By Mike Willis
During the last ten years, the church has been forced to fight a battle with false teachers who have taught that unity could be maintained with those who are practicing sin, defending their sin as an act of righteousness, and encouraging others to join with them in the commission of sin. No journal among us has written more or fought harder to negate the effect of these false teachers than has the Guardian of Truth.
We have no apologies to make for our defense of the faith which Christ has delivered to us through the inspired apostles and prophets. We are appreciative of the warm support which we have received from those brethren who stand with us in opposing the grace-unity movement.
In recent months, discussion has been given to the topic of continuous cleansing by the blood of Jesus. This discussion is a spin-off of the grace-unity discussion. The grace-unity brethren have made the following argument in justification of their fellowship with those who are using instrumental music in worship, supporting human institutions from the church treasury, participating in the sponsoring church arrangement and participating in church sponsored recreation:
1. “Do you know everything perfectly?” No one can argue that he has perfect knowledge of everything. Hence, he must answer this question, “No.”
2. “Is it possible that you might be committing a sin of Ignorance at the present time?” The only answer which can be given to this question is “Yes.”
3. “Are you saved right now?” Each of us who has a good conscience believes that he is saved at the present. The grace-unity advocates are arguing that so long as a Christian is good, honest, and sincere he may be wrong and practicing sin in any matter of doctrine and still be saved.
4. “If you are saved while committing a sin of Ignorance, weakness or inadvertence, why can’t those in the liberal churches of Christ (who support human Institutions from the church treasury, participate in the sponsoring church arrangement, and practice church-sponsored recreation) and Christian Churches be saved In the same manner?” These brethren pray the same prayer confessing sinfulness, are just as sincere and honest, and have the same desire to be saved as you do. Hence, if you can be saved while committing sins of ignorance, weakness, and inadvertence, why can’t they?
5. “If you admit that they an saved, you have an obligation to receive them just as Christ received you (Rom. 15:7).” If we are going to be in heaven together, we have an obligation to accept one another here on earth. Consequently, the grace-unity advocates fellowship each other.
As most of our readers know, I have attacked this false doctrine at point number three in several editorials and comments in “Quips and Quotes.” I simply do not believe that a man is saved before God while practicing a sin, even if he is good, honest, and sincere. Hence, I would attack the point (#3) which implies that a man is saved while practicing a sin. Until someone shows me a better place to attack this argument, I shall continue to resist it at this point. My only interest in discussing the issue of forgiveness of sins of ignorance, weakness, and inadvertence has been in its relationship to the grace-unity movement.
Before there was a grace-unity movement brethren were discussing the question of how God deals with His children who fall into some inadvertent error or into some sinful practice through ignorance. There have been several shades of thought but everyone has agreed that we must rebuke sin, no matter what its cause, and that we must teach those who err to repent and pray God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:21-23; 1 Jn. 1:6-2:2). We have been united in practice – in telling the sinner what he must do to be right with God. But in recent years, the apostate grace-unity movement has given the old discussion a new twist. The apostates claim that God somehow automatically forgives sins of ignorance, weakness and inadvertence – and claim this as a pretext to justify fellowship with those who are practicing and defending sin.
I openly confess that there are areas of the question about what God will do with a Christian who dies under this or that circumstance to which I do not know the answer and join with others in stating “only God knows.” However, I am opposing the grace-unity doctrine in its every twist and turn designed to create a basis of unity broader than the Bible allows.
There are others who stand just as opposed to the grace-unity movement as I do who make some arguments and concessions I cannot make – some are willing to concede point number three (above). As a matter of fact, these brethren consider my opposition to point number three to tend toward legalism at the very best. These brethren are not Calvinists or sympathizers with the grace-unity movement! I think that those who accept the doctrine of continuous forgiveness could also admit that I am no legalist, not guilty of neo-Catholicism, and do not believe in salvation based on perfect obedience. Our applications in the realm of fellowship are identical. We have a great unity based on our common practice, even though we might arrive at the same conclusion from different points of view.
