Brethren, when I originally wrote the article below, I was absolutely unaware that brother Blake had preached an audio sermon against the “mental divorce” position at the Brown Street congregation in Akron, OH.
I endorse brother Blake’s lesson in that he correctly quoted individuals who have promoted post-divorce “putting away.” Moreover, he showed Bible truths which illustrate the unscriptural nature of those quotes as related to the doctrine espoused by those whom he quoted. Nevertheless, I do believe that he made a slight (unintentional, no doubt) mischaracterization of the teaching of the men he mentioned in his lesson: Ron Halbrook, Tim Haile, Harry Osborne and Weldon Warnock.
Those brethren have all stipulated that if one is to employ a post-divorce “putting away” for post-divorce fornication, they must make public (in one way or another) their intentions or their “disavowal.” Thus, the impression that these men teach solely mental (or intellectual) divorce – apart from any outward expression – would not be technically correct.
Nevertheless, this is a point which in no way affects the truth of God’s word as expressed in brother Blake’s lesson, which exposes the teachings of those men as error. The term “Mental Divorce” has been used for decades to describe the advocacy of post-divorce “putting away” and remarriage to another. Despite any minor, inconsequential modifications that men have recently made to the doctrine, it still results in adultery for essentially the same reason.
Nowhere in scripture can one find authority to “put away” a divinely obligated person when there is no longer a “one flesh” relationship in existence. Moreover, for one who “is put away” to remarry another is clearly condemned by Jesus as adultery (Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b; Luke 16:18b; cf. Romans 7:2-3).
Regrettably, the contrast between brother Blake’s sermon on October 7th 2004 and his article cited below, dated November 21st 2004, reveals that his drastic flip-flop in positions on fellowshipping this error occurred within the space of a mere 45 days, and not after only two years, as I had expressed within my article.
I agree with brother Blake when he referenced brethren’s “conflicting applications” regarding the topic of post-divorce “putting away” and stated at the close of his lesson:
“You, brethren, must not be deceived by what is written or what has been written or what will be written, other than what the Holy Spirit has written” (emp. jhb; 50:33 - 50:44).
Please compare brother Blake’s Audio Sermon with the article he wrote shortly thereafter, and “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” – Jeff
Paul Blake: Then vs. Now
By Jeff Belknap
Paul R. Blake recently wrote an article entitled, “What are the Limits of Fellowship?” and referenced “the current issue on marriage, divorce and remarriage relating to post civil divorce fornication and putting away” in the weekly bulletin of the Tomlinson Run church of Christ (“Sound Words,” November 21, 2004; http://wwwtrchurchofchrist.com/currentsoundwords.htm). For a weekly bulletin entitled “Sound Words,” this particular article contained some of the most unsound words that a brother could write. The first sentence of the article states: “What does one do about fellowship with brethren who have taken more liberty in practice of the faith than what God has granted in scripture?” To ask this simple question concerning “the faith” is to answer it! However, brother Blake’s shocking response is astonishing.
Next, in what appears to be an effort to reduce the truth to relativism, brother Blake asks “can one say to brethren who from his perspective have loosed where God has bound that they are in error (Romans 16:17-18)?” He then straightway answered: “This viewpoint presupposes two things: 1) that he has complete and correct understanding of these matters, and 2) that he is not the brother who is restricting himself more than God has.” Are we now to believe that anyone who actually believes we can know and understand the truth is just arrogant (cf. John 8:31-31; Ephesians 3:3-5; 5:17; I John 4:1, 5-6)? Just think, with brother Blake’s philosophy among us, we could restore fellowship with those on the other side of nearly every division that has ever occurred in the body of Christ!
What makes such erroneous statements even more unbelievable, is that less than two years before brother Blake wrote the aforementioned article, he wrote a series of e-mails (following this article) in which he clearly and logically condemned the very doctrine (and fellowship with it) that he now defends. In an e-mail brother Blake wrote me (March 6, 2003) which also discussed this doctrine and fellowship with it, he wrote, “Halbrook/Haile/Osborne have preached and written that which is scripturally indefensible. Their works are finding them out. I am far more concerned with the ‘application’ argument that appears to be a euphemism for Harrell’s fellowship/Romans 14 error. We will reap the whirlwind over that one.”
Contrarily, in his latest article, brother Blake further wrote, “while one can believe a brother may have a mistaken understanding of some Bible matter, it does not necessarily require a severing of fellowship with him.” And why not? Because brother Blake has apparently changed his position regarding the topic (though he cites no inspired evidence to support such a change) and cites FOUR man-made conditions when “division is not inevitable.”
