A New Work Begins in the Seattle, Washington Area
A new congregation recently started in the Seattle, Washington area. The Puget Sound Eastside church of Christ is now meeting at the home of James and Frances Fleming (13244 Lake Kathleen Road S.E., Renton, Washington 98059-7211; phone 206-271-0778). This is the way many New Testament churches began (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2). Plans are being made for a meeting place to rent. The four families that comprise the church at this time have a strong determination to teach and practice the whole counsel of God. These brethren would appreciate anyone contacting them who has friends or family in the Seattle area who would like to study the Bible.
The new work became necessary as a result of error regarding divorce and remarriage which has been widely taught and practiced in that area (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Two of the families came out of the Renton congregation where brother Darrell Beane, in a nine lesson series, justified the right of a spouse put away for fornication to marry another mate. (Brother Beane's material was also presented to other congregations in the area including the Kirkland church where Lowell Williams preaches.) The elders at Renton made it clear that they would not tolerate those opposing their stand through public or private teaching. In addition to the teaching, the congregation continued to have fellowship with a man who wrecked his home by committing adultery against his first wife and later married the second woman without any disciplinary action being taken. Compare this with the words of Paul:
I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world: but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
The first wife who is a fine Christian and her children left behind through this man's infidelity were at the meeting almost every night. The little boy even asked me why God had not helped them. If God's truth had been taught, he might never have had to ask that question. It was heart-breaking to see this shattered family as a nightly reminder of the pain caused by adultery and those who would justify it.
Another family had to leave the Kent congregation as the result of that church's decision to receive a woman who had been put away for her fornication in her subsequent marriage to another mate. Jesus did not approve of such marriages (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-9; Gen. 2:24). However, one of the elders of the church even performed the ceremony for the unlawful marriage.
I also have a tape in which brother Jim Puterbaugh teaches error on divorce and remarriage in a class to some brethren in the Issaquah congregation by redefining "adultery" to refer to the legal action of divorcing and remarrying rather than a sexual sin of unlawful sexual intercourse. Examples of error taught and practiced on divorce and remarriage as well as its application to fellowship are not unusual in the Seattle area.
Since so much error has been taught regarding such subjects, I was asked by those beginning the new congregation to preach a meeting (November 1-7, 1993) with the following subjects:
Monday: The Social Gospel
Tuesday: How Shall We Now Live?
Wednesday: Who Is Amenable To The Gospel? Thursday: Jesus On Divorce & Remarriage Friday: 1 Corinthians '7: What It Teaches Saturday A.M.: Virtuous Courage
Saturday P.M.: Fellowship, Error & Romans 14 Sunday Bible Class: Pilgrim Families
Sunday A.M. Worship: Treasures: Earthly vs. Heavenly Sunday P.M: Preaching The Crucified Christ
Advertisements of the meeting included an announcement of a question and answer period to follow each lesson. Those announcements were sent to each congregation in the state of Washington as well as many others in the Northwest. Several brethren in Washington from Yakima, Sunnyside, Wennachee and Bellingham drove several hours to these studies.
The lessons on divorce and remarriage covered a great deal of material. We examined whether Jesus was merely restating the Mosaic law in his Sermon on the Mount as many in that area claim, or was announcing the principles of the gospel as the Scripture plainly declares. We examined whether Jesus' teaching on divorce being forbidden "except for fornication" in Matthew 19 constituted the same grounds given by Moses' law of "because he hath found some unseemly thing in her" in Deuteronomy 24:1 as brother Darrell Beane affirmed, or was a different law as can be plainly demonstrated from a careful examination of all passages involved. We noted the misuse of 1 Corinthians 7 when brethren abuse the text to justify various scenarios of divorce with a subsequent right of remarriage, while the passage actually never gives a right of remarriage to any divorced party in the context. In fact, the text as a whole is urging people to stay in an unmarried state. At one point, those who had divorced and were at the time "unmarried" are clearly forbidden from marrying another (1 Cor. 7:10-11). It was apparent through the week that 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 gave these brethren great trouble.
In coming months, we will examine some of these issues at greater length in other articles. The Lord willing, the next article will examine Deuteronomy 24 and its connection with Matthew 19 in greater detail. Other articles will concentrate on current efforts to redefine "adultery," Jesus' work in announcing the gospel during his earthly ministry, and several articles dealing with 1 Corinthians 7. All of these will cite and examine current error being taught regarding divorce and remarriage.
