Response To Don Patton

By Tom M. Roberts

In seeking “things that make for peace” (Rom. 14:19), we must not compromise with error and bring false peace by accepting sin into the church as brother Patton would do. Brother Patton’s plan for peace is nothing less than capitulation on the fellowship issue.

Do not be misled. Whatever else maybe said about our disagreement, brother Patton admits to including sinful practices within the principles of Romans 14, allowing fellowship with those who participate in them. This is unity-in-diversity in its rawest form and it will not be allowed to pass unchallenged. It is not bizarre or inordinate to examine any position that urges brethren to accept sin into their practice. It is not vile to raise a trumpet of warning about those who cry “Peace, Peace, when there is no peace” (Jer. 8:11).

The Infamous Chart of 100 Things

The issue would remain the same if Don had never invented his chart. His principle of including sinful doctrines and practices within Romans 14 and receiving them into our fellowship defines our differences. But let it be remembered that Don used his chart five times in his sermon on Romans 14 as it illustrated the “divine wisdom” this chapter provides to solve fellowship problems with sinful practices. His chart agrees in principle with his stated exegesis. It is not whether any of these 100 issues always belong in Romans 14, but whether some may ever belong there at all.

How Do We Limit Matters Allowed in Romans 14?

Though the text and context of Romans 14 clearly refer to matters indifferent to God, brother Patton includes sinful doctrines and practices in the chapter. He erected three rules to limit concerns which immediately arise. These rules were: (1) it must refer to brethren (not aliens), (2) it must be an individual (not congregational) matter, and (3) each must be conscientious and sincere. When challenged that these would permit adultery and other evils into fellowship, he added two more rules: (4) moral issues are excluded and (5) promotion of the error is not allowed.

While agreeing that Romans 14 addresses matters between brethren and not aliens (rule 1), the other four laid down are arbitrary and unenforceable. All five rules assume the sinfulness of the practice of eating meats and observing days, Don’s first of many fallacies.

Rule 2  Individual Action: Eating meats was done by a plurality at one time, thus it was not individual action. Invitations were sent to others (1 Cor. 10:27). Are we to believe that eating meats did not also involve the wife and children, thus restricting it (like adultery) from being a purely individual action? Observing days was likewise public (Acts 21:23-26). Limiting Romans 14 to individual action is another fallacy.

Rule 3  Conscientious and Sincere: Determining that another is honest and sincere requires that we read hearts rather than actions, which is impossible (1 Cor. 2:11). Local churches unknowingly fellowship insincere people (Phil. 1:15-18); only God can distinguish motives.

Rule 4  Moral Issues: Nothing in the text or context would rule out immoral practices if sinful practices are included in Romans 14. Immoral practices are sinful practices (1 In. 3:4)! But brother Patton supports his fourth rule by misusing Romans 2:14-15 to say Gentiles had the law of God “written on their hearts” as an “innate” law. This implies knowing God’s law in some manner other than the written word and violates Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16 which show the revealed gospel is written on our hearts only as we obey it (Rom. 6:17; 7:25; 10:8; et al). Romans 2:14-15 simply teaches that Gentiles were obeying by long established practice what the Jews, who had the written law, disobeyed. An “innate law” contradicts Romans 7:7 which affirms: “Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” But the law against coveting specifically forbade coveting your neighbor’s wife, a moral issue (Exod. 20:17). Therefore, this immoral practice is known only by revealed truth, not innate or inherent knowledge.

Don equivocates on whether or not there are things written on our heart by something other than the written word. He says, on one hand, that “the Word is the absolute standard by which every thought must be measured.” Then, as though words have no meaning, he argues that it does not supplant the Word to “view that we have embedded within us the confirming awareness that some things are wrong.” Now, brother Patton, which is it? Is the Word an absolute measure? If so, what is embedded in us to confirm our awareness? This is dangerous ground and one that readers will do well to consider carefully.

