By Tom M. Roberts
God’s divine wisdom is no place more sorely needed than in the area of fellowship between brethren. The sad history of God’s people is that of division instead of unity, sectarianism instead of harmony, splintering instead of brotherhood. Noble efforts toward oneness, such as the Restoration Movement, having set sail with the hope of solidarity, most often have ended on the shoals of discord. We all pretend to understand the goal: to be God’s one people in heart and soul, faith and practice. Yet we are moved to weep when we hear the prayer of Jesus:
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou halt sent me (John 17:20-21).
We weep because we have been unable to achieve that which was dear to the heart of the Savior unity eludes us.
There was a time, even in this century, when we were closer to answering that prayer than we are today. Though past generations had their own conflicts, none has been so fragmented over so many issues as our own. Major disruptions of the 19th century concerned the missionary society and instruments in worship. The early 20th century brought us premillennialism and the first stirrings of institutional-ism, the college in the budget. Liberalism has now had its way with many congregations and a veritable explosion of issues has fragmented the Lord’s people.
Among faithful brethren, one un – 0toting principle has always kept the flame of unity burning: we all appeal to the word of God as our standard, rejecting every violation of God’s word as apostasy and closing ranks against every innovation from the divine pattern. This biblical principle is clear:
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 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).
However rancorous our discussions have been with one another at times, Christians have held the common conviction that error has no place among us. We may debate whether or not a practice is sinful, but once the issue is defined, sinful practices are not tolerated. Whatever unity that has been possible has been attained under this banner, and, in most cases, those dedicated to iniquity depart for greener pastures. As John said,
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us (1 John 2:19).
In this manner, sin has been purged from among brethren and fellowship has more or less taken care of itself. When the standard of truth is upheld and faithful preaching is not only permitted but required, those of a contrary spirit tend to find a place more suited to their theory or life-style among the denominations or liberal churches. Through all of our struggles, a common love for truth and an abhorrence of sinful practices has been constant. Only among a few has there been a tolerance for error, a deliberate broadening of fellowship so as to include and embrace error. Most are familiar with Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside and their brand of “unity in diversity” in virtually all doctrinal matters. Their circle of fellowship was enlarged to include those who violated many “doctrines of Christ” so long as they accepted the deity of Christ. Accepting the “pious unimmersed” as “God’s child in prospect and my brother in deed” they pushed their borders of fellowship to include most sectarian churches. Not since the Gnostics had there been another philosophical defense of the practice of sin while claiming to be in fellowship with God and God’s people which was any more dangerous than this one. The apostle John made it clear that one cannot “walk in darkness” while, at the same time, “walking in the light” (1 John 1:5-7). The Gnostic position, if successful, would have brought sin into the church as a matter of fellowship. Garrett and Ketcherside attempted the same maneuver.
We should be aware that this philosophy of unity in diversity is a radical departure from the teaching of John which would expel error rather than embrace it. Anyone who can successfully sell doctrinal unity in diversity to brethren as the answer to a divided brotherhood will only succeed in inviting the Devil, with all his error, into the church. Sadly, there are new attempts among brethren to do just that.
Romans 14 is being used by brethren today as a vehicle by which we are urged to accept sinful doctrines and practices. And, whether lulled by the prominence and respect in which these brethren are held or deceived by the subtlety of the arguments, few alarms seem to be raised, few seem to recognize the danger and even fewer are dedicated to warning brethren of the peril that confronts us.
Let me state it clearly so that none may misunderstand: Some brethren are presently using Romans 14 to defend and embrace sinful doctrines and practices. If successful, the kind of unity that will result is not something conceived by the Lord. Can you envision what the church would have been if the Gnostics had been able to overthrow the teaching of John? Can you imagine the church if Garrett and Ketcherside had been successful in their efforts? If that scenario bothers you, I urge you to wake up and read what is being taught about Romans 14 for it is, as Yoga Berea is supposed to have said, “Dena vows, all over again.”
