Continuous Cleansing: The Doctrinal Defense of Unity-In-Diversity

By Mike Willis

In the last twenty years, the cause of Christ has been undermined by a false unity-in-diversity movement which extends fellowship to those who persist in disobedience to the will of God. Fellowship is extended to those who use mechanical instruments of music in worship, teach premillennialism, change the organization of the church in the sponsoring church arrangement and pervert the work of the church by having it involved in recreation and in financial support of human institutions (colleges, hospitals, and orphan homes), and teach false doctrine on divorce and remarriage and are involved in unscriptural marriages.

This movement generally has been tied to the names of Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett and R.L. Kilpatrick. Among our liberal brethren, a sizable element has moved into the unity-in-diversity movement under the leadership of Rubel Shelly, Marvin Phillips, Calvin Warpula, and many others. The movement has also affected faithful brethren through the influence of Ed Fudge, Arnold Hardin, Bruce Edwards, and several others. These brethren have justified fellowship with those involved in what is admitted to be sin by several doctrinal positions. Ed Fudge and Arnold Hardin justified their fellowship with those involved in sin with their Calvinist doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the Christian. Many who reject this Calvinist doctrine but support unity-in-diversity justify fellowshipping those who participate in what is admitted to be sin with a doctrine known as “continuous cleansing.”

Statement of the Doctrine

The doctrine of continuous cleansing has never been formally defined, to my knowledge. However, it may be summarized as follows. According to this doctrine, the blood of Christ cleanses an individual “even as he sins.” The sins of a Christian, committed in sincerity, ignorance, piety, weakness of the flesh or anything else besides highhanded rebellion are forgiven by Christ without the recognition of those things as sinful or the repudiation and cessation of the practice. In other words, there is continuous forgiveness for continuous sins as long as they fall into certain categories as defined by various interpreters.

The argument goes something like this: Are you saved? Is it possible that you may be committing a sin of which you are presently unaware? If you are saved even though you are committing a sin of which you are unaware, is it not possible that members of the Christian Church who are unaware that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is sinful are also saved? If both are going to be saved in heaven, shouldn’t they fellowship each other on earth?

The assumption behind this argument to justify broadening the base of fellowship is that a person can be saved while continuing in the practice of his sin so long as he is good, honest and sincere. He is said to be saved because the blood of Christ continuously cleanses him of the sins he Continues to practice when he prays for God to forgive him of his sins.

Reply to the Assumption

The Bible teaches that one cannot be forgiven of sin without ceasing the sinful practice. There are a number of lines of evidence which show this:

1. Men were held accountable before Godfor sins committed in ignorance. Saul of Tarsus acted in all good conscience when he persecuted Christians (Acts 26:9; 23:1). Nevertheless, he was a “blasphemer, persecutor, and injurious man” (1 Tim. 1:13). Saul could not be saved in his ignorance but had to be converted to Christ to receive the remission of his sins. Saul had to cease the sinful practice of persecuting Christians.

Jesus warned of the danger false teachers pose to the souls of men through deceiving them with false doctrine. He said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up, Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shallfall into the ditch ” (Matt. 15:13-14). The blind followers -men who sin in ignorance – will be lost! Ages before Jesus, Solomon said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Many who think they are in the ways of righteousness will be lost (Matt. 17:21-23). This does not impugn the justice of God because the way of truth can be known to those who seek it (Matt. 7:7-8; Jn. 4:23-24; Acts 17:27).

2. Christians are held accountable for the sins they commit in the weakness of the flesh. The Apostle Peter fell into sin at Antioch when he withdrew from the Gentiles for fear of the Jews. Although Peter was a man who generally “walked in the light,” he stood condemned for his sin (Gal. 2:11-14). Unless he had repented of his sins, he would have been lost. Peter had to cease the sinful practice of compromise with false teachers. Paul warned, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Those who are overtaken in a fault need to be restored because they are lost.

3. Sin separates a person from God. One sin separated Adam and Eve from God (Gen. 3); Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for their sin in offering strange fire (Lev. 10:1-2); Uzzah was put to death for touching the ark when the oxen stumbled (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Isaiah said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). Sin separates a man from God. Since using mechanical instruments of music in worship is a sin, it separates a person from God. The sinful practice must cease if the sin is to be forgiven.