If an innate, inherent knowledge somehow “embedded” in our hearts reveals that immoral practices cannot be honest and immoral at the same time, why is this limited to immoral and not doctrinal sins? Romans 1 also condemns idolatry, all unrighteousness, covenant breakers, etc.? How can people practice doctrinal sins and be honest?

We need to know, brother Patton, just what this “moral law” is that is written in the heart. You quote your father as proof that “matters of positive law stand apart from those of moral law” (Answers For Our Hope 226-227). Would you please quote an inspired man? Brother Halley speaks of a “moral law” that permits the alien to marry and divorce at will, without defining that law. Now, you and your father quote the same thing but give no proof. Is Patton’s “moral law” the same as Hailey’s “moral law”? I have never seen any statement of Scripture that permits any law but the law of Christ this side of the cross (Rom. 8:1-4). Give us an accurate definition of “moral law” and where it is found in the Scripture, please.

Without an innate law, brother Patton is left without a legitimate reason for excluding immoral issues from Romans 14 or for refusing fellowship with them. Given his position that Romans 14 is not limited to matters of indifference to God but includes sinful practices which we may fellowship, both moral and doctrinal issues must be allowed. If not, brother Patton must produce some divine, positive law that would allow fellowship with a doctrinal sin but would “stand apart from” and disallow fellowship with a moral sin. The Bible makes no such distinction (1 John 3:4). Without such proof, Don must be ready to allow immoral practices (divorce and remarriage, polygamy, homosexuality, etc.) into the fellowship of doctrinal sins that he demands from Romans 14.

Shall we “Gerrymander” Adultery Into Our Fellowship?

“Gerrymandering” is the political practice of drawing lines through precincts that are favorable to certain politicians. In his speech before preachers in Grand Prairie on Nov. 10, 1994, Don deplored “gerrymandering” among brethren as “inconsistent,” “inexcusable,” and “pervasive” whereby some allow fellowship on some issues but not on others. He specifically named some issues where fellow-ship is usually extended: carnal warfare, the covering question, etc., including four specific marriage positions that do not usually divide brethren. These were: “No Divorced Remarry; May Divorce, Not Remarry; May Separate, Not Remarry; and No Reason For Divorce.” However, he noted that there were also four positions where fellowship is not allowed: “Fornicator May Re-marry; Baptism Starts Fresh; Unbeliever Not Subject; and Adultery Severs.” Since his argument was that it is “inconsistent,” and “inexcusable” to “gerrymander out” certain issues, the necessary inference is that Don wants us to “gerrymander in” those who teach “Fornicators may Re-marry; Baptism Starts Fresh; Unbeliever Not Subject; and Adultery Severs.” Beyond doubt, he is not looking to narrow the bounds of fellowship by his “gerrymander” argument. Therefore, the force of his argument is to extend fellowship to those who teach and practice error on divorce and remarriage. The evidence is cumulative and inescapable.

In the light of his own words, Rule four is meaningless.

Rule 5  Promotion of Error: How does one distinguish between stating one’s personal convictions (which brother Patton says is permissible) and promoting a false doctrine (which he claims to forbid)? Can one state his personal conviction in a class? From the pulpit? Among brethren in a home? Once? Twice? Ten times? At what point does “stating one’s personal conviction” become “promoting” a false doctrine? Could one “state his convictions” in a class of preachers such as Don has done and not be guilty of “promoting” a false doctrine?

But those who “hold personal convictions,” understand-ably, do not keep quiet. Shall we pretend: “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? When asked, those who hold “personal convictions” do tell. Homer Dailey has done so repeatedly. Paul stated it as axiomatic: “I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13).

If one holds a personal conviction that is sinful, he will not keep quiet when a gospel preacher teaches a class or preaches a sermon that exposes him. Those who believe sinful doctrines or morals to be correct will feel compelled either to defend their positions or to put pressure on preachers to keep quiet. The effect is to stifle the free course of gospel preaching or to become public with their convictions.

