In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that brethren of experience and reputation would be capable of resorting to the ungodly and extreme measures they have employed in their recent attacks against me. However, the following exchanges (and the documented facts behind them) will prove once again, that truth is many times stranger than fiction.
Below, I have posted the response letter that I mailed to brother Tom O’Neal on 2-10-04, after he sent (via USPS) an eleven page letter to myself, and mailed a copy to each and every household of those who regularly attend the services in Beckley, WV, both members and non-members. (Some even revealed to me that it was an ordeal to keep unbelieving mates from reading Tom's letter). Additionally, several brethren have informed me that brother O'Neal sent copies of his letter to individual members of various other churches throughout the state of WV. Written on the envelopes of letters sent to the members of the church in Summersville, WV, was a note that stated: Eric Norford said I should send this to you. Moreover, when two of our members called Tom O'Neal and asked him who sent him the directory of all the members in Beckley, Tom told them that it was Weldon Warnock.
Moreover, Tom's eleven page letter, filled with numerous unfounded allegations and several evil surmisings, was also posted on Tim Haile's website (2-17-04). The collusion and concerted effort of these men to be "partakers" of this sinful conduct is beyond me (cf. I Timothy 5:22; II John 11).
Brother O'Neal's public letter immediately follows my response. - Jeff
February 9th, 2004
Dear brother O’Neal,
First of all, I would like to thank you for bringing to my attention my mistake regarding the date of your quote which states your belief regarding Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. Actually, that quote did come from a letter that you wrote to me (dated 9-28-03); I simply posted the wrong date. I’m sorry for this mistake, and have corrected the date on the website.
It gives me no pleasure to write the rest of this necessary reply to your letter dated 2-4-04, (received 2-8-04 via USPS, and copies of which you also sent to the members of the Carriage Drive church of Christ, with whom I labor).
As I was working on this response, I received various phone calls from different members of our congregation commenting on their receipt of your letter and its highly critical tone and demeanor. Moreover, some of these brethren have told me that they are considering how to best let you know that your letter was not appreciated.
The men who attend the business meetings have been well aware of your discontent since we asked you a specific marriage, divorce and remarriage question. Your unwillingness to answer that specific question was documented in the Carriage Drive business meeting minutes from our meetings that were held on Sept. 28th, 2003 and Oct. 27th, 2003, after I read your statement of faith answer to the men. For over two months, we pleaded with you to address our question directly, but unfortunately, you would not.
Please let me answer the untrue charges from your most recent letter that need to be addressed:
1) Documenting a quote with the wrong date does not prove that I’m “reckless”, only that I’m not perfect. It is clear that regardless of the date the quote was written on, my mistake would have no effect of swaying brethren’s thinking in any way, or influencing them unfairly. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said about the incorrect charges you have made against me.
To clear up any misunderstanding regarding this matter, you wrote that quote in a letter to me, dated September 28th, (which actually was the reiteration of a statement that you had sent to brother Leonard on September 7th). In your subsequent letter of 10-14-03, you also stated “I would appreciate it if you would share this letter as well as the previous letter with all the men of the congregation at Beckley” (emp. jhb). This request indicates your desire to make your letter (including your statement of faith) a public matter, not a private correspondence.
2) Your charge that I was “unethical, dishonest and cannot be trusted to deal with a brother fairly” because I published your complete statement of faith (which you wanted me to share with Beckley’s brethren), without your permission is an unusual charge. Surely, your request for me to share your letters with the men of the congregation indicates that they were not a private matter. I find it ironic that someone who claims to be honest and open would have such a problem with another brother quoting his public statement of faith (which he requested be shared with the men of this church) in its completeness, as I did.
My permission to manifest your public teaching is given by God in Ephesians 5:11, 13. In contrast, you had been given no permission from heaven or earth to publicize your false charges against me to our members (or anyone else). It is evident that your thinking is biased when you claim that my publishing an exact quote of your public statement of faith without your permission proves my dishonesty, yet you believe that you have manifested honesty by your public distribution of false charges against me (obviously, without my permission).
Moreover, if you believe that an author’s permission is necessary to further publicize his public quotes and review them, and that to do so without permission is a violation of “the golden rule,” then you and your associates have been violating your own mandate for far longer than I have. There is obviously nothing wrong with quoting and reviewing a person’s public teaching from one venue, in another one. This is standard practice for Truth Magazine associates. Harry Osborne confirms this truth in the following quote from the section “Objections to Distribution” in his letter (http://www.watchmanmag.com/0306/030621.htm) to brother Caldwell, dated July 8th, 2000:
“There is no ethical problem with answering public teaching or conduct without advance, private consultation. Paul answered Peter without a private consultation (Gal. 2:11-14). We are told of no private meeting which preceded Paul’s condemnation of Hymenaeus and Philetus along with their false doctrine (2 Tim. 2:16-18). In both cases, the wrong action and false teaching were public and the effect was broader than an individual matter. Hence, the answer and rebuke was public. The same is true with the actions and teaching allowed at Florida College.”
Additionally, on page 10 of your letter, you charge me with treating brethren badly, citing the example of my having posted “certain quotations without the full context” from an exchange between brothers Weldon Warnock and Jim Deason. Yet, when you possess copies of my complete replies to you that vindicate me against your charges, you send copies of your letters to the brethren at Beckley that include only “certain quotations without the full context” of my replies to you. I am sad to say that your unreasonable charges against me have been inconsistent with your own practice (Matthew 23:3-4; Romans 2:1).
3) The absurdity of your implication that I did something wrong because I did not “give a copy” of your letters (filled with your false allegations) to all the brethren for them to have the opportunity to read “at their leisure” – when the men in the business meeting had declined the offer to have a copy of our exchange – is self-evident. In the meeting, I had encouraged the men to read the exchange. However, what they were wanting was a simple answer to their question, not volumes of accusations against their preacher.
4) Your “three different efforts” to answer the men’s question were the same answer each time. Never once did you directly address our question regarding the Lord’s teaching about the put away in the 2nd halves of Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18. I explained this to the men in the business meeting, and they encouraged me to again try and get you to directly answer the specific question. I complied with their request by attempting to reword the question for you twice, yet each time you remained unwilling to reveal your views. And now, even after 11 more pages of hollow accusations, you have still failed to answer the men’s question.
