Tom Roberts

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The Simple Gospel

Doctrinal Unity

Is it possible to have unity in doctrinal matters? It is increasingly proclaimed that we cannot all believe the same things and practice the same things in doctrine. Thus, the need for “unity in diversity.” What used to be a voice from ultra-liberalism has now become a common theme among more conservative brethren. “We cannot have unity in doctrine; the only unity we can have is unity in Christ.”

Years ago, there was a small core of radical brethren who tried to make a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine.” Their “gospel” was defined to be 7 core facts about Jesus: birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation. We were told that so long as one believed in the 7 facts about the deity of Jesus, salvation was assured. “Doctrinal” matters were not salvation matters. Thus, so long as one accepted Jesus Christ as the Son of God, it did not matter if one accepted premillennialism, instrumental music, the Lord’s supper on days other than the Lord’s day, etc. Doctrine, we were told (any doctrine), was not a salvation matter. We were urged to “accept into fellowship every believer in Christ, regardless of doctrinal beliefs.” If a belief was not a “salvation matter,” we were told, we should not make it a test of fellowship. One man taught that every believer in Christ was a “child of God in prospect and a brother in deed” (Carl Ketcherside). He finally gave up the “doctrinal” teaching on baptism and accepted as his brothers those who rejected baptism for the remission of sins.

But what was, a few years ago, accepted by a small core of radicals has now become extremely popular among most of the liberals in the church of Christ and not a few conservative brethren. Many brethren, prominent among us, “pillars in the church,“ have begun to teach that “unity in diversity” is the only unity and that doctrine is not important. We need to oppose this false notion for a number of reasons. 1) It is not scriptural. 2) Its aim is to broaden fellowship with those who believe and teach doctrinal error. 3). It is tolerant of false doctrine. 4) Those who teach the truth are slandered as “brotherhood watchdogs” and “jingoists” who set themselves up as standards rather than the word of God.

What Is Wrong With All This?

First, there is no scriptural distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine.” This is a false concept that has become popular and forms the basis for this radical view. Both “gospel” and “doctrine” are used interchangeably in the scriptures. What is gospel is doctrine and what is doctrine is gospel. While it is true that “gospel” means “good news” and this good news includes the facts about the entire life of Jesus, it is also true that scripture makes the term “gospel” inclusive of all the teachings of Christ.

We were told that we could “preach” the “gospel” but could not “teach” it, because only “doctrine” could be taught. But when the apostles proclaimed Jesus (“gospel”), they were also teaching doctrine about him. Notice Acts 5:28: “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” Here, gospel and doctrine are used synonymously.

Again, 1 Timothy 1:8-11 illustrates the same truth. Please read the whole text, but note that the phraselaw is used interchangeably with doctrine and gospel. “...and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel...” (v. 11). It is error to suggest that gospel and doctrine are different truths, that only “gospel” is a salvation issue, but that doctrine is not important.

In the 1950’s, two brethren (Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett) made a hobby of this error and, with their application, began a movement to fellowship “all God’s children” in religious error. They made no bones about calling a Catholic priest “brother” and worshiping with every kind of denominational error. Eventually, they would accept those who rejected baptism for the remission of sins. This is the logical goal of those who seek “unity in diversity.” History shows exactly what “unity in diversity” means and where it leads: into tolerance of error and complete apostasy.

The radicalism of Ketcherside and Garrett has now become popularly accepted by a majority of brethren. It is no longer considered radicalism. Many brethren, known to most of you, have accepted this dangerous error and are now actively promoting “unity in diversity.” The threat to the purity of the Lord’s people is acute. Those who oppose this error (of whom I am one) are marked and ridiculed as “watchdogs” and worse. But the toleration of error is the real threat to God’s people and “watchmen” should cry out against this error (Ezekiel 33:7-20). God condemns the “dumb dogs” that will not bark at danger (Isaiah 56:10). I had rather be called a “watchdog” for speaking out against error, than to be called a “dumb dog” by the Lord!

God’s people are not to be tolerant of doctrinal error. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). “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 John 9-11).

Can we have doctrinal unity? The apostle Paul taught that we could: “Now I plead with you brethren, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you...” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Jesus prayed that we might “all be one” (John 17:21). Is doctrinal unity possible? We are to “contend for the faith,” (doctrine). Why, if doctrine is not important?

Brethren, some are drifting from the truth.

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