What Are They Really Saying?
By Jeff Belknap
In the book of Ephesians chapter 4, apostle Paul tells us that the Lord “gave gifts unto men” (v. 8) to speak “the truth in love” (v. 15). Why? “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (v. 14). I believe that there are many who have been misled by the various diversions of the present MDR controversy. In the past year, the opposition has essentially avoided the real issue of concern, i.e. advocacy of a second putting away when fornication is committed AFTER an unscriptural divorce, while continuing to falsely charge me (and others) of “emphasizing the procedure rather than the cause.” They even found someone willing to engage in a written debate with them about “the procedure.”
Brethren who read my first two articles on this issue (Mental Divorce, Revamped and Revisited, Oct, 2000 and “Differences in Application”, March, 2001; Gospel Truths Magazine) know what doctrine I was exposing before brother Harry Osborne’s diversionary rebuttal was ever published (Gospel Truths, July, 2001). Prior to the publishing of that rejoinder, he wrote an email letter to me letter dated April 12-2001 (including a cc to brother J.T. Smith) stating,
“Regarding whether you have had one article or two on this issue, my understanding is that the two are related and that there may be other articles coming from you along the same line of thought.”
And from another letter (including cc’s to J.T. Smith and Tim Haile) on May 18, 2001, Harry stated,
“Your articles in Gospel Truths have stood without rebuttal for months.”
Observe Harry’s dissent with both of my articles! The fact that he opposed both of my original articles speaks volumes. This is because both articles refuted the supposed right to a post-civil-divorce-putting away and remarriage, when the fornication was not committed until AFTER the unscriptural divorce! Neither of my articles mentioned or even alluded to the situation/scenario in which an already fornicating mate initiates a divorce against his innocent mate. Yet, he strongly contended that rebuttal was in order to refute my teaching (against a post-civil-divorce-putting away, in cases where fornication is not a factor until AFTER the unscriptural putting away).
Notice the aim of my first article:
“The contention is that since God’s law supercedes man’s law, God does not ‘sanction’ an unscriptural divorce. Therefore, when an unscripturally put away spouse has fervently protested the divorce, and his/her ex-spouse remarries another (after the divorce), then the unscripturally put away person actually becomes eligible to ‘put away’ (by public declaration) the spouse who had already put them away…Yet, the position under examination teaches: marriage, divorce, fornication, mental divorce (for that cause) plus public declaration of the same, and remarriage (new emphasis mine, jhb).” (Mental Divorce, Revamped and Revisited, Gospel Truths; Oct, 2000).
Then in the second article, I wrote:
“Regrettably, another ‘good’ reason to tolerate disagreement in doctrinal areas has emerged among us — differences in application. Ironically, this idea is also being advanced to justify association with false teaching that leads to adultery (detailed in a previous article, “Mental Divorce, Revamped and Revisited;” Gospel Truths, March 2000, pg. 18).”
Again, what doctrine was I referring to? Note the following quotes from brother Halbrook, which he sent out to a brother a year and a half ago:
“Next, a man may have enough regard for social convention that he will not go to bed with the ‘cute little thing’ he wants rather than his wife; therefore, he may divorce his wife, then marry the ‘cute little thing,’ thus going to the bed of adultery. Once again, the original marriage bond stays intact under divine law until he commits adultery against his wife; his legal steps do not dissolve the bond put in place when God joined them together (Matt. 19:9). Since his true wife remains faithful to the marriage bond, she & she alone has the right to repudiate the marriage under divine law. She may scripturally do so even when she is not able to do so legally because of legal steps taken by the treacherous husband.” Ron Halbrook (E-mail “discussion with friends about fine-tuning some points of application”)
Moreover Ron also wrote the following:
“But divorce in civil court + fornication = socially acceptable ADULTERY! It is still adultery against the innocent mate just as described in Mk 10:12. According to this argument, if the fornicator can get his legal papers before fornicating, he can preclude the innocent mate from exercising the divine prerogative of putting away the guilty party & marrying another. By this argument, the innocent party would thus commit adultery!?!?” Ron Halbrook (hand written comments on an article written by Windell Wiser, sent out with other materials a year and a half ago.)