5) You implied that I had been dishonest in first speaking “highly of you” to brother Bragg and then saying that “I do not know you, Tom” in one of my letters to you.
Nevertheless, I never portrayed to Leonard that I knew you personally, when he asked me about you. Regarding Leonard’s statement, you said that, “At the time, I thought how could he speak highly of me when I have never met him so far as I know, have never worked with him in a meeting and he has never worked with me in a meeting,” (page 2 of your letter, emp. jhb). When Leonard had asked me about you, I told him that although I did not know you personally, my assessment of your worthiness for support was based upon my knowledge of your writings in your publication, “Walking in Truth.” So, in the sense that he asked, I was able to speak highly of you.
On the other hand, in our correspondences, when I wrote that I don’t know you, it was in the sense of being able to predict how you would react in a particular situation, and the context of my quote (page 7 of your letter) easily confirms that fact.
After writing your assessment of the supposed discrepancy, you stated, “How can you in good conscience speak ‘highly’ of someone you ‘do not know?’ Or does your conscience not bother you to tell such? Which time were you telling the truth, brother Belknap? Whichever is the truth, the other is your lie!”
Yet, in one of your previous letters to me that you quoted in your recent letter (on page 5), you stated, “I have never been to Beckley and don’t know any of the brethren there except Leonard Bragg and only him through correspondence.” Admittedly, you “have never met” Leonard either, yet you stated that you knew him. I may be wrong, but I believe that if someone asked you what you knew about brother Leonard Bragg, you would reveal the context of your knowledge of him (just as I explained to Leonard the context of my knowledge of you) and speak highly of him as well!
Obviously, in view of your own acknowledgement that you “know” Leonard - but only through correspondence, you yourself understand that there are different degrees of knowledge of brethren. Thus, your charge that I have lied is wholly unreasonable.
6) At the top of page 5 of your letter you insinuated that I was a “one issue preacher” like others you have known. You later called for my repentance “that you (I) might be forgiven of your (my) sin of hobby riding” at the close of your letter. You wrote, “If he is preaching on creation, baptism or Abraham he usually has a way of getting his hobby in somewhere in his sermon. Paul preached the whole counsel of God (Act 20:26-27). Paul did not preach one thing to the exclusion of other themes.”
The fact of the matter is that the last time I had preached on MDR was approximately one and a half years ago. Nevertheless, in light of the recent misrepresentations against me and my teaching, just a few weeks ago, the men requested that I preach on it again, in order to address any questions that our brethren may have, which I did yesterday.
I marvel that I am “obsessed” and a “one issue preacher,” but other preachers (whom you agree with) are not, though they have repeatedly dealt with error in the midst of controversy? Truth Magazine published 39 articles about Edward Fudge’s error (see archives’ search engine at www.TruthMagazine.com). [After almost two decades how many articles has “Truth” written (and still counting) about brother Homer Hailey and the subsequent Romans 14 error?] In addition to the Truth Magazine coverage, Searching the Scriptures published articles that addressed brother Fudge’s error, as well. Nevertheless, I could find no writing by associates of Truth Magazine or Searching the Scriptures that ever charged anyone with being out to “destroy” Edward Fudge, nor of “obsession” or “hobby riding.” Indeed, “the legs of the lame are not equal.” See also: The Charge of “Hobby-Riding” by the Error-Siding! (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9).
7) You continued on page 5 and said, “I perceive that for some unknown reason known to me, your web site is not just about ‘mental divorce’ but has an under lying effort to destroy Ron Halbrook. I could be wrong in this, but that is the perception that I have gotten from what little I have seen of your web site. Look at the number of articles you have on your web site that target Ron Halbrook by name. Why not some other preacher?” (emp. jhb).
Tom, the fact of the matter is: I also have articles addressing the erroneous teaching of several “other” brethren whom you mentioned in your letter! You went on to say on page 6, “You mention Ron Halbrook, Harry Osborne and Tim Haile as well as others. If I learned that they were in error or in sin, I will just as quickly have my say with them as I would with any others.” (emp. jhb). You mentioned those brothers’ names, as well as the names of two other men, Mike Willis and Weldon Warnock. Apparently, you were not aware that all of their teaching was also being examined and exposed on the website, as well as brother Halbrook’s. Again, I realize that you have limited the time that you are willing to devote to reading from my website, but if you are taking the time to make charges against it, I would expect that you would first do some more research, to make sure your charges about the website agree with what is on it, before going forward.
8) On page 9 you wrote: “You have violated my trust by posting on your web site that which you did not have my permission to do so.” (emp. jhb). Amazing! You imply that you had “trust” in me before I posted your public statement of faith to the website, yet the day after you received my very first request for you to answer the men’s divorce and remarriage question (and even before you replied to me) you wrote to brother Bragg, inquiring if the question was really asked at the request of the men (as I had told you), or if it was asked of my own accord?
In addition, in your very first letter to me, in response to the men’s question (page 3) and the request that you answer with an “I agree” or “I disagree” (and stating that if you disagreed with any or all of the statement, you were free to clarify why), you charged me with attempting to be “judge, jury and prosecuting attorney in this case.” Yet, in your most recent letter to myself (and the members of this congregation), you expressed that your letters had been written in “good faith” (page 9). Let’s be “honest.”
9) Your assessment that “I do not believe for one moment that the brethren in Beckley would have come up on their own wanting your question answered without your influencing them” (emp. yours) is an insult to the brethren here. Your portrayal of me as some mind-controlling preacher who can influence our “brethren to do what he wants them to do” reveals more of your uncharitable thoughts for someone you don’t even know. (I don’t deny that I may have an appropriate amount of influence in teaching our brethren what the scriptures say about this issue or any other – isn’t that the point of preaching? Does your teaching not influence brethren regarding the issue of the 7 days of creation, the deity of Christ, or Romans 14, etc.? When a preacher’s teaching stops having an influence on faithful brethren, then it is time for him to quit preaching.)
Because it is generally understood among our members that the teaching of some on this issue involves the advocacy of adultery, they came to the realization that the matter of fellowship is involved. When brethren read Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b, they do not need the “influence” of a mind-controlling preacher to understand what Jesus said. Thus, as has been confirmed to you by both brother Bragg and myself, the question I asked of you (and the other brethren who were scheduled to hold our meetings) was asked at the express direction of the men of the congregation.