That we might arrive at the same conclusion from different points of view is not new. Those of us who are united in our opposition to church support of human institutions do not always arrive at the same conclusion in the same way. Some who stand opposed to church support of human institutions arrive at that conclusion based on the conviction that the local church is the only collective arrangement for teaching the Bible. These brethren are not only opposed to church support of human institutions, they are also opposed to individual contributions such as Florida College, Think, Guardian of Truth, and Vanguard. These brethren work with me and I with them in spite of our personal differences because we are united in keeping churches separate from business and service organizations. We can study such differences with calmness and mutual respect, united in work and worship in the local church according to the Scriptures. Those who have called for division over such issues have generally been resisted and with this I concur.
A similar tolerance needs to be practiced regarding our differences on “continuous forgiveness.” I am concerned when I read comments which implicitly or explicitly state that churches should not be using men who differ with a certain position on continuous forgiveness. Those men who stand opposed to the grace-unity movement but believe in continuous forgiveness are practicing the same things which I practice. Let me be specific. Brethren Leslie Diestelkamp, Robert Turner, and Eugene Britnell and others who could be named take a different position than I take on continuous forgivingness. They have made some statements with which I am uncomfortable and I have made some statements with which they are not comfortable. Nevertheless, they preach against instituationalism, church sponsored recreation, the sponsoring church arrangement, premillennialism, etc., just as strongly as I do and have for a good many moor years. I have not detected any difference in our practices that fall into the realm of sin. Consequently, I can find no biblical justification for calling upon brethren to quit using such men. I view any such call as a misguided statement born from overzealous actions in opposing the grace-unity movement.
These misguided statements are not the only danger in the area of fellowship regarding this issue. There is also a danger that churches might determine who they have for meetings based on convictions regarding continuous forgiveness. A boycott of some good brethren who oppose continuous forgiveness but who come out the same in practice as those who accept the idea might also occur. Not to us those who stand opposed to “automatic forgiveness” but who practice the same thing as you do is to have the same practical result as a public, written call for churches not to use those who take the opposite view on this issue. We need cooperation on every side.
What can we do to prevent this matter from crystalizing into a division among us? I would like to make the following suggestions:
(1) Work together so long as our practice is the same. I personally have determined that I shall continue to work with those with whom I disagree so long as our practices are the same. I shall continue to invite such brethren to participate with me on radio programs, write articles for Guardian of Truth, preach in pulpits where I worship, and lead in public prayer in spite of our differences on this issue. A different stance will be taken toward those who write public statements of endorsement to the grace-unity leaders, who sanction sinful practices, who teach that church support of human institutions and the sponsoring church arrangements do not violate the doctrine of Christ and should not be rejected from fellowship (2 Jn. 9-11), who can write repeatedly in liberal papers without rebuking the sins of liberalism, who state that liberal brethren are preaching the same gospel as we are peaching, and similar such things. Those who do such things stand identified with the grace-unity brethren and in violation of 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:8-9, 2 John 9-11, Jude 3, Revelation 22:18-19 and a host of other passages.
(2) Keep the lines of communication open. I plead with brethren on both sides of this recent issue to join with me in keeping the lines of communication open. I invite you to present your material in Guardian of Truth. I invite you to respond to material which I have written to express the other side. I might differ with you and express my difference in the form of reply but we will part as brethren who continue to receive one another. I have expressed this much to some of these brethren in the past and will continue to express this in the future. If the lines of communication and fellowship are broken, someone other than me will have to do the breaking.
With the Indianapolis debate between brethren John Welch and Floyd Chappelear just around the corner, let us resolve anew not to let these issues divide us. Let those who want to and can attend the forthcoming debate approach it from the standpoint that we are brethren seeking to reach a better understanding of God’s word in order that we might use it against the enemy, not against those who are practicing the same things as we are. If this can be done in the forthcoming debate, good can result.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 5, pp. 130, 150
March 1, 1984