Below is brother Ron Halbrook’s “reply” to the divorce and remarriage scenario question that brother J. T. Smith had posed to him in the March (2001) issue of Gospel Truths. It is clear that, within his response to brother Smith in the April issue (as well as in his subsequent letter), Ron never openly admitted his documented views and advocacy of the post-divorce “putting away” for post-divorce fornication doctrine.
Since Jesus plainly called remarriage to another by one who is put away “adultery” (while their bound mate lives), if Ron desires tolerance for his documented (opposite) teaching, he must provide scripture to show God’s approval of it (Colossians 3:17)!
Additional comments on Ron’s response article and letter follows. – Jeff
“Speaking the Truth in Love” (Eph. 4:15)
Why Halbrook Fellowships Smith, Rader, and Other
By Ron Halbrook
I want to thank brother J.T. Smith for the opportunity to make this statement regarding his March 2001 editorial in Gospel Truths as I am preparing to leave for six weeks in the Philippines. He is concerned about our critics charging us with hypocrisy in opposing their unity-in-doctrinal-diversity while we differ among ourselves in some ways. This charge is directed at brother Donnie Rader, myself, and other faithful men such as brother Smith. “Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse” us (Acts 24:13).
United in Doctrine, Differ in Some Judgments
I know of no doctrinal differences between brother Smith and myself through the years, though we have differed at times on judgments in the details of application on some points at times, just as occurs with any two Christians. Publicly and privately, I have consistently taught through the years that people are eligible to marry in the following cases: 1. a person never before married (Matt. 19:4-6), 2. an innocent person who put away a mate for fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), or 3. a person whose mate is dead (Rom. 7:2-3). The put-away fornicator or the person put away without Bible grounds goes to the bed of adultery when he marries a new mate (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18).
At times, judgments must be made about the details of application on a case by case basis. No two brethren agree about all of those judgments and details at all times, but faithful brethren are united on the basic doctrine or principles of truth.
With this statement, I am providing brother Smith my articles entitled “Marriage Is Honorable” (Guardian of Truth, June 20, 1996, pp. 368-71; reprinted as tract), “Divorce and Remarriage: No Waiting Game” (Guardian of Truth, Mar. 18, 1993, pp. 168-69), and “Are We Doomed to Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?” (Guardian of Truth, Aug. 15 & Sept. 5, 1996, pp. 496-98 & 548-50). My sermon outline on “Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage” is also provided. These materials well summarize what I have taught publicly and privately through the years. Brother Smith is free to reprint any or all of this material as he sees fit.
Question Answered in Detail in 1993
Also, several years ago, he wrote me saying he had heard that I teach, “When a man puts away his wife for any cause other than fornication and he subsequently marries another, his first wife then may put him away for fornication and she has the scriptural right to marry another” (Smith to Halbrook, 2-17-93). My letter dated February 27, 1993 explained that I do not believe or teach such a view. In an effort to be completely open and forthcoming, I also expanded the letter to deal with a number of side issues on divorce and remarriage which I find difficult to sort out at times. I do not attempt to deal with all such matters in preaching. When asked about them, I try to provide information on opposing views and leave such matters to the individual conscience. I am providing the same letter again to brother Smith. It is by far the most exhaustive effort I have ever made to write out my views, judgments, and questions in seeking to work through some difficult points. I sought his input on those matters at the time, but he did not follow up. The correspondence ended.
Brother Smith is free to share this letter with anyone who is curious about such things or even to publish it in whole. (In fact, I will submit the main body of the letter, omitting personal and extraneous matters, as a separate article with the heading “Halbrook’s Answer to Smith’s Question in 1993.” Brother Smith can then decide whether publishing it will be profitable or whether enough has been said.) The letter stated, “You are welcome to share this letter with whoever talked with you about this matter or with anyone else who has an interest in my views on the question. I have nothing to hide and no one to protect. If someone can supply me with information which I have not adequately considered, I want to learn more, correct any mistakes, and continue to grow. Anyone who can help me to do that is my friend, not my enemy.” If brother Smith or anyone else wishes to express his thoughts about those things, I will take them under advisement for further study. I do not expect to live long enough to resolve all such questions and quandaries, or to write articles attempting to address them. I do not have any special light on all such matters, which is why I am not shouting such things “from the housetops.”