Brother Tom, anyone can make wild, baseless accusations against another, but that is a far cry from proving them. You made absolutely no attempt to back up these charges with any source whatsoever, except your own mind. Your comments on page 7 of your letter state, “You charge me with ‘unbrotherly surmisings’ in my letter. I tried to be as kind and gentle as I knew how to be, yet, at the same time to say plainly what was on my mind” (emp. jhb). Then in the next paragraph, you state, “When I say as kindly as I can what I think, you charge me with ‘unbrotherly surmisings’…” Brother Tom, that is exactly what “evil surmisings” (I Timothy 6:4) means – suspicion of evil against another. Suspicion does not come from reality, but rather from the subjective mind.
Further evidence of numerous “evil surmisings” against me in your 2-4-04 letter are as follows (all emphases mine, jhb, unless otherwise noted:
“Could it just be that you are not the great power of God that is keeping the church from going into apostasy that you seem to want to portray on your web site?” (page 1)
“When some preacher’s name is mentioned, they want to know if he is sound on the “authority question” which is their way of asking about his position on the covering. You seem to be doing the same thing with the “mental divorce” question.” (page 4)
“I perceive that for some unknown reason known to me, your web site is not just about “mental divorce” but has an under lying effort to destroy Ron Halbrook.” (page 5)
“I have seen your up-dates to your web site from time to time but do not have the time to read all of them. In fact, I have read little of what is there. I do not have the time. I do not see how you have the time to spend on such and do the work of gospel preaching.” (page 5)
“Again, do you see why I perceive that you are after Ron Halbrook?” (page 6)
“It appears to me that you might have thought that brother Willis might have shown you that you were the one in error.” (page 6)
“This is why I say that you are obsessed with and are a one issue preacher -only marriage seems to matter. All other issues seem unimportant to you.” (page 7)
“Could it be that you feel that I am guilty of “unbrotherly surmisings” because either (1) I have hit closer to home than you want to admit, or (2) you cannot answer what I have said? I feel that it maybe some of both and a whole lot of each.” (page 7)
“You seem to be the one who is right all of the time and others are wrong because they don’t agree with your say so.” (page 7)
“You should just be a man enough to say that I respect my brother (or brother-in- law) Harry Osborne above what is written (I Cor. 4:6) for that is the clear implication of what you have said.” (page 7)
“My personal opinion is that you did not give a copy of each of my letters to all the brethren for them to have the opportunity to read them at their leisure.” (page 8)
“When I see how inaccurate you are when I can check your documentation, it makes me wonder how inaccurate you are in other places where I can not check your sources.” (page 9)
“I had a feeling when you first wrote me that you were going to make this matter a test of fellowship and that in time you would cancel the meeting.” (page 9)
“I do not believe for one moment that the brethren in Beckley would have come up on their own wanting your question answered without your influencing them.” (page 9)
“It appears to me that my efforts to communicate with you as a brother in Christ has been met by the spirit of the Muslim religion which says “destroy at all costs” regardless of the tactics.” (page 9)
“Even so, you seem to have an obsession which causes you to see your brethren in Christ as enemies, and this obsession causes you to know no bounds of honor or fairness in your determination to destroy your brethren.” (page 10)
Conversely, please note the credence that God lends to the way things “seem” to men in Proverbs 14:12; 16:25.
[The above quotes are only a fraction of the slanderous statements within your letter. In your many other false assertions about me, you stated them as established facts, without such words as, “I perceive,” or “it appears to me,” or “I do not believe,” or “I had a feeling,” “you seem,” etc., yet failed to verify the source of your knowledge of such things. A prime example can be found on page 9, where you stated, “You need to wake up to the fact that you have become obsessed with certain technicalities and minutiae related to divorce and remarriage.” However, where you claim my “obsession” to be “fact” on page 9, you, yourself admit that it is mere supposition (“you seem to have an obsession”) on page 10.]
Your above quotes have manifested that you have some very some strong “feel(ings)”, perceptions, beliefs, and “personal opinion(s)” about what I think, say, do, motivations behind my actions, and what I will do in the future. Yet, you, yourself admitted that you have never met me and do not know me. Nevertheless, the scripture says, “love…thinketh no evil,” I Corinthians 13:4-5 (see Albert Barnes’ commentary).
II Corinthians 13:1 and I Timothy 5:19-21 (cf. Matthew 18:16-17) clearly teach that in a dispute involving a charge against a brother, every word must be established by a plurality of witnesses before it goes public. Regarding the above charges, you offered no proof, provided no source [other than “what was on my (your) mind” and “what I (you) think,” etc.] – nothing that would even hint that your information was based on facts. You claim that I was “reckless and inaccurate” for mistakenly documenting a wrong date on my website, yet you have publicly leveled page after page of “evil surmisings” against me on nothing but your own think-sos. Based on the facts, who has been “reckless and inaccurate?”
Brother, if you had any charges that had an actual basis in truth, I would expect that you would provide either written verification (in the same manner that I have verified charges of false teaching against the brethren whom I have quoted on my website) or provide names of the witnesses.
Regarding all the other unfounded charges you repeated (from our previous correspondence) in your most recent letter, please refer to the replies I wrote to your own previous letters. My earlier responses contain the answers to your questions and accusations, as well as the numerous questions I have asked of you – which you have yet to answer. I see little point in copying all my responses here, which you already have. (If you have lost track of them, please let me know and I will resend them.) Upon request, I will gladly supply our entire previous correspondence (which brother Leonard Bragg had received copies of) in chronological order to our members (as I also previously offered in the business meeting).
Additionally, you imply that my unwillingness to have you come to Beckley and “sit down and study” is a sign of cowardice or reluctance for the brethren “to whom I preach from week to week to hear you (me) try and defend your (my) views” (page 1 of your letter). In our correspondences you wrote, “I am willing to come at my expense to Beckley and sit down with you and the brethren and let you ask any question you desire.” You also stated on page 3 of your letter, “I have no problem answering the question that you sent or any other question”. Nevertheless, after several correspondences (over two months), the specific question we asked of you remained unanswered and has still not been answered to this day.