Romans 14: A Modern Trojan Horse
In ancient history (c. 1184 B.C.), the Greeks attacked the city of Troy and put it under siege for ten years. Unable to take the enemy by force, they devised a plan to take their stronghold by strategy. Building a huge, hollow wooden horse, they placed soldiers inside the horse and presented it to the defenders of Troy as a gift, feigning to end the siege with the gesture of friendship. However, when the citizens of Troy brought the gift horse into the city, the hidden soldiers crept out at night and took the city while the defenders slept. What could not be accomplished by force was accomplished by ruse. Thereafter, the Trojan horse symbolized a warning to watch out for what we embrace. It might contain more than we are ready to receive. Satan is attempting to use Romans 14 to bring sin into the church through a gesture toward unity. However, it is not the first time he has lied about God’s word (Gen. 3:1-5). We need to take a long, careful look at Satan’s Trojan horse.
God’s Purpose for Romans 14
Let us be sure that we appreciate Romans 14 and its place in the inspired Scriptures. Provided by God as a means of maintaining fellowship, its subject has to do with matters of “scruples” (v. 1), i.e., “judgment,” “personal opinion,” or “matters of indifference” to God.
It is clear from the text that nothing is being considered that is a sinful doctrine or practice since it is said of those who have “scruples” about “meats” (vv. 2f) and “days” (vv. 5f) that “God bath received him” (v. 3). The practices under consideration in the chapter are “clean” (v. 14), “good” (v. 16), “acceptable to God” (v. 18), and “pure” (v. 20). Though one brother was “weak” (v. 1, lacking knowledge) and another “strong” (15:1), they were not to “judge” each other (vv. 10, 13) but, on the contrary, “receive” one another (v. I), for “God hath received him” (v. 3). It is a wresting of the Scripture to imply that any sinful doctrine or practice could be included among those things “clean,” “acceptable to God,” and “pure.”
It is grievous error to imply that God “receives” brethren in doctrines or practices that are “unclean” and “impure.” Paul said to have “no fellowship” with sin but to “come out and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:14-18). He also taught that we are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). The Gnostics could accept error, practice it and have fellowship with it, but John could not. Garrett and Ketcherside embraced doctrinal positions of every kind, but we had no fellowship with them in their unity in diversity.
Now, however, there are some brethren who are advocating that we should receive brethren who teach sinful doctrines or practice sinful deeds. Will Romans 14 become our Trojan horse by which brethren take sin and error into their bosom? Will we be further divided by subtlety when Satan could not do it by force? We need to take a long, hard look at what is inside that Trojan horse interpretation of Romans 14 before it is pulled inside the gates. There is more to a Trojan horse than meets the eye!
Does Romans 14 Include Sinful Doctrines and Practices?
Romans 14 and Ed Harrell
“Yes,” according to Ed Harrell in his seventeen article series in Christianity Magazine (Nov. 1988-May, 1990).
In brother Harrell’s defense of brother Hailey and his error on the alien and “the divorced who would come to God,” brother Harrell urged all of us to receive brother Hailey. Please note that brother Harrell did not believe the doctrine of Homer Halley; he openly stated that brother Hailey was wrong.
Like a time bomb that just keeps on ticking, brother Harrell’s position has been bedded down in Christianity Magazine and it has never been repudiated publicly by other associate editors (Dee Bowman, Brent Lewis, Sewell Hall, and Paul Earnhart) of the magazine nor have any opposite views been permitted to appear in the paper. Hailey teaches error on marriage, divorce and remarriage, but we are to receive him, be in fellowship with him, and allow him to teach his doctrine. Upon what basis should we have fellowship with error? Because of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 or Ephesians 5:11? No, according to brother Harrell, it is on the basis that Romans 14 “tolerates contradictory teachings and practices of important moral and doctrinal questions” (CM, May, 1990).
Brethren, this turns Romans 14 into a Trojan horse! If we may “tolerate contradictory teachings and practices of important moral and doctrinal questions,” shall we include institutionalism, premillennialism, divorce for every cause among Christians as well as aliens, homosexuality, etc.? Just how many moral and doctrinal issues will we put into the belly of this beast? Have not Christianity Magazine and its editors pulled the horse into our midst by advocating this everywhere the magazine goes? As long as this erroneous use of Romans 14 is allowed to stand unchallenged, Satan’s cause will prosper. But there are others who are helping load the Trojan horse.
