By Mike Willis
I want to begin by expressing appreciation to Florida College for providing this opportunity to discuss this relevant topic. Too, I am delighted to speak in the same forum with brother Ed Harrell. He is well trained and qualified; he is an honorable man who respects Bible authority. Consequently, I am delighted to participate in this discussion with him.
The Bible Basis for Fellowship
I am here to affirm three simple principles in three simple passages: (1) 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect throughly furnished unto all good works.” The New Testament is an all-sufficient standard of authority and is God’s perfect plan for unity.
(2) Matthew 19:9 – “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” God’s standard on marriage and divorce is one man for one woman for life, with one and only one exception (the innocent party who puts away an immoral mate can marry another person). This is the God-given ground for unity on this subject.
(3) 2 John 9-11 – “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.” On the positive side, we must abide in the doctrine of Christ on marriage or any other subject in order to be united with God and his people. On the negative side, we are not to unite with those who depart from the doctrine of Christ. If we will ask, “What saith the Scriptures?” we can solve the pressing issues facing us today on divorce and remarriage, just as brethren have done in past generations.
We sometimes forget that our forefathers pled for a Bible plan of unity in restoring the gospel and the church of the New Testament. That plea is not true because they are our historical forefathers, but because it is true to the Bible.
The early restorers sought to achieve unity of all Christians by a restoration of the primitive gospel. Rejecting a number of plans of unity, they preached unity through restoration of the New Testament pattern of faith and practice in all things.
Unity Through Restoration
1. There are many plans of unity:
a. Unity-in-diversity. d. Councils.
b. Gospel/doctrine. e. Creeds.
c. Ecumenical liberalism. f. Associations.
2. The Bible plan: unity through restoring the ancient order of things.
a. Call Bible things by Bible names.
b. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.
c. Nothing out to be bound on men but such as can be shown to be authorized of God by command, approved apostolic example, or necessary inference.
The restorers rejected unity-in- diversity (usually called “union”), gospel/doctrine distinctions, the incipient ecumenical movement of liberalism, councils, creeds, and associations, choosing instead the Bible plan of unity. They sought to bring about unity through a restoration of the ancient order. They determined to “call Bible things by Bible names”; they exhorted, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” They said, “Nothing ought to be bound on men but such as can be shown to be authorized of God by command, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference.”
Jesus Prayed for Unity Based on Truth
They believed in Jesus’ prayer for unity:
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 hast sent me (Jn. 17:20-21).
They correctly perceived that the unity for which Jesus prayed was a visible unity of Christians, for the world would be able to witness it – “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” They understood that this unity could be attained when men came to “believe through their (the apostles) word.” The unity would be of the same nature as that which existed between God and Chist – “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
Bible unity required that men speak the same thing and be of the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10).(2) Christians proposed that unity could be attained and maintained so long as men confined themselves to teaching the revealed word of God. Christians sought to abide in the teaching of such Scriptures as the following:
1 Peter 4: 11 – “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”
1 Corinthians 4:6 – “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written. . .”
Revelation 22:18-19 – “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
This plea demanded that everything be removed from the worship and practice of the church which could not be authorized in the word of God.(3) When men agree to relinquish every unrevealed opinion, in order to abide in the doctrine of Christ, unity is attainable.(4)
These Christians were not interested in mere union; rather they called for Bible unity. “Union”(5) was understood to be the combining of different sects which disagreed in some organizational structure, a unity-in-diversity or other kind of “union.” They were not interested in a union of the various Protestant denominations in some kind of organizational structure which allowed the various denominations to preach their peculiar tenets and dogmas – a “unity-in-diversity.”(6) In contrast to union, the disciples sought true Bible “unity”(7) – agreement in faith and practice. The difference between union and unity can be illustrated by baptism. “Union” would allow the various denominations to continue preaching their peculiar ideas about the action, subject and purpose of water baptism. True Bible “unity” would require that all speak the same thing on these subjects, resulting in a unity of faith.
Union Versus Unity Illustrated
1. Action: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion 1. Action: immersion
2. Subject: believers and unbelievers (infants) 2. Subject: penitent believers
3. Purpose: outward sign of an inward grace, 3. Purpose: to receive forgiveness of sins
to be admitted into denomination, testimony to
world, to receive forgiveness of sins
In union, the Protestant denominations continue preaching that sprinkling and pouring are acceptable substitutes for baptism, that infants are acceptable candidates for baptism and that water baptism is not essential to salvation. The denominations propose a plan of “union” by which every denomination continues to preach and practice its own peculiar doctrine regarding baptism. They “agree to disagree”; they practice a ” unity-in-diversity. ” Despite their conflicting doctrines, the denominations participate in “union” meetings with each other (such as Billy Graham crusades). In application, they teach contradictory doctrines regarding baptism but continue to extend the hands of fellowship one to another.
