Unity In Diversity - Part 1

By Wayne Partain


Bible Unity Based On The Word

We are all familiar with the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17:21-23 for unity, but we don't always include verses 8 and 14, "for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given to them; and they received them, ... I have given them Thy word." This is the basis - and the only basis - for the unity for which Christ prayed. He does not pray for just any kind of unity. He does not pray for unity with those who teach false doctrine. In Mark 12:28 the question is asked, "Which is the first commandment of all?" To hear some of our brethren talk about unity in diversity you'd expect Jesus to answer, "The first commandment of all is that you be united no matter what you teach."

When Christ says "Thy word," He refers to the will of God which is revealed by express statement, command, approved apostolic example and necessary inference. This "word" is the will of God, the truth, the gospel, the doctrine of Christ, the New Testament.

In Ephesians 4:3-6 Paul speaks of the unity of the Spirit: "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit ... one hope ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." The "unity of the Spirit" is the unity of which the Holy Spirit is the Author, which is taught by the Holy Spirit, the unity effected or made possible by the Spirit through His revelation.

The "one faith" of which Paul speaks is the objective faith, the gospel, the truth, the word to which Christ refers in Jn. 17:8, 14. This is not your faith or my faith, but the objective faith. This is the faith which a great company of Jewish priests obeyed (Acts 6:7). This is the faith of which Paul speaks in Gal. 3:25, "now that (the) faith has come we are no longer under a tutor." This is the faith of which Jude 3 speaks: "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints."

This is "the doctrine of Christ" of which the apostle John speaks in his second letter (2 John 9), "Whoever transgresses (goes onward) 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." "Whoever goes onward" goes beyond the boundary of the revealed will of God. This refers to the doctrine taught by Christ (compare "doctrine of the Pharisees," "doctrine of Balaam", "doctrine of the Nicolaitans," "apostles' doctrine").

Therefore, we must be united in teaching "the faith," the doctrine of Christ.

What Is Unity In Diversity?

It is the heart and soul of denominational churches, for even though they have their own creeds, at times they lay aside their differences and join together for crusades and other ecumenical activities to feign a united front against the world. However, all they prove by their unity in diversity is that it doesn't really matter what they believe. They say that everyone has a right to his own interpretation of the Scriptures, can join the church of his choice or join no church at all.

Unity in diversity reflects a strong desire for fellowship, but a fellowship with no boundaries. This desire for fellowship is a major driving force in religion. Even "Freethinkers" want "church" fellowship. On July 28,2000, the following article appeared in the papers with the dateline, Irving, Texas, "Free-thinking fellowship. Atheist church services full of familiar elements." It tells about the "Church" of Freethought, a "church" that doesn't believe in God. They are a "church of unbelievers" that misses church "fellowship." This shows how important "fellowship" is to many people, religious or otherwise. These ex-church-goers don't miss God or Christ, or the Bible or hymns (they sing folk songs) or the Lord's Supper, but they miss "fellowship." They say "We've rejected all other gods plus one more," but "we missed the chance to get together and fellowship". Actually all human churches are freethinkers; that's why they are human churches. Many of our brethren are aping them in their cry for "unity in diversity." They want "fellowship" without the doctrine of Christ.

The New Unity Movement

In the 1960's and 1970's there was much talk among brethren about a "new unity movement" to unite "all segments of the Restoration Movement." These various segments included the Christian church (with their missionary societies, instrumental music, social gospel, etc.), premillennial churches of Christ (who say the kingdom has not come but that Christ will establish it when He comes the second time and will reign on earth for 1000 years), institutional churches of Christ (with their sponsoring churches, church-institutions, social gospel, etc.), the no-class/no-communion-cups churches of Christ, etc.

The NUM promoted unity in diversity of con-flicting and contradictory doctrines/practices (just as the denominations do), for they promoted "unity" with all these different groups without requiring that they give up their unscriptural doctrines and practices.