Romans 14 and Don Patton
In a sermon on “Personal Convictions” preached in April, 1990 at the Easton Road congregation in Dallas, brother Don Patton went even beyond Ed Harrell in the same use of Romans 14.Whereas brother Harrell espoused the principle of including moral and doctrinal error in Romans 14, brother Patton applied the principle in his sermon on Romans 14.
His sermon was introduced by a chart that listed 100 things of a personal nature over which brethren have disagreed. Some of the things listed on the chart were matters of indifference and some were sinful. Among the things specifically listed were abortion, bartending, brewery work, dance bands, dancing, divorce, evolution, girly magazines, mini-skirts, remarriage, social drinking, and shorts. Brother Patton stated that a proper application of Romans 14 would eliminate division over a “major part” of these things. In examining Romans 14, brother Patton emphasized that brethren who limit the application of Romans 14 to matters of indifference effectively gut the chapter of its usefulness. He taught that Romans 14 applies also to matters that are sinful in nature. The limitations that he imposed on the proper application of the chapter were three: (a) A person must be a brother; (b) He must be sincere; (c) The sinful or indifferent action must be individual action as opposed to congregational action. When these criteria are met, brethren are obligated by the teachings of Romans 14 to “receive” one another.
On several occasions during his sermon, brother Patton directly alluded to his chart of 100 things. One such direct reference was to divorce and remarriage. He used the war question to illustrate that “these individual differences are not to divide brethren,” then said,
Historically there have been too many positions to count regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage. But I don’t know how you would find any issue that was more personal, that’s more of an individual nature where other Christians would not be directly involved. Now if any-thing is of an individual nature, like the covering or the carnal warfare question, it would be the personal convictions regarding divorce and remarriage. Now I have some very strong convictions about what the Bible says. But I know there’s some conscientious brethren that differ with me and I think they’re wrong and I welcome the opportunity to sit down and to study with them but I’d do it because I don’t have to divide over that like I would if I was worshipping with brethren who wanted to take money and spend it for some unscripturally (transcript, pp. 9-10).
In a private study with brother Patton, he asserted that he did not intend to link the list of 1`k0 items with Romans 14, intending it only to illustrate the dissension that has existed between brethren through ‘Mars. However, in my judgment, the body of his sermon clearly linked the list with the text of Romans 14. But it is irrelevant to the issue to debate the chart. Both of us admit that the difference between us is whether or not sinful doctrines and practices are to be included in the chapter. He would include sinful doctrine and practices within the context of Romans 14, would receive those who practice them, and would permit them to state their convictions. I deny it.
So that there can be no doubt that I have accurately represented Don’s view of Romans 14 as presented in his sermon, note these quotes from the tape of his sermon (all emp. mine, tr):
I think that we’re very definitely dealing with things that are matters of revelation, one of which very obviously was a sin that Paul was afraid that’d cause his labor to be in vain, that’d be rooted, and they needed to be made to stand, because they had fallen before God. There was the confidence expressed that they would be made to stand. But that shows that it wasn’t just a matter of indifference.
The word translated “receive” from Thayer, the original word, means, according to Thayer, “to receive, to grant one access to one’s heart, to take into friendship and intercourse, Rom. 14:1; 15:17.” God and Christ are said to have received those whom, formerly estranged from them, they had reunited themselves by the blessings of the gospel, Rom. 14:3. This is the warm relationship that ought to exist among Christians but here he’s speaking about Christians who have differences sometimes over matters that are wrong. And he says you receive them under these circumstances. Yes, they’re wrong. But these individual matters of scruple that don’t involve you in sin are matters between brethren that ought not to divide. We are commanded to receive in such circumstances. In Gal. 2:5, he talks to those who gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. I think that’s the idea involved in the word receive.
Notice the commands, not suggestions, not advice, but the commands are given regarding these issues, the scruples, the individual conscientious decisions made among brethren: some wrong, some incidental, but differences that we have over such matters. He commands in v. 1, “him that is weak in the faith receive ye, yet not for decisions of scruples.”