When the Bible plea for unity through restoration of the primitive gospel was preached, thousands gave up their denominations creeds, manuals, and doctrines in order to be “one in Christ.” The restoration of the primitive pattern for the church brought unity among believers!
Unity Through Restoration
1. There are many plans of unity:
a. Unity-in-diversity. d. Councils.
b. Gospel/doctrine. e. Creeds.
c. Ecumenical Liberalism. f. Associations.
2. The Bible plan: unity through restoring the ancient order of things.
a. Call Bible things by Bible names.
b. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.
c. Nothing ought to be bound on men but such as can be shown to be authorized of God by command, approved apostolic example, or necessary inference.
Division Created by Unrevealed Opinions(8)
Our history records that the unity of the early church in America was short lived. Soon men began preaching their unrevealed opinions about using mechanical instruments of music in worship, church support of human institutions (missionary societies, colleges, orphan homes, old folks homes, etc.), premillennialism, the sponsoring church, and many other such like things. The preaching of these unrevealed opinions created division.(9) Unity can be restored only when men consent to give up the preaching and practice of their unrevealed opinions and return to the word of God.(10)
Unity will never exist between those who desire to “walk in the light” and those who are not content to abide in the doctrine of Christ (Amos 3:3),(11) who preach their unrevealed opinions rather than the word of God. Division will inevitably follow.
Unity Through Restoration and The Divorce/Remarriage Issue
The appeal for unity through a restoration of the ancient order will bring unity among those who desire to abide in the doctrine of Christ on the subject of divorce and remarriage just as it has brought unity on baptism. We must go to the Scriptures to determine what the New Testament teaches by command, approved example and necessary inference.
Let us lay the Scriptures before us.
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry here that is divorced committeth adultery (Matt, 5:32).
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matt. 19:9).(12)
Either There Is a Pattern or There Is Not
Brethren, there are only two alternatives available to us with reference to divorce and remarriage: either there is a pattern from God’s word which regulates divorce and remarriage or there is not.
A Pattern No Pattern
Learn and obey the pattern Where there is no law there can be no transgression (Rom. 4:15)
Accept only conduct obedient to the pattern Any of the following marriage arrangements please God: a. Polygamy b. Homosexual marriages c. Divorce for any cause & remarriage d. Guilty party remarry Domestic partners
Either There Is a Pattern or There Is Not
If God’s word has revealed to us a pattern, that pattern must be respected with reference to marriage even as we demand that it be respected with reference to the worship, organization, and work of the church. If there is no pattern, there can be no violation, for Paul said, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). In the event that there is no pattern, we must be willing to accept any “marriage” tolerated by man, including polygamy, polyandry, homosexual marriages, remarriage following divorce for any cause, the marriage of a guilty party in a divorce for fornication, or domestic partners. There is no middle ground for us.
I contend that God’s word has revealed a pattern for marriage, divorce and remarriage. That pattern is given in such verses as Matthew 5:32; 19:312; and a few similar references.
Things Revealed Concerning Divorce and Remarriage
1. A person may divorce his mate for fornication.
2. The innocent party in a divorce for fornication may marry another.
3. If a divorce occurs for another reason, neither party is free to marry another.
4. A person who remarries following a divorce not for fornication is guilty of adultery.
From a study of these verses, we understand these facts to be undeniably true: (a) A person may divorce his mate for fornication; (b) The innocent party in a divorce for fornication may marry another; (c) If a divorce occurs for another reason, neither party is free to marry another;(13) (d) A person who marries another mate following a divorce not for fornication is guilty of adultery.
All men can stand united on these positions. This is not a theory; history shows that God’s plan will work when we work God’s plan. Writing in Quest for a Christian America, Ed Harrell confirmed that the nineteenth century church was united in this teaching. He wrote, “The generally accepted standard was: ‘There is no release then to husband or wife from the marriage contract unless the other party has been guilty of fornication.” The church disciplined those who violated this standard: “In general, the churches were probably more diligent in enforcing this code of morality in this area than in any other.”(14) The church was united in the teaching and application of these Scriptures.
In recent years, men have begun preaching their unrevealed opinions about divorce and remarriage, rather than confining themselves to the Scriptures.(15)
Bible Vs. Unrevealed Opinions of Men on Divorce and Remarriage
The Word of God The Opinions of Men
Matt. 5:32; 19:1-13; Mk. 10:3-12; Lk. 16:18; 1. The Lord’s law of marriage only applies to Christians.