4. The conditions for forgiveness include repentance. When erring Christians in the New Testament wanted to be saved from their sin, the Lord instructed them, as in the case of Simon the sorcerer, to “repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). This demanded the recognition that what one was doing was wrong and the cessation of the sinful conduct.

In 1 John 1:8-2:1, the Lord commanded men to confess their sins in order to be forgiven. He said,

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1:8-2:1).

A confession of sin demands that one recognizes that the conduct which he is practicing is sinful and that he acknowledges he has been practicing it. Less than this does not meet the conditions for forgiveness. A man may confess that he is involved in drinking, but deny that drinking is sinful; another might admit that drinking is sinful, but hypocritically deny his involvement in it. Neither of these constitutes the confession of which John is speaking. Confession, as a condition for forgiveness, demands the recognition that the conduct is sinful and the open admission of his guilt, followed by the cessation of the sinful practice. John the Baptist called this the “fruit of repentance” and said there was no forgiveness without it. This does not mean that the sinner must specify every sin or every occasion of sin, but he cannot persist in the sinful practice if he wants to be forgiven, as John made clear (Matt. 3:6-8).

A person cannot be forgiven of a sin so long as he defends his sinful practice as righteousness, persists in the practice of his sin, and encourages others to join him in the sin. The belief that God forgives a good, honest, and sincere man of his sins before and without his repentance (which includes the cessation of the practice of the sin) is of the devil, not from God.

If a person who is a practicing homosexual wants to be saved, we teach him the conditions for forgiveness. In order to be saved by the grace of God, he must recognize that his homosexuality is sinful and quit practicing his sin. He cannot be saved unless he repents. Similarly, those who are perverting the worship of the church by introducing mechanical instruments of music must recognize that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is sinful and cease the practice of their sin. Those who are perverting the organization of the church in the sponsoring church arrangement must recognize that the sponsoring church arrangement is unauthorized of God and cease the practice of their sin. Those who have perverted the work of the church by involving it in recreation and financial support of business enterprises (such as colleges, hospitals, unwed mothers homes, and orphan homes) must recognize that these practices are sinful and cease the practice of the sin. If we can understand the conditions for a homosexual to be saved by the grace of God, we can understand how the grace of God saves every man.


Some are teaching that we should extend fellowship to those who are members of the Christian Church, for example. Yet, those who are in the Christian Church defend the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship as righteous, continue to use their instruments in worship, and encourage others to join with them in their sinful conduct. Others are extending fellowship to liberals who persist in church support of human institutions (missionary societies, colleges, hospitals, orphan homes, unwed mothers homes, etc.), the sponsoring church form of church organization, church supported recreation activities, and many other unauthorized practices. This fellowship is defended on the grounds that God “continuously cleanses” those who are involved in doctrinal and moral sins so long as they are good, honest and sincere.

Brethren in this new unity-in-diversity movement agree to quit condemning each others’ sinful practices. Those opposed to instrumental music in worship, church support of human institutions, church sponsored recreation, women preachers, etc. quit condemning these practices by their brethren, even though they believe them to be sinful. Though they have made an agreement to quit condemning what they admit to be sinful practices in others, brethren in this unityin-diversity movement persistently condemn any brother who calls “sinful” the practices which they themselves admit to be sinful and who encourages those involved to repent. The unity-in-diversity brethren display their newly found unity in joint worship services. Then they join hands with those who have apostatized from the truth to participate in those things on which both agree, such as benevolent relief. The bottom line is that those things which formerly were condemned as sinful are no longer opposed and soon are approved and practiced.

What Is Necessary to Have Bible Unity?

No serious student of the Bible can be opposed to Bible unity. Jesus prayed for unity (Jn. 17:20,21) and commanded that his disciples be united (1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-7). Much that is praised as unity is not Bible unity and is condemned by the word of God.

“Unity-in-diversity” is as self-contradictory as a “roundsquare,” In the unity-in-diversity movement, brethren agree to extend fellowship to one another while they continue to disagree about the worship, work, and organization of the church, or while they tolerate open departures from Christ’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, or while they embrace one another in spite of other moral and doctrinal apostasies. One could just as reasonably practice unity-indiversity with those who deny that water baptism is essential to salvation, Jesus is the Son of God, and God exists! We could have unity-in-diversity with each of these groups on the same terms as are presented for unity with brethren in the Christian Church and liberal churches of Christ.

Here are some requirements of true Bible unity:

1. Requires doctrinal agreement. John wrote, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11). Paul said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). We are commanded to have. unity in doctrine, not unity-in-diversity.

