By Harry R. Osborne
For over a century, Baptist preachers in debates with our ‘brethren in this country on baptism have made emotional appeals over the hypothetical man on the way to be baptized who was killed by a falling tree limb. Their attempt was to blunt the clarity of Bible teaching on the subject through the appeal to emotion. They asked, “Do you Campbellites want to send this good man to hell just because he hasn’t been dipped in water yet?” Many people have fallen for the ploy and have remained in error to the damnation of their souls.
For thirty years, our institutional brethren have wanted to focus on the support of “orphan homes” by the church from its treasury. Why? Because they desire to capitalize upon the emotional nature of the issue in order to move people to follow in their unauthorized practices without a rational consideration of scriptural principles involved. In some debates, they placed a sack of fertilizer and a baby bottle on the stage. They asked, “Why will you anti’s take a dollar out of the treasury to buy this fertilizer for the church lawn, but won’t take a dollar out of the treasury to feed a poor, starving baby?” Many brethren fell for the ploy and apostatized from the truth resulting in the division of countless churches.
During a recent lecture program, I attended an open forum at which the divorce and remarriage issue was discussed. One man recounted the case of a couple he had known long ago. It seems that the woman had been married at the age of sixteen for “a few months” before the marriage ended in divorce without scriptural cause. Later, she heard the truth and was baptized. As time went on, she “fell in love” with a Christian and married him. They had four children and were pillars in a local church. After several years, the facts regarding this woman’s first marriage and divorce were revealed. The brethren of the local church decided that they could not be in fellowship with the couple as long as they continued in their unlawful sexual union. The man recounting the story then asked, “Are you brethren wanting to break up fine families like this over one mistake made by people before they obeyed the gospel? Are you wanting to bring heartache, not just on a man and his wife, but also on poor, innocent children who need a father and mother?” No Scripture was cited, but the appeal to emotion was clear. Move over tree limb! Shove the fertilizer and baby bottle to the side! The latest ploy to evade truth is off and running and it is ready to bring division in our day!
Is it any wonder that the cases related to justify acceptance of a divorce and remarriage not in harmony with Matthew 19:9 always involve one so doing before he was baptized? Of course not, that is where the teacher of error sees an emotional appeal. However, the effort almost never has the justification of such cases as its sole end. When that is accepted, the next step will be to justify unlawfully divorced and remarried Christians. The end will be the justifying of anyone continuing in any legal marriage regardless of past’, marriages and divorces not in keeping with God’s will. Some of our brethren are already saying, “Marriage is always holy’ – no matter who – no matter when.” Some are even ready’, to apply this reasoning to polygamy in countries where such is legal! I have been present when such was justified. Though we will focus on the amenability of the alien to Christ’s law in the gospel regarding divorce and remarriage, let us never be so naive as to think the error stops there. It never does! When Pandora’s box defending the violation of Christ’s law is opened, a flood of evil will come out.
Mutually Exclusive Positions
Those seeking to justify the continuance of a marriage not in keeping with the teaching of Matthew 19:9 are prone to making mutually exclusive arguments. On the one hand, they say that the alien is not amenable to Christ’s teaching regarding divorce and remarriage because it is part of the gospel which governs only the Christian, not the alien. On the other hand, they affirm that baptism cleanses one of all sin involved in the unlawful union, thus freeing one to continue in such. They cannot have it both ways! If Christ’s law regarding divorce and remarriage does not apply to the alien, there is no sin to cleanse with regards to such marriages. After all, where there is no law, there can be no sin (Rom. 4:15). But if such marriages do involve sin, it must be as a result of coming under the scope of Christ’s regulation as stated in Matthew 19:9. Those taking both sides of the issue need to recognize their inconsistency.
Universal Reign of Christ
The idea being refuted in this article is that the alien is condemned as a sinner under one law (sometimes called “the moral law” or “the law of sin and death”) and comes under the regulation of the gospel when he becomes a Christian or citizen of the kingdom. Thus, the advocate of this position maintains that Christ’s statements of Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:32 are to the Christian only and are “kingdom laws” which do not regulate the fife of an alien sinner. This is the position being refuted in this article. It will be referred to as the “two law theory” and the “non-amenability theory” in this discussion.
