By Joe R. Price
Earlier this year, brethren formed a new congregation in the Renton, Washington area. The Puget Sound Eastside church was started when these brethren were told they could not teach their convictions on divorce and remarriage, and on fellowship, if they were to be accepted as faithful brethren in the local work. Having an abiding commitment to love and serve truth, and being left with no other choice, these brethren started a new congregation. They continue actively to seek opportunities to study the truth of God with all brethren in that area on these and other important Bible subjects.
One such opportunity which the Puget Sound Eastside church arranged was a gospel meeting, November 1-7, with brother Harry Osborne teaching Bible lessons on Who Is Amenable to the Gospel?; Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage; 1 Corinthians 7: What it Teaches; and Fellow-ship, Error and Romans 14. Announcements were sent to congregations in the Seattle area, the state of Washington, the surrounding states and portions of Canada. Opportunities for questions and answers during the public services and for private study were also arranged. The brethren hoped in this way to promote open Bible study between brethren, and thereby to urge unity based upon truth.
Evidently, not all the brethren in the Pacific Northwest are in favor of such open discussions of truth on these subjects. The following letter from brother Jack Gibbert, evangelist with the Silverlake church in Everett, WA, was sent to James and Frances Fleming (members of the Puget Sound Eastside church). After receiving it, the Flemings discovered that this private letter had been made public at the church in Renton, WA (where they had formerly worshipped). It was posted on that church’s bulletin board and read from its pulpit to the church by one of its elders. Therefore, I without hesitation reproduce it here to provide an insight into the attitudes at work in the Pacific North-west to silence Bible study on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellowship.
Church of Christ
9907 Bothell Way
Everett, Washington 98208
5 October 1993
Mr. & Mrs. James W. Fleming 13244 Lk. Kathleen Rd. S.E. Renton, Wash. 98059
Dear Jim and Frances,
We received your announcement of a new work meeting in your residence with great sadness. The Northwest has been free from the Eastern sectarian “Church of Christ” for the 15 years I have lived in this area. It’s been understood for the past five years that the preachers of division who advocate the destruction of families as the only way to become a Christian, have been looking for a place to get a toe hold up here. We knew it was only a matter of time until this happened. For the 15 years I have been here this area has had peace among the congregations of God’s people. There has been no need to wet a finger and place it in the wind to see what the latest heresy was and take a position on it. Christians just studied with one another and treated each other with the love and respect due to brothers and sisters.
Jim and Frances what you are introducing to this area will be remembered as the Northwest’s answer to the Piano at Midway, Ky. The view espoused by brother Osborne is not unknown to this area, in fact those who hold it have been welcomed into and are present in every congregation up here. However the attitude held by brother Osborne, which will be laid out Sat. evening during your meeting (“Fellowship,
Error & Romans 14,” jrp), has not been welcomed and is excluded. The shame of all this is that you have been caught up in the typical politics of east coast “Church of Christism” which seeks to get everyone marching to the same drummer, and that drummer is this preacher, or that preacher, and this paper or that paper. The openness of free study and discussion in the Northwest is virtually unknown in Texas, and the East coast. Anyone back there who studies for them-selves lives in fear of speaking out because they will be marked as unsound and withdrawn from. The few, like Ed Harrell, and Dee Bowman who have the courage to speak out against the attitude of men like Harry Osborne, (even though they would agree with Osborne’s conclusion) are marked as “liberal” be-cause they won’t get on the bandwagon and mark those who disagree with them. Men like Osborne are dividers of brethren and they care not one whit who they hurt to accomplish their brand of righteousness.
Jim and Frances, flee from this ungodly crowd. They will bring no good to you or to this section of the country. If you desire a study of MDR I feel certain Darrell Bean (the preacher with the Renton, WA church jrp) would be happy to study with you. I beg you to think of the peace that has existed for decades among the churches in this area. We don’t always agree on everything, but we have not taken to marking one another as “unfaithful, ungodly, immoral defenders of the adulterers.” All of that will be lost if the “Church of Christers” have their way. When you see the bickering among brethren begin, and then see the churches splitting you will not be able to escape your responsibility for having introduced the serpent into the garden. Please, I beg of you, flee from this ungodliness.