Interestingly, these four conditions just so happen to be the exact same reasons (almost word-for-word) that Ron Halbrook gave to defend fellowship with the same doctrine! Let’s compare the precise words of brother Blake in his article with the words of brother Halbrook. [See: Ron Halbrook’s Hand-Out Study Papers at Athens, Georgia (July 27-28, 2000)]:
The parallel is striking to say the least. Both brother Halbrook and brother Blake tell us that “division” is “not inevitable,” when their four (virtually identical) arbitrary conditions are met! According to brother Blake, brother Halbrook’s same uninspired “application” recipe for continued fellowship went from being a “euphemism for Harrell’s fellowship/Romans 14 error” in 2003, to being hailed as authority to fellowship doctrinal differences in 2004. Amazing!
In brother Blake’s third paragraph, he states, “If his doctrine does not open the door to other digressions, then the potential exists for us to continue our studies on an isolated matter without fear of it quickly leading to more problems.” He then continues to argue that “division is not inevitable,” when “his doctrine does not open the door to other digressions, “when the different views held by brethren breed no looseness on other moral or doctrinal issues” (all emp. jhb).
As if one “digression” or “looseness” on one “moral or doctrinal issue” is acceptable!? Brethren, whatever became of the deep-rooted and much-quoted saying among preachers of old that, “Sin is a matter of kind and not of degree?” What of the inspired statement of fact that whoever keeps the whole law, yet offends in just one point is guilty of all (James 2:10-12)?
Moreover, adultery (all by itself) is revealed in scripture as “great wickedness,” “sin against God,” (Genesis 39:9) and a “heinous crime” (Job 31:11). Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b all unequivocally state that “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (cf. Romans 7:2-3). Furthermore, the Book says adulterers “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19-21). How can a doctrine that leads souls to eternal damnation be acceptable in any way, shape or form?
Have we not read II Timothy 2:16-17a or 3:13; “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker” and “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived”? What about the inspired declaration, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?…” (I Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9)? The truth of the matter is, anytime anybody advocates the toleration of any leavening influence, we are headed down the progressive path of corruption, straightway (James 1:8).
After only two years of maintaining a friendly companionship (James 4:4; I Corinthians 15:33; cf. Proverbs 13:20) with those who are pressing the second “putting away” error, brother Paul is now contending for that which he previously stated “is scripturally indefensible.” What a difference just two years can “quickly” make! This is no less than the deceitful cry that God condemned, of the false prophets in the day of Jeremiah, “peace, peace…” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; cf. James 3:17; II Peter 2:1-2). Our brother is evidently oblivious that he is caught up in the “whirlwind” he predicted himself.
Subsequently, in his article’s fourth paragraph, brother Blake infers that those who are teaching “the current issue on marriage, divorce and remarriage relating to post civil divorce fornication and putting away” are not appealing “to the silence of the scriptures.”
I find this curious because for decades, brethren have been pleading with promoters of the post-divorce “putting away” doctrine to supply a “scripture” that gives positive, Biblical authority for a put away person to “put away” and remarry another (Colossians 3:17; I Peter 4:11), yet their silence has been deafening (cf. Isaiah 8:20).
Then, last but certainly not least, in the fifth and final paragraph, Paul actually advocated that we follow our “conscience” in determining who we may or may not fellowship! Our brother wrote: “At the same time, it seems that a few of the doctrines on MDR currently advocated by brethren lead to adultery and greater doctrinal error. Therefore for me, fellowship decisions in each individual case will be informed by my conscience. And so it must be for you as well. In addition, the question of when to end fellowship with such brethren is also a matter of individual judgment…”
Whether brother Blake now views the remarriage of a put away person [after they have employed a post-divorce (second) “putting away” for post-divorce fornication] as “adultery,” he does not say. However, within his 2003 e-mails, he clearly intimated that the doctrine which promotes it “endangers souls.” He also said that it was among applications of MDR that “do violence to the text.”
Hence, if Paul still believes as he did when he wrote those e-mails, his quoted statement regarding allowing our “conscience” to “inform” us regarding “fellowship decisions” necessarily includes situations in which souls are endangered due to “adultery” (if adultery was not the sin he spoke of as that which “endangers souls,” pray tell, what could it possibly be?).