Rom. 7:1-2; 1 Cor. 7 2. The guilty party in a divorce for fornication may remarry.
Things clearly revealed from these passages:
1. A person may divorce his mate for fornication. 3. A person previously divorced for some cause other than fornication should stay with wife married to at the
2. The innocent party in a divorce for fornication time of his baptism or restoration.
3. If a divorce occurs for another reason, neither party may marry another.
4. Any divorced person has the right to marry another.
5. Since “adultery” means unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant, a person can repent of breaking the covenant
6. Any person who marries another following a divorce and continue with his second mate not for fornication is guilty of adultery.
6. Desertion is a second cause for divorce which gives a person the right to marry another.
When we confined ourselves to those things taught in God’s word about divorce and remarriage, we had unity. That unity is threatened and will be broken by the preaching of unrevealed opinions about divorce and remarriage. Here are some unrevealed opinions currently being preached among us: (a) The Lord’s law of marriage applies to Christians only; (b) The guilty party in a divorce for fornication can marry a new mate; (c) A person previously divorced for some cause other than fornication should stay with the wife to whom he is married at the time of his baptism or restoration; (d) Any divorced person has the right to marry another; (c) redefine adultery to mean “unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant,” so that a person can stay in his second (third or fourth) marriage after repenting of having broken the previous one or ones; (f) Teaching that desertion is a second cause for divorce which gives a person the right to marry another.
The preaching of these unrevealed opinions has created division and schism. Men are not divided over what the Bible says, but over what it does not say.
Not Divided Over What the Bible Says, But Over What It Does Not Say
1. We agree:
a. A person can divorce his mate for fornication and marry another (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
b. A person whose mate has died can marry another (1 Cor. 7:39).
c. A person who divorces his mate for some cause other than fornication and marries another is guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
d. A person who divorces for some cause other than fornication has no authority to marry another.
2. We disagree:
a. The Lord’s law of marriage applies to Christians only. Where is the Scripture? _____________
b. The guilty party in a divorce for fornication can marry another. Where is the Scripture? ___________
c. A person previously divorced for some cause other than fornication should stay with wife married to at the time of his baptism or restoration. Where is the Scripture? _______________
d. Any divorced person has the right to marry another. Where is the Scripture? ___________
e. “Adultery” means “unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant.” Therefore, a person can repent of breaking the covenant and continue living with his second (third or fourth) mate. Where is the Scripture? _____________
f. Desertion is a second cause which gives a person the right to marry another. Where is the Scripture? ______
For the sake of the blessed unity of the saints, we call on our brethren to cease and desist the preaching of their unrevealed opinions about divorce and remarriage.(16) Here are some examples of preaching unrevealed theories which create division and schism:
1. Olan Hicks: What the Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (College Press, 1987). Hicks redefines “adultery” and makes many other arguments to justify divorce and remarriage under any circumstances.
2. Jerry Bassett: Rethinking Marriage, Divorce and Re marriage.
3. James D. Bales: Not Under Bondage (1979) and Divorce Dilemma Dissolved, and The Scope of the Covenants.
4. Homer Hailey: The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to the Lord.
5. Glen W. Lovelady: defended the right of the guilty party in a divorce for fornication to marry another in 17 January 1991, Guardian of Truth and in the Smith-Lovelady Debate.
A Call for Union Instead of Unity
In recent months, as the controversy on divorce and remarriage has heated up, some among us have deserted the Bible plea for unity through restoration and have started preaching the denominational plea for “union” (not unity) – “unity-in-diversity.”
Union Versus Unity Divorce and Remarriage
1. Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage applies to “We all speak the same thing.”
2. Stay with wife married to at baptism or restoration even Matt. 5:32; 19:1-13; Mk. 10:3-12; Lk. 16:18;
though previously divorced for reasons other than fornication.
Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7.
3. Redefine adultery to mean “unfaithfulness to a covenant,”
4. A person may divorce his mate for fornication.
allowing second (third or fourth) marriages to continue.
5. Guilty party in a divorce for fornication may marry another.
1. The innocent party in divorce for fornication may marry another.
6. Desertion gives a person the right to marry another
. 2. If a divorce occurs, for another reason, neither
party is free to marry a new mate.
7. Any divorced person has a right to marry another mate.
3. A person who remarries following a divorce not for fornication is guilty of adultery.
The union plea is not for brethren to quit preaching their unrevealed, divisive theories; rather, the appeal is for a “unity-in-diversity. ” Based on a misapplication of Romans 14, this is not a plea for unity, but for union! These brethren are calling for “liberty” in matters of the revealed faith. The plea for a restoration of the New Testament standard is this: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion; liberty; in all things love!” Unity-in-diversity, union, is an abandonment of the restoration plea! It will logically lead to fellowship with those who compromise any and every doctrine revealed in God’s word.
