Halbrook’s Answers to Smith’s Question in 1993

Ron Halbrook

[The following article is taken verbatim from my letter dated February 27, 1993 in answer to a letter from brother J.T. Smith dated February 17, 1993. His letter asked if I would affirm the proposition stated below. He wrote because he had heard I would "answer in the affirmative" if the question was raised when I preached on marriage, though he did not identify the source of the report. Since I have known brother Smith from my childhood days, my letter began with some unrelated news and some remarks expressing my personal gratitude for his help through the years. That part of the letter is omitted below, along with a brief closing paragraph.]

You ask about the following scenario: "When a man puts away his wife for any cause other than fornication and he subsequently marries another, his first wife then may put him away for fornication and she has the scriptural right to marry another." No, brother Smith, I could not affirm this. It is too broad and too wide for me to assent. It leaves the door wide open for all kinds of "waiting games." If someone reported to you that I simply give an "affirmative" answer, he did not fully and accurately relate what I say. That is not a judgment of anyone’s intentions; sometimes we are prone to hear what we want to hear, or to be disappointed that something is not said the way we would say it, or to simply forget part of what is said. You are welcome to share this letter with whoever talked with you about this matter or with anyone else who has an interest in my views on the question. I have nothing to hide and no one to protect. If someone can supply me with information which I have not adequately considered, I want to learn more, correct any mistakes, and continue to grow. Anyone who can help me to do that is my friend, not my enemy.

Such a question may come with several variables. When a man breaks up his home (with mutual consent of his wife; by violently driving out his mate; with or without a legal separation or civil decree of divorce), and then adds the sin of immorality (one-night stand with prostitute; "domestic partner;" adulterous marriage), what may the wife do? On the rare occasions when I have been asked some form of this question during the question period after my sermon on "Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage," here is how I respond.

1. No scenario in which either party participates in the "waiting game" releases either party to marry someone else. This is covered in the sermon itself and I re-emphasize it in connection with the question. I enclose a copy of the sermon outline. You will see on page 1 that the first point of application made under the discussion of Matthew 5:32 says, "This eliminates the "`waiting game.’" Sometimes these outlines are copied and distributed. Also, I enclose my article on "Divorce and Remarriage: No Waiting Game," which will appear soon in the Guardian of Truth . You are also welcomed to run it if you don’t mind the duplication.

2. Jesus taught the law of one man for one woman for a lifetime, the only exception being that an innocent mate can put away a fornicator and marry again (Matt. 19:9; 5:32). Any case or situation that arises must be tested by that rule. Any person who decides he may remarry must do so on the basis of that premise and principle.

3. False theories openly repudiate that premise and principle, and substitute new ground rules with a new ball park. Those doctrines have been exposed and rejected in this sermon and by sound brethren everywhere.

If I am asked about a situation in which there is no "waiting game" but there are other complications, I add the following comments, treading cautiously where honest brethren may have a difference in conscience. Such points of application can be difficult to handle, as you know. The report you heard no doubt involves some such complicating factor.

4. All through the years brethren who are committed to the premise and principle given by Jesus have struggled with complicated cases and have sometimes differed in a point of application. These questions and issues are different in nature from doctrines which repudiate the law given by Jesus. All brethren who discuss these questions and issues make their appeal directly to the premise and principle given by Jesus. All parties are playing on the same ball park, although someone is mistaken in a point of application.

Brother Smith, please let me insert a point of comparison here and then I will return to the marriage discussion. During the years when the institutional issues were being studied, thrashed, and sorted out, some valid issues gradually came into focus in addition to the church support of human institutions. For instance, some brethren differed on whether the church could help alien sinners out of the treasury in certain situations. Also, other brethren who agreed such could not be done differed vigorously on whether this particular issue should be included as a proposition in public debates with the liberals. As you know, the liberals preferred to spotlight this question and ignore the institutional and centralization issues when possible, which helped to create an emotional smokescreen and diversion, from their viewpoint. Also, some shrewd liberals tried to create diversions from debate of the practices which involved them in a quagmire of no-patternism, which was so difficult for them to defend. When pressed on their fellowship halls, recreational programs, and gyms, they wanted to spotlight some side issue like whether the preacher could keep a coffee pot in his office and eat his lunch in the building. If I am not mistaken, Gary Workman has tried some of these tactics on you. These liberals have repeatedly predicted that the antis would split and splinter into a thousands warring sects because of such differences among ourselves as are mentioned in this paragraph. We have not done so. Because of our common commitment and constant appeal to the authority of Scripture, we have gradually sorted out these matters and actually drawn closer together in the process. Division from the liberals was inevitable because their commitment and appeal to Scripture was growing openly weaker and weaker.

