Response to Truth Magazine May 5, 2005
Exchange on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

By David Watts Jr.

June 6, 2005

 My Purpose

I am writing in response to the four articles on marriage, divorce and remarriage that were written by brothers Willis, Warnock and Adams in the May 5, 2005 issue of Truth Magazine. My only purpose is to teach and defend the truth. I have no desire whatsoever to divide brethren. But if brethren persist in teaching error regarding God’s laws on marriage, divorce and remarriage, then sadly they sever themselves from fellowship with God and their brethren (2 John 9).

I write in the spirit that was described by brother Willis in the January 7, 1993 issue of Guardian of Truth (XXXV: 1). Brother Willis said then,

“Because we recognize our own fallibility, we provide those who disagree with us an opportunity to reply.”

Brother Willis went on to say:

“When and where we are not standing for the truth, we pray that God-fearing brethren will stand against us and call upon us to repent. We promise to listen to what our brethren have to say in such circumstances and to search the Scriptures to see if the things taught are so.”

As prayed by brother Willis that some might, I stand opposed to this recent teaching in Truth Magazine. I hope that brother Willis and others will “listen to what [I] have to say…”

I oppose the teaching that a put away wife can somehow “divorce” her former husband and lawfully remarry. I oppose the idea that this is all just a matter of “nuance” and “personal application” unworthy of fellowship decisions. And while I commend brother Adam’s effective rejection of this false doctrine, I oppose continued fellowship with men like brother Warnock who persist in teaching this false doctrine.

I pray that those who teach error on marriage, divorce and remarriage will repent. I likewise pray that men who tolerate such error and maintain fellowship with such error will repent.

Three Viewpoints

It is clear that there are really three viewpoints reflected in this present dispute. Viewpoint number one is convinced that God forbids a person who is put away (not for fornication) from marrying another while their original mate still lives. But, if you don’t agree with this view, we can still work together and have fellowship in Christ. Apparently brother Adams holds this view as he has differed with brother Warnock since at least 1985 and has not yet felt the need to cease fellowship with him.

Viewpoint number two is convinced that God permits a person who is put away (not for fornication) to “divorce” their former mate once they commit adultery. But, if you don’t agree with this view, we can still work together and have fellowship in Christ. Brother Warnock apparently holds this view. He also has known of brother Adam’s opposing teaching for at least 20 years and has not seen fit to draw any lines of fellowship on this matter.

Viewpoint number three is convinced that God forbids a person who is put away (not for fornication) from marrying another while their original mate still lives. Furthermore, those who persist in teaching contrary to this doctrine are false teachers and we can no longer enjoy fellowship together in Christ. As we will demonstrate shortly, the Bible demands this view.

Prejudicial Language

First, we should observe the kind of language used in these four articles. Apparently, if you hold viewpoint number one or number two you will be described in glowing terms.

 Notice the descriptions used between brother Willis, brother Warnock and brother Adams:

“well known and respected gospel preachers,” “longtime brethren,” “gracious,” “fellow soldiers,” “close friends,” “a healthy exchange,” “work together,” “no breach of fellowship,” “humbly respect each other’s conscience,” “work together as one,” “common commitment to one law of divorce,” “brethren in Christ,” “a lot of togetherness” and “good student of the word.”

I count at least 15 glowing adulations and I am sure that I have missed several. Put this in stark contrast to the pejorative words used to describe those who hold viewpoint number three – that this is a matter of doctrine and false teachers must be exposed:

“factional,” “obsessed with the idea and becoming factional,” “mark out a space for themselves on the spectrum of ‘mental divorce’,” “call attention to any person associated with the Guardian of Truth Foundation who might not agree with their particular set of definitions, prohibitions, and nuances relating to ‘mental divorce’,” “transparent motive of attacking members of our Board and staff,” “interrogated [members of our Board and staff] and then written up in magazines as ‘false teachers’,” “inconsistency of those who would publicly oppose one of us if we held brother Patton’s view, but who keep silence when brother Harrell acknowledge the same view,” “myopic inconsistency,” “remarkable silence,” “vocal critics,” “such brethren are at best, showing partiality in their judgments and, at worst, are guilty of malice toward those brethren in Christ who are associated with Truth Magazine,” “need to get back on focus,” “pressing to make all of our personal conclusions the final standard for all the rest of us,” “insinuations and slurs of certain men at times,” “Some brethren need to quit painting everybody a heretic and a fasle [sic] teacher, not worthy of fellowship,” “another splinter group in the church,” “brethren could disagree on some things and not bludgeon one another to death,” “factionalism or partyism has become far more prevalent among us,” “obsessed with MDR,” “accuse those who disagree with them on any point on this issue as false teachers,” “no tolerance or compassion,” “such hostility and enmity,” “loose cannons,” “’firing away’ at anything and everybody,” “a kid with a new toy,” “better off if their computers were taken and thrown into the trash dump,” “a factionalist… imposes his opinions and personal ideas,” “guilty of causing dissensions and division in the church of the Lord,” “sow discord among brethren,” “factionalism… hobbyism, like a malignant tumor, emaciates the body of Christ,” “good church can be ruined by factionalists,” “factionalism stunts church growth, stifles joy, disturbs the peace, and creates self-righteous bigotry,” “tendency to splinter and then splinter the splinter,” “drawing of lines and choosing of sides,” “a disservice to the cause of Christ,” “tunnel vision and focus on one issue to the neglect of other needed things,” “array brethren against one another and seek to drive wedges,” “as puppets on a string who jump when the string is pulled by some nervous brother,” “strife, seditions, heresies,” “division in motion,” and “some have become hobby riders.”

More than 50 negative descriptions are used to describe those who are convicted that this is a matter of doctrine, that fellowship with false teachers must be severed, and that truth must be proclaimed no matter who it frustrates. Of course, just because one is labeled a “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) does not make the charge true. In fact, the very opposite may be true.

I’m troubled when I see writing that dumps all sorts of negative descriptions on the opposition. About ten years ago when the tactic was used against him and brethren with whom he is associated, brother Willis was also troubled by such practices. He said in Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 13, p. 2, July 7, 1994:

“The bottom line is this: the false teacher has a higher position on the social ladder among those brethren than does the man who exposes his false doctrine. The highest position on the social ladder, of course, is reserved for that preacher who is too refined to dirty his hands opposing false teachers (his strongest words are reserved for those who expose the false teacher). He states that he agrees with the truth but “plays possum” when the false teacher arrives. However, he awakens to fight like a lion the man who exposes the false teacher!

And again in Guardian of Truth XL: No. 16, p. 2, August 15, 1996 brother Willis wrote describing false teachers:

“4. They persecute true saints (Gal. 4:21-30). False teachers undermine the influence of godly men by charges that they are “radicals” and “extremists” or “creed makers.” They belittle them as “guardians of the orthodoxy” or “keepers of the party.” This is the way false teachers have always treated those who oppose their error.”

Unfortunately, some brethren used harsh and unwise labels against brother Willis and like-minded brethren in the 1990’s. Sadly, the same technique is being used today. Such should not be.

The charge of factionalism and divisiveness is a false smokescreen. Notice that although the charge is repeatedly thrown about in broad, sweeping terms in these four articles, there is not the first effort made to prove the charge. It seems as though the extent of the proof is the mere statement of the charge. And in this case, the statement of the charge is mere opinion. Nothing else is offered.

Good Attitude?

At the end of brother Warnock’s rejoinder he commends the “good attitude” of brother Adams and hopes that he has displayed the same. Apparently, the way to be respected and be declared to have a “good attitude” is to not press Christ’s prohibition on remarriage as a matter of doctrine. If you do press Christ’s teaching as a matter of doctrine, and go about your effort sincerely and with all diligence, apparently the above voluminous descriptions can be hurled at you and yet the discussion can be said to be one of “good attitude.”

It reminds me of the emotional language used against those “anti’s” that “hated orphans.” When brother Adams and brother Warnock vigorously opposed the damnable heresy of institutionalism, I wonder if they were ever called some of those names, such as a “hobbyist, factionalist, divisive, etc.” I reckon they were called such names. But I also reckon the mere calling of a name is not the same as proving it Biblically.

