By Jeff Belknap

This article is a request for clarification of brother Ron Halbrook’s letter in the April issue of Gospel Truths (please review his letter before reading these words of concern).  With all due respect to brothers J. T. Smith and Ron Halbrook, I beg to converse further regarding the answer Ron gave, concerning his “application.” It is not only what Ron has stated in his reply to J. T.’s inquiry that I must take exception with, it is also what he has not declared (about his beliefs) that continues to concern me.  I have no desire to misrepresent Ron or his views, and have therefore used his own quotes from other writings. I assure you, if I am sounding a false alarm, I will do whatever is necessary for me to make amends!

The question J. T. asked Ron to comment on was this:

“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.”

In Ron’s reply, he states, “…99.99 percent of the time fornication is actually the cause of the breakup.” I do not know where Ron obtained his information, but I recently came across some statistics in the article, Seven Myths of Divorce (Peter Orli, Ph.D., http://www.divorcesource.com/CA/ARTICLES/peter1.html). Myth #1 states, “Most men cheat on their wives.”  Dr. Orli then 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. 

Nonetheless, even if one chooses to use Ron’s statistics, in his own statement, there is an inherent admission that in 0.01 percent of unscriptural divorces, fornication is not involved.  Therefore, we must be concerned with God’s regulations for that one in ten thousand, as well as His answer for the 9,999 others.  God’s word has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” (II P. 1:3).  He would not leave even 0.01 percent of his people without guidance in this matter (cf. Lk. 15)!

The following is a quote from a letter that Ron wrote, which he forwarded to a young preacher less than a year ago.  In it, he unveils his “application” to the real question raised by J. T.:

“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 (emp. jhb) 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.”

It is clear that in his April GT reply / letter to J. T., Ron does not address the question of concern, like his above quote does. The scenario that J. T.  posed to him does not involve fornication as “the cause of the breakup,” as Ron’s April 2001 answer suggests.

From personal experience, I believe the incidence of this situation to be significantly greater than the 0.01% that Ron does. He relays that he does not know anyone in the circumstance that J. T. asked about.  However, I have personal knowledge of a local brother who is in this exact situation.  Furthermore, even with my relatively limited associations, I know of two other preachers who are presently facing this scenario in the congregation where they preach, as well. I also know of a church from which a deacon recently had to withdraw membership after finding that one of the elder’s sons has remarried under similar circumstances, when the elders sought to defend the man’s present adulterous relationship. Moreover, it is evident that this is a circumstance that Jesus knew would exist, since He thoroughly taught on it (cf. Mt. 5:32 ; 19:9; Lk. 16:18 ; Rom. 7:2-3; et. al).

Regrettably, in answer to such a scenario posed by J. T., Ron only wrote, “As to your question, I see the problems and issues raised by a marriage under such circumstances and would not encourage such a remarriage…” (emp. jhb). I am assured that he would not “encourage” it, for he knows that several brethren would have “problems” and raise “issues” with such a remarriage. However, the question was not whether Ron would “encourage” such, but rather may she in this exact circumstance “remarry without sin”?

In a statement preceding several letters that Ron forwarded to a young preacher less than a year ago, he stated, The following e-mails reflect discussions with friends about fine-tuning some points of application, but we agree on the basic principles of MDR. I do not attempt to get into all these points in preaching. If someone asks a question about such a point, I generally explain both views and encourage (emp. jhb) them to weigh them in their own conscience.” In addition, on page 9 of his April 2001 GT article, Ron states, “In an effort to be completely open and forthcoming, I also expanded the letter (1993 to brother Smith, jhb) 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.” Harmonizing these quotes with his above quote from page 11 in the April 2001 issue of GT, it seems that while Ron may not “encourage” anyone to remarry in this circumstance, he explains the divergent views, and “encourages” them to make their own conscientious decision.