Division from brethren like Glenn Lovelady, Olan Hicks, Jack Freeman, and Jerry Bassett is inevitable because they are drifting further and further from the fundamental principles of Bible authority. They will deny it, but observation proves it. They have already reached the point where they can justify any and all subsequent marriages after divorce for any and all causes. More and more they openly appeal to the silence of Scripture rather than to positive divine authority. Some of them are flirting with endorsing polygamy. Others openly practice worldliness. On and on it goes!

Brethren who are sincerely committed to the authority of Scripture and who oppose these apostate movements on divorce and remarriage are still studying, thrashing, and sorting out some points. Some of our enemies in these apostate movements and some of their apologists proclaim that we will split and splinter into a thousand warring sects. They would like nothing better than to prod us into internal wars which would take the spotlight and pressure off of them. Here is what they do not understand: Because of our common commitment and constant appeal to the authority of Scripture, we will gradually resolve these matters and draw closer together in the process.

For instance, brethren currently differ on some points of application in the following case. A. When a man drives his wife out by beating her or otherwise endangering her life, must she stay in that home until he kills her? Some say YES, citing the permanent nature of marriage; some say NO, pointing to other Bible principles such as the right to protect and preserve life. No one advocates a change in the principle given by Jesus; each is trying to properly apply the principle to a given case. (My judgment is NO. I would be interested in your thoughts on the point.) B. When he thus drives her out, if he then commits fornication, does she have the grounds to scripturally put him away? Some say YES, believing that the one exception comes into play in spite of complicating circumstances; some say NO, because the fornication did not precede his driving her out. No one advocates a change in the principle given by Jesus; each is trying to properly apply the principle to a given case. (My judgment is YES, but it is only a judgment and I make that clear if I express it at all. Please give me your thoughts on the point.) C. In such a case (or in any other case), must she sue for divorce on the ground of adultery on the legal papers? Some say YES, believing that it must be spelled out in the courts; some say NO, believing it can be on the ground of adultery in terms of divine law, no matter what is recorded on legal papers. No one advocates a change in the principle given by Jesus; each is trying to properly apply the principle to a given case. (My judgment is NO; I will be glad to consider what you think.)

D. Suppose the man who drives his wife out and who commits fornication during the separation, also initiates civil proceedings for divorce (before his wife gets to the courthouse; or, because she cannot afford the legal costs; is it essential that she counter sue?). Since the court will grant him the civil decree, does the wife have grounds to scripturally put him away? Some say YES, citing the immoral and unscriptural conduct of the man; some just as conscientiously say NO, believing the man’s action precludes the wife having the right to act. No one advocates a change in the principle given by Jesus; each is trying to properly apply the principle to a given case. (My judgment is YES, and when or if I express it, I make it plain that it is a judgment, not binding on the conscience of anyone as law. I realize a judgment must be made on such matters because Jesus did not take up all the possible scenarios and circumstances which might arise under the heading of the premise he gave. I am willing to consider any different view. Please give me your thoughts on the point.)

E. I realize this raises the related and controverted question about whether any woman who has been legally divorced (rather than obtaining the civil decree herself) has scriptural grounds to remarry. A woman asked me (and said she had asked other gospel preachers the same question) about her case. Because of her husband’s repeated acts of incest, she initiated a divorce proceeding against him in the state of her residence; he had left home and lived in another state long enough to be considered a legal resident, and initiated a divorce proceeding against her in the state of his residence. His case proceeded through the courts sooner than hers; he was granted the divorce and her case became moot. Did she have scriptural grounds to remarry? Some say YES, believing that God’s law overrules human law in such cases; some say NO, believing that she has the misfortune of being a put-away person, precluding her right to remarry. No one advocates a change in the principle given by Jesus; each is trying to properly apply the principle to a given case. (My judgment is that she could remarry, but it is only a judgment; I urged her to reach her own conclusion based upon her own study. I am interested in what you would say.)

5. After explaining the alternative views of equally conscientious brethren on such matters, I always urge people to study for themselves and to reach a conclusion based upon their personal study of Scripture. I have offered to share additional study materials providing both sides of the question. I have invited anyone in the audience to offer additional comments. I have also pointed out that I do not know for sure what I might do in some such circumstances . Where our soul is involved, we should be extremely careful and cautious.

Other such questions involving a conscientious struggle to properly apply a principle, rather than advocating a change of the principle, have come up all through the years and will continue to do so. I do not propose to be an arbiter for all such cases, and I know you don’t either, in spite of the fact that our enemies in these apostate movements caricature us as making such claims.