Your writing reveals that your idea of being “open and honest” in a discussion of our differences does not entail giving a direct answer to the specific question the brethren asked of you. Different times, you reiterated your statement of belief regarding the right of an “innocent” person, but after repeated attempts to reword the question about those who are put away, you still responded with your pat statement of belief about the rights of the innocent.
The men of the congregation were not satisfied with your indirect answer. It is highly unlikely that you would deal any more “openly” with our specific question in person than you did in writing, especially when you claimed that you had already specifically answered our question, when you had not. Such a meeting would be pointless, considering your idea of openness and honesty in answering direct questions with specificity. In addition, you have only misrepresented me in your correspondences. Why should someone who has been proven to malign another be given further opportunities to do more of the same?
On the other hand, do you believe it is a sign of courage to repeatedly avoid directly answering one simple question (within the numerous pages of correspondence you have already written)?
If you really want to debate, and are willing to “come out in the open” and “defend your views” (as you imply I’m not), then you should not be opposed to discuss specific propositions in writing that define and address our differences (not your generic statement of faith) for all (not just the brethren at Beckley) to “study”. We could put this written debate on the website and any other publication(s) you desire. I would also give copies to all interested members in Beckley who may or may not have access to the other venues. As you yourself said, “Would you be willing to do that? If not, why, not? Truth has no fear of an honest investigation.”
(P.S. In regards to Raymond Harris’ article regarding hobby riders, please refer to the response I wrote on my website entitled, “The Charge of ‘Hobby-Riding’ by the Error-Siding!” Interestingly, even though brother Harris refused to reveal to me whether he had me in mind when he wrote the article, from your comment, it is obvious that he was willing to reveal it to you or someone whom you are in contact with. I appreciate your willingness to confirm the fact of the matter.)
Following, is the usps letter which brother O’Neal sent to myself, and to all those who regularly attend the services in Beckley - both members and non-members, and which he sent to individual members of other WV churches. On February 17th, this letter also was published on Tim Haile's website.
To read the complete exchange with brother O’Neal see: The Complete E-mail Exchange With Tom O’Neal
February 4, 2004
Dear brother Belknap:
With this I will acknowledge your email of October 28, 2003 at 4:26 PM (EST) which says:
The men met for our monthly business meting last night. Since you would not answer our specific question, we made the unanimous decision to withdraw our request for you to come and hold a meeting in Beckley. I'm sorry that it has come to this.
Since this did not demand an immediate reply, and other things were more pressing, I have waited until now to answer.
Brother Belknap. I am sorry that you have chosen to make your views upon what you choose to call “mental divorce” a test of fellowship. Therefore, you should not object to my making this known to brethren. In view of your making your views upon this question a test of fellowship, plus the fact that you have absolutely refused to sit down and discuss this matter with me when I offered to come to Beckley. I challenge you to a public debate without propositions. Since you think that I am in error, I will first present what I believe the Bible teaches and then you can have the opportunity to refute it by the Scriptures. If I am so wrong, you should have no difficulty showing my error. Now, we will see just now much confidence that you have in what you are teaching. It is one thing to sit behind a key board on a computer and write all kinds of things when others have no chance to reply, and it is another thing to meet a live opponent in open discussion. We will now see how much courage you have about your position. Could it just be that you are not the great power of God that is keeping the church from going into apostasy that you seem to want to portray on your web site? Are you afraid for those to whom you preach from week to week to hear you try and defend your views? It would be a pity for the members there to see how weak you really are when you have to come out in the open.
When I wrote to brother Leonard Bragg on November 29, 2000, seeking some support for my work in the Tampa Bay area, I realized that he might have some questions about my teaching and that the brethren there might want to meet with me face to face and even hear me preach. In that letter I said, “I know that you probably have questions and I would he happy lo answer them.” He responded on December 8 asking my position on “marriage, divorce and remarriage”
as well as “creation.” To his request, I sent him some material that I had written upon said subjects. On December 18 I wrote brother Bragg indicating that I had already sent him the material he requested, gave him some references that he requested and said, “If you have any specific question, I would be happy to answer them for you. I would be glad to visit with you, preach a few nights and let you get to know me first hand.” What I had to say and the material I sent brother Bragg evidently was sufficient for that was the end of that matter. I put him on the mailing list of Walking In Truth and he has received each issue since. When I said, “I would he glad to visit with you, preach a few nights and let you get to know me first hand” I thought that the church would be supporting me. Had I known that the funds left by brother and sister Toothman and administered by brother Leonard Bragg would be the support, I would not have suggested coming and preaching for the church.
In brother Bragg’s email to me on December 21, 2000 he said in regard to references “brother Jeff Belknap who preaches for us at the Carriage Drive church in Beckley, WV.,…spoke highly of you.” At the time I thought how could he speak highly of me when I have never met him so far as I know, have never worked with him in a meeting and he has never worked with me in a meeting. How could he know me so well as to speak “highly” of me? You sure have changed your attitude toward me in a short time. Now you think I am a false teacher but you still do not have enough courage to test what I teach by the Scriptures in open discussion.
I find it very interesting that in brother Bragg’s letter of December 21, 2000, he says that you “spoke highly” of me, yet you write to me on September 29,2003, “I do not know you Tom.” How can you in good conscience speak “highly” of someone you “do not know?” Or does your conscience not bother you to tell such? Which time were you telling the truth, brother Belknap? Which ever is the truth, the other is your lie! I am sure you will want to ignore this just like you have the other things I have said that you could not answer without putting yourself in a predicament.
In your email of October 28, 2003, you said, “you [Tom O’Neal] would not answer our specific question.” Brother Belknap, that is not the truth. My answer was not pleasing to you. Your question in your email of August 23, 2003 was:
Without exception, when an unlawful divorce has been finalized via compliance with one's respective civil (or socially-recognized) laws, the one who was put away (repudiated) commits adultery upon remarriage to another (Matthew 5:32b; Matthew 19:9b; Luke 16: 18b) for as long as their bound mate still lives (Romans 7:3).
You said, “specifically, we need a straightforward, ‘I agree’ or ‘I disagree’ answer.”
I answered your question, but it did not please you, so you rejected my answer, which was: I believe that God’s law of marriage is: one man for one woman for life with one exception, that exception being if fornication is committed, the innocent of fornication has the right to put away the guilty fornicator and remarry; if the guilty fornicator remarries, they commit adultery. What was there about that answer that was difficult for you to understand?