Your brother in Christ, /s/ Jack Gibbert
Before reviewing this letter, let it be clear that I am not personally acquainted with brother Gibbert or the Flemings. I have absolutely no personal axe to grind with my brother. My interest in my brethren, in the truth and in the Lord’s cause in Washington (having worked there in meetings on several occasions over the past six years) compels me to respond to brother Gibbert’s charges and the attitudes he has expressed. And, he is not alone in these attitudes. Apparently, these attitudes are shared by some brethren in Renton, WA, where this letter was read publicly against the Puget Sound Eastside church.
Charges Against Brethren
It is a sad thing to see such charges, insinuations and divisive attitudes in the heart of a brother against his fellow brethren (cf. Eph. 4:31-32). Without offering proof for his assertions, brother Gibbert has branded brethren outside the Northwest (especially those in Texas and on the East coast) as being “sectarian,” with practicing “politics” and “Church of Christism,” as stifling open Bible study, as being hurtful and without feelings, and as an “ungodly crowd.” In the same paragraph where he says that brethren should not mark “one another as `…ungodly,”‘ he marks brethren with whom he differs as an “ungodly crowd.” While making such astonishing judgments of his brethren, brother Gibbert claims the virtue of “openness of free study and discussion.” This letter, however, was not intended to encourage openness, free study and discussion on divorce, remarriage and fellowship in the Northwest. On the contrary, its obvious design was to keep open study of God’s word on these subjects from occurring! Who then, is guilty of stifling the open study of God’s word? By means of this letter, Brother Gibbert has resorted to the very tactic he tries to oppose.
In the past, we have spread and strengthened the kingdom’s borders by maintaining a readiness to discuss openly our differences using the Bible as our guide. Such a course has scriptural precedence (Acts 17:11-12; 15:7-21). Why then, should such an opportunity as was arranged by the Puget Sound Eastside church be so severely spoken against by brethren in that area? Do we still believe that truth has nothing to fear from honest and open investigation, or have brethren in the Northwest who stand with brother Gibbert given up this noble posture? The foregoing letter speaks for itself.
“Art Thou He That Troubleth Israel?”
Brother Osborne and other unnamed men are charged with being “preachers of division” and “dividers of brethren.” When Ahab accused Elijah of troubling Israel, the prophet of God responded that those who forsake the Word of God trouble Israel (1 Kgs. 18:17-18). That gospel truth at times divides is an obvious principle which our Lord taught (Lk. 12:51-53; 1 Cor. 11:19). But this does not mean that the gospel preacher seeks division. Otherwise, Christ and his apostles are guilty of being “preachers of division”! Motives for preaching truth include the salvation of souls and the promotion of the only valid basis for scriptural unity, God’s truth (Rom. 1:16; In. 17:20-21; Eph. 4:4-6). We can understand and obey God’s word on divorce and remarriage and on fellowship. We need not accuse men who have the courage to preach that word as being divisive. Rather, we must support the preaching of truth with our prayers, our presence and our participation. If we disagree with something that is taught, we should be willing to discuss those objections openly. It is easy to call someone divisive with whom we do not agree. But it takes courage and a commitment to truth to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith, to study truth openly, and then to correct our sins, when needed, through genuine repentance (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Thess. 5:21-22). May God grant us all such courage and commitment as we seek to live in truth.
“Except Ye Repent”
Another serious charge leveled against these so-called “preachers of division” who are “looking for a place to get a toe hold” in the Pacific Northwest is that they “advocate the destruction of families as the only way to become a Christian.” This is a purely emotional attempt to divert attention away from what is the clear issue at hand, namely, true repentance on the part of those in adulterous remarriages. Such an approach is unbecoming of one who is interested in truth at all costs.
We must realize that whenever an adulterous remarriage exists, a family has already been destroyed! (cf. Matt. 19:9) A family which God has ordained is destroyed every time a divorce which is not for the cause of fornication occurs (Matt. 19:6; Heb. 13:4)! Brother Gibbert does not describe those who accept all remarriages as valid, regard-less of the cause for the divorce, as those who “advocate the destruction of families!” Why does he oppose Bible preaching which will restore the original family the one God ordained (Matt.19:6)?
