The ‘Statue Of Liberty’ Play

By Steven Harper

There is an old (and I do mean old) football play called ‘the Statue Of Liberty’ where the quarterback fades back as if he is about to throw a long pass, only to have another player come sweeping around behind him as he drops the ball back into his waiting arms.  The play is intended to misdirect attention away from the actual offensive play by deceiving the opponents.  If successful, the defense starts backing up and aiming for the wide receiver(s) running full speed downfield, and the one who actually gets the ball has a wide open path for a large gain.  This play was used back in the early years of professional football and has been used by many a young man in playground football games as one of those legendary plays of all time.  The bad part about it is, once used, the defense is seldom fooled again.

It seems some of my brethren are now trying to use the old ‘Statue of Liberty’ play, but this time, it’s not football.  This time, they are trying it on something much more important: the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

Some who are now defending the right of one divorced [put away; Gk. apoluo] without the cause being for fornication [sexual immorality] are trying to fade back and draw others’ attention away from the real question at hand and make them think the issue is either the civil laws and their part in divorce [stated as “the race to the courthouse”] or the contention that neither man nor his laws can in any way “nullify the God-given right of an innocent party to divorce [put away; Gk. apoluo] a spouse who is guilty of fornication [sexual immorality]” — even if it is after they have already been divorced [put away; Gk. apoluo] by their spouse.

Pardon me if I don’t fall for the fake play, but neither one of those is the real issue.  The real issue is this: Does an individual have the right to divorce [put away; Gk. apoluo] their spouse after they themselves have already been divorced [put away; Gk. apoluo] by that same individual?  Stated another way, Does God allow/command a ‘second putting away’?

By these brothers’ own words, divorce is not “a piece of paper” or “a legal procedure” because God’s word never uses it in that sense.  The contention is that anyone who says an innocent party [i.e., not guilty of sexual immorality] has no right to remarry because he or she has already been divorced is making man’s laws superior to, or at least more definitive than, God’s laws.  But is that true?

A rule of interpretation we have used for many years in our Bible studies [regarding the establishment of authority] is that a specific command excludes everything else.  [For example: We have argued, and still do, that there is no authority for instruments of music to be used in worship because God specified singing.  We also argue that Noah was restricted to gopher wood because God specified it.]  But another rule regarding the establishment of authority has to do with generic commands.  This rule states that when a general command is given, this includes all means and/or methods, people, places, or things.  [For example: Jesus commanded the apostles to “Go” teach all nations.  He did not specify how to go, so we may reasonably conclude that we can go by train, plane, automobile, boat, or even on foot.]  To bind one method, to the exclusion of all others that might be used in the fulfillment of this command, is erroneous because God has not limited us in that way.  If a brother started teaching that, since Jesus did not specifically mention using automobiles in their efforts to “go,” then anyone who used automobiles really wasn’t “going,” I am quite confident we would all be giving some pretty puzzled looks at this brother and wonder if he had all his marbles intact.

But, friends and brethren, that is exactly what is being said by some of my brethren regarding the matter of what constitutes “actual” divorce in the sight of God.  Some of these brethren, appealing to Matthew 19:9, are saying that since Jesus did not specify the civil procedure, then we must conclude that it has absolutely no God-given place in determining whether or not one is divorced.  The error in this teaching is that they have excluded where Jesus did not exclude!  Let’s look at the passage, shall we?

Jesus said, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:9, NKJV)  Please note that, yes, Jesus did not specify the civil procedure as that which defined “divorce,” but also note that He didn’t specify any procedure!  This is a generic command!  [In the form of a statement, much as Mark 16:16 is binding.]  Now, friends, let us be consistent on the establishment of authority!  If we cannot bind one method to the exclusion of all others when a generic command is given, then why are some of my brethren working so hard and writing so much in their efforts to exclude the civil procedure?  Is there an ulterior motive for all this argumentation?

Please do not get me wrong here!  I am not, as some have accused me and others [who will remain unnamed for now, lest you be biased against this line of reasoning], trying to bind the civil procedure!  I am simply trying to point out that we must recognize and accept that it is included in what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:9!  Nothing more than that.  If you are one who believes that, I urge you to stop running down field after the wide receiver and head back toward the line of scrimmage, where the real issue is.  You have been deceived.  That claim is simply not true.

Worse yet, some of these same brethren who are accusing me and others of binding the civil procedure — when asked what one must then do to be “really” divorced — have come up with their own ‘procedure’!  [I will be more than happy to furnish you the evidence, if you so request it.]  Huh?  I am being told I am “binding” when I say the civil procedure must be recognized, but someone has no problem standing up and teaching some “procedure” found nowhere in the Bible as what “really” constitutes divorce?  Who is really guilty of inconsistency here?  If we are going to ever come to an understanding on the truth on this matter [or any other], someone better ‘fess up and repent of binding where God has not bound! This “procedure” these men are teaching is the invention of men, and that never was — and never will be — our standard for authority (cf. Matt. 21:25).  Are we surrendering our stand with Christ and now seeking to please men? (Gal. 1:10, 11)

The question of whether civil law constitutes “actual” divorce or not is really a moot point, if we are to adhere to these brethren and their teachings.  Some of the same ones who teach civil laws have absolutely nothing to do with “actual” divorce define it as merely [or, only] the mental “putting away.”  If that were true, then the innocent one is still “put away” for the one who went through the courts had already “put her away” before he got to the courthouse!  Either way they go, the innocent one was “put away”!

I may not have all the answers, but this I know: To establish authority, whether specific or generic, we must be consistent with all applications, whether we like the results or not.  My plea is that some will admit and acknowledge that is not being done on this issue.

From: The Burns Park BEACON, a bulletin of the Burns Park church of Christ, North Little Rock, AR.
Editor: Steven Harper

April 13, 2003

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