By Harry R. Osborne
On the plane ride from Berlin to Vilnius, Steve Wallace, Kieran Murphy and I discussed what we needed to do in order to effectively teach the gospel in Lithuania. We all agreed that the most important thing we needed to do was avoid answering Bible questions with “I think” or “I believe” instead of turning to a Bible passage and letting it answer the question. In every study, all of us repeatedly pointed out that our opinions did not matter, but God’s word is what each of us needs to obey because it is always true.
People noticed the difference and mentioned it to us. They saw that our interest was in what the Bible says, not in man’s teaching. They also were able to see that the Bible clearly answers every question we may have in spiritual matters.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses” & Clarity of Truth
About the second week we were set up on the square in Vilnius, we had several so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” come by each day. As each one failed to sustain his doctrine, another was sent the next day. Finally, we had two Russian speaking women who were Jehovah’s Witnesses come to give it a try. We began by discussing the deity of Christ and as we did a crowd gathered around. I used a Russian interpreter to speak through and handed a Russian Bible to several in the crowd who read verses like John 1: 1-3, Philippians 2:5-8 and Hebrews 1. I asked people in the crowd what these verses said and they answered that the verses taught Jesus was deity as he existed in heaven and on earth, not an angel as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach.
The two Jehovah’s Witnesses women tried to negate the clear force of the Bible teaching by saying, “The Bible is not for everyone because it cannot be understood.” Though very few American Jehovah’s Witnesses will admit it, this is their doctrine. The Watchtower teaches that one will come closer to God by following its teaching than by just studying the Bible. Why? They claim that the Bible cannot be understood.
When these two women came up with this rebuttal, I turned in the Russian Bible to Ephesians 5:17 and had one in the crowd read it. All of them nodded and whispered in agreement, obviously understanding that the verse clearly refuted these women’s doctrine. I asked another person to read aloud 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and the crowd responded the same way. The women left unwilling to change their view, but unable to answer the Bible’s clear teaching. We were able to invite all in the crowd to our Bible lectures and to study more with several as a result of them seeing that the Bible can and must be understood.
Russian Soldiers’ Questions on Divorce & Remarriage
Vilnius was home to the old Soviet Military Academy which was the counterpart to West Point in this country. We had an opportunity to meet and study the Bible with 16 of the cadets. At the beginning of each study, we would give a Bible to each cadet to use for the evening’s study. Our communication was always through an interpreter since none of us knew very much of the other’s language. During one of the studies, a cadet asked, “Suppose a man divorced his wife and married another woman. What does God think of this?” I responded by asking if he was speaking of a divorce because the wife committed fornication or because of some other reason. He replied that he was speaking of a divorce where no fornication was involved. Following our usual procedure, I asked the young men to read Matthew 19:3-9. The point at which each read the ninth verse was obvious as they said, “Oh,” and nodded their head.
The young cadet who had asked the question said through the interpreter, “Yes, that is very clear.” Before he could continue to another thought, I had the interpreter ask him to explain what the passage said in answer to his question. The young man replied, “It says that anyone who divorces his wife for any reason except her fornication cannot marry another woman.” I followed up by asking him what the man must do if he divorced his wife for a cause other than fornication and married another woman. He responded, “He must get out of that marriage.” Wanting a little more information, I asked under what circumstances would God approve of a man marrying another woman while his first wife still lived. He answered, “Only if the man divorced his wife because she committed fornication.” When I asked if all of them understood the same thing from their reading, they all said, “Da” (the Russian word for “yes”). I asked if it was clear and again they replied, “Da.”
Brethren, how is it that a group of young men who had obviously never read Matthew 19:3-9 could understand it so clearly while some of our brethren have a difficult time with it? Ed Harrell has repeatedly told us in Christianity Magazine that Christ’s doctrine on divorce and remarriage lacks clarity, thus we should accept those who teach various errors on the subject. Samuel Dawson in his new tract “Fellowship on Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage” makes the same claim. A host of others, several in our Houston area, have taken the same position. Honestly, how hard is it to understand these words?
