By Tom Roberts
During November 1-3, 1994, representatives of the Independent Christian Church and Churches of Christ met at the campus of Abilene Christian University for Restoration Forum XII. This annual forum explores avenues of fellowship between these two religious groups and the featured speaker at one session was Rubel Shelly of Nashville, Tennessee. Sending forth “A Call to Biblical Action,” Rubel appealed to Romans 14:1-15:13 as a basis for fellowship in doctrinal matters that have previously divided members of these two churches.
The appeal to Romans 14 and fellowship is not new to the readers of the Guardian of Truth. Previous articles have discussed Ed Harrell’s defense of fellowship with Homer Hailey in his error on the “alien who would come to God,” Don Patton’s use of Romans 14 to cover doctrinal error and sinful practices, and a series of exegetical articles by Mike Willis (GOT, Vol. XXXIX, Nos. 19-22) that clearly established the proper use of Romans 14 as application is made to matters of “authorized liberty,” or “in-difference to God.”
It is apparent, however, that discussions of the use of Romans 14 and fellowship must continue due to the increased and widespread misuse of these verses by respected brethren who would include sinful doctrines and practices in local fellowships.
There is, in my opinion, no more critical and dangerous compromise of truth in our generation than the perversion of Romans 14 by which fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices becomes an accepted fact among churches of Christ.
Though different advocates want to limit the coverage of Romans 14 to only one or two sinful matters, the ground-work is being laid by which every sinful matter may be included. Once the parameters of Romans 14 are changed and stretched to include a single sinful doctrine or practice, there are no rules by which all sinful doctrines and practices may be excluded! If this current peril to biblical purity goes unchallenged, succeeding generations will be led to a compromise with error such as not seen in our times. There can be no exaggeration of the danger posed by this perversion of Romans 14. It allows compromise with truth and will provide a basis for fellowship that knows no boundaries short of complete apostasy.
Bob Owen: Spokesman for
Misuse of Romans 14
During the last few years, Bob Owen of Tampa, Florida, a past president of Florida College, has preached a series of meetings across the nation in which he has felt the necessity of preaching from Romans 14, using it as a means of advocating fellowship in doctrinal matters over which brethren have divided. These meetings include, at the least, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Lon-don, England, with additional meetings planned for the future. At the Temple Terrace, Florida, church on September 2, 1993, Bob acknowledged this study as “critical” (quotes are from the taped sermon) as he addressed the question, “Can we fellowship one an-other when we differ?” He spoke about “fellowshipping. And I’m doing it in a context of a series of discussions on the marriage question.” While disavowing any semblance of softness on the marriage-divorce questions, Bob nevertheless argued that brethren should not label those who disagree on that issue as “false teachers” or refuse to have fellowship with them. Disagreeing that Romans 14 is only applicable to “matters of indifference,” brother Owen clearly sought to apply the chapter to doctrinal matters about which brethren disagree, even matters that he would view as sinful in doctrine and practice.
While there are other issues in brother Owen’s sermon that are worthy of discussion, this review will be limited to this one: Does the text and context of Romans 14 and 15 permit sinful doctrines and practices to be included in local fellowship? Brother Owen maintains that the text allows it. It is this exceedingly dangerous position with such far-reaching consequences to which I object and to which I now draw your attention.
Bob Owen and Rubel Shelly:
Same Fatal Exegesis
In order to illustrate that this controversy is not a “tempest in a teapot,” it is necessary to show the lengths to which some are willing to go in application. No person is more representative of the compromise position on Romans 14 than Rubel Shelly. He is willing to place sinful doctrines and practices in the context of Romans 14 and accept the full consequences of that position. His fellowship is broad enough to include denominational error and he does not hesitate to point to Romans 14 as the basis of that fellowship.
It should be noted clearly that I do not charge Bob Owen with the same doctrinal positions that Rubel Shelly occupies. I have no doubt but that brother Owen would repudiate and has repudiated the conclusions and applications that Rubel has made with regard to fellowship with the Christian Church and denominational error.