Since I did not give you what you wanted, you came back a second time with quotes from brother Ron Halbrook and then wanted to know:
Regarding the scenario in the above quotes, do you believe that if the woman described were to remarry another [after she “put her mate away” for her husband’s post-unscriptural divorce fornication], that her remarriage would constitute a lawful union or an adulterous one?
When I saw that nothing that I said would please you. I wrote you in an effort to get you to see what a mistake you were making in making your views on this question a test of fellowship. My taking the time and trying to be very patient with you fell upon deaf ears. However, here is what I wrote to you on September 28, 2003:
“With this letter I will reply to your’s of September 6 and 23. I am sorry that I did not get your original letter to me but as I explained to brother Bragg I never received it. Why I do not know.
“I will take my time in replying but I want you to know up front that I have nothing but good will toward a brother in Christ and don’t want you to think otherwise. I hope you will receive this in the same manner in which I am sending it.
“To me, your request is rather strange. Since I started preaching in June of 1954, which included the time that tile institutional controversy was raging, I have never received a letter asking that I state my position on any subject. I have not preached in as many meetings as some brethren have, but over those years I have preached in enough to know how to preach and conduct myself in a Gospel Meeting. I have never cause any trouble for a church during a Gospel Meeting. I have known of preachers stirring up problems during a meeting and the local preacher and the elders having to spend several months cleaning up the mess some preacher made during a meeting. I have been on the cleaning up end a few times.
“However, the brethren anywhere have the right to know the convictions of any man they bring to their pulpit. In fact, they not only have the right to know, but they should know. I have no problem answering the question that you sent or any other question. In fact, to show you and the brethren there at Beckley, WV, how open and honest I am to answering questions, I am will to come to Beckley at my expense and sit down with the brethren and let them ask me any question they desire. The question that you asked was:
“Without exception, when an unlawful divorce has been finalized via compliance with one’s respective civi1(or socially-recognized) laws, the one who was put away (repudiated) commits adultery upon remarriage to another (Matthew 5: 32b; Matthew 19:9b; Luke 16: 18b) for as long as their bound mate still lives (Romans 7:3). [E-mail to me, Aug. 23, 2003; 8:18 P.M.]
“You then gave me two options with which to answer the question: (1) “I agree,” and (2) I disagree.” Brother Belknap, I will not permit you or anyone else to both ask me a question and then supply the answer I must use. I will not allow you to be judge, jury and prosecuting attorney in this case. As I told brother Bragg, this question is very poorly worded. It is not clear to me exactly what you are asking. I just wanted to be sure that I understood what you were asking before I answered. In your response, you did not try to restate the question, explain the question or clarify the question. You abandoned the question completely. Why? The second thing I had a problem with was that the question contain a contradiction. How could a divorce be “unlawful” when it was done in “compliance” with “civil law?”
“In an open and honest effort to give you and the brethren at Beckley my position, I stated to brother
Leonard Bragg exactly what I believe: I believe that God’s law of marriage is: one man for one woman for life with one exception, that exception being if fornication is committed, the innocent of fornication has the right to put away the guilty fornicator and remarry; if the guilty fornicator remarries, they commit adultery (E-mail to brother Leonard Bragg, 9/7/2003, 14:59 PM). Your response to that was it “Is too generic and obviously does not specifically address the unscripturally divorced.” That is what you say. But I thought I was being rather specific in my answer. I stated openly my position but you did not like the way I answered. Must I answer the way you want me to before you will be satisfied?
“Another thing I thought strange about your question was, you did not ask about a number of other issues. You did not ask about: (1) what I thought about the Deity of Christ on earth, (2) the Sunday evening Lord’s Supper, (3) the covering of I Cor. 11, (4) the AD 70 doctrine, (5) church support of benevolent institutions and colleges, (6) the sponsoring church, (7) the number of cups in the Lord’s Supper, (8) women teachers, (9) women in the business meetings, (10) if a church could have Bible classes, (11) the located preacher question, (12) premillennialism and (13) unity-in-diversity. Are these questions not important? Do you and the brethren there not want to know what a preacher that comes to conduct a Gospel Meeting believes on these questions? Are they not important? Why ask about marriage and not all these other issues that have troubled brethren over the years? Another question I might ask is: have you and do you ask all the preachers that conduct meetings there at Beckley their views on marriage or is it just me? An interesting observation to me is that you have a web site devoted exclusively to the marriage question, that is, what you term “mental divorce” but you do not have a web site devoted to any of the above questions. Some of the above questions have caused a whole lot more concern to brethren over the years than what you term “mental divorce.”
“There are brethren who have done with the covering question what you have done with the so-called “mental divorce” question. They take that one issue and that is about all they talk about it seems to me. When their name is mentioned the covering is associated with their name. They get all excited about it but seem not to be concerned very much with other issues that have caused brethren problems over the years. One of these preachers has written four different tracts in regard to the covering. When some preacher’s name is mentioned, they want to know if he is sound on the “authority question” which is their way of asking about his position on the covering. You seem to be doing the same thing with the “mental divorce” question.
“When I preached at the Azalea Park congregation in Orlando, Florida, in the 1960s we were having 140- 160 in attendance and growing. A preacher followed me and began pressing his views on the covering. When I was back there for a Gospel Meeting I had sessions with brethren at their request for breakfast, lunch, supper and after church at night trying to settle the brethren down due to this preacher’s stirring the covering question. He was followed by another preacher with all his foolishness, and the result of these two preachers was that a number of brethren got tired of their harping on such matters and most of the congregation left. Brother Wayne Sullivan then spent several years of his life trying to build the congregation back up, with little success. Brother James P. Needham is there now doing the same good job of trying to build up the work. I was t1lere and preached for them recently and they had maybe 30-40 in attendance.
“With several brethren I helped get a new work started in Winchester, VA, a number of years ago. I conducted several Gospel Meetings with them, preached on the radio for several years, and the last time I was there they had 50-60 in attendance, all of this without a full time preacher. The men took turns doing the best job they could preaching. They finally got large enough that they could get a full time preacher.
He came, and guess what? He began to press the covering question. The brethren finally got tired of his harping on it and such related matters and they left. Today, there is no sound church in Winchester, VA.
