"False Teachers or Teaching Falsely"
A Review

by Robert Waters

    EDITOR'S NOTE: We want the reader to be informed that we are in strong disagreement with much of what brother Waters says in this article. We strongly recommend that you read the responses to this article. Hyper links to these responses can be found in the right column of this page. - Tim Haile

     An article by J.P. Needham on "false teachers" was recently published in Gospel Anchor, which I feel compelled to review. James' purpose for the article seemed to be to try to malign Homer Hailey as a "false teacher" in spite of the efforts of others to avoid this stigma and to avoid division in the church. James charged Homer with causing division because of what he called, "false doctrine". Also, brother Hailey, and those who sympathize with him, were given credit for being the ones to use the "liberal tactics" of "demonizing" for the purpose of prejudicing people against the traditional position, which James assumes to be the truth.

     In his article, brother Needham contended that the fellowship issue is not the real issue. James maintained that, "The real issue is whether aliens are subject to the law of Christ and whether it is scriptural to fellowship those who are in unscriptural marriages and those who defend them."

     James says that, "Gallons of ink and reams of paper have been utilized in trying to call him back to the truth, all to no avail…"

     I don't agree with brother Hailey completely but what if he is right, or close to right? James talks about the effort to bring him back to the truth and mentions that, "Most of us agree that his teachings is unscriptural." Well, since when has the majority been the standard of authority? Such talk makes one wonder what "truth" Homer is being implored to return to; the traditional position? Evidently, brother Hailey believes he is following the New Testament and has no concern for what we have always believed or for the traditional position. He probably knew what would happen when he began teaching what he believed to be the truth.

     Again, what if Homer is right? If Homer is right what has James done? First, there seems to be the mindset among a few that it is not only all right but also honorable and heroic to ill-treat a "false teacher". Such articles as the one under review probably raised James a notch or two in the eyes of some, but I'm not among that few and I shall show that, in his effort to mark and castigate a godly man, James has actually become guilty of some of the very things of which he charges Homer and his sympathizers.

     Now, I agree with James on the point that one can be considered a teacher of false doctrine even though he has a good attitude. That does not mean I agree with James that Homer is a "false teacher" that should be ostracized, even though I suspect that he teaches some error on MDR. James said, "It is a fact that one can be wrong on a Bible subject without deserving the label of 'false teacher'." But James says, "He becomes a false teacher when he tenaciously clings to his false doctrine after being exposed to the truth."

     James, by your reasoning, Homer and all who agree with him, could charge you with being a false teacher. If he is right, have you not been "exposed to the truth", and are you not then "tenaciously clinging" to false doctrine? He has probably used barrels of ink and truckloads of paper to teach others what he sincerely believes to be truth! James then continues to insinuate that Homer "stubbornly holds to his false doctrine" after being "admonished" with the truth, and is not honestly mistaken. James next declared that God only gives a heretic two opportunities to learn because He has short tolerance for heresy. Obviously James thinks that Homer is a heretic. However, James and others need to realize that they don't belong to the flock of which brother Hailey is a member. Thus, to use Titus 3:9-11, to justify their actions is to misuse the passage.

     My friend, whether anyone should treat Homer Hailey as a heretic is contingent on whether YOU (James) are right on your thinking about the MDR issue. If indeed you are right in your belief, which I think I can safely assume to be one of the traditional positions, then you could possibly be right about who the heretic is. On the other hand, if you are wrong then YOU are the heretic, not because of your sincere believe but because of your effort to incite brethren to the idea of drawing lines of fellowship and contending for division. We don't see brother Hailey doing that sort of thing, do we? James, have you seriously considered the possibility that you could be the one that is wrong? You may feel safe by thinking you have the "mainstream" brotherhood behind you, but you know perfectly well that the majority has never been right for very long.

     The traditional position maintains that only God binds and only God can loose. This idea began with the Catholics in the 1500's and continues to be taught by the Catholics. This alone should make your position suspect. Since the Catholics are wrong on everything else, why would one think they might not be wrong on this matter? Is it simply because we have always taught it?

     James wrote, "Some brethren predicted 25 or 30 years ago that divorce and remarriage would be the basis for the next apostasy. Were they among the prophets? Divorce and remarriage have become such an integral part of our society that brother Hailey's teaching has found easy acceptance in the minds of some brethren. It provides an easy way to accommodate a prevalent practice in society."

