Fellowship and the Divorce And Remarriage Issue

By Mike Willis

Several articles have appeared in a journal circulating among faithful brethren which have discussed fellowship and the divorce and remarriage issue. The articles are important because of the stance taken that Jesus’ law of divorce and remarriage is to be placed in the category of Romans 14 rather than 2 John 9. The position that aliens are not amenable to Christ’s law of divorce and remarriage is not the kind of matters under discussion in Romans 14. Although the author expressed his disagreement with the view that aliens are not amenable he also stated that brethren who teach differently should be received into fellowship on. the grounds of Romans 14.

An extended series of articles on fellowship in which the divorce and remarriage issue is placed in the realm of Romans 14 is in progress. Because of the public nature of the teaching, a private statement of disagreement will not counter the public dissemination of the view that the divorce and remarriage issue belongs in the category of Romans 14.

Is the Doctrine Harmful?

The author places the doctrine that alien sinners are not amenable to the Lord’s law of divorce and remarriage in the same category as the covering, conscientious objector and wedding-in-the-church building issues. The doctrine may be stated like this: the alien sinner is not amenable to the teachings of Matthew 19:9; consequently, he can divorce and remarry for any reason prior to his baptism and keep the mate to whom he is married when he is baptized. This, we are told, is in the same category as the covering issue, conscientious objector issue, and wedding-in-the-church building issue.

I sincerely doubt that our good brother can emotionally or scripturally defend his placing all of these issues in the same category. Would our brother be equally upset if he had a non-Christian daughter coming to the services veiled (or unveiled, depending upon what he believes), choosing to have a wedding in the church building, and entering a second marriage after a divorce for some reason other than fornication? I think not! But, why not? If these all belong in the same category, he should feel the same about each of them. I suggest that emotionally he does not put these in the same category.

Secondly, I suggest that scripturally they do not belong in the same category. The person who violates Matthew 19:9 is an adulterer, guilty of a sin which keeps one out of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19) and out of the fellowship of the saints (1 Cor. 5). Will wearing or not wearing a veil do the same for a woman? Will having a wedding in a church building do the same? I deny that wearing or not wearing a veil and having or not having a wedding in a church building makes a person guilty of sin.

The article described the teaching that alien sinners are not amenable to the Lord’s law of divorce and remarriage as “the minority view.” It reminded us that there are six or seven different positions held by brethren on the subject of divorce and remarriage. Is the purpose of this statement to imply that the truth of God on the subject of divorce and remarriage is so ambiguous that we cannot determine what is right and wrong? Therefore, we should be tolerant of opposing views on the subject.

I remind our readers that the same apostle who wrote Romans 14 also wrote the following:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Rom. 16:17).

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself (Tit. 3:10-11).

Who Is a False Teacher?

Our brother assured us that a man is not a false teacher unless he is one who has dishonest motives. In so doing, he made statements which opened gates so wide that even he would not accept the logical conclusions of his premises. He said, “Must we label every person who disagrees with us a false teacher, unworthy of fellowship? . . . . The end of such thinking is rampant factionalism.” This raises questions, but offers no answers.

“Must we label every person who disagrees with us a false teacher, unworthy of fellowship?” The answer is obviously, “No.” This raises another question: “Must we label any person who disagrees with us a false teacher, unworthy of fellowship?” The answer is equally obvious, “Yes.” What determines the difference? Our brother did not say.

Rather, he assured, “A false teacher is surely one whose dishonest motives and/or ignorance distinguish him from the sincere brother who has reached an erroneous conclusion.” The difference between a false teacher and a sincere brother who has reached an erroneous conclusion is his motive, attitude, and disposition. If that is the case, I cannot identify a false teacher without being able to discern his heart and 1 Corinthians 2:11 states that a man cannot know the heart of another man. The position espoused in the article changes a false teacher from one who teaches a doctrine which will lead one’s soul to hell to one with a sinful attitude of heart!

Those who led the church into church support of human institutions (missionary societies, benevolent societies, colleges, hospitals, etc.) were men of honorable reputation. Men like Alexander Campbell, J.B. Briney, Batsell Barrett Baxter, and others were men whose character was impeccable. Their character did not deter the impact of their teaching. They were false teachers on the subjects at issue, despite their moral character.

Many of our Baptist friends have impeccable character. Their doctrine of baptism is wrong, regardless of the moral character of the one teaching it. Those who follow the false teachings of a sincerely wrong “blind guide” will be just as lost as those who follow the teachings of one who willfully perverts the teachings of Christ (Matt. 15:14).

Long-Term Consequences

The article plainly asserts that the doctrinal position that alien sinners are not amenable to Jesus’ law of divorce and remarriage (with the consequence that alien sinners who have divorced for some reason other than fornication, and remarried can be baptized and continue living with their mates) should be tolerated among us. This is the most serious issue from this series of articles. It is an issue which must be addressed. Long after revered brethren whose doctrine is under review have gone the way of all the earth, having passed from the scene of life and gone to face the Creator, those who are divorcing their mates for causes other than fornication will continue in their rebellion against the divine word of God. Those who are teaching that God’s law in Matthew 19:9 does not apply to alien sinners will continue to have their influence, bringing into the church those who have divorced and remarried for every reason. Those who teach that “adultery” in Matthew 19:9 is the act of divorcing and can be corrected by a public confession followed by the continuance of the second or third marriage will continue to have their influence. Christians will divorce and remarry for reasons other than fornication, make a confession that they violated their marriage covenant, and continue living with their next mate. Are these views and those who teach them (such as Olan Hicks, Roy Hall, etc.) to be accepted? Are these differences on a par with the covering issue and conscientious objector issue? The articles on fellowship logically lead to that conclusion. With this, I find myself in serious disagreement.

The issue is not one man, even one very respected man. Unfortunately one man became the focal point because some of his public and private teachings were believed and practiced. The result was division – schism, factionalism -in a local church. We sincerely hope that his teachings do not produce that result again, but they will produce that result wherever this doctrine on divorce and remarriage is taught and practiced.

For this reason, we call for brethren to open their Bibles. Bring out every passage which deals with the subject and let us openly discuss the issue until the truth shines clearly, having been learned from the crucible of controversy. While this is being done, let us be careful to conduct ourselves as brethren in love with the Lord and his children.

We are not afraid of controversy. Truth has nothing to fear. What we fear most is an attitude that believes that false doctrine should not be challenged if it is taught by a prominent man! What we fear is a pulpit, bulletin, or paper which is closed to the expression of disagreement. That, my brethren, is the spirit which leads to sectarianism!

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 15, pp. 450, 461
August 3, 1989