The Weakest Link is the Missing Link 

By Jeff Belknap

My mother had an old bench-type porch swing several years ago.  It was a swing that provided many pleasant memories for her, as well as one very unpleasant one.  One day, as she rocked my (then) young niece to sleep, a weak link in the suspending chain broke and the swing came crashing down, badly breaking her ankle. 

That real-life situation is a perfect illustration of the old adage, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  Had she known that the link was weak, she would have removed it to avoid catastrophe.  However, as relates to the current mental divorce controversy, there is a similarity to that physical situation unfolding before our very eyes.

When I began writing on the mental divorce issue over a year ago, my writing was solely aimed at brother Ron Halbrook’s mental divorce position and fellowship with that “application.”  [For those who are not familiar with his teaching, it allows an innocent party to “put away” the mate who already put them away unscripturally, whether the ungodly mate commits fornication before or after the civil divorce (see Ron Halbrook’s quotes on this web site).]

The first article I wrote on this issue was entitled Mental Divorce, Revamped and Revisited and was printed in Gospel Truths magazine (October 2000).  Shortly after that, I wrote another article entitled “Differences in Application,” The New Reasoning Behind Toleration of Doctrinal Error which also was published in Gospel Truths (March 2001).  Just after publication of that second article, I received a forwarded note (on March 15, 2001) that Ron Halbrook had written to another brother which included a copy of my Differeneces in Application article.  The e-mail was then forwarded and discussed by other brethren (including brother Harry Osborne) and in it, Ron stated, “[J. T. said Jeff has me in mind in this article. It appeared in the March GOSPEL TRUTHS with J T.’s editorial.  My thought is this: If Jeff cannot see the vast distinction between doctrinal differences and differences in some point of application (emp. jhb), he will end up thinking virtually every difference is doctrinal regarding funerals & and  weddings in the building, the Sunday P.M. Lord's Supper, the covering, etc., etc. Ron]”

Then, the following month, brother Harry Osborne wrote a response to that article, entitled Do All Applications Equal Doctrine?, which was also published in Gospel Truths. This article was the beginning of a series of misrepresentations (both public and private) about what I believe and what I have written, said, and done.  Some of these charges were so blatantly false that I felt the need to respond and prove my innocence of the charges.  I also addressed the points that I found to be erroneous in their writings.

Soon, brother Tim Haile jumped in the fray, however none of brother Haile’s or Osborne’s articles addressed my original written concerns regarding the Halbrook doctrine (“application”).  They spoke of “civil law” as opposed to “divine liberties.”  They built their case on circumstances related to Jewish women in the first century, secular history (Nazi Germany / Slavery), misrepresented Nevada divorce law, etc., and wrote of supposed misrepresentations and dishonesty by me.  They paralleled my acknowledgement of civil authority in divorce to cases of aiding civilly-ordered murder.  They spoke of the woman whose already-fornicating spouse divorces her against her will.

All the while, these men knew the focus of my original articles had reference to brother Halbrook’s doctrine.  Yet, they jumped in to dispute my articles, as though I had exposed their teaching (when I hadn’t even known where they stood on this issue before they began to write articles / rejoinders to me).  However, the ironic thing is, while they critique my “error” which combats Ron’s “application,” they will not defend Ron’s particular “application” publicly nor even state whether they agree or disagree with it.

My efforts on this issue were not about brothers Haile and Osborne.  I never addressed the scenario that they want to keep returning to, as if the whole issue revolved around their own scenario (which involves fornication prior to the civil divorce), instead of Ron’s

Frankly, I have come to the decision that it is futile to chase their “rabbits” which only direct our attention away from Ron.  Tim’s and Harry’s scenarios only become ground work, carefully laid to open the door for Ron’s position.  The only way these brothers can actually offer valuable input to this particular discussion, is if they are willing to discuss or defend Ron’s “application,” and stick to the REAL issue!

However, Harry and Tim have sought to steer the issue of discussion to more neutral ground and to turn my arguments into a disagreement with them, as opposed to Ron.  I have subsequently answered their arguments (and attacks).  Nevertheless, my own aim continues to be the same: to show the error of Ron Halbrook’s “application.”  And, in keeping with my own aim, I will continue to address other brethren’s error when its faulty reasoning seeks acceptance of Ron’s “application.”     

One thing has become abundantly clear.  These men will not address Ron Halbrook’s “application” (that allows a post-civil-divorce divorce when no fornication is committed prior to the divorce), which is the very issue that I have been combating.  Though I have repeatedly questioned Tim and Harry about Ron’s “application,” they have dodged those questions and have yet to publicly agree or disagree with Ron’s position. 