No one denies that genuine repentance is essential in order to become a Christian (Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; et al.). The problem arises when a man and woman, perhaps with children in the home, learn that their remarriage is adultery in God’s sight (Matt. 19:9). Some are unwilling to instruct such people that repentance demands a ceasing of sin (Rev. 9:20-21). Brethren, are we more interested in maintaining an adulterous remarriage than we are in urging sinners to repent of their sins? Surely we agree that polygamists and homosexuals who repent of their sins cannot continue to practice those sins with each other and be true to God. Adultery is also sexual sin, and must be repented of in the same way. One who is committing adultery cannot continue in that relationship after his conversion to Christ and legitimately claim to be “doing works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20; cf. Lk. 3:8-14). Does brother Gibbert advocate the destruction of polygamous and homosexual relationships as being necessary in order to become a Christian? I would be shocked if he does not. Why not then, in like manner, advocate the destruction of adulterous relationships as a necessary part of repentance in order to become a Christian? To demand one is to mandate the other. Certainly, when children are involved, their needs must be seen after and cared for by the responsible parties. Nobody has advocated otherwise. Let us stop clouding the issue with emotional pleas which do nothing to address the sinner’s need.
The point of disagreement is on the subject of repentance. We must be willing to face whatever consequences come upon us when we decide to put Jesus and his will first in our lives (Matt. 10:34-39). For example, when ancient Israelites married women who were forbidden to them, Shecaniah commanded Israel to “put away all the wives, and such as are born of them” (Ezra 10:1-3). Now, we can accuse Shecaniah of the “destruction of families” as the only way of being right with God, or we can praise his courage for advising Israel to deal with this matter “ac-cording to the law” (Ezra 10:3). I assume that brother Gibbert agrees with Shecaniah’s counsel on that occasion (for it had God’s approval, Ezra 10:2, 10-12). The Israelites confessed their sins, did God’s pleasure, and separated themselves from the foreign women (Ezra 10: 10-12,16,44). Such action manifested true repentance. In doing so, God’s wrath was turned away from Israel (Ezra 10:14). The cost of their faithfulness to God was high, but they paid it. Similarly, the cost of discipleship to Jesus Christ is high (Lk. 14:25-33), but we must be willing to pay the price. Otherwise, the wages of sin will be far greater (Rom. 6:23).
A Parallel With Instrumental Music
Next, brother Gibbert resorts to an attempted parallel between the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into worship and the defense of the biblical teaching on divorce, remarriage and fellowship. He says that what the Flemings “are introducing to this area will be remembered as the Northwest’s answer to the Piano at Midway, Ky.” One is made to wonder whether brother Gibbert believes division should have occurred at all over the use of instrumental music in worship, especially given his use of that event to persuade brethren not to press God’s word on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellow-ship. If brother Gibbert were to apply his own practice to the subject of mechanical instruments of music in worship, one would be free to use the instrument in worship and nobody could object to its use. And if they did, letters could be sent out marking the objectors as “dividers of brethren” who were preaching “their own kind of righteousness”!
His attempted parallel to the use of instrumental music in worship grievously misses the mark. The introduction of instrumental music into worship occurred over the objection of sincere brethren who objected to its use as being a violation of the Bible pattern for true worship (2 Tim. 1:13; 2 Jn.9-11; 1 Pet.4:11). In spite of their scriptural objections, the instrument was forced to the point that those who opposed it were left with nothing to do but separate themselves from those engaging in its unauthorized use. Similarly, despite the scriptural objections of brethren such as the Flemings, the Renton, WA church determined to teach and practice error on divorce and remarriage. You may judge for yourself whose conduct parallels the introduction of instrumental music into worship. The answer is obvious.
