“Tactics of Error, Triumph of Truth”
By Jeff Belknap
Recently, brother Halbrook has sent out a statement to clarify his previous “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study.” In it, he expresses concern that his “personal notes written only for further study” were “taken out of context” and may be “construed to suggest” that he believes in “the waiting game” and “mental divorce.”
I think it is appropriate, right here and now, to quote H.E. Phillips’ observation in his article, The Three Phases of Digression (see my website for the entire article in its context): “Again and again I have taken the very words of a promoter of some digression doctrine and had him cry, ‘You have misunderstood and misrepresented me.’” Three Phases of Digression
However, I have seen no one charge brother Halbrook with holding to what he believes to be “mental divorce” or what he believes to be “the waiting game.” The reason I have shared Ron’s own quotes is so readers can make their own determination as to whether what Ron teaches is what the reader himself has come to know as “mental divorce” and “the waiting game.” Since some of Ron’s writings about post-civil-divorce “putting away” are shrouded in many words (such as the ones he forwarded to brother Mike Hughes for posting to Bible Matters), I posted Ron’s “Notes” on the list with no editorial comments to show readers the fullness of his “application.”
Brother Ron sent many other papers which articulate his doctrine to a fellow preacher, just prior to the beginning of my website. On one of these papers, he hand wrote a preface on top of a response which he wrote to a brother who had challenged him to debate this issue. The preface reads:
“My answer to a young preacher who wanted to know about having a debate on what he erroneously called “mental divorce,” i.e. how is a person to proceed who is served divorce papers unscripturally, & then against whom adultery is committed & who wishes to scripturally put away the fornicator in spite of the ungodly courts making no civil provision for it” (emp. jhb). A letter from Ron Halbrook to a “young preacher”
Here, Ron makes it abundantly clear that he does not view a post-civil-divorce “putting away” action for post-civil-divorce fornication as “mental divorce.” Hence, Ron’s definition of “mental divorce” and “the waiting game” is not the same definition of those terms that most brethren have clearly understood them to be, over the years.
Marshall Patton also denied that he taught “the waiting game” – as he defined it [“Brother Phillips accuses me of endorsing the ‘waiting game’ even though I denied it. I still deny it AS DEFINED in my definition of terms” (emp. his)]. Nevertheless, brother H. E. Phillips confidently affirmed that what brother Patton taught was, in actuality, “the waiting game,” whether brother Patton acknowledged that fact or not. The Patton-Phillips Debate
I have used Ron’s own quotes so that astute brethren can compare his own words with their own understanding (not Ron’s understanding) of the definition of these terms. My whole point in sharing Ron’s own unobfuscated words, is to prove that though Ron denies belief in “the waiting game” and “mental divorce,” this does not necessarily mean that he does not teach what we have come to know as “the waiting game” and “mental divorce.” His denial that he believes in those obviously unauthorized doctrines simply means that Ron’s “application” does not fit his own self-prescribed definitions of those terms.
If Ron really disagrees with his previous “thoughts” (as might be construed from his Bible Matters statement of clarification regarding his “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study”), then now is the perfect opportunity for him to retract and denounce his earlier teaching! I would have no greater joy than to be able to post his public retractions of - and condemnation for - the post-civil-divorce “putting away” doctrine on my website.
I do think it relevant to note that among those materials that brother Halbrook sent to the aforementioned brother, Ron himself included his (not so) “personal notes” (and numerous other writings, many of which are posted on the website under the heading, Ron Halbrook’s Own Words As They Relate To The “Mental Divorce” Position).
Nevertheless, even on those occasions where brother Halbrook knew and had specifically “prepared for” the “purpose” of public review, he presented the same “thoughts” that he conveyed in his “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study” (with varying degrees of plainness of speech). Please consider the forthcoming quotes by brother Halbrook, and the various venues of their “proclamation and publication.”
(Let me begin by establishing that brother Ron publicly advocated the post-civil-divorce “putting away” doctrine before he wrote his “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study,” as well as after writing it.)
In the December 2, 1983 issue of Guardian of Truth (three years before he penned his “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study”), Ron published his ideology in an article entitled, “David Lipscomb on Marriage and Divorce” (p. 3). Please read my response to this public article: Ron Halbrook Since 1983
Also, consider brother Ron’s public answer to a question posed to him after his public Gospel Meeting sermon presentation on “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage,” in Belen, NM (March 1988), just two years after writing his paper “Notes and Thoughts for Further Study.” To the following question, “If you have a woman who has been in a situation where her husband has committed adultery and he puts her away. He’s the one that filed for divorce. Now where does she stand?”
Ron Answers: “In that case, what you have, you have to make a distinction between a scriptural putting away and an unscriptural putting away. Because the man goes through the farce of a civil action in putting her away in a legal sense (he has done that—the civil courts will record it), but in the sight of God he has just acted out a perversion and a lie, and God doesn’t accept what he has done.” Now, it’s interesting that Mark helps you on the point you’re raising in chapter 10, verses 11 and 12. Notice, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her.’ Notice that. Now that describes what you were just describing. Well, if he committed adultery against her, then she has grounds as an innocent party to put her mate away for immorality. And, to illustrate, what you’re saying is not in any way hypothetical, my wife thinks I’m here tonight studying with you from the Word of God. I could be in Law Vegas getting a quickie divorce. And I could come home and tell her, ‘Guess what.’ Now does that mean—and, maybe I’ve been with prostitutes in all that time—does that mean then that God says to her, ‘Well, you don’t have any grounds here?’ I have been immoral and she has scriptural grounds on that basis to put me away from the viewpoint of what the Bible teaches.” (emp. jhb). [An excerpt of an MDR presentation by Ron Halbrook at Belen, NM]
Then, only two years later, please acknowledge the following excerpt from a sermon that Ron preached for the body of Christ in Wilkesville, OH (6-14-90).
