A Better Understanding
Since 1995, I have understood Bob Owen put matters of sin in Romans 14. That year I received tapes of the sermons he preached on fellowship and Romans 14 at Concord, NC. It seemed obvious he justified ongoing fellowship with those in sin, including men like Homer Hailey. I understood this because, in the question and answer period, he said, "And there are some people who have been very critical of brother Hailey and I agree with those people who are critical of him on the Bible teaching with regard to divorce and remarriage. But I differ with them on their interpretation and application of the fellowship issue" ("We Differ, Can We Fellowship?" Feb. 19, 1995. Concord, NC). The complete sermon transcript is available at:
On September 9, I was invited to Bryan, TX, to talk to brother Owen. A member of the Twin Cities Church of Christ invited Lanny Parish (preacher at Pioneer Park, Nacogdoches, TX), Wayne Moody (preacher at Twin Cities, Bryan, TX), and myself to talk to brother Owen. Others were present as well. After about two hours of discussion, I still understand brother Owen believes Romans 14 includes matters of sin. However, I believe I have a better understanding of why he does.
Brother Owen is a "conscientious objector," that is, he believes it is sinful for a person to be in the military and to take the life of another man. He believes fighter and bomber pilots are sinners, as well as the infantry, tank operators, etc. When I asked brother Owen if he fellowshipped people who were not conscientious objectors (sinners), he said yes. I then asked if he believed we can fellowship sinners, he said yes. Thus, he puts himself in the position of the weak man of Romans 14 to justify ongoing fellowship with someone he considers to be a sinner.
Brother Owen believes fellowship can be extended when the practice/belief involved does not shame the church, is individual in nature, and the person is not divisive about it. I pointed out that on this basis we would be allowed to fellowship an adulterous couple. The sin of adultery only condemns the couple involved, it is not shameful in the eyes of the world, and a couple generally does not try to force others to become involved in the practice. Brother Owen said he would not accept a couple in an adulterous marriage because doing so would imply approval of their sin. I asked why this is so with adultery and not with "carnal warfare." No adequate answer was given. In other words, he is inconsistent and arbitrary with his application.
Further, brother Owen stated he could not say smoking one cigarette or taking one drink was sinful. He argued that the wine of Romans 14 was intoxicating. The implication of this is obvious. If the wine of Romans 14 is intoxicating wine, then social drinking is allowed and no one can say anything about it, as Paul's instructions are not to "judge." Whether or not brother Owen sees and accepts this consequence of his position, it is inevitable and inescapable.
Brother Owen said he argued with Homer Hailey to the grave about his positions on eternal punishment and divorce and remarriage. However, he said he did not break fellowship with brother Hailey because of the way brother Hailey handled the issues while he was living. He said brother Hailey kept them to himself unless asked. I told brother Owen that the problem with that is (1) if brother Hailey had the truth, he should have taught it and (2) brother Hailey did teach it whether it was when he was asked or not. Since then, I have learned brother Hailey preached on divorce and remarriage in 1958 at the church in Palatka, FL, and a split resulted. You may verify this by going to Watchman Magazine to see an introduction by Dennis Reed (http://watchmanmag.com/0205/020512.htm) and the sermon transcript (http://watchmanmag.com/0205/020513.htm). For further information, you may contact Dennis Reed at email@example.com.
An observation: Brother Owen's teaching puts us in the position of the weak brother. If we object to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or erroneous teaching on divorce and remarriage, we are the weak ones of Romans 14. The weak man was the one who bound himself where God had not bound. He also wanted to bind others. The strong man was the one whose conscience allowed him to engage in the practices under consideration. So, the social drinker, cigarette smoker and false teacher are the strong ones if brother Owen's teaching is true.
There are other things that could be mentioned about the discussion with brother Owen. However, suffice it to say, I do have a better understanding. Because he views "carnal warfare" as sinful and puts it in Romans 14, he believes other sinful matters can fit there as well. He does not put all sin there, but this is arbitrary.