“MDR and the 1990 Guardian of Truth”
By Don Martin
In 1990, the then called Guardian of Truth magazine believed in dealing with issues among brethren (they have had a change of policy). In fact, the January 4 issue was dedicated to “Divorce and Remarriage” issues. Since I do have much interest in history, both from a retrospective and also prospective slant (history often reveals the future, as history tends to repeat itself), I spend some time looking back at tangible events and actions, which I deem important and precipitous. I appreciated much about the way the January 4, 1990 issue of the Guardian of Truth (now Truth Magazine) addressed “divorce and remarriage issues.” One preacher told me when I was a young preacher, “Don, do not write articles because what you write can come back to haunt you later.” I must humbly say that I do not recall having written one thing that presently embarrasses me. However, I can sure see how this has happened to many among us. Allow me now to share some reflections about this particular issue of Guardian of Truth with you, both good and bad.
Bill Cavender had the introduction article and made a number of good points. Bill stated and proved from the scriptures that the only one that has a right to divorce and marry another is the innocent mate who puts away due to the fornication of the guilty mate and he so stated this without any equivocation or mumbo jumbo. I did not observe anywhere in this special edition of the Guardian of Truth, efforts to explain how any put away person could later put away and be able to marry another or the concept of two putting away actions, the latter of which can be scriptural. I did not see any arguments attempting to justify divorce or putting away (apoluo) being isolated and totally detached from any civil protocol. As I read the material, I did not even observe intimation that one could privately and mentally or “in one’s heart” put away. It is regrettable that even some of the men who prepared material for this special edition now spend much of their time trying to justify unscriptural divorces and “remarriages.”
Bill mentioned one thing that has not transpired, at least not obviously so: “A recent article says that by the turn of this century possibly seventy-five percent of first marriages will end in divorce.” Based on what was happening in 1990, this was a reasonable prediction. However, we continue at the rate of about fifty percent of all first marriages ending in divorce. Are we better off today? No. Current statistics do not figure in how many in America are now totally ignoring marriage and are just shacking up. In the 1990 edition of G.O.T., I did not read much about private or mental marriages, probably because it was not as much of an issue, especially regarding the church. However, beginning in about 2000, I started having debates with preachers among us who advocated that biblical marriage does not necessarily involve appropriate civil protocol and that we should not talk negatively about two people (“Christians”) who decide to set up house keeping without a marriage license (see addendum 1). What a chaotic doctrine, as people try to decide and determine whether or not they are really married or just in a state of fornication. However, since many have subsequent to 1990 now openly accepted various nuances of mental divorcement relative to divorcement, it was predictable that many are now accepting various nuances of “mental marriage.”
In the basic vain being mentioned, Steve Wolfgang had the overwhelming assignment of approaching “divorce and remarriage” from the historic prospective. Steve ably mentioned and documented how in 1910, for every 100 marriages there were 8. 8 divorces, 13. 4 in 1920 and 17. 5 in 1930. Indeed, “We have come along way, Baby.” We, today, continue to witness the decay and deterioration of society and now the Lord’s church as the once American family is vanishing and churches accept adulterous marriages and invent false doctrines to try to justify adultery and fornication and extending fellowship to these people. Steve correctly noticed how that various publications reflect the fact that as divorce increased, attention was placed on this growing problem. “In the early twentieth century, rising divorce rates were reflected,” wrote Steven, “in the increasing number of articles on divorce and remarriage by members of churches of Christ. The Gospel Advocate Index, for instance, lists 31 articles on divorce for the first quarter of the twentieth century; but the next decade, from 1925 to 1935, exceeds that number considerably.” It is now sad that as “divorce and remarriage” is reaching pandemic levels, that some present day publications such as the re-designed Truth Magazine has adopted the policy of avoiding the issues and letting others address such matters! (See addendum 2.)
To Elmer Moore was given the important assignment of “definition of terms.” Elmer wrote regarding marriage: “...this covenant is ratified when whatever is legal in society has been met (Rom. 13: 1).” (Guardian of Truth, January 4, 1990, pg. 2.) Regarding divorcement, Elmer stated, “A divorce takes place when this marriage covenant has been dissolved. In our present society a divorce occurs when a legal decree has been issued. This seems to accord with the Bible use of the term (Deut. 24: 1).” Today, seventeen years later, many do not know when a marriage begins and what is the act of putting away or divorcement (see addendum 3).