“And so, in conclusion from this, we learn that an 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 intact. 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.” (emp. jhb). [Ron Halbrook, Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, Wilkesville, OH (6-14-90)]. An excerpt of an MDR sermon by Ron Halbrook given in Wilkesville, OH
One year after the quote immediately above, notice what Ron stated in his public Gospel Meeting sermon in Beckley, WV:
“The conclusion is this: unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage.” Ron Halbrook (Lesson on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (5-30-91) The Carriage Drive church of Christ, Beckley, WV]. Excerpts of an MDR sermon by Ron Hablrook at Beckley, WV
Additionally, there are snail mails and other e-mail quotes posted to www.mentaldivorce.com that Ron has written and sent out, that more plainly illustrate his doctrine. In none of these materials does he indicate that he had any doubt whatsoever, concerning what he believes and teaches regarding this specific matter.
Moreover, the following is an excerpt from a July 27-28, 2000 discussion in which Ron studied this issue with the church at Athens, GA, where brother David McKee preaches.
DAVID: But getting back to the divorce itself, you just defined an unscriptural divorce as just what that one fellow did. It does not engage the other party, that she’s not divorced at that point?
RON: She is not dissolved from that marriage bond, or released from that marriage bond. It’s still there.
DAVID: Yes, we would agree on that, which is why it makes it adultery for her and him. But would you say she has been divorced at that point, when he divorces her, when the judge slams the gavel down, “I’ve said this on a case,” he has divorced her. Is she now divorced?
RON: In an unscriptural, ungodly sense, that man has a divorce paper. But I don’t see it as changing anything in divine law.
DAVID: No, and I don’t either. That’s why I think the other passages will say, “and he who marries her who is divorced.” That’s why it’s adultery, as well, because she’s still tied to that unfaithful fellow that put her away, and he’s still tied to her in this bond.
RON: But you would take away that exception, at that point.
Also, in brother Ron’s “Statement” paper he wrote:
“My settled convictions on marriage and divorce are in print in tract form (Marriage Is Honorable) and in two booklets (Trends Pointing Toward a New Apostasy and Understanding the Controversy Over Divorce-Remarriage, Romans 14 and Fellowship).”
Only in one of these written materials that Ron recommended, does he even address the subject of post-civil-divorce “putting away.” Note the implication of Ron’s beliefs (bolded below) in the widely distributed booklet, “Understanding the Controversy Over Divorce-Remarriage, Romans 14 and Fellowship,” brother Halbrook stated:
“Brother Pickup made me aware a couple of years ago that it is being widely reported that Mike Willis and I differ in doctrine on this. As I left home to come, I sent my manuscript to two people for proofreading purposes by computer. After their proofreading it, not only they helped get the corrections done, but also I received this statement from Mike Willis: ‘This is to affirm that I have read brother Halbrook’s material. I agreed with him that our differences on how to treat one whose mate is guilty of FORNICATION FOLLOWING A DIVORCE which he tried to avoid is a difference of judgment in the realm of application of the one law of divorce and remarriage and not the teaching of another law.’ Harry Osborne made in essence the same statement. Those are the two who proofread it for me” (emp. jhb). Ron Halbrook [Towards A Better Understanding (False Teachers, Ron Halbrook’s Rebuttal to Bob Owen (pgs. 34-35); http://www.mentaldivorce.com/mdrstudies/Quote-TowardsABetterUnderstanding.htm ].
Additionally, in brother Ron’s “Tactics of Error; Triumph of Truth” article, his professed agreement with brother Adams (about the three classes of people who are eligible to marry; STS, March 1986) is misleading. Why? It is misleading because brother Ron leaves out brother Adams’ words from the same paragraph, which clearly reveal Connie’s condemnation of post-civil-divorce “putting away” for post-civil divorce fornication (which Ron advocates).
In fact, immediately after brother Adams outlined those three classes of people who have a right to remarry, he stated, “I realize that brother Warnock’s illustration involves fornication, but it is after the fact of divorce and NOT BEFORE. It is very difficult for me to see how this is not in reality the “waiting game” for one waits until the other sins and then claims scriptural cause” (emp. jhb). Brethren, now that you know “the rest of the story,” do you believe it was honest for brother Halbrook to portray himself and brother Adams as being in agreement regarding this issue? Yet ironically, brother Halbrook is worried that he is the one being misrepresented in this controversy.
No, brother Halbrook has not been misrepresented. The facts are obvious and confirmed by Ron’s own words uttered in various settings. Furthermore, to this day, he does not indicate that he has come to disagree with any of those things that he has said and/or written in times past. He may couch his beliefs in many words, disguise them with obfuscations, accusations, and misrepresentations, but when you get down to the brass tacks, he still holds to the same doctrine he has been openly teaching for nearly twenty years.
Nevertheless, it is still my hope and prayer to God that brother Ron will denounce his advocacy of the post-civil-divorce “putting away” doctrine (Rom. 1:16).
This article was posed to Bible Matters (a public e-mail list of many non-institutional brethren) on 3-1-03. Although brother Mike Hughes (Co-Owner of Bible Matters) notified me (3-1-03) that brother Halbrook had 10 days to answer my above article, Ron did not avail himself of the opportunity do so.