it speaks timelessly to every person who has ever lived.

The Bible is written as such by the authors because God intended it to be like that. The central message from Genesis to Revelation is man’s spiritual alienation from God, the ultimate consequences of his rebellion, and God’s work of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. It speaks concerning the problem facing mankind, and how they must respond in order to get right with the Lord. The Bible is one evangelistic book that is designed to help readers understand its message so they can respond in repentance, faith, and obedience to God.

Bible 1It is difficult for a person to come to salvation and live a faithful Christian life if the meaning of Scripture is hard to understand, historically conditioned, or subjective. Since the Bible claims to be everything that a person needs in order to be saved and prosper spiritually (2 Tim 3:16-17), the meaning needs to be clear in order for a person to follow it, no matter his intellectual, ethnic, or socioeconomic background. God is the expert communicator, and He has communicated His message in a way that even children and simple-minded people can understand. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

I must say that the clarity of Scripture does not negate the need for teachers and pastors within the church. God has appointed elders and teachers (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11) for the purpose of instructing the saints. Their duty is to clarify and bring out the depth of central doctrines, explain passages that are not as easy to understand, and to exhort congregants to follow its principles. This is something that can be difficult at times for individual Christians to do, since God has designed the Christian faith to be communal and mutually edifying. Christians can read and understand Scripture in his private reading time, but he also needs to be part of the local body and learn from overseers whose task is to not only help the Christian with certain passages, but to hold him accountable to follow God’s word.

Even though the Bible is comprehensible in its central messages, not every portion is as equally clear. There are certain verses, words, and passages in both the Old and New Testament that are somewhat underdeveloped or culturally conditioned. Because of this, devout readers have a difficult time with these passages and usually need the help of pastors, commentaries, or other study aids in order to understand both the passages’ context and principle. Examples of such passages or verses include the mixing of garments in Deuteronomy 22:11, the head coverings of women in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and the baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Most times, the work is in discovering the historical or cultural context of the words, but the underlying principle is always unchanging. This means that whatever principle applied to ancient Israel or the early church applies to us now in the 21st century – although the application of those principles varies according to changing times.

What exactly constitutes “clear Scripture?” Clear Scripture are passages that speak about non-negotiable doctrines, such as the meaning of the gospel and matters pertaining to faith and godly living. The Bible is crystal clear on these issues, therefore a Christian or non-Christian cannot argue that Scripture is vague on the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, justification by faith, the triune nature of God, the eternality of heaven and hell, the sinfulness of certain practices, and other relevant issues. It’s safe to say that perspicuity of Scripture also extends to doctrines such as male leadership within the church, plurality elder rule, literal six-day creation, believer’s baptism, and even eschatology (end times doctrine).

Bible 2Sometimes Christians do not find some of these issues to be perspicuous and hold different beliefs, even to the point of dividing themselves from other believers because of their stance. There are different reasons why readers do not find the meaning of Scripture to be comprehensible. The first reason is that the readers might not possibly be saved. When the Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells a person, He helps the believer grasp the truths of Scripture and convicts him to act on these principles (Jn 16:13; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Jn 2:27). Unbelievers who do not have the Spirit possess a spiritually dead heart, which is why they do not understand Scripture, and even rebel against its black-and-white meaning (1 Cor 2:14). There is a sense in which unbelievers can grasp the concepts of the Bible, but they do not act on these principles because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:20). That is why unbelievers who are exposed to the light of the Word are held more accountable for their unbelief at the final judgment (Matt 11:24; Lk 12:47-48).

Another reason why Scripture is difficult to understand is the sin nature of the Christian. Sometimes a Christian will find an issue to be difficult to understand because he is practicing a sin that obscures his alertness in the faith (1 Pet 5:18). Even if the Christian is not harboring any sin and lives above reproach, the sin nature still blocks some Christians from deciphering and accepting the plain meaning of certain texts. Such sin propensity includes personal emotional feelings on certain subjects, stubbornly fixed notions concerning God’s character and acts, adherence to Protestant traditions, and intellectual pride arising from scholarly work. This is why a great deal of humility is required when seeking to understand all of Scripture’s meaning, because the Bible’s meaning will challenge our feelings and beliefs about certain issues, even though we might not find the truth to be personally preferable or intellectually stimulating. However, this is how a Christian must approach Scripture, especially if he believes that the Bible – as reflected in sola scriptura – is the foundation and source for interpreting all matters of life.

