Documents of Synod:
Study Papers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1965 to 1982)


152nd GS MINUTES, MAY 24, 1974, pp. 135 - 136.

STUDY COMMITTEE ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

Dr. David Jones reported for the committee presenting the report as follows:

The Question
Whether remarriage after divorce is a bar to holding ecclesiastical office. Always, or under certain circumstances?
There are two biblical considerations that appear to bear directly on the question, (1) the requirement that the church officer be "the husband of one wife" and (2) the requirement that the church officer be "above reproach," or "blameless."

Husband of One Wife
This phrase (mia gynaikos andra) is listed among the qualifications for episcopos (I Tim. 3:2) or presbyteros (Titus 1:6) and diakonos (I Tim. 3:12). It is thus a prerequisite for holding church office as such. Not that church officers must be married, which would be inconsistent with Matt. 19:12 and I Cor. 7:7-8, but if they are married (which seems to be the ordinary expectation), this is a relevant consideration.

Taken in itself the phrase could mean (1) that the church officer must be married to only one wife, that is, a monogomist, or (2) that he must be married only once. The former would exclude a polygamist from church office, the latter either (a) a person remarried after the death of his wife or (b) a person remarried after divorce.

The original intent of the phrase cannot be determined with certainty. It is very doubtful, however, that Paul meant to exclude a person remarried after the death of his wife (2a). So far from second marriages being a matter of reproach, Paul later in the letter encourages the younger widows to remarry (5:14). Moreover, the asceticism implied in such an ideal is in conflict with Paul's strong reproof of those who forbid marriage (4:3).

The freedom to remarry after the death of one's spouse is based on the dissolution of the marriage bond (Rom. 7:2). Thus the man who remarries after the death of his wife is still the husband of but one wife. But in this sense a person remarried after divorce (2b) is the husband of but one wife, and would not necessarily be excluded from holding church office by this phrase. (Cf. Confession of Faith, XXIV, vi, where adultery and wilful, irremediable desertion are said to be "cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage." See also previous "Study on Divorce and Remarriage" in Minutes, 1973, pp. 52-56.

The phrase would bar a polygamist from holding church office. But in view of the apparent rarity of the practice in the first century, perhaps the phrase was intended to apply not only to polygamy in the strict sense but to any form of concubinage or its moral equivalent. Stated positively the pre-requisite is that the church officer be faithful to his one wife" (NEB).

Support for the idea that this is a positive requriement may be found in Paul's use of a parallel phrase with respect to church widows. To be put on the list, the widow must be, among other things, henos andros gyne (I Tim. 5:9). Does this mean, "Has had but one husband," or does it mean, "has been faithful to her husband" (NIV, with former translation in margin)? Since Paul encourages younger widows to marry it would seem harsh to exclude them from the list of widows should they, on reaching age sixty, find themselves widowed for a second time. Thus tthe phrase is better understood in the broader sense of marital faithfulness than married only once.

The conclusion is that the phrase "husband of one wife" requires fidelity in the present marriage relationship to but one wife as a pre-requisite for holding church office.

Above Reproach
The church officer, to have the trust and confidence of the people, as well as the respect of outsiders, must be above reproach (anepilemptos, I Tim 3:2) or blameless (anegkletos, I Tim. 3:10, Titus 1:6-7). Not that there is a dual standard of Christian ethics, for these are qualities that ought to characterize every Christian (I Tim. 5:7, I Cor. 1:8, Col. 1:22). Just so, they must characterize those to be set apart to ecclesiastical office.

A person may be forgiven of sin and yet not qualified for church office because of liability to reproach. For this reason the Book of Discipline provides that "restoration to the privileges of communion may take place [after suspension] without restoration to office" (VIII, 6), and that "an officer deposed because of immoral conduct shall be restored only upon the most evident repentance, and after the court has assured itself that the restoration will not be attended by injury to the cause of the Gospel" (VIII, 14).

It is conceivable that under certain circumstances a man's divorce and remarriage may be a matter of such reproach as to disqualify him from holding church office. However, the circumstances of divorce and remarriage are so varied that it is unwise for Synod to attempt to establish rules. Judgment must be made in individual cases by the session or presbytery concerned, keeping in mind the above pricniples and "those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others" (Larger Catechism, Q. 151).

RECOMMENDATION

That Synod commend the above report to sessions and presbyteries as guidelines for the question of divorce and ecclesiastical office.

Respectfully submitted,

David C. Jones, chairman
Albert Moginot
William B. Leonard

ACTION
The recommendation of the Committee was moved. During debate it was moved and carried to extend the orders of the day two hours. The main motion carried.

[Documents of Synod, pages 203-204].

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