What happens when one is converted by a false teacher who is only “stating his convictions”? Is the convert any less lost? Jesus warned of that exact event when he said: “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).

Brethren, when a single sinful doctrine or practice of any kind is included within Roman.; !I, there are no rules that exclude any others. How can you include one sin and exclude any others? It is all or not at all! The battle is joined on this issue.

Individual or Congregational?

What Does Don Practice?

Brother Patton argues extensively that individual sins are permitted but congregational sin is prohibited. It is fully understood that we cannot police another’s thoughts or beliefs that are privately held. But brother Patton’s five rules do not address the real issue and do not prohibit individual issues from becoming congregational. They allow for one to hold a sinful doctrine, practice it either individually or publicly (influencing others), and remain in an open-ended fellowship with the congregation so long as he did not become factious! They would allow the doctrinal views of: premillennialism, Masonry, Realized Eschatology, institutionalism, no-Bible-classes, instrumental music, evolution, divorce and remarriage without cause, Calvinism, etc.

Remember that Don has said that sinful doctrines and practices belong in Romans 14. He has stated that Romans 14 has no time-limits. He maintains that so long as a brother is conscientious and honest, though he is in a sinful practice even when known by others, he cannot be refused fellowship. But the Bible teaches that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). It is impossible that a congregation remain unaffected indefinitely by sinful doctrines and practices, even on an individual basis.

However, Don does not practice his own rules! He says “do as I say, not as I do.”

He argued in our public discussions in Grand Prairie, Texas, that we can receive into fellowship an ex-Catholic Christian who clings to idol worship at home (statues of Mary). His rules provide no basis for discipline if the practice continues after teaching forbearingly and the idolatry becomes known to all. There is no time-limit in Romans 14! But it gets worse!

Don’s practice is that he has already received into his fellowship one who believes and advocates that the guilty, put-way fornicator can remarry! Even more telling, this member whom Don receives in fellowship at Easton Road in Dallas, Texas is also an elder under whom Don serves. This does not involve a babe in Christ, a time limit (requiring discipline), or limits in the scope of fellowship (refusing to allow him to teach class, etc.). This is an elder from whom Don accepts oversight and who advocates the practice (not just a personal conviction) that a guilty fornicator can remarry and still be right with God. Thus, this practice is congregational, not individual in scope; open-ended fellowship with error!

Has Don brought this practice to a “screeching halt”? Has the elder “been removed from the class”? Has the elder been “personally rebuked”? Has “strong teaching” against the guilty, put-away fornicator “continued from the pulpit”? Has the elder in question “powerfully, effectively taught against” the guilty, put-away fornicator being free to remarry? Has the elder ever raised the question of “Is it adultery?” or “Is it lasciviousness?” whereby he can demand protracted fellowship in this sin while he continues to “study the issue”? Is it merely a matter of forbearance? Paul said he withstood Peter to the face because he stood condemned (Gal. 2:11). Has brother Patton ever withstood this elder to the face “before them all” because he stands condemned? Or does he continue to fellowship him in a sinful doctrine not privately held but publicly advocated?

Additionally, Don disputed with John West, preacher at the Westlake church in Mesquite, Texas, that a fallen brother whom John had advised not to remarry (as a guilty, put-away fornicator) could, indeed, remarry. In the course of that discussion, brother Patton declared that he could not prove from the New Testament that polygamy was sinful! In further discussions, brother Patton also said that he could not prove from the New Testament that it was sinful for the put-away fornicator to remarry! Protestations by brother Patton that marriage, divorce and remarriage do not fit into Romans 14 ring rather hollow in the light of his practice.

Leonard Tyler’s Statement

Brother Patton included a statement in his “Response,” from Leonard Tyler who heard the sermon when it was preached at Longview, TX in April, 1990, indicating that brother Tyler and “those who heard the lesson in 1990 understood” (implying agreement). He also quoted brother Tyler as agreeing with him on Nov. 27, 1994 when he called brother Tyler about his recollections. Don’s transcribed statement was:

“Did Don preach what they’re saying about him there at Longview? Brother Tyler said, `Yes, he preached on Romans 14, but he sure didn’t preach anything like what they are accusing him of…I would have heard it, and I didn’t hear anything of it for four years later.’ They didn’t hear it then; I didn’t mean it then. They heard what I meant” (transcription of Dec. 1, 1994 tape at preachers’ forum, Grand Prairie, TX).

