By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
Recently, I have been asked several times what I thought about Romans 14. I have read a lot of what has been written (including various commentaries) and have heard some preaching on the subject lately in view of the marriage-divorce question. I have yet to hear or read any exegesis of this chapter that totally satisfies my mind. While I believe that I have a general idea of the kind of things it is dealing with, I still have a few lingering questions concerning the explanation and application of the chapter.
For example, I am not nearly as sure as some that Romans 14 is not dealing with any matters that pertain to “the faith.” The very first verse speaks of those weak “in the faith.” It is the same expression as in Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; etc., where it is clear that “the faith” refers to the system of faith. I may write more on this later.
While I may not be sure of all that may or may not belong in this chapter, I am sure of one thing Romans 14 does not cover adulterers, fornicators, and the like. I wrote the following under the title that heads this article in the August 1989 issue of The Reflector, a church bulletin which I edited at the time, and have seen no reason to change my mind since then:
The Divorce-Remarriage issue has heated up a bit in recent months, especially since it has been widely publicized that a well-known, well-respected and well-liked brother is among those that teach that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to non-Christians. Hence, one may have been divorced (for any reason) and remarried any number of times before becoming a Christian and upon becoming a Christian remain in the marriage he happens to be in at the time because Matthew 19:9 did not apply to him in his days of alienation. This idea has been around for some time now in rather isolated instances, but has not received such widespread attention among “conservative” brethren until rather recently. It has left some brethren wondering out loud what to do about it.
Of course, those who agree with the position have little problem with what to do about it. Just leave them alone and let them freely teach and/or practice it without interference from those who disagree with their doctrine. It is among those who disagree with the doctrine that the problem comes.
One solution, that has been given rather wide-spread editorial attention, is to make it parallel to the things mentioned in Romans 14 things which we are to “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5), with each practicing his personal convictions, without either judging or setting at naught the other (v. 3). We are told, and we agree, that there are areas where brethren have practiced this principle over the years the covering, military service, etc. In each case the things involve the individual and his conscience before God and not the collective action of the church. We are urged to treat the problems surrounding Matthew 19:9 in the same fashion. Judging from some of the published amen-type responses to the editorializing, the idea may be getting rather wide support even among those who say they do not agree with the position.
Nearly all of us agree that sincere brethren may study passages and reach different conclusions without it having to become an “issue” among brethren. While one may be rather confident that his conclusion is correct, and be conscientiously forced to personally live by that conclusion and even share his conclusion with others under proper circumstances, he recognizes the possibility that he could be wrong in his reasoning, so he must allow others the same right to live by their conclusions.
However, in the case of Matthew 19:9 the conclusion is explicitly spelled out by revelation. What about any person (“whoever”) who divorces for any cause, other than fornication, and remarries? What is the conclusion of this matter? He “commits adultery,” if words mean anything at all. If he “commits (or is committing, a continuing or repetitive action, as the tense of the verse suggests) adultery,” then what should brethren do about it? Again the conclusion is explicitly stated by revelation. In 1 Corinthians 5, we read instructions as to what is be done about “sexual immorality” (all agree that adultery falls into that category). Such ones are to be `judged” (v. 3, 12-13) and then “delivered … to Satan” (v. 5) “purged out” (v. 7), “not kept company with” (v. 11), and “put away” (v. 13), by faithful brethren.
Further, the conclusion is clearly stated that the church cannot “allow (“suffer” KJV) (one) to commit sexual immorality” nor can it allow one to teach others to do so. (See Rev. 2:20).
In view of all of this, we should not force Matthew 19:9 into Romans 14.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 21 p. 20-21
November 6, 1997