Ron’s practice implies that he considers the decision one makes in such an instance to be nothing more than a matter of conscience, not of doctrine which could possibly involve “adultery.” I agree that some who are put away (after having been bound by the law of God) are scripturally authorized to remarry ( Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:10 -11). However, my concern is related to circumstances in which one is not scripturally authorized to remarry, after having been put away; such as in Matthew 5:32, 19:9; and Luke 16:18. I ask, where in scripture (outside of the specific cases detailed in Rom. 7:2-3 and I Cor. 7:10-11) is there an exception to the principle (after having been bound by the law of God) of “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18)? If such a scripture cannot be pointed to for authority, the silence of scripture must be respected (I Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:17; I P. 4:11). 

Ron writes in his letter to J. T., “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.”  Although I personally do not believe that brother Ron has an “agenda” that he is “pressing,” he indeed has been teaching something “other” than what he has revealed “publicly” in GT.  Whether he realizes it or not, his preceding statement is not accurate. I maintain (with evidence) that Ron has taught something in various “private” settings, that he has not revealed to J. T. in his “1993 Letter to Brother Smith” (Truth Magazine website), nor in his article “Why Halbrook Fellowships Smith, Rader, And Other Faithful Men In Spite Of Some Differences” (GT, April 2001 issue), nor in his personal letter / response to J. T.’s direct question of a MDR scenario (GT, April 2001 issue). To the best of my knowledge, Ron has yet to openly discuss this particular issue in such a forum as this paper, like he has in other, less public settings. (Please refer to brother Donnie Rader’s words about the dangers associated with even private dissemination of this doctrine in DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE: What Does The Text Say?; Top two paragraphs on page 146). 

On page 9 of his April 2001 GT article (“Why Halbrook Fellowships...”), Ron refers back to a letter that J. T. wrote to him February 17, 1993 . In that letter, J. T.  stated he had heard that Ron believed this scenario: “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.” To this charge, Ron states, “My letter dated February 27, 1993 explained that I do not (emp. his) believe or teach such a view.”

However, the following quote is from Ron’s paper, “Notes and Thoughts For Further Study” dated 1986 (but which he sent to a young preacher less than a year ago, in addition to the various e-mail letters noted above). Notice what Ron has asserted below, and compare it with what he has revealed to J. T.. Regarding Matthew 19:9, Ron wrote:

“The passage explains which divorces and remarriages God will accept as valid under the terms of his law and which He will not accept. If a person sinfully and wrongfully rejects or puts away his mate, his action is a farce so far as changing the obligations he has to that mate under God's law. In terms of God's law, the man is still bound to his mate so long as he lives. If he has unlawful sexual relations with another (whether before or after he wrongfully puts away his true mate), his true mate has scriptural grounds to reject or put him away. …if he commits adultery (before or after his action in the courts of man), there is something else to be said by divine law…”

These words from Ron’s own pen concisely articulate the position that he has also expressed to me personally and to personal acquaintances, as well as what he verbalized on July 27-28, 2000 in a documented discussion on this very subject with the brethren in Athens, GA.  I ask you, do not his own words above deal with J. T.’s specific scenario, and answer the very question that he asked of Ron?

There are also other writings by Ron on this subject that I have recently acquired (outside of what I have quoted in this article) which further articulate his “application.” It is clear from the sum of these materials that Ron has indeed advocated that the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is still available to the innocent put away party (under certain circumstances) after an unscriptural civil divorce has transpired!  What Ron has taught (in writing and by his own words) is not just a “rumor,” it is factual and can be established with concrete evidence.

In Ron’s answer to J. T.’s question, he wrote in the seventh paragraph: “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.).” However, this is not the issue of controversy. This may be Ron’s “main concern,” but it is not the “main concern” of J. T.’s direct question (MDR Scenario). The question specifies that the fornication took place AFTER the (unscriptural) civil divorce had been FINALIZED.

What Ron has yet to answer (in this forum) is this: Does he deny or affirm belief that it is possible for an unwilling woman who has been put away (civilly, although unscripturally) by her husband (without fornication being committed while they were civilly married) to later have the possibility to “put away” by “the law of God,” if and when that man fornicates some time later (under certain circumstances)?

This is a serious question that raises serious concerns.  Therefore, if Ron is to truly address it, he must stick to the specific issue / scenario posed. It is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that Ron will agree to print his full views on the exact questions asked of him so that, as the noble-minded Bereans did, we can search the scriptures to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). 

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