The Momentum for Perverting Romans 14
By Don Martin
Paul’s teaching to the Christians in first century Rome residing in chapter 14 certainly contains some universally and timeless truths (see vs. 8, 11, 16, etc.). However, the core circumstance of the subject matter is a milieu that cannot be exactly and completely duplicated today (their culture, background, etc.). One thing for sure, the particularity under review did not involve immediate and endemic doctrinal error and moral deviation (cp. vs. 2; 5; 21; 14). Hence, any effort today to apply Paul’s specific teaching to a current day matter must not, I repeat, must not involve a matter of doctrinal error or moral aberration. Some attempt to refute and discredit what I just said by contending that the special “day” of the text was the Sabbath and that the mentioned “wine” was fermented; hence, they see doctrinal and moral matters. Some by employing convoluted and flawed reasoning contend that if those addressed by Paul violated their conscience, they would have been committing sin; hence, sin is in the context (vs. 23). In addition, in a desperate effort to have doctrinal error in the context, some contend that there is the subjective acceptance of error being taught in the matter of one believing in only vegetarianism and certain days, therefore, the matter of error is allowed today.
Again, the milieu of Romans 14 must be considered and the text with its resident teaching must not be used and applied in a way today to make it collide with other teaching. For instance, belief of the truth is essential and we are to fellowship only those who bring the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11). If one teaches error, one is to be “marked” and “avoided” (Rom. 16: 17). Error is to always be challenged, refuted, and exposed (Jude 3, Phili. 1: 7, 17, KJV). Moreover, biblical unity is based on all believing and practicing the same truth (Eph. 4: 3ff., I Cor. 1: 10). Any understanding and use of Romans 14 that is contrary to what we have just noted is patently false.
There is presently much corruption and perversion of Romans 14 among brethren and even preachers in the church. As an amateur historian, I have noticed that with every major apostasy, the perversion of Romans 14 comes to the forefront. Many today are exhibiting utter dishonesty. “We do not believe that a matter of doctrinal error or moral deviation is allowed into the text of Romans 14,” say they. The catch is what they call “doctrinal error” or “moral deviation.” I have debated some who say what I just quoted and then argue that the mechanical instrument must be tolerated in public worship, based on Romans 14. “Don, those bringing in the mechanical device are not the problem, you are the problem for opposing them,” has been their charge. They err because mechanical music in worship is “going beyond the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11, Eph. 5: 19). We are sinning if we do not oppose such innovations (Jude 3). Others are looking to Romans 14 to find justification for those teaching error on divorce and marriage to another. They are pushing for certain men to be let alone, while these men promote the doctrine of multiple causes for divorce and a second putting away provision (after the fact of divorce) for the innocent put away that allows the put away not only the ability to subsequently put away but also marriage to another, doctrines clearly contrary to the scriptures and which result in sin and adultery (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9, I Cor. 7: 2ff.).
What is the momentum for so understanding Romans 14 and perverting its intended use and making it conflict with other relevant scriptures? I cannot assign motive in each given case; however, by observation, conversation, and familiarity with given circumstances and players I am in a position to comment. Some men who are now clamoring for the unity-in-diversity use of Romans 14 are men who not long ago held, practiced, and preached the truth regarding Romans 14. What happened to change their minds and position? They became involved with a powerful, political group and became part of its fraternity and special fellowship, I am referring to the Guardian of Truth Foundation and Truth Magazine. Mike Willis, high up in the structure of the Guardian of Truth Foundation and an editor of Truth Magazine, believes and teaches that a Christian may divorce his or her mate based on such matters as serious debt incurrence. Even the cause of spiritual incompatibility can be a cause for divorce, according to what Mike preaches. If a preacher outside “the group” had preached such, no doubt many of the men who are now ignoring and defending this teaching would have totally exposed him as teaching damnable error, as they did Homer Hailey. Mike Willis is teaching matters just as consequential as what Hailey taught. While Willis does not openly advocate marriage to another, most people will marry again. Ron Halbrook’s teaching that allows divorce after the fact and reality of divorce would not have been tolerated by many of these men before they became a part of the order, I am convinced. Now, they look the other way while Ron is allowed to advocate such matters. Ron’s teaching is such that not only is erroneous but can and does result in adultery.
In order to defend some of their party members such as two of their leaders Mike Willis and Ron Halbrook, some of them have changed positions on Romans 14. They now see Romans 14 as a means to justify their clique membership and close association and fellowship with Mike and Ron. Again, I have seen this first hand and their motives have been made evident (Matt. 7:15-20). When they dealt with the Homer Hailey error on MDR, they showed that Romans 14 offered no protection for Hailey and his teaching. Not only have they now embraced error themselves relative to the proper use of Romans 14, but they have, alas, demonstrated utter hypocrisy. When they exposed Hailey, they were accused of being divisive and not observing Romans 14. They now are the ones being heard saying to all who expose Mike Willis and Ron Halbrook, “You are divisive and not observing Romans 14!” More and more, these men, many of whom were once good, sound men, are spending an increased amount of their time promoting the order, the Guardian of Truth Foundation lectures, Truth Magazine, etc., and defending their leaders.
In closing, I have now lived and preached long enough to say that I have never, absolutely never, seen any good come from human foundations among brethren! All, no exception of which I am familiar of the schools (even privately supported ones), privately funded missionary societies, etc. have been the stronghold for politics and special interests that have resulted in apostasy and much harm to the Lord’s church. Brethren, when will we learn?