The MDR Creed:
By Jeff Belknap
The word “creed” comes from a Latin word that means “I believe.” One word list defined it as: “1: any system of principles or beliefs [syn: credo] 2: the body of teachings of a religious group that are generally accepted by that group” (WordNet ® 1.6). Therefore, a creed is a statement of belief.
It is unnecessary to point out the dangers inherent in the religious creeds of men. If these statements of belief were simply reiterations of the truth as revealed in God’s word, they would be redundant and unnecessary. It goes without saying that we cannot improve upon the word of the Lord (Galatians 1:6-9; I Peter 4:11).
The problem with creeds is that they deviate from truth by adding to God’s law, and/or omitting an essential portion of it. Such is what Jesus spoke of, when he condemned “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” and stated that these doctrines make “the word of God of none effect” (Mark 7:7, 13).
Biblical examples of man-made creeds which added to God’s word were the Pharisees’ decree to wash one’s hands before eating (Mark 7:2-3) and the Judaizers’ requirement to be circumcised in order to be saved after the law of Moses was nailed to the cross (Acts 15:1; Galatians 5:1-3). An example of a creed which omitted some of God’s word was the Pharisees’ justification for neglecting God’s command to care for their parents: “Corban” (Mark 7:8-13; cf. Matthew 23:23).
Some statements of faith may look good at a glance (Proverbs 16:25; 18:17), since they contain some teaching that all agree upon. Nevertheless, it is what is added and/or omitted that makes such statements the commandments of men, and not of God. Such is the case with the present statement of faith which is being promoted and spread abroad by brethren, as the basis upon which we may “unite” regarding the subject of divorce and remarriage.
The Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage Creed which (with very minor wording changes) is being advanced by various men today is as follows:
“God’s law on marriage is one man for one woman for life, with only one exception. The exception is that an innocent partner can put away an immoral mate, and marry another person without committing adultery.” Ron Halbrook, [Divorce & Remarriage: No Waiting Game, Guardian of Truth, (March 18, 1993)]
“In short, Jesus gave one divine rule for all mankind. God’s law requires one man to be married to one woman for a lifetime. One and only one exception is given. When one mate commits an act of immorality, the innocent partner is permitted (though not required) to put away his or her mate, and to marry another.” Ron Halbrook, Are We Doomed to Divide over Every Difference on Divorce and Remarriage?, Guardian of Truth, (August 15, 1996)]
“I think all of us agree there needs to be patience and forbearance among brethren who are committed to the same principles of truth but who may disagree at times on how that truth applies in a certain situation. Mike Willis and I agree 100 percent on the Bible principle regarding divorce and remarriage. It teaches the rule of one man for one woman for life, with only one exception: when fornication occurs, the innocent party can put away the guilty party and marry a new mate.” Ron Halbrook, [Letter to Pat Donahue, February 28, 1998]
“God’s law is clear: one man, one woman, for life, with one exception.” Tom Roberts, [Divorce, Remarriage and Fellowship Outline of Lesson, December 6, 1998, Forest Hills church of Christ, from WatchmanMag.com]
“Faithful brethren recognize in common the principle revealed in Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; & Lk. 16:18: one man for one woman for life, with only one exception (when fornication occurs, the innocent party may put away the guilty party, and marry a new mate). False teachers attack, deny, and seek to destroy that very principle.” Ron Halbrook, [e-mail response, June 25, 2000]
“Second, while Ron and I do differ on some points of application, we both agree on the principle that the one granted the right to remarry is the one who puts away his mate for the cause of fornication. Furthermore, we agree that law applies to all men.” Donnie V. Rader, [A Response to Bob Owen’s Statement About My Lecture; Truth Magazine.com] http://www.truthmagazine.com/replytoowen.html
“God’s law requires one man to be married to one woman for a lifetime. One and only one exception is given. When one mate commits an act of immorality, the innocent partner is permitted (though not required) to put away his or her mate, and to marry another.” Ron Halbrook, [Why Ron Halbrook Fellowships…, Gospel Truths (April, 2001)]