“In Matters of Faith, Unity”
The Bible distinguishes between matters on which brethren must agree and matters in which there is room for individual judgment. We distinguish these two categories by “faith” and “opinion”(17) (matters of authorized liberties). Notice the two biblical methods of handling differences:
The Faith Opinion (Authorized Liberties)
“Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not for
the doctrine of Christ, hath not God . . . receive doubtful disputations . . .Wherefore receive ye one
him not” (2 Jn. 9-11). another” (Rom. 14:1; 15:7).
“For God hath received him” (14:3).
God has forbidden that Christians “receive” those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ – “receive him not” because he “has not God” (2 Jn. 9-11). On the other hand, God has commanded that Christians “receive” those who disagree in matters of human judgment because “God hath received him” (Rom. 14: 1; 15:7; 14:3).
In those matters which fall into the category of “faith,” Christians are obligated to “speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10); “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17); “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).
In contrast, those matters which fall into the category of opinion” (authorized liberties, matters of indifference) are to be treated as follows:
The Instructions From Romans 14
1 . Don’t engage in doubtful disputations (14:1).(18)
2. Receive one another (14:1; 15:7).
3. Do not judge (condemn) one another (14:3,10,13).
4. Do not allow your participation in the action to present an occasion for stumbling to one who thinks the action is wrong (14:13,20).
5. Follow after those things which make for peace (14:19).
6. Keep the matter between you and God; don’t preach and promote it (14:22).
7. Bear with those whose conscience has not reached the same conclusion as yours (15:1).
Into which category, matters of “the faith” or “opinion” (matters of indifference, authorized liberties) does the teaching of Matthew 19:9 fall? Romans 14 is limited in application to matters of “indifference,” not matters of “faith” or matters of “immorality.” The man in Romans 14 was “weak in the faith” (14:1),(19) not sinful; a person was equally right whether he decided to eat or not eat meats, observe or not observe certain days; neither practice could be condemned (14:3,13); both actions could be done “to the Lord” (14:6); both practices were “good” and “clean” (14:14,16); God received both the one who ate and the one who did not eat (14:3).
Does Adultery Fall Into the Category of Things Discussed in Romans 14?
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9).
1. Is the man who commits adultery “weak in faith” (14:1) or sinful?
2. Is it equally right to commit or not commit adultery?
3. Is it sinful to “condemn” the man who commits adultery (14:3,13)?
4. Can one commit adultery “to the Lord” (14:6)?
5. Is adultery “clean” (14:14)?
6. Is committing adultery “good” (14:16)?
7. Is adultery among those things which are included in “all things are pure” (14:20)?
8. Does God “receive” the adulterer (14:3)?
9. Does the adulterer “stand” (versus fall, 14:4)?
10. Does God allow one to participate in adultery so long as he does not become an occasion of stumbling to a “weak” brother who thinks it is wrong (14:13)? If Not, Then Using Romans 14 to Determine The Bounds of Fellowship Is Wrong!
Try applying these terms to the sin of adultery (Matt. 19:9 – “whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”). (a) Is the man who commits adultery “weak in faith” (14:1) or a sinner? (b) Is it equally right to commit or not commit adultery? (c) Is it sinful to “condemn” the man who commits adultery (14:3,13)? (d) Can one commit adultery “to the Lord” (14:6)? (e) Is adultery “clean” (14:14)? (f) Is committing adultery “good” (14:16)? (g) Is adultery among those things which are included in “all things are pure” (14:20)? (h) Does God “receive” the adulterer (14:3)? (i) Does the adulterer “stand” (versus fall, 14:4)? 0) Does God allow one to participate in adultery so long as he does not become an occasion of stumbling to a “weak” brother who thinks adultery is wrong (14:13)? If those conclusions are not so, then Romans 14 does not apply to divorce and remarriage!
Brother Harrell has taken the position that matters of “faith” can be included in matters discussed in Romans 14, specifically applying it to the divorce and remarriage issue. This is the plea of brother Harrell in his series on “The Bounds of Christian Unity” which precipitated this discussion. Here are several citations showing that Romans 14 is used to justify ” unity-in- diversity” on matters of “faith.”
The issue of Romans 14 is precisely the establishment of the right of brethren to differ in matters of “faith” (Christianity Magazine, April 1989).
It is obvious that Christians sometimes disagree about scriptural instruction, even in matters of considerable moral and doctrinal import. . . . That behavior, uniformly practiced throughout the history of Christianity is, I believe, the issue addressed in Romans 14 (Christianity Magazine, May 1989).