Scripture Clear, Legal Tangle Created by Ungodly Men
Luke 16:18, which brother Smith discussed, shows that the same basic rule applies to both the man and the woman (i.e., if either person marries a new mate after a divorce, he or she goes to the bed of adultery). The one exception given in Matthew is not under consideration. Matthew’s account shows that when the biblical putting away occurs because of sexual immorality, the innocent party alone is permitted to marry a new mate.
The only problem faithful brethren have is sorting through the legal tangle resulting from the civil procedures created by ungodly men. I do not believe in waiting games or so-called “mental” divorces. Yet, “mental” divorce is charged by some brethren unless the innocent party “wins the race to the courthouse,” or unless the innocent party puts the terms “for fornication” on the divorce papers, or unless other specific legal steps and procedures are followed. (On the latter point, see the excellent comments by Wayne Partain, “Unity In Diversity-Part I,” Gospel Truths, Mar. 2001, on p. 8, which properly answer our critics who equate their unity-in-doctrinal-diversity with our forbearance in different judgments within doctrinal unity.)
Each tangled case must be considered on a case by case basis, and, beyond that, I am willing to leave the matter to the judgment of the parties involved unless there is some direct violation of specified law revealed in Scripture. I do not attempt to address or settle all these decisions about details in my preaching. When asked about such things, I can only point to the basic principle Christ gave and, beyond that, point out that judgments must be made in some areas of detail.
The Lord willing, I plan to continue preaching and writing on the basic doctrine or principles of truth stated above in the first part of this article, leaving some of the details of application to a case by case basis. Brethren have acted upon the solid ground of truth by preaching this doctrine with boldness from every pulpit in the land while not using the pulpit to promote personal judgments in every area of application of commonly held principle. In my view, to turn aside from that course to publicly delve into our differences of judgment will not serve the cause of truth well. In fact, such an exercise will only serve to divide faithful brethren and to divert attention away from the unity-in-doctrinal-diversity movement which has gained so much ground in the last twenty years.
Should the materials I am submitting not satisfy brother Smith, I have offered to participate in private study and discussion with him after my return from the Philippines, if he so desires.
Keeping Our Balance While Opposing False Doctrine
Even if brother Smith, brother Rader, and I could agree to dot every “i” and cross every “t” the same way on some particular point, it would NOT stop certain men from charging us with hypocrisy in our fellowship with each other. They will simply focus on a similar point about which we differ in judgment, and then if we get every “i” dotted alike on that one, they will turn to another, then another, ad infinitum. For instance, faithful brethren agree doctrinally that the church is not authorized to engage in social and recreational activities, but we differ in judgment about funerals and weddings in the meeting house. Our critics have already tried to use this issue against us, and there are a thousand more such questions they could raise. Mark it well: There will be no end to this charge of hypocrisy in our fellowship of each other so long as we openly oppose the false doctrines these men have openly taught and tolerated!
Our critics have been trying desperately to defend the thesis that brethren can continue in fellowship in spite of “contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions” (Ed Harrell, Christianity Magazine, May 1990, p. 6). In support of that thesis, they put all sorts of differences into the category of doctrinal differences (such things as serving in the military, funerals or weddings in the church building, the veil, difficult and different judgments about some details of the marriage issue, etc., etc.). The effort to label all such matters as doctrinal is mistaken. Brethren united in doctrine at times differ on some detail in the area of application. To declare all these differences “doctrinal” will lead to one of two extremes: unity in doctrinal diversity, or self-destruction by splitting and splintering into smithereens. We can maintain a biblical balance and avoid both extremes.
Brother Smith maintained that very balance in upholding the cause of truth when he worked selflessly to defeat the forces of factionalism while we worked in the same area of Brazoria County, Texas in the mid-1980’s. Though called upon to elevate judgments concerning weddings and funerals in the church building to the level of doctrinal differences, brother Smith sought to maintain harmony among brethren by maintaining the Bible ground for unity. That ground demands a defense of doctrinal truth, but forbids strife over matters where no doctrinal differences exist (II Timothy 2:14-26; I Timothy 6:3-5).