However, it is necessary for me to state just as clearly that the exegesis of Romans 14 that Rubel Shelly makes is the same exegesis that Bob Owen makes! Rubel Shelly would include sinful doctrines and practices in Romans 14 and maintain fellowship with those who teach and practice them. Bob Owen would include sinful doctrines and practices in Romans 14 and maintain fellowship with those who teach and practice them. The difference lies not in their exegesis of the passage but in the extent to which they extend the category of sinful doctrines and practices.
Who Has The List of Sinful
Doctrines Which Are
Brother Shelly has suggested a list of sinful doctrines and practices that are acceptable to him. It stops short at the heresy which denies the Lord-ship of Jesus (Deity of Christ). Other than that, he is perfectly willing to accept doctrines up to, and including, fellowship with sectarians. Thus, Rubel is comfortable with the gospel/ doctrine distinction that Ketcherside, Garrett, et al, espoused in the past.
Brother Owen also has suggested a list of sinful doctrines and practices that seem reasonable to him to allow in Romans 14. He does not go as far as brother Shelly, but his position obligates him to tell us the definitive list of acceptable doctrines and practices that are sinful yet which are acceptable to fellowship. He is willing to accept one who practices carnal warfare, even while believing that it is a form of murder. But would homosexuality be accepted on the list? If not, why not? We need to know why one sin is open to fellowship and not another one. Note carefully that the position itself demands such a list. Will the gospel/ doctrine distinction become important in formulating such a list? What are the “core” issues which will allow us to fellowship some sins but not others? It is time to walk carefully in our treatment of God’s word.
Since Romans 14 applies only to matters of authorized liberties, each Christian can follow his own con-science, “being fully assured in his own mind” (v. 5). Can each Christian also follow his own conscience, “being fully assured in his own mind,” about sinful doctrines and practices? If so, truth is subjective instead of objective and situation ethics becomes a viable option.
Can the local church arbitrate such a list? What passage authorizes a church to accept a single sinful doctrine or practice that God will not receive (cf: 1 Cor. 5:6; 2 Cor. 6:14fO? How is it that brother Owen teaches that what is acceptable to one church may not be acceptable to another church? Is truth cultural? Would a church in San Francisco be more open to homosexuals than a church in Small town, Texas? Is liquor more acceptable in Kentucky than in Ohio? Is immodest apparel more cultural in Las Vegas than the Bible belt? Is sin not a “reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34)? Brethren, sin is a shame to us whether the community is affronted or not. Sin is an affront to God! Is the purity of the church really determined by what the community sees as shameful and blatant? As sin in our nation becomes “worse and worse,” can we fellowship more and more sin (2 Tim. 3:13)? Why is it that Paul taught the same things “everywhere in every church” and exhorted the brethren in sinful Corinth to “be of the same mind” (1 Cor. 4:17; 1:10)? Surely their culture would have allowed more leeway in fellowship with sin than Paul permitted, if brother Owen’s view is correct.
If brethren are to allow sinful doctrines and practices into their fellowship, we do, indeed, need a list to tell us which ones we can accept, and in what parts of the country they are acceptable!
In Romans 14, brethren were to receive the weak brother because God had received him (14:1, 3). The con-sequences of the position espoused by brethren Shelly and Owen would have us to receive into our fellowship those whom God will not receive into his. We are told that this practice of receiving sin into our fellowship is right in some instances but not in others. But note that whatever the matter in question in Romans 14 is, Paul instructed the ones who received each other not to “dispute” about it, not to “judge” one another as sinful, and to recognize that those who practiced the disputed practice could go to heaven while engaging in it (vv. 1, 3, 4, 10). This is understandable regarding authorized liberties, but not in sinful matters. How puzzling and dismaying it is to even be discussing what sinful doctrines and practices we can accept in the church of the Lord!
Attempts to Establish Guidelines for
Sin in the Church
Rubel attempts to limit application of the principle of fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices to the deity of Christ, drawing the line only against those who deny the Lordship of Jesus. Brother Owen attempts to limit application of the principle of fellowship to:
1. The decisions of a local church as they arbitrate which sinful doctrines and practices they are comfortable with.
2. Individual, not congregational matters.
3. Excluding factious brethren, even those “factious” about the truth.
4. The conclusion that one cannot be called a false teacher if that person is a “conscientious, godly person reaching a different conclusion from a careful and prayerful study of a passage than I’ve reached.”