I want you to know that I try to be very cautious when answering these spin-off and complicated questions. Some of these variations mentioned above rarely ever come up in a public context. More often, I have asked preachers in whom I have confidence to discuss such matters with me for my own private study, generally mature men such as H.E. Phillips, Connie W. Adams, yourself (when you lived here in the area), and others of various viewpoints. I continue from time to time to seek out opportunities for such study with mature men, even when I know they may differ slightly with me in some point of application, and have arranged such an opportunity while travelling in one of my upcoming meetings. If it turns out you disagree with something in this letter, I would be glad for us to sit down together with our Bibles open to study further whenever our paths cross. Usually, I ask brethren to send me any additional materials they come across on either side of the question in the future. There is not much available on some of these points. I have never been able to devote a great deal of time to all of these points which I would like to understand better because of the pressure of so many other duties. (I often feel like the man whose schedule of what to do next was determined by which brushfire was catching his pants leg on fire at the moment! I know your schedule is similar.) But I am interested in any point which needs more study, and ask you to remember me when you find material which you think is worthy of additional study.

As you know, men such as Glenn Lovelady, Olan Hicks, Jerry Bassett, Jack Freeman, and some of their apologists charge that because we are still studying and sorting out some points, we have only two options: Either we must embrace them in some kind of perpetual unity-in-diversity, or else we are doomed to divide over every single point over which we may have even temporary differences and which we are still studying. Freeman tried this ploy during our debate and Hicks constantly uses it in his paper (and doubtless used it in his debates with you). I have been working off and on on an article which may be entitled something like "Are We Doomed to Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?" It is an effort to show that division is inevitable when brethren openly repudiate the principle given by Jesus and substitute an appeal to something else, but we have not divided while maintaining an appeal to a common principle of truth and differing only on some occasional point of application. This common commitment and appeal to the authority of Scripture causes us to constantly test ourselves and one another, so that in this process we gradually come closer and closer together. As you know, every apostate movement (Christian Church, premillennial, liberal, and divorce-remarriage apostates) has made the false claim that we must embrace them or explode into nothing ourselves. I believe we can scripturally answer this ploy. If and when such an article is completed, I would like to ask you to read it and give me any advice, criticism, or suggestion you can offer.

Through the years, the liberals have tried different tactics to drive wedges of division among the hated antis, in an effort to get the pressure of truth off of themselves. We have not divided because of our common commitment to the authority of God’s Word. The liberals have wished and hoped that we would divide over some "fine points" of application on the use of the church building, such as funerals and weddings in the building.

The division at Lake Jackson over that issue was tragic, but I will always believe that the careful and cautious way in which you conducted yourself avoided a more widespread division, which would have delighted the liberals and diverted attention from their apostasy. You did not allow the Jordans to use Glenn Burt to prod you into debate, but neither did you refuse to discuss the issue with courtesy and dignity when honest brethren had questions. The result was that a faction pulled off from the church, but beyond that the matter was defused so that needless disruption did not spread. In spite of the implications left by some who tried to prod you into a general public controversy, your conduct did not show cowardice or compromise but rather it showed strength, self-control, and character. I realize there are times when we cannot avoid a battle to preserve some principle of truth which is under constant attack, but I also learned from the careful way you handled yourself in Lake Jackson that there are times when we can avoid needless bloodshed over some "fine point" in the application of a common principle of truth among brethren who are committed to the authority of God’s Word. If we can keep the right attitude toward truth and toward one another, we can avoid playing into the hands of our enemies. I am trying to remember from your example in facing various issues through the years that there is a time when all-out war cannot be avoided but there is also a time when war should be avoided among brethren who are sincerely committed to the authority of God’s Word.

If there is any point of application on the marriage question which you think I need to reconsider, I will prayerfully study and consider it. I will not be seeking any pretext to go to war with you over the matter. I know your commitment to the authority of God’s Word in all matters is as deep and sincere as my own. I know that anything you have to offer will be designed to help me and not to hurt me in any way. I will try to be especially careful in my attitude and conduct toward you to avoid anything which could play into the hands of our enemies among these apostate leaders on divorce and remarriage. They would like nothing better than to see the pages of Gospel Truths and the Guardian of Truth filled with a royal battle between the two of us. They will be sorely disappointed because I have not one iota of desire to create a public battle with you. Those who promote the "positive philosophy" would also like to see a royal tangle between the two of us so as to caricature us as a couple of negative "legalists" and "sore heads" who can’t get along with anyone. This would divert attention away from your excellent effort to expose their errors and thus get the heat off of them. Be assured that I plan for them to be equally disappointed.

You have been my brother, friend, and helper for these many years. I can assure you I have no intention of trying to wound you when you call to my attention any point or any material which you believe I need to study.

Brother Smith, I have gone into all these details because of my love and respect for you. Both of us came from a background which required us to make changes in reference to institutional liberalism, changes we were not ashamed to make because of our honest commitment to the authority of Scripture. I do not believe either of us have weakened that commitment through the years, but rather it has grown stronger in our hearts. If we continue to have any difference in application of the principle Jesus gave on marriage, I truly believe that the process of time and study can gradually bring us closer together because we share an unalterable commitment to the authority of God’s Word in all matters. Any further thoughts or observations you may have about these matters will be greatly appreciated and prayerfully considered.

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