In response to a growing problem of soft preaching and the continuing apostasy of institutional and liberal churches, brother Willis wrote and encouraged us to support men who will reject false teaching. He wrote in Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: No. 22, p. 2, November 17, 1994:

“Let us encourage godly brethren who are willing to bear the blunt of criticism for exposing the false teachers among us and not take pot shots at them. Some brethren shoot their soldiers – those who sacrificially defend the truth against the onslaughts of error. Men who say they ‘agree with what you say’ proceed to take pot shots at the soldiers wielding the sword to defend the truth, but these same men coddle the traitors to truth. Yes, we wound and kill our heroes!”

In 1994 men who exposed error were “heroes” and those who tolerate error “coddle the traitors to truth.” Today, however, it seems that those who will agree to disagree, tolerate doctrinal differences, and attribute all of this to “nuance” and “scruples” are the “heroes” and those who call us back to the Biblical prohibition on remarriage for the put away person are the “divisive” traitors. Ironic indeed.

Brother Halbrook said in Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 9, p. 16-19, May 20, 1993:

“But because of the ‘open fellowship’ policy of many, brethren who speak out for the truth and openly expose error are often an unwelcome minority within a minority. Because of the strong, uncompromising stand they take, they are regarded as ‘extremists’ and ‘troublemakers’ by nearly everyone.”

And again brother Halbrook says in the same issue:

“Those who have used other forums to review the error have been stigmatized as ‘reckless,’ ‘irresponsible,’ ‘extremists,’ and meddlers who intend to ‘line up’ followers or create a party.” (These words apparently came from “A Report” mailed out by Christianity Magazine in late 1992.)

Perchance, would the “other forums” of brother Halbrook’s remarks now include the electronic publishing capability of web sites that we did not have in 1993?

Review the long list of criticisms of those who hold this as doctrine. While people associated with Truth Magazine resented such labels being applied to their sincere efforts to correct error in the 1990’s, certain of them have now learned to use such labels against their critics.

Ironic indeed.

Why are brethren who are opposed to this mental divorce doctrine referred to in such prejudicial manner? Because we will not compromise the truth of what Jesus taught and we will not coddle false teachers. We will expose them, oppose them and reject them. Such is the requirement of Scripture (Eph. 5:11, 2 Thess. 3:14, Rom. 16:17, Titus 1:10-13).

The Facts of Jesus’ Teaching

Let us strip away the emotional and pejorative language, and now consider precisely what Jesus taught. Jesus clearly forbids a wife who was unlawfully put away from marrying another:

·                    “…and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Mt. 19:9)

·                    “…and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Mt. 5:32)

·                    “… and who ever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Lk. 16:18)

Those who favor this mental divorce view would have us believe that Jesus did not mean what He actually said. They want us to believe that what Jesus meant is this:

“… and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery, unless the divorced woman waited until her ex-husband committed adultery, having kept herself pure and chaste in the intervening time, and then executed a mental repudiation of that ex-husband.”

Thankfully, many brethren still understand that everything underlined above is simply the invention of men.

By looking at the entirety of New Testament teaching, we see that such prohibition lasts until the death of the original spouse. We also see in 1 Cor. 7 that the two parties may certainly be reconciled to each other.

Some claim that Matthew 19:9 is simultaneously a prohibition against this woman remarrying and permission for this woman to remarry. The claim is that if her ex-husband remarries, it is adultery, and she has the right to “divorce” him for fornication even if such adultery takes place 5 years, 15 years or 30 years after the divorce.

No doubt, such future remarriage on his part is adultery. But the problem for mental divorce advocates is that when Jesus speaks about fornication as the lawful cause for divorce he is speaking about the kind of fornication that takes place during an intact marriage.

