Why Halbrook Fellowships Smith, Rader, and Other Faithful Men in Spite of Some Differences

Ron Halbrook

I want to thank brother J.T. Smith for the opportunity to make this statement regarding his March 2001 editorial in Gospel Truths as I am preparing to leave for six weeks in the Philippines. He is concerned about our critics charging us with hypocrisy in opposing their unity-in-doctrinal-diversity while we differ among ourselves in some ways. This charge is directed at brother Donnie Rader, myself, and other faithful men such as brother Smith. "Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse" us (Acts 24:13).

United in Doctrine, Differ in Some Judgments

I know of no doctrinal differences between brother Smith and myself through the years, though we have differed at times on judgments in the details of application on some points at times, just as occurs with any two Christians. Publicly and privately, I have consistently taught through the years that people are eligible to marry in the following cases: 1. a person never before married (Matt. 19:4-6), 2. an innocent person who put away a mate for fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), or 3. a person whose mate is dead (Rom. 7:2-3). The put-away fornicator or the person put away without Bible grounds goes to the bed of adultery when he marries a new mate (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18).

At times, judgments must be made about the details of application on a case by case basis. No two brethren agree about all of those judgments and details at all times, but faithful brethren are united on the basic doctrine or principles of truth.

With this statement, I am providing brother Smith my articles entitled "Marriage Is Honorable" (Guardian of Truth , June 20, 1996, pp. 368-71; reprinted as tract), "Divorce and Remarriage: No Waiting Game" (Guardian of Truth , Mar. 18, 1993, pp. 168-69), and "Are We Doomed to Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?" (Guardian of Truth , Aug. 15 & Sept. 5, 1996, pp. 496-98 & 548-50). My sermon outline on "Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage" is also provided. These materials well summarize what I have taught publicly and privately through the years. Brother Smith is free to reprint any or all of this material as he sees fit.

Question Answered in Detail in 1993

Also, several years ago, he wrote me saying he had heard that I teach, "When a man puts away his wife for any cause other than fornication and he subsequently marries another, his first wife then may put him away for fornication and she has the scriptural right to marry another" (Smith to Halbrook, 2-17-93). My letter dated February 27, 1993 explained that I do not believe or teach such a view. In an effort to be completely open and forthcoming, I also expanded the letter to deal with a number of side issues on divorce and remarriage which I find difficult to sort out at times. I do not attempt to deal with all such matters in preaching. When asked about them, I try to provide information on opposing views and leave such matters to the individual conscience. I am providing the same letter again to brother Smith. It is by far the most exhaustive effort I have ever made to write out my views, judgments, and questions in seeking to work through some difficult points. I sought his input on those matters at the time, but he did not follow up. The correspondence ended.

Brother Smith is free to share this letter with anyone who is curious about such things or even to publish it in whole. (In fact, I will submit the main body of the letter, omitting personal and extraneous matters, as a separate article with the heading "Halbrook’s Answer to Smith’s Question in 1993." Brother Smith can then decide whether publishing it will be profitable or whether enough has been said.) The letter stated, "You are welcome to share this letter with whoever talked with you about this matter or with anyone else who has an interest in my views on the question. I have nothing to hide and no one to protect. If someone can supply me with information which I have not adequately considered, I want to learn more, correct any mistakes, and continue to grow. Anyone who can help me to do that is my friend, not my enemy." If brother Smith or anyone else wishes to express his thoughts about those things, I will take them under advisement for further study. I do not expect to live long enough to resolve all such questions and quandaries, or to write articles attempting to address them. I do not have any special light on all such matters, which is why I am not shouting such things "from the housetops."

Scripture Clear, Legal Tangle Created by Ungodly Men

Luke 16:18, which brother Smith discussed, shows that the same basic rule applies to both the man and the woman (i.e., if either person marries a new mate after a divorce, he or she goes to the bed of adultery). The one exception given in Matthew is not under consideration. Matthew’s account shows that when the biblical putting away occurs because of sexual immorality, the innocent party alone is permitted to marry a new mate.

The only problem faithful brethren have is sorting through the legal tangle resulting from the civil procedures created by ungodly men. I do not believe in waiting games or so-called "mental" divorces. Yet, "mental" divorce is charged by some brethren unless the innocent party "wins the race to the courthouse," or unless the innocent party puts the terms "for fornication" on the divorce papers, or unless other specific legal steps and procedures are followed. (On the latter point, see the excellent comments by Wayne Partain, "Unity In Diversity-Part I," Gospel Truths , Mar. 2001, on p. 8, which properly answer our critics who equate their unity-in-doctrinal-diversity with our forbearance in different judgments within doctrinal unity.)

Each tangled case must be considered on a case by case basis, and, beyond that, I am willing to leave the matter to the judgment of the parties involved unless there is some direct violation of specified law revealed in Scripture. I do not attempt to address or settle all these decisions about details in my preaching. When asked about such things, I can only point to the basic principle Christ gave and, beyond that, point out that judgments must be made in some areas of detail.