At the time of his 2003 e-mails, his questions for brethren alluded to those who justified fellowship with brother Hailey’s doctrine (which “endangers souls”) as “fellowship errorists.” Moreover, in a subsequent e-mail, he referred to the present “‘application’ argument,” by stating that it “appears to be a euphemism for Harrell’s fellowship/Romans 14 error.”
If brother Blake no longer believes what he taught in his previous e-mails, I invite him to explain what scriptures have enlightened him to now believe that the post-divorce “putting away” and remarriage to another doctrine does NOT endanger souls by causing them to commit adultery? Would he supply the scripture he has now found that defends the same doctrine that he had previously called “scripturally indefensible?” Or he could cite the inspired passage that has convinced him that it is now lawful to fellowship doctrines that “endanger souls?”
We all agree that one must not violate his own conscience, regardless of whether a practice which offends it is authorized or not (Romans 14:23). Nevertheless, even babes in Christ have learned that the “conscience” is not a standard to “inform” us of whether or not fellowship may be maintained (cf. Acts 23:1; 24:16) – especially when a doctrine “endangers souls” and does “violence to the text.” The one and only precedent for Biblical fellowship is whether or not individuals are walking in “the light” (I John 1:7; cf. Ephesians 5:11)! See: Fellowship
Moreover, we know that our conscience can be “weak” (I Corinthians 8:7, 12), “defiled” (I Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15), “put away” (I Timothy 1:19) and “seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2)! When the false prophets were seeking the same kind of concessions in the day of Jeremiah that are evident today, they became so desensitized by these compromises that “they were not at all ashamed” of their “abomination,” “neither could they blush” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12; cf. Romans 15:4). Brother Blake’s drastic flip-flop is yet another case in point that one by one, the consciences of many are suffering such fates due to their unwillingness to heed Romans 16:17-18 and II John 9-11 in this present controversy.
In brother Blake’s article, he seeks to justify his (and others) continued fellowship with those who teach “about fellowship with brethren who have taken more liberty in practice of the faith than what God has granted in scripture” by arguing that “it does not necessarily require a severing of fellowship with him.” He also claims that when a brother appeals to the “same scriptures” as authority for a conflicting application, he has made it “clear” “that he respects, not rejects, Bible authority.” Nevertheless, not even two years ago, brother Blake correctly stated that brethren who taught “contradictory” things regarding the same scriptures “do violence to the text” (cf. II Peter 3:16).
Likewise, within this very elastic context of brother Blake’s teaching on fellowship, he unbelievably makes the statement, “one must ask the following questions about brethren with whom he disagrees” (emp. jhb). What brother Blake once considered “a euphemism for Harrell’s fellowship/Romans 14 error” is now an issue over which we can “agree to disagree.” How does such an objective compare with the rhetorical question of Amos, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (emp. jhb; Amos 3:3). Has the truism, “In matters of faith–unity; in matters of opinion–liberty; but in all things–love,” now become obsolete?
In his e-mail (1-6-03, posted below) to three e-lists for brethren, brother Blake asked a very similar question, but came up with a very different conclusion than he now draws. In that letter, he had stated:
“Question # 1: Can two different applications of the same divinely revealed doctrine that produce opposite results both be acceptable to God?
I am researching and studying this question and have seen very little on the subject that definitively answers errorists. I would like to attempt to write something on it. When it comes to institutionalism, denominationalism, or obvious error it is easy for brethren to agree that the answer is no. When it comes to the days of creation, the Deity of Jesus, fellowship with adulterers, and multiple conflicting views on MDR, brethren are inclined to answer yes. Consistency suggests that if the answer to the first is no, the answer the second is also no. How would you answer?”
Hence, while the conclusion he draws in his recent article is that a difference over this issue “…does not necessarily require a severing of fellowship...,” his previous conclusion was that brethren’s acceptance of “conflicting views on MDR,” was inconsistent.
Homer Hailey appealed to the “same scriptures” as the rest of us, yet the faithful did not accept his “kingdom law” application on those passages. The institutional brethren’s “appeal” to Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 didn’t prevent the men of God from crying out against their spin on those verses either! What about those who misapply the Genesis account regarding the six, twenty-four hour days of creation? Should we just go-along to get-along, since “these brethren appeal to the same scriptures,” too? Furthermore, even the Baptists use the same verses we do to teach their false application on the subject of baptism, yet we teach that their application is erroneous!
