MDR - Palatka, FL 1958

Introduction to the
Palatka, FL Meeting - 1958

Dennis L. Reed

In the late summer of 1958, I moved from Lutz, Florida to accept the work with the Husson Avenue church of Christ in Palatka, Florida. I was twenty-three years of age, married, and had a year old son. Our daughter was born while we lived in Palatka. I had been preaching regularly for four years prior to this move. This was a time when the institutional and sponsoring church division was on the front burner, and I was greatly involved in learning and preaching the truth on those issues. As I reflect back, I had also been taught the truth on marriage, divorce, and remarriage since I was a child, and had clearly taught my convictions on that subject in my preaching. I owe more, than could ever be paid, to my mother and grandfather, B.W. Shropshire, of Robert Lee, Texas. They are now deceased, but I greatly treasure the respect for God's Word which they passed on to me, and which I am diligently trying to pass on to my children, grandchildren, and any others who will let me speak with them about the gospel of Christ.

The church in Palatka was the largest congregation that I had worked with up to this point. They had just completed the construction of a spacious new meeting house. The preacher who was there before me was moving more and more into the institutional group, and it seemed obvious to me that sound preaching and teaching would have to be done regarding those issues. But, I really wasn't prepared for the shock which I was to receive when I first arrived in Palatka.

On the first Sunday morning, after our move from the Tampa area, I was teaching the adult Bible class. In the midst of that study, a lady spoke up and asked me a question about divorce and remarriage. The question had nothing to do with the subject matter which we were studying at that time. I simply stopped, and to the best of my memory, cited one or more scriptures like Matthew 19 and told her exactly what the Lord had taught on this matter. Since there were no questions or discussion after my response, we went back to the subject which we had been studying. I can assure you that this twenty-three year old preacher had nothing to go on but his Bible when he responded to that question.

On the second Sunday after our arrival, we were to have a meeting of the men in the afternoon to discuss the local work. And to my amazement, I discovered that this church was in total disarray on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. They was divided into two groups which were almost equal in number. When I had answered that question in class the Sunday before, I had obviously placed myself on one side of this controversy, without having the slightest idea of what I had done! Isn't it wonderful that "if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God..." (I Peter 4:11 ) will put you with the Truth and with faithful brethren, even if you have no idea of the convictions of those who hear you. I later asked brother D.B. McKee, a faithful and dedicated Christian who is now deceased, just why he had not told me about this serious problem before I moved there. He gently laughed for a few moments and then said, "And you wouldn't have come, would you?" And I think that he was probably right about that! What twenty-three year old preacher would intentionally move into a mess like that?

There are so many things that happened over the weeks and months ahead, including an unwelcome visit by the elders of the Riverside church in Jacksonville, to one of our meetings of the men. Even though there is a great temptation to talk about many things that happened, I will try to confine my remarks to the issues involved.

We had a man and woman in the congregation who had been baptized by the previous preacher. This man was living with his second wife and was the admitted fornicator in the dissolving of his first marriage. His first wife was a Christian, they had several children, and one of the churches in the Atlanta area was involved with providing the needs of this family. This man and his present wife had been baptized at Husson Avenue, and there were faithful brethren in the congregation who were totally convinced that this was an adulterous relationship. This man told me that he was the fornicator in the breakup of his first marriage, and also boasted that he had been with another woman about the second or third night after he married his first wife. This was indeed, without any doubt, a case of adultery where no repentance had taken place. We tried to reason with them from the scriptures about their spiritual condition, but they had plenty of supporters and absolutely rejected every effort to help them.

After a few weeks, it was obvious that this church was openly divided. Some of us were pleading with the supporters of this couple to let us invite some gospel preachers to come in and teach us on this subject, and we were pleased that they did agree to this arrangement. Late in the year of 1958, possibly in November or December, (the exact date cannot be pinpointed), four men were invited to come to Palatka and preach on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The supporters of the adulterous couple insisted on having someone who would preach what they believed, and brother Homer Hailey was just about the only one who was known at that time who would support their views. Along with brother Homer Hailey, brethren Harry Pickup, Sr., Harry Payne, Sr., and H. E. Phillips each preached one sermon. All of their sermons are available following these introductory thoughts.

Let me tell you folks, this twenty-three year old preacher had to "stand up and be counted" in what was an extremely divisive and volatile situation. He had heard God's Word being taught on this subject for all his life, and three of the men who preached in Palatka proclaimed the same truth which he had come to believe and teach. All that this young preacher had to go on was his Bible. It seemed obvious that he would stand firmly on the same answer which he had given in class on that first Sunday morning! It was also clear that what brother Hailey taught was not what the Word of God teaches. I don't know that brother Hailey's teaching was the cause of some brethren to continue their support of the adulterous couple, only God knows, but his teaching was all that they wanted or needed to hear for them to continue standing firm against the truth. They totally disregarded what the other three had preached. The three other brethren, as you will see, all preached the truth on this matter.

The division grew more intense as the days passed. The faithful brethren had clearly made it known that they would not fellowship adultery. As we went among the brethren in an effort to teach them, we learned about so many others in this church who were involved in multiple marriages. We were up to a dozen or more cases to consider when we made the decision to publicly stand up and say that the fellowship of this sin would not be tolerated. And we followed through on that decision when we stood up in the Sunday morning assembly to state that we would not fellowship the adulterous couple who had been at the center of this conflict. This was the only case that we had an opportunity to deal with before this divided situation became one of necessary separation. I clearly remember the adulterous man telling me, "Why don't you take all those who agree with you and find you a four by four room to meet in, as all of you could get into it." That seems to be somewhat like conditions today when we are being told that all we need is a "phone booth" to meet in! Those who want to have their own "agenda" for fellowship, tend to use the same sort of vocabulary!