In this sermon, brother Patton teaches that God gives “commands” that we “receive” those in error involving sinful practices that condemn those who hold them. We are to “give them the right hand of fellowship.”
What Sinful Doctrines and Practices Can We Receive?
But what practices does he have in mind? Brother Harrell stated that we ought to “tolerate contradictory teachings and practices of important moral and doctrinal questions” and made public application of this principle to Homer Hailey even after his public teaching created dissension and division in the church at Belen, New Mexico. There has been no public change in position even after brother Hailey has published his book The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God.
Brother Patton also made application of the same principles. He specifically applied them to divorce and remarriage in his sermon (see quote above). In subsequent defense of his sermon, he twice applied them to a situation in which the teacher of the teenage Bible class sponsored a beach party (with the teenagers dressed in their swimming attire) for his class. The use of his chart in his sermon, the application to divorce and remarriage in his sermon, and his subsequent application of his principles to the beach party, led me to believe that brother Patton was ready to apply the principles he preached from Romans 14 to the sinful items on his chart of 100 things over which brethren have dissension. Included on the chart were abortion, evolution, bartending, dancing, girly magazines, social drinking, etc. Brethren, are you ready for this? Did you know this was what the Holy Spirit had in mind when Romans 14 was written? When the Scriptures condemn “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19ff), teach us to “come out and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:14), and “not to have fellowship … but expose them” (Eph. 5:11), we have an obvious problem with brother Patton telling us that God “commands” us to receive those who practice such things and to “give them the right hand of fellowship.”
It is clear that the Bible teaches us to be longsuffering and patient with those in sin (Eph. 4:2, etc.) and to “give answer with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). But the proper attitude we must exhibit is not the same thing as “receiving them” and, in the language of Romans 14, not to “judge” them (vv. 3, 10, 13). Brethren, is pornography “pure,” “good,” and “acceptable to God”? Can one be a bartender “to the Lord”? Is it “good” to practice abortion and give the “right hand of fellowship” to those who do? Can we accept into fellowship those who teach and practice divorce for every cause because “we must receive” those in sinful practices or those “tolerating contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions”?
Complacency and Lethargy
The Greeks were able to put their soldiers into Troy because the Trojans let down their guard, bringing the enemy into the gates themselves. Unless we wake up to the threat of including “contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions” like abortion, evolution, pornography, divorce, etc. within Romans 14, Satan will have us in his power. We are far down the road to compromise with sin and error among the Lord’s people. I am horrified by what I hear and read that is being advocated by respected brethren. I am further appalled that so few are crying out against this “Devil’s device” to bring sin into the body of Christ.
This article will, no doubt, incite some to cry “brother-hood watch dog” because I have called names and been plain in my speech. A watchman, however, is a blessing (Ezek. 3:1-21) and nothing is worse than a “dumb dog” (Isa. 56:10), a watchman that won’t speak, won’t warn, won’t cry out against sin. You may consider me as “one who mocks” (Job. 12:4), but I want my conscience to be clear at the day of judgment that I have warned. Brethren, there is a Trojan horse at the gate and some are pulling it inside. Unless we wake up, the enemy will be inside the camp!
(Editor’s Note: Brother Roberts’ material was submitted to brother Patton before publication for him to review. Brother Patton believes that he has been misrepresented in reference to whether or not his chart was used to illustrate the principles he taught on Romans 14. The two are disagreed about that. Brother Roberts has offered to make a complete transcript of brother Patton’s sermon avail-able for those who desire to see for themselves how the chart was used. If you wish to have a copy, send a legal sized, stamped, self-addressed envelope to brother Roberts at 2612 S. Meadow, Ft. Worth, TX 76133. Both men are agreed that a significant disagreement persists on whether or not Romans 14 is a pattern for how to handle matters of indifference (Roberts’ position] or includes both matters of indifference and sin [Patton’s position]. In the following article, brother Patton responds to the charges in this article and then brother Roberts gives a rebuttal.)
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 4 p. 14-17
February 16, 1995