My Reply To Brother Waters' Review

by James P. Needham

     Brother Tim Haile printed an article I wrote on "False teachers or teaching falsely" in Gospel Anchor (the current issue on the internet, March, 2000). Brother Robert Waters of Huntsville, ARK (whom I've never met) felt compelled to reply to it. His article is quite ambiguous in many places and false in others. Replying to it is sort of like trying to unscramble eggs!


     He says," 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"(emphasis mine jpn). To malign is "To utter injuriously misleading or false reports about: to speak evil of." (Web.). I flatly deny that I have done this to brother Hailey. If it is maligning a brother to oppose his error, then I have been maligned by brother Waters because he thinks he has pointed out mine! Brother Waters needs to prove that I have "utter(ed) injurious misleading or false reports" about brother Hailey. I properly reported what he admits to teaching and which is published in his book, and which all his defenders including Robert Waters admit that he teaches. If he is injured, it is self-inflicted. How is that misleading, or false, or speaking evil of him? Brethren need to learn to be accurate in their characterizations of others. Not to be is inexcusable. I did not call brother Hailey a false teacher, I was trying to cool off this unnecessary controversy about whether he is one. It is a distraction from the main issue now raging in the church on the subject of fellowship. Such a controversy is to leave the main road and take a side road to nowhere. Who is a false teacher is an interesting study, but not vital to the discussion of fellowship.


     Brother Waters' first paragraph sets the pace for his whole article; he said the purpose of my article "seemed to be to try to malign Homer Hailey (emphasis mine, jpn)." For him to say that it "seemed" to be my purpose means that he is not sure. Paul warned about "evil surmisings"(1 Tim 6:4). Throughout his article brother Waters mentions a plethora of things about which he is not sure. He's not even sure that James Needham is wrong on the marriage question. In fact he admits that he doesn't even know what my position is. He says, "What if Needham is wrong," and "What if brother Hailey is right?" Evidently, he doesn't know for sure which is right and which is wrong. If we approached all Bible subjects with his attitude we would never oppose error on anything because it might be right. Brother Waters needs to learn a very important lesson for all gospel preachers: don't do your thinking in public. Preach and write only what you are thoroughly convinced you can prove to be true by the word of God, having all the facts in hand.


     Brother Waters misuses my statement that "most of us agree that his (Hailey's) teaching is unscriptural." Then he says, "Well, since when has the majority been the standard of authority." Who said it is? Not I. Brother Waters is putting words in my mouth. I simply stated a fact. It is a fact that even many of those who are defending brother Hailey disagree with his teaching on MDR. I said nothing, nor do I believe, nor have I ever believed that what the majority of brethren believe proves anything to be right or wrong. My point was to show the inconsistency of admitting that brother Hailey teaches falsely, but advocating continued fellowshipping of him. Some of his defenders admittedly would not fellowship any who practice what he preaches, but defend continuing to fellowship him. This has to be the absurdity of all time!


     Brother Waters constantly refers to what I believe on the MDR question as "the traditional position." Since when does believing what Jesus said in Matt. 5:32, and 19:9 constitute a "traditional position"? What is the traditional position, and how does he know I hold it when he admits he doesn't know what my position is? If what I believe is "the traditional position" then it is one of the divine traditions of which Paul spoke in 2 Th 2:15. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."


     He says "... 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". At no time have I knowingly "ill-treat[ed] a false teacher," but I have been "ill-treated" by false teachers! In the first place I didn't call brother Hailey a false teacher, and secondly I certainly did not ill-treat him, unless it is "ill-treating" a brother to tell the truth on him.


     Robert says, "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 become guilty of some of the very things of which he charges Homer and his sympathizers." Here again Robert is unsure of himself; he doesn't say for sure that I have been raised a notch or two in the eyes of some, but just "probably" so.

     Brother Waters, name the brethren who raise their esteem of a brother "a notch or two" because of "his effort to mark and castigate a godly man." Either name them or admit that you are guilty of "evil surmising." It's this kind of talk that polarizes brethren. Whether preaching the truth on any subject raises or lowers me "a notch or two" with anyone has never been a consideration with me. "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ"(Gal 1:10). Such carnal considerations are far from me.