“Sound brethren have united to defend the doctrinal truth that God ordained a universal law that one man and one woman may be joined in marriage for life with the only exception being that an innocent spouse may put away the spouse guilty of fornication and have a right to remarry (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-12; Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3). This writer does not and will not have fellowship with those who continue in denial of that doctrinal premise in teaching or action.” Harry Osborne, [Do All Applications Equal Doctrine?, Gospel Truths, (July 2001)]
“FIRST off, I have always preached, and still do, ONE man for ONE woman for LIFE with ONE exception. I believe that fornication is the ONLY reason one may put away their mate and then remarry. Whether you address it or not, there are many issues that are matters of application and thus, perimeter issues. These do not change the law the Lord gave” (emp his). Bobby Holmes, [e-mail, (November 12, 2001)]
“When the tolerance of Moses is questioned Jesus firmly restates God’s original intent. One man for one woman for life. He culminates his answer in verse 9 by stating that a man cannot be divorced for every cause but for one cause (fornication). I’m convinced I that many problems over this passage could be avoided if we would remember the question that prompted Jesus to teach these principles.” Brian Price, [Observations On Matthew 19:9, Voice of the Valley, Volume 9, Issue 1, (January 2003)]
“God’s law says a marriage bond involves mutual agreement on the part of an eligible man and woman to ‘leave father and mother and be joined to one another’ (Matt. 19:4-6)…God’s law says marriage is for life (Rom. 7:2-3)… God’s law says no divorce unless it is ‘for fornication’ (Matt. 19:9)…God’s law says the right of remarriage is reserved for the innocent person who put away his unfaithful mate ‘for fornication.’…God’s law says the putting away must be for the cause of fornication…God’s law says that the act of fornication by one’s spouse, grants the innocent party the right to ‘put’ the unfaithful mate ‘away’ and marry another.” Tim Haile, [When Human Laws Collide With Divine Laws, BibleBanner.com, (March 14, 2003)]
“Those matters have to do with that there’s one woman and one man that are together for life, that that’s something that there’s one exception - the innocent puts a guilty party away for the cause of fornication - that’s the only reason, and has a right of remarriage. And only then, are we talking about that which is the truth. All opposition to that revealed truth cannot be tolerated. That’s a doctrinal principle that’s involved.” Harry Osborne, [Sermon: Fight of Faith or Needless Controversy, Preached in Paden City, WV (4-10-03)]
“The passages are sufficiently clear so as to be understood by even the novice. Individuals who have never studied the Bible can and do read Matthew 19:9, and understand that the rule Jesus established for marriage is: One man, One woman, for a lifetime, with one exception” (emp. his). Stan Cox, [Watchman Magazine, An Addendum to a series of articles on this topic, Volume VI, Number 3 (June, 2003)]
“I believe that God’s law of marriage is: one man for one woman for life with one exception, that exception being if fornication is committed, the innocent of fornication has the right to put away the guilty fornicator and remarry; if the guilty fornicator remarries, they commit adultery.” Tom O’Neal, [e-mail letter addressed to Jeff Belknap for the brethren of the Carriage Drive church of Christ, Beckley, WV (9-28-03)]
“I have stated to you: (1) I believe that God’s law on marriage is: one man for one woman for life with one exception, that exception being if fornication is committed, the innocent of fornication has the right to put away the guilty fornicator and remarry; if the guilty fornicator remarries, they commit adultery and (2) I believe Jesus gave the innocent of fornication the right to put away their fornicating mate and to marry again per Mt. 19:9. Brother Belknap, what is there about those two statements that you do not understand? Do those statements contradict whatever your position is on the question?” Tom O’Neal, [e-mail letter addressed to Jeff Belknap for the brethren of the Carriage Drive church of Christ, Beckley, WV (10-14-03)]
For over ten years, brother Ron Halbrook has been promoting this creed in various settings, and because it is not immediately apparent that the statement omits the Lord’s decree regarding the “put away,” it has failed to raise red flags.