Bible 3The final reason why Scripture is sometimes hard to understand is that God has not gifted certain people to understand it. I am not referring to the major issues relating to salvation and sanctification, but to some secondary and peripheral issues that Christians disagree on. These people simply do not have the gift of discernment or acknowledge, which is something that the Lord distributes according to His sovereign will (1 Cor 12:8). However, this does not mean that these Christians do not have the responsibility of learning the truth for the sake of Christian growth. All Scripture is inspired so as to present every person mature in Christ (Col 2:10), which is why we need to understand it as much as possible.

The clarity of Scripture is crucial because it is the hope of every Christian’s instruction in the faith. The belief that the Bible is unclear until examined under the practice of historical-criticism, that its principles are outdated and subjective in a modern society that advocates religious pluralism, abortion, and gay rights, or that Christians need the authority of the Pope, the Mormon president, or a Christian prophet to dictate it, is clearly unbiblical and even dangerous. The clarity of Scripture is meant to reveal the truth about God to everyone, which is why the Bible is the final authority on all spiritual matters. It is the definition of absolute truth in a world that seeks to deny it or do away with it.

Recommended Resource: Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

Ask Steve: Limited and Unlimited Atonement

July 13, 2015 12:36 am

 

Homos

Currently Reading:

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

by Kevin DeYoung

Category: Biblical Studies

2015, Crossway

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is your view on the extent of the atonement? Did Christ die for the sins of the whole world or did He die specifically for the elect?

Answer: Scholars and fans of systematic theology find this to be a hot issue. Although this topic is not important enough that it brands one particular group as saved and the other as heretics, it still has implications on our understanding of the gospel, and to much degree, Christian living.

There are two views concerning the extent of the atonement – limited atonement and universal atonement. Limited atonement is the idea that Christ died exclusively for those whom He elected before creation (Rom 8:29-30; Eph 2:1-5). In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross was only meant for those who would believe. He did not die for the sins of the reprobates – those who ultimately reject the gospel. Christ’s death on the cross was an atoning work only for God’s appointed sheep, while the rest of guilty humanity pay for their own sins and answers for them on Judgment Day.

Limited atonement is part the TULIP formula that characterizes Calvinism, and is a distinct doctrine of Reformed theology. It is based on the idea that every man is so depraved that he cannot save himself or chose God in his fallen state. God, in His grace, must elect and regenerate sinners so that they can respond to the Lord in saving faith. When the time comes, God draws those whom He foreknew with His irresistible (efficacious) grace through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the repentant sinners have the atoning work of Christ applied to them. Finally, God preserves the saints in their faith until the day of glorification. Limited atonement is one of the several steps in the process of salvation that greatly magnifies the sovereign work of God in salvation from beginning to end.

Limited 1In contrast, universal atonement is a view that understands the extent of Christ’s atonement quite differently. It is part of Arminian theology, which advocates the necessity of human free will, even at the expense of God’s sovereign and efficacious plans. Universal atonement holds that Christ did not die for only the elect, but for the sins of the entire population of human history. This doctrine is based on verses like John 1:19; 3:16, 1 Jn 2:12; Romans 6:10. The view is that Jesus generally paid for the sins of the entire world, but people still need to repent and believe in Christ in order to benefit from that salvific work. Those who die in unbelief are judged for their sins and punished eternally for it.

Arminianists, and even 4-Point Calvinists, believe in universal atonement for a couple of reasons. First, popular passages in the New Testament seem to suggest this idea when read at face value. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” 1 John 2:2 also states, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Second, advocates of universal atonement believe that limited atonement goes against the idea of God’s indiscriminate and loving offer of salvation to everyone in the world. If only the elect of God were atoned for, then that suggests that the rest of mankind has been denied access to the gospel, and have no opportunity to be saved (even if they wanted to). It other words, limited atonement is neither fair nor loving. Advocates claim that universal atonement does the most justice to the Scripture’s offer of salvation to anyone who would come, regardless of their background or circumstances (Matt 11:28-20; Rev 22:17).