As a matter of fact, recently brother Tim Haile preached a lesson about Biblical Putting Away in Clarkesville, TN.  After his lesson, there was a question and answer period in which brother Haile was asked about the same scenario Ron espouses, and fellowship with it.  Tim replied that he would not respond to questions about putting away which involve fornication after the divorce.

Furthermore, please note Ron’s words in his own article, “Are We Doomed to Divide over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage” (pg. 4), which are peculiarly applicable to this issue.  Ron wrote, “False teachers will not tolerate the preaching of the truth, though they plead for toleration toward their teaching of error.  This is generally true both of those who teach error on divorce and remarriage and those who claim the truth but want unity-in-doctrinal-diversity on the matter. People who cannot abide sound doctrine simply cannot abide the open examination of controversial issues and cannot stand the searchlight of truth (Jn. 3:19-21; 2 Tim. 4:3-4)(emp his). Posted at:

My question is this:  If Ron’s “application” is defensible, why does he refuse to defend it?  Why do these other brethren who so adamantly defend brother Halbrook refuse to defend the position he holds?  If his particular “application” can “stand the searchlight of truth,” why will they only address the scenario where fornication is committed before the civil divorce, but not AFTER

In addition, in Ron’s article concerning David Lipscomb (which I addressed on this website in the document, Ron Halbrook Since 1983), he also wrote, “Since we cannot ‘wish’ these difficulties away (i.e., “divorce” for fornication committed after finalization of the civil divorce, jhb) we must grapple with them in the light of God’s Word just as Lipscomb and others have done. There is no excuse for dodging or ignoring such issues. No matter how unpleasant the task or how fierce the opposition, loyalty to God requires us to insist upon God’s appointments” (emp. jhb).

In light of his own judgment above, why won’t Ron come out and defend his position?  Why do Ron, Tim and Harry repeatedly dodge and ignore the real issue?  Is it only when someone else’s teaching is being examined that Ron’s above words ring true?  Or does such a truth apply to all?  Why will Ron not practice what he has preached?

In another previous quote (found at the bottom of my front page), “Regarding Controversy,” Ron states, "Be willing to hear both sides of the issues involved and be wary of excuses offered for closing the door to open discussion. 'Try,' test, or examine the teachers in this controversy – no matter who they are – and do it by comparing what they say with Scripture (I Jn. 4:1, 6).  Do not be timid about approaching the men involved to ask for the Bible basis of their conduct and teaching.  Pay close attention to whether they actually give you Bible passages or whether they merely talk around the subject.  Notice whether they seem tense, resentful, and angry when you question them, or whether they seem to truly welcome and appreciate your questions.  Those who stand on the truth find that it gives them a confidence which creates calmness and patience in discussing the questions of honest people.  Those who cannot give Scripture for their position suffer from arrogance, impatience, and frustration which create bitter resentment against those who dare to question them.   Something is wrong if the man you question does not seem glad for the opportunity to fulfill I Peter 3:15 (‘be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you’) (emp. jhb).

Obviously, if Ron (and his defenders) believe his position to be valid and scripturally verifiable, they would defend it as they have done with their own positions and “applications,” instead of “talk(ing) around the subject” and diverting the issue to “civil divorce” vs. “divine liberties,” Jewish women in the first century, Nazi Germany, Slavery, Nevada divorce “law,” murder, the woman whose already-fornicating spouse divorces her against her will, and trumping up charges against me.  Since I (and others) began to deal with this subject, we have witnessed none other than “excuses offered,” brethrenclosing the door to open discussion and men whotalk around the subject.”  Moreover, in Tim’s and Harry’s rejoinders to my articles, they are the ones who become “tense, resentful, and angry when you (I and others, jhb) question them.”  Furthermore their writings have manifested much “arrogance”, “impatience,” “frustration” andbitter resentment against those who dare to question them.” For examples, please read my rejoinders which address this type of behavior: Response to Brothers Haile and Osborne; Reply To Brother Haile's Review; Rejoinder To Stan Cox

As brother Halbrook himself said above, “Something is wrong if the man you question does not seem glad for the opportunity to fulfill I Peter 3:15.

I realize that I have made some mistakes within this controversy and do not excuse myself from responsibility for them, but have publicly apologized when I have done so, and strive not to repeat them.  However, I have posted evidence that these men have totally misrepresented Nevada Divorce laws, falsely accused me of various activities (“dishonesty;” making up a “sound preachers list,” etc.), and misrepresented several scriptures as well as the issue itself, but they have never expressed regret for any of those things!  Nevertheless, I would be willing to let bygones be bygones if they will only deal with the real (Ron Halbrook) issue (not personal attacks against me or various other smoke screens) from here on out.