Romans 14 confirms the right of Christians to disagree in matters of “faith” . . . (Christianity Magazine, July 1989).
Can I conscientiously disagree with brethren about matters of serious moral and doctrinal import and at the same time claim absolute loyalty to the instructions of the New Testament? I believe that I can, that I do, and that others do (Christianity Magazine, April 1990).
The teaching of Romans 14 “tolerates contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions” (Christianity Magazine, May 1990).
He is on record as recommending that we practice “unity-in-diversity” on the issue. I humbly ask brother Harrell, “If this will work on divorce and remarriage, which other matters of ‘faith’ will it also fit?”
Which Matters of “Faith”?
My brother states that “Romans 14 confirms the right of Christians to disagree in matters of ‘faith”‘ (Christianity Magazine [May 1990]). The teaching of Romans 14 “tolerates contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions” (Christianity Magazine [May 1990]).
To which matters of “faith” (Jude 3) does this apply?
a. The deity of Christ?
b. That water baptism is essential for salvation?
c. Instrumental music in worship?
e. Divorce and remarriage?
My brother’s teachings open the door to unity-in-diversity on any and every Bible doctrine.
The doctrinal position of “unity-in-diversity” in matters of “faith,” will ultimately lead to universalism. It undermines the gospel in its heart and core, requiring that diversity be allowed on any and every doctrinal issue before us. For this reason, the doctrine of ” unity-in- diversity” in matters of “faith” must be opposed.
In what time I have left, I want to consider one objections which might be made to the material I have presented.
This Will Lead to Division
In rebuttal, someone may say, “If we follow the exhortations which you have given, this will lead to division over every matter of personal difference, such as the covering, participation in war, weddings and funerals in the church building, etc.”
This Will Lead to Division
Argument: “This position will lead to division over the covering, participation in war, weddings and funerals in the church building, etc.”
1. To argue that Matthew 19:9 is a matter of “faith” (not a matter of opinion or indifference) does not mean there is no realm allowed for matters of personal opinion on other issues.
2. If this were true, then demanding doctrinal unity on anything (water baptism, the deity of Christ, etc.) would also lead to division over the covering, participation in war, weddings and funerals in the church building, etc.
3. There is a place for matters of opinion (authorized liberties) as revealed and taught in Romans 14. However, divorce and remarriage does not fall into the category of things discussed there.
4. The charge that preaching the truth on Matthew 19:9 will lead to a division is a scare tactic, whether used intentionally or unintentionally, to drive men away from teaching what the passage proclaims.
5. The charge also implies that the men who are preaching their unrevealed opinions are willing to press them to the dividing of the church.
The conclusion does not logically follow and is full of unprovable assumptions. To preach that Matthew 19:9 is a matter of “faith” (not a matter of indifference, authorized liberties) does not imply that there is no place allowed for natters of personal judgment (authorized liberties). If this were true, then it would also be true of every other article of “faith.” Demanding doctrinal unity on water baptism, the deity of Christ, and the inspiration of the Scriptures would lead to division over the covering, participation in war, and weddings and funerals in the church building for the same reasons. I fully admit there is a place for matters of personal judgment (authorized liberties) as revealed and taught in Romans 14. I reject the position that the teachings of Matthew 19:9 fall into a category of matters of indifference or opinion and should be treated on the basis of Romans 14.
The charge that preaching the truth on Matthew 19:9 will lead to division over every matter of personal judgment (authorized liberties) is nothing but an over reaction, a scare tactic,(20) to drive men away from teaching the truth of Matthew 19:9. The truth of Matthew 19:9 has been preached for centuries without causing the church to divide over the covering, war question, and weddings and funerals in the church building. Brother Harrell confirms that brethren were generally agreed on marriage and divorce in the early days f the church in America without dividing over such maters as funerals in the church building. Why should it begin to divide over these subjects in 1991? The very charge that teaching the truth on Matthew 19:9 will divide the church as the implication that those who are preaching their unrevealed opinions on these and other Scriptures are resolved to preach them and receive into their fellowship those ho are involved in marriages following divorces for reasons other than fornication, even at the expense of the unity of the church.
Brethren, we can stand united on God’s word in the mater of divorce and remarriage just as we stand united on the subject of baptism. With one voice, let us call upon our brethren to quit preaching their unrevealed theories and divisive opinions. Wherein they refuse, let them be marked as those who “cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). For the sake of the blessed unity for which Jesus prayed, I call upon each of you to stand fast in preaching the “old paths.”
I am not pleading for intolerance or rash action. I recognize that the withdrawal of fellowship is the last action taken in dealing with apostasy. We must study with those who believe, teach, and practice that which is unauthorized in an effort to call them to repentance (Gal. 6: 1; 1 Thess. 5:14). We must give them time to repent (Rev. 2:21).