The Lord willing, I plan to continue preaching and writing on the basic doctrine or principles of truth stated above in the first part of this article, leaving some of the details of application to a case by case basis. Brethren have acted upon the solid ground of truth by preaching this doctrine with boldness from every pulpit in the land while not using the pulpit to promote personal judgments in every area of application of commonly held principle. In my view, to turn aside from that course to publicly delve into our differences of judgment will not serve the cause of truth well. In fact, such an exercise will only serve to divide faithful brethren and to divert attention away from the unity-in-doctrinal-diversity movement which has gained so much ground in the last twenty years.

Should the materials I am submitting not satisfy brother Smith, I have offered to participate in private study and discussion with him after my return from the Philippines, if he so desires.

Keeping Our Balance While Opposing False Doctrine

Even if brother Smith, brother Rader, and I could agree to dot every "i" and cross every "t" the same way on some particular point, it would NOT stop certain men from charging us with hypocrisy in our fellowship with each other. They will simply focus on a similar point about which we differ in judgment, and then if we get every "i" dotted alike on that one, they will turn to another, then another, ad infinitum . For instance, faithful brethren agree doctrinally that the church is not authorized to engage in social and recreational activities, but we differ in judgment about funerals and weddings in the meeting house. Our critics have already tried to use this issue against us, and there are a thousand more such questions they could raise . Mark it well: There will be no end to this charge of hypocrisy in our fellowship of each other so long as we openly oppose the false doctrines these men have openly taught and tolerated!

Our critics have been trying desperately to defend the thesis that brethren can continue in fellowship in spite of "contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions" (Ed Harrell, Christianity Magazine , May 1990, p. 6). In support of that thesis, they put all sorts of differences into the category of doctrinal differences (such things as serving in the military, funerals or weddings in the church building, the veil, difficult and different judgments about some details of the marriage issue, etc., etc.). The effort to label all such matters as doctrinal is mistaken. Brethren united in doctrine at times differ on some detail in the area of application . To declare all these differences "doctrinal" will lead to one of two extremes: unity in doctrinal diversity , or self-destruction by splitting and splintering into smithereens . We can maintain a biblical balance and avoid both extremes.

Brother Smith maintained that very balance in upholding the cause of truth when he worked selflessly to defeat the forces of factionalism while we worked in the same area of Brazoria County, Texas in the mid-1980’s. Though called upon to elevate judgments concerning weddings and funerals in the church building to the level of doctrinal differences, brother Smith sought to maintain harmony among brethren by maintaining the Bible ground for unity. That ground demands a defense of doctrinal truth, but forbids strife over matters where no doctrinal differences exist (2 Tim. 2:14-26; 1 Tim. 6:3-5 ).

Brother Smith’s desire and effort to maintain harmony with brethren united in the doctrine of Christ is a purpose we share. We share and have defended that same doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage: Marriage is for one woman and one man for life, the only exception being that an innocent mate may put away a spouse guilty of fornication and have a right to marry another. Let us all who believe and teach that same doctrine echo the words of Abram, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee" (Gen. 13:8) . Recent discussions between brother Smith and myself confirm that we share the same commitment to unity upon the basis of truth which we have shared through the years. Those who may seek to divide us by elevating judgments on applications to the level of doctrinal differences pursue a path which does nothing to aid Bible-based unity. To pursue such a course will only serve to advance factionalism and give aid and comfort to those who would undermine and compromise the doctrine of Christ.

Let this statement serve notice to our critics. I do not intend to allow false charges of hypocrisy to divert my attention away from their false doctrines nor to sidetrack me into fighting other faithful brethren. I shall continue to extend the right hand of fellowship to brethren sharing the same doctrine or principles of truth, while acknowledging we differ at times on details in some points of application. The biblical basis for this balanced stand is spelled out in the article, "Are We Doomed to Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?"

Brother Rader’s excellent response to the charges of hypocrisy are available via computer internet at the following address: www.truthmagazine.com. The other materials I have referred to, including the full text of my 1993 letter, are available at the same site for those who have internet access.

(I first told brother Smith I did not see how I could prepare a response before leaving for the Philippines, which he could well understand. It could be hurtful for this matter to drag out for several months awaiting my return and recuperation. Therefore, I have stayed up until 3:30 A.M. one night, and 4:30 A.M. another night, and skipped sleep entirely another night while working double time on this material between calls and letters to Philippine brethren in making final preparations for the trip. I mention this to emphasize my determination to avoid letting this matter turn into a protracted, bitter battle. As soon as each of us has spoken our mind, we would do well to move on to other things and leave brethren free to reach their own conclusions. I wish this article could have appeared along side brother Smith’s March editorial, but at least it is possible now for it to be printed as quickly thereafter as possible. Upon my return from the Philippines, I will be overwhelmed with follow-up work with Filipino brethren after spending six weeks in their land. No one understands this better than brother Smith because of his experience in the Philippine work. Therefore, I hope this special effort to provide a response will be satisfactory to him and this task will not be waiting for my attention when I return.)

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