Reply to Bob Owen

Donnie V. Rader

At the conclusion of my lecture, Bob Owen was allowed to read a prepared statement in response to the printed version of the lecture in the Florida College Lecture book. In his response he charges me with "misrepresentations" and "charges" that are "false and misleading" (1st paragraph).

Has Brother Owen Taught that the Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage Lacks Clarity?

Brother Owen says,

On page 181 of the lecture book brother Rader attributes a view to me that I do not believe, have never believed, and certainly do not teach….I do not believe or teach that the message of Matthew 19 is unclear.

The statement from page 181 was:

We are told that the Biblical teaching on this subject lacks clarity (see Harrell, Divorce and Fellowship ; Owen, Fellowship; We Differ ).

In the "Works Cited" (187-188) I listed two sermons by Bob Owen. One was "We Differ, Can We Fellowship" that was preached in Concord, NC (Feb. 19, 1995). The other sermon was "Fellowship" preached at Temple Terrace, FL (Sept. 2, 1993). Please read those sermons for yourself.

I quote from the question and answer session following his sermon in Concord. All emphasis is mine

Tommy: Um, not to continue this forum, in the sense of a marriage, divorce and remarriage issue… (Owen: Good.) But in what we learned today, about things being individual versus being with the group, is that, is there some cloudiness there, or some gray areas there which brethren who ever have problems with other brethren that it can’t make that distinction?

Bob : I think there is. And some have read 1 Cor. 5 and have said, "Now look, here’s what the Bible says. Here’s a man in adultery, you’ve got to withdraw from him." Look at the case. It was not just something where you and I might conclude that his marriage was not valid . It was a matter that here was a person who was openly living in an adulterous situation, incest. An open and shut case of adulterous behavior . It’d be like somebody who made no claim to be married; they’re just sleeping together. Now to come along and say, "Okay, now, here’s somebody who’s got a marriage problem and we have concluded that their marriage is not valid therefore we have concluded that they are guilty of fornication." I can make that conclusion. Is that the same thing as the incestuous in 1 Cor. 5? I don’t believe it is….The fellow who just goes off and sleeps with a woman who is not his wife, everybody knows that’s adultery. But the person in a questionable marriage, everybody doesn’t see that as an adulterous situation. Now we are back to a local church has to look at each situation and say, "What is this condition and what would be the impact in our group?" I think I’m answering your question.

Notice the question he was asked and his answer. He makes a distinction between an "open and shut" case of fornication and adultery and a case where we conclude a marriage is wrong . What is he saying if it is not that what the Bible says on divorce and remarriage is lacking in clarity. If it is not lacking in clarity why say, "But the person in a questionable marriage, everybody doesn’t see that as an adulterous situation" (emphasis mine, DVR)?

The same point is made in his 1993 sermon. I quote from his sermon in Temple Terrace. Again, all emphasis is mine.

Brethren, there are some Bible cases that demand withdrawal of fellowship. And I think we can draw the principles of that from those Bible cases. In first Corinthians 5, the familiar case, a man had his father’s wife. Here was a case of incest. Don’t make too much of my statement right now, please: This was not a matter, that somebody thought maybe that marriage is not really right in the sight of God. This was an open and shut case of outright fornication , openly being practiced. It was so open, that Paul says in verse one, it is named that there is fornication among you and such that is not even practiced among the Gentiles. Even the world wouldn’t sanction what this fellow was doing. And the world’s not our standard, God is. But there are some things that are wrong in the sight of everybody. And if somebody is saying, "Well, not today, nothing’s wrong," ask Jim Baker, or Jimmy Swaggart. The world may practice a lot of things, but they still know you’re not suppose to be doing it. Paul is talking about a situation of immorality that was a clear- cut case of ignoring the principles of God and living in such a way that even the world knew it was wrong. Now, is incest or fornication the only thing that you can learn from that? No, later he expands the list. If any man that’s named a brother be a fornicator or an idolater, or a covetous or, so on… But all the things named there, I believe are a kind of thing that fall in this avenue of moral issues. Paul did not say if any brother is doing anything that you think is wrong. It’s a matter of fact over in I Corinthians fifteen he’s going to talk about…Pardon me, in Second Corinthians, he’s going to talk about some brethren in the church at Corinth who were in fornication. And Paul was saying, I hope they correct that before I get there and so I don’t have to come to them with a stick. Don’t interpret that to say you’re suppose to ignore fornication. That’s not what Paul was doing. But every case didn’t get the identical treatment. This one, he said, withdraw your fellowship from him. Here was an open case of immorality . And if a church harbored somebody doing that, it would destroy the influence of the church, even in the eyes of the world. Shame the church in the eyes of the world.

Brother Owen says, "He goes further and assigns a motive for my alleged teaching and it is false."