However, neither brother can sustain his attempt to limit application of Romans 14 since each has changed the con-text. Paul wrote concerning matters that are neither required nor prohibited (thus, not wrong or sinful), but permitted. Such matters are declared “clean,” “good,” and “pure” (vv. 14, 16, 20). Thus the instructions regarding “receiving one another” in matters of authorized liberty cannot be applied in any sense to sinful matters. It is a basic violation of context to shift from one category of things to a different category. It is another basic violation to apply the rules regarding liberties to matters of sin. Thus Rubel wants to apply his twisted passage so as to include fellowship on instrumental music; Bob wants to apply his twisted passage so as to include fellowship of adulterous marriage relationships (that do not “shame the church”). Each is making the same basic error. One could just as easily take the instructions on love and apply them to fornication (1 Cor. 13). If not, why not? If the fornicator “suffers long and is kind,” will that application permit the sin? Can we have fellowship with the fornicator if he “is not puffed up, does not behave himself unseemly”? But, you say, you can’t apply the principles of 1 Corinthians 13 to something that is sinful. Exactly! Yet both Rubel and Bob are attempting to do the same thing with Romans 14 and sinful matters. Why is it right to do so with Romans 14 and not with 1 Corinthians 13?
Quotes from Rubel Shelly
Leaving little doubt as to the exegesis of Romans 14-15 or the extremes of fellowship which he envisions with the Christian Church, brother Shelly urged his listeners to “accept one another as brothers,” “be reconciled to one another,” and “practice unity within our long-fractured fellowship.” (All quotes are taken from printed copy of Rubel’s speech; italics his.) To accomplish this, he urged that members of both sides stop labeling one another as “apostate,” stop “withholding (or withdrawing) fellowship,” and “repent of their past behaviors, be(ing) willing to admit their wrong…”
Matters specifically addressed in the list by Rubel as inconsequential to fellowship were: alcoholic beverages, instrumental music, millennialism, work of the Holy Spirit, church organization, the role of women in church leader-ship, and “a dozen other issues” that do not change the fact “that they are all children of God.”
Again, at the risk of being redundant, I recognize that Bob Owen does not hold these views and would rightly object to being put in the same category as Rubel Shelly, claiming that he makes the same application as Rubel.
But, I must insist that we recognize the deadly parallel of agreement between Bob and Rubel as to the use of Romans 14 to cover sinful doctrines and practices.
The Deadly Parallel
With regard to using Romans 14 in principle to allow fellowship in sinful doctrines and practices:
Rubel teaches: “Some of us have been told that these verses relate to the issues of taste, personal judgment, and speculation. The things Paul had in mind here, we have been told, were `mere matters of opinion’. . .
“The three issues named by Paul in these verses were most definitely not issues on which people felt free to leave each other to their private opinions….”
“The doctrine note, doctrine held by either group was tolerable to Paul.”
Bob teaches: “I’m talking tonight about fellowshipping. And I’m doing it in a context of a series of discussions on the marriage question.”
“So let me suggest in the Scriptures there are some cases discussed in detail where brethren had some differences of conviction. They differed in their belief. They differed in their practice. And yet they not only could continue to fellowship, but they were taught by Paul, the Lord through Paul, that they should continue to fellowship. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 is usually the more familiar passage.”
“In Romans the fourteenth chapter, a similar principle is discussed . . . And many brethren today have come along and have said, `These passages cannot be applied to any matter where the Scripture teaches on it. The only thing that they, that is, these passages can be used to answer, are matters of indifference.’ Those are our terms. And I have heard this preached. I can show it to you in print and you can too. You know it. They say, `It’s only on matters of indifference.”
How Shall We Apply the Principle?
