The following was written by Ron, in explanation of the letter below:

“My answer to a young preacher who wanted to know about having a debate on what he erroneously called “mental divorce,” i.e. how is a person to proceed who is served divorce papers unscripturally, & then against whom adultery is committed (emp. jhb) & who wishes to scripturally put away the fornicator in spite of the ungodly courts making no civil provision for it.”

UPDATE: I recently received an e-mail (9/4/01) from the young preacher who was the recipient of this letter. He informed me that the challenge was not made that the young preacher himself debate the issue of "Mental Divorce" with Ron, but rather that Ron "debate this issue with somebody more in his 'league.'" (jhb)

“20 Dec 1990th  Year of Our Lord

Dear (name removed by Ron, jhb),


I was glad to hear from you by your letter of 12-16-90 .  It was a privilege to get acquainted with you during the spring gospel meeting at Sparkman Drive in Huntsville .  I appreciate your zeal and dedication to the Lord.

            Please bear with me as I offer a few thoughts on your suggestion of a debate.  1) I do not believe a mental act constitutes a divorce any more than it does a marriage.  There can be no marriage or divorce without a mental decision, but the mental decision alone is insufficient.  When I address a person on a matter about which we differ, I sincerely try to express his view on the issue at hand in terms which he will recognize as a fair representation of his view or the issue to be discussed (see Matt. 7:12).  If I cannot do so, it reflects on my attitude, or on my ability to express myself, or on my position.  We would doubtless agree that if I must frame the issue in prejudicial terms, my stand on the issue is fundamentally flawed and I need to restudy the issue.

            2) We are united on the fundamental principle of scriptural marriage, divorce and remarriage: God’s law is 1 man for 1 woman for life, with the only exception being that an innocent mate can put away an immoral mate and marry another (Matt. 19:9).  The question is how to apply this rule under various circumstances.  Actually, there are several such questions (must the word fornication or adultery be on the divorce papers, etc., etc.).  Circumstances may vary and brethren may differ in judgment on how these circumstances relate to the fundamental principle upon which we agree.  There can be some latitude and forbearance within the perimeter of the principle, but not to those repudiating the principle and substituting a new standard (such as saying people can marry and divorce many times if they “repent” each time; Matt. 19:9 has no application to people in the world; the put-away fornicator may marry another; etc.).

            3) Matt. 5:32 precludes a man exposing his mate to the sin of adultery (thus contributing to the sin), and then claiming the adultery gives him the right to marry another.  The “waiting game” approach is directly forbidden by this passage.  We are fully agreed and united on this. 

            4) Here is one of the areas brethren are studying, to which you apparently refer.  When a man sins by making the unscriptural claim that the marriage bond no longer exists (for instance, he commits fornication and gets an unscriptural divorce paper from a civil court defying the law of God so he can get an unscriptural marriage license to marry the adulteress), does the innocent mate who recognizes that the bond still exists before God have the scriptural ground and right to divorce him, thus releasing her from the bond?  In shorter form: does his unscriptural action (claiming a divorce without scriptural ground) nullify her right to take scriptural action (put away the mate to whom she is bound, on the ground of fornication)?  Without delving into the different arguments either way, we can both agree that this is a fair and objective statement of the question brethren are studying. 

            5) While I have a view, I’m continuing to study, to collect and consider material on both sides, and to grant brethren latitude and forbearance within the perimeters stated above.  If you have material which you want me to read and consider, I promise the door of my heart and mind will be open to do so.  Just as I did this spring, I am open to our exchanging views and information any time we can get together.  This has been my course since the issue 1st came to my attention and it will continue to be so.     

            6) 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.

            7) 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.

            8) A debate involves a tremendous investment of my time – months and months of concentrated study on one area or subject; long and late hours; much time away from my family.  I will make the sacrifice when fundamental principles necessary to the salvation of the world are involved, or when the peace and unity of God’s people is being wrecked by arrogant and ambitious men with sectarian aspirations.  But where items of personal conscience and conscientious judgment are involved among brethren who are sincerely dedicated to the Lord and His Word, I limit myself to brief and occasional discussions with an attitude of forbearance.  Along with a few other things which may be useful to you, I’ll send under separate cover some outlines on “Mutual Obligations of Brethren Who Differ” which I have used.  Also, I believe you would enjoy and profit from reading the book Factionalism: A Threat to the Church (published by Guardian of Truth – or see same material in special issue of G.O.T. dated 2 Sept. 1982 ).

            I hope the holiday will be a safe and enjoyable time for your family and you.  May God bless your every labor in the truth.  Please fee free to call on me whenever I can be of help to you.  We welcome you to visit in our home so that we can return the love and hospitality you have shown to me. 

Yours for service to Christ,

Ron Halbrook 

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