“Will the same thing happen in Beckley, WV? I don’t know. I have never been to Beckley and don’t know any of the brethren there except brother Leonard Bragg and only him through correspondence. A “one issue preacher,” whether it be the covering, “mental divorce,” Sunday night communion or whatever, usually has a way of spending a large part of his time preaching on whatever his hobby is. In time, brethren get tired of hearing such and usually leave. If he is preaching on creation, baptism or Abraham he usually has a way of getting his hobby in somewhere in his sermon. Paul preached the whole counsel of God (Act 20:26-27). Paul did not preach one thing to the exclusion of other themes. Brother Belknap, just as when certain preacher’s names are mentioned, the covering comes up, what I am hearing is when your name comes up among brethren the “mental divorce” issue comes up. I perceive that for some unknown reason known to me, your web site is not just about “mental divorce” but has an under lying effort to destroy Ron Halbrook. I could be wrong in this, but that is the perception that I have gotten from what little I have seen of your web site. Look at the number of articles you have on your web site that target Ron Halbrook by name. Why not some other preacher?
“As I have said, instead of rewording your question, clarifying your question, you give me two excerpts from the pen of Ron Halbrook. You see why I think you are after brother Halbrook.
“Your quotations are from two larger documents. I would not answer without having the full document from which these are taken. Again, I am not opposed to answering questions and that is the reason why I am willing to come at my expense to Beckley and sit down with you and the brethren and let you ask any question you desire. I would also be glad to study with you and/or the brethren and even let the brethren sit in on our study together. Would you be willing to do that? If not, why not? Truth has no fear of an honest investigation.
“You state in your E-mail to me on 9/23/03 11:09.08 PM that brother J. T. Smith denies what you represent brother Ron Halbrook as saying. You may be right and you may be wrong. It makes little difference to me what any man says about this or any other issue. All I am concerned with is what the word of God has to say. The Bible is right and cannot be wrong! I am only interested in truth. When this issue came to the front of the attention of brethren, everyone was asking questions that I have never thought of. I have not changed my basic thinking on the subject of marriage but on some points I have modified my thinking. That only means that I have learned some truth that I did not know before. I am still willing to do that. I am opened minded on this and any other question. I will not accept what some man says unless he shows me from the Bible what I believe is in error.
“I have seen your up-dates to your web site from time to time but do not have the time to read all of them. In fact, I have read little of what is there. I do not have the time. I do not see how you have the time to spend on such and do the work of gospel preaching. However, from one that I did read you quoted Ron Halbrook from a sermon he preached in Wilkesville, OH on 6/14/90, in which he says:
“And so, in conclusion from this (I Cor. 7: 11, 15 jhb) we learn that unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage. When you have an unscriptural divorce, as men count it, it's not so with God. That bond is still in tact. And that little piece of paper is nothing in the sight of God. Just as well use it as Kleenex and blow your nose and drop it in the toilet. It doesn't mean a thing to God. God's law rules over the laws of men.”
“When I read that, I may be dense, but I couldn’t believe anyone would disagree with that. I wondered why you would take exception to it. Questions: (1) Do you believe that when two people unscripturally divorce that God recognizes their sinful action [as valid]? The flip side of that coin would be -do you believe when two people unscripturally marry that God recognizes their piece of paper [as valid]? If God recognizes it [as valid], how could they be living in adultery? (2) Do you believe that “God’s law rules over the laws of men?” or Do you believe that “man’s law rules over the laws of God?” Which is it? Again, do you see why I perceive that you are after Ron Halbrook?
“You say “In spite of your relationship to brother [Harry, TGO] Osborne, we want to give you the opportunity to define your own convictions.” My relationship to Harry is that he is my brother, my brother-in-law (I married his sister, Carolyn) and my brother in Christ. I personally resent the implication. From the time I started preaching in 1954, I have made up my mind on the basis of what I believe the Scriptures teach on any question. If I were going to be influenced by family or friends, I would have made that decision years ago during the institutional question. I had/have three family members who are/were institutional preachers and it would have avoided a lot of conflict within our family if I had sold out to the institutional idols. Today I still have friends among the institutional brethren who are well respected preachers, but they know that I would quickly debate them today if they were willing. You mention Ron Halbrook, Harry Osborne and Tim Haile as well as others. If I learned that they were in error or in sin, I will just as quickly have my say with them as I would with any others.
“Brother Belknap, my perception at this point is that you want to ask questions and post things on your web site, but that you do not want to discuss and study these issues. You have refused to discuss these matters with Harry Osborne. You refused to post Harry’s written debate with brother Terence Sheridan on your web site and let the readers make up their mind after having read it. You added your comments which were designed to slant the debate in favor of brother Sheridan. This was a slap in the face to brother Sheridan. When you got complaints, you took the entire debate off your web site, instead of just taking your comments off. You were not willing to have a fair reading of the debate without your input. Seems like you didn’t think brother Sheridan did a very good job defending his position. When brother Mike Willis was with the church in Beckley in a Gospel Meeting, you said nothing to him all week long about these matters, but waited until you were on the way to the airport after the meeting was over, and then you brought these matters up. Why did you not discuss these issues with him during the week when you could have had sufficient time to do so? It appears to me that you might have thought that brother Willis might have shown you that you were the one in error.
“I would suggest that you and the brethren there ask brother Weldon Warnock about me. We have known each other for over 40 years. He preached at one time in my home town. I think that he will tell you and the brethren that I am no trouble maker, radical, hobby-rider or unreasonable person.
“Brother Belknap, I look forward to meeting you, being with you and the brethren at Beckley in a Gospel Meeting next spring to the end of saving souls and edifying the saved, unless you are making the marriage question and agreeing fully with you a test of fellowship. Is this what you are trying to do? I look forward to hearing from you as to when I can come and sit down with you and the brethren there so they can ask me any question that is on their mind. Again, I will be glad to sit down and study with you, with the brethren, with you and the brethren or with you and let the brethren listen in on our study.
“May God bless both you and yours and the brethren at Beckley in any and every righteous endeavor.
“NOTE: Brother Belknap, You do NOT have my permission to post this letter on your web site unless you post it in its entirety, with no comments from you.”
Then on October 14, 2003, I responded to your email of September 29, 2003 as follows:
“Dear brother Belknap
“This is a reply to your email of 9/29/03 and since there were other matters that had a priority with me, I have delayed answering your letter until now.