"Yellow Tag Of Quarantine" Tactics
The churches in the greater Seattle area refused to announce or support the meeting. Brother Jack Gibbert wrote one of the families in the new work stating that such teaching had been "excluded" from the area and characterized it as the equivalent of introducing "the serpent into the garden" or bringing in "the piano at Midway, Ky." He further charged that such teaching was the product of "the Eastern sectarian 'Church of Christ,'" "the typical politics of east coast `Church of Christism,"' and an "ungodly crowd." The letter filled with such attacks was read from the pulpit of the Renton church by one of the elders and posted upon the bulletin board.
During the whole week, only one preacher in the Seattle area, Ben Puterbaugh, came to discuss the issues in the forum provided. I invited brother Darrell Beane to study with me privately and to take part in the open session following the lessons. He declined both opportunities. I have sent the following signed propositions to brother Beane without response to this point:
The Scriptures teach that two people joined by God in marriage are bound for life, the only exception being that an innocent partner may put away a mate guilty of fornication and remarry (which I affirm and brother Beane will deny) and The Scriptures teach that a person who is divorced by his mate for committing fornication is free to marry another (which brother Beane will affirm and I will deny).
Brother Beane has taught his views publicly when no opportunity was given for open investigation to see "whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). We will see whether he will "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). Jesus engaged in such openly (Matt. 21 & 22). We must do the same if we are to keep the charge of God regarding correction of error in the proper spirit (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
The present climate in the Seattle area is not to provide an opportunity for open study, but to use the tactic of the Gospel Advocate and other liberal brethren during the 1950's to attach a "yellow tag of quarantine" on those who differ with the majority view. Such tactics kept many in liberal churches from hearing the issues of that time discussed so that unity could be achieved as brethren came to see and apply the truth. Attempts to exclude the truth from being heard were also used in Bible times (3 John 9-10).
During the meeting, I had lunch with brother Bill McCuistion on Sunday. He suggested that I write an article noting the fact that brethren in the area had been unwilling to openly discuss the issues and, instead, had tried to obstruct efforts to engage in open study. Brother McCuistion says that such tactics have not been used in dealing with other issues in that area and noted the fact that the lack of openness to discussion of this issue should be seen as a shame by brethren in the Northwest. We will see if they are ashamed of the exclusionary tactics or not. When brother McCuistion heard about the actions of the Kent congregation in receiving one in an unlawful marriage, he was concerned since he uses the building at Kent to conduct services with Russian speaking people in the area. The fact that churches in the Seattle area have "excluded" those who teach the truth regarding divorce and remarriage as well as its application to fellowship suggests that no one so teaching and practicing will be tolerated.
Kirkland, Lowell Williams and Don Givens
Though brother Gibbert's letter was shocking in both tone and content, an action taken by brother Lowell Williams was even more shocking since it contained a public endorsement of one not only teaching error regarding divorce and remarriage, but also involved in institutional-ism. Brother Williams informed the Kirkland congregation of the "sad" news that a new church had begun in the area and further stated that the man holding a meeting for them was guilty of causing trouble for the faithful preacher in Hawaii, Don Givens. Given the fact that brother Givens has gone so far into apostasy, it was hard to believe that brother Williams would so endorse one preaching at a liberal church.
At the invitation of several brethren in the Waipahu congregation in 1990, I traveled with Ben Shropshire, Jr., to Hawaii for studies with the brethren on the error introduced by brother Givens regarding divorce and remarriage. At that time, brother Givens had justified the acceptance of a young woman who was in an unlawful marriage, contrary to the teaching of Scripture (1 Cor. 5; Matt. 14:4). The woman was a former member of the congregation along with her first husband whom she left in order to live with another man. After some period, she married the second man and then wanted to be received again as a member of the Waipahu congregation while remaining in the second marriage.
Attempts to study the issues in the building of the Waipahu church were opposed at that time by brother Givens and another brother, but a good crowd assembled in the home of one family and the studies continued. These open studies resulted in most of the brethren being convinced that brother Givens' teaching was in error. It later became apparent to the brethren that other problems were involved (see "A Plea For Care In Using The Lord's Money," Guardian of Truth, 7 May 92, pp. 272-273). Rather than face the questions of the men, brother Givens left the Waipahu congregation and began to worship with the Honolulu Church of Christ on Keeaumoku Street, which is an institutional group.