     In the above paragraph, it appears that James would like to place those who agree with him on MDR as being prophetic. Actually, that thinking is pathetic, not only because there are no prophets in our day but also because James attempts to "demonize" (to use James' own term) Homer, his sympathizers, and all who teach anything close to his teachings.

     We must not overlook James' effort to assign motives for certain teachings on MDR. James asserted that the motive was to, "accommodate a prevalent practice in society." Now, if that was the motive it would be despicable, but who believes Homer Hailey is that kind of person? It certainly is not my motive for what I teach.

     James charged that, "The publication of brother Hailey's book has caused more strife, controversy, and division than anything that has come along since the institutional/cooperation controversy, and it appears that it will likely have the same result. It has polarized many brethren, divided churches, and caused the re-appearance of the unity in diversity heresy, which now is being advocated by brethren who closely relate to brother Hailey. What a crying shame that the strife, contention and division caused by Hailey's book and teaching will be the legacy of a brother we all love and respect for his sterling character and outstanding ability as a Bible student and teacher."

     Of course, the truth of James' writing (above) is contingent on the idea that the traditional position is right. But if it is not, then Homer has not really damaged his character. If James is wrong, then Homer has continued to maintain his "sterling character and outstanding ability as a Bible student and teacher".

     I'm caused to wonder if there are not many brethren who actually believe that the "Church of Christ" is infallible. That the church is fallible is a fact that has been established through demonstration time and time again. There is no creed but the Bible and know one has more authority than another as to what the Bible teaches on a subject. We must all be persuaded in our on mind (Rom. 14:5) after we prove what is right (1 Thes. 5:21) by honest searching of the scriptures (Acts 17:11) and patiently hearing what others believe.

     What if "we" (the mainstream brotherhood), were wrong on a major doctrine? What if one of the most respected teachers in the brotherhood saw the truth on that subject and determined to teach as many of us as he could? Would "we" readily accept his teachings? (If you think so, I need to talk to you about some oceanfront land that I have in Nevada.) What if the respected teacher came to us "twice" and said we will be a heretic if we do not "come back to the truth"? Would that help? What if he threatened to divide churches and give us the credit for it if we did not fall in line? What if he charged us with being dishonest and unwilling to "listen" etc.? Brethren, if you have studied the history of God's people in the Old Testament then you should know that the people, in general, did not often see the truth and readily accept it when it was presented to them. Such was true especially when the people had been in error for a long time. Why should one think "we" would be any different? Are we special because of who we are?

     James wrote: "I think no man of our time has been more highly respected and dearly loved than brother Hailey, and yet his image will forever be tarnished by his position on the vital subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage regardless of the determined efforts of some of his "friends" to gloss over the error he advocates. I put quotation marks around friend because one who defends another in a soul-damning error is hardly a friend. With friends like that, who needs enemies?"

     I too would not have any sympathy for anyone who would seek to defend one who teaches "soul-damning error". However, before the charge James makes could have any validity those defending Homer would have to believe that his teachings was indeed, "soul-damning error". Now, does James know that is what is believed, and is he making that charge? Apparently he is, but where is the proof?

James wrote: "This is a sad day for the conservative brethren. Some are so determined to give brother Hailey a pass that they are fabricating all kinds of defenses to make a way for him to continue in the good graces of the brethren."

     James, it is clear that you have assigned motives, and I think you are incorrect to imply that defense of Homer is THE motive. It may be with some, but not me and not with some I know. I've never met brother Hailey and I really haven't cared for his writings. I just defend his right to teach what he believes and I encourage everyone to give his teachings an honest hearing. Regarding motive, it is most likely that most are seeking to keep the brotherhood from splitting over MDR, a matter regarding which you, James, seem to be trying to do the opposite.

     Now, I said in the beginning that James was doing the very thing he charges others with doing. Note his remarks below:

     "Fourth, they vilify those who are standing for the truth on this matter. They have come up with all kinds of bad sounding labels for them: a new Catholicism, brotherhood watchdogs, brotherhood policemen, dishonest, etc. This is an old old story: if you don't like the message, attack the messenger. This is the same treatment some of these same brethren received in the institutional controversy many years ago. Now they are dishing it out like true liberals. It is a tactic that's always used by those defending error. It is an effort to prejudice people against those standing for the truth so they won't listen to what they have to say. If they can succeed in demonizing those who oppose them, they will succeed in closing the minds and barring the doors of the hearts of some brethren."