2. Requires that all be in fellowship with God. Our fellowship should be limited to those with whom God is in fellowship. John wrote, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). Those who are not “walking in the light” are out of fellowship with God and those who are his children.

3. Condemns extending fellowship to those who persist in sin. The Lord condemned churches which tolerated teachers who taught men to sin. To the church at Pergamos, John wrote, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaarn, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:14-16). Then he wrote to the church at Thyatira, “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. 2:20).

Churches are guilty of sin when they welcome into their pulpits those who have taught men to sin, whether the sin involves mechanical instruments of music in worship, the sponsoring-church perversion of local church organization, church support of human institutions (hospitals, colleges, unwed mothers homes, orphan homes, etc.), false theories on divorce and remarriage, or other doctrinal and moral apostasies.

What Are The Limits?

Those who are teaching that we can extend fellowship to those who have apostatized because “we are all sinners” and “none of us stands righteous before God because of our perfect knowledge and obedience” need to tell us just how far God’s “continuously cleansing” grace reaches.

Already some are saying that it reaches to those who are in the liberal churches. (I wonder if it extends to the left wing of our liberal brethren – to those who are allowing women preachers, appointing women as elders and deacons, preaching in denominational churches, and such like things.) Does the continuously cleansing grace of God cleanse those who use mechanical instruments of music in worship, contribute to missionary societies, fellowship the pious unimmersed, and other things common to the independent Christian Churches?

Does the continuously cleansing grace of God cleanse that good, honest, and sincere person who does not know that baptism is immersion? After all, “none of us stands righteous before God because of his perfect knowledge and obedience.” Shall we therefore extend fellowship to those good, honest, and sincere folks who have never been baptized, such as those in the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches? Or does the “continuously cleansing” grace of God stop at immersion? If so, what makes water baptism so different from any other of God’s commands so that a person must be “perfect in knowledge and obedience” with reference to baptism before he can be cleansed by the blood of Christ?

Does the continuously cleansing grace of God cleanse those good, honest, and sincere modernists who deny the deity of Christ, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists? Or must one be “perfect in knowledge and obedience” on these propositions and issues before the grace of God will cleanse him from sin?

What I am trying to say is this: The principles advocated by those who teach continuous cleansing, if consistently applied, lead to universalism. There are none among us at this time who are preaching universalism, but that is the conclusion to which this doctrine leads. A person could be saved believing, teaching, and practicing anything so long as he was sincere, if the doctrine of continuous cleansing is true.


There are some simple solutions to the unity-in-diversity matter upon which all brethren can agree. Consider these:

1. Preach the truth. Let us resolve to preach the truth of God’s word on every issue without respect of persons and without regard to what results might come. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32). We are admonished to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Whether the truth pertains to the worship, work, and organization of the church, the role of women, divorce and remarriage, or water baptism, let us resolve to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

2. Preach conditional forgiveness. Let us resolve to preach the Bible conditions for forgiveness. To the alien sinner, let us preach that forgiveness of sins is available to him through the blood of Christ on the conditions of faith in Christ, repentance of sins, confession of faith, and immersion in water for the remission of sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:37; 22:16). To the erring Christian, let us preach that forgiveness of sins is available to him through the blood of Christ on the conditions of repentance and confession to God (Acts 8:22; 1 Jn. 1:7-2:1). The demands of repentance include the renunciation and cessation of sin.

3. Let us avoid preaching that one can sin with impunity. Any doctrine which teaches that one does not have to give account to God for his sins is wrong. Any doctrine that says that a man can defend his sinful practice as righteousness, encourage others to join him the practice of his sin, and continue in the practice of his sin without being separated from God, is wrong whether it rides under the banner of “once in grace, always in grace” or “continuous cleansing.” Both doctrines teach that one can commit sin with impunity.

The doctrine of “continuous cleansing” is wrong! The use of this wrong doctrine to justify extending fellowship to those whom we admit to be practicing sin compounds the sin. Let us repudiate the extending of fellowship to those we know to be practicing sin and reject the doctrine by which this fellowship is justified.

We do the sinner an injustice by leaving him with the impression that he can be saved without ceasing the practice of his sin. We truly love the sinner when we convict him of his sins and call upon him to repent. This is preaching the saving grace of God.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 23, pp. 706, 724-726
December 3, 1992