Is Doctrinal Unity Possible?
of Lesson, December 6, 1998
Hills church of Christ
Intro: What saith the scriptures? For generations, we have approached our denominational neighbors with the intent of sharing New Testament Christianity with them. As we have surveyed the division that is characteristic both philosophically and practically of sectarianism, we have told them of a better way. We refer to the unity that is in Christ, manifest by the Spirit, and guided by the inspired message (Eph. 4:1-6). We are not the first to believe and work for doctrinal unity based upon faith in Jesus Christ and the finality of scripture as the supreme court of our faith and practice.
I. Early Efforts at Unity
In pioneer America, men from every walk of life and from differing denominations tossed aside their creeds and united on the slogan, "Where the Bible speaks, we will speak; where it is silent, we will be silent."
B. "We will call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways."
C. These "slogans" are imminently scriptural concepts:
D. With these rallying cries, men such as Barton W. Stone, James O'Kelley, Abner Jones, Elias Smith, Alexander and Thomas Campbell, Benjamin Franklin, Walter Scott, and others blazed a path across America that came to be called the "Restoration Movement" because it sought, unlike the Reformation Movement, to return to the "Old Paths." "Thus says the Lord: Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). Nothing less than a complete return to New Testament Christianity was the goal of these men. They were on fire for the Lord and for His word and they sharpened the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17) and engaged denominational error. Both written and oral debates ensued as every vestige of denominational error was measured and defeated through open discussions of scripture.
- 1 Peter 4:11, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God"
1 Cor. 2:13, "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (words)."
E. It was true that many positions of error were held in the infancy of this movement. Awakening to find themselves in sectarianism, these men responded by tossing the creeds aside and examining anew the Holy Bible. In a trial and error method, these men studied themselves out of error, commited to the bedrock foundation of the infallibility of the word of God. As discussions ensued (with sectarians and among themselves), the Bible itself served as a divine standard of faith and practice. One by one, strongholds of error fell, replaced by a new appreciation for truth and the unity that resulted from preaching the pure Jerusalem gospel. They knew they were not forming another denomination among denominations. They knew that Jesus had built His church. The had implicit trust in the integrity and veracity of scripture.
F. From New England to Virginia, through the Carolinas into Tennessee, the Western Reserve and finally into Texas and beyond, the message was preached and written through periodicals until many thousands obeyed the gospel. Beyond their own enrichment and fellowship in Christ, they left us a heritage which still amazes students of that era. From total bondage in a sectarian system, these men decided to "walk in the old paths" (Jer. 6:16) and studied themselves out of error and into the light of truth.
II. New Testament Christianity Began With Jesus Christ
But the Christians of the early 1800's were not the first to work for "unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:1-7). None other than Jesus Christ, the Foundation upon which the church of Christ rests (Acts 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 3:11) laid the charge to His disciples and all who would follow after.
B. "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You Father are in me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (Jn. 17:20-21).
C. We have maintained that this unity is possible by preaching the word: Jn. 17:17, "Sanctify them in the truth, thy word is truth."
D. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (Jn. 8:32).
E. Jesus charged the apostles: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." (Mt. 28:18-20).
F. The apostles were faithful to their ministry.
- There was a single message in New Testament times.
1 Cor. 4:17: "For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is beloved son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church."
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.." (1 Pet. 4:11).
"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 Jn. 9-11).
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17).
They taught succeeding generations to follow a "pattern of sound words which you have heard from me.." (2 Tim. 1:12).
Other scriptures which speak to the unanimity of truth are:
a. Eph. 3:4
b. Eph. 5:17
c. 1 Cor. 1:10f
d. Gal. 1:6-9
e. Jude 3
f. Eph. 5:11
g. 2 Cor. 6:14-18
h. 2 Tim. 3:16-17
- All these (and more) assert that truth is:
a. Discernable - Jno. 7:17; Mt. 5:6; 1 Jn. 2:20-21
b. Knowable - Jno. 8:32
c. Identifiable - Rom. 16:17; 1 Jn. 4:5-6
d. Duplicatable - Mt. 28:18-20
e. Teachable - 2 Tim. 2:2
III. Truth applied, in the first century, resulted in the Lord's church Being Established.
It was promised by prophecy - Isa. 2; Dan. 2; Joel 2
B. It was promised by Christ - Mt. 16:18; Mk., 9:1
C. It became a reality in Acts 2 with the Jewish nation and in Acts 10 with the Gentiles.
D. That same church will result today when the seed (the word of God, Lk. 8:10) is sown.
E. Though fallible Christians comprised the church, the gospel made provision for growth and maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), "til we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of god, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
F. Other scriptures which speak of the "perfection" of Christians (growing to maturity of faith) are: 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 3:15; Col. 1:28; ; 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 13:21; James 1:4; 3:2; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; 5:10. Those "perfected in Christ" was promised eternal life (2 Pet. 1:3-11)
G. This "perfection" is not based on sinlessness, but on forgiveness in the blood of Christ (1 John 1:1-3, 7). The Christian so forgiven is righteous (Rom. 4:1-8).
H. At no time, nor in any scripture, does God suggest that He will have fellowship with those who practice something that is sinful, defend it as righteous, and encourage others to participate with them in it: 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:15; 2:9-12; 1 Jn. 1:5.
I. The fact that error and division appeared in the first century church does not mitigate against the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1-7). Those who sinned and did not repent were to be disciplined and removed from fellowship: 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thes. 3:6; Rom. 16:17.
