by James P. Needham

     Since the publication of brother Homer Hailey's book on the marriage, divorce and remarriage question, a controversy has arisen over whether he is a false teacher, and what are the essentials that constitute one a false teacher. This is really a strange controversy for it is off the real issue. 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. Whether brother Hailey deserves the label of false teacher is a side issue which diverts attention from the real issue. However, as a matter of interest and study, and since many are discussing this matter, I would like to make some comments and ask some questions about this side issue.

     What is passing strange about this controversy is the fact that most of those who are defending brother Hailey against the charge of being a false teacher say he teaches false doctrine on the marriage, divorce and remarriage question. Some are not willing to say he is a false teacher, while agreeing that he teaches falsely. Some brethren say they wouldn't "fellowship" those who practice brother Hailey's doctrine, but they want to continue to fellowship him even though they say he teaches a false doctrine. Are you confused? Some who at first denied that he is a false teacher, now say he is. What a controversy this is! What changed their minds? Some admit that he teaches falsely, but he is not a false teacher!

     He published a book setting forth his false doctrine, and gallons of ink and reams of paper have been utilized in trying to call him back to the truth, all to no avail, but he still is not a false teacher according to some. Whether he is or whether he is not, most of us agree that his teaching on the marriage and divorce question is unscriptural. That's really all that matters. We don't have to agree that he merits the label of "false teacher." I don't know that this is a vital issue that demands settlement and agreement. If it is, let someone point out why? We need to give our attention to the real issue of the false doctrine because of its potential impact on the future of the church.

     The argument is that in order to be a false teacher one must do more than just teach false doctrine; he must have an impure motive or bad character. To reach this conclusion they quote 2 Peter 2:1-3:

{1}"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
{2} And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
{3} And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not."

     It is argued that in order to be a false teacher one must bear those traits of character attached to the particular false teachers mentioned by Peter: "covetous," "with feigned (fabricated jpn) words make merchandise of you," and "denying the Lord that bought them." That is, they "teach things which they ought not for filthy lucre's sake" (Tit. 1:11), due to covetousness; they are mercenaries. The question is: Must one possess these traits in order to be a false teacher, or are these just traits that happened to be characteristic of these particular false teachers Peter mentions? Is it true that one is not a false teacher unless he is covetous, no matter how much false doctrine he tenaciously teaches or how much strife and division he causes? Is it true that we must always know that a person is covetous before we can say he is a false teacher? If so, how can we ever know, since "no man knows the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him"? (1 Cor. 2:11). There have been people who lived in poverty and gave their lives in defense of their false doctrines, were they covetous? Were they false teachers? Are we ready to accept the teaching that one never is an heretic or a false teacher as long as he is not covetous? Does this mean that Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and Bennie Hen are not false teachers? Do we know for sure that they are covetous?

     If one must bear these character traits in order to be a false teacher, logic demands that one also must teach what these false teachers taught ("Damnable heresies even denying the Lord that bought them") to be a false teacher. If one must bear their character traits to be a false teacher, why would one not have to teach their heresies to be a false teacher? If one is not a false teacher unless he bears these traits, then he is not a false teacher unless he teaches this false doctrine. How can these character traits be essential to being a false teacher, but not these particular doctrines? If we cannot apply the term false teacher to a person today unless he bears the character traits of those about whom Peter writes, then how can we call a man a false teacher who does not teach the false doctrines Peter mentions?

     It is a fact that one can be wrong on a Bible subject without deserving the label of "false teacher." I agree that the term should be used with caution and concern for accuracy. One can be honestly mistaken on some subject, but willing to be taught the way of the Lord more perfectly. Such a person is not a false teacher, he is just honestly mistaken. He becomes a false teacher when he tenaciously clings to his false doctrine after being exposed to the truth.

     This is borne out by Titus 3:10-11, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; {11} Knowing that he that is such is subverted (actually perverted jpn), and sinneth, being condemned of himself." It appears here that an heretic is not a person who is wrong on a matter, but one who stubbornly holds to his false doctrine after he has been admonished, or exposed to the truth. He is not just honestly mistaken, he obstinately holds on to his false doctrine following efforts to teach him the truth. Obviously the truth is not all that difficult to learn, for God gives the heretic only two opportunities to learn it, after which he is to be rejected. God is said to be longsuffering, but He has short tolerance for heresy.

     Brother Hailey's book defending his erroneous position on marriage, divorce and remarriage has brought to the forefront an issue that has been smoldering beneath the surface for years and years. 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. Due to the love and respect that nearly all brethren have for brother Hailey, his efforts have been all the more damaging. Some allow love and friendship to outweigh the truth. This points up the need for Paul's warning "not to think of men above that which is written" (1 Cor. 4:6). Due to the pressure of the moment and the warm esteem for brother Hailey some brethren known for their soundness in the past are taking positions that cannot be defended, which they refuse to defend publically, and which they themselves didn't take until this matter surfaced. (I guess we can't blame them too much for their unwillingness to publically defend their position. If I held it, I wouldn't try to defend it publically either.) Like most brethren who depart from the truth, their hue and cry is that they are being misrepresented or misunderstood, yet, they never show how and where they have been misrepresented. When a brother asked one of the leading proponents of this unity in diversity how he had been misrepresented, his reply was, "You figure it out." When one falsely accuses another of misrepresenting him, who has been misrepresented?

     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. For this reason some brethren are willing to give him a pass on a doctrine which they readily affirm is unscriptural. 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?

     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.

     First, they denied that brother Hailey is a false teacher because he doesn't have bad character. They knew that if they succeeded in convincing brethren that this is essential to being a false teacher, that would give brother Hailey a pass, for all love and admire him and know of his excellent character.

     Second, they paralleled his position on the divorce and remarriage question with the woman's covering, the war question, weddings and funerals in the church building, etc. arguing that since we disagree on these issues and continue to "fellowship" each other, why not on the marriage question? This tactic assumes that all issues are of equal consequences and importance.

     Third, as brethren began to identify those who are promoting the unity in diversity position, they began to cry "misrepresentation." Their charge of misrepresentation is itself a misrepresentation. When they try to explain how they have been misrepresented, they don't produce. This has become a bewildering smokescreen that leaves the unwary in a cloud of confusion.

     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.

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

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