Brethren, brother Tyler does not accept Don Patton’s exegesis of Romans 14 as is implied above, though he does not recollect the chart of 100 issues presented by Don. What Don deliberately omitted was an earlier statement by brother Tyler (written Nov. 30, 1994) indicating a specific disagreement with Don’s exegesis of that chapter! The earlier statement reads as follows:

“To Whom It May Concern: S. Leonard Tyler does not remember Don Patton using the chart of 100 items when he preached on Romans 14 at the Judson Road church in Longview, Texas on April 12, 1990 (and I told him that on Sunday, Nov. 27, 1994). Brother Tyler does clearly remember that Don taught Romans 14 includes matters that are inherently sinful and did not agree with that concept. Brother Tyler believes Don’s view eliminates the realm of liberty as set forth in Romans 14. He reiterated those points to Don on Sunday, Nov. 27,1994” (Statement made on Nov. 30, 1994).

This puts Don’s statement from brother Tyler in his “Response” in an entirely differently light. Don knew that brother Tyler disagreed with the sermon when it was preached because they discussed their disagreement. Don knew that brother Tyler had prepared the Nov. 30th statement to be read wherever needed to clarify his disagreement. Acknowledging that he did not remember the chart of 100 issues, brother Tyler nevertheless told Don specifically that he disagreed with him about Romans 14 including “matters inherently sinful” and did not want the statement published unless it accurately represented his disagreement. Don omitted the statement that expressed that area of disagreement.

Brother Tyler is a veteran preacher and can speak for himself without me or anyone else putting words in his mouth. He has specifically authorized me to include his first statement here for clarification and to request that any who doubts his disagreement to call him for personal verification.

I called brother Walton Weaver (now of Paragould, Ark.) who was the local preacher at Judson Road at the time Don preached there on Romans 14. He authorized a statement to be included in this response as follows: “I was present at Judson Road and heard the sermon by Don Patton. I disagreed with it at the time and disagree with it now.”

As a matter of record, the transcript of his sermon clearly establishes what he taught about the chart and Romans 14 without needing to ask his audience what they remember about it four years later.

Does Love Require Us To Accept

Protestations of Innocence?

Don has asked us to accept his protestations of innocence in spite of what he teaches. We cannot judge his heart, but we must judge his words (In. 7:24). The evidence from his own pen demands fellowship with sinful practices as an exegesis of Romans 14. Brethren, love makes no such demand that we ignore what is being taught and practiced (1 In. 2:5; 5:2; Heb. 12:6)! I love Don enough to confront him with his error in the hope that he will repent and turn away from it.

Misunderstanding About Antecedents?

Much was said about the antecedent of “these things” as being individual instead of congregational. But that doesn’t change the problem. Whatever the antecedent, whether individual or congregational, both are erroneous when dealing with sinful doctrines and practices from the stand-point of Romans 14. But the analysis of “Rule 2” above shows his distinction about individual and congregational sins to be without foundation.

Problem I and Problem II

Brother Patton teaches that Problem I refers to Romans 14:1-13 while Problem II refers to Romans 14:13-23. Problem I (he says) includes references to “meats” and “days” that are sinful practices while Problem II refers only to matters “pure” and “good.”

If Problem I refers to sinful practices and Problem II refers to “pure” and “good” practices, how do we deter-mine that? Verses 13-23 also refer to “meat” (vv. 15, 20), “eating and drinking” (v. 17), “flesh and wine” (v. 21) and “eating” (v. 23). What expressed rule makes the eating of verses 1-13 sinful while the same eating of verses 13-23 is “pure” and “good”? The fact of the matter is that all of the “eating” and “days” of verses 1-23 are “pure” and “good” and there is only one problem (not two) with two illustrations (meat and days) to show fellowship in matters of indifference to God.