The statement to which he refers is,

Thus, we can’t be sure. This is said to tell us that we ought not the draw lines of fellowship over what someone teaches on divorce and remarriage. If we can’t understand what Jesus taught or, to say the least, we can’t be sure, then we certainly couldn’t bind what we may conclude on others.

In the sermon at Temple Terrace, brother Owen said "I’m talking tonight about fellowshipping. And I’m doing it in the context of a series of discussions on the marriage question" In the lengthy quotes above, he contrast the case in 1 Corinthians 5 as an "open and shut" where we withdraw fellowship as contrasted with cases where we conclude a marriage is wrong. What are we to conclude about cases where we conclude a marriage is wrong and some other brother teaches that the same marriage is okay?

Brother Owen then shifts the issue from fellowship to his view on divorce and remarriage. He said,

I believe and teach publicly what brother Rader preached today: the only basis for divorce and remarriage is fornication. Further, I believe God’s moral laws, including the divorce law, apply to all men.

No one (that I know of) has ever questioned his position on divorce and remarriage. It is what he has preached on fellowship that was called in question!

Does Brother Owen Teach That We Can Fellowship One Who Teaches Error On Divorce And Remarriage?

The only other reference I made in the printed lecture to brother Owen was the following,

When a man teaches that one who has no right to remarry can remarry, his teaching leads his hearer to commit adultery. Most agree that we can’t fellowship the man who is in adultery. However, we are told we can fellowship the man who teaches him that it is scriptural (See: Harrell, Homer Hailey 6; Bounds ; Owen, Dawson, Kimbrough).

Brother Owen’s reply said,

On page 186 brother Rader says that I fellowship those who believe and teach error on divorce and remarriage and implies that I would do so under any and all circumstances. This is misleading.

I never said that brother Owen would fellowship those who teach error under any and all circumstances . In the 1993 sermon brother Owen begins by giving the divorce and remarriage issue as the backdrop of his discussion. He said, "I’m talking tonight about fellowshipping. And I’m doing it in the context of a series of discussions on the marriage question." Then, as the sermon progresses he makes such statements as,

The brethren who say that the principles of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, can only be applied in matters that are matters of indifference, have effectively eliminated those passages for any application within our brotherhood.

Have I misrepresented brother Owen? Here is what I said: "When a man teaches that one who has no right to remarry can remarry, his teaching leads his hearer to commit adultery. Most agree that we can’t fellowship the man who is in adultery. However, we are told we can fellowship the man who teaches him that it is scriptural." In both the handout at the lectures and the Concord sermon, brother Owen makes reference to brother Hailey. Owen would agree that those who follow the teaching of brother Hailey commit adultery. Brother Owen would not fellowship the couple in adultery. However, would brother Owen say we couldn’t fellowship brother Hailey (and those who teach the same)? He says in his statement that he has not drawn the same conclusion as some have about a particular high profile case (brother Hailey). If he is saying that we could fellowship men like Hailey (even though his teaching leads people to commit adultery), that is the point I attributed to him! Wherein is the misrepresentation?

In the next to last paragraph of his handout he said that his lessons on fellowship deal with issues like the covering and the war question – not divorce and remarriage. Read those sermons for yourself and see. In the Temple Terrace sermon toward the beginning he said, "I’m talking tonight about fellowshipping. And I’m doing it in the context of a series of discussions on the marriage question". Later in the same lesson, he again said, "Now, I’m going to return momentarily to the marriage question." Twice in one lesson he did what he says he does not do. You be the judge of who has misrepresented the facts. In a sermon on "Fellowship" at Concord, NC, brother Owen was asked about those who would make the divorce and remarriage issue a test of fellowship. Brother Owen responded, "But that of course, is what I had in mind a moment ago when I used the expression, "a litmus test." In the last several years, some brethren have focused on the divorce and remarriage issues . And have pushed it to the point that if anybody differs with them on that point, they not only say I don’t agree with you, or I teach something different, but they’re using this label, ‘‘You become a false teacher.”" Does brother Owen apply his teaching on Fellowship to the divorce and remarriage issue? We trust the reader can decide who has misrepresented the facts. Later in the same sermon, brother Owen made the following application to the same subject (again all emphasis is mine, DVR):

