By Warren E. Berkley
As a boy, I still remember brother Cecil Douthitt warning brethren about apostasy and false doctrine. One thing that stays in my memory is this: Brother Douthitt often remarked: “In every specimen of false doctrine, the false teacher – on some point – is missing or ignoring some basic concept of Bible authority.”
I was reminded of this recently, listening to Ron Halbrook and Jack Freeman debate the matter of remarriage. Both in Las Vegas, and in West Columbia, Texas, brother Freeman made this argument (stated in his words, as best as I can recall): “Find the scripture… find just one Bible example … of an apostle or inspired man telling a married couple to separate as a part of their gospel obedience.”
Brother Douthitt was right, certainly in the case of this false teacher. Brother Freeman’s premise is this: There must be a specific example of every act of repentance. Thus, since there is no specific example (after Acts 2) of an inspired man telling or requiring a couple to separate, Freeman wants to conclude: There is no authority for this requirement, and we cannot tell anyone this today.
He is stumbling over a basic concept of authority; and he is arguing in favor of his proposition on the basis of silence. But let’s begin with . . .
What Is Repentance?
When the apostles and inspired men urged repentance, they often used the word metanoeo. How did the alien sinners in the first century understand this? What did the word signify to them? Consider the following authorities:
Robinson: “In a religious sense, implying sorrow for unbelief and sin, and turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (p. 458, Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament).
Clark: “That his mind, purposes, opinions, and inclinations, are changed; and that, in consequence, there is a total change in his conduct” (p. 50, Vol. V, Commentary).
Lard: “Repentance denoted our mental determination to forsake sin, resulting in the actual abandonment of it” (p.76, Commentary on Romans).
Vines: “To change one’s mind or purpose, always, in the N.T., involving a change for the better, an amendment” (p,280, Vol. 111, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Hence, when the apostles and inspired men are telling alien simmers the requirements of obedience, they used a word which means the actual abandonment of sin … change in conduct … amendment … a turning from sinful involvements. This is what the word meant in the vocabulary of the day, when the apostles were proclaiming the gospel. I mean to say – it was understood in the very word the preachers used, that all sinful involvements were to cease. I deny and call for proof, therefore, that every specific evil practice or wrong relationship had to be specified: “You’ll have to quit this … leave this situation… stop doing this … quit thinking this way … stop committing fornication.”
In the general command to repent, conveyed to alien sinners with a word that communicated abandonment of sinful involvements, there is the authority to require such abandonment today . . . for any transgression of God’s law.
When people enter into marriages with parties they are forbidden by God to marry (see Matt. 5:32; Matt. 19:9) and afterward repent and wish fellowship with God, and the local church – what does repentance require? The same thing that repentance of any sinful involvement requires: the abandonment of the sinful involvement. Specific examples of every possible case of abandonment are not necessary.
That brings me to the aspect of authority, mentioned in the introduction.
Demanding Specific Authority
It seems to be the thinking of some, that if the Bible does not deal with a matter in explicit, specific terms, we have freedom to act; silence is approached as permission.
I’m thankful my children do not approach my authority like this. I have never, for example, specifically and explicitly dealt with the matter of writing checks, knowing you do not have sufficient funds in the bank. I have endeavored to teach my children principles of honesty, and I have taught them against theft; I have even identified theft and dishonesty as transgressions of God’s law. Still, I’ve not specified every act that would fall in these categories. Nevertheless, my children do not interpret my silence (on the subject of deliberate, deceitful overdrafts) as permission to write hot checks.
Likewise, the apostles and inspired men did not deal explicitly with every imaginable form of sin that was to be abandoned. What they did was, to convict people of sin; define and identify sin . . . and then, tell people to repent, and they used a word that meant the abandonment of sinful practices.
Jack Freeman and others are making the argument since you cannot produce a passage or example of an apostle or inspired man telling a couple to separate, such separation is not authorized. They are doing what many before them have done; they are desecrating the sanctity of God’s silence. In controversy over a whole multitude of issues (from instrumental music to church sponsored activities) this old argument has been dusted off and used. Gospel preachers have repeatedly shown – when God speaks nothing, this silence must be honored by man; not used as permission (see Heb. 7:13,14). (In the Freeman-Halbrook debate, brother Halbrook made this very point; but it was never answered by brother Freeman. Ron also cited 1 Cor. 6:9-11 as teaching the necessity to sever wrong relationships.)
But it should be noted, this door Freeman opens is wider than the remarriage issue.
Filling In The Blank
Freeman’s case is this: If you can’t find where an inspired man told people to cease ___________, then that practice or relationship can be continued in, with impunity after baptism. Now, Freeman filled in the blank: A Marriage Relationship Entered Into, Without Scriptural Basis. But, the argument cannot be limited to this! Anything else can be put in this blank, and if you can’t find a passage where an inspired man told people to cease _______________ that shows (in Freeman’s reasoning) that _______________ can be continued in after baptism.
Do you know what this agrument would prove? If accepted, this agrument would prove the following things could be continued after baptism: Homosexuality (no specific example of any inspired man telling two homosexuals to break up); car theft (no specific example of any inspired man telling a car thief to give the car back); bestiality (no specific example of an inspired man telling a man to cease that vile iniquity!). The door Freeman opens, for accepting people unscripturally remarried is also open to accept homosexuals, thieves, and others. All that is necessary to accept them is this: not having a specific example where an inspired man told someone not to do the thing. Freeman would deny this, but I’m pressing his argument to the logical outcome.
When the apostles enjoined repentance as a condition of pardon, I do not envision that they took each person aside and gave him specific instructions: “you will have to stop this . . . You, sir, will have to quit this job . . . You folks will need to separate … Mr. Thief, you will need to return the goods you’ve taken, and make just restitution.” Had this been done, the book of Acts would be a monumental volume, many times larger than the New Testament itself. In some cases this may have been necessary (Acts 14:15). But I beleive when people were convicted of sin, and as they understood God’s moral law, they knew they couldn’t continue in sin. They knew what the word “repent” entailed (see Acts 19:19). And they were given these admonitions, in passages like: Romans 6:1ff; 13:11-14; Galatains 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:1ff; 1 Peter 4:2-4; 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1; etc. In these passages, some sins are listed, and there are some general terms that cover several practices (“all uncleanness,” and “and such like”). The point is this: on the strength of this teaching, people with good and honest hearts knew that their involvements in sin had to cease.
In the excellent book, Is It Lawful? brother Bob Waldron well states the case: “As children of God, our responsibility is to understand the will of God without prejudice and to apply it without partiality. The statement is made,’Well, where in the Bible was anyone ever told to leave a husband or wife?’ In Ezra’s day, when people were found in marriages which did not have God’s approval, Ezra told them to put their wives away. He did not say, ‘You know , we are going to have a lot of trouble over this unless we change our position.’ Erza had the idea that men do not make the Bible conform to their lives; rather, he felt that lives must be conformed to the Bible. The wives were put away (Ezra 9-10). The man who was unscripturally married at Corinth certainly was not given the option of continuing to live with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). There were Christians at Corinth who had been homosexuals (1 Cor. 6:9). Did they have to give up their homosexual relationships? All would say, ‘Yes.’ Yet no specific example is found where they were required to do so by some church. With all the examples given in the scripture of what to do about sin, it was not necessary to say specifically that fornicators must cease fornicating, homosexuals must stop their homosexuality, and adulterers must give up their adultery” (Is It Lawful?, pp. 136-137).
May God help us to receive the word of the message; receive it as the “word of God,” and “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 4:11).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, pp. 366-367
June 21, 1990