Divorce, Remarriage and Romans 14, the Abuse Continues
Allow me to say at the very outset that I am deeply grieved at the mounting division now being observed among non-institutional brethren and churches relative to divorce and marriage to another. I have tried every way that I know for a number of years to precipitate and encourage honest dialogue and a study of the subject. I have also had numerous written debates on the matter to provide study material to help others in their investigation and determination of the truth, both regarding the pristine teaching of the scriptures and real life application. Various ones as well as I have made sacrifices and have paid a price, both in limits of influence and even monetary considerations. I do sincerely want to see "…brethren …dwell together in unity" on divorce and marriage to another (identified later as MDR) as well as on all biblical subjects (cp. Ps. 133: 1, I Cor. 1: 10).
A growing number of brethren continue to insist that division does not have to happen over the current MDR differences. The panacea that they offer is Romans 14. I do certainly agree that while in the main, Romans 14 addresses endemic matters that cannot be fully duplicated today, there are generally applicable principles that, when applied, can help to preclude division in matters doctrinally and morally indifferent. I am referring to such principles as enunciated in Romans 14: verse 5 ("be fully persuaded"); verse 12 ("every one of us shall give account of himself to God"); and verse 13 ("Let us not therefore judge one another any more…"). However, we must remember that all the points, principles, and truths being stated in the milieu of Romans 14 only involve particularity that "…is not unclean of itself" (Rom. 14: 14). Any effort, therefore, to place into the protective climate of Romans 14 particularity that is doctrinally false or immoral and then call for unity and compromise regarding such particularity, pronouncing all who do not join in the demand mean-spirited and divisive is wrong.
As I have already intimated, just about every MDR aberrant has been and is now being crammed into Romans 14, notwithstanding the fact that they do not match the unusual circumstances and the stated particulars of Romans 14 (see verses 1; 2; 5; 21).
I am observing more brethren now attempting to shove, cram, and force error regarding MDR into Romans 14 using the rationale: "The teaching of multiple causes for divorce and the innocent put away may later put away and marry another fit the criteria of Romans 14 and, therefore, we are wrong to divide over these matters….However, we must not try to place any matter of error or immorality into the setting of Romans 14." When it is said about their teaching that they believe multiple causes for divorce and the innocent put away being able to after-the-fact put away (second putting away) and marry another, they charge, "I do not believe these things and I certainly do not teach them. I am being slandered!" The amazing thing about all this is that many brethren listen to these preachers and agree that these preachers do not believe in multiple causes or after-the-fact action while there is a living mate.
Let me see if I can make this simpler and then I want to insert some pertinent history and provide an example of what I mean.
(1). Preacher John Doe calls for unity regarding differences on multiple causes for divorce and after-the-fact putting away, using Romans 14 as his authority.
(2) Preacher John Doe agrees that no error or matter of immorality may be placed into the setting of Romans 14.
(3). Therefore, preacher John Doe of necessity believes multiple causes for divorce and after-the-fact divorce are not wrong.
At first (during the last three decades), Romans 14 was being used to justify error and immorality by those wanting to bring in mechanical music, extending fellowship to denominationalists, and a host of other matters. Appeals were made to "love" and "Romans 14" under the banner of "unity."
"We cannot, we must not, continue this way, my brothers. We need only to love ourselves out of this wretched mess, for love is the ingredient that will bind us all together in perfect harmony….Surely if the Corinthian congregation could avoid a major splint, in the fact of its many problems, we can at least unite….The millennium, instrumental music…and a host of other petty…matters, are a world away from the problems of the Corinthian congregation. Yet not once did Paul recommend that the ‘loyal brothers’go over to the south end of Corinth and start a ‘faithful church’" (The Reformer, "Unity" by Buff Scott, Jr., Vol. 4, No. 1, Jan./Feb., 1988).
"There is nothing wrong in the church having its liberals and conservatives, for we always have had, even from the beginning. The issue is not as much who is right as much as how we are going to treat each other when we differ. Both sides or all sides could be right, depending on conscience. Paul seems to be saying this in Romans 14. We are to embrace each other in the loving fellowship of the Holy Spirit in spite of differences over methods and opinions….This means we should never have divided over Herald of Truth…or instrumental music, and all the rest…." (Restoration Review, "When Love obstructs Party Action," pg. 89, by Leroy Garrett, Vol. 33, No. 5, May 1991).
Commencing about fifteen years ago (1988), writing began to appear from men who were then viewed as conservative that appealed to Romans 14 in cases of doctrinal differences on MDR.
"As for divergent views on divorce and remarriage, they are numerous. Some claim that such is wrong for any reason. Most teach that fornication is a scriptural reason to put away one’s spouse and remarry. Many are of the conviction that the abandonment of a believer by an unbeliever is another scriptural cause. Some say that the civil divorce proceedings constitute the putting away of Matt. 19: 9. Others believe the putting away is distinct from any civil authority. Some believe that one who has been divorced or put away, regardless of the cause, may never remarry. Others are convinced that an innocent party who has been unjustly…divorced may remarry if the other party in the original marriage is guilty of fornication. Some believe that God’s marriage laws are addressed only to Christians….Yet on most phases of it the majority of us seem to get along; treat one another as brethren; and not attack each other as false teachers. There seems to be some space for tolerance in this area….Many will doubtlessly disagree with me, but I believe the following exhortation is appropriate: "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ" (Romans 14: 10). (Searching the Scriptures, "Using the Sword of the Spirit," pg. 10, by Ken Green, August, 1989.)