     Ok, James, I think it is clear now. It is all right for you to seek to demonize people and try to close the minds of people but if someone else does it then they are just doing the things that heretics do. But is it all right? I jest.

     Note James' last paragraph:

     "This is like the farmer who caught a dog in his meat house. The dog begged the farmer for his life, and the farmer said, "alright, out of the goodness of my heart I won't kill you, go on your way." As the dog trotted down the road, the farmer yelled, "Mad dog, mad dog." The dog was killed by the farmer's neighbors! All the farmer did was give the dog a bad name, but that was enough to get him killed."

     James, what do you think that you and others have done for, or to, Homer Hailey? One probably could not come up with a better illustration to show what has been attempted against brother Hailey than the one you presented. Homer still lives and is still influential, but the cries are still being heard, "Mad dog, mad dog". Actually, the sound is more like, "heretic, heretic", which is worse.

     Now, why am I appearing to defend brother Hailey? Well, I'm writing because I see many problems with the traditional position on MDR. First, contrary to our traditional view on MDR, divorce is the sin, NOT marriage. If one has no marriage it is wrong to forbid him to marry, if indeed he is free (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Second, those who contend for the traditional position are divided over the matter of whether an innocent person, who was put away by their spouse and who married another, may marry again. Some maintain that Matt. 19:9 is THE teachings on MDR and that one must actually initiate the divorce "for fornication" before that one can have the right to remarry. (See the Smith/Waters Debate at http://www.dcs.edu/teacherpages/tthrasher/thomas.html). This is no little difference! Yet it is being brushed off and ignored by many as being insignificant.

     I do not believe that Jesus was teachings what has traditionally been attributed to Him. First, Jesus did not say what brethren are saying he taught. Second, there is no way to harmonize Paul's teachings in 1 Cor. 7 and 1 Tim. 4:1-3, with what many claim Jesus said. (I have no problem harmonizing Paul's teaching with what Jesus actually taught, that is easy.) I'm persuaded that the adultery one commits when he divorces his faithful spouse and marries another is the breaking of the covenant. That the word "adultery" is so used elsewhere in the Bible is no longer disputed. The fact that Jesus said that the adultery is against the previous wife (the one that the adulterer divorced), is ample evidence to cause one to seriously question the traditional thinking, which maintains that the adultery Jesus was talking about is sex with the new wife and is a continual thing (Mark 10:11). Thus, we hear such unscriptural phrases as: "living in adultery", "unscriptural marriage" and "not married in God's eyes". Friends, married people do not commit adultery when they have sex because it is allowed. If one can prove that a couple (man and woman) living together is indeed not married you have a case for "fornication", not adultery. Jesus said that one commits adultery WHEN he divorces his wife and marries another (Matt. 19:9). There is no proof that adultery is continuous and there is no indication that the adultery committed, as Jesus defined, is the sex in the next marriage. It just does not make any sense for one to pronounce that a couple that is married commits adultery when they have sex. Thus, there is obviously something wrong when one attempts to impose celibacy on others based on their "understanding" of Matt. 19:9.

     In such cases where there is a divorce and one spouse has married another, the real issue we need to highlight is whether the people in the first marriage are still married ("bound") to each other or not. I maintain that they are not bound and that assertions to the contrary are without scriptural support. Any effort to impose celibacy on one whose spouse has married another is an unauthorized and unscriptural effort to punish the person for his sin. Most new converts or prospective converts see the injustice of the breaking up of homes and the imposing of celibacy and either seek another church or turn from Christ altogether.

     The thought of there being wholesale division over MDR troubles many, including myself, and this is one of the main reasons for this article. We should all agree that the solution is to open our minds, learn the truth and then teach it. Such will be difficult for many preachers so long as they can expect to be dealt with as James and many others have dealt with Homer Hailey, if they were to come to a conclusion that we have been wrong and begin teaching (as brother Hailey), a position contrary to our traditional view on MDR. Indeed, we should not think too highly of men, but neither should we regard our "position" as a preacher in the brotherhood to highly. Truth must come first, and we must trust God that He will bless us in our struggle to proclaim the truth.

Robert Waters
P.O. Box 1610
Huntsville, AR 72740

Related Articles

False Teachers or Teaching Falsely by James P. Needham

Review of Robert Waters' Article on "False Teachers" by Tim Haile

My Reply To Brother Waters' Review by James P. Needham

False Teachers: Impure Motives or Impure Doctrines? by Tim Haile

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