Stan Cox

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"Let None Deal Treacherously"

The special theme section of our last issue of Watchman, (June, 2003), was entitled "Let None Deal Treacherously":  An Examination of God's law (and the error of men) on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.  The issue consisted of nine articles on the subject, establishing what I believe to be the truth, and dealing with some (though not all) of the errors which men have advocated on the subject in recent years.  All of the articles were written by me.

The series initially was printed in the local bulletin I edit for the West Side congregation here in Fort Worth.  Because of the format of the bulletin, the articles were not long, and it was not my intention for them to be particularly "in-depth."  I was aiming for a general, concise discussion of the issue, and judging from the generous feedback I received concerning the material, some at least were satisfied with the effort.

Many of our readers are no doubt aware of a facet of the issue which is currently being discussed.  Jeff Belknap and some of like mind have accused Ron Halbrook, Harry Osborne and others of teaching error.  Belknap has his name associated with the single issue, at the following URL:  A debate took place between Bill Reeves and Joel Gwin in Hopkinsville, KY in mid-July.  Reeves charts and the entire debate in audio form are available at Tim Haile's, Bible Banner site.  Gwin has published his 52 debate charts at Belknap's site as well.  Our readers are encouraged to examine the material. As time allows I assure you I intend to carefully examine it myself.

It is not surprising that in light of such current dispute, the negative response I received to my writings surrounded two articles in the series, entitled Mental Divorce and A Race to the Courthouse.  Interestingly, I received criticism  from both sides of the issue.  I could state (disingenously) that since individuals from "both extremes" have criticized, that I must have gotten it right in my articles.  We all know that is not necessarily true.  However, it may be!  In any issue that divides brethren, it is necessarily true that someone must be wrong.  Truth is objective, and if one brother is affirming a particular position, and another denies it, both cannot be right.  However, both can be wrong.  We must be careful that we do not allow ourselves, in response to perceived error, to be taken to an opposite extreme that is likewise without scriptural merit.

No one has asked to review the material I published in the June issue of Watchman.  One brother kindly took issue with me in a private post, and I am at present carefully studying his letter to me.  Another brother, after considering my offer to publish a rebuttal, responded, "I've decided against responding to your article, at least for now.  The reason is that though we differ on what consitutes a divorce, that is not the critical issue."  A third individual, David McKee has posted a response to my material on Jeff Belknap's website.  I will note his response further later in this article.

In the 45 issues we have published of Watchman Magazine,  I am aware of four which have had as their theme the Divorce & Remarriage dispute.  In August of  1998 brother Larry Fain edited a general treatment of the subject.  In May of 1999 brother Dennis Reed wrote an article introducing a series of sermon transcripts preached in 1958 on the subject in Palatka, FL.  Among those sermons where truth was preached, Homer Hailey advocated his false position as well.  The transcripts were published in the issue.  The January 2002 issue of Watchman contains a written debate between Harry Osborne and Terance Sheridan on the facet of the issue we referenced above.  Finally, the last issue of the magazine contains my treatment of the subject.  Other single articles, and references within articles constitute a good representation of teaching on the issue.  I try to make sure that Watchman is balanced, and contains articles which will constitute a teaching of the "whole counsel" of God.  I doubt that I am able to do so to the satisfaction of all (such is the lot of the editor), but surely it can not be said that this particular subject has been neglected.

Some have desired that I expound further on the current dispute.  I think perhaps some are more desirous that I endorse a position, rather than being satisfied with what I have written.  After receiving the criticism, I have looked again at the material I penned, and am confident that I have been consitent and forthcoming.  As forthcoming as I believe I can be regarding what the scripture teaches.  I have no desire to engage in speculation regarding processes and possible scenarios.  I will succinctly recount here the positions I advocated in those two articles.

Mental Divorce

The "mental divorce" position as it has been traditionally defined is not defensible from scripture.  I used material from brother Donnie Rader's book, Divorce and Remarriage:  What Does the Text Say as an example of the position.  In the book, brother Rader does a fine job of refuting the position. A debate proposition that brother Rader published in his material, which "mental divorce" advocates  had defended is as follows:

The scriptures teach that the innocent person (free of fornication) who has been put away without God's or his/her approval and against whom adultery has been committed may remarry.