This church divided, with about half the congregation leaving to start a new work in the community of San Mateo, just across the St. John's river from Palatka. We began meeting in a woman's club building and worked for the next few years in building a meeting house. To the best of my memory, concrete blocks were selling for sixteen cents each. When we would get an extra $16.00 in the treasury, we would buy a hundred blocks and the men would gather on Saturday to lay them. Horace Gentry, one of the brethren who went out with us to start this work, was in the building trade and spent untold hours in this construction effort. He now serves as one of the elders of the Westside church in Franklin, North Carolina. These brethren at San Mateo were firmly grounded in the issues which had divided us, and now it was time to begin teaching them on matters relating to institutionalism and the sponsoring church. We are pleased to report that they were gratefully receptive of the teaching of God¹s Word on those matters also.

I stayed in Palatka until January of 1961, when I moved to Birmingham, Alabama to preach for the Berney Points church. Just a few weeks before I was to leave, we were contacted by about half of the group which we had left behind at Husson Avenue. They admitted that they were wrong in the stand that they had taken and wanted to make it right with the Lord and with us. They proceeded to withdraw from that same adulterous couple, and the Husson Avenue church divided for the second time. The brethren there, who were now opposing the fellowship of adulterous marriages, were able to remain with the new building this time. The group who supported the fellowship of adultery left and started the Lemon Street church in Palatka. That group started in digression, went on to accept the positions of the institutional brethren, and continued to get farther away from the Truth. It is a sad reality that so many of those brethren, who believed a lie, went headlong into sin and error!

I certainly do not have a personal vendetta against brother Homer Hailey. He was one of the main reasons that I left my west Texas home in l952 to attend college in Tampa. I do deeply regret that he taught what he did in Palatka and that he still teaches the same thing today. I fear greatly that his teaching will cause those who believe it to lose their souls! Along with brother Hailey, we will all have to give an answer for what we have taught and with whom we have had fellowship. This ought to always be a sobering thought to each one of us! I have corresponded with brother Hailey in recent weeks, and sent him a tape of his sermon. It is my hope and prayer that someone will be able to change his mind on these matters. I think that he is aware that I have not been to hear him preach again, to the best of my memory, over these past forty years. Over that period of time, I have never failed to publicly oppose what he has taught on this subject, often calling his name when the teaching was being discussed. He has always had the right to call my name and examine anything which I have taught over the years. It could not have been more obvious where I stood in the Palatka division. Over these forty years, there has never been a question but that I truly believed that this was a fellowship issue. I am deeply grateful that brethren Harry Pickup, Sr. (now deceased), Harry Payne, Sr., and H.E. Phillips had the courage to preach their convictions with all boldness. I am very confident that their teaching prevented a lot of folks from making a terrible mistake. We can look back and realize that only about one-fourth of this church was eventually lost to that false and deceptive teaching. Yet, the loss of one precious soul is so terrible and unacceptable! How many more souls are going to be lost because so many brethren among us today either embrace this false teaching, or else they don¹t have the courage to stand up and admit that it really is a fellowship issue!

Either you fellowship those living in an adulterous relationship, or else you refuse to fellowship them! Either you fellowship those who teach that it is acceptable for men and women to continue to be fellowshipped in an adulterous relationship, or else you refuse to fellowship those who have encouraged and supported them in their sin! Either you openly and publicly oppose and expose those who teach error, or else you determine to keep your mouth closed and let them have free reign to spread their poisonous and destructive doctrines! You can hide "under the rocks" or you can seek to be "a secret disciple", but it is clearly obvious both to God and to man as to where you really stand. All of us are either in the light or in the darkness! Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth" (Matthew 12:30).

A major reason for transcribing and publishing the contents of these tapes, after forty years, is to show that this fellowship of adulterous marriages is not a new teaching or practice, and many of us have openly opposed it for over forty years. Our parents and grandparents openly opposed it. We shall absolutely determine to remain open to a discussion and study of these and all other spiritual matters, just as we have always been willing to do during our lifetime. We cannot fellowship those who teach and practice doctrines which will cause men to lose their souls. I am genuinely concerned about many of my brethren who refuse to speak up, or even worse, refuse to oppose almost anyone in error or any false teaching. To our dismay, some of them do make an exception and gladly oppose those who are speaking out against the fellowship of sinful doctrines and practices.

I can remember the "old time" preachers telling the following story: "A dead sheep was floating in the middle of a swiftly moving river, when an eagle swooped down and landed on the carcass. He was deeply engaged in feeding on the dead animal, when suddenly the carcass approached a tremendous waterfall. The eagle seemed to be cautiously looking ahead as he continued to eat. He seemed to be waiting until the last moment to give up the carcass and fly away before the waterfall would swallow them up. The moment came when the eagle had no time left and must fly away to save himself. But sadly to say, the talons of his feet were so deeply sunk into the wool of the sheep that there was no way that he could pull himself free. Yes, both the sheep and the eagle went over the waterfall together."

You can make the decision to keep your convictions to yourself in order to protect your position or to protect your evaluation by others, but you had better be warned that the talons often get buried deeply into the wool of indifference, hypocrisy, and selfishness. You can "go along" with brethren who refuse to speak out about sinful doctrines and practices, but you must be reminded that you may get so buried in the wool of evil that you will never be able to fly away. Those same "old time" preachers also told us: "The one who doesn¹t really stand for something, will usually fall for just about anything!"

It is my sincere plea that you will open the scriptures as you honestly and objectively read the sermons which were preached in Palatka, Florida over forty years ago. The Truth will always stand the test of examination. Those of whom it is said: "...they received not the love of the Truth that they might be saved..." (II Thessalonians 2:10) will sadly come to know that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31).

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