Since that time, brother Givens has solicited other liberal churches as well as faithful congregations for sup-port to preach at the institutional church on Maui where he now preaches. In his solicitation of liberal churches, brother Givens lists liberal brethren as his references. Among those references, I quote the following from the reference list of brother Givens' appeal: "Howard Horton (Gospel Preacher; formerly Head of Bible Department, David Lipscomb University; and formerly preacher and elder at Honolulu Church of Christ)" and "Al Maxey (Minister-Honolulu Church of Christ and well acquainted with my work)." It is interesting to note that Al Maxey has not only endorsed the error of institutionalism, but is among the ultra-liberal element calling for a "New Hermeneutic" and decrying the evils of "Pattemism." Imagine the apostle Paul writing for support and giving Hymenaeus, Philetus and Alexander as his references (2 Tim. 2:16-18; 1 Tim. 1:18-20).
Is Lowell Williams prepared to accept such actions as the work of a faithful, gospel preacher? Has he taken the "unity-in-diversity" approach to fellowship so far that he is willing to endorse one involved in institutionalism? How far will he go? I have written to brother Williams about the matter and we trust his reply will answer these questions. One of two things will be apparent. If he is not ready to take the "unity-in-diversity" approach to fellowship that far, brother Williams will publicly retract his endorsement of brother Givens before the Kirkland church where it was made. If he is ready to take the "unity-in-diversity" approach to fellowship that far, brother Williams will either say so or remain silent to the inquiry. It would be interesting to see if brother Williams would be as willing to engage in a public discussion of the doctrinal teaching on fellow-ship as he is to endorse one involved in error.
Honest Hearts and Open Study
Despite the fact that many in the area discouraged open study of the issues, a good number of brethren from the area came to engage in such. Before the meeting began, it was hoped that we could have 25 present for the meetings. Toward the end of the week, we had about twice that number. Some came who had not made up their minds upon these matters. Some came to oppose the teaching done. Others stated agreement with the things taught and their desire that other congregations in the area would allow opportunities for such open studies.
It was especially encouraging for me to see brethren who wanted to take the time necessary to fully examine and discuss the subjects covered. Thursday evening's sermon, "Jesus On Divorce & Remarriage," was almost two hours in length due to the amount of material which had to be examined. After the lesson, the question and answer period lasted almost another two hours. The next two nights' lessons on "1 Corinthians 7: What It Teaches" and "Fellowship, Error & Romans 14" along with the discussion sessions also lasted well over three hours each. It speaks well of the brethren that they wanted to engage in such studies for whatever time was necessary to fully examine the truth on the subjects.
In all of the discussion periods, only one brother lost control of his temper and had to be calmed. When he was informed that we had differed in a proper spirit throughout the week with others holding his views, he acknowledged his wrong to those present and the discussion continued with a good spirit prevailing from that point unto the end. Lest anyone think that such discussions cannot be carried on without causing strife and division, we are glad to point out that discussions of differences can and do take place with proper attitudes prevailing. Such open studies pro-mote unity, not division. They foster greater love for others, not strife (Acts 15).
As mentioned previously, brother Ben Puterbaugh was present almost every evening during these studies. Ben and I disagreed with each other regarding divorce and remarriage as well as the bounds of fellowship. However, both of us parted the last night with words of appreciation for each other. I told brother Puterbaugh that I hoped we could keep in touch and continue to discuss the issues. Our discussion of differences drove no wedge between us, but provided an opportunity to begin building a bridge. During the week, I found out that Ben lost a son-in-law to cancer at about the same time I lost my brother, Bob LaCoste. As we shed a few tears together and hugged each other in our farewells, my desire for coming to unity with my brother upon the basis of truth grew more urgent in a personal sense. Brethren, if we will open our Bibles together in study, our hearts will be brought together in the process. I am more confident than ever that we can come to the unity of the Spirit on these issues if we will openly study and discuss them with proper attitudes (Eph. 4:1-
A Word Of Commendation
This new congregation was started as the result of several brethren who should be commended. Over a year ago, sister Elma Monts contacted me, asking if I knew of a faithful church in the Seattle area. When I informed her that the congregations of which I knew would not stand for the truth regarding divorce and remarriage, she related her experience to me. She had gone throughout the area to various congregations and had heard the loose views advanced. She had been told that she could not teach her convictions to others or she would be viewed as a trouble-maker. Though she understood that it would be wrong for a woman to oppose the error through public teaching, she sought opportunities to study with others privately (1 Tim. 2:12; Acts 18:26). In maintaining her proper place as a Christian woman, she not only studied with preachers and elders who were publicly defending error, but also with other brethren more willing to examine the Scriptures involved without prejudice.
