The “Mental Divorce” Definition Discrepancy
By Jeff Belknap
This article is written in an effort to help resolve the confusion about the difference between what some of the present advocates of post-divorce “putting away” call “mental divorce” and what those who oppose it call “mental divorce.” Although this term has been around for longer than I have been a Christian, some brethren have recently sought to narrow its definition to exclude the label from one aspect of this false doctrine.
To hear some tell it, no one involved in this present controversy believes in or teaches Mental Divorce! Some who advocate post-divorce “putting away” proclaim that they have been “misrepresented” because they “do not believe in (their definition of) ‘mental divorce.’” (Believe it or not, both sides of the present controversy affirm that the doctrine of “mental divorce” is erroneous!) Nevertheless, the difference lies in what one’s definition of mental divorce is.
All parties on both sides of this controversy agree that when two people mutually divorce one another, neither has the right to marry another while their original man/woman lives, though their divine obligation remains intact. Even if one of the parties subsequently commits adultery, the other is not authorized to “put away” their original partner and marry another. Both sides of this controversy would agree that this would not only be “mental divorce,” but also “the waiting game,” and would result in adultery upon marrying another!
Moreover, all parties on both sides of this controversy also agree that when one wrongfully puts away, he/she is not eligible to subsequently “put away” for the cause of their original mate’s post-divorce fornication, even though the divine obligation remains intact. Both sides of this controversy would also agree that this would be “mental divorce,” and “the waiting game,” resulting in adultery upon remarriage to another!
However, our differences come to light when considering the case of one who wrongfully puts away their unwilling mate and subsequently commits post-divorce fornication (Matthew 19:9a; Luke 16:18a). The argument is then made that the innocent person whom they had put away is then eligible to “put away” for the cause of fornication (since “the bond is still intact”) and marry another.
The brethren who propose this argument claim that the “mental divorce” label applies to post-divorce “putting away” for those who willingly involve themselves in divorce, but it does NOT APPLY to the unwilling, wrongfully-divorced person whose obligated man/woman commits fornication after the fact.
In spite of the fact that the “one flesh” marriage has already been sundered and the two are already “away” (separated) from each other (in every sense of the word; Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b; Luke 16:18b) they tell us that the “innocent” put away person retains the ability to “put away” for fornication and to rightly marry another. Brother Ron Halbrook paves the way for this subsequent “putting away” by referring to the one who wrongfully puts away as the “prospective fornicator.”
The errorists’ argumentation hinges upon the divine obligation that remains after the wrongful divorce (Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:39). They claim that since they are still “bound” to each other, this obligation ensures the “innocent” party’s ability to “put away” for fornication, after a marriage has been dissolved. Not only does this philosophy confuse the spiritual obligation with the physical marriage relationship, it also teaches error regarding what it means to put away and/or to put asunder (Matthew 19:3, 6; cf. I Corinthians 7:10-11).
Some go so far as to argue that since “the bond is still intact,” the couple is “still married,” contrary to the teaching in I Corinthians 7:10-11. Others argue that the couple is indeed divorced, yet because the obligation remains intact, the unwilling put away party still retains the right to “put away.”
Opponents of truth argue that the wrongful divorce decree means “nothing;” that an unapproved divorce is inconsequential to the marriage relationship. Hence, that is why they say it can still be broken by the innocent party, when they “put away” in “purpose of heart.”