Indeed, we all agree with these statements, for they express the New Testament teaching regarding divorce and remarriage found in Matthew 5:32a; Matthew 19:9a; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18a; Romans 7:2-3; and I Corinthians 7:10-11, 15-16, 39. These scriptures reveal God’s disapproval of divorce (and are expressed in the creed’s reference to “one man and woman together for life”), the exception to that rule (articulated as “the cause of fornication” within the statement), and that death breaks the bond (obligation) which God enjoins upon those who scripturally marry (denoted by the creed’s reference to “for life”).
No doubt about it, the statement teaches that which is scriptural – at least in regards to those who are married. This is because the creed includes God’s exception to His rule (which prohibits divorce) in the “a” portions of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 [which clearly address the married (cf. I Corinthians 7:10-11)].
Nevertheless, the creed is not complete. Missing, is the Lord’s teaching found in the “b” portions of Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18 (cf. I Corinthians 7:11), which addresses those who are put away (in the context of both lawful and unlawful divorces). [To put away in Matthew 19:3, 9 (Mark 10:2, 11-12) is used interchangeably with sundering the marriage in Matthew 19:6 (Mark 10:9), and there is no doubt that when a divorce is finalized (whether lawful or unlawful), a marriage has been sundered.]
These Scriptures affirm that after one “is put away,” whoever marries a put away person (with the exception of their estranged spouse, I Corinthians 7:11) while their obligated mate still lives, commits adultery (Romans 7:2-3). However, not one of the above “statements of faith” address God’s law regarding the put away, which the Lord considered so important that it is recorded in scripture three times.
Now that the same, basic statement of faith is being articulated by so many other brethren who accept Ron’s “application” of post-divorce “putting away” and remarriage to another, its full meaning has become clear! When men consent to the MDR creed as a basis for unity, they de-emphasize the Lord’s LAW regarding the “put away,” in favor of man’s emphasis on the “innocent.”
Brethren who promote the MDR creed omit this part of the Lord’s teaching with the unsubstantiated claim that there is no “timeframe” for “‘Biblical’ putting away.” (Contrariwise, there is no doubt that concerning divorce, there is a “time” at which one becomes “put away.”)
This denial of a timeframe translates into approval for “innocent” people who are put away (divinely precluded from remarriage to another, Lk. 16:18b et al) to “put away the ‘spouse’ guilty of fornication and have a right to remarry.” Hence, this glaring contradiction, shrouded within the creed, renders what Jesus specifically enjoined (in the “b” segments of his law) “of none effect.”
The creed’s simple omission is the soil in which the seeds of apostasy (i.e. unauthorized remarriages for “innocent” put away people) have been sewn and cultivated. Thus, it is impossible for such a creed to bring about the MDR unity which we all desire.
To illustrate my point, I will add three words (in red) to “the creed”:
“God’s law on marriage for the Christian is one man for one woman for life, with only one exception. The exception is that an innocent partner can put away an immoral mate, and marry another person without committing adultery.”
Even with the addition, there is nothing within the amended statement which any on either side of this issue would disagree with. For that matter, even brother Hailey would have agreed to this “principle,” and may have concluded that it was an adequate basis for unity among brethren.
However, as we see in the revised creed above, just agreeing to an incomplete statement of faith is not the be-all, end-all of doctrinal unity. Just as brother Hailey’s beliefs were erroneous because they exempted the alien sinner from amenability to God’s divorce and remarriage law, those who advocate the MDR creed exclude some put away persons from amenability to God’s law (expressed in Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b and Luke 16:18b).
Brethren, we must remember that “the sum” or “the entirety” of His Word “is truth” [Psalm 119:160 (ASV, NASV, NKJV)]. When we acknowledge the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we will of necessity reject the creeds of men, which teach more or less than God’s Law (James 2:10).
Differences in Application (The New Reasoning Behind Toleration of Doctrinal