At the beginning of Mt. 19:9 we have an intact marriage. The ability to put away and lawfully remarry is granted in the context of an intact marriage. Obviously, the context shows that Jesus is contemplating marital infidelity. We tell our denominational friends that when God specifies one thing, He excludes all others. We must be consistent. When Jesus specifies marital infidelity as a lawful cause for divorce, it is clear that He is ruling out adultery that occurs after the marriage is ended by divorce. In fact, post divorce adultery is no more an authorized reason for lawful divorce and lawful remarriage than the discovery during a marriage of premarital fornication on the part of the husband or wife.

Some argue that an unlawful divorce leaves the man and woman still married. But the Bible declares that divorce ends a marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 considers an unlawful divorce. If reconciliation is not possible, they were to “remain unmarried.” Such an inspired command is conclusive proof that a divorce, even an unlawful divorce, dissolves a marriage.

An unlawful divorce does not dissolve the bond. Romans 7:1-3 conclusively proves that the bond remains although the marriage may be dissolved.

To take what is clearly marital infidelity out of its context and drag it into a new context, 5 months, 5 years, or 50 years after a divorce has broken the marriage – is no different from taking the proper context of evangelism (the church) and dragging it into a new context of the missionary society.

Furthermore, the divorce action that Jesus contemplates as lawful divorce (a divorce for fornication) is the kind of divorce action that also takes place within the marriage. Again, Mt. 19:9 begins with an intact marriage and contemplates a divorce that breaks the marriage. The kind of divorce for fornication that Jesus describes is the kind of divorce for fornication that breaks up an intact marriage. It is not a “divorce” that takes place long after the marriage is over. It is undeniable. Nowhere do the Scriptures contemplate divorces occurring years after the marriage has ended on the grounds of post-marital adultery. Either we are willing to live with this pattern or we are not.

Thayer or Christ?

Brother Warnock leans heavily upon some of what Thayer says in his definition of apoluo. The part brother Warnock leans upon is “repudiation.” Such a definition is welcomed by mental divorce advocates.  Armed with a partial Thayer’s definition they argue that the put away wife can do just exactly what Jesus described in Matthew 19:9. That is, they claim she can repudiate her ex-husband years after the divorce when he remarries.

While brother Warnock leans upon Thayer for his definition of apoluo, I’ll lean upon Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ shows that apoluo is much more than just repudiation and therefore its action cannot be carried out after the marriage has already been ended by divorce. Begin by noticing that in Mt. 19:7 the Pharisees asked why Moses commanded a certificate of divorce and to put her away. The “put her away” is our English translation of apoluo.

The Jews are referring back to Deut. 24:1 where Moses specified, “…he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.” The “certificate of divorce” of Mt. 19:7 is clearly describing the “certificate of divorce” in Deut. 24:1

The “put her away (apoluo)” of Mt. 19:7 clearly describes the “sends her out of his house” of Deut. 24:1. Christ then rejoins the conversation and says in Mt. 19:8, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives…” The word “divorce” again is apoluo. Christ uses apoluo to describe the “sends out of the house” action of Moses’ Law. Christ then uses apoluo again as He lays out the law of marriage, divorce and remarriage in Mt. 19:9.

This use of apoluo shows that the apoluo action that Jesus authorizes a person to take against their mate who has committed marital infidelity, is a tangible action that breaks all aspects of the marriage. It would surely sever companionship, the sexual relationship, the cohabitation, the financial relationship, etc.

It is a strange theory indeed that postulates that the one who has been sent out can, 5 years or 50 years later, do the sending out (when there’s nothing left to send out) and terminate a relationship that has already been terminated. It is more than a strange theory; it is contrary to the Word of God.

Furthermore, while brethren today pervert the context of Jesus’ teaching to claim that the put away spouse can, 5 years or 50 years later, put away their former spouse, Paul apparently knew nothing of this opportunity.

Paul gave only two options to those involved in an unlawful divorce. He said in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 that people could (1) remain unmarried or (2) be reconciled. Imagine how cheated those Corinthian brethren would have felt when they learned that all along there really was a third option: to wait until your mate commits adultery and then sort of mentally divorce them.

Of course, we’re illustrating with the absurd. As an inspired apostle, Paul had no lack of knowledge of God's will. Paul gave no third option because God gives no third option.

The Issue Is: What Did Jesus Say?