I believe the proposition to not be in accord with the scriptures.  In the article I called for a respect for the silence of scripture.  In the last paragraph I wrote, "As there is nothing said in scripture of the put away person remarrying, we must not advocate it in our teaching and practice... May we all respect God's word on the matter."

Race to the Courthouse

In the article Race to the Courthouse, I discussed the specific position which Terence Sheridan defended in his written debate with Harry Osborne (Jan. 2002 Watchman).  The proposition Sheridan affirmed is:

The scriptures teach that biblical putting away is synonymous with the civil procedure for divorce in one's respective society and that the innocent one must secure that civil divorce in order to have a right to remarry.

Brother Osborne, in my estimation, did a fine job of refuting Sheridan's proposition.  In my article, I pointed out three things which show the logical and scriptural fallacy of such a position.  It: 1) Subjugates the Divine to the Civil; 2) Confuses the Cause with the Procedure; and 3) Demands a Specific where God has not specified.

Additionally, I contended that a rejection of the above proposition did not make an individual a "mental divorce" advocate.  Further, while I recognize that some could not in good conscience remarry if they had not inititiated the procedure itself, I called for tolerance (cf. Romans 14:12) as each responded to their own conscience in the matter.

Honor in Controversy

Whenever a Christian makes known his position on any controversial issue there are consequences.  It matters not if the position is truth or error.  False teachers are rightly exposed and refuted, and opponents of truth will often excoriate those who uphold the scriptures.  Our Lord suffered death at the hands of the Jews though he was sinless.  It is to be expected that the worldly will engage in such ungodliness.  However, whenever Christians disagree all should behave honorably.  Too often this does not happen.

When brethren behave dishonorably, the one who is the object of such treatment is put in a difficult position.  If he remains silent, the treatment goes unanswered, and some are influenced to believe the attacks of the dishonorable.  If he complains about the treatment, he is perceived as a whiner who "can't take the heat."  If he answers the hobbyist, he is likely to end up as did Brer Rabbit who got all entangled in the tar baby.  For every paragraph he writes, he is answered by a fusillade from the man and those like him.  To the sectarian (cf. 1 Corinthians 3), by not lining up with Paul, he is lining up with Peter.

David McKee, titled his response to my series of articles, “One Man, One Woman, For a Lifetime, With One Exception” (The wolf in sheep’s clothing).  In his review, he wrote:

I invite the reader’s careful attention to the following statement: “One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception.”  On the surface, one might think the statement deserves a hearty, “amen” as it accords with the will of God.  But upon examining the writings and teachings of some who are making this statement, it becomes clear that while the statement may be in accord with the will of God, their teaching is not.

The phrase "One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception" should indeed be "amened", because it does accord with truth. The rest of McKee's statement is fair enough.  If he believes me to be teaching error, then he has the right to characterize my teaching in such a way.  Also fair is the fact that he takes issue with my contention that the term "put away" in scripture is not tied inextricably to the civil procedure in any particular society.  This is a legitimate area of disagreement between us.

He is unfair, however, in several claims he makes about my position.  In fact, he attributes positions to me that I do not hold; positions that are, in fact, opposite of those I took in the very material he is reviewing.  Note the following paragraphs in his review:

What brother Cox would have us accept is the belief that since the actions of sinful men and women cannot alter “God's established rule for marriage” – “one man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception,” then their actions can be ignored.  What he would have us end up believing is that the innocent wife who is put away against her wishes, who maintains her marriage obligations, may put away her ex-mate upon his subsequent fornication and remarry.  Brother Cox would argue that she followed the rule and the man did not, so his actions do not count and are not to be recognized.  Unfortunately for the woman, and contrary to what brother Cox argues, our Lord recognizes the husband’s action as sinful and identifies her re-marriage as adulterous.  (Underlining emphasis mine, SC)

In reality, I do not argue this, and in fact argued the opposite.  Note what I wrote in my article entitled, Mental Divorce.

