A Reply to Ed Harrell’s Response

Donnie V. Rader

I find it interesting that brother Harrell responds to my printed lecture and in fact had asked the administration for time to give an oral response. The thing that makes this interesting is that he, as one of the editors of Christianity Magazine, practiced a closed door policy and would not allow any response to what he or others taught. He wants what he was not willing to give.

Brother Harrell begins his response by talking about distortions of his writings "that have been relentlessly published by certain, I think extremist, publications." I suppose since Truth Magazine, Searching the Scriptures , and Gospel Truths have published several references to Harrell’s material that these are the "extremist publications". He, like the liberal media dealing with political leaders, labels the conservatives as "extremist". This is how the reply begins that Florida College helped distribute.

Type of Referencing

Brother Harrell says, "These distortions have been documented with a type of referencing that would destroy forever the credibility of any honest scholar." Brother Harrell, of all people, shouldn’t say anything about referencing that destroys the credibility of an honest scholar. His latest book, The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century – Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith has a number of problems. In it he attributes things to Mike Willis that were really about John Welch (353). He says my book and one by Gary Fisher and Dennis Allen were critiquing Homer Hailey’s book (351). Yet, both were written and published before Hailey’s was. I only mention these because he ridicules my referencing as being so careless. Let us see whether the facts stated were correct.

Did Ed Harrell Say the Bible Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage Was Lacking In Clarity?

In the lecture book I said,

We are told that the Biblical teaching on this subject lacks clarity (see Harrell, Divorce and Fellowship ; Owen, Fellowship; We Differ ).

Brother Harrell objects saying,

I will restate for the record that I do not believe Matt. 19:9 is ambiguous or unclear…

The source I cited was a handout from the Florida College Forum between Mike Willis and Ed Harrell in 1991. In it brother Harrell said,

There is a third possibility, and I believe it is what all three of us practice. We acknowledge that there are honest disagreements of belief (faith) among brethren because all biblical teaching is not of equal clarity…

I make the same judgment about Homer Hailey. I do not regard Homer Hailey as a false teacher, even though I believe him to be wrong in his interpretation of Matthew 19 (as he believes me to be wrong about Christians serving in the Military), because I am persuaded by his conduct and his arguments that he honestly believes that he is faithful to God’s teaching on the subject. Neither of us would fellowship a clear adulterer, but, at least for the time being we entrust the judgment of one another’s conscience on this question to God.

Each of these judgments is based upon an admission that we regard the subject as sufficiently lacking in clarity to accept a brother who disagrees with us…

Let me be clear about clarity. My conclusion about the clarity of a passage involves both how clear it seems to me and also my evaluation of those who disagree with me. It is that distinction that separates a weak brother from a false teacher. A false teacher is either ignorant (II Pet. 3:5; Rom. 10:3), deluded (I Tim. 4:2; Rom. 1:21-23; II Thess. 2:11) or a deceiver (II Pet. 2:1-3) – he is not honestly mistaken about God’s clear instructions.

I have been dismayed to read articles on Homer Hailey that have been filled with fawning praise of his honesty and integrity while accusing him of violating clear biblical teaching. That is absurd. If honest and informed people disobey clear biblical instruction, God is the author of confusion…

How can brother Harrell deny he ever said the biblical teaching on this subject lacks clarity ?

When Did I Charge Ed Harrell with Fellowshipping One Living in an Adulterous Marriage?

Brother Harrell said,

I will restate for the record that I do not believe Matt. 19:9 is ambiguous or unclear and that I have not and would not have fellowship in a local church with anyone whom I believe to be living in an adulterous relationship.

I never said he would. He is answering a charge I never made! Read my lecture in the book or on the web and see that what I said was,

When a man teaches that one who has no right to remarry can remarry, his teaching leads his hearer to commit adultery. Most agree that we can’t fellowship the man who is in adultery. However, we are told we can fellowship the man who teaches him that it is scriptural (See: Harrell, Homer Hailey 6; Bounds ; Owen, Dawson, Kimbrough).

I never said Ed Harrell would fellowship one living in an adulterous relationship. I only pointed out that he would fellowship one who taught the person living in adultery that it is scriptural. The references I cite are the series of 17 articles in Christianity Magazine. The first was "Homer Hailey: False Teacher? (November 1988) and the other sixteen articles were called "The Bounds of Christian Unity" (February 1989 – May 1990). In the first article brother Harrell defends Homer Hailey and states that he could work and worship with him in spite of their differences. In the series brother Harrell puts matters of moral and doctrinal import and matters of faith in Romans 14 (May 1989; July 1989).

Denominationalizing and Creedalizing

Brother Harrell charges that my lecture illustrates how some "trivialize the grand quest to be New Testament Christians by denominationalizing and creedalizing the plea." What part of my lecture is denominationalizing and creedalizing? Is it the first section of the lecture about to whom Matthew 5 and 19 apply? Could it be the second section about whether we can understand God’s law on divorce and remarriage? Or, it is the third section about what God said about divorce being wrong and who could remarry? Is it the final section about what we do with the Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage? It is the mentioning of names that make it denominationalizing and creedalizing? Surely this is not one of those "reckless charges" or one of those "accusations made which are in no way supported by the sources" about which brother Harrell shows such concern. However, after examining brother Harrell’s response, I fail to see his proper documentation of the charge.

If my teaching on divorce and remarriage and how fellowship relates to that means I am denominationalizing and creedalizing, why wouldn’t that also be true of brother Harrell when he teaches on the subject and refuses fellowship to those he believes are living in adultery? Why isn’t that denominationalizing and creedalizing?

Strong Charges

Brother Harrell made some very strong charges about me and those who would stand with me. He charges me with distortion and reckless charges. He accuses me of denominationalizing and creedalizing. He calls my efforts McCarthyesque. He says that our efforts "destroy the right of the individual conscience and congregational autonomy." What in my lecture does that? Again, one will search in vain for the supporting source or proper documentation of brother Harrell’s charge. If my failure to meet the form brother Harrell desired destroyed my credibility as an honest scholar, what does brother Harrell’s total lack of any supporting evidence do for his scholarship? One will look in vain for even one case of casting personal aspersions in my lecture. Brother Harrell’s response is replete with such from start to finish. The readers can decide for themselves who is seeking to discuss issue upon the basis of Scripture and who is cutting off open study to engage in personal attacks.

Again, I wonder if I had made those charges about Ed Harrell, would Colly have allowed it without comment and let a member of the administration pass it out at the door?

This short statement from Ed Harrell is one of the most telling things we have seen from him. How can you read it and not wonder where he is headed?