Brother Smith’s desire and effort to maintain harmony with brethren united in the doctrine of Christ is a purpose we share. We share and have defended that same doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage: Marriage is for one woman and one man for life, the only exception being that an innocent mate may put away a spouse guilty of fornication and have a right to marry another. Let us all who believe and teach that same doctrine echo the words of Abram, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee” (Genesis 13:8). Recent discussions between brother Smith and myself confirm that we share the same commitment to unity upon the basis of truth which we have shared through the years. Those who may seek to divide us by elevating judgments on applications to the level of doctrinal differences pursue a path which does nothing to aid Bible-based unity. To pursue such a course will only serve to advance factionalism and give aid and comfort to those who would undermine and compromise the doctrine of Christ.
Let this statement serve notice to our critics. I do not intend to allow false charges of hypocrisy to divert my attention away from their false doctrines nor to sidetrack me into fighting other faithful brethren. I shall continue to extend the right hand of fellowship to brethren sharing the same doctrine or principles of truth, while acknowledging we differ at times on details in some points of application. The biblical basis for this balanced stand is spelled out in the article, “Are We Doomed to Divide Over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?”
Brother Rader’s excellent response to the charges of hypocrisy are available via computer internet at the following address: www.truthmagazine.com. The other materials I have referred to, including the full text of my 1993 letter, are available at the same site for those who have internet access.
(I first told brother Smith I did not see how I could prepare a response before leaving for the Philippines, which he could well understand. It could be hurtful for this matter to drag out for several months awaiting my return and recuperation. Therefore, I have stayed up until 3:30 A.M. one night, and 4:30 A.M. another night, and skipped sleep entirely another night while working double time on this material between calls and letters to Philippine brethren in making final preparations for the trip. I mention this to emphasize my determination to avoid letting this matter turn into a protracted, bitter battle. As soon as each of us has spoken our mind, we would do well to move on to other things and leave brethren free to reach their own conclusions. I wish this article could have appeared along side brother Smith’s March editorial, but at least it is possible now for it to be printed as quickly thereafter as possible. Upon my return from the Philippines, I will be overwhelmed with follow-up work with Filipino brethren after spending six weeks in their land. No one understands this better than brother Smith because of his experience in the Philippine work. Therefore, I hope this special effort to provide a response will be satisfactory to him and this task will not be waiting for my attention when I return.)
3505 Horse Run Ct.
Immediately following the above article, a subsequent letter from brother Halbrook was also printed on the same page of this Gospel Truths issue, and continued on the next two pages. - Jeff
Dear brother Smith,
I really do not have time to keep dealing with this, I am literally exhausted trying to get ready to leave for the Philippines, but maybe you can receive this effort to respond again as a testimony to my genuine love for you and my genuine desire to avoid any unnecessary dispute between us. Actually, it is hard for me to understand what purpose it will serve to repeat principles and points already covered in all the material I have submitted.
You ask about the following situation, “A husband decides to put away his wife and she begs him not to. He decides to go ahead and do it anyway. She goes to the church and elders and voices her opposition to it. The divorce is final. A few years later the husband remarries. She then goes before the church and elders and expresses to them that she is now scripturally putting him away. She can then remarry without sin.”
My understanding of both principles and judgments on the marriage question in general is set forth thoroughly in my Feb. 27, 1993 letter to you. I suppose you could add dozens of variations to cases and scenarios, but the basic principles are still the same as outlined in the 1993 letter and other materials more recently submitted to you. You have recognized that as the discussion of the deity of Christ became more tangled, wisdom dictated that answering questions like, “Was Jesus tempted?” be done by clarifying some things rather than by giving a one word answer. As the discussion of such issues gets more tangled, people may interpret our answers in different ways, thus the wisdom of clarifying our concerns in more than one way.
