By P.J. Casebolt
When I began preaching in the late 40’s, divorce was not as prevalent in society and in the church as it is today. Among preachers of my acquaintance in the Ohio Valley, most held that Matthew 19:9 set forth the only exception for divorce/remarriage, i.e., fornication.
One preacher, brother Ross Swindler of Parkersburg, West Virigina, held the position that ‘ Matthew 19:9 was under the law of Moses, and that there was no cause for divorce/remarriage. But, his position was not generally known, advocated, or held by other brethren.
In the winter of 1950-5 1, brother Kenneth Adams, of the Lynn Street congregation in Parkersburg, preached in a meeting for the old South Side congregation where brother Swindler was located. During that meeting, brother Adams preached one night on the subject of divorce/remarriage, espoused the position held by brother Swindler, and brother Swindler publicly endorsed the sermon.
This account is brief, and not intended to reflect upon brethren Adams or Swindler. Both were good friends of mine, and both were held in high esteem by brethren in general. I’m simply trying to chronicle the evolution of the divorce/remarriage problem as it pertained to that geographical area of the brotherhood.
The very next day I went to brother Adams’ study at the Lynn Street church building and talked with him at length concerning his new position. I did not go with the intention of converting him, but I could see some inconsistencies in his position, and wanted to clarify them for my own benefit. And,,though I do not believe my visit had anything to do with it, within a relatively short time, brother Adams reversed his position, reverting to Matthew 19:9 as the only exception for divorce/remarriage.
Shortly after brother Adams preached his “no cause” sermon, brother L.J. Keffer of Paden City, WV, came to Williamstown (where I was located), for a meeting. He announced that he would preach one night on divorce/remarriage, and many of the same brethren who had heard brother Adams attended the meeting, including brother Adams himself.
Brother Keffer not only took exception to the “no cause for divorce” position advocated by brother Adams, but added a second cause for divorce/remarriage based on the “unbeliever” clause in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
About this time brethren learned that brother Keffer was involved in a marriage relationship which corresponded to his position on 1 Corinthians 7:15. A few of us had also heard of the “Fuqua position” via the Vindicator, but Texas seemed a long way off, and our geographical area had not been influenced to a great extent by brother Fuqua’s position.
During this skirmish in 1950-51, one old preacher safely remarked that the divorce problem reared its head about every twenty years, but when it blew over, most brethren settled back to the position which hinged on Matthew 19:9 as the only cause for divorce/remarriage.
It has since occurred to me that a new generation enters the. marriage relationship about every twenty years, and maybe the old preacher had a point, though he may not have known why. Or, maybe he did.
When the enemies of Jesus requested a watch to guard his tomb they knew that his cause hinged on a resurrection of the dead. If they could prevent even an apparent resurrection (a body whisked away by his disciples), then the death and burial of Jesus would mean nothing without a resurrection to go with those two events. All hinged on the resurrection.
When Martin Luther encountered James 2:24, he knew that his doctrine of “faith only” hinged on this passage. One or the other had to go. Luther decided to reject not only James 2:24, but the entire epistle of James as “spurious.”
When the advocates of the sponsoring church concept of cooperation came face to face with Philippians 4:15,16, they knew that either their system or the passage in Philippians had to go. All hinged on whether or not an approved apostolic example was binding. They decided to keep their sponsoring church concept, and reject the apostolic example principle.
With the same swipe of Jehoiakim’s penknife, these brethren cut out Acts 20:7 as the exclusive time for observing the Lord’s supper, because this passage contains only an approved apostolic example. It didn’t seem to matter that the apostle Paul commands us to observe an approved apostolic example (Phil. 4:9).
In my judgment, the entire matter of divorce/remarriage hinges on Matthew 19:9. Others must think so too, given the efforts to either neutralize or eliminate it altogether.
Even as Jesus said to Satan, “It is written again. . . ” (Matt. 4:7), so must we hear all that is said on any subject. Marriage is not even the primary subject under discussion in Romans 7:1-4, much less divorce. Neither is divorce/remarriage the theme of the passage in 1 Corinthians 7.
Given the epidemic of divorce/remarriage and its effect upon the church, it is tempting to take a position that would rule out divorce for any reason. It is also tempting to find a cause to keep people from marrying in the first place, if that would solve the divorce problem. But, it is never right to “do evil that good may come” (Rom. 3:8).
Personally, I’m not willing to pay the high cost of trying to escape the force of even one verse of Scripture (e.g., Matt. 19:9), much less face the consequences of eliminating the first four epistles of the New Testament. Some claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not a part of the new covenant (in order to eliminate Matt. 19:9), while others stop short of that position, claiming that Matthew 19:9 applies only to God’s people, and not to the alien sinner.
Too much hinges on Matthew 19:9, and when you break this hinge, the whole gate falls. When the gate falls, you may as well remove the entire fence.
Even if we do not go so far as to remove the whole fence, someone else in the next generation will, either post by post, strand by strand, or by a stampede. The epidemic of sundry and conflicting positions on divorce/remarriage within the past two decades is evidence that the gate is off the hinges, and the whole fence is in danger of being trampled down.
I do not want to be caught in that stampede, nor do I want to be found anywhere near it when the Lord comes.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 3, pp. 75-76
February 2, 1989