The absolute, universal sovereignty of Christ in this dispensation is a point of clear Bible teaching. Jesus claimed all authority in heaven and on earth at the point of his ascension (Matt. 28:18). At that time, the prophecy of Psalm 110 regarding the Messiah sitting to reign at the right hand of God began fulfillment (cf. Lk. 22:67-69; Mk. 16:19-20; Acts 2:29-36). We are also told that his reign at the right hand of God will end at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:2128). Thus, we are now living in the time of that reign.
But who is under Christ’s rule according to Psalm 110? The writer says two classes are under such: (1) his enemies and (2) his people who offer themselves willingly (v. 2). By what means does he rule these two classes? By different laws or by differing uses of the same law? We must consider both possibilities in light of divine teaching. Those believing the alien is not amenable to Christ’s rule by means of the gospel jump to the conclusion that two laws are necessitated by the fact that two distinct classes are present. That conclusion is not logical. In this state, prisoners in the penitentiary are under the law of Texas and so am I. However, the law treats those “enemies” of the state differently than it treats me – two results, but one law. Let’s see if the Scripture shows us the means of Christ’s rule and the extent of its governing power.
The Hebrew writer tells us that God spoke to rule men in various ways in past times, but now speaks solely through the Son (Heb. 1:1-3). The message he decleared by his authority is the gospel which was to be preached to every creature (Matt. 28:18 cf. Mk. 16:15). That message of Christ was declared by his apostles as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-14). Peter confirms this by saying that the gospel foretold by the prophets was “announced unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:10- 12). These facts present a path of study we need to examine in order to aid our understanding of the question at hand. First, it is clear that Christ rules through his gospel. Second, that gospel which is Christ’s means of rule was declared by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if we can go to the Scripture and see who was called upon to obey the message announced by the Holy Spirit, we will know who is amenable to that gospel. Let’s see what the Scripture says.
The obvious book to examine in this study is the book of Acts. In chapter 2, the gospel was declared “by the Holy Spirit” and a multitude of Jews were called upon to obey. In chapter 8, the Samaritans are the recipients of the message preached “by the Holy Spirit” and they were to obey (Acts 8:4-25). The chapter concludes with the account of the proclamation of the message “by the Holy Spirit” to the Ethiopian and his obedience to it (Acts 8:26-40). Chapters 10 and 11 record Cornelius’ receiving the same gospel “by the Holy Spirit” and obeying it. Throughout the book, we find case after case where the gospel is preached “by the Holy Spirit” to Jews and Gentiles, aliens and Christians, and all alike are called to obey. The terms used denote no distinction between the message preached to the Jew and Gentile, alien and Christians. The terms “gospel,” “word of God,” “word of the Lord,” “the word,” “the faith,” “the right ways of the Lord,” “the teaching of the Lord,” “the word of his grace,” and other terms are used synonymously. They denote the message preached to both Christian and non-Christian. There is not the slightest hint of the alien being condemned under one law and living in salvation under another law, the gospel. The very book that ought to clearly show the two laws in action, if the “two law theory” were correct, is the book which shows one message, the gospel, as the means of Christ’s rule.
Nature of God’s Covenants
The proponents of the “non-amenability theory” often base much of their argument upon a false idea regarding covenants. They take the modern use of the word “covenant” as made between people in our time and assume God’s covenants with men are of the same nature. They say a covenant is that which is binding only after both parties agree to it. Without that agreement, they claim, the covenant is not in force. They are fond of citing Israel’s agreement to the old covenant and assume that this acceptance made it binding. Therefore, they reason that one must accept the new covenant (i.e. in faith and obedience) before it is binding upon him.