Where is the scripture that will vindicate Ron’s teaching on this issue?  Certainly, their refusal to defend the position, coupled with the characteristics that Ron says manifest a lack of scriptural authority (“arrogance, impatience, frustration which create bitter resentment against those who dare to question them”) indicates that they have none.    

I submit to you that these brethren understand the improbability that sound brethren will accept Ron’s position.  That is because it is not scripturally supportable.  If brethren are to ever swallow Ron’s camel, they will have to enlarge their appetite with some less extreme “applications” first.  Hence, their aim is to achieve acceptance of less extreme scenarios and lead brethren to question whether or not an unscriptural divorce is really a divorce at all.  If they can get brethren to accept this faulty reasoning as valid, Ron’s “application” will be a shoo-in, because all realize that it is only natural for brethren to demand consistency.   

Though Harry and Tim refuse to answer questions about Ron’s “application” and their fellowship with it, their aim is obviously to gain the brethren’s acceptance for it, as evidenced by their quarrel with me (which began immediately after I wrote an article denouncing fellowship with Ron’s position) and their continuance of fellowship with Ron, in spite of II John 9-11. 

In a meeting held in Burnet, TX in February, 2000, Ron 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.”  [Towards A Better Understanding (False Teachers, Ron Halbrook’s Rebuttal to Bob Owen (pgs. 34-35)].

Ron himself declared (above) that brothers Mike Willis and Harry Osborne agree that Ron’s doctrine on this issue “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.”  If this is true, why won’t any of these brethren “prove” with scripture what they are alleging (I Thess. 5:21)?  Do they think that just because they affirm that this is simply a “judgment in the realm of application” that we are to accept their word as “an end of all strife?”  

As one brother said to me; What if brother Hailey had said the important fundamental biblical principle for us to unite upon was to agree that “marriage is sacred” (which principle is certainly one that we could all agree to, as taught in Heb. 13:4)?  Then, what if brother Hailey claimed that his doctrine regarding unbelievers not being amenable to God’s marriage law was simply a “difference of judgment in the realm of application” of that one essential law, would that have made it so?  Agreement with such baseless conclusions proves nothing but where the loyalties of men lie (Jn. 12:42; Gal. 1:10). 

Even after I had thoroughly documented brother Halbrook’s erroneous “application” on my website and my belief that it advocates nothing less than adultery, brother Mike Willis sent me an e-mail letter (8-19-01) and wrote: “I am calling on you to quit treating matters that belong in Romans 14 in the category of 2 John 9-11.”  My question is: by what authority do these men assert that this error belongs under the umbrella of Romans 14?

Just as they rightly requested an open and honest study of brother Hailey’s MDR doctrine when brother Ed Harrell stated it belonged in Romans 14 (Christianity Magazine, Nov. 1988-89), I and others are only asking for the same courtesy regarding this issue.  What ever happened to “truth has nothing to fear” and “the only thing that suffers from investigation is error” (I Jn. 4:1-6; I Thess. 5:21)?

Not only are these brothers loosing where God has not loosed, but they are also seeking to bind this loose “application” on us as a matter covered under Romans 14.  If we cannot and will not agree to their view of what belongs in Romans 14, they charge us with being “divisive” and starting a “new disagreement” and “peculiar” position of “binding” where God has not bound.

Please meditate on an excellent quote by brother Jere Frost, Gospel Truths (February, 2002), Truth Betrayed by its Friends, and consider how it can be applied to the issue at hand: “If a people can be intimidated by the pejoratives, or impressed by human wisdom and philosophy to do anything less than fully pursue and boldly speak truth with love, they too have betrayed the truth, and the day is far spent.  If they conclude that unity-in-diversity and opposite sides of contradictory beliefs are both acceptable, then to them the need for study and loyalty are gone, and the day is lost.  Appeals to Scripture will never even get their attention.  Such deluded souls shall surely be a prey for even more pernicious heresies and damnable doctrines” (emp. jhb).

Perhaps the reason that Ron has avoided discussing this issue is because he still deems it inconsequential to fellowship.  This is evidenced by his reply to a young preacher (Pat Donahue) who asked Ron to debate his position (posted on this website) several years ago (12-20-90).   Ron wrote the following to him:

I have no plans to engage in the kind of public debates and exchanges on this question which I have engaged in with Homer Hailey, Jack Freeman, and Roy Hall.  The doctrine and theories of these men involve a direct repudiation of the fundamental law on marriage and substitute a new one altogether.  It is not a question of fine tuning, judgments, and circumstances within the perimeter of the marriage law upon which brethren have been generally united, but it is a question of introducing a radically new and different premise or principle for measuring all marriages, divorces, and remarriages. THAT IS WHY I HAVE DRAWN THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT IN DEBATE!  These brethren do not respect the authority of the scriptures any more than the liberal and institutional people, and are making many of the same erroneous arguments (silence permits, no specific prohibition, grace overcomes law, etc.).  I will not draw the sword against conscientious brethren like yourself – brethren who accept the full authority of the Scriptures in every way, and who affirm the fundamental principle of scriptural marriage, divorce, and remarriage as much as I do” (emp. his).