Brother Halbrook publicly stated:
“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.” Ron Halbrook, (MDR sermon preached in Wilkesville, OH; 6-14-90)
Additionally, similar to what brother Warnock has recently advocated on his radio program (WJLS, 99.5 FM, Beckley, WV), he also publicly stated,
“But someone asks: ‘What about a woman who is put away (divorced) by a man simply because the man no longer wanted to be married? Fornication is not involved and the woman repeatedly tried to prevent the divorce, but to no avail. After a couple of years the man marries another woman. Is the ‘put way’ woman then free to marry?’ She certainly is, if she puts away her husband for fornication. She would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking. She could not go through the process of having a legal document charging her husband with ‘adultery,’ but God would know…” (emp. jhb). Weldon E. Warnock (Searching the Scriptures, November issue, 1985)
Nevertheless, Jesus refuted such teaching by applying the decree that “he who marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” to the wrongfully put away (Matthew 19:9b; Luke 16:18b). Moreover, this decree was stated subsequent to the post-divorce fornication (adultery) which was committed by the one who had wrongfully put away his bound mate (Matthew 19:9a; Luke 16:18a). There is absolutely no scripture whatsoever, which teaches the ability of wrongfully put away people (or any other divorced person, for that matter) to “put away” a divinely obligated man/woman who is already “away” or to “put asunder” a marriage (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9; I Corinthians 7:10-11) that has already been separated (Proverbs 15:2)!
The fact is, if the intact bond is what makes a second “putting away” possible for the unwilling mate after a wrongful divorce, then it also makes it possible for the willing partner. Brethren’s demand for consistency will ensure that this doctrine will go farther than its present proponents intend. Dear reader, once the erroneous doctrine of “mental divorce” is allowed for “the (poor little) orphan,” it will eventually be tolerated for “the college.” Every digression will “wax worse and worse” (II Timothy 2:16; 3:13).
Notice Ron Halbrook’s own words within an article he sent to Mike Hughes for publication to Bible Matters (2-28-03):
“In the battle for truth regarding marriage, Romans 14, fellowship, and related issues, are faithful brethren who have been pleading for the truth now divided among themselves and in disarray?...
…These notes (Notes For Further Study; jhb) reflect on some difficult points regarding marriage and divorce, points which are mostly theoretical in my experience and which, therefore, I did not pursue further in these notes. Since these notes were never revisited or revised, they contain statements which can be construed to suggest that I believe in ‘the waiting game’ and ‘mental divorce.’” Ron Halbrook, Tactics of Error, Triumph of Truth; Bible Matters (2-28-03)
STATEMENT OF FACT: There is nothing different in Ron’s “Notes For Further Study” than what he has been publicly teaching all across this country for the last several years (See below)! – Jeff
“…So far as I understand it, brethren by and large agree on the basic principles stated above, though we may word or express them differently at times. But, there is some disagreement on how to apply these principles to the case of the faithful women here in point 5. Does her husband’s immorality give her the ground to repudiate him and her marital obligations to him, or do her obligations to him continue in force? Some brethren hold the view that since he repudiated and put away her, she cannot now repudiate and put away him. She is to be regarded as the put-away person who is not to marry a new mate. Thus, her only option is to be reconciled to her adulterous husband, or failing that, to remain unmarried.
Other brethren hold the view that other principles mentioned above come into play, permitting her to put away her adulterous husband on the ground of his immorality. The adulterer who initiates the civil divorce is still just as obligated to the marriage bond as he was on the day he said, “I do.” It is only when the innocent party puts away and repudiates the adulterer that God does the dissolving. That is to say, divine law predominates over civil law both in the matter of joining two people and in the matter of dissolving that bond. The man’s unscriptural action does not preclude the wife from repudiating the man on the ground of his immorality and appealing to God to dissolve the union. For some time, I have been trying to study everything I can find from both viewpoints, and to this point I BELIEVE the second of the two views (emp. jhb). The reason is that I believe that divine law rather than civil law is the final determinant with reference to marriage (WHERE GOD DOES THE JOINING) and divorce (WHERE GOD DOES THE DISSOLVING), according to Matt. 5:32 & 19:9…” Ron Halbrook
“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), February 3-4, 2000].
“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 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.” Ron Halbrook: Sermon entitled “Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage” in Wilkesville, OH (6-14-90). See: An excerpt of an MDR sermon by Ron Halbrook given in Wilkesville, OH
“The conclusion is this: unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage.” Ron Halbrook: Sermon entitled “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage” at The Carriage Drive church of Christ, Beckley, WV (5-30-91).
TACOMA, WA (2-21-04)
AN EXCERPT FROM THE ATHENS, GA DISCUSSION