September 20, 2017

Just Like the War Question

By Mike Willis

Some have argued, "The differences over divorce and remarriage are just like our differences over the war question. One may interpret 'Thou shalt not kill' to mean that man cannot participate in the military, especially in time of war. Those who participate in the military or war, from this point of view, are guilty of murder. We tolerate these differences regarding 'murder,' placing them in the category of opinion. In the same way, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' is interpreted in many different ways and we should tolerate these differences as well, so long as 'gross immorality' (who gets to decide what is "gross immorality"?) is not committed."

This is basically the argument presented by Jerry Bassett in Rethinking Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (145-148) and by others in magazine articles and sermons. Similar arguments for unity in diversity have been made with reference to mechanical instruments of music in worship, sponsoring churches, missionary societies and many other apostasies. The argument is that we practice unity-in-diversity on the military question, covering, funerals in the church building, and several other matters; therefore, we should practice unity-in-diversity on mechanical instruments of music in worship, institutionalism, the sponsoring church, and divorce and remarriage.

Here is the argument stated in chart form:

The War Question and Adultery Are Parallel

"Thou Shalt "Whosoever shall put away his wife,

Not Kill" except it be for fornication, and shall

(Exod. 20:13) marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away

doth committ adultery" (Mat. 19:9).

We agree to differ We should agree to differ on these

on the military question. points:

1. Alien is not amenable to God's law of divorce and remarriage.

2. Stay married to one married to at time of baptism or restoration.

3. The adultery of Matthew 19:9 is the act of divorcing.

4. The guilty party in a divorce for fornication may remarry.

5. Desertion by an unbeliever gives Christian right to remarriage.

This argument assumes the very point under discussion that entering the military or going to war is parallel to divorcing for some reason other than fornication and remarrying. Let us begin by stating that if brethren truly believe the two are equal in all essential elements, they should be consistent in treating the two alike.

How We Treat the War Question

We receive into our fellowship both those who believe that one should be a conscientious objector and those who believe a man can participate in the military and serve as a policeman. We receive into our fellowship both those who have conscientiously abstained from participation in the military and serving as policemen and those who have served in the military (even during wars) and as policemen.

To Be Consistent

1. Receive the teachers of loose doctrine on divorce and remarriage. If our differences over the war question are equal to our differences over divorce and remarriage, we need to forthrightly announce to the church, that we are opening the fellowship of the congregation to those who teach that a person may divorce for any cause and marry another, just as we accept the pacifist and the man who believes that funerals should not be conducted in the church building. Are you ready to receive into your fellowship those who teach one can divorce for any reason and remarry, like Olan Hicks? Are you ready for your pulpit to be filled by those who teach that the guilty party in a divorce for fornication has a biblical right to remarry?

2. Receive those who have divorced for reasons other than fornication and remarried. If the two are equal, as this argument implies, those who believe they are equal need to forthrightly announce that they will open the fellowship of the congregation to those who have divorced for whatever cause and subsequently married another, just as they accept the pacifist and the man who believes that funerals should not be conducted in the church building. They need to welcome into their fellowship the deacon who was guilty of immorality with the wife of another one of your deacons, causing two divorces. After the two adulterers who destroyed two homes in violation of Matthew 19:9 have subsequently married, the church is logically compelled to receive them into their fellowship. The two can sit beside their grieving, innocent mates and pass the Lord's supper to each other. Brethren, are you ready to accept them into your fellowship? If not, you mustface the fact that you do not really believe that the issue of divorce for causes other than fornication followed by remarriage is like the war question.

Brother Ed Harrell wrote about the divorce and remarriage issue, "A local church has every right to restrict its fellowship to those whose marriages conform to the restrictions of Matthew 19:3-12; I have never worshiped in a congregation that did otherwise. I believe that a Christian has the right to mark as a false teacher every person who disagrees with him about marriage and divorce" ("Response to Dudley Ross Spears [3]," Gospel Truths [March 19911, p. 5). Brethren, I cannot make such statements about the war question. I do not believe that a local church has a right to restrict its fellowship to those who are conscientious objectors or to those who go to war. I do not believe that a Christian has the right to mark as a false teacher every person who disagrees with him about the war question. Nor do I believe that most of those who argue that divorce for reasons other than fornication followed by remarriage is parallel to the war question would consent to these being done. Their practice negates their argument,- one should either bring his practice into harmony with his argument or give up his argument. I hope that these brethren will give up their argument, for it is unsound.

Examining the Argument

Now, let us consider the argument itself. The parallels which I see are these: (a) Both are moral issues; (b) men are disagreed over the issue; (c) both are individual matters. But these same arguments can be made about the issue of homosexuality. Those who consider the parallel with homosexuality arguments "unrealistic" need to be aware that homosexuals among churches of Christ who have not been accepted into fellowship have organized their own congregations in several larger cities. They argue that there ought to be room for mutual tolerance, acceptance, and fellowship. Notice the parallel to the earlier points: (a) Homosexuality is a moral issue; (b) men are disagreed over the issue; (c) homosexuality is an individual (not a congregational) matter. One can just as consistently argue that homosexuality should not be made a test of fellowship as to argue that divorce for any reason other than fornication followed by remarriage should not be made a test of fellowship. Adultery is just as sinful as homosexuality. The similarities cited above do not prove that either practice is sinful or that fellowship should be extended or withdrawn.

