PROVE ALL THINGS
T. PIERCE BROWN
Surely there is no gospel preacher among us, and no mature Christian, who is not disturbed by the many false theories and strange doctrines espoused by those who seem to be trying desperately to get around Matthew 19:9. Sometimes it seems that those we thought were sound gospel preachers teach the truth about this most vociferously until some friend or relative gets involved, then they find a “new hermeneutic” or something that causes them to change their doctrine. I am not opposed to one changing his teaching when/if he finds some new truth or principle about which he was unaware.
However, this article is an attempt to call attention to what I consider an illogical and unscriptural approach to the problem. Recently I became aware of a situation in which the elders of a congregation withdrew from a member because they claimed they did NOT have what they called “factual verifiable evidence” proving the following: a. There was fornication involved in the reason for the divorce b. There was knowledge of that fornication by the one who got the divorce. Statements from the divorced party that his wife was “running around” with other men, and statements from her own daughter that she was an unfaithful wife and an unfit mother apparently did not give them the proof they claimed was necessary.
They specifically state that they have no evidence that the husband and daughter are lying, but those statements and the statements of others that the divorced wife was unfaithful did not present them with “factual verifiable evidence” that fornication was involved. One cannot keep from wondering if they had a video tape of the events if they would say, “This is not real proof, for the face of the man is not clearly seen, and it may therefore have been the husband taking his own picture.” What kind of proof they demand is not made clear in their letters of withdrawal.
At least twice they use such expressions as “apparently adulterous marriage” or “apparently unscriptural marriage” and admit that they have no evidence that it is unscriptural. In fact, they indicate that since it is impossible to prove that it is unscriptural (for they cannot prove that fornication of the first wife did not exist, or that the husband and daughter and other witnesses are lying when they claim it did), then if they do not receive evidence that satisfies them that it is scriptural, they must withdraw from both parties!
I wonder if you, or they, see the implications of that! Suppose a charge of drunkenness was brought against one of the elders. Remember that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:11 that the fornicator and drunkard belong in the same category. The elder says he was not drunk. His daughter who is a Christian and with him says he was not drunk. The other elders admit that they have no evidence that he was drunk. But since he was “apparently drunk,” which only means that he has not proven to their satisfaction that he was not, they must withdraw from him! Furthermore, everyone in the congregation must follow their lead, or themselves be in rebellion to Christ!
If that makes any sense to anyone in the world, I would like for them to explain it in simple terms. But that is not all the sad things about this putrid situation. The elders, and perhaps the preacher and a large number of the congregation are under the delusion that when the elders make any decision to withdraw from a brother or sister, no matter how unscriptural or ridiculous their reasoning is, every faithful Christian is duty bound to bow to their decision as if they were the Apostles, or perhaps the Pope of Rome!
Let me hasten to say that I have taught all my life and continue to teach that when a scriptural eldership makes a decision, it is proper for the members of that congregation and all other congregations to assume that they are right, and their decisions should bear more weight than the one they are accusing of wrong. If an eldership should accuse their preacher of adultery, and he should say, “It is a lie” we have the right as disinterested witnesses to assume their charge is justified.
However, their own statement of withdrawal admits that they have no proof that the second marriage is adulterous. They offer no evidence that those who testified of the unfaithfulness of the wife in the first marriage were lying. They specifically admit, “the burden of proof lies upon the one making the charge.” They do not seem to understand that if they make the charge that this second marriage is adulterous, they should have some proof. They not only do not try to give any, they freely admit they have none. Yet on the basis of their supposition that this MAY be an improper marriage, they withdraw fellowship!
Again, in order to see the consequences of such convoluted reasoning, let us suppose they acted that way with EVERY person in the congregation. “We do not have sufficient evidence to prove that you are not covetous” so we withdraw from you! “We do not have sufficient evidence to prove that you are not a railer” so we withdraw from you! Not only that, but every other person in the congregation who does not follow our irrational action has rebelled against the authority of Christ and the Apostles, and is himself worthy of being disfellowshipped!
As amazing as this is, it is almost as amazing that good Christian people cannot see the absurdity of such conclusions and call upon a couple to repent of some actions of which they cannot repent, and confess to some wrong of which they are unaware. Ask yourself the question, “What sin can they confess?” Have the elders even accused them of an adulterous marriage? They have not, and admit they have no proof of it! When the couple knows that they had scriptural grounds for divorce, what wrong can they confess? If you were falsely accused of being drunk (remember that they were not even accused of adultery, but only of not presenting sufficient evidence to prove they were not!) and asked to confess and make the matter right, what would you confess? But according to this reasoning, the couple who married the second time, although both of them believe and practice the doctrine of Matthew 19:9, must divorce because the elders demand some unspecified kind of proof! Then they must come back and admit they were wrong in doing what Jesus gave them the right to do, simply because the elders are not satisfied with the testimony of two or three witnesses, but demand some other kind of evidence, without telling what kind of evidence it would take to convince them.
We are convinced that this sort of thinking is widespread in the brotherhood. It grieves us even more because, in our judgment, it causes people who would like to escape the plain teaching of Jesus and divorce for any cause to continue in that direction. It also causes those who have no respect for the proper authority of the elders to rebel against that authority, and to teach that the elders are to be considered no more than figureheads. The probable truth about this matter is that the elders in this situation wanted to do what was right, but lacked the ability to see clearly what they were doing. Sometimes we are so close to the woods we cannot see the trees. Sometimes we are just willfully blind to what we do not want to see. I do not presume to judge the motives in this situation (or any other) but we would do well to examine our notions about the proper basis for withdrawal. We would also do well to examine our suppositions about automatic acquiescence to any kind of decision by those in authority.