What Are Moral and Doctrinal Matters?

By Jeff Belknap

Brother John Isaac Edwards wrote an excellent article in the June 20, 2002 issue of Truth Magazine.  It is entitled “Why Romans 14 Does Not Include Moral and Doctrinal Differences” and concludes with the following paragraph:

“Either all moral and doctrinal matters, some moral and doctrinal matters, or no moral and doctrinal matters fit into Romans 14.  Our study shows that no moral or doctrinal matters are included in Romans 14.  If you believe some moral and doctrinal matters are included in Romans 14 teaching, which ones are they and why not the others?  To use Romans 14 to teach an on-going and never-ending fellowship with those in sin or who teach false doctrine is but to misuse it!”

Truer words were never spoken!  However, in light of the differences between brethren regarding the post-civil-divorce putting away, it is important to define just what constitutes moral and doctrinal matters.

Moral – “1) Pertaining to character and behavior from the point of view of right and wrong, and obligation of duty; pertaining to rightness and duty in conduct.  2) Conforming to right conduct; actuated by a sense of the good, true, and right; good; righteous; virtuous.  3) Concerned with the principles of right and wrong; ethical; moral philosophy; moral values.”  New Illustrated Webster’s Dictionary, Pg. 635

Doctrine – “1) That which is taught or set forth for acceptance or belief; that which is held to be true by any person… 2) Obs. Instruction; teaching.”  New Illustrated Webster’s Dictionary, Pg. 288

In many instances, people were astonished at Jesus’ doctrine (Mt. 7:28; 22:33; Mk. 1:22; 11:18; Lk. 4:32), not the least of which was Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 19.  As a matter of fact, on that occasion, Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce and remarriage was so astonishingly strict that it prompted the apostles to comment, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”

In the Old Testament, hardness of heart among God’s people had caused them to disregard God’s original law regarding marriage.  Though God made provision in His old law for the Israelite’s weakness, it is not so today.  However, even Jesus’ explicit and restrictive teaching has not kept men from contriving complicated doctrines to get around God’s simple law for those who are put away. 

Brethren who teach the erroneous doctrines documented on this website (www.mentaldivorce.com), are contending that some of those who have been put away may have hope to lawfully remarry another while their estranged spouse lives.  However, Jesus clearly and unconditionally taught that whoever marries a put away person commits adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18).  Since adultery is undoubtedly a MORAL issue, fellowship with such cannot be placed in the realm of Romans 14, because the text does not cover moral (i.e. adultery) and doctrinal matters (i.e. that which is taught). 

Which method of justifying unlawful fellowship is worse?  To assert that Romans 14 includes matters of “considerable moral and doctrinal import,” or to claim that advocacy of (what is really) adultery is neither a moral nor doctrinal matter? 

This issue reminds me of the old adage that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and flies like a duck, then it is a duck.  If one teaches something, it is a doctrinal matter.  And if such a doctrine involves adultery, it is also a moral matter. 

The riddle, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does he have?” has fooled many.  Unfortunately, the same trick has deceived several regarding the issue of a post-civil-divorce putting away.  We can call it by another name (“differences in application”) all we like, but that does not modify the nature of the issue.  It does not change unlawful fellowship (with those involved in moral and doctrinal error) into a lawful affiliation (Eph. 5:11; II Jn. 9-11).

Please consider the following quote by brother Ron Halbrook, written about False Teachers to Bob Owen:

“Brother Pickup made me aware a couple of years ago that it is being widely reported that Mike Willis and I differ in doctrine on this.  As I left home to come, I sent my manuscript to two people for proofreading purposes by computer. After their proofreading it, not only they helped get the corrections done, but also I received this statement from MIKE WILLIS: ‘This is to affirm that I have read brother Halbrook's material.  I agreed with him that our differences on how to treat one whose mate is guilty of FORNICATION FOLLOWING A DIVORCE which he tried to avoid is a difference of judgment in the realm of application of the one law of divorce and remarriage and not the teaching of another law.’  HARRY OSBORNE made in essence the same statement.  Those are the two who proofread it for me” (emp. jhb).  Ron Halbrook  [Towards A Better Understanding (False Teachers, Ron Halbrook’s Rebuttal to Bob Owen (pgs. 34-35)].

Below is a quote by brother Mike Willis:

 “Consistent with my conclusion, you are dividing the church over a matter of human judgment, just as those in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 did.  The newsworthy aspect of what happened at Parkersburg is that you made the application (drawing lines of fellowship) as the logical conclusion of the position you asserted.  The effect of your teaching is to produce the alienation that resulted between Tim and Ron, brethren who have worked together for years.  It will continue to have this effect and, it is for this reason, I am calling on you to quit treating matters that belong in Romans 14 in the category of 2 John 9-11” (emp. jhb).  Mike Willis  (E-mail exchange between Jeff Belknap and Mike Willis, this quote was written 8-10-01)

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20).

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