Apostle Paul tells us, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (I Corinthians 11:19). Moreover, those who are not approved will be made manifest as well (II Timothy 3:8-9). In the fires of controversy, the gold and the silver will be separated from that which is contaminated (I Corinthians 3:12-13; I Peter 1:7). May the hearts of honest men repent if need be, and escape from the snare of the devil (I Timothy 3:7; II Timothy 2:26; cf. II Corinthians 2:10-11). As painful as it is to behold the frailties of men, the purifying effects of controversy are for our good always (cf. Deuteronomy 6:24)!
Below are the e-mails referred to in the above article:
----- Original Message -----
I was asked by Paul Blake, preacher for the Tomlinson Run church of Christ in Georgetown, PA, to post these questions to various list in which faithful men are members for a study he is doing. Please respond to him privately. His E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks. - Brian A. Yeager
Question # 1: Can two different applications of the same divinely revealed doctrine that produce opposite results both be acceptable to God?
I am researching and studying this question and have seen very little on the subject that definitively answers errorists. I would like to attempt to write something on it. When it comes to institutionalism, denominationalism, or obvious error it is easy for brethren to agree that the answer is no. When it comes to the days of creation, the Deity of Jesus, fellowship with adulterers, and multiple conflicting views on MDR, brethren are inclined to answer yes. Consistency suggests that if the answer to the first is no, the answer the second is also no. How would you answer?
Question # 2: How are opposite results in application of the same doctrine different in their impact on fellowship than opposing doctrines?
These questions warrant serious study and scriptural answers. Those who are in error on the fellowship question are not the only ones who view this as a vulnerability. Consistency problems speak directly to credibility.
Conservative institutional preachers teach the same principles of Bible authority for the work and organization of the local church. When questioned about our differences, they respond, “we believe the same thing on authority; we just have a different application of it.”
We need more than just a declaration that our disparate applications aren’t doctrinal, especially on the moral issue of MDR. Thank you for your careful consideration.
Dear brother Blake,
I hope all is well with you and yours.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting your parents here in Beckley, WV.
I wanted to thank you for probing further into the issue of fellowship regarding “applications”.
The past two years have been a real eye opener for me. However, I know that God will deal with this issue, as He does all issues, in His time and His way.
I hope that I am wrong, but from my own experience, I doubt that you will get few (if any) responses from those who attempt to justify the “application” theory. I have found them to be silent as tombs when questioned.
In spite of your potential disappointments, I do wish you a very Happy New Year in your labors for the Lord.
----- Original Message -----
Dear brother Belknap,
Thank you for your kind words. My parents spoke favorably of their visit to Beckley where they met you.
I’ve visited your website on occasion and have found it to be an interesting resource. There has been much ink spilled over the past few years about brethren who mishandle the Lord’s instructions on MDR. Personally, I find Gene Frost’s booklet on Mental Marriages and Mental Divorces and Donnie Rader’s book on MDR to be the most helpful in terms of understanding the subject from an objective standpoint.
Brethren are publicly endorsing applications of MDR that appear to do violence to the text and that seem contradictory to one another. This behavior is being covered by the application argument that at present strikes me as being stretched beyond its scriptural use. I am not comfortable with this, and therefore have asked those two questions to generate a discussion, out which I hope will come a cogent answer to errorists who accuse us of inconsistency. If it turns out that the answer that comes from this discussion is that we are in error on the application argument, then I hope that all who have erred will have enough honor and humility to recant.
On January 10th, the following post was sent to the brethren listed below, as well as to the Sound Brethren and Bible Matters e-lists (via Brian Yeager:
----- Original Message -----
Thank you for your responses to my questions regarding conflicting applications. Your answers indicate that my questions were too general to be of any significant use in research. Therefore, I plead your indulgence to again consider these questions re-worded to be more specific. These questions pre-suppose recognition of revealed doctrine.
1) Is it possible for an application of doctrine to do violence to the truth in such a way as to endanger souls?
2) Can an application of divinely revealed doctrine that endangers souls be acceptable to God?
3) How does an application of doctrine that endangers souls impact fellowship?
are the significant differences between an application of doctrine that
endangers souls and a false
These questions reflect the distracting accusations made against sound brethren by fellowship errorists. I believe it is important that we continue to supply definitive, scripture-based answers to those charges. Again, thank you for your interest and answers. Please send your answers to the email address below.
Moreover, in a subsequent e-mail letter written to me two months later (Thursday, March 06, 2003 1:43 PM), brother Blake stated:
“Halbrook/Haile/Osborne have preached and written that which is scripturally indefensible. Their works are finding them out. I am far more concerned with the ‘application’ argument that appears to be a euphemism for Harrell’s fellowship/Romans 14 error. We will reap the whirlwind over that one.”