And I say unto you, Whosoever shallput away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she isput away committeth adultery (Matt. 19:9).
If Ed Harrell, Sam Dawson and the others who have problems cannot understand that, I think I have the solution. Maybe they should switch to the Russian Synodal version – it seems easy enough for 16 young men who had never read the verse to understand without any problem!
Actually, the problem is obviously not the translation. The English is also easy to understand. The problem is that too many of our brethren have been reading and listening to the erroneous teaching of Homer Hailey, Jerry Bassett, Don Bassett, W.L. Wharton, Jim Puterbaugh, Lowell Williams, Don Givens and others rather than the Word of God. Those young cadets had not listened to the confused and contradictory teachings of those in error – they just read the verse! For those who love the truth and are content to follow it, the Bible text is clear. For those who will justify error and go beyond the teaching of Christ, an abundance of words will be needed to show why the Bible does not really mean what it says. I am glad those young cadets had not read the volumes of error recently published by those who would promote false doctrine.
I am also glad they had not read Christianity Magazine with its justification and continued recommendation of those who teach such errors. The publication has carried repeated articles denying the clarity of Christ’s teaching regarding divorce and remarriage. If anyone on the staff currently disagrees, they have done an excellent job in keeping such quiet. It is past time for brethren to stand solidly upon the foundation of Christ’s clear teaching on the subject and cease defending mere men who oppose and pervert that teaching! May God help us once more to place our trust in his plainly revealed will and not in men.
What About Creativity?
Another of the Russian cadets asked, “Maybe God wanted us to be creative with the Bible rather than just following it exactly. What do you think?” I asked them to turn to Revelation 22:18-19 and read it. After reading it, the rest of the young men looked at the questioner and laughed as they said, “Nyet” (the Russian word for “no”). They had no trouble seeing that God’s word is an exact pattern for us to follow (2 Tim. 1:13). They did not argue that we are free to act where the Bible is silent, that we should do many things for which there is no Bible authority or ask for a “new hermeneutic.” The Bible answered their question because they were content with its teaching (1 Pet 4:11).
Our liberal brethren would do well to figure out that God did not mean us to be creative with his pattern for the church either. In the fifties, they began to create sponsoring churches and institutions and added them on to God’s divine pattern. In the sixties, they added their social gospel extras. In the seventies, they made all of the above bigger and better as their creativity abounded. Now they have gymnasiums to rival the best of the denominations, sponsoring churches to subject every church in America under the centralized scheme of “One Nation Under God,” a modern missionary society which they call “World Bible School,” and many more of their creative wonders. After seeing the monster built by their growing creativity, some among them like Wayne Jackson and the Spiritual Sword crowd are now crying that it has gone too far. They are right! It went too far when they swallowed and justified the first creative addition with the Herald of Truth. Their protests have a hollow ring in the fancy gymnasiums to which they served as the creative forefathers.
The truth was not made too difficult for anyone to understand. Simple people can read the Bible and readily comprehend the answers to their spiritual questions. The more we taught people in Lithuania who had never studied the Bible, the more apparent that fact became. When we read the words of the apostles delivered by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can understand the truth just as the apostles did (Eph. 3:1-4). After all, the work of the Spirit was to reveal the truth, not conceal it. God has done his part in revealing truth and man must do his part in understanding that truth (Eph. 5:17).
Similarly, it does not take a PhD to figure out the will of God regarding issues which separate brethren (though it may take one to miss it). The problem among brethren today is not a lack of clarity in God’s truth, but a lack of obedience to it by people. We are in a dangerous time where some brethren are perverting the truth, others are practicing ungodliness and still others are trying to justify one or both of those groups by blaming God’s word for lacking clarity. Those who preach such will one day stand before the God they so accuse and will find that the problem was not his lack of clarity. Brethren, let us back up and see the real problem and resolve it in the way God clearly prescribes (2 Jn. 9-11; Rom. 16:17).
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 19, pp. 582-583
October 1, 1992