Although I approach this subject matter with openness and humility, I generally believe that the Bible teaches a particular jurisdiction as it regards the extent of the atonement. In relation to God’s external call of sinners (through evangelism), I believe Jesus’ atonement saves anyone in the world who believes – no matter what race, gender, or sin background they have. But if the discussion pertains specifically to God’s internal/efficacious call of sinners, I believe that the atonement is specifically meant for the elect. In other words, I believe that the Bible teaches a theology of atonement similar to what is reflected in limited atonement. I admit that there are some challenges, especially when interpreting passages that seem to suggest that Christ died for the sins of everyone, but these interpretive difficulties are not so mysterious that it cannot be properly resolved.

Limited 3There are multiple passages which clearly reveal God’s election of certain people, and Jesus’ death on the cross being exclusively for them. One such verse is Mark 10:45: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus could have mentioned “the world,” but referenced “many.” John 10:45 reads, “Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Again, Jesus does not teach that He lays down His life for everyone – both sheep and goats – but for a specific crowd. Even Isaiah 53:12 (which prefigures the events of the New Covenant 700 years before the birth of Christ) reads, “…yet He bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” The writer could have mentioned “the sins of the entire world.” But the point is, Christ died for the sins of a portion of mankind. Verses like these clearly teach that Jesus’ atonement was for those who would believe (the elect), and more specifically, that the saving benefits of the atonement only apply to those trust in Christ.

So what of those verses that seems to teach the opposite idea? It really comes down to how you understand the passages’ context and the author’s use of phrases like “all,” “whoever,” and “world.” When John 3:16 references that “God so loved the world,” it surely does not teach that Christ elected the entire world’s population to salvation, or that people are saved no matter what they believe (universalism). Rather, the world most likely refers to the geographical and ethnic extent that God’s salvation plan would eventually influence in the subsequent years.

We have to remember the context in which many of these passages are written. Many Jews at the time believed that God’s favor and salvation fell exclusively on the Jewish race, which led to an ethno-centric pride that caused many Jews to close themselves off from Gentiles. In 1 Timothy 2:1-8, we also observe a disparity between the Ephesian commoners in the church and the governing authorities who do not know Christ in a saving way. Is the gospel as available to the poor citizen as it is for the powerful kings of the land?

Many of these soteriological passages are meant to teach that God’s salvation will not only reach the Jews, but people from every nation. The gospel is open to anyone. Passages like John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, and Romans 6:10 does not necessarily teach that the extent of the atonement encompasses the entire world’s population, but that the gospel is available to anyone in the world who would believe. The intent of the passage is the sufficiency of the gospel for the world, not necessarily practical or judicial application. Of course, we observe from history that the atonement has affected people of all nations. We see that people of all races, religion, and socioeconomic background coming to the gospel for salvation, which demonstrates the scope of the gospel’s global reach as preached by Christ and the apostles.

I also believe that the extent of the atonement is limited because of what the death of Christ actually accomplished. This is not the same as what the cross potentially accomplishes or makes available, but what the cross actually accomplished. Acts 20:28 states that Christ purchased the flock with His blood. 1 Corinthians 6:20 also teaches the idea that a price was specifically paid to fully and finally redeem believers from their sins. The truth is, if the sins of “every person” were laid upon Christ on the cross, then why do unbelievers get judged and suffer in hell? If their fine was already paid by Jesus, then they should have no reason to be held accountable for their crimes, no matter what they believe about the gospel. Satisfying the penalty of an unbeliever, yet consigning him to hell for his unbelief would be akin to a form of double indemnity – God requiring double payment for the criminal’s debt. The only reasonable explanation for this dilemma is that on Calvary, only the sins of every person who would believe were placed in Christ’s account, while the sins of everyone who would die in unbelief were kept intact so that God would serve justice on them on Judgment Day (Rev 20:11-15). If the atonement were not designed exclusively for the elect, then the idea of God “purchasing His sheep” with His blood becomes meaningless, if not redundant, if the entire world’s population benefits from the atonement.

I do not want to negate the responsibility, and the call, for everyone to repent and believe in the gospel. The goal of limited atonement is not to discover who among the world is elect and who is not, or to shun the gospel from any one group of people. The gospel is for everyone, and whoever in the world trusts in Christ as Lord and Savior will be saved (Matt 11:28; Jn 6:35; Acts 2:38; 3:19). That is the message of the good news, and what we as Christians are to focus on in our Great Commission effort. In relation to God’s general call, I do believe that the atonement is for the world – as in every person has equal opportunity to believe and be saved.