In giving brethren this time for study and repentance, each man will decide to draw the line at a different time with the various men involved. Each man must reach his own personal judgment as to when that line must be drawn, even as he did during the institutional conflict. But there is a difference in acting patiently and compromising through the toleration of that which is evil.
Every man must recognize the danger of allowing false doctrine to be tolerated, both in teaching and practice, within the local fellowship. The toleration of damnable heresy – that is, teaching which causes men to commit sin which brings one into damnation (2 Pet. 2:1) – is itself a sin. Jesus condemned the church at Pergamos saying,
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to cat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitaines, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev. 2:14-16).
He also rebuked the church at Thyatira in these words:
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:20).
For men to preach and practice that one can divorce his mate for reasons other than fornication and marry another is to be guilty of approving and committing adultery. Those who are committed to following God’s word cannot sit in silence while these sins are being defended and those who have committed unscriptural divorce and remarriage are being received into the fellowship of the local church without becoming a partaker in the sinful conduct (2 Jn. 9-11). 1 urge that brethren not take a unity-in- diversity approach to what the Lord himself called adultery!
1. This exchange has been precipitated by the following journal articles Connie Adams, “And Wash Away Thy “Wives,” Searching the Scripture (September 1988); J.T. Smith, “Homer Hailey’s Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage,” Torch (June 1988) and “Did I Misrepresent Homer Hailey?” Torch (August 1988); Ed Harrell, “Homer Hailey: False Teacher?” Christianity Magazine (November 1988), “The Bounds of Christian Unit (1-16),” Christianity Magazine (February 1989-May 1990); Mike Willis “When Apostasy Occurs,” Guardian of Truth (19 April 1990), “Ed Ha, tell on Divorce and Remarriage” (a quotation from Quest for a Christian America to document what 19th century churches in America practice on the issue of divorce and remarriage), Guardian of Truth (19 April 1990); Ed Harrell, “Response by Ed Harrell,” Guardian of Truth (2 August 199C Mike Willis, “What Saith the Scriptures?”, Guardian of Truth (2 August 1990).
2. Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye ail speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). This unity is a doctrinal unity, a unity in practice and preaching.
3. Writing in the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell said, “But this we do sincerely declare, that there is nothing we have hitherto received as matter of faith or practice, which is not expressly taught and enjoined in the word of God, either in express terms, or approved precedent, that we would not heartily relinquish, that we might return to the original constitutional unity of the Christian church” (11).
Campbell’s understanding of this is illustrated by his approach to infant baptism. The Campbells held that “all matters not distinctly revealed in the Bible should be held as matters of opinion and of mutual forbearance.” In a sermon laying cut the basis for unity, Thomas Campbell said, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” Having concluded his sermon, Andrew Munro said, “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.” Campbell replied, “Of course, if infant baptism be not found in Scripture, we can have nothing to do with it” (see Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 1:235-238).
The Scriptures included everything which should be practiced and taught and excluded everything else. The silence of the Scripture was not viewed as opening the door to many unauthorized practices, but as closing the door to them.
“If all would consent to give up their human isms that now divided them, we should come together in happy union upon God’s own foundation.
. . .I, therefore, propose the ‘Bible – the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible’ as the platform and bond of union. In making this proposition, I offer a platform, that you all acknowledge the best one on earth; nay, the only one that is infallible. . . In accepting it, no one is called upon to make more sacrifice than others. All are required to sacrifice their human isms, and those party names and sectarian peculiarities, which distinguish one sect from another, and all are required to take the word of God alone as the rule of their lives” (J.M. Mathes, The Western Preacher, 145,150).
“I would God to-night that all professed followers in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, and elsewhere, would be content to have but the Bible as their creed, their discipline, their church manual, their church directory, their rule of faith and practice throughout life. There would be oneness on the part of all the splendid people of this great country . . . . I pledge my word and promise myself to-night, if the man will thus show me that God’s book does not plainly demand it, I will gladly surrender and give that up that the cause of division may cease. . . . When I announce that platform, it is not narrow, it is not limited, it is not human; but it is big enough, broad enough, wide enough, and comprehensive enough for every son and daughter of God on earth to occupy and none feel that in so doing they have had to sacrifice a single principle of faith . . . . Take your stand on God’s book and eliminate all things that are not plainly taught therein; and when you so do, I will gladly come to you and take my stand with you, if there be any preference as to which way the coming is done” (N.B. Hardeman, Tabernacle Sermons 11:185,186,187).