Here the similarities end. In these important respects the matters are not parallel: (a) Service in the military and police force is a matter of authorized liberty which allows room for differences of conscience; divorce for some reason other than fornication and marriage to another is utterly and directly condemned by Jesus as sinful, thus leaving no room for different practices on the matter (scriptural proof is cited below). (b) Jesus himself equated adultery with unlawful divorce and remarriage to another mate. There is no place in all of the Scripture where participation in the armed forces or police force is equated with "murder, " though it may be so equated in the individual's conscience. Hence, participation in the military and police force is a matter of authorized liberty which should be governed by the principles revealed in Romans 14, i.e. settled by individual conscience. Sinful matters such as homosexuality or unlawful divorce and remarriage, which Jesus called the sin of adultery, are not under discussion in that chapter. Such sins are discussed in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 John 9-11, from which Scriptures we must go to learn how to treat those guilty of sin.

Is Participation in War A Violation of "Thou Shalt Not Kill"?

From the Bible, we can see that "Thou shalt not kill" did not mean "Thou shalt not participate in any occasion of taking life." Through the study of the Mosaical Law, we can learn what "Thou shalt not kill" prohibited. The Old Testament law demonstrates that "Thou shalt not kill" was not intended to condemn participation in war (Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 7:2), manslaughter (Num. 35:9-34), protecting oneself from a thief (Exod. 22:2), or capital punishment (Deut. 22:22). When properly understood, "Thou shalt not kill" means "Thou shalt not commit murder." Because participation in warfare is not a violation of "Thou shalt not kill," it can properly be a matter under discussion in Romans 14 - matters which are authorized but not required, matters which may be settled for each person in his own conscience between him and the Lord alone.

Sinful Divorce and Remarriage Is Equal to Adultery

Jesus is the one who equated adultery with divorcing one's mate for some cause other than fornication and marrying another.

These Are Equal

"Thou shalt not commit adultery" "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and

(Exod. 20:14) shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her

which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt. 19:9).

Jesus said so!

Where did Jesus say that participation in all occasions of taking life is murder or anything which correctly interpreted leads to that conclusion? It is true that attitudes such as hatred and bitterness, often associated with war, are directly condemned by Jesus, but whether or not a person can participate in some phase of the military without having such attitudes is a question which must be settled within that person's conscience alone.

Who Said These Are Equal?

"Thou shalt not kill" (Exod. 20:13) Protecting oneself

Manslaughter

Capital punishment

Participation in military or as a policeman

Jesus did not say so!

These are men's opinions.

A Better Parallel

A better parallel for this argument based on "Thou shalt not kill" would be this: "Are abortion on demand and adultery parallel?"

A More Accurate Chart:

Are Abortion on Demand and Adultery Parallel?

"Thou shalt not kill" (Exod. 20:13). "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt. 19:9).

We agree to differ on abortion on demand. We should agree to differ on these points:

1. Alien is not amenable to God's law of divorce and remarriage.

2. Stay married to one married to at time of baptism or restoration.

3. The adultery of Matthew 19:9 is the act of divorcing.

4. The guilty party in a divorce for fornication may remarry.

5. Desertion by an unbeliever gives Christian right to remarriage.

Are you ready to accept this conclusion?

Abortion on demand is a violation of "Thou shalt not kill." It is a matter in many respects parallel to "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Our society has accepted both abortion and easy divorce and remarriage as acceptable forms of behavior. God has condemned both. Some are preaching that men should be tolerant of a person's choice to obtain an abortion, and others are saying that we should be tolerant of a person's choice to divorce for causes other than fornication and marry another. Both are (a) moral issues; (b) matters on which men disagree; (c) individual, rather than congregational, issues. We can just as logically accept the one as the other. My brethren, are you ready for this?

The argument that we should practice unity-in-diversity on the divorce and remarriage question because we have practiced unity-in-diversity on the war question is false. It mixes the war question, a matter of authorized liberty for the individual conscience (similar to eating of meats) with the issue of sinful and unscriptural divorce followed by remarriage (which Jesus called "adultery"), a matter of sin. The Scriptures give two patterns for fellowship: (a) in matters of sin, fellowship must not be extended (1 Cor. 5; 2 Jn. 9-11); (b) in matters of authorized liberties, we must receive one another (Rom. 14:1-15:7). We would err to treat matters of authorized liberty as if they were sin - withdrawing from those who disagree with us over the covering, weddings and funerals in church buildings, or participation in the military. Similarly we err when we treat matters of sin as if they are matters of authorized liberty - receiving into our fellowship those who practice homosexuality, adultery such as that Jesus described in Matthew 19:9, or perversion of the work and worship of the church.

Let's not mix apples and oranges - matters of authorized liberties and sinful conduct.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 18-20
January 2, 1992

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