All of this demonstrates conclusively that this dispute is not a minor disagreement based upon nuance, opinion and application. This is a dispute over what Jesus said. The simple fact is that this false teaching is something that encourages adulterous marriages and adultery not repented of will result in eternal condemnation in hell.

Men like brother Cavender and brother Warnock are teaching error. The result of their teaching is that people are encouraged to enter into and maintain adulterous marriages. Not only do they stand in jeopardy for encouraging adulterous marriages, but those who believe and act upon their teaching will also be condemned.

This is serious business. What kind of “nuance” and “opinion” results in adulterous marriages and condemnation in Hell? The fact is that this is a question of doctrine. To dismiss it as nuance is foolhardy and spiritually immature. If a dispute over the clear, concise words of Christ (“…whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery”) can be dismissed as nuance and opinion, then everything and anything will eventually qualify as such.

It seems especially important to brother Willis that we all become convinced that this is just a matter of personal application and nuance. It is very ironic that it is not important that we all agree on what Jesus taught, but it is vital that we all agree that this is a matter of nuance and personal application. If one differs regarding Jesus’ teaching, apparently it is perfectly okay. However, if one differs with brother Willis’ teaching that this is all nuance then he is a factionalist and divisive.

It reminds me of the grace-unity practitioners. In their worldview you must agree with them that we can disagree on all matters of doctrine. The only thing that one must have unity on is the fact that we do not need unity!

Of course, this is a matter of some difficulty for brother Willis. He correctly rejected brother Hailey as a false teacher and yet wrongly embraces brother Warnock as a “respected gospel preacher.”

If this were just a matter of nuance and scruples, the discussion between brothers Adams and Warnock was scarcely necessary. It would be no more profitable than quibbling about what Jesus wrote in the sand.

In the past, brother Willis wrote on this subject and argued eloquently that it is always possible to know God’s truth on a subject like marriage, divorce and remarriage, and that to argue otherwise was to deny God’s power. In Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 23, p. 2, December 2, 1993 brother Willis argued:

“Similarly, when men understand the Bible, they necessarily understand it alike. The Bible is just as definite in its answers of what is the will of God as is the subject of mathematics. There are not a hundred different answers to the subjects addressed by the Bible any more than there are 100 different answers to the equation 2 + 2 = x.”

Further he said,

“Did the Lord command that which is impossible when [he] commanded that men understand the Bible? To so assert is to impugn that goodness of God!”

So what about today? Does he now believe Jesus’ teaching cannot be understood alike? Is it possible today to determine factually and doctrinally whether a put away wife can marry another while her former mate still lives? Indeed it is. Jesus said she may not lawfully remarry. Men want to be creative and find ways around this, but no loophole exists.

Brother Willis uses an example pertaining to the Lord’s Supper. Let us consider the Lord’s Supper as well. Jesus spoke clearly of the “fruit of the vine.” If a man teaches orange juice instead of fruit of the vine, would this be mere nuance? I’m convinced that all would see that this is a matter of doctrine because it violates something that is so plainly stated. How long would contrary teaching be permitted?

Jesus says, “Whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Others come along and say, “Whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband does not commit adultery.”

That’s not nuance. That’s doctrine. And surely we remember what 2 John 9-11 requires.

How Long Will We Falter Between Two Opinions?

From Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 2, December 7, 1995, brother Willis writes:

“When a brother commits himself to a doctrine in conflict with the word of God that leads those who follow what he teaches to commit sin, the time for forbearance will soon pass. When he circulates his false teaching through various means (private studies, public preaching, published articles and books, etc.), brethren must become concerned for those whom he might influence. This is not a time for forbearance; it is a time for marking the brother. {emphasis mine – dwjr}.”

Those who once argued that the time for forbearance would soon pass and was in fact over, today argue for seemingly unlimited forbearance. Those who once worried about the dangers of tolerating false doctrine now seem to worry more about “divisiveness” of adhering to the teaching of Christ.

When foolish and false teaching about non-literal days of creation surfaced at Florida College, brother Adams wrote eloquently rejecting such error. He asked how long before the matter was dealt with seriously and something done about it.