One of the main arguments made by the proponents of the "New Unity Movement" was that no one has perfect knowledge, that we are all ignorant of some things, that we all make mistakes, and that the grace of God covers such sins of ignorance and weakness (with special emphasis on doctrinal ignorance) and, therefore, that lines of fellowship should not be drawn over differences with our "brethren" of the Restoration Movement, but that we should have unity in diversity.

Only a moment's reflection makes one realize that they would not stop with having fellowship with just the various segments of the Restoration Movement, but that this would naturally lead to having fellowship with all the denominations - and that is exactly what has happened in many cases.

Some Of The Favorite Texts
Of The Promoters Of
Unity In Diversity

1 Cor. 2:2, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." In chapter one of this letter Paul had exposed the folly of worldly wisdom and in chapter two says that by contrast he would only preach Christ, but this text is re-interpreted to say that Paul exalted the person of Christ and played down the doctrine taught by Christ and the apostles. Nothing could be further from the truth. To preach Christ is to preach not only about Him personally, but also His authority and His doctrine. Compare, for example, Acts 8:5,12 "And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ ... But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." So while it is extremely important to preach all that the Scriptures reveal about Christ, we do not really "preach Christ" unless we proclaim His authority, His plan of salvation, His kingdom or church, etc.

2 Cor. 3:6, "who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." When we read this chapter it is obvious that Paul calling the law of Moses the ministration of death or the letter that kills, with which he contrasts the Spirit-revealed gospel which makes alive, but this is re-interpreted to mean that we should uphold whatever is considered the general spirit or intention of the Bible, and never mind what the text actually says.

Luke 9:49,50 "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he follows not with us. But Jesus said unto him, Forbid [him] not: for he that is not against you is for you." One brother wrote, "When I meet a man whose faith is in the cross and whose eyes are on the Savior, I meet a brother." (Max Lucado, A Dream Worth Keeping Alive - Liking The Fruit But Not the Orchard). He applies this to those of us who refuse to fellowship the denominations. He says we build fences and fences have gates and hence gatekeepers who shut people out of the church. But obviously this one who cast out demons in Christ's name was a disciple of Christ. Otherwise he would have been like the Jews of Acts 19:13-15 who attempted to cast out a demon in Jesus' name and were overpowered by the demon.

Obviously, then, the purpose of those who promote "unity in diversity" is to broaden fellowship, even with denominations. The proponents of unity in diversity are not interested in Bible unity, the unity for which Christ prayed. They are not endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, but rather are promoting tolerance of and fellowship with sin and error.

Unity In Diversity On
Divorce, Remarriage

A major cause of the more recent emphasis on "unity in diversity" has been the determination on the part of some non-institutional brethren to fellowship other non-institutional brethren who teach and practice error regarding divorce and remarriage.

Consider briefly the "strange doctrine" being taught on marriage-divorce-remarriage by some of our non-institutional brethren:

(1) that the adultery of Mat. 5:32; 19:9 is not literal but figurative, i.e., an adulteration of the marriage contract. As Mike Méndez of California taught in El Salvador, "this adultery is not committed in bed."

(2) that the guilty party (the one who has been put away for fornication) is free to remarry - and, of course, if the guilty party can remarry, anyone can - which is the general idea.

(3) that alien sinners are not amenable to the law of Christ regarding marriage-divorce-remarriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) - in other words, since the alien does not agree with this teaching of Christ and does not want to have anything to do with Christ's covenant, this teaching doesn't have anything to do with him.

(4) that a Christian deserted by an unbelieving spouse is free to remarry (1 Cor. 7:15). According to this strange doctrine marriage is bondage or servitude.

(5) that baptism cleanses marital relations even though the couple living in adultery continues in that relationship. They don't bother to explain why baptism doesn't cleanse the polygamous relationship.

(6) that those living in adultery should remain as they are because Paul says (1 Cor. 7:20), "Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called." But look at context; the "calling" to which Paul refers is not marriage-divorce-remarriage, but slavery and circumcision.