     Robert says, "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 says, "if he (Hailey) is right," have you not been "exposed to the truth," and are you not 'tenaciously clinging' to false doctrine?" This hypothetical argument is based upon the contingency "if he (Hailey) is right" and I am wrong. But Brother Waters admits that he thinks brother Hailey is wrong. Is the reader confused? Robert continually meets himself coming back!


     Robert continues, "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." This is becoming a favorite argument of those who hold the "unity in diversity" position. It is erroneously based upon a misunderstanding of congregational autonomy.

     I am at a loss to know what is happening to some of my brethren's hermeneutical skills. This fatal argument "proves" more than its advocates will admit. If in order to mark and reject an heretic I must be a member of the same church as he, then under no circumstances could we offer any stricture against any brother for anything unless we are members of the same church. This is so far out as to be absurd!

      I wish some of the brethren who use this argument would authenticate it. All we have is their ipse dixit and that is not enough. Where do the scriptures teach any such an idea? Paul said, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject" (Tit. 3:10). Is a man a man if he is not a member of the same church as I? If so, this passage says I am to "reject him" if he is a man and an heretic, after the "first and second admonition." Nothing is said about being a member of the same church.

     Robert violates his own self-made rule by opposing what I have written. I have never met him, and we certainly are not members of the same congregation and yet he has set out to correct me. I ask him, on the basis of what scripture does he do so? Notice the consequences of this falsehood:

(1) John said, "(1 John 5:16) "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death." Is a member of a church other than were I am a member a brother? If so, what does John say I should do? I am to "ask" in his behalf. Or does it mean only if we are members of the same church? The condition attached to the command is not whether those addressed were members of the same church, but whether they were brethren.

(2) Peter commands us to" Love the brotherhood" (1 Pet 2:17). Does this mean only the brotherhood of the church of which I am a member? If a brother is not a member of the same church as I, then, according to this, I don't have to love him. Or is it the case that he is not a part of the brotherhood if he is not a member of the same church as I? If he is part of the brotherhood, I am to love him. Could it be said that I love him if I see him in soul-damning error and refuse to try to correct him because we are not members of the same congregation? 1 Pet. 1:1 shows that the epistle was addressed to "the strangers scattered abroad thoughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia,Asia and Bithynia," and there is no indication that the content of the epistle applied just to the members of the same church. But John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death"(1 John 3:14). Which brethren? All brethren regardless of their location.

(3) James admonishes, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; {20} Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins"(James 5:19-20). This speaks of "a brother" who errs from the truth." Does this mean I am not supposed to convert him unless we are members of the same church?

     Is it a misuse of these passages to apply them to brethren who are not members of the same church? If this is the case, then I shouldn't try to help a brother who is sinning a sin not unto death. I am not to love any brother who is not a member of the same church as I. If a brother who is a member of another church sins and I know it and have an opportunity to convert him, I shouldn't do it, because he is not a member of the same flock as I!


     Robert asks, " 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." Every sincere Christian considers the possibility that he might be wrong on any given position, as Paul admonished (2 Cor 13:5) "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" This I always do. Whether I have "the 'mainstream' brotherhood behind" me has never been a consideration with me because I don't know who they are. My concern is whether I have the Lord behind me. I always have stood for what I sincerely believe to be the truth even if I had to stand alone. I wish Robert had told me who are "the 'mainstream' brotherhood'? Since you speak of it as being behind me, and since you are not behind me, you must not be in the "mainstream." If not, where are you? Since you say that I "may feel safe by thinking" they are behind me, tell me who they are so I can find out for sure if they are behind me.


     Robert says, "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?"

