Fellowship and the Divorce and Remarriage Issue

Mike Willis
Danville, Indiana

In recent years, the divorce and remarriage issue has become an issue receiving much attention among us. This has occurred because several brethren have begun publicly teaching matters long believed but held as private opinions. The issue came to a head after brother Homer Hailey preached in Belen, NM (March 1988) his long held conviction that God's marriage law applied only to citizens of the kingdom. Later he published his book on the same subject, titled The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God (1991). During the same period of time, brother Jerry Bassett published his book Rethinking Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (1991). Their false doctrines were immediately answered by several competent brethren.

As the issue was discussed among us, another group of brethren began teaching that the divorce and remarriage issue should not be made a test of fellowship. These brethren stated that they disagreed with those who took a loose view on divorce and remarriage but did not believe that this issue should be pressed to the point of fellowship. Consequently, preachers who take the "unity in diversity" approach to fellowship on the divorce and remarriage issue preach in churches which teach and practice what they admit to be unscriptural doctrinal on divorce and remarriage without rebuking the sinful conduct or unscriptural doctrine. In many respects this looser view of fellowship is a more dangerous doctrine than is the loose view of divorce and remarriage. If unity in diversity will work with reference to divorce and remarriage, why won't it work on institutionalism, the sponsoring church, premillennialism, instrumental music in worship, water baptism, the deity of Christ, a whole range of moral issues, and any other doctrine revealed in God's word? None of my brethren who have appealed for unity in diversity on the marriage question is willing to make application of the principles to the issues mentioned above, but there is no logical reason not to.

A variety of defenses have been offered to teach unity in diversity on the various views of divorce and remarriage. They include, but may not be limited to, the following: (a) it is just like the war question; (b) everyone practices unity in diversity; (c) the issue is not clearly revealed; (d) the teacher is good, honest and sincere and, therefore, is not a false teacher; (e) Romans 14 teaches that we should receive one another in such matters; (f) pressing this issue will lead to endless divisions; (g) we need to recognize the difference between important and unimportant issues. Many of our readers will recognize these arguments as the very arguments made by Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, and Edward Fudge in their teaching unity in diversity during the 1970s. Not everyone who has made one of these arguments would embrace the extremes of the Ketcherside movement. Too, we understand that brethren will differ on when enough time has passed for study of an issue before fellowship is broken (see 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6). Each brother must be allowed room to exercise his own conscience in such matters. But the issue of unity in diversity is not dead; it has manifested itself again in another place.

Because of the importance of this issue, we have assembled this special edition of Guardian of Truth to addresss the subject of fellowship as it pertains to divorce and remarriage. I am confident you will benefit from the study of this issue.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 1, 35
January 2, 1992