From a article on the Truth Magazine web site ( brother Adams argued:

“So far, brother Scott has not budged from his position. Numerous ones have complained to the administration about this to no avail. David Bonner of Dumas, Texas, himself a scientist who has presented numerous series around the country on the matter of divine creation, has offered to publicly discuss this with brother Scott. So far, there has been no positive response.

Likewise, I observe that brother Cavender and brother Warnock “have not budged from their positions.” I would suppose numerous ones have complained to the Guardian of Truth Foundation, but “to no avail.” I have offered to have oral, public discussions on this with brother Cavender, but there has been “no positive response.”

Brother Adams continues:

“As a former student and long time friend of Florida College, I wonder how long it is going to take the board and administration to take this matter seriously and resolve to do something about it. How long do they think we will encourage our young people to go there and be exposed to such an influence? I do not personally know brother Scott. I have no axe to grind with him. But I can read, and I have read several times the article he published in Sentry. I do not believe it teaches the truth. I also am convinced that the college has stonewalled this issue.”

Likewise, I observe, “I wonder how long it is going to take” the board of Guardian of Truth to take this matter seriously and “resolve to do something about it.” I have read these articles and find that they do not teach the truth.

Make no mistake, Hailey’s doctrine and the defense by Harrell was wrong, just as is the false teaching regarding the days of creation. The teachings and teachers should have been condemned. But some of those same men who condemned false teaching in the 90’s will not condemn similar doctrinal error today with the same fervor. Perhaps the issue is one of whose ox is being gored.

The Real Problem

Brethren, the real problem is not “loose cannons” whose computers should be “taken and thrown into the trash dump” according to brother Warnock. The real problem is not web sites. The real problem is not whether one preacher perceives another preacher to be riding a “hobby horse.” (Perhaps men who “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3) and who are set for “a defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17) are easy targets for the charge of riding a “hobby horse.” If so, then so be it.)

The real problem in this matter is that it is hard to be consistent especially when our friends, family and associates are involved.

Today, some who are staff writers for Truth Magazine teach grave error. Some of the men who spoke boldly against Hailey and Harrell have now lost their voice. Then, Truth Magazine spoke of marking and rebuking and false teachers while Christianity Magazine spoke of forbearance, compassion and dear friends. Now, Truth Magazine speaks of forbearance, compassion, and dear friends.

Truth Magazine condemned compromising the truth, questioning God’s ability to reveal His will, unity-in-diversity apostasy while Christianity Magazine spoke of nuances, caution, and personal application. Now Truth Magazine speaks of nuances, caution, and personal application.

Truth Magazine was railed against as a group of factionalists, hobbyists and troublemakers. Now Truth Magazine rails against its critics in the same fashion.

Truth Magazine is not presently consistent in its treatment of doctrinal error on marriage, divorce and remarriage. It tolerates within its association those who teach false doctrine. It has turned a blind eye to error in its own number.

It is time to take a hard look at the dispute before us. I prayerfully urge brother Cavender and brother Warnock to repent from this apostasy. I prayerfully urge brother Willis and brother Adams to cease their support and fellowship of such apostasy.

I am reminded of brother Donnie Rader’s apt description of the Hailey/Harrell error during his lecture at Florida College on February 8, 2001, the text of which can be found here (

“In fact, there has been a shift in attitude toward those who defend the truth and those who teach error on divorce and remarriage. The men who call us back to the pattern of Matthew 5 and 19 are the "bad guys" who trouble Israel while those whose teaching we agree does not fit the Lord's instructions are the "good guys" who are to be used and honored! Great harm is being done by this loose concept of fellowship. It poses a greater danger than some of the concepts we are dealing with on divorce and remarriage, since we can't see yet how far it will go.”

Brother Rader’s assessment of the situation in 2001 applies equally to the situation in 2005.

Souls are at stake.

Brethren are watching.

Most important, we shall stand before God Almighty and answer for our choices. May God be merciful to us as we seek to know and do His will.

David Watts Jr.
2090 Fort Drive
Longview, TX 75604
(903) 704-4133

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