Brother Gibbert says that brethren who “would agree with Osborne’s conclusion” have been “welcomed into and are present in every congregation up here,” and that the Northwest is characterized by the “openness of free study and discussion.” However, he goes on to say that what brother Osborne teaches regarding fellowship, error and Romans 14 “has not been welcomed and is excluded.” Brethren, which is it? Is there “openness” and “free study and discussion” on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellowship, or has an open discussion of these subjects “not been welcomed and is excluded”? Brother Gibbert has defended the “openness” of brethren in the Northwest while telling us of their exclusionary practices! In fact, though his letter of October 5, 1993, was made public in the Northwest, to my knowledge there has been no public response to it from brethren in the Northwest condemning its sectarian attitude and urging brother Gibbert to repent. I call upon brother Gibbert and any who are in sympathy with the attitude he has expressed to repent of it, so that we may come together to work for unity based upon truth.
The facts in the case of the brethren who started the Puget Sound Eastside church reflect the “openness” of which brother Gibbert speaks. These brethren were “welcome” where they were worshipping only if they would remain silent on the subjects of divorce and remarriage, and also on fellowship. Being told that their study of divorce and remarriage with other members would lead to division, these brethren were silenced in their efforts to teach the truth of Christ. Like those who objected to instrumental music in worship, these brethren were put in a position of either remaining silent and going along with error, or separating themselves in order to remain true to their God (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; 20:20,27). They chose the difficult path of truth, and for that they deserve our admiration and support. Those who introduced instrumental music into worship, in were the troublers of Israel, not those who opposed this human innovation. Even so, the brethren who have introduced innovations on divorce and remarriage and on fellowship are today the troublers of Israel, not the brethren who oppose their error with the truth.
Politics and Open Study
Unnamed brethren are charged with the “politics of east coast Church of Chrristism,” and with seeking “to get everyone marching to he same drummer, and that drummer is this preacher, or that preacher, and this paper or that paper.” After reviewing the facts in the case of the Flemings and brother Gibbert’s letter, including its publicity at the Renton church, one is made o wonder about the “politics of Northwest Church of Christism”! While berating Texas and the east coast for a supposed lack of “free study and discussion,” brother Gibbert seeks to stifle “free study and discussion” by warning people away from a gospel meeting designed to do just that! This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black (cf. Rom.2:1-2)!
It is also incredible that brother Gibbert describes teaching what Matthew 19:9 plainly says as ‘east coast ‘Church of Christism.'” Teaching Matthew 19:9 :is Jesus delivered it is nothing less than “preach(ing) the word,” something Paul commanded in 2 Timothy 4:2. To suggest that those who urge faithfulness to Matthew 19:9 are practicing east coast politics shows contempt for the truth Jesus taught and for the belief that we can understand his word correctly and be united on the subject of divorce and remarriage, and fellowship.
The Influence Of Christianity Magazine
It is important to see that brother Gibbert is using the reputations of brethren Ed Harrell and Dee Bowman to strengthen his position. As well-known gospel preachers and editors of Christianity Magazine, their influence is both widespread and significant. And, as these brethren know, with one’s influence comes responsibility. That influence is now being used to drive a wedge between brethren and to close off open Bible study on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellowship. Brother Gibbert observes that Ed Harrell and Dee Bowman agree with brother Osborne on what the Bible teaches on divorce and remarriage. But, men such as brother Gibbert perceive that brethren Harrell and Bowman are unwilling to apply those convictions in the area of fellowship. To the best of my knowledge, they continue to have and to extend fellowship with those who teach error on divorce and remarriage. The giving of their influence to a “unity in diversity” approach to divorce and remarriage is now being used as a divisive wedge by some in the hope that truth will not be heard! Whenever one’s preaching and practice becomes a hindrance to the cause of truth, a serious contemplation and correction of that preaching and practice is in order. I plead with my brethren, please do not allow your influence to be used to undermine the scriptural work of devoted Christians!
Attitudes of Obstruction
1. Upon reading brother Gibbert’s letter, one cannot help but observe the belligerent attitude it displays. To say that it is lacking in brotherly love is being charitable. Of particular note is that, while warning the Flemings of the “Eastern sectarian Church of Christ,” brother Gibbert has revealed his own sectarian spirit. It is sectarian to isolate, alienate and segregate brethren without encouraging open study on both sides of the issues at hand. That is what his letter was designed to do. Such attitudes as are displayed in this letter will certainly not encourage open Bible study over differences.