     What Robert says here is so absurd that it seems useless to reply to it. To think that a gospel preacher would take the position that it is "traditional" that only God binds and looses the marriage bond, and then attribute this to the Catholics. For shame, Robert! The Bible plainly says, "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt. 19:6). God does the joining in marriage, and only God can loose the marriage bond. Men may break it legally on earth, but that does not mean that God has broken it in heaven. Herod had married his brother Philip's wife, and John the Baptist said by inspiration, "It is not lawful for thee to have her" (Mt. 14:4). Herod was married to her, but John said she still was Philip's wife. God had not severed the marriage bond even though man had legally.


     What is equally absurd is Robert's outlandish statement that, "the Catholics are wrong on everything else, why would one think they might not be wrong on this matter?" Does Robert know what he said here? The Catholics are "wrong about everything else"? Come on, Robert! The Catholics believe in God, they believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, they believe in the virgin birth, they believe that the virgin was Mary, they believe abortion is wrong, they believe there is only one true church, they believe that baptism (what they call baptism) is for the remission of sins, now, according to Robert they are wrong on all this and everything else. Will wonders never cease? Such irresponsibility does not befit a gospel preacher.


     Robert says, "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."

     Robert's remarks about my thinking those who agree with me are prophetic, and then lets me know that we have no prophets today is ludicrous. If he is not able to see that I said that in jest, he is, indeed, a poor observer. The fact is that some brethren did say 25 or 30 years ago that MDR would be the basis of the next apostasy. It so happens that they were correct. I deny that I have tried to demonize anyone, unless it is demonizing a person to tell the truth on him. Brother Hailey and those who defend him must bear the consequences of their error like every other errorist.


     Robert says, " 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."

     I did not assign motives to anyone, least of all brother Hailey. I did not "assert that brother Hailey's motive was to 'accommodate a prevalent practice in society." What I said was that brother Hailey's teaching on MDR has found easy acceptance with some because it 'accommodates a prevalent practice in society.'" I don't know what anyone's motives are, and I have made no effort to judge them. I have simply stated a fact. Robert needs to read more carefully.


     Robert says he is "caused to wonder if there are not many brethren who actually believe that the 'Church of Christ' is infallible." This is nonsense! I don't know of anyone who thinks "the 'Church of Christ' is infallible," but I know many who think the word of God is. Our problem is that while some brethren claim to believe the word of God is infallible, they maintain that what it means is whatever anyone says it means at any given time, "unity in diversity." Contradictory positions on moral and doctrinal matters should not break fellowship.


     Robert then says, "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." I have demonized nobody. I have not called brethren "watch dogs," "a new Catholicism," "brotherhood policemen," "dishonest," as have those who agree with Robert. Such name calling is prejudicial. I have not engaged in such but have simply warned against false doctrine. If that is demonizing people, then many inspired writers are guilty of demonizing people.


     Robert could not close his article without arguing his erroneous position on MDR even though the study of that issue as such was not involved in my article. His position is that divorce is adultery, not sexual intercourse. This has been answered so many times that it seems superfluous for me to repeat it here. Robert says "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)." That's a big "IF," "If indeed he is free"!!! That has to be proved by the word of God, not assumed by one who is trying to defend a false position.

     Robert says, "Some maintain that Matt. 19:9 is THE teaching on MDR and that one must actually initiate the divorce 'for fornication' before that one can have the right to remarry." Yeah, some do 'maintain' that, Robert. Jesus of Nazareth is one of them, indeed He originated the idea! That's good enough for me and all who have the proper respect for God's word.

     Robert says "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. " It may not be any longer disputed, but that doesn't prove "is so used" here. The context will show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus had reference to sexual intercourse. The last part of Mt. 19:9 says, "...whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." If adultery means "breaking the covenant," then what covenant does the person break who marries "her that is put away"? Did adultery change its meaning in the same context and in the same train of thought? Such would be grammatically absurd.