As to your question, I see the problems and issues raised by a marriage under such circumstances and would not encourage such a remarriage, but there is a lot more to this matter than one theoretical question. Rather than making sweeping generalizations about all such cases, I try to patiently consider each situation on a case by case basis. If the scenario you gave were real, we might have other pertinent facts that could have a bearing on the outcome. Here is what I mean:
In terms of the practical realities we face, please let me EMPHASIZE this point. I do not make a sweeping generalization about all such cases because I have learned in 40 years of preaching that when we face such cases in REALITY as opposed to theory, 99.99 per cent of the time FORNICATION is actually THE CAUSE of the breakup. Yes, I know the man (it is nearly always the man, not the woman) says, “I am tired of this marriage and am leaving.” Brother Smith, in 99.99 per cent of the cases the man is “tired of the marriage” precisely because he has been FORNICATING, but he will bleed and die denying it unless someone produces a smoking gun. I do not intend to divide from my brethren over all of these theoretical scenarios when I know what breaks up most of these marriages.
Beyond that, if someone asks about your proposed scenario, I will point out to them that no special set of circumstances or emotional plea can set aside the principle of God’s marriage law (as clearly outlined in all the material already submitted to you). In other words, they must approach their situation in the light of this divine law and not in search of a loophole for self-justification. Beyond that, the Bible does not specifically address all the legal maneuvers and other details which can arise. Therefore, I will explain carefully why brethren have conscientious differences on such matters, caution them about potential dangers in seeking to remarry, and provide them material to study on both sides of any controverted points, leaving the final decision between them and God.
As brethren discuss some details of application, my main concern is that we not bind a position which says when a mate commits fornication and initiates court proceedings, the innocent party is automatically viewed as the put-away person regardless of what stand and action she takes (as by countersuing, etc.). I do not believe we can prove this wicked man’s action countermands and overrides her right to openly put him away.
Furthermore, I have concluded that the terms “waiting game” and “mental divorce” have become vague catchall phrases in the minds of some brethren (though I realize they have legitimate uses). I have encountered some brethren who believe the innocent party must win the race to the courthouse, must put “fornication” or “adultery” on the legal papers, must produce two or three witnesses, and must cross other “t’s” and dot other “i’s” in a certain way, or else be charged with a “waiting game” and a “mental divorce.”
Brethren who differ with me on this point about such legal procedures might say they would not marry another mate if involved in such a situation because it would involve “adultery” in their conscience. I do not throw down the gauntlet, challenge for debate, and press for division from such brethren. I certainly would not try to convince them they should ignore their conscientious conviction and marry a new mate. I would caution them to recognize this involves an area of application of details regarding a principle held in common with other conscientious brethren. I would urge them to recognize the valid distinction between differences over a principle and differences over some area of application. I would urge them not to throw down the gauntlet, not to challenge everyone for debate over this, and not to press for division from other brethren.
Brother Smith, if I may speak frankly, it appears to me that you are alarmed in part by someone who thinks I am preaching one thing publicly and pressing some other agenda privately. There is no such private agenda, and never has been. This false impression of my work can be created only by someone failing to distinguish between: 1. preaching principles which are revealed, which includes refuting doctrines and practices which repudiate, deny, and destroy those principles, and 2. responding to questions about some detail or scenario not directly addressed by divine revelation, thus involving judgments, scruples, and personal conclusions or decisions.
These men are concerned lest I drift in one direction away from the truth with a spirit of liberalism on the marriage issue. I appreciate their desire to remind me of that danger. I am equally concerned, and have tried to caution them in a loving way, about the danger of our drifting in the direction of factionalism.
If brethren who agree on a Bible principle cannot forbear with some measure of difference in conscientious judgments, we will split and splinter into smithereens to the point that no two people can ever work and worship together in a congregation or in any other endeavor. That is true not only on some of these detailed judgments about marriage, but also on conscientious judgments about military service, the veil, funerals and weddings in the meeting house, the Lord’s Supper offered at the P.M. service, etc., etc., ad infinitum. This is NOT the same point made by Ed Harrell and others because they all agree Hailey and men of similar doctrines teach false doctrines. They are trying to compare a situation where brethren agree something is false doctrine to a situation where brethren hold a common principle of truth but differ in some areas of judgment in detail or application. If we cannot forbear with differences in the latter realm, we are headed down the path of unending division into oblivion.