Clearly, brother Owen denies that Romans 14 applies only to matters of indifference, to matters of “authorized liberties.” By “indifferent,” we mean those things described in 1 Corinthians 8:8 “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” The “scruples” of Romans 14:1 are the same as “liberties” and “lawful” things, thus authorized liberties in the sight of God, not sinful doctrines and practices (1 Cor. 8:9; 10:23). We mean things “indifferent” in the sight of God without regard to whether or not men consider them indifferent. They obviously were not indifferent to men but were to God. Regardless of the fervor of the weak brother’s objection, this zeal did not change a matter of indifference to God (a “lawful matter”) into a matter of sin.
Yet Bob insists that Romans 14 will allow for inclusion of sinful doctrines and practices. Every care has been taken to accurately represent what brother Owen teaches and I don’t think he will dispute that this is a correct assessment of the principles he believes. Unlike brother Shelly, he is unwilling to make as broad an application to the same is-sues. But given the principle, an application must surely be made. The question must be raised, “How is the application made by Rubel Shelly any different from that made by Bob Owen?”
Brother Owen’s Application
The above quotes were from the lesson preached at Temple Terrace, Florida. The following quotes are from a similar lesson preached in Concord, North Carolina, on February 19, 1995. He gives us a partial list, not a complete list, but a suggestive list. While most might see the list as one of apples and oranges (mixing sinful and non-sinful things together), it is nevertheless a list containing matters some brethren believe to be sinful. Brother Owen has made a beginning, but he needs to make a comprehensive list to let us know what sinful doctrines and practices we can accept in our fellowship.
“Are there some things where brethren differ today, might differ in their beliefs and might differ in their practices, and yet could continue to work and worship together in the local congregation? I believe there are.
“I want you to look at a list of things and this is not a complete list but it’s a suggestive list. Differing convictions on these issues; not everybody differs over all of them and some of us may not differ over any of them.”
At this point, brother Owen introduced a list of things which he enumerated as including the artificial covering on women, carnal warfare, weddings in the church building, TVs in the home, sports on Sunday, Christmas, and Halloween, etc., most of which some brethren have considered sinful. Later, in the question and answer session following his sermon, Bob specifically included Homer Hailey’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage as one of the issues that have divided brethren. Clearly registering his disapproval of brother Hailey’s doctrine, Bob declared that Homer Halley could not be considered a “false teacher” on the basis of 2 Peter 2 and indicated that he would continue in fellowship with brother Halley despite the error that he teaches. There can be little doubt as to the application brother Owen is willing to make of Romans 14 and sinful matters.
Bob raised the question, answering it himself: “Are there issues among us where Christians could differ in their belief and in their practice and yet continue in their fellowship together? I believe there are.”
“My participation in a local congregation does not mean that I approve everything that everybody in the congregation believes. Rome and Corinth didn’t have approval of everybody. And our participation together in a local congregation is not the same thing as saying, `We endorse everything that everybody here believes and practices.’
Where Do We Draw the Line in Application?
Brother Owen realizes very well that a major problem exists when one allows sinful doctrines and practices to be placed in Romans 14. If we are going to fellowship brethren in error, where do we draw the line? How far do we go? Is one sin okay? Are two sins too many? Must I accept a brother in sin if he honestly believes it to be permitted, “being fully assured in his own mind”? How do we draw any line anywhere if we are going to allow each person to insist on the right of personal conscience to determine the limits of fellowship? Here is a dilemma for every person who occupies his position. Brother Owen is quite willing to apply it to the covering question, but if this is allowed (as a sinful matter), Pandora’s box is open and how is the lid to be replaced before all sin gets out?
Realizing this danger, Bob therefore attempts to limit the application of Romans 14 by arbitrarily applying rules that do not fit the chapter. For instance, brother Owen states that fellowship on sinful matters is not possible if the situation “shames the group.” But there is no shame in matters that are “clean,” “good,” and “pure,” the category of actions in the passage (vv. 14, 16, 20).
Bob would limit fellowship with sinful matters if one becomes contentious and factious. But even before one becomes contentious and factious, the Scriptures warn us to “have no fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11). One can be congenial and yet be as Satan, “an angel of light,” with whom no fellowship is possible (2 Cor. 11:14).