     Secondly, in verse ten the disciples reply to Jesus' teaching by saying, "If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry." Why not, if all Jesus had in mind was the breaking of the covenant? That more was involved than this is evident by what follows. Notice verses 11,12, (Mat 19:11-12) "But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. {12} For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Does this mean that all men can't receive the idea that divorce is breaking the covenant? If breaking the covenant is all that is involved why would some make themselves eunuchs (live celibate) "for the kingdom of heaven's sake?" Why would one live celibate if he could lawfully marry? The point is, the person who was put away for fornication, or who divorced for unscriptural reasons could not marry because sexual intercourse with an unscriptural mate is adultery or fornication. Why bring up the matter of eunuchs in this context if sexual intercourse is not involved? What does making onself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake have to do with breaking the covenant? Why would some not be able to receive the idea that adultery is breaking the covenant? Robert's interpretation violates the first rule of hermeneutics, namely, observe the context.

     Robert's error here is typical. Bible students come across a word that upsets their preconceived notion on a subject (adultery as sexual intercourse in Mt. 19:9). They find this word (adultery) used in another context in a way that suits their preconception (on Mt. 19:9 in this case), so they assume that to be the meaning here. This method of Bible study can give one a bad case of misunderstanding.

     Robert says, "obviously something is wrong when one attempts to impose celibacy on others based on their 'understanding' of Matt. 19:9)." I don't impose celibacy on anyone based upon my understanding of Matt. 19:9, but upon what it says. I just read what it says.

     Robert continues, "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." Yes, it is allowed if they are scriptural partners. It is adultery if they are not. It is an old saw that the concept of living in adultery is not a scriptural expression or idea. Let's see about that. In Col. 3, Paul speaks of the sins in which the Gentiles had walked, one of which was "fornication." Verse 7 says, (Col 3:7) "In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them." So, they lived in fornication. Robert seems to try to make a difference between adultery and fornication, but he can't sustain it scripturally. Thus, it would be scriptural to say the Gentiles had lived in adultery.

     Robert says "married people do not commit adultery when they have sex because it is allowed." Why then did John tell Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip's wife. John said it was not lawful. Was it not lawful according to Roman law, or God's law? Naturally, it was God's law, thus the Old Testament scriptures, therefore it was an unscriptural marriage. I don't think John was concerned about Roman law.

     Robert further says, "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." Now who is attributing motives? How does he know that punishing a person for his sin is the motive of those who teach the truth on MDR? If punishment for sin is the reason for Christ's teaching on this subject, and Robert doesn't approve of that, he can take that up with the Lord. I thought all gospel preachers believe that sin results in punishment.

     Robert says, "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." Does this not sound like an effort to accommodate the prevalent trend of society. We shouldn't teach things that offend sinners; don't ask them to fit their lives into the gospel, but change the gospel to fit their lifestyle. Is that what Christ and the apostles did? If people turn away from the truth, they must bear the responsibility for their actions. I am sure it was terribly offensive for the Jews to fit their lives into the divine decree of Nehemiah to put away their foreign wives (Neh. 13:23-31). The Bible says (Prov 13:15) "...the way of transgressors is hard." Paul warns us to consider the goodness and severity of God:(Rom 11:22) "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."


     I am dismayed by the attitude toward God's word and those who are standing for the truth in the present controversy that is manifest among the "conservative" brethren. There is so much polarizing rhetoric. It does not bode well for the future. If present trends continue, we are coming to a time when "unity in diversity" will be the basis of fellowship. When outstanding and able brethren we have known and love so long teach that Romans 14 allows brethren to hold contradictory positions on doctrinal and moral issues and still have fellowship, we are well on our way for every man to become a law unto himself. It is time for us to publicly expose the proponents of such error, even those they have been our best friends. It is a painful activity, but a necessary one. When unity in diversity become the basis of fellowship, what will be called the church of Christ won't be a 42nd cousin to the pattern set forth in God's word. I am deeply saddened by the trend of our time. Something must be done, or we are in for a second major apostasy in our lifetime.

James P. Needham
1600 Oneco Ave.
Winter Park, FL 32789-1638
Phone and FAX (407) 628-2995
March 21, 2000

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False Teachers or Teaching Falsely by James P. Needham

False Teachers or Teaching Falsely: A Review by Robert Waters

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

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

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