Recommended Resource: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by David and Jonathan Gibson

Ask Steve: Divorced Man on Elder Board

July 4, 2015 1:18 am

Elder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, would you allow a divorced man to serve on the elder board? Why? 

Answer: This issue is a topic of debate in many churches. The decision rendered by church leaders on this issue really depends on their understanding of marriage and divorce. Some Christians believe that it is improper to allow a divorced man to serve on the elder board because his status is a by-product of a sinful choice. This line of reasoning comes from those who believe that Christians are never to divorce under any circumstance, and if they do, they commit a type of sin which bars them from ministry involvement. Other Christians believe that a divorced man can by all means serve on an elder board, because all sins are past and forgiven in Christ Jesus if the man repented. Still others believe that a divorced man can serve on an elder board only under specific circumstances.

I lean on the third option because I believe it is the most biblically accurate. Before explaining my answer, I think it is wise to first talk about the topic of marriage and divorce. Most Christians acknowledge that marriage is a serious commitment before the Lord because it represents the eternal, unbreakable covenant between Christ the Groom and His Bride the Church (Rev 19:9). This gospel truth shows us why marriage is meant to be permanent as long as the husband and wife are alive on earth. God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). However, there are circumstances in which God allows divorce as a last resort for unrepentant sin from one or both of the parties in the covenant (Matt 19:8; Mk 10:5). God does not encourage but permits divorce in cases of unrepentant adultery (Matt 19:9) or if the unbelieving spouse deserts the partner (1 Cor 7:15). These are the only two scenarios in which a Christian is not at fault if a divorce happens. Any other case, no matter how troubling or “irreconcilable” the differences are, would constitute a violation of the marriage covenant and would count as a gross sin to the Christian. A third possible scenario would be if the Christian unjustly divorced his wife when he was an unbeliever, but becomes a believer, and makes some sort of attempt to reconcile with his wife, no matter the result.

If a Christian minister is to serve on the elder board, he must not be guilty of an unrighteous divorce. This applies to pastors as well. This means that the Christian must not be divorced because of incompatibility with his spouse, a newfound desire to be single, or because of a romantic interest in another woman. Whatever the case, Christians cannot serve on the elder board in this status, especially given the instruction in 1 Timothy 3:1-5 that an overseer must be the husband of one wife (martially/sexually faithful) and a good manager of his own household (a competent leader in his family). A man who is unjustly divorced would violate the principles expressed in 1 Timothy 3 concerning a qualified elder. In certain cases, a Christian who has divorced unjustly, and has failed to repent or do what he can to save the marriage, might possibly come under church discipline (Matt 18:15-20) if his situation brings public reproach to the church and endangers the spiritual welfare of the divorced man. In this case, a man who is unjustly divorced, or even unjustly divorced and remarried, is not suited to serve on the elder board.

There are cases in which a pastor/elder can join an elder board in good standing and in good conscience. If the Christian experienced the divorce through no moral fault of his own (ex. the wife failed to repent of her adulterous actions, the wife deserted him because of his faith), then the Lord does not hold his new status against him. Although divorce is a tragic occurrence, the Christian man is blameless in this situation. If this is true, then the man has every right to candidate for eldership, given that he adequately meets the other standards outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-8. This means that even a pastor – whether he senior or associate – who is divorced (under biblical grounds) can pursue eldership.

I must say that great caution should be undertaken when considering a divorced man for inclusion in the eldership committee, since it must be the aim of every church to honor God by preserving the purity of the church leadership. This means that the elders should get to know the divorced candidate and examine his testimony concerning his past divorce. If it can be ascertained that the divorced candidate experienced the divorce on biblical grounds, and that he meets the general biblical requirements of overseer, then the church can pursue further progress in the candidacy. The only real step left would be to see if the candidate agrees with and can live by the doctrine and philosophy of the local church.

I vouch for this view of a divorced man in eldership because it is the most biblically consistent view. Like I mentioned, divorce is never a good situation, because it can disqualify or hinder an elder from being a shepherd in the church. However, the biblical reasons for divorce ensure that a Christian man should not be held accountable if the divorce was not really his fault, or happened beyond his reasonable control. In this case, a divorced man has divine approval to enter into leadership to do God’s work.low a divorced man to serve on your elder board? Why?