Whom Does God Receive?

The one whom God receives (vv. 1, 3) is the meat eater and the one observing days. Both are innocent practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden, but permitted (1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16). God “received” (aorist, past tense) the meat eater in the past (v. 3). “To his own Master he stands or falls” (v. 4) in the eating of meats (present tense). “God is able to make him stand” (v. 4) in the future judgment (vv. 10-12) regarding the practice of eating meats. The weak brother wanted to condemn his strong brother in what? Eating meats and observing days! He was not accusing him of any other sin that could make him fall. However, God was the judge, not the weak brother and, since God had received the strong brother in eating meats, the weak brother was commanded to receive him and not condemn him any longer in that practice. But by charging the strong brother who ate meats as sinful, brother Patton is guilty of doing what Paul expressly forbids: judging the servant of God to be sinful in that which God permits.

According to Don, the weak brother is actually the strong brother since the “strong” brother is the one who practices sin and the “weak” brother is one who won’t practice it! This effectively reverses the context. Also, Don would have the weak brother (who does not have all knowledge) to “dispute” with the sinning, stronger brother (who has all knowledge) to convert him from his sinful practice, when Paul said, “don’t dispute” but “receive” (v. 1). If the strong brother sins, has “fallen from grace,” and “needs to be made to stand,” as Don teaches, wherein is his strength? If the strong brother is in danger of losing his soul and the weak brother must “get in his face” and “teach him to maturity,” how does this “make for peace” (v. 17) when it requires confrontation? Brother Patton’s view would reduce the context to nonsense.

Does Limiting Romans 14 to Incidentals

“Gut” the Chapter?

Romans 14 is teaching the necessary lesson of fellow-ship in matters of indifference to God when some, misguided, try to bind judgments (doubtful disputations) on brethren. We are not to do that, but to allow liberty. By establishing liberty in incidental matters that chapter permits differences of opinion without splintering the church.

While forbearance is a part of God’s truth about how we treat brethren in sin (Rom. 2:4), this chapter does not deal specifically with that subject. Forbearance is not the issue nor our real disagreement. Matthew 18:15-17 teaches forbearance that has limits which finally require us to be no longer brethren but to treat the guilty as “Gentiles.” ” But Romans 14 never requires a withdrawal of fellowship because no inherently sinful practice is contemplated.

Conclusion: We Are Not Fighting the Same Battle!

Brother Patton would have you to believe that he is fighting apostasy, has fought it longer and is doing a better job, and that we are waging the same battle. There are major differences!

Brother Patton would bring sinful doctrines and practices into Romans 14, receive them into fellowship, place no time limit on their practice, and condemn to hell any who refuses them. No, we are not fighting the same battle. I am trying to keep sin out of the church; Don advocates receiving it into fellowship. When Don serves under an elder who holds to the error that the put-away fornicator may remarry, it is clear he has surrendered the battle I am fighting. The lines are drawn.

Brother Patton’s arguments have been answered both privately and publicly. Though he has repeatedly charged those who disagree with him as being guilty of misrepresentation, there has been none. A studious intent to avoid a personality dispute has been maintained. In the final analysis, he must accept responsibility for the furor engendered due to the extremes of his position and the danger proposes. I have no animosity toward Don but an in opposition to his doctrine. Others are equally alert to his error and he has on his desk a large number of challenges for debate. If he thinks we are in the same battle, let him sign the propositions. The Woodmont church will endorse such a debate. Will Easton Road? If so, a debate can be quickly arranged. Readers are urged to consider this controversy carefully. I know of no issue of greater magnitude nor of farther reaching consequences than this one. It has the capacity to “:turn the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4) but it shall not do so quietly and without opposition.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 4 p. 23-27
February 16, 1995