The day after I received the April (2001) issue of Gospel Truths (in which my second article appeared), I received a copy of an e-mail letter sent out by Ron to brother Harry Osborne (and others) which 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]”
However, since this e-mail letter was sent, brothers Harry Osborne and Tim Haile have diverted the discussion to the scenario in which a husband commits fornication BEFORE the divorce, and then files to put away his “innocent” wife. Brother Halbrook led the way in diverting the issue in the April 2001 issue of Gospel Truths. In answering an inquiry by brother J.T. Smith (made in the March 2001 issue of Gospel Truths) which involved a scenario where fornication was committed only AFTER the civil divorce, brother Ron wrote:
“My letter dated February 27, 1993 explained that I do not (emp. his) 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 to the individual conscience…Matthew’s account shows that when the biblical putting away (emp. jhb) 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… As brethren discuss some details of application, my main concern (emp. jhb) is that we not bind a position which says when a mate commits fornication and initiates court proceedings (emp. jhb), the innocent party is automatically viewed as the put-away person regardless of what stand and action she takes (as by countersuing, etc.).” Ron Halbrook (Gospel Truths; April, 2001).
Since that time, brothers Harry Osborne and Tim Haile have also written articles and preached sermons on “Biblical Putting Away,” directly referencing and condemning my teaching (which has been aimed at refuting Ron’s application) while completely ignoring the focus of my writings (Ron’s particular application). However, brother Haile has finally “let the cat out of the bag” in clear, unmistakable words!
In the next two quotes, brother Haile clearly indicated his agreement with, and leniency towards a second putting away and remarriage in cases which involve FORNICATION which occurs AFTER (NOT BEFORE) an unscriptural putting away. Both quotes took place at the meeting place of the Warfield Boulevard church of Christ, Clarksville, Tennessee, on February 12, 2002. I hope these quotes help you to realize where this doctrine (which he seeks to defend) logically and inevitably leads.
“…Especially if I’m going to leave my wife anyway and I don’t care about the civil law. So, I can go a little faster and I’m going to just spin out of here in a hurry and I never see my wife again, never talk to her again, I have broken my marriage. I have broken, I have deserted, I have left, I have loosed, I have broken my marriage. Guess what remains intact? The marriage bond. I did absolutely nothing to affect that marriage bond, and guess what? If I go out and commit fornication, I’ve done something that might be used to affect the marriage bond, but I have still by that action, not affected the marriage bond.” Tim Haile [Lesson on “Biblical ‘Putting Away’” (2-12-02) during the All Day Bible Study; The Warfield Blvd. church of Christ, Clarksville, Tennessee].
After brother Haile’s lesson, he was publicly asked a question about a scenario involving FORNICATION only AFTER (NOT BEFORE) an unscriptural putting away. Tim responded in that forum by saying:
“Brethren like to talk about that a lot. That is something that is being studied. I’ll tell you what I’m comfortable speaking on, I’m studying that question with some brethren right now. It’s a difficult one because it gets into motive. Did that fella leave in order to go meet up with his new girlfriend? Did he leave in order to go have an affair with his secretary? Those are a lot of questions. If he left, and the cause of the break up—the cause of the break up was fornication, then I’m a little more lenient on that. But I think it is in the realm of study and we need to be careful and study those things. But I really don’t want to get into any questions, in fact I won’t answer any questions today, about fornication committed after the break up. I just won’t do that.” Tim Haile [Question/Answer Session (2-12-02) after his lesson on “Biblical ‘Putting Away’” during the All Day Bible Study; The Warfield Blvd. church of Christ, Clarksville, Tennessee].