In the process, she came to study with Jim and Frances Fleming who were members of the Renton congregation at that time. They were newly converted Christians who were eager to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). As they did so, they became equally convinced of our Lord's teaching regarding divorce and remarriage as well as its application in fellowship. Thus, when all opportunities for open study of the issues were cut off at Renton, they started a new congregation in the Fleming's home (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2). At the time, they did not know if anyone else would ever join with them. Though they asked preachers in the area who are supposed to believe the truth to help them, they were consistently rebuffed. Yet, their faith was such that they would not bow their knee to Baal and compromise with error (Gal. 2:5).
Since that time, John Braun moved to the area from Evansville, Indiana, and is working with the group. Brother Braun has faced a far different situation in that area than he has seen in Indiana, but is taking a courageous stand for the truth. John has become a great asset to the new congregation and did an excellent job of leading the singing during the meeting. Chris and Lisa Fisher identified themselves with the new work the week following the meeting. They had opposed the acceptance of an unlawfully married woman into the Kent congregation with whom they were laboring at that time. When the elders at Kent advocated error to justify their practice and refused to change, the Fisher's had no choice except to leave. It appears that at least one other family will do the same very soon.
These brethren are to be commended for their firm stand which has been taken in love and after being longsuffering in an attempt to reach those in error. May the Lord increase their tribe! I urge you to remember these brethren in your prayers each day and to write them a note of encouragement (Puget Sound Eastside church of Christ, P.O. Box 544, Issaquah, WA 98027-0544). It is a difficult thing to stand for the truth when enduring active persecution from those calling themselves brethren, yet opposing the truth of God's word.
A Sad But Hopeful Fact
There are a number of brethren in the various churches throughout the Seattle area who understand the truth regarding divorce and remarriage, but who remain in churches where error is not only preached, but also practiced. It was sad to hear brethren from various congregation tell me of those in unlawful marriages who were accepted into the fellowship of the congregations where they la-bored. The Bible clearly states that we cannot "receive" those who have gone on beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9) or the teacher who does not bring the true doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 10). If we do "receive" such, we partake of their "evil works" (2 Jn. 11). When one is living in an adulterous marriage, he has obviously gone beyond the doctrine of Christ. When one does not teach the truth of the doctrine of Christ to correct that sinful practice, he "bringeth not this teaching" of Christ's doctrine. How can one lawfully remain in an open-ended, on-going fellowship with such people after longsuffering has exhausted every effort to correct the error?
As bad as false doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage is in its effect of justifying those in the practice of adultery, the problem does not end there. When one sinful practice is justified, the justification of other sinful practices will follow (2 Tim. 3:13). This sad reality is a present fact which was evidenced repeatedly during my visits with brethren from various congregations in the Seattle area. Brethren related with sorrow that immodest dress had become common in several churches to the point that some were wearing shorts to services, contrary to Paul's specific instruction in the importance of women wearing modest clothing (1 Tim. 2:9-10). In one congregation where the preacher's daughters engaged in this practice, the preacher justified it with the claim that "Jesus stripped naked to wash his disciples feet," so his daughters could surely wear shorts. I was asked whether brethren should withdraw from a Christian who was living with someone outside of marriage and then informed that some elders in the area refused to rebuke those in such situations. While we are not intending to make a blanket condemnation of every church and preacher in Washington, the number and nature of errors being tolerated were utterly shocking!
All of us recognize the need for longsuffering as we try to bring others to the way of truth (I Thess. 5:14). All of us recognize the need for gentleness in correcting brethren in sin and error (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). I know of no one who has urged brethren to cease immediately working with those teaching some error or practicing some sin, and to leave in a storm of fury. However, these principles do not suggest that one must remain in an on-going, continuous fellowship with those who continue to teach error and practice sin after repeatedly rejecting the truth and cutting off opportunities for open study of doctrinal differences. When the truth is so rejected, one has no choice except to apply the solution given in Scripture (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; 2 Jn. 9-11).
In the Seattle area, brethren who believe the truth of our Lord's teaching about divorce and remarriage, yet find themselves in churches whose teaching and practice differ from that truth, need to make some serious decisions about when longsuffering ends and compromise with error be-gins. It is clear that open study is not allowed in these churches, but error is being actively promoted. My prayer is that they will have the courage to stand with others who oppose error and uphold truth.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 24, p. 10-13