2. From what is said in his letter, it appears that a sectarian attitude has developed among some brethren in the Pacific Northwest. Where is the voice of other Pacific Northwest brethren condemning this sectarian approach which stigmatizes brethren who oppose error and which stifles the public discussion and study of such subjects as divorce and remarriage and fellowship? Has brother Gibbert’s attitude of contempt toward brethren with whom he differs become the norm in the Northwest? I certainly hope not.
While the Bible urges us to regard ourselves as “one body” (Eph. 4:4), it seems that some view the church in terms of the “Northwest body,” the “Texas body” and the “East Coast body.” I suppose that since I live in Utah, that would make me a part of the “Utah body.” How ridiculous! Shall we foster and foment allegations, resentments and prejudices against brethren based on where they live? For shame! Living in truth is not dependent upon where one lives. Neither is error a concern for only certain parts of the country. Such an attitude generates strife and hinders the Lord’s cause. We must take to heart and put into practice the apostolic admonitions of peace and unity based upon God’s revealed truth (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 12:12-31; Phil. 2: 1-5; Eph. 4:1-6). Prejudicial name-calling only hurts the heart of our Father in heaven as it hinders efforts to study and abide in the truth here on earth. With brotherly kindness, let us speak the truth in love (2 Pet. 1:7; Eph. 4:15).
3. A final attitude expressed by brother Gibbert which deserves attention is that he is apparently comfortable having fellowship with “unfaithful, ungodly, immoral defenders of the adulterers.” At the very least, he says that the churches in the Northwest have not taken to marking anyone like that. Please note: Brother Gibbert has marked brother Harry Osborne and others as “dividers of brethren” and an “ungodly crowd,” while admitting that he does not mark those who defend adulterers. How can such a stance be defended in the light of Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10-11 and 2 Timothy 2:16-18, which emphatically teach that we are to do exactly that?
This unscriptural approach to fellowship amounts to agreeing to remain silent on controversial and difficult Bible subjects. It shows tolerance toward those who either directly violate Christ’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, or who teach error on these subjects. Peace at the expense of truth will produce neither peace with God nor an enduring peace among brethren. Agreeing to remain silent is not a characteristic of peace and unity (1 Cor. 5:1-2)! On the other hand, when peace is built upon respect for the word of Christ, it is a joy to behold (Col. 3:12-17). We must conform ourselves to Ephesians 5:7-11, which warns us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (v.1 1).
Wetting a finger and placing it in the wind to determine the latest heresy and then taking a position on it is not the issue here. Neither is it a matter of “always agree(ing) on everything” or of getting “everyone marching to the same drummer.” Such are prejudicial and prejudicing statements. Are we to all “march to the same drummer” regarding homosexuality? Are we to all “march to the same drummer” regarding water baptism? Are we to all “march to the same drummer” on the use of instrumental music in worship? Why then is it wrong to “march to the same drummer” on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellowship? The issue here is one of teaching and obeying truth. Christ is the drummer to whom we must march, and his truth is our cadence.
This is a matter of arriving at unity on a “thus saith the Lord,” something which is both desirable and attainable. To settle for less is an insult against our Lord. There is room in the kingdom for differences of conscience over morally neutral subjects, as Romans 14 teaches. But there is no room in the kingdom of God for sinful attitudes, doctrines and practices. If someone thinks there is, he ma’ i take that matter up with the Lord (Jn. 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-3; 4:6; Gal. 1:6-10; Eph.4:3).
We can know the truth and arrive at un y on such subjects as divorce and remarriage, and fellowship (Eph. 3:3-5; 4:1-16). To do so will demand of u open hearts and willing attitudes to study, discuss an submit to God’s word in an atmosphere of openness, diligence and prayer-fulness. Bitter belligerence toward brethren will not cause openness or produce unity. Truly, the one who introduces “the serpent into the garden” is he one who promotes closed hearts, displays carnal attitudes, and erects obstructions to free and open Bible study.
Where differences exist, 19/t us come together as brethren to study God’s word. We can know and obey God’s will on these subjects (cf. John: 8:31-32). We can help each other be faithful to God’s will on these tremendously important and emotional subjects. My prayer for brethren every-where is that truth will prevail in our hearts and in our lives, and that the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” will be kept with all diligence.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 1, p. 18-22
January 6, 1994