Why is it that Tim adamantly refuses to answer any questions about the very scenario that I have set up this web site to expose (Ron Halbrook’s scenarios which include the right to a post-civil-divorce-putting away and remarriage, subsequent to fornication which is committed AFTER the unscriptural divorce)? Though my teaching on this site is the target of brother Haile’s derision, he has consistently refused to touch the actual issue I am exposing with a ten foot pole. Though he has not openly admitted agreement with Ron’s doctrine, his latest arguments clearly imply his agreement with it.
In addition, whatever procedure makes a person APOLUO in the last halves of Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18 is the same procedure which one employs in the first halves of Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18. In his first quote above, brother Haile clearly implies his belief that the man met his criteria for APOLUO (“broken,” “deserted,” “left,” “loosed”), while never affecting the bond. But the conclusion he draws – that the woman is not then APOLUO (because the bond is still intact) – is illogical. “APOLUO” is the very act that one perpetrates against another in the first halves of those MDR verses; and “APOLUO” is the resulting state of the subject of that action. This status of being APOLUO constrains such a person to the restrictions imposed in the latter halves of those same verses, regardless of the bond.
Unfortunately, many past statements have sounded “good” (I Thess. 5:21) on the surface (Tit. 2:1). However, below the surface of these words are “hidden reefs” (unrevealed presumptions) that will cause individuals to make “shipwreck” of the faith [Jude 12 (NASV); I Tim. 1:19-20). Such presumptions include contentions that a civil divorce is NOT really a divorce, and that when one is biblically identified as “unmarried” (I Cor. 7:11), they are really still married.
The reason why those who are contending for a second putting away, simply reject the first divorce as if it never transpired in the first place is understandable. It is a prerequisite to their doctrine, because both sides of this controversy agree that no remarriage is authorized for one who is really put away. This is also why they object when we describe their teaching as advocacy of a second putting away.
Notice how brother Osborne charges me with misrepresentation in the following reply article entitled “Rejoinder to Brother Belknap” Gospel Anchor (posted 05-25-01), brother Harry wrote:
“Though I have specifically stated that I reject any doctrine teaching ‘mental divorce’ or a second putting away, brother Belknap first apologizes for accusing me of such and then charges me with defending what appears to him as a second putting away. Let me try to make this clear for our brother - there is only one time that a putting away or sundering of a marriage can take place. After that point, there can be no second, third or any other putting away of that which has already been sundered” (emp. jhb).
Moreover, in an e-mail letter sent to brother J. T. Smith and myself (4-13-01) brother Osborne affirmed that he did not believe in a “second putting away.” He then wrote:
“I believe the Scriptures teach there is only one “putting away” which can take place being at the point when there is intent, expression and action to bring about the sundering of the marriage” (emp. jhb).
To brother Harry’s statement that there is “only one time…a putting away…can take place,” that sunders “the marriage,” I agree. However, from other of brother Osborne’s statements, it appears that he disagrees with himself.
How can Harry say, “I reject any doctrine teaching ‘mental divorce’ or a second putting away,” when he also argues that (under certain circumstances) a person may “biblically put away” an ex-spouse who has already put them away?
In Harry’s sermon, “What is Biblical Putting Away?,” (Lakeland, FL, May 29, 2001) he clearly affirmed his belief that AFTER a person has already been civilly put away, they can initiate a “biblical putting away” against their ex-mate.
Brother Osborne actually spells out his “application.” Please note very carefully what he stated:
“…If civil procedure is the putting away, that woman was divorced, didn’t know about it, and there is no way she can be protected by the law of God. I suggest to you the principles of God would show the very opposite. The principles would show she does have a right to say ‘here’s why I’m going away from you. I’m expressing that as the reason why. I’m taking action. You get your stuff out of here.’ That’s Biblical putting away - and it’s Biblical putting away for the cause, and it’s Biblical putting away after the very principles that Jesus made clear.” Harry Osborne (See The Nevada Strawman on this web site, which proves that such a scenario could not have taken place as brother Osborne described it.)