“I believe that Jesus gave the innocent of fornication the right to put away their fornicating mate and to marry again per Matt. 19:9. Is that not what you believe? Or do you believe something different? I find it hard to understand why you are having such great difficulty understanding what I believe.
“Brother Belknap, do you intend to make this issue a test of fellowship? Are only preachers who agree wholly with you going to be allowed to conduct Gospel Meetings at Beckley? Can one who believes Jesus was a man on earth just like every other man going to be able to preach in a Gospel Meeting in Beckley?
“You say that you will decline to respond to the points that I made about the covering because such is not at issue. I agree the covering is not the issue. I was only using it as an illustration of becoming obsessed with one issue to the exclusion of other issues. Some covering advocates see that as the all important issue that must be defended, but where has their voice been in opposition to those who teach that Jesus on earth was a man like every other man? In fact, I have not seen anything from you in regard to the false teaching that Jesus gave up his divinity when he came to earth and lived upon this earth like all other men. This is why I say that you are obsessed with and are a one issue preacher -only marriage seems to matter. All other issues seem unimportant to you.
“You charge me with “unbrotherly sumisings” in my letter. I tried to be as kind and gentle as I knew how to be, yet, at the same time to say plainly what was on my mind. Could it be that you feel that I am guilty of “unbrotherly surmisings” because either (1) I have hit closer to home than you want to admit, or (2) you cannot answer what I have said? I feel that it maybe some of both and a whole lot of each.
“When I say as kindly as I can what I think, you charge me with “unbrotherly surmisings” but you don’t see anything wrong with what you say that I object to. You seem to be the one who is right all of the time and others are wrong because they don’t agree with your say so.
“Brother Belknap, You write, “I do not know you Tom, but as the Bible teaches, there is potential for all of us to become ‘respectors of persons.’ (If you doubt this review James 2 which warns us all against it, as well as the numerous passages that point out that God is not a respector of persons.) It is obvious that family (those whom we are the closest to, on this earth) would head the list of those who are usually respected above others. Even if we have stood – and still ‘stand’ in this area, we are well advised to ‘take heed lest (we-jhb) fall’.” You should just be a man enough to say that I respect my brother (or brother-in- law) Harry Osborne above what is written (I Cor. 4:6) for that is the clear implication of what you have said. Otherwise, your words have no meaning. I told you in a previous letter that I do not let either family or friends determine what I believe and preach. Your words are not very conciliatory. I would expect
better of you but from what you say, maybe I don’t have that right.
“I have stated to you: (1) I believe that God’s law on marriage is: one man for one woman for life with one exception, that exception being if fornication is committed, the innocent of fornication has the right to put away the guilty fornicator and remarry; if the guilty fornicator remarries, they commit adultery” and (2) I believe Jesus gave the innocent of fornication the right to put away their fornicating mate and to marry again per Mt. 19:9. Brother Belknap, what is there about those two statements that you do not understand? Do those statements contradict whatever your position is on the question?
“You failed to tell me when I could come to Beckley at my expense and meet with the brethren. Does this mean that you are not going to let me come? Would you be willing to sit down and study with me if I came? Are you going to give me a time I can come up there, or are you going to refuse to meet in a study of the Scriptures? That would really be something, a gospel preacher refusing to sit down and discuss the Scriptures with another individual. Personally, I would not want to be in that situation.
“I close waiting for you to (1) set the date for the meeting next spring, (2) accept my statements of what I believe on the marriage question, or (3) allow me to come up there and meet with the brethren and face to face answer their questions and study with you. Which will it be?
“Again, brother Belknap, you do NOT have my permission to post this letter on you website unless you post it in its entirety, with no comments from you.
“P. S. I would appreciate it if you would share this letter as well as the previous letter with all the men of the congregation at Beckley.”
Brother Belknap, in an E-mail to me on October 20, 2003, you said, “(Copies of all of our correspondences were offered to all who attended).” Observe that you said copies were “offered” which is a great difference in saying they were given. My personal opinion is that you did not give a copy of each of my letters to all the brethren for them to have the opportunity to read them at their leisure. How far am I from being correct?
(1) While you deny that I have answered your question, the above letters contain three different efforts to answer your question. You were not satisfied with my answer.
(2) You will observe that in these two letters I conclude them by saying, “Brother Belknap, you do NOT have my permission to post this letter on your web site unless you.” However, you show your true colors when in violation of what I said in private correspondence to you, you quoted excerpts from my letters on your website in your article “The MDR Creed.” This shows that you are unethical, dishonest and cannot be trusted to deal with a brother fairly.
(3) You have violated my trust by posting on your web site that which you did not have my permission to do so. Now, I challenge you to publish this letter in its entirety which contains the two previous letters. Now we will see how honest you are.
(4) You say on your web site concerning the first quotation from me that it was an “e-mail letter addressed to Jeff Belknap” on September 7, 2003. Again, this shows how reckless and inaccurate you are. I can not check all the things that you have posted on your web site and I have no desire to do so. However, when I can check behind you, I find out how inaccurate you are. This letter that you say was written to you, was written to brother Leonard Bragg! When I see how inaccurate you are when I can check your documentation, it makes me wonder how inaccurate you are in other places where I can not check your sources.
(5) I had a feeling when you first wrote me that you were going to make this matter a test of fellowship and that in time you would cancel the meeting. Naturally, I was not surprised when you did. I have been around long enough to know how a preacher can influence brethren to do what he wants them to do if he is not honorable. I do not believe for one moment that the brethren in Beckley would have come up on their own wanting your question answered without your influencing them. Brother Belknap, I was not born or started preaching yesterday
Brother Belknap, I wrote to you in good faith with the hope that we could communicate as brethren in Christ, trying to approach you according to the Golden Rule of Jesus in Matthew 7:12, treating you as I would want to be treated. My letters expressly stated you did not have my permission to post anything but my full and complete letter, without any comment from you. It was my hope that you would grant me the courtesy and fairness to post the entire letter so that your readers would have the full context of my letter.