Now today, there are some people who differ over the question of divorce and remarriage…. You mentioned brother Hailey. He’s one of my dearest friends. I communicate with him frequently. And would love to sit at his feet right now and listen to him preach. I differ with him on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He knows that. And I know it and he and I discussed it at length. But Homer Hailey is not a deceitful worker, going around with personal desire to be disruptive and to make gain of the brethren. Homer Hailey is not some hypocritical blasphemer, who rails at the dignity of God. And those are the descriptions of the false teacher in 2 Peter 2. I differ with brother Hailey on some issues on divorce and remarriage. And frankly, he could fellowship some people, some divorced people, that I couldn’t fellowship. I’m an old time conservative on the divorce and remarriage issue. But a bunch of brethren have come along and they list me as a false teacher because I do not agree with them that I can’t have any relationship with brother Hailey. Since we differ on the divorce question, they say, if I have fellowship with him, then I’m a false teacher on fellowship. And I’ve got to be marked and some are doing that publicly. I regret that but I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it. I’m gonna do what my conscience says ought to be done, what I believe the Bible teaches and let the Lord take care of the rest of it. Is the divorce thing a matter of, is it an issue? Sure it is. How should it be decided? Let me tell you how it ought to be decided. Every local congregation is going to take each individual case and pass its own judgment what would be the impact in this congregation if we accept that couple. If it’s going to be harmful to the group, then that group, they ought not accept them. And there are some people who have been very critical of brother Hailey and I agree with those people who are critical of him on the Bible teaching with regard to divorce and remarriage. But I differ with them on their interpretation and application of the fellowship issue.

If brother Owen does not apply his teaching on Fellowship to the divorce and remarriage issue in any of his sermons, I am at a loss to describe what he has done in the above cases.

Rader Associates With Those With Whom He Differs

One of the points that brother Owen mentioned was that I associate with some with whom I have doctrinal differences. He said,

I know for a fact that brother Rader associates closely and publicly with preaching brethren with whom he differs on some doctrinal matters – including some issues on divorce and remarriage.

Where is the proof of brother Owen’s charge? He neither tells us who he is talking about nor gives the evidence of his claim. In an effort to be fully open in the search for truth, let me deal with the point being raised by brother Owen.

I suppose brother Owen is referring to my association with Ron Halbrook.

First, Ron read my manuscript and commended what I taught.

Second, while Ron and I do differ on some points of application, we both agree on the principle that the one granted the right to remarry is the one who puts away his mate for the cause of fornication. Furthermore, we agree that law applies to all men. That is a far cry from those who differ with both of us over whether God’s law applies to the alien or whether the guilty party can remarry. To illustrate, brethren differ over the qualification of elders. However, there is a difference in two who differ over whether a man whose wife dies is still qualified (both believing that is has to be the husband of one wife) and in those who differ over whether a bachelor can be an elder. In one case they both agree on the law, but differ in a point of application. In the other case, they differ over the basic law.

Third, brother Owen must see the same difference. He can commend my lecture (and did) saying that he agrees with what I taught. Are we to conclude from his comments that he agrees with what I said (both orally and in the lecture book) about the one who is put away committing adultery when he remarries? I would be surprised if he agrees with every application I make of that point. If he doesn’t agree with every application I make of that point, but says he preaches that same thing I do, he must see the distinction I am making. If he can commend my teaching as having no doctrinal difference, why is it doctrinal when Ron and I disagree?

Fourth, if brother Owen were to prove me inconsistent (which he hasn’t) what would that prove? Are we to conclude that since (according to Owen) Donnie Rader fellowships people with whom he has doctrinal differences, then we all can fellowship those with whom we have doctrinal differences such as those who hold to views like the guilty party can remarry or that the alien is not amenable to the law of Christ? If that is not the point, why raise it?

Who is a Pharisee?

Brother Owen says I am "wrong in charging me with sin or claiming my doctrine if false because I do not accept his judgement. He makes his judgement the law of God. This is Phariseeism in full bloom". That is a strong statement! If that is so, would brother Owen’s statement "I believe he is wrong in charging me with sin or claiming my doctrine is false…." makes him a Pharisee too? If my charging him with wrong makes me a Pharisee, looks to me like his saying I am wrong would make him one too. By the way, I wonder if I had called Bob Owen a Pharisee would Colly have allowed that without comment and let a member of the administration pass it out at the door?

Did I Charge Brother Owen With Accepting Adulterous Marriages?

Brother Owen said,

Because I have not made the same judgments as some have regarding a particular high profile case, it has been charged that I hold my views on fellowship in order to accept people in adulterous marriages. Nothing could be further from the truth .

Perhaps someone has made that charge, but I never made such a charge in the lecture book, orally or anywhere else. This handout is a response to my printed lecture (according to the title) and he responds to a charge I never made!

Pronounced Division

In the last paragraph of brother Owen’s statement he pronounced division among brethren over these issues and put the finger of blame on fellows like me who call attention of what he has taught. As he read the last paragraph to the audience I kept thinking that he is drawing a line in the sand. And he calls me a Pharisee? Does anyone remember the "Yellow tag of quarantine" proposed by those dividing the church over institutionalism? It may be later than we think.