Colly Caldwell had the task of dealing with I Corinthians chapter seven. A growing number of preachers among us believe that Paul is teaching in I Corinthians 7: 11 that divorce may (with divine approval) occur for reasons other than fornication, just as long as there is no subsequent marriage, etc. In fact, the then editor of Guardian of Truth has now become renowned for teaching more than one cause for acceptable divorce, even such causes as divorcing for one’s “emotional health.” Colly wrote in clear and sound terms:
“Third, Paul repeated the ‘command’ of ‘the Lord’ that ‘a wife is not to depart from her husband’ (v. 10). Some have found comfort in Paul’s next phrase, ‘even if she does depart.’ The Christian, they say, may divorce without sin for cause other than fornication if there is no subsequent sexual activity....The statement ‘but even if she does depart’ (v. 11) does not free one to disobey the command of verse ten...” (Ibid., pg. 12).
Regarding the doctrine of multiple or more than one cause for divorcement, Ron Halbrook was vocal back in 1990. Under “Christ’s teaching,” Ron unequivocally wrote: “Man not permitted to put away wife for conduct short of fornication” (Ibid., pg. 6).
Today, some of us are being labeled as divisive, trouble-makers because we continue to boldly teach only one cause for acceptable divorcement, the cause of fornication (Matt. 5: 32, I Cor. 7: 2f.).
As I reflect back on the 1990 special edition of the Guardian of Truth magazine, I see many subsequent changes, both in attitude, doctrine, and practice. Where blatant false doctrine, as such, has not entered, unity-in-diversity has influenced, in too many cases. The present day Truth Magazine, for instance, is a hodge-podge of compromise and false fellowship ideas. Connie Adams, a man who still teaches the truth on such subjects as “divorce and remarriage” is now Co-Editor, along with Mike Willis. Some of the staff writers now openly defend Mike Willis’ teaching of more than one cause for divorcement or, at least, Mike’s right to teach such without serious objection, challenge, or refutation. Again, it would appear that to avoid all the embarrassment over inconsistency, doctrinal change, moral indecision, and false ecumenical fellowship, Truth Magazine has simply decided not to do any more of what they used to do, as seen in the 1990 special edition, deal with issues. Yet, many continue to scratch their heads, others have their heads buried in the proverbial sand of cowardice, and say, “What is all this fuss over, anyway?” (See addendum 4.)
Addendum 1: In debating this issue, while conceding the possibility of two people being biblically married in a state that provides common law marriage circumstances, I have questioned why two Christians who simply desire to move in together, even if they claim they are “married,” would do such a thing. I have also shown that as a rule, even in this circumstance, many states that provide the common law marriage situation require certain requirements, even time requirements. Hence, two people may be viewed as in fornication, looking at it from this slant, while they wait to fulfill the state time requirement.
Addendum 2: In volume 51 of Truth Magazine Editor Willis wrote: “We have reached the conclusion that most of the doctrinal issues facing brethren will be fought through the Internet rather than through the papers. We are adjusting our approach to reflect this conclusion.”
Addendum 3: I contend that there are certain components or elements, if you please, that constitute both the marriage and, conversely, divorcement act. They are: Mental resolve, appropriate declaration of intent, and compliance with applicable civil protocol (Mal. 2: 14, etc., Rom. 13: 1f.). If we attempt to eliminate any of these matters, we encounter problems. I have incurred a number of preachers and also people going through divorce to whom they have provided instruction, who believe dating another is allowable, before the final civil resolve or dissolution of the marriage. Why not, if the marriage has been severed at the point of mental resolve or simply moving out of the house?
Addendum 4: While I commend the January 4, 1990 issue of Guardian of Truth for dealing with the “divorce and remarriage” issue, I do not sanction the organization and structure of the magazine or the Guardian of Truth Foundation. I believe both to be examples of privately supported entities to preach the gospel, a work belonging to God’s collectivity, the local church, I Tim. 3: 15. In 1990, the Guardian of Truth Foundation constituting a privately supported “missionary society” was not as evident to some as it is today. When the Foundation started sponsoring or offering their own gospel meetings or “lectureships,” I think all doubt or room for quibble was removed.