J. Those who were willing to fellowship sinners were stained by the same sin: Rom. 1:32.; 2 Jn. 9-11.
L. Division was condemned and unity in truth was commanded (1 Cor. 1:10ff; Jn. 8:32; 2 Jn. 9-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:17). So long as Christians abided in the doctrine of Christ, they spoke the same thing.
M. Christians are united as they understand and receive truth through
Expressed commands and statements
It is possible to have the church of Christ as a reality in the world today (Lk. 8:11), preaching the same gospel (Mt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:2), with saints reaching spiritual maturity and maintaining the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1-6).
New Testament examples
Divine implications (necessary inferences)
IV. Now, we are being told this is not possible:
Quotes from those who advocate unity in diversity deny that doctrinal unity is possible. It is maintained that unity is achieved as we believe in Christ and receive those who differ from us in doctrinal matters, even doctrinal matters which are perceived to be sinful.
B. Let it be clearly understood that this unity in diversity is not:
C. Quotes: Respected brethren are now using the same, identical language as the leaders in apostasy use. Yet, when this is called to their attention, they claim not to believe what others mean even while using the same terminology, with the same passages of scripture.
- Unity in "the Faith" (Jude 3)
Unity in matters of judgment - 1 Cor. 4:3
Unity in diversity of gifts - 1 Cor. 12:4
Unity in authorized liberties - Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8:9; 10:23
But unity in error; diversity in matters of "considerable doctrinal and moral import."
This "unity in diversity" is a well-defined, identifiable slogan, used by those who insist on tolerating doctrinal differences and being permissive toward error.
Those who use this to refer to doctrinal diversity have left a clear trail into apostasy and divided churches.
Those who use this slogan in such a manner to confuse with matters of judgment and authorized liberties must do so knowing in advance of the implications toward confusion and misunderstanding. Unity in diversity is a red-flag that invites those tolerant of error to expand the borders of apostasy. Its history is clear and unmistakable; its goal concise.
Its fellowship is broad enough to include all those who accept the "deity of Christ."
It is not possible that this kind of unity should declare the "Holiness of God" and it is dangerous to connect those two concepts in the present climate of toleration of error.
D. It is incongruous for some to express indignation at being identified with the leaders of apostasy through unity in diversity when the exact arguments are being made today.
V. There is a clear and present danger in the expressions of approval toward unity in diversity. Words are "vehicles of thought" and carry meaning. Identical arguments will force the same conclusions, regardless of intent. It is foolish to charge others with unfair treatment while pressing for "unity in diversity" even while denying "unity in diversity." It cannot be both ways.
A. It is often claimed that we misunderstand or misrepresent.
- What was meant by Ketcherside, Fudge, Hardin, etc. is very clear. "Unity in diversity" is specific, concise and explicit among those in this fellowship.
Where they have gone with their conclusions is unmistakable. A trail of broken churches and shipwrecked faith follows them. These things have not been done in a corner. Presently, there exists a website where this error continues to be taught. Many publications and church bulletins have debated and defined the issue.
Example: "A Journey Toward Jesus" by Ed Fudge and Bruce Edwards shows that brethren previously sound in the faith have now embraced Calvinism and its errors about grace, salvation, the church and denominational membership.
If others among us use the same terminology, it is exceedingly foolish to claim misrepresentation when they use the same terminology.
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, more than likely it is a duck."
It is impossible to speak with the language of those in error, make the same argument, use the same scriptures and then proclaim innocence as to the end result. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11).
VI. Doctrinal Unity is possible, the Bible teaches it, and we must press forward toward that goal.
It is contended by some that "error exists in every congregation" because babes in Christ, the untaught, and the rebels exist side by side with the mature Christians.
B. People in the first century preached and practiced doctrinal unity until sinful preaching and practices appeared. When they did, truth opposed them.
- Please understand that "unity in diversity" not only accepts the idea of different views within a congregation but is willing to have on-going fellowship with those who practice something that is sinful, defend it as righteous, and encourage others to participate with them in it.
The Bible, on the other hand, recognizes that congregations will contain those who differ, but that the commitment to truth will pressure error to depart.
a. Eph. 4:11-16 instructs a church to bring members to perfection.
b. Elders will "feed the flock" (Acts 20) and preachers will "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1ff). Error will not co-exist in this environment. Those in error will grow and repent or truth will bring out their sin for discipline.
c. Even while recognizing the need to be longsuffering and patient (1 Thes. 5:14; Mt. 18:1ff; Jude 20-23), there will be no open-ended fellowship with error. No faithful church practices the open-ended fellowship with sin that is part and parcel of unity in diversity.
d. Those who use Romans 14 to teach unity in diversity should recognize that God accepts both brethren as they are, there is to be no disputing on those issues, no judging, no lines to be drawn. Romans 14 does not teach toleration for sin and it is bizarre that some are insisting on it.
e. Do not apply the principles of Romans 14 to doctrinal differences unless you want to be identified with the sinful "unity in diversity."
f. It is careless exegesis which would confuse the fellowship of authorized liberties (approved in Romans 14), with the fellowship of sinful beliefs and practices (which the Bible condemns), then cry "misrepresentation" and act the injured part.
g. Those guilty of advocating unity in diversity should not be surprised when you are taken at your word. If you don't mean unity in diversity with doctrinal matters, then don't make the argument. If you want to teach unity in matters of authorized liberty, then say so. But don't be guilty of teaching one thing by appealing to the other.
h. Brethren, you simply cannot have it both ways. So long as you teach doctrinal unity in diversity, you will be charged with that sin.
C. Brethren in America have preached and practiced doctrinal unity until sinful preaching and practices have appeared. Let us oppose them with truth and "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
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