"For those who have divorced (without just cause, SC) there are only two possibilities, celibacy or reconciliation.  The mental divorce advocates champion a third position, the "waiting game", which is unsubstantiated from scripture.  That is, if I divorce without cause, I can wait for my former sopuse to remarry, divorce her mentally, and then remarry."

"As there is nothing said in scripture of the put away person remarrying, we must not advocate it in our teaching and practice.  This position, as the others mentioned previously, all do violence to the basic principle of God's law on marriage, one man, one woman, for a lifetime.  May we all respect God's word on the matter.

What McKee writes I "would have us accept" and "would argue", I, in fact, have never argued and don't believe.

You may note also that at the end of the quote, McKee writes:

"Contrary to what brother Cox argues, our Lord recognizes the husband’s action as sinful and identifies her re-marriage as adulterous."

In fact, what I actually argued:

"Thus, if two individuals divorce and remarry, the bond is not broken.  They do not have the right to their new spouses, as they are still bound by God to one another... For those who have divorced there are only two possibilities, celibacy or reconciliation."

There are several possibilities that may explain why brother McKee would make these false claims about my material.  One is that he did not carefully read the material.  Perhaps he looked only at the article Race to the Courthouse, and assumed that I believed what he attributed to me.  However, that would not explain why he would claim I argued a position I never argued.  Perhaps brother McKee does not have the maturity to rightly discern the positions taken.  Perhaps he has the sectarian mentality.  He may consider himself part of a party, and believe that since I am not of his party, I must be of another.  He may be a disreputable fellow, unconcerned with the rightness of tactics, determined only to smear, destroy and obfuscate.  Regardless, I can not imagine a single honorable reason for such treatment.

Why do I bring this up?  Let me state clearly.  First, not to gain sympathy.  I care not what men think.  As Paul said, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).  If I stand righteous before God, it matters not what others think about me.  Second, not to gain apology.  I had a conflict with brother Belknap in the past, as he used likewise unrighteous tactics in his altered publication of the debate between Osborne and Sheridan.  I called upon him to repent of his tactics at that time, and encouraged those who believed as he did to admonish him for his inappropriate actions.  None did, rather dismissing the complaint out of hand.  I do not harbor any allusions that McKee will apologize, though the misrepresentation is blatant.  Rather, I publicly reveal the misrepresentations in order that others may know that his claims are false.  If I am to be admonished as a false teacher, I wish the doctrine to actually be mine.  To be accused falsely and suffer the commensurate loss of effectiveness in preaching our Lord's gospel is something I wish to avoid.

A Direct Application

I can almost hear some out there saying, "But what about you!"  I am aware of the claims of misrepresentation, unfair treatment and schismatic behavior of the "watchdogs."  Some have claimed that there is a "Watchman Society", and that those who are holding the line against error are guilty of "biting and devouring."

My only answer to that is, "Show me where such mistreatment has taken place."  It may be that you can.  If you can find in the archives of Watchman examples of misrepresentation, document them and we will make acknowledgement.  If you can find arguments "against the man", where we impugn motives or make personal attacks, show us where.  If you can show where in dealing with controversy, and refuting error, we have acted dishonorably, we will repent publically.  However, understand that controversy in the defense of truth is an honorable practice.  Jude said, "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (vs. 3).  Such a "contending" is right.  It is right to point out the inconsistencies in a man's argument.  It is right to name those who poison the minds of the brethren with their error, (as did Paul).  It is right to contend publicly with public error and sin.  It is not always pleasant, but it is right.

In contrast, it is never right to impugn the motive of any man.  It is not right to falsely accuse, and attribute positions which have not been argued.  Anger is inappropriate, as is hatred, pride and arrogance.

I am convinced that the men who are the most visible in their treatment of such error have acted righteously.  They have been careful in documenting charges, centering on the issue rather than the man, and speaking plainly in love.  It may be, however, that others have not followed their lead.  If that is so, those who have acted in a dishonorable way should be ashamed.  They have become a hindrance to the truth.  They are worthy of admonition.

No matter the issue.  No matter the position.  No matter the "side" you find yourself on.  As Christians we must act with honor.

"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:11-12).

 "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:15-17).

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