You are free to publish this statement in full if you believe it will contribute to healthy study in some way. Whether my conclusions and judgments are right or wrong, I am trying to be open and honest about them. At the same time, I realize endless cases, situations, and variations can be proposed, but I do not propose to serve as a Solomon who can pursue these matters endlessly. At some point, I have to conclude I have said all I know to say. The basic law or principle is crystal clear, which is set forth as best I know how in all the materials already submitted to you.
May God bless you in every way.
In Christian love, Ron
After acknowledging Ron’s numerous pages of reply to brother Smith’s single and very simple question, our brother NEVER actually addressed the question, except to imply his denial of any acceptance of it. Although Ron is well aware that, in debate, brother Smith has denied the same scenario question that he asked of Ron, Ron claims, “I know of no doctrinal differences between brother Smith and myself through the years.” In fact, Ron went on to say, “The put-away fornicator or the person put away without Bible grounds goes to the bed of adultery when he marries a new mate (emp. jhb) (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18)…Luke 16:18, which brother Smith discussed, shows that the same basic rule applies to both the man and the woman (i.e., if either person marries a new mate after a divorce, he or she goes to the bed of adultery).” (emp. jhb).
Yet, unbelievably, in his letter to brother Smith, Ron states, “Brother Smith, if I may speak frankly, it appears to me that you are alarmed in part by someone who thinks I am preaching one thing publicly and pressing some other agenda privately. There is no such private agenda, and never has been.”
In spite of that, brother Halbrook’s own words and writings from other venues (which confirm his agreement with brother Smith’s post-divorce “putting away” for post-divorce fornication scenario question) speak for themselves:
1) Ron Halbrook E-mails (February 8, 1998)
2) An excerpt from Ron Halbrook’s rebuttal to Bob Owen (Burnet, TX, February, 2000)
3) Ron Halbrook’s Hand-Out Study Papers at Athens, Georgia (July 27-28, 2000)
4) Audio Excerpts Of: Ron Halbrook (February 21, 2004)
5) An Examination of Ron Halbrook’s Charts (Posted on Truth Magazine’s Website).
In his above letter to brother Smith, Ron complains of his lack of time to deal with these questions, similar to complaints made to Don Martin and myself (and others). I do not doubt that he was very busy, yet, curiously, instead of just giving a brief answer to brother Smith’s specific question, he somehow made the time to write a protracted, several-page article and letter of diversions that avoided the question.
In response to brother Smith’s question, he states, “My understanding of both principles and judgments on the marriage question in general is set forth thoroughly in my Feb. 27, 1993 letter to you.” (emp. jhb). In the letter to which Ron refers (Ron Halbrook’s 1993 Letter To J. T. Smith), Ron had claimed that brother Smith’s earlier scenario question (which did not include the elements of the put away person’s innocence or their protest to the unauthorized divorce) was “too broad.” Yet in 2001, when brother Smith added the specific elements that characterize brother Halbrook’s documented teaching, brother Halbrook referred back to his general response to brother Smith’s “too broad” question instead of forthrightly revealing what he has been shown to have taught about the scenario in question.
Brother Smith’s question solely addressed the possibility of “putting away” for fornication committed after the fact of divorcement! Nevertheless, after implying that he did not approve of that “application,” Ron digressed to discuss the scenario involving pre-divorce fornication! Evidently, Ron felt justified in diverting the question, because he went on to assert, “I have learned in 40 years of preaching that when we face such cases in REALITY as opposed to theory, 99.99 per cent of the time FORNICATION is actually THE CAUSE of the breakup.”
However, contrary to Ron’s assertion, within The Warnock-Deason Exchange, brother Warnock acknowledged that this actual (post-divorce fornication) scenario was “typical of many.” [“‘Divorce and Remarriage’ Response;” Searching The Scriptures (March 1986)]
Additionally, Doctor Peter Orli exposes Ron’s mischaracterization in his Q/A of the Seven Myths of Divorce, http://www.divorcesource.com/CA/ARTICLES/peter1.html
Myth #1 states, “Most men cheat on their wives.”
Dr. Orli answers this erroneous belief by saying, “Actually, the best designed study to date indicates that nearly 80% of men report that they have never cheated on their wives.”
Such inconsistencies speak volumes. -Jeff