As the authority of scripture is being severely undermined, men such as brother Blake are not only strengthening the hands of evildoers (Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 13:22) they are also subverting the souls of those who continue in fellowship with the advocates of adultery (Matthew 15:14; Ephesians 5:6-7, 11). Regrettably, this compromising spirit is beginning to wax worse and worse (Proverbs 17:15; 28:4; Luke 16:15).
In Truth Magazine, April 2, 1998, brother Connie Adams soundly uncovered the spirit of compromise (and inadvertently contradicts the recent article by brother Blake) when he addressed “The Harrell Booklet on the Bounds of Christian Unity.”
Please compare brother Blake’s recent article with the following quotes by brother Adams that exposed the mindset of brother Ed Harrell (et al). Brother Adams wrote the following:
“…In summarizing the division which produced the Christian Church, brother Harrell wrote, ‘In short, by the end of the nineteenth century Christians generally recognized that the movement was dividing not because of doctrinal questions, but because of different mindsets’ (my emphasis, CWA). I fear that we now have different mindsets at work and the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage and related questions of fellowship of those who would make room in the churches for adulterous marriages simply demonstrates these two mindsets. One mindset views Romans 14 as dealing with matters of permitted liberties while the other views it as an umbrella under which all manner of differences may be tolerated, both in the realm of doctrine and morals…”
“…The issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage must be settled by the passages where God has addressed that subject (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:1-4; 1 Cor. 7). You can no more put adulterous marriages into Romans 14 than you can instrumental music or missionary societies. “The faith” will not allow it. Unauthorized practices cannot be rightly included regardless of the degree of honesty and sincerity of the proponents of such practices.
Harmful Consequences of Erroneous Teaching on Romans 14
The outcroppings of this view of Romans 14 are becoming more evident with each passing day. Consider the following consequences:
1. Error is minimized. Questions such as “who has the list?” of things to include or exclude from Romans 14 1eave the impression that truth and error are so scrambled that we cannot sort them out and the only alternative is “unity in diversity.”
2. The danger of false teachers is obscured. Whether or not a teacher is honest and sincere does not mitigate the damage which error does to the soul and the harm it causes to congregations. Out of this has grown the bizarre view that unless a brother possesses the character liabilities of 2 Peter 2, then we dare not call him a false teacher. 2 Peter 2 is not the only passage which deals with error or false teachers.
3. This mindset contributes to relativism. We have an ever increasing number of “grey areas.” Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Truth can be ascertained. Marriage is the most basic of all human relationships. Can we not know the will of God on such a fundamental issue? This is at the bottom of the shift in the content of preaching we are hearing. The fear of appearing to be authoritarian, dogmatic, or one of those “black or white guys” has led to watered-down preaching with its story telling, personal experiences, lessons from movies or television shows. Reading a passage of Scripture, putting it in context and then coming straight at the audience with practical applications would be a great novelty in some pulpits now.
4. This mindset promotes elevating men beyond “what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). We can all learn from good men who have studied well. All of us believe in showing “honor to whom honor” is due. But good men can be wrong and their influence can lead souls astray. No doubt, Paul had great respect for Peter, but that time at Antioch Peter was wrong in his conduct toward Gentiles and Paul withstood him “to the face” and that “before them all” (Gal. 2:11-14). Later, Peter referred to Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). We do our good friends no favor by ignoring the harmful effects of erroneous teaching.
5. This mindset leads to fellowship with all forms of error. If Romans 14 is elastic enough to encompass adulterous marriages, then what is to prevent acceptance of unscriptural worship in the form of instrumental music? Rubel Shelly has room for both in Romans 14. I do not charge brother Harrell or those who stand where he does with going that far. But unless I have seriously misjudged history, their students will do so. The student often outruns the teacher” (All Emphasis His). Connie Adams Truth Magazine, The Harrell Booklet on the Bounds of Christian Unity, April 2, 1998
Brother Adams recently commented on the present doctrine of controversy as well:
“‘Binding Where Jesus Did Not Bind’
It is just as wrong to loose where the Lord has bound as it is to bind where he has not bound. When it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage, we must be careful to respect exactly what the Lord has said. There is a good deal of tension now over what is being called ‘mental divorce’ in which a party who was put away for some other cause than fornication may later put away a mate who either marries again or else commits adultery after the fact of the divorce. Jesus said, ‘And whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery’ (Matt. 5:32). The same thing is stated in Matthew 19:9. When we have exhausted all the emotional arguments about fairness, and the intricacies of what constitutes ‘putting away,’ these passages will still say what they have always said. We can minimize the matter all we want to and call this an invention of man, but it still is what the Lord said. We can quibble about ‘who gets to the courthouse first’ and the like, but the Lord still said, ‘Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.’ It is not binding where Jesus did not bind to say that one who has been divorced is not free to marry for that is precisely what Jesus said. If what is described here does not constitute a mental dismissal, or a second putting away, after the marriage has ended legally and in fact, then I am at a loss as to what to call it. Our own personal experiences in dealing with difficult marital tangles may be interesting, but they do not set aside what the Lord has plainly said.” Connie W. Adams Editorial Left-overs; Truth Magazine, August 19, 2004
Brother Brian A. Yeager has also written to expose
brother Blake’s article at:
What are the Limits of Fellowship?