Beyond all doubt, the most influential teaching pertaining to aberrant views on MDR and an appeal to Romans 14 for compromise and tolerance appeared in the late Christianity Magazine publication. Editor Ed Harrell admitted that he believed Homer Hailey’s teaching that people are allowed to remain in their marriage when they are baptized was wrong and unscriptural. Notwithstanding, Harrell appealed to Romans 14 for the protection, continued use, and fellowship of Homer Hailer and pronounced all who disagreed as wrong. Harrell viewed Hailey as "honest," therefore, Harrell believed Hailey came into the protective cover of Romans 14.
"Several principles come into play when one decides the limits of fellowship. Clearly, one must consider the honesty of the other person," wrote Harrell, "and his apparent sincerity in following God’s directions (Rom. 14: 1-6)." (Christianity Magazine, "Past, Present and Perfect," Pg. 6, by Ed Harrell, November, 1988.)
In order to attempt to prove his case that the matter of Homer Hailey and his false teaching on MDR must be fellowshipped by brethren, Harrell presented a series of articles in Christianity Magazine over the span of about a year that repeatedly appealed to Romans 14. Again, the matter of special historic interest relative to Ed Harrell and Christianity Magazine is the fact that Harrell admitted that Hailey’s teaching was wrong; yet, he urged brethren to compromise the issue based on Romans 14.
I want to now introduce a recent case in point to both prove and illustrate my original point. I shall identify these men, not out of any personal antagonism (they have been my friends), but to be clear and germane in my teaching. Please observe the thinking, rationale, and consequence of their thinking and in the second case, clear use of Romans 14.
I shall insert a large portion of an article written by Keith Greer that is presently on the Website of the Knollwood church of Christ, Beavercreek, Ohio. I shall attempt to provide a link to Keith’s article at the end of this material in case you want to read it in full. I shall also supply numbers for Keith’s list for ease of reference.
"During the West Virginia question-and-answer session, I tried to warn the brethren that we are going to have some disagreements about the MDR subject. Brethren, will we agree on EVERY application of what the Bible teaches on MDR? Let me give you some examples:
Out of the six above enumerated particulars pertaining to MDR, the teaching that post divorce action is allowable and multiple causes for divorce are the two that are presently raging and in some circles, being boldly advocated. Both these doctrines are manifestly error (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9, I Cor. 7: 2ff.). Error, I might add, that eventuate in adultery. Therefore, these doctrines find no defense and placement in Romans 14. As a result, we are not to compromise these matters and agree to say nothing about those teaching and promoting these false doctrines. If one is really interested in finding ways to promote biblical unity, they need to encourage study and debate and desist offering convoluted argumentation that clearly presents them as either themselves advocating error on MDR, defending those who are inculcating error, or terribly abusing Romans 14, which is itself error. (Related reading would be, "Mike Willis Responds!")
Addendum: In talking with Keith Greer, he has maintained to me that he did not refer to Romans 14 in his article. He is technically correct. However, his article is being viewed as inferentially referring to Romans 14, as seen in Joe Price’s use of Keith’s material. Joe Price’s rationale is actually more substantive than Keith Greer’s. Consider Keith’s appeal:
1."Allow each situation to be examined by the local church and the elders where that situation takes place."
Each actual situation must be locally examined and addressed, agreed. However, this does not treat the problem of preachers teaching multiple causes for divorce and a second putting away performed by a put away person!
2. "Why should we divide over hypothetical situations?"
Again, the matter involves actual erroneous teaching being done. Keith seems to think that he can ignore the teaching and dismiss the whole matter by referring to "hypothetical situations." When I have attempted to discuss the application of such verses as Matthew 19: 9 with Keith, he has refused claiming, "I will not discuss hypothetical situations." I have told him that I am mentioning real cases, but he has refused to engage in any dialogue relative to such matters. Notice Keith’s next argument, appealing to motive assignment:
3. "Let's be certain that our goal is not to defend our favorite preacher, to defend a family member, or to bring a well-known preacher to his knees. Frankly, I'm afraid some of my brethren relish the thought of division on this subject. May God help us to examine our own hearts!"
Again, what does such
diversion have to do with actual teaching? Those among us who are teaching
multiple causes for divorce and the innocent put away may later put away and
marry another are teaching false doctrine. These men are being protected by men
such as Keith Greer and Joe Price by an appeal to pseudo unity.
"Are We Doomed To Divide?" (Article by Keith Greer.)
"An Exchange on Romans 14 and Divorce and Remarriage" (an exchange between Joe Price and me).