Again, Bob would limit fellowship on the basis of congregational, as opposed to individual, sins. Yet, there are sins which are individual which cannot be allowed into fellowship, are there not? For instance, would brother Owen fellowship one who engaged in social drinking or adultery that did not “shame the group,” or idolatry, practiced at home, in the worship of statues? Would fellowship be extended to one who was not contentious but who privately taught his convictions about premillennialism? Are all individual sins to be excluded in considering whom we fellowship? It is highly arbitrary, and impossible, to limit fellowship of sinful matters only in congregational matters.
Finally, Bob would limit fellowship with error by denying that “a conscientious godly person reaching a different conclusion from a careful and prayerful study of a passage than I’ve reached” could be a false teacher. Thus, any doctrine taught by a “conscientious, godly person who reaches a position by a careful and prayerful study” could not be called a false teacher even though he taught a false doctrine that might condemn souls to hell. Is this not a contradiction of terms? Let’s try that on Saul of Tarsus! Who would deny that he was a “conscientious, godly person” who reached his conclusion that Jesus Christ was a fraud by a “careful, prayerful” study of the Scriptures? Yet Paul was sinful and lost while holding such a view, and a false teacher (1 Cor. 15:15; Gal. 2:4).
Are there not people among denominations who are honest (or is honesty only a commodity of members of the church)? Can we not call them false teachers unless they fit all the details of 2 Peter 2? If I must know that a person is a “conscientious godly person” before I can label him a false teacher, does it not require an ability to read hearts?
“But Is It Adultery?”
We all know that the man in Corinth who committed adultery with his father’s wife was sinful (shaming the church) and needed to be disciplined. But what about the person who is living in a lawful, respected adulterous condition that does not shame the church in the eyes of the Gentile world? Shall we receive adulterers into the church, into local fellowship? Is this something to be decided by “the group,” or has the Lord not legislated on this? Does the local church have the right to fellowship one whom Christ will not receive? Does the local church have the right to practice fellowship in something for which it does not have authority? The Scriptures teach: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
But brother Owen taught: “And some have read 1 Corinthians 5 and have said, `Now, look, here is what the Bible says. Here is a man in adultery. You’ve got to with-draw 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 would be like some-body who made no claim to be married, they’re just sleeping together. Now to come along and say, `Okay, that 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’re guilty of fornication.’ I can make that conclusion. Is that the same thing as the incestuous brother in 1 Corinthians 5? I don’t believe it is.”
Clearly, we are not talking merely of the artificial covering or of the display of Christmas trees as “sins” allowed by Romans 14. It is obvious that brother Owen’s definition of sinful doctrines and practices that are to be included in fellowship allow local congregations to decide whether or not they will accept adulterous marriages into the member-ship. Who is to say that Rubel’s instrument of music is any more sinful than the practice of receiving adulterous marriages? Is there any place in the Scripture that gives comfort that God will fellowship either?
Fellowship in Action on Sinful Practices
It needs to be emphasized where this principle of fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices will lead. We are not talking about “ivory tower” issues that have no practical effect, simple philosophical exercises that are filled with rhetoric and sophistry. We are talking about actually receiving sin into our fellowship, bedding down with those who teach and practice soul-destructive life-styles. Are you ready to twist the language of Romans 14, changing the context from a discussion about authorized liberties to that of sinful matters, and stop “judging” sinful doctrines, “receive” sinful practices, to accept adultery as “clean,” “pure,” and “good” if one is “fully assured in his own mind”? Shall we receive the adulterer in order to “please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying”? Shall we allow the adulterer to live in sin so that we might have “peace” instead of “contending” (Rom. 14:9; Jude 3)? These conclusions logically follow if sin is to be included in Romans 14 and can be applied equally to social drinking, gambling, or a “dozen, dozen other issues.”
A Question Needing An Answer
It has long been noted that the majority of brethren in the northwest part of the country have held views of open fellowship with adulterous marriages. While some have spoken out against such error, most not only teach that the guilty, put-away fornicator may remarry, but allow the practice of it and willingly fellowship those who do so. Perhaps this will provide us with a “litmus” test for the real application of Romans 14 and fellowship with those teaching destructive heresies.