By Paul R. Blake
What does one do about fellowship with brethren who have taken more liberty in practice of the faith than what God has granted in scripture? There is no difficulty in having fellowship with brethren who restrict themselves more than God does. One is not permitted to judge a brother who will not eat meat (Romans 14:1-13). However, can one say to brethren who from his perspective have loosed where God has bound that they are in error (Romans 16:17-18)? This viewpoint presupposes two things: 1) that he has complete and correct understanding of these matters, and 2) that he is not the brother who is restricting himself more than God has.
However, while one can believe a brother may have a mistaken understanding of some Bible matter, it does not necessarily require a severing of fellowship with him. Division is not inevitable when the following conditions exist: 1) when all brethren involved appeal to the same fundamental truths or laws given by Christ, 2) when all brethren involved appeal to positive, Biblically stated authority and not the “silence of scripture,” 3) when the different views held by brethren breed no looseness on other moral or doctrinal issues, and 4) when all brethren involved in the issue encourage open study and discussion of issues.
To illustrate this point, consider the matter of communion. If a brother were to impenitently teach that saints could commune on Saturday, he would be teaching a false doctrine that ends our fellowship with him. But what if he did not believe or participate in Sunday evening communion? He appeals to the same scriptures as his brethren who practice Sunday evening communion. His doctrine does not lead to greater looseness on other doctrinal or moral issues. He encourages ongoing study on the matter. Certainly one would not mark such a brother as a false teacher nor call for an end to fellowship with him. A brother who believes that sisters must wear veils, that Christians may not serve in the armed forces, that the Holy Spirit bodily indwells the saint, or that local churches may not use the building for funerals and weddings, believes that brethren who disagree with him have erred on these issues. But he also understands that these brethren appeal to the same scriptures as he, that their doctrines do not lead to greater error (as have the instrument and the institution), and that they are willing to engage in honest Bible study on the issue.
To apply this principle to the current issue on marriage, divorce and remarriage relating to post civil divorce fornication and putting away, one must ask the following questions about brethren with whom he disagrees: 1) is he appealing to the same scriptures I use to answer this question? If he is, then this reduces the matter to a difference in our understanding of a passage of scripture. He has made it clear to me that he respects, not rejects, Bible authority. 2) Does he find authority for his doctrine in what is clearly written, or does he appeal to the silence of the scriptures? If he is appealing to what is written, rather than attempting to find permission in God’s silence, then we both have objective authority to examine the issue together in order to find a common understanding. 3) Does his teaching lead to further error? If his doctrine does not open the door to other digressions, then the potential exists for us to continue our studies on an isolated matter without fear of it quickly leading to more problems. 4) Is my brother willing to continue to study the question? If so, then God will bless me with opportunities to teach him or to learn from him. Consider this illustration: If a man fornicates and his innocent mate divorces him for that reason, and then he repents of the sin of fornication, can the two of them be reconciled and return to living as man and wife? Brethren who embrace the same principles on MDR disagree on this. Greg Gwin has publicly said they cannot; Connie Adams said they can. Should these brethren divide? And if they do, should we choose up sides with them? God forbid.
At the same time, it seems that a few of the doctrines on MDR currently advocated by brethren lead to adultery and greater doctrinal error. Therefore for me, fellowship decisions in each individual case will be informed by my conscience. And so it must be for you as well. In addition, the question of when to end fellowship with such brethren is also a matter of individual judgment, except, of course, for elders whose duty is to guard the flock from grievous wolves by deciding who will or will not address the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. Some doctrines held by brethren who profess conviction in Matthew 19:9 that do lead to sin and greater error, and therefore they must be opposed.