In that sermon, Harry also stated, “Neither is this a defense of a second putting away.” Yet, in spite of the preceding repudiation and civil putting away, he denies that this subsequent “putting away” procedure (by the one who has already been repudiated and then civilly put away) is indeed a second “divorce” procedure. (Where did Jesus promise us to be “protected” from physical injustices???) His justification for this denial obviously stems from a belief that (at least some) unscriptural divorces are not “biblical,” and are therefore not really divorces. He frequently uses the term “biblical putting away,” as though the Bible speaks nothing of an “unscriptural divorce” (or an “unlawful divorce”), nor of its consequences.
Is every unscriptural divorce not “biblical” and therefore, not really a divorce at all? If this is so, anytime a couple unscripturally divorces, then whoever fornicates first is the one who is one who can be “put away” for the cause, and the other “mate” can employ this “putting away” with the hope of lawful remarriage to another. If it is not so (that all unscriptural divorces are unbiblical and therefore not recognized), what criteria do we use to distinguish between those unscriptural puttings away that are “biblical” and those that are unbiblcal?
What is so ironic is the fact that the procedure of civil divorce fulfills even Harry’s own stated definition of APOLUO (involving intent, expression and action to bring about the sundering of the marriage). Yet, after that action, he would allow for her to later say to the one who civilly divorced her: “I’m going to put you away. That farce that you had of an action…is not what was putting away” (emp. jhb). Beloved, if this is not a second “apoluo” what is?
Brother Harry Osborne stated:
“Where no cause of fornication exists for sundering a marriage (emp. jhb), neither has the right to remarry. Where the scriptural cause of fornication does exist for sundering a marriage (emp. jhb), the innocent spouse with a scriptural cause for departing from the marriage (emp. jhb) has the right to remarry.” Vernon Love – Harry Osborne Exchange (Bible Matters, 3-23-02).
However, in his contrived Nevada scenario, Harry flatly denied the reality of an unscriptural civil divorce, even when the procedure consisted of the “intent, expression and action to bring about the sundering of the marriage.”
Notice how brother Tim also denies the unscriptural divorce:
“The conclusion is simple - legal action does not determine marital rights. One may be legally divorced and still possess the God-given right to remarry (emp. jhb). Civil laws and social customs do not supersede divine law. A put away person has no right to remarry (emp. jhb), but before forbidding one to marry, let us examine their circumstances and determine whether or not justice has been denied, and a divine liberty has been ignored.” Tim Haile (Legally Divorced, But Free to Remarry; Gospel Anchor, 5-28-01.)
The contrast Tim makes between one who is “legally divorced” and one who is “a put away person” is clear. Evidently, one divorce is real while the other is NOT (just like Harry’s Nevada Scenario implies). In other words, it is evident that brother Haile believes the marriage is still intact until a divorce for scriptural cause is pursued.
Notice what brother Halbrook teaches regarding an unscriptural divorce and the “marriage:”
“And so, in conclusion from this, we learn that an unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage (emp. jhb). 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)
Ron, Tim, Harry (and others) fail to recognize the difference between “the marriage” and “the bond.” If it is true, that “an unscriptural divorce releases neither party from marriage” (because the “bond is still intact”), it wouldn’t matter which spouse commits fornication first. The chaste mate would be able to then “put away” the one who fornicated after the civil divorce. It would all boil down to whoever has the ability to wait longer for the other to commit adultery. Though all three of these men deny agreement with such a conclusion, it is inescapable if you are to consistently apply their reasoning which denies the reality and effects of an unscriptural putting away.
I maintain that brother Osborne’s writings imply that he goes just as far as brothers Halbrook and Haile (i.e. the scriptural right to “put away” when fornication is committed AFTER the unscriptural civil divorce, at least in some arbitrary circumstances). Since he believes and contends that the scenario Ron advocates is just an alternate application which does not affect fellowship, he must view the practice as innately “pure” and “clean” (Rom. 14). Obviously, if he viewed the application as “unclean,” he could have no part with it, or with the one who promotes it. On the other hand, if he does not allow for Ron’s “application,” I will gladly give him room to denounce brother Halbrook and Haile’s position on my website, where I will also apologize for coming to the wrong conclusion regarding his teaching.