However, the Bible clearl y shows their foundational assumption to be incorrect. In studies examining the nature of God’s covenant, the contrast between two types of covenants in the ancient world is routinely pointed out to introduce the subject. A parity covenant was made between two parties of equal power, as in a business partnership. In this type of covenant, both parties participated in the formation of its provisions and had to agree to the finished product before it became binding. A suzerainty or vassal covenant was made between a stronger party and a weaker party, such as the conqueror and the conquered. The stronger party formed the provisions and commanded them to the weaker party. The weaker party was bound by those provisions at the point of the command. When the weaker party agreed to live by the covenant, it did not cause the covenant to become binding, but marked the commitment to obey a covenant already binding by commandment.
Which type of covenant describes the relation between God and man? God speaks of the old covenant as “my covenant” which was commanded of Israel at the point of Jehovah’s giving it to Moses while upon Mt. Sinai before the people ever heard of the provisions (Exod. 19:1-8). Deuteronomy 4:1-14 recounts that fact to the generation which went into the land saying, “And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform ” (v. 13). God’s laws are given as suzerainty covenants, not parity covenants. Man has no right to negotiate the regulations or to block its binding power through rejecting the covenant. Man is obligated to live in accordance with God’s dictated regulation or suffer the consequences. It may also be noted that the new covenant was of the same type. Thus, the Hebrew writer speaks of it as a testament made by a testator becoming binding at his death (Heb. 9:15-17).
The Gospel Condemns Aliens of Sin
The whole “two law theory” rests upon the idea that the alien cannot be condemned under the regulations of the gospel. If one verse could be shown to deny that idea, the whole thing would have to crumble as just another false theory of human origin. Let’s listen to the work of God as it destroys the foundation of this theory. In a context dealing with the coming of the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8). Who will be convicted? The world! Not just the Christian, but the world. That is one verse and one would be enough, but God’s word is not through yet. Paul says that “God shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16). Does Paul mean just the secrets of Christians? No, not according to the context. The secrets of all men are judged by means of the gospel. That is two verses and two is more than enough, but the Bible is not through yet.
The context of 1 Peter 4 provides a clear, detailed refutation of the “two law theory.” Verses one through six contrast the alien sinners (“they”) with the Christians (“ye”) repeatedly. “They” were walking in sin and thought it strange that “ye” did not act like “them,” so “they” spoke evil of “you” (v. 4). Verse 5 says that some “shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead. ” But who is it that will give account? And by what means or law shall they be judged? Verse 7 answers those questions, “For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” Peter says the gospel was preached to some who were “dead” for the very purpose of judging them while “in the flesh” that they might “live” spiritually. In other words, the gospel was preached to those who were spiritually dead calling them to spiritual life. The dead of this verse are identified with “they” (aliens) throughout the context. What is it that condemned these aliens as sinners? It was the gospel. Aliens, thus, are regulated by the law of the gospel. Those who listen to God’s word will accept its destruction of this false doctrine!
Consequences of the Error
As with most error, the “non-amenability theory” has consequences more far-reaching than its advocates would wish. They claim that the teaching of Christ in Matthew 19 is uniquely a part of the gospel, thus, only binding upon Christians. While I would deny that premise, believing that Matthew 19 merely explains God’s law as he intended it from Genesis 2, let me grant it for the sake of argument. If the alien is not amenable to Christ’s law regarding divorce and remarriage, the alien is not amenable to any regulation which is uniquely a part of that gospel.
How then can we preach against the use of instrumental music in denominational worship? Are they not aliens? How could the practice be judged sinful by aliens if the regulation of the gospel does not apply to them? How can we oppose the boards and conferences of the denominational world? How can we even show the papacy to be a sinful arrangement of organization if aliens (and I presume that these brethren agree Catholics are aliens) are not amenable to regulations regarding the organization of the church which is uniquely a part of the gospel?
The brethren pushing this false doctrine better take a long look at the grave consquences. If they are right, they bett r throw away every sermon outline they have on the errors of denominationalism. If aliens are not amenable to the gospel, such sermons are without any legitimate basis!
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 1, pp. 14-16
January 4, 1990