Rather than comply with my request you ran roughshod over my express statement. Why did you brake my trust and violate the Golden Rule in this way? Why did you find it necessary to destroy my efforts to engage in good faith communications with you as brethren? If we disagree does this demand that you treat me as a reprobate and an infidel unworthy of courtesy and fairness? It appears to me that my efforts to communicate with you as a brother in Christ has been met by the spirit of the Muslim religion which says “destroy at all costs” regardless of the tactics.
You need to wake up to the fact that you have become obsessed with certain technicalities and minutiae related to divorce and remarriage. Paul warns against such in 1 Timothy 6:4 and 2 Timothy 2:23. Webster says the word “obsess” originated in a Latin term which meant to “besiege,” and obsession meant “originally, the act of an evil spirit in possessing or ruling a person.” The dictionary goes on to explain that being obsessed means a state of mind “being obsessed with an idea..” In 1 Samuel the mind of King Saul was filled with an evil spirit so that he was obsessed by the idea that David was his enemy. Actually, David was his friend and brother in Israel and in serving God. Saul’s obsession knew no bounds. I do not believe people are demon possessed today and I am not accusing you of such a thing. The parallel is
simply this: Saul’s obsession caused him to see his brother in Israel as an enemy, and caused him to know no bounds of honor or fairness in his determination to destroy David. Even so, you seem to have an obsession which causes you to see your brethren in Christ as enemies, and this obsession causes you to know no bounds of honor or fairness in your determination to destroy your brethren.
Several other brethren have called this obsession to your attention, but it seems you only press on harder and harder as though possessed by a spirit of bitterness and strife. Brother Weldon Warnock wrote a letter on June 25, 2002, to the brethren at Beckley pointing out that you posted certain quotations without the full context from a brotherly exchange between him and brother Jim Deason. You see, you have not only treated me this way, but you have treated others the same way. Harry Osborne offered to come to Beckley and discuss your accusations and differences with him, but you refused his offer. I offered to come to Beckley and study with you so as to resolve any differences we might have, but you refused this. When a man writes article after article after article, and makes accusation after accusation after accusation, and posts selective quotation without the full context again and again and again, he is obsessed whether he realizes it or not. Many other brethren see this in you, but you are so obsessed pursuing your obsession that you do not see it.
Brother Belknap, as a brother I want to offer some friendly advice to you which I hope you will not reject. Your obsession has hurt the work and reputation of the Beckley Church. Your obsession is hurting the cause of Christ in other places as the spirit of strife and bitterness causes brethren to be suspicious of each other, to cancel each other’s meetings, and to become alienated from each other. Your obsession has hurt your own reputation and work as a gospel preacher. If you cannot get this obsession off your mind and take it off your computer, my brotherly advice is that you resign from preaching until you can free yourself from this obsession. If you will do this, in time you may see this will be a blessing to all concerned.
I have not written in an effort to bring harm, strife, and division into your life as a Christian. This is an effort to help you overcome the harm, strife, division you are generating in your own life and in the lives of other brethren. The sheer volume of writing and posting you do on this one topic, and the unjust and unfair tactics you use, make it clear that you are truly obsessed. Whether or not you realize it, I am speaking as your friend and not your enemy in an attempt to open your eyes. Paul asked in Galatians 4:16, “Am I become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” If you persist in this obsession, you will only further harm yourself, the brethren in Beckley, and brethren in general.
I give you permission to post this letter in its entirely on your web site. Of course, since you ran roughshod over my previous request, broke my trust, and violated the Golden Rule, perhaps you will only persist in the same conduct again. If that happens, I can only say it will further confirm your obsession. For your own spiritual health and for the good of our brethren, I hope and pray you somehow will break free of this obsession and begin to heal
Brother Raymond E. Harris had an excellent article in the January 1, 2004 issue of Truth Magazine on page 19, which follows:
The Hobby Riders -Continue to Ride!
As far back as I can remember, there have always been hobby riders in the church. For any who might ask, “What is a hobby rider?” The answer is this: “Hobby Rider” is a term used to describe a “One Issue Preacher.” In other words he is a preacher who becomes so totally obsessed with a particular doctrine or problem, that he cannot preach, teach, or write about anything else. He becomes so preoccupied with some “danger facing the church,” that he neglects all other matters.
Through the years countless brethren have become consumed, controlled, and dominated in a crusade to slay one dragon or another, real or imagined! Even if the brother is right in his assessment of a false doctrine, his persistent and excessive attention to one issue will cause him to become ineffective in his work as an evangelist. Not only that, after awhile his incessant carping can cause people to “tune him out,” as they tire of his never ending and unrelenting preaching and writing on the one monumental concern!
Back through the years, some brethren plunged head long into a life time campaign regarding “the clergy system”, the “one cup” issue, or the “anti-Bible class” question. Others, portrayed a bulldog, snapping turtle mentality against Bible class literature, women teachers, or the “Sunday school.” Even when their concerns were justified, some neglected all else, committing themselves to exposing the evils of Masonry, Catholicism, and countless other “isms.”
Today, we have some, very real, serious matters troubling Israel! However, this should promote a time of prayer for our brethren that we believe to be in error. Experience has taught me that I have a hard time being ugly or sarcastic with a brother that I am earnestly praying for. It is a time for serious Bible study. It is a time for level heads and a Christ-like spirit. It is not a time for overly zealous young "gun slingers" to be maliciously ripping, biting, and gouging seasoned brethren who have spent a lifetime in the trenches holding the line against premillennialism, institutionalism, denominationalism, and sin of every kind! I am not saying we should look the other way or give anyone a pass, regard- less of their age or faithfulness of the past. We remember all too well the agony of the apostasy of brother Hailey. When there is a clear, easily identifiable swing away from the truth, by anyone, a line must be drawn in the sand! However, history should teach us that the chronic grousing of the Hobby Rider, out to make a name for himself, will not solve the problems or bring peace to Zion. When we receive a ceaseless flood of e-mails that goes on and on for months and months with articles dealing with one subject, it is obvious we have another hobby rider. When we are directed to web sights featuring countless articles on one subject, it is obvious we have another one issue, hobby rider out to rescue the brotherhood!
Brother Belknap, when you read this article you felt the pressure so much that you called complaining to brother Harris. He identified you so well without calling your name that you knew who was being described and so will others who read the article. By your complaints you admit to what he said. Thus, you should repent and pray God that you might be forgiven of your sin of hobby riding and causing strife and dissension within the body of Christ.