Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage — The Fellowship Issue
By Don Martin
The marriage, divorce, and marriage to another issue has been consistently gaining momentum within non-institutional churches of Christ for about five years. Prior to 1999, many brethren refused to even admit there was a problem or issue (a few still do). During the course of the past two years, more lines of fellowship are being drawn relative to divorce and marriage to another.
The subsequent is offered not out of personal aggrandizement, vengeance, or defense, but as a historic narrative to trace the status of the division now occurring over marriage, divorce, and marriage to another within non-institutional churches of Christ. It is also presented to show how this division is taking place, the movers and their rationale.
It was on March 9 of 2005 that I was kicked off a major discussion Internet list, Mar’s List. I had been on Mar’s List since 1999 (six years) and had actively participated in many discussions among preachers and various individuals on a plethora of Bible subjects and issues, including MDR (marriage, divorce, and remarriage). Mar’s List is significant in that it has about five hundred members, a sizeable number of whom are preachers associated with non-institutional churches of Christ. Monitoring such lists can inform one of prevailing trends, movements, and attitudes. Why was I kicked off the list (“disfellowshipped”) and why is this important? I was removed by the list owners primarily due to my teaching on divorce and marriage to another. The reason my removal is important is that such is an indicator of the current level of tension relative to MDR and also reveals much as to the modus operandi of the very brethren who purport to be the tolerant, loving, and patient ones who have to deal with antis, radicals, and the divisive ones. At this point, I want to briefly expand, amplify, and comment more on what I just said.
There was much cover up and denial as to the reason for me being kicked off ML, but it came down to my teaching on MDR. Tensions, rebellion, and sensitivity on the list reached the point to where if anything were said as to Jesus’ plain teaching that only the innocent mate (acting before the fact of divorcement) who puts away the guilty mate based on their mate’s fornication may marry another, there would be severe reaction and personal attack on the one presenting such verses as Matthew 19: 9 in which Jesus taught, excluding even the circumstance for waiting game practices:
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19: 9).
It was March 9 that the list owners, David Arnold and Jon Quinn prepared their announcement of my removal (only a few had been removed in the history of the list) as follows:
“The list owners have conferred and have reached a decision. We wish to take this opportunity to announce it, and then insist that the matter be closed as far as list discussion is concerned…..”
Notice the emphasis on “…matter be closed as far as list discussion is concerned.” ML belongs to Arnold and Quinn, but they precluded any actual recourse or discussion, yet, they must face the general consequences of their act of “disfellowship.” They then announced my immediate removal from ML (click here to read the details of this action. I am providing the details because I know these men and some others on the list will deny much of what happened and will say that I was removed because of my abusive behavior. Following provided details and quotations, I have inserted posts that immediately preceded and resulted in me being “disfellowshipped” for you to consider).
Mar’s List was originally begun as a result of Florida College influence (those who had attended FC) and from the start, presented the mentality of Florida College (a school financially detached from non-institutional churches of Christ, but still exerting tremendous influences in the role of the school of providing preachers and elders for churches). The typical position of Florida College trained and influenced men relative to fellowship and purity of doctrine is the “Good ole boy philosophy.” Unity-in-Diversity is the plea of these preachers. Notwithstanding, it was they, the good ole boys, who kicked me off ML!
I was one list member who assiduously called for proper decorum on the list and for the list owners to regulate personal attacks and eliminate focus on the man and concentrate rather on the teaching of the man (cp. 2 John 9-11). I had, according to many, exemplified this in my conduct.
In my case, I had patiently and with much personal abuse stayed on ML in an effort to teach on all subjects, including MDR. I was content to remain on the list at personal expense and offered myself available for questioning, doctrinal probing, and testing. Notwithstanding, it was they who kicked me off Mar’s List.
There are others who are patiently teaching the truth on MDR at the expense of their personal abuse. They have not just “cut off” those with whom they disagree but they continue to study and promote dialogue. However, they are also increasingly being excluded, “kicked out” or “disfellowshipped.” Those who hold and teach error on MDR are being revealed and exposed, since their kindness and sweetness is often only skin deep (the veneer), their vicious, mendacious, and ravenous nature is surfacing. They are now often refusing to engage in study and dialogue, but they are observed resorting to slander, personal assassination, and political circumvention.
Regarding such men Jesus warned:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matt. 7: 15, 16).
The good ole boy philosophy of fellowship only works, you see, if you are willing to compromise and agree to disagree. Unity-in-diversity is only offered to those having doctrinal flexibility and elasticity. Regarding those who have conviction and doctrinal recognition, they are kicked out (cp. 3 John 9-12). I have often told young preachers inquiring as to biblical fellowship and when to exercise exclusion that those with whom you are attempting to study and reason (those in error) will usually make the determination for you, they will cut you off when they are determined to persist in their false doctrine and you are unwilling to compromise in your stands. Such behavior, though, should not come as a shock. Jesus taught his apostles thus:
“These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them….” (John 16: 1-4).
As mentioned, there has been much study and debating the MDR issue among non-institutional brethren for the past five years. I myself have conducted about ten formal written debates and have published many articles on this subject. I have pleaded with brethren on both sides to be patient and allow time for study and understanding. Alas, division is now becoming an ugly reality. More churches are physically drawing lines and splitting over MDR and, as in my case example, more who hold error are desirous of having the truth totally removed from their climate. During such times, we must remember Paul’s teaching:
“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you….” (I Cor. 11: 18, 19).
The modus operandi of false teachers has not essentially changed since the first century. These men seek to eliminate the truth and separate God’s people from God’s faithful preachers. In such efforts, these men are zealous. Having said this, consider the subsequent description from the pen of Paul regarding those with whom he dealt:
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them” (Gal. 4: 16, 17).
I am saddened that the time of division over blatant error regarding divorce and marriage to another has come. As history testifies, though, it is usually those who claim to be so patient, kind, and tolerant who are excluding others!