(7) that all divorced people free to remarry, which is precisely the bottom line of all these positions.

The point of this article is that "unity in diversity" advocates want us to have fellowship with all the non-institutional brethren who teach and practice these errors. Bear in mind one important point: We are talking about brethren who supposedly reject these errors, but still insist that the non-institutional brethren who teach and practice these errors should be fellowshipped.

Romans 14 has been misused in connection with this controversy. I realize that now that brother Homer Hailey has ended his earthly life, the wisdom of any mention of his name in connection with this controversy will be questioned by some, but brother Hailey's book on the subject, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God (1991), lives on and will continue indefinitely to teach his doctrine. Doctrine has to do with the eternal salvation or damnation of man and must be dealt with.

"The issue in Romans 14 is precisely the establishment of the right of brethren to differ in matters of 'faith"' (Ed Harrell, The Bounds of Christian Unity (3), Christianity Magazine, April, 1989, p. 6). The reason for this statement is seen in another article in the same paper (1988, p. 328): "It is perfectly proper that some congregations have not, and would not, invite Homer Hailey to preach because of the position he holds on this subject (divorce and re-marriage, wp). Others, rightly I believe, have decided to use him in spite of the difference." Brother Hailey is no longer with us, but many who teach his doctrine are, so this quote is relevant with regard to fellowshipping those preachers who teach his doctrine.

On the next page of the same article, "If brother Hailey should write a summary of his views on this subject, I would regret that he might convert people to a view that I think is wrong."

This is in reference to the doctrine that Matt. 5:32; 19:9 does not apply to alien sinners. Brother Harrell would regret that brother Hailey might convince people of his belief. Why? Because according to brother Hailey's book, when a couple that is living in adultery is baptized they may with God's blessing remain in that adulterous marriage. (1) Ed knows the doctrine is wrong and that the practice of it is sinful, (2) he would hate for anyone to be convinced by it and thus practice sin; and yet (3) he thinks that brother Hailey (and now, logically, those who teach his doctrine) should be fellowshipped anyway. What kind of convoluted reasoning is that? This was the background for a series of 16 articles on The Bounds of Christian Unity.

In his book, p. 9, brother Hailey says, "Does God require those who were married, divorced and remarried while in the world and who would obey the gospel to separate after they become Christians; or does He accept their marriage as lawful? I believe He accepts them without requiring their separation and I will show the reasons why." Then on p. 52, he says, "The alien is not under the covenant law of Christ until he brings himself under it by obedience to its terms," and on p. 55, "Matthew 19:3-10 referred not to the world, but to the citizens of 'the kingdom of heaven."'

This is what brother Harrell is talking about. He says brethren have the right to differ in such matters of "faith," but the word faith in Rom. 14:1 is obviously not the faith of Acts 6:7; Gal. 3:25; Jude 3, but rather the subjective faith of brethren whose conscience would not let them engage in certain practices. The teaching of Christ on marriage-divorce-remarriage would definitely be a matter of "the faith" of Jude 3. It would be included in the teaching Paul refers to in Romans 16:17.

Brother Harrell opens the next article by saying, "It is obvious that Christians sometimes disagree about scriptural instruction, even in matters of considerable moral and doctrinal import. In spite of these disagreements, we work and worship together, leaving many matters of individual judgment in the hands of God." He implies that this is not only done but that it is right in God's sight. Since all his readers know that he is dealing with marriage-divorce-remarriage, the obvious conclusion is that this is one of the "many matters of individual judgment" that must be left "in the hands of God." I do not deny that some brethren do just what he is saying, but that does not make it right, because several errors taught by brethren regarding marriage-divorce-remarriage definitely involve sin, sin for everyone.

Brother Hailey's teaching on marriage-divorce-remarriage leaves baptized couples in adulterous marriages. That's wrong. That is not a matter of opinion. It has nothing to do with Rom. 14. That is a total misuse of this chapter.