“Now, for the sake of unity, why not give up that which is in doubt in the minds of some, and walk by faith, and by that which is conceded by every scholar on earth?” (N. B. Hardeman, Tabernacle Sermons 111: 146).
“I answer, let the Bible, and the Bible alone, be adopted as the Christian’s creed. What the Bible says, all believe. Let opinions be held as private property, while faith is made the test of union” (Elijah Goodwin, The Family Companion, 422).
“Again, some one may ask: ‘since men do not all see alike or have the same opinions on certain religious subjects, how is union, in such a case possible. It is possible by every man preaching ‘the word’ and keeping his opinions strictly and always to himself, as the Bible distinctly and positively requires. We have already seen that the preacher’s inspired charge is to ‘preach the word,’ not his opinions nor the opinions of anybody else. Paul distinctly tells Christians what to do with their opinions in religion. In the case of eating certain meats where some Christians had scruples against it, he says: ‘The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God’ (Rom. 14:22). There it is in plain and specific words, clearly and distinctly showing what the preacher is to do with his opinions. He is not to be teaching, preaching, and parading them among the people at all, but always and everywhere to keep them to himself ‘before God.’ No harm can ever come of opinions where that most vital and important command is carefully and strictly obeyed. In fact, strict obedience to it would be the grand panacea against all strife, all confusion, and all division among the people of God. They are not divided over what is in the Bible, but over what is not in it; not over what the Bible says, but over what it does not say; not over the word of God, but over the opinions and speculations of men” (M.C. Kurfees, The Need for Continued Emphasis on the Restoration of the Ancient Order, 32).
6. “Unity-in-diversity” in matters bound by God is as contradictory a term as “round square.” The term may be used accommodatively if applied to unity in matters bound by God with diversity in matters of liberty (things authorized but not required). It is generally used in the former rather than the latter sense.
8. The word “opinion” is used in at least two senses which need to be distinguished: (a) unrevealed and unauthorized beliefs and practices (such as infant baptism, instrumental music in worship, etc.); (b) authorized liberties (eating meats, observing days as in Romans 14). I have tried to distinguish the two uses by referring to one as “unrevealed opinions” and to the other as “authorized liberties” (matters of indifference).
Referring to the use of “opinion” to mean “unrevealed beliefs and practices, ” David Lipscomb distinguished faith and opinions as follows: “Faith is a firm conviction resting upon clear and satisfactory testimony. Opinion is an impression resting on human judgment, without clear and satisfactory testimony. In religion, faith is a conviction based upon clear revelation of the Divine will. . . . Whatever is clearly revealed in the word of God, is matter of faith. Whatever is not clearly required therein is matter of opinion.” Again, he wrote, “An opinion is a judgment that seems to man good, without Divine testimony on which to base his judgment. When a man has Divine testimony on which to base his judgment, it is a matter of faith” (Christian Unity, How Promoted, How Destroyed, Faith and Opinion, 35).
N.B. Hardeman distinguished “faith” and “opinion” in the following material:
“But I want to get this distinction. There is a difference between matters of faith and matters of opinion. Faith is that which comes by hearing God’s word. It is the acceptance of evidence coming from holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
“To make that just as emphatic as I can, let me say that whenever I tell you I believe a thing, I have put myself under obligation to turn to God’s book and read the evidence from which that faith comes. And it follows that if I cannot find the evidence and the testimony in the book of God, I do not believe it at all. It was merely a matter of opinion. The world, tonight, is divided on the question of opinion.
“When you ask of me to give up my opinion about a thing, you have asked nothing unreasonable – nothing but that ought to be considered in the light of a desire to banish division. So, friends, let us not hesitate to ask that opinions be given up. I think this is absolutely necessary, but I am not going to ask any man to give up one iota or one syllable of faith that comes from the book of God” (N.B. Hardeman, Tabernacle Sermons, 111: 142).
“Am I fostering division? Am I promulgating something not in the Bible which my friends and fellows cannot conscientiously accept? If so, I am treading on dangerous ground, and have a fearful responsibility resting upon me” (Tabernacle Sermons, 111:151).
“If I be responsible for the failure of that verse (1 Cor. 1:10, mw) to prevail among brethren, ‘woe is unto me.’ You can see how simple that is. If I speak wholly those things that are in the Book; if I speak as the oracles of God direct, and every other believer on this earth does likewise, there can be no difference among us. But when I give expressions of my opinions and foster my theories or any kind of fancied philosophies, then what? I destroy the unity that ought to prevail in the body of Christ. There are hundreds, yea, thousands of souls that will land in hell as the result of religious division” (Tabernacle Sermons, IV:73-74).
