"As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him." - Psalm 18:30
The "Valdosta Movement"?
A few years ago, brother Jack Farber and I were in El Salvador and two *North American missionaries working in Guatemala came to see us. They had heard of what they termed the “Valdosta Movement” through some preachers for the Lord’s church in El Salvador. Brother Jack and I met with these two brothers to discuss our infamous reputation. According to them, the El Salvadoran preachers had accused us (Latin American Missions/Forrest Park Church of Christ) of being non-biblical on marriage, divorce and remarriage, and teaching error on marriage period. The missionaries asked the El Salvadorans what our errors were. They stated, in effect, that: 1) We (LAM/FP) taught that individuals who had been married and divorced before they became Christians were subject to the teaching of Christ on marriage and divorce. That is, people who were in unscriptural marriages (i.e., adultery) before being baptized were still in unscriptural marriages (i.e., adultery) after being baptized. 2) We taught that people must be legally married by whatever government they live under to be considered married by the Lord. The El Salvadoran preachers said, "these teachings originated in Valdosta, Georgia!" Consequently, we were labeled as "The Valdosta Movement" or as teaching "the Valdosta Doctrine." After hearing what brother Jack and I believed and taught, the North American missionaries responded by saying that what we were teaching was not “The Valdosta Doctrine”; they said, “It’s Bible!”
The issue here is the origin or source of what any of us believe and teach. It must be “Bible” or it is simply error!
Upon examination of Matt. 19, we observe that Jesus was talking to unbelievers. “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” (v. 3- Emphasis RL) These Pharisees were not interested in the truth on marriage, and, as unbelievers, were "testing" the Lord. In verses 4-6, Jesus refers to the book of Genesis for His first response: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Regardless of what else Jesus had to say on divorce, the application is for all men, seeing that Jesus reverts to the beginning of the human family, specifically Genesis 2:24. When presented with the allowance of Moses (actually God) on divorce, Jesus still goes back to Eden and says, "but from the beginning it was not so" (V. 8). The Lord continues, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (fornication KJV), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." (v. 9 - Emphasis RL). The "whoever" here again supports the Bible teaching that this is for all men and women, including unbelievers.
It has never been God’s will for marriages - those He has sanctioned - to be dissolved. “What God has joined together” is a crucial phrase. God does not join individuals who form an adulterous union. Therefore, it is not only permitted that such unions be dissolved, it is necessary, if those individuals wish to live within God’s will in marriage. Otherwise, Jesus teaches that they are in adultery.
A second issue has to do with what is often called “free union”. This is when a man and a woman live together, usually have children, but never legalize that union with the government under which they live. Typically there is no kind of public ceremony to demonstrate a willingness to be husband and wife. Again, we must refer to the Scriptures. When writing about responsibilities to civil government, Paul said that Christians are to “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13: 7). And Peter wrote, “…submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” (1 Pet. 2:13). Shall we simply ignore these scriptures? Some brethren have said, “These poor Latins cannot afford to pay the legal fees.” In some cases, in order to circumvent legal fees, the local preacher will perform a ceremony to make a union publicly known, but no license is purchased or legally registered. This action simply ignores the requirements of God to obey the civil law.
When one decides to become a Christian, God’s will must be observed and obeyed in all matters. (Cf. Matt. 7:21) People in unscriptural marriages are living in adultery; those in “free union” are living in fornication, and Paul wrote, “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Is this a “Valdosta Doctrine”? Not at all! The Father commanded what Jesus spoke, and He spoke it (Jn. 12:49). The Holy Spirit directed Paul and he wrote “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). This is a salvation issue and we have no choice other than to teach what Heaven has dictated. Otherwise, we would indeed become a “Movement”!
- Roger Leonard
*I have since discussed this with the North American Missionaries and they agreed with the contents of this report/article. RL