Also brother Hailey teaches that the adultery mentioned in Matt 5:32; 19:9 is figurative. In his book, p. 57, he says, "Since adultery was in breaking the marriage covenant and making another covenant to suit their pleasure, Jesus answered the Pharisees' question...He dealt with their treacherous purpose, which was to put away a present wife and marry another." We might as well teach that the adultery of John 8:3 was not physical and that the woman was caught in the court house in the act of divorcing her husband and marrying another man.

Fellowshipping Sin

Make no mistake about it, to fellowship the brethren who teach and practice such false doctrine on marriage-divorce-remarriage is to fellowship sin. Consider this scenario: brother A teaches the truth regarding marriage-divorce-remarriage; brother B teaches and practices error. But they fellowship each other (for example, in preaching meetings, calling on each other for prayer). Then when a couple that is living in adultery who are members of the church where brother B preaches comes to place membership in the church where brother A preaches, will brother A encourage the brethren to accept them as members? How could he refuse them? And if they do accept this couple as they are (living in adultery), what other sin would they fellowship?

This is a classic example of "unity in diversity." In reality it is simply fellowshipping doctrinal error and sin (adultery). It is a tragedy that so many brethren who fought against institutionalism are now selling out to the proponents of other errors. It's as if they were saying "Truth doesn't matter any more. The main thing is unity and fellowship."

Those of us who are opposed to the errors listed above are accused of doing the same thing, fellowshipping brethren in matters that involve sin. For example, some believe that the one who puts away his wife for fornication cannot remarry. We are told that this is a doctrinal matter and that it involves sin, and that since we fellowship these brethren, we should also fellowship all the others who teach error regarding divorce and remarriage. But the difference is obvious: If this brother (the one who believes that it is a sin to remarry even though he put away his wife for fornication) should remarry, it is true that he would sin. It would be sin for him because he would be violating his conscience, but that does not make it sin for everyone who practices such, because Christ clearly says, "except for fornication."

Other matters are raised to cloud the issue such as (1) what if a man commits fornication with his secretary, and hires a lawyer to divorce his wife before she gets a chance to put him away for fornication? In other words, what if the fornicator wins the race to the court house? This is playing games with Scriptural teaching and is beneath the dignity of serious Bible students. Or (2) what if the one who puts away his wife for fornication fails to specify this as the cause on the divorce papers? There may be a dozen "what ifs" that have to do with the application of NT teaching on divorce and remarriage, but these are not in the category of the seven things listed above.

Sin For Everyone

However, if some brother is fully convinced that a certain application of NT teaching on marriage-divorce-remarriage does involve sin for everyone (and therefore is in the same category as the seven errors listed here), then he must draw the line of fellowship against such practice. In other words, he will list eight (or nine or ten) errors in the category that involve sin for everyone, sin that wrecks fellowship. But one thing is certain: he must not fellowship sin. It is utterly ridiculous for our brethren of renown to go over the country preaching that we have so many differences over divorce and remarriage, that we should just let each congregation decide what's right, and go ahead and fellowship all our non-institutional brethren no matter what they teach on the subject.

Jesus says explicitly that whoever puts away his wife except for fornication and marries another woman commits adultery and the seven errors discussed at the beginning of this section make a mockery of His teaching. This is an explicit statement that applies to everyone. This is the doctrine of Christ. It's a clearly revealed truth that takes its place alongside of such things as baptism, the Lord's Supper and contribution on the first day of the week, singing without the instrument and church autonomy. In discussing these errors regarding marriage-divorce-remarriage we're talking about adultery (and that's what it is no matter who calls it "marriage") - and beyond all question adultery is sin. Not just sin for a brother if he thinks it's sin or if some congregation decides it is sin, but sin for everyone who practices it.

And living in sin destroys fellowship with God and also with the faithful.

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