Topics: elders and the marriage qualification, children and baptism, divorce and remarriage, confessing faith with one’s mouth, the plan of salvation
If an elder is widowed, can he still be an elder? If he remarries, can he be an elder again?
Elders are also called bishops (overseers) and pastors (shepherds) in the New Testament (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Paul laid out the qualifications for the office of a bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Among them he wrote, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (vs. 2-3).
Note the verb “must be…the husband of one wife” (v. 2), not “must have been…the husband of one wife.” In both English and the original Greek the verb tense is present and on-going, signifying that in order to be placed into the office and remain in the office an elder must presently and continually be married. Death causes a marriage to cease (Rom. 7:2-3), resulting in an elder who finds himself a widower would instantly no longer be “the husband of one wife” and would thereby no longer be qualified to be in that office.
This would apply to all of the other qualifications listed in the predicate of the sentence in verses 2-4. If an elder had been at the time of his appointment “not a drunkard” or “not violent but gentle,” but later was found to have become a drunkard and a violent person, he would no longer be qualified because Scripture demands that he “must be…not a drunkard…(and) not violent but gentle,” not “must have been” those things. In like manner, he “must be…the husband of one wife,” not “must have been…the husband of one wife.”
A presently scripturally remarried man (Rom. 7:2-3; Mt. 19:9) who is either a former elder or has never been an elder at all would meet the qualification that “an overseer must be…the husband of one wife…” because, as said earlier, the inspired verb tense is present tense and ongoing: “must be,” not “must have always been.” God does not require a person to have ALWAYS been all of the qualities in vs. 2-4; indeed, if such was the case no one would ever be qualified because no one has always been “above reproach” or “able to teach.” For this reason, a presently scripturally remarried man meets this qualification.
Some object to this by stating that the qualifications of an elder and deacon are primarily about the man’s character, and that a person’s character doesn’t change due to his changed marital status. The qualifications ARE about an elder’s character, which is precisely why the marital qualification is so relevant.
A good man becomes an even better man because of the love, support, and counsel of his wife. When death takes one’s mate and confidant from him, it changes a man in many ways. The sounding board is no longer there. The one person whom he knows is there for him no matter what is no longer there. Grief, loneliness and bitterness can easily creep in, and all of these negative emotions can have an impact on the type of man that elder would be, which in turn would play a role in the kind of overseer and shepherd he would be. This is why God said an elder “must be…the husband of one wife…”
If all have sinned, what about the children? Do they need forgiveness by way of baptism?
While it is true that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), it is also true that children when born do not inherit the sins of their parents (Ezek. 18:1-20) and live for a time before they “know enough to refuse evil and choose good” (Is. 7:15), i.e., become accountable for their choices and actions. At some point, however, they do reach an age when they are accountable. At that point, sin enters the picture and they become in need of salvation (Rom. 7:9-11). At that point they would need to believe in and obey the gospel, culminating in their baptism which would result in receiving forgiveness for their sins (Acts 2:38).
Scripture says whoever puts away his wife and “marries another” except for adultery has sinned. What if he never remarried? Is divorce still sinful?
Divorce is sinful because God hates it (Mal. 2:16) and demands that the marital union never be dissolved while both spouses are living (Matt. 19:6; Rom. 7:2-3), giving the only exception in which the dissolution of a marriage takes place and a remarriage is permitted to be for the cause of fornication (Matt. 19:9; 5:32).
Yet while divorce for reasons other than the spouse’s fornication is still sinful, repentance resulting in forgiveness is always a possibility. One could commit the sin of divorce and yet later repent and be forgiven. Should repentance occur, the Bible gives two options. Paul wrote to Corinth that “the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
From this passage we see that reconciliation is one possibility. It must be conceded that reconciliation can be possible only if both spouses agree to reconcile and thus come back together. In some cases that does not happen. In such a case, one could still repent of (literally, change their mind, regret) the divorce and be forgiven. However, the biblical mandate in 1 Corinthians 7:11 would require that person, while forgiven and thus no longer in danger of eternal condemnation for the sin of divorce, to still suffer the consequences of remaining unmarried.
Concerning confession by mouth, what about instances where oral confession is not possible, such as if the person is mute, or is near death and on a respirator?
I’m reminded of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer, who was rendered mute by God as a punishment for not believing the angel Gabriel’s announcement of his wife’s miraculous pregnancy at an old age (Lk. 1:5-20). Yet Zacharias was still able to communicate with others through signs (Lk. 1:21-22) and through writing (Lk. 1:63). Indeed, by communicating through writing his desire to obey God’s edict to name the baby John (Lk. 1:13), Zacharias pleased God and received back his ability to talk (Lk. 1:64).
God never requires of us what is impossible for us to do (1 Cor. 10:13; 1 John 5:3). While it is true that confession is commanded to be done orally (Rom. 10:9), a just God “who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” would not be displeased with someone who is willing to confess their faith but is physically unable to do so orally and therefore communicates their faith in another fashion.
What must I do to be saved?
Because God no longer overlooks ignorance (Acts 17:30), one must first be told from God’s Word about the good news of the salvation offered through Jesus, believe it, and confess their faith in it (Rom. 10:17; John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:35-37; Matt. 10:32-33).
That faith will prompt them to actions of obedience to God’s will, starting with the choice to repent of their sins and washing their sins away through baptism into Christ and His body (Acts 17:30; 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-5; 5:23).
At that point they receive salvation, and they will never lose that salvation as long as they faithfully and penitently observe all of Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 John 1:7-9; Heb. 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).