However, since the above offer to Harry has been extended in the past, and Harry has never accepted, his agreement with brother Halbrook’s scenarios (involving fornication AFTER the civil divorce) is clear.
Additionally, both Tim and Harry have repeatedly charged me with teaching something “new.” Yet, if such is really the case, why did Tim answer the scenario question involving FORNICATION AFTER an unscriptural putting away with the following words:
“I’ll tell you what I’m comfortable speaking on, I’m studying that question with some brethren right now. It’s a difficult one because it gets into motive. Did that fella leave in order to go meet up with his new girlfriend? Did he leave in order to go have an affair with his secretary? Those are a lot of questions. If he left, and the cause of the break up—the cause of the break up was fornication, then I’m a little more lenient on that. But I think it is in the realm of study and we need to be careful and study those things. But I really don’t want to get into any questions, in fact I won’t answer any questions today, about fornication committed after the break up. I just won’t do that” (emp. jhb). Tim Haile [Question/Answer Session (2-12-02) after his lesson on “Biblical ‘Putting Away’” during the All Day Bible Study; The Warfield Blvd. church of Christ, Clarksville, Tennessee].
This brother, who has made a hobby out of denouncing my teaching (which has been aimed at exposing brother Halbrook’s application from the very beginning); this brother who has repeatedly ridiculed and spoken disparagingly of me and my teaching, is now just getting around to study the very issue that set this whole controversy in motion??? If he has not been opposing my teaching against brother Ron’s application (because he is just now studying the issue), what in the world has he been objecting to?
Additionally, if what Ron, Tim, Harry and associates are presently teaching is long-standing (as opposed to my supposed “new” doctrine), why is Tim not “comfortable speaking on” this scenario question?? Why does he say, “I’m studying that question with some brethren right now. It’s a difficult one because it gets into motive” (emp. jhb)?? (Where did Jesus ever teach about “motive”?) Why does he say, “I think it is in the realm of study and we need to be careful and study those things”???
Brother Weldon E. Warnock articulated the same error in Searching the Scriptures back in 1985:
“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…” Weldon E. Warnock (Searching the Scriptures, November issue, 1985)
To that, brother Connie W. Adams (editor of Searching the Scriptures) responded to brother Warnock’s teaching by writing:
“It is my conviction that there are only three classes of people who have a right to marry: (1) those who have never been married: (2) those whose companions are dead; and (3) those who have put away a companion for the cause of fornication. It appears to me that any attempt to find authority for anyone else to marry, must trade on the silence of the scriptures. I realize that brother Warnock's illustration involves fornication but 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. I am also made to wonder if we may have the ‘mental divorce’ then why not at the other end of the marriage have a ‘mental marriage’ before the fact of social and legal requirements being met. Indeed, is this not the very thing claimed by those who insist that two people may cohabit as long as they have a ‘meaningful relationship’ and plan to get married anyhow?” Connie W. Adams (Searching the Scriptures, February issue, 1986).
Notice that it was brother Adam’s “conviction” (back in 1986) that brother Warnock was advocating “the ‘waiting game,’” “mental divorce” and trading “on the silence of the scriptures.”
Moreover, brother Don Martin also exposed this same error in the January issue of The Preceptor Magazine in 1987 (see article entitled Scriptural Divorcement on this website). What is so ironic, is that although brother Martin’s article was written back in 1987, it clearly answers the present arguments being made to justify post-civil-divorce puttings away today. After the mid-nineteen eighties, this issue went into the closet, only now to be publicly revisited after its more private advocacy was discovered and exposed.
Brethren, it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God that the opposition will deal honestly with the real issue and quit playing hide and seek with smoke screens. As the saying goes, “a lie has speed, but truth has endurance.”
note: Please consider the following additional study materials:
Divorce & Remarriage; What Does The Text Say?,
by Donnie Rader,
Is It Lawful?
A Comprehensive Study of Divorce
By Dennis G. Allan and Gary Fisher,
Mental Marriages and Mental Divorces
(by Gene Frost).