10. Gospel preachers have correctly appealed for unity by calling upon those who were preaching and practicing things not authorized of God by command, approved example, and necessary inference to give up those teachings and practices for the sake of unity. These appeals are not “come do things my way”; rather, they are appeals to abide in the doctrine of Christ.
12. I recognize that a full discussion of divorce and remarriage demands a study of the entire contexts of Matthew 5:32; 19:3-12; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:3-12; Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7. Space limitations prohibit that in this presentation. I have, therefore, followed the principle of using the most complete expression of Jesus’ law of divorce and remarriage (that is, the verse which contains the exception clause) in this study.
13. This principle is reflected in Paul’s instructions: “And unto the married I command, yet not 1, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7: 10-11).
14. See Quest for a Christian America, 196-198. This material was quoted in April 1990 issue of Guardian of Truth. My giving the citation an ambiguous title caused some to conclude that the thoughts expressed were brother Harrell’s present beliefs on divorce and remarriage. I apologize for giving the citation an ambiguous title but commend the material to brethren as a fair representation of where the 19th century church in America stood on this issue, which was my original intention.
15. Lest someone think that the controversy over divorce and remarriage is confined to non-institutional churches, I am providing a partial listing of some books presently circulating among liberal brethren regarding the problem: James 0. Baird, And I Say Unto You: A Study of Eight Positions on Divorce and Remarriage in View of Matthew 19:3-12; Olan Hicks, What the Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage; Thomas F. Eaves, Sr., Editor, A Review of What the Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage by Olan Hicks; James D. Bales, Not Under Bondage and Divorce Dilemma Dissolved; Pat E. Harrell, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church; James S. Woodruff, The Divorce Dilemma; Thomas B. Warren, Editor, Your Marriage Can Be Great (including 40 chapters on divorce and remarriage), and Keeping the Lock in Wedlock; John L. Edwards, Marriage and Divorce; Lewis G. Hale, Except for Fornication.
The issue of divorce and remarriage is also receiving attention among Protestant denominations which make any effort to abide by the Scriptures as evidenced by these books: William A. Herb and Gordon J. Wenham, Jesus and Divorce; William F. Luck, Divorce and Remarriage; John Murray, Divorce; Jay E. Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, God and Marriage.
The problem of divorce and remarriage is not an “anti” problem. The problem is greater than any one man among us. The problem faces us as a result of situation ethics, the ethics of humanism, in the realm of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. If the unrevealed doctrines of divorce and remarriage which are presently being published among us had been published in the 1930s, the preacher would have been rejected as a false teacher who had no reverence for the Bible. The same preacher could not have preached in many of the Protestant denominations and none of the Catholic Churches because of his belief. Situation ethics on divorce and remarriage has been accepted by our present society and is spilling over into the church.
16. Sometimes men mistakenly blame the person calling for a halt to the preaching of unrevealed opinions as the one creating the division. N.B. Hardeman correctly assessed the situation as he spoke about the divisions created by preaching premillennialism; he said, “Now, if any brother will keep his opinions to himself and advise all others so to do, all criticisms will cease. But if you continue to advocate and push that which is but a theory, you ought not to expect men who believe God’s word to be silent and cease not to warn brethren night and day, even with tears, regarding the baneful results that follow. Friends, there’s the ground of unity. In all matters, let us speak as God’s book speaks, believe what is clearly stated therein, practice only that as a matter of faith, hold all things else that are not wrong in themselves, as matters of private opinion, and let love prevail among us. The result will be that unity, that wonderful harmony, and that strength of which every child of God might be justly proud. How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Tabernacle Sermons, IV:83).
17. Notice the shift in meaning for “opinion” from “unrevealed theories” (such as infant baptism, instrumental music in worship) to “authorized liberties” (such as eating meats, observing days, etc. as used in Romans 14).
ASV: “Not for decisions of scruples.”
RSV: “Not for disputes about opinions.”
NASB: “Without passing judgments on disputable matters.”
19. Bryan Vinson explained, “The point of weakness and strength revolves around the measure of their respective understanding and knowledge of the body of truth denominated, ‘The Faith.’ I am persuaded that it isn’t a case of being weak in faith, or conviction and persuasion, as both Lard and Whiteside appear to have thought. Rather it is an instance where some are lacking in knowledge, while others are not. Those lacking in knowledge are the weak in the faith; those not lacking in knowledge are the strong in the faith. . . . But those lacking in this knowledge, in eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol, did so as the point of weakness, not the weakness of their convictions of truth insofar as they have apprehended it, but rather a weakness in the apprehension of the truth of the gospel” (Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome, 260). The point at issue in “the faith” related to matters authorized but not required, matters of indifference.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 3, pp. 80-88
February 7, 1991