Jerry Bassett has debated in Texas the right of the guilty, put-away fornicator to remarry. He is on record as denying truth and propagating error in a book that advocates the right of the guilty, put-away fornicator to be remarried and still be right with God. We need not mince words: Jerry Bassett will be instrumental in sending souls to hell with his false doctrine (whether he is considered a false teacher or not!). And Bob Owen has agreed to conduct a meeting in the Spring of 1998 at the Coburg Road church in Eugene, Oregon where Jerry Basset is the local preacher. Is this the fellowship we are urged to allow from Romans 14?
Please understand that there is no criticism of brother Owen preaching anywhere or any time. If invited, I would go to Coburg Road myself. However, I entertain no illusions of such an invitation coming my way, given what I teach on Romans 14 and on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I believe it significant that those who are invited to congregations in the northwest to hold meetings make the same distinction between the sin of adultery and the practice of fellowship as does brother Owen. Brethren, opposition to sin is impotent when you fellowship it! No one will take seriously brother Owen or anyone else who agrees to a scholarly and academic discussion of sin with-out condemning the practice, even while extending brotherly fellowship in its warmest sense. How did Jonah go to Nineveh? How did John address Herod? How did Paul deal with Peter in his compromise with the Judaizing teachers? Did Jonah, John, or Paul advise fellowship with sin? Is there biblical precedent anywhere that al-lows fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices? How will Bob Owen address the sin and practice of adultery in the northwest? Will he tell them to “repent or perish” (Luke 13:3)? Will he tell those in unlawful marriages that “it is not lawful for you to have her” (Matt. 14:4)? Is there ever a circumstance in which brother Owen would apply 2 John 9-11 to brethren at Coburg Road or anywhere else where the sin of adultery is believed and practiced?
Sin Has Consequences
Brethren, do we need to be reminded that our God is a holy God and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)? Do we need to be reminded of how sinful sin really is? Do we need to be reminded that God has demanded of his people that we be a “separate” people (2 Cor. 6:14-18)? Have we forgotten that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)? Is truth not clear enough that we can know where we ought to stand? The apostle Paul condemned the Gentiles, not only because of their sins, but because they had “pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32). This describes fellow-ship with sin. No, it is not only enough that we hold to the truth. It is also required of us that we put into practice: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). Has this Scripture lost its meaning in our generation? Or have we reduced Romans 14 to a caricature of its inspired message by which fellowship with sin may indeed be practiced with impunity? We need to re-member: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Debates and Discussions Refused
It has sometimes been assumed that an article such as this one is “shot from the hip,” or a “rush to judgment” before other avenues of study have been explored. Some conclude that we are “brotherhood watchdogs” who feel an urge to control the brotherhood. Shall we not have the same right as brother Owen, who admits to going “hither, thither and yon” among brethren teaching his views on Romans 14? I see nothing sinister in the fact that brother Owen has taught his lesson on Romans 14 in many places at home and abroad. He has a conviction about his position which he is not ashamed to teach (which I can admire), therefore he teaches it (2 Cor. 4:13). Have we not the same right?
But readers need to be aware that efforts have been made on different levels over an extended period of time for discussions and debates to be arranged by those of us who hold opposing views on Romans 14 and fellowship. To date, most invitations to hold private discussions and every request for public debates have been rejected. Bob Owen says, “I have no hesitation to speak on this topic or to discuss these issues, but I have no desire to engage in a written `debate”‘ (Study Guide, May, 1995). Evidently, the method being employed to further the cause of this error is to ignore the challenge and continue spreading it. But those who recognize the inherent danger of turning Romans 14 into the “Trojan horse” or “Pandora’s Box” will not be silent. We love truth and intend to “contend for the faith” without being contentious or factious.
It should go without saying that this writer is mad at no one, holds ill will toward none and desires peace and unity with all God’s people everywhere. He understands the need to be longsuffering and patient (1 Thess. 5:14) in controversial, even sinful, matters. Accusations have been made that we will withdraw fellowship rashly or in haste simply because brethren disagree with us. It should be evident that attempts to enter into discussions with brethren over these matters is proof of a willingness to be longsuffering. I firmly believe in the power of God’s word to draw brethren together, not di-vide. It is required of us, to be in fellowship with God, that we have a willingness to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” doing the “work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2, 5). Out of this crucible of brotherly study will our fellowship be strengthened. May God direct us to that end.
