The Smith-Gibbert Debate

By Donald P. Ames

During the week of April 17-21, it was my good pleasure to attend the debate in Falmouth, Virginia, on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Originally scheduled between H. E. Phillips and Jack Gibbert, Brother Phillips had to back out under doctor’s orders due to health problems. Brother J. T. Smith was selected as his replacement, and the debate continued as scheduled. Gene Frost ably served as moderator for J. T., assisted by Bill Robinson Jr.; Bob Melear moderated for Jack Gibbert, assisted by Kenneth Cheatham. This meant that able men were present to present with force their arguments on both sides of the proposition. .

Attendance at the debate left much to be desired, perhaps due to the location, though I do not feel convenience of location has been or should be the criterion for learning truth. It was attended by brethren from Indiana and Illinois, so surely others could have been there. Friday night saw the largest crowd of about 200 present, while Monday night began with only about 100 present. Considering the implications of this doctrine and its gradual growth, I was surprised more were not interested in hearing it discussed.

Local events had also contributed much to the atmosphere of the discussion. Brother Gibbert was well known by some in the area, and was respected for the work he had done in the past. However, both Gibbert and Roland Worth Jr. had been dismissed already from their preaching assignments for the endorsement of this false doctrine (Brother Worth had already departed the area, and was not present at the debate). Thus with this background, though many felt sympathy for Gibbert and even for his arguments (how we wish they were Bible doctrine) yet the overwhelming convictions lay with the Bible and the position being defended by Brother Smith.

J. T. did, I believe, a far superior job in defending the truth in this discussion than was evident in his debate with Lovelady. This is not to say there were not blunders of speech and some lack of organization on his part, as well as blunders of speech on Gibbert’s part, which caused some distraction. However he clearly showed where the doctrine is headed and that Gibbert was running out of soap after the first night’s discussion. The final night did not see Gibbert coming anywhere close to defending his proposition, as J. T. pointed out in what was his best night of refutation of this doctrine.

Repeatedly the charges of “dividing the brotherhood” were injected into the discussion by Gibbert, perhaps partially due to his own troubles in finding a job (as if that were J. T.’s fault!). As J. T. expressed regrets that Gibbert’s teaching on this subject was causing him problems, Gibbert promptly accused him of dishonesty rather than accept the fact that his own doctrine was the reason faithful brethren were not interested in hiring him. It was also interesting to note Gibbert was quick to assert neither J. T. nor Brother Frost would be allowed access to his pulpit because of “their attitude” in pressing this doctrine, but that did not seem to apply to his own attitude. It becomes very obvious to me that these brethren will plead for open pulpits as long as it means avenues for them to teach and spread their doctrine. But if anyone brands it for what it is -rotten to the core!-and stands up to it, he has the bad attitude because they have been opposed. The attitude problem was present, but not on the part of Smith and Frost. Let me pause here to say this doctrine is not going away, and it is creeping, out of California. Unless we stand up to it and brand it for what it is and preach against it, we are going to have major problems in the brotherhood in a few years over it, and it is about time some brethren began to recognize such to be so. We have tolerated a bad situation for a long time, thinking it was not spreading, but with the introduction of Bible Forum by these brethren to promote it and their eager desires for debates to publicize it, it is obvious these brethren are on the offensive and do not intend to back off. They are asking for the battle, and it needs to be engaged that their spread of it may be put to an end!

Monday night Gibbert defended the right of the guilty put-away fornicator to remarry again without sin, using the logic that if they were not married to their first partner, they had no mate and hence to forbid them to marry was the doctrine of the devil (1 Tim. 4:3; 1 Car. 7:27-28). J. T. showed this was a clear violation of the very teaching of Matt. 19:9 and 5:32, and noted even Gibbert refused them the right to remarry until fornication had taken place, hence he too was guilty of teaching this “doctrine of the devil.” Gibbert readily accepted the validity of Matt. 19:9b, but sought to put the exception clause in both the first and second part of the passage, which just is not so. J. T. showed that although the innocent was free to remarry, the guilty was bound by the law of God which forbids such. Of course, Tuesday night placed J. T. in the affirmative that the guilty did not have a right to remarry, and the same points were pressed.

Friday night Gibbert was to defend the proposition that one put away for causes other than fornication was free to remarry, if he committed fornication and his first wife subsequently decided to put him away a second time at that point. Hence, regardless of why one may be put away, just run out and commit adultery, have your first wife announce she would not live with you any more (or at least hope she will!), and all can swap partners or whatever and be pleasing to God. Brethren, this doctrine not only makes a mockery of everything taught in the word of God on this subject, it stinks! Though the consequences may be denied, it opens the way for Hollywood style marriages in every sense, and puts a premium on sin to get whatever mate you decide you would like to have for the moment. They do not like the conclusion, but it follows as surely as the doctrine of infant damnation follows inherited sin, and there is no other way to look at it.

Thursday evening, J. T. was affirming that the one put away for causes other than fornication had to remain celibate or be reconciled, and noted it was almost identical in wording with Matt. 19:9 and 1 Cor. 7:10-11. Gibbert passed over this issue to return to argue the topic of Tuesday night, and never got anywhere close to affirming his own subject for Friday night. In fact, he sought from the first night onward to remain in the negative regardless of the proposition. “What if” cases were introduced to move away from “book, chapter and verse” and loaded questions were asked and quibbled over. J. T. also pressed Gibbert hard for relying on Matt. 19:9b (and the insertion of the exception clause falsely in this part of the verse) the first two nights and then trying to disavow its validity the last two nights. He furthermore presented material showing it had a right to belong in the text, and that point was dropped.

Several points of order were made to infractions of the rules by the Gibbert-Melear-Cheatham team, including quotes from James Adams in the Gospel Guardian introduced the first night in clear violation of the terms of the discussion. Other infractions were minor and overlooked by Brother Frost until the final night when they were pointed out “for the record.” An orderly discussion prevailed on the subject, with only one real point of friction arising over what I believe was a misunderstanding in the closing announcements Thursday evening, and that was quickly pulled back and settled.

I am glad to see the churches in Virginia taking a firm stand for the truth, and also in North Carolina. I too regret these brethren have a hard time finding a place to preach due to their teaching, but would suggest before faithful brethren can recommend them they are going to have to change their doctrine to harmonize with the word of God rather than reaching a conclusion and then seeking to alter the word of God to suit their doctrine. While some points could still have benefited from better clarification, I believe the truth came through in I this discussion, and admire both Brother Smith and Frost for the fine job they did in defending the truth.

Truth Magazine XXII: 21, pp. 345-346
May 25, 1978