Adultery, Divorce, And Eldership -- By: Kevin G. Smith

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 16:1 (Sep 2013)
Article: Adultery, Divorce, And Eldership
Author: Kevin G. Smith

Adultery, Divorce, And Eldership

Kevin G. Smith1


This article applies the methodology of Integrated Theology (Smith 2013) to attempt to answer this question: ‘Can a man who has committed adultery and thus caused the failure of his marriage later serve as an elder, meeting the biblical requirements for eldership?’ After surveying various pieces of evidence, including biblical and historical evidence, the author concludes the requirements for eldership would generally exclude such candidates, but that the biblical evidence falls short of an absolute prohibition and leaves the door open for the rare exceptions that prove the rule. Therefore, a church can defend either of two positions: an exclusion position or an exception position.


The objective of this essay is to evaluate whether a man2 who committed adultery and thus caused (or at least significantly contributed to) the failure of his marriage can later serve as an elder, meeting the

biblical requirements for eldership. The question can be posed in the form of two case studies.

Case 1—Bongani has served the Lord Jesus Christ from childhood. However, two years after he married Sbongile, he committed adultery. He sincerely repented of his sin, and sought to save his marriage, but she chose to divorce him. They had no children. For the past ten years, Bongani has served Christ faithfully. He has been a devoted husband to his new wife and a good father to their three young children. The leadership of his church consider him an outstanding candidate to join the eldership team, but they are uncertain whether the biblical requirements for eldership exclude him.

Case 2—Richard was the senior pastor of a large church. He was married with three school-going children when he had an affair with one of his congregants. As a result of the affair, he divorced his wife to marry his mistress. He stepped down from the ministry, and committed to an extended period of pastoral counselling. He has acknowledged that he transgressed the Lord’s will, and he has received God’s forgiveness for his sins. He fellowships at a local church, which recognises his gifting as an evangelist and teacher, and wonders if it falls outside of God’s will to bring him onto their eldership team.

The question—do the qualifications for eldership that Paul lays down in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 permanently d...

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