Since preparing this manuscript, significant events have transpired that readers will want to know about as it relates to efforts to resolve the doctrinal differences outlined above. Months have transpired while publication of this material was delayed in the hopes that brotherly discussions would bear fruit toward “speaking the same thing and that there be no divisions” (1 Cor. 1:10).
First, a copy of the original manuscript was sent to brother Owen so that he would be aware of my concern of the errors he has been propagating across the nation in a series of lessons. The manuscript was accompanied with an invitation to have a written debate about fellowship and Romans 14. The offer to debate was refused.
Secondly, another invitation was extended for us to meet in some arrangement other than a debate so that frank, brotherly discussions could ensue which would attempt a scriptural resolution of our differences. This was agreed upon and a meeting was arranged that included Bob Owen, Harry Pickup, Jr., Mike Willis, and myself. During that meeting, transcribed copies of brother Owen’s sermons were distributed to each participant with objections noted so that there could be no misunderstanding of our significant differences. Over hours of study within a two-day period, these differences were discussed in an atmosphere of frankness that was totally free of anger or animosity. During this study, brother Owen freely admitted that he had been wrong about a number of things he had said in his lessons and promised that future lessons would note these changes. Based on that offer, I volunteered to withdraw the review from publication. Brother Pickup (who stated agreement with brother Owen on his exegesis of Romans 14) suggested that the publication be delayed, pending a review of a future lesson by brother Owen on Romans 14. It was agreed that this delay would take place and Bob promised to make the corrections in his next lesson and send me a copy of the lesson on tape so that his changes could be noted.
On November 12, brother Owen participated in the lectureship in Annandale, Virginia, in which he spoke on the subject of fellowship and Romans 14. During that sermon, no discernable change was made in any position previously held, no admission of error in exegesis was noted. In fact, brother Owen accused those of us who disagree with him of so dividing the church that we shouldn’t worry “about the money to build buildings. You won’t need any. You can meet by yourself in a phone booth” (Tape, Nov. 12, 1996). Sadly, I have been forced to the conclusion that all our efforts to resolve our differences have been in vain.
Finally, there seems to be no other course of action open but to print this review and encourage open discussion in the pages of the Guardian of Truth. It must be emphasized that fellowship with error is no less sinful than the practice of error (2 John 9-11). Romans 14 must not be allowed to be twisted so as to become the basis for compromise with sin.
I remain available to brother Owen, to brother Pickup, to Ed Harrell and the other editors of Christianity Magazine (who have endorsed this abuse of Romans 14 Dee Bowman, Paul Earnhart, Sewell Hall, and Brent Lewis) for additional studies. Truth does not fear investigation. We are brethren. We hold opposing views on a serious issue that is not going away. Brethren who agree with me have made it clear that we are ready to meet and discuss, only to be told that “we are not trustworthy.” But we will not be side-tracked by delays nor attacks on our character. Let us deal with this issue: “Do the principles of Romans 14 allow us to be in fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices?” I deny. Who will affirm?
Some may think that I have misrepresented brother Owen or Shelly. To personally examine the materials under re-view in this article, contact me either at my mailing address, by phone (1-817-294-9706), or e-mail (76221. firstname.lastname@example.org) or view them at the following Website: http://members.aol.com/TXchurch/westside.htm. The following transcriptions are available:
Rubel Shelly: “A Call to Biblical Action,” delivered November 3, 1994 at Restoration Forum XII, a meeting between invited members of the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, held on the campus of Abilene Christian University.
Bob Owen sermons on Romans 14 and Fellowship March 2, 1993 delivered at the Temple Terrace church in Tampa, Florida
February 19, 1995 delivered in Concord, North Carolina March 28, 1996 delivered at the Temple Terrace church in Tampa, Florida
November 12, 1996 delivered at Annandale, VA
Guardian of Truth XLI: 6 p. 6-12
March 20, 1997