Nevertheless, I am fairly certain that those who agreed to debate brother Halbrook in the past did not believe their doctrines reflected a lack of respect for scriptural authority either, nor called for division from those brethren who held a more conservative view on that particular issue.  It is always the ones seeking acceptance for something new who believe that we can all differ on that subject and maintain fellowship.

Those who recognize the innovation as error are the ones who oppose fellowship with it. If a belief in the soundness of one’s own doctrine and its lack of consequence to fellowship were a valid reason to refuse open discussion, there would be no such thing as debate!

Moreover, for those who recognize that Ron’s “application” involves adultery, even brother Halbrook’s own words in the same False Teachers article mentioned above would confirm that he is one:

“So, these are men that depart from that divine standard of teaching in ways that involve people in sin and cause their souls to be lost. That is the matter that he is discussing.  He is not discussing the point which you have touched on, and I touched on, that we may differ in some areas that do not involve that kind of violation of divine revelation...”

So, while Ron, Harry, Tim and Mike Willis disagree with me, they ought to at least understand why I cannot fellowship brother Halbrook’s position.  Unless they can change people’s minds to believe that what Ron advocates is actually a lawful relationship following a “putting away” (as opposed to adultery), the problem of fellowship with it is indisputable.

Now, returning to more of Ron’s words from the above-mentioned letter to the young preacher (Pat Donahue):

“The only way I would debate brethren who accept the same principles of truth I accept but who differ in areas of judgmental application is if such brethren began a campaign of drawing lines of fellowship, dividing churches, and creating a sect based upon their scruples.  I do not believe for a moment that you and other good brethren I know have any intention of taking that course.  I hold a number of views as conscientious judgments and scruples of conscience, just as you likely do.  I am willing to study and discuss such matters with brethren from time to time as opportunity permits, but we cannot live long enough to debate and resolve all these matters.  If we must do so in order to go to heaven, we are all hopelessly lost” (emp. his).

If the charges previously made against me (and several others) by brothers Haile, Osborne and Willis are any indication of what Ron thinks, it is apparent he would agree that his underlined criterion to debate this issue have been fulfilled.  Nevertheless, he maintains his silence though it is his doctrine which is the cause of great dissention among brethren today!  The fact of the matter is, I know of various preachers who have lost support over this issue, meetings have been canceled (on both sides), and some churches have even divided.  Will Ron keep his word above, or continue to deny his own words while allowing others to indirectly fight his battle for him?  I am also aware of other preachers who have been requesting that Ron come out publicly and discuss this issue openly, however he will not.

The question remains: will those who defend brother Halbrook openly defend his more extreme position?  If they will not, the answer to our natural question of “why” should raise a red flag as to what they actually are teaching and defending.  One thing is obvious to all; though Ron’s “application” is the reason behind this current controversy, he will not publicly defend his own documented words which he has been disseminating (in more private settings) for many years.

Why are these brothers who are known for their bold stance in defense of truth, unwilling to state their views about a doctrine they defend through a back door approach?  How can they maintain fellowship with a doctrine they cannot openly defend? 

Where is the weakest link in this chain of erring brethren?  I submit that those who defend brother Halbrook recognize its weakness and have removed it.  They are protecting it from the weight and stress of support.  The weakest link is conspicuously missing from the chain.  If it can bear up under the pressure of examination (as is implied by some), let it be proved.

Who is willing to stand up for Ron’s “application?”  If not even Ron or his closest associates are willing to stand in defense of it, why should we?

Special note: Please consider the following additional study materials:

Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?, by Donnie Rader,

  • Chapter 8 Mental Divorce (May Some Put Away People Remarry);

  • Also consider pages 145-149 in the APPENDIX

Is It Lawful? A Comprehensive Study of Divorce By Dennis G. Allan and Gary Fisher,

  • Chapter 13 What Constitutes Divorce? (by Bob Waldron);

  • Chapter 38 Can You Put Away the Put-Away? (by Gary Fisher);

  • Chapter 39 The rights of an Innocent Put-Away Person (by Kevin S. Kay).

Mental Marriages and Mental Divorces (by Gene Frost).

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM