Fellowship and the Marriage Qestion in Response to "The Light"
by Irvin Barnes
The following is written in response to an article by Bro. Larry Robertson which appeared in the April 1986, issue of The Light, entitled "It's About Time, Brethren." The name Robertson was spoken with veneration in the house where I grew up. I remember with fondness past association with his family especially with Larry and H.E. With eager hope I have longed to see the brotherhood return to the place where it once was when, in spite of some disagreement on the marriage question, we managed to get along and avoid disruption of fellowship. At this time the gap seems to be opening wider instead of closing. Recent articles in The Light and the incidents in the Philippines indicate the same. I am unwilling to concede to the notion that Bro. Robertson or Jerry Johnson or any who believe like them would deliberately leave a wrong impression or make a misleading statement: However, in their zeal to promote the no-cause for divorce effort it appears that they have allowed themselves to become blinded to the facts as they really are and have dropped some implications that are a bit off center. In reference to members swapping wives or partners, making their confessions, and then being accepted by the congregation, Larry writes, "While this is not widespread the wild positions many have taken will promote this kind of nonsense." He states in another place, "Because of such looseness as I have mentioned, congregations have become filled with cases of divorce and remarriage."
I realize that divorce is an alarming problem in this country. The trends of the day usually spill over into the church. We have a few congregations who are far too liberal in their views on divorce and remarriage. Some have fellowship with members who are unscripturally divorced. No proof was offered, however, to prove the problem is rampant or that churches are "being filled," with cases of divorce and remarriage. It is easy when one hears of a few isolated cases where brethren have adopted the unthinkable to imagine that the entire brotherhood has fallen into the same condition!!
I deny that what I believe on the marriage question is wild or loose! I also deny that "many have taken" loose and wild positions on the subject. Some, a few, maybe so, but not many!
Is it not also true that during the time that Larry and H.E. were in fellowship with the entire brotherhood there were brethren who believed in the "Pauline privilege" so called; that sinners were not amenable to Christ's law, that fornication makes and breaks a marriage, and that baptized believers could remain in the calling wherein they were called as respects their marriage and other matters? Larry implies that these are new ideas, lately promoted, and uses this line of reasoning to try to show how far "many" have drifted from the truth as he sees it.
In his book, The Sun Will Shine Again Some Day, Bro. Ronny Wade reports a debate in 1926 on the question of sinners amenability to the law. Bro. Ervin Waters believed if the unbeliever departs, the believer may remarry. Bro. Thomas Shaw, Sr. of Lovejoy, Pa., believed that fornication makes and breaks a marriage. Bro. E.H. Miller, as far back as l can remember, has believed that sinners are not amenable to the law of God.
Now! Wasn't there a time when Brethren H.E. and Larry Robertson and Bro. Fred Kirbo were all in fellowship with Brethren Waters, Miller and Shaw?? If there was ever a time when brethren who espouse the no-cause position could fellowship even one person who held any one of the above mentioned positions then why can't they still do so today?
Perhaps Larry makes too much of the articles published in the O.P.A., on the marriage question. I have never understood that articles sent to the O.P.A., and published by its staff were ever intended to set brotherhood policy. Much to the contrary! the O.P.A. has, on occasion, published more than one position on a subject in order to give the readers the benefit of comparison. It is a mistake to think that every preacher in the brotherhood agrees with everything published in the paper. The publisher and the editors of The Light must surely understand this for they have a disclaimer in their paper which says, "The views expressed in this journal are not necessarily the views of the editors or the publisher."
One of the best ways I know to assure brethren at home and abroad that they have done the right thing in withdrawing from all of us who believe Mt 19:9 applies today, is to make it appear that we have degenerated into a sordid lot who will try to justify any marriage, divorce and remarriage situation imaginable and at any cost!
I cannot help but wonder if cultivating the impression that we who apply Matt 19:9 today, have really gone off the deep end, that we are loose, that we encourage divorce and that we all endorse wild positions does not also serve to soothe the conscience of those who have built fences and thrown up barriers to the exclusion of all who do not agree with them. Some congregations who do not use preachers from the no-cause brotherhood will not use a divorced person in their services. Larry acknowledges the same as a step in the right direction. This raises an interesting question. Will those of the no-cause group have fellowship with such brethren? Or, must they affirm allegiance to and alignment with the no-exception cause? If such brethren are not accepted in fellowship what must they do in order to be accepted? In the same vein what about a preacher who believes a Christian cannot divorce for any reason. He will not call on a divorced person. Ask him where he stands and he will tell you promptly. Just such a preacher held a meeting for us at the Northside in Springfield not so very long ago. What must he do to be accepted in the no-cause brotherhood? Will they have fellowship with him or must he first agree to quit preaching where there are brethren who disagree with his position?
In spite of the fact that a few churches have gone beyond the scriptures to endorse those whose divorce and remarriage cases are not in keeping with Matt 19:9, it also needs to be pointed out that several churches have refused fellowship with brethren who have divorced and remarried not having fornication as the reason for the divorce. I know of some divorce cases where the innocent party, even thogh fornication was involved, have not remarried because the guilty party filed for the divorce which was granted by the courts for incompatibility or some cause other than fornication. Does this sound wild and loose?
In the June 1986, issue of The Light, page 7, in the "At Random" section Bro. Jerry Johnson states that the impression has been left that while Bro. Fred Kirbo was alive there were no major problems with the marriage question including the fellowship issue. Then he writes, "This is far from the truth." Bro. Johnson goes on to claim that Fred had many meetings canceled by brethren who believed in divorce and remarriage or were sympathetic to those who preached it.
When I began preaching in the summer of 1962 it was my privilege to hear Bro. Kirbo preach on several occasions. I enjoyed his company and sought opportunities to be with him. I was fascinated by his ability in the pulpit. Few could equal him in holding the interest of a crowd. He fought all types of sin with great fervor.
At the time I knew him it was no secret he believed Mt 19:9, belonged to the law of Moses and Christians under the law of Christ should not divorce and remarry for any reason. I know he believed it. I heard him preach it at Cilo, Mo. I have the sermon on tape. During that time I had fellowship with him and I believe he returned the same. It was some time later when Fred made the decision to withdraw himself from those who disagreed with him on the question. The fence that divided off a portion of the brotherhood into an exclusive, no cause for divorce section, was not built over night. There was a period of time when brethren who disagreed on the divorce question dwelt together in fellowship and cooperation. There was a time when preachers who disagreed on the question, including Bro. Kirbo, held meetings at the same churches, called on and acknowledged one another and preached together at the Sulphur, Ok., 4th of July meetings and perhaps at other places.
Bro. Johnson stated in the article, "If you want to know exactly how Bro. Kirbo felt about the divorce/fellowship issue, read his book of sermons, Christ, the Man of Sorrows, particularly pages 270 through 272." I have a cherished copy of the book, so I read the above mentioned reference. It is true. Fred reached a point where he refused to have fellowship with those who disagreed with him on Matt 19:9. As has been pointed out this was not always the case, however. In reading from this same sermon, I came on some very revealing things about the matter of fellowship. Fred spoke of going to a church and working hard to get them to "straighten up" on the issue. He said H.E. and Larry Robertson had been there and worked hard to try to get them to have a clean pulpit. This church, wherever it was, had a preacher scheduled for a meeting who disagreed with Fred on the marriage question. The strange thing about all of this surfaced when Fred made the following statement about this congregation. "I taught on the marriage question and there wasn't a one in the house who believed that you could divorce your wife and marry again. Not one!" (page 270).
This sounds strange, indeed! Bro. Kirbo was trying to get a church that believed the same thing he believed to straighten up. Was that really what the effort was all about? Was it straighten up? Or, was it line up? The plea may as well have been, "Come on now, line up with us. Alienate yourselves from all these preachers we've all worked with for the past 20 or 30 years or longer. Help us form a new brotherhood!" Perhaps one of the reasons it was so difficult for this church to line up was because they could remember a time not so many months or years before when H.E., Larry and Fred had fellowship with preachers they were now denouncing as false teachers.
Some brethren may have canceled meetings which they had scheduled with Bro. Kirbo, merely because of what he believed on the marriage question, but I doubt it. Those who knew him well enough to schedule him for a meeting most likely knew how he stood on Mt 19:9, at the time they booked him. Could it be that he had meetings canceled only after he started calling for the exclusion of those with whom he disagreed? Perhaps it was then that brethren who had no schism, no trouble, no confusion on the subject, churches which even believed just like Fred, refused to invite him in for a meeting, lest in his attempts to clean up and straighten up the church, it might become polluted and contaminated by discord, confusion, alienation and outright division.
I have never been alarmed by the no-cause position in and of itself. Jesus did not command divorce for fornication in Mt 19:9. He permits it or allows it. If there never was another divorce as long as the world stands humanity would be no worse off. This being true, I have never seen any reason to "rear up and fall over backwards" because some in the brotherhood believe Mt 19:9 belongs to Moses' law and reject divorce for any reason. It is safe not to divorce for any reason. It is just as safe to divorce for fornication and remarry for Jesus so stated.
Division, discord, and starting an exclusive brotherhood, is an altogether different matter. In every community where the church has divided over the issue, Jesus has been crucified afresh and put to an open shame! It is Phariseeism in its purest form when brethren will compass land, sea and air to establish another small group somewhere that will endorse the no-cause position to the exclusion of others. Demands that even those who hold the same position must line up or be cut off is another indication of the same. The responsibility of maintaining the no-cause fraternity is now being passed on to the children and grand children of those who originally perpetrated the division against the Lord's church. What an awful heritage with which to burden one's posterity.
We cannot glory in the division that has occurred and ever find peace. Peace must be desired and sought after diligently! Surely it is more noble to desire peace than it is to sow discord! With Bible in hand let us come to the conference table and seek peace until it is established upon a thus saith the Lord. The tools of truth and reason must be applied to the barricades of division until plank by plank and post by post they are removed and torn down. The peace, cooperation and unity we once enjoyed can be restored with willing ness, effort, patience and an undying desire for the same.
Note: May the Lord hasten the day when peace and serenity can again exist among God's people, based on truth and our love for it. We appreciate so very much Irvin's perspective and desire for restoration of peace among now divided brethren. We, too, remember when all worshiped and worked together for the Cause of Christ. Sweet Memories indeed! D.L.K.