The Grace-Fellowship Theory (1)

By Wayne Partain

This is one of the doctrines of the New Unity Movement. It is the theory that grace is extended to cover sins of weakness and ignorance, especially doctrinal ignorance, even though such sins are persisted in. Unscriptural definitions are given by the proponents of this theory to several terms such as grace, faith, justification, righteousness, unity, fellowship and imputation. For this reason they often say they are misunderstood or misrepresented. This is inevitable since they are giving unscriptural meanings to Bible terms.

Originally the movement was designed to extend fellowship “to all segments of the Restoration Movement.” This means having fellowship with the Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ and with all those who call themselves churches of Christ, even if they teach premillennialism.

According to this theory, there should be no division over sponsoring churches, church-supported institutions, church sponsored recreation and social activities. But their fellowship has been extended even beyond this and many of the advocates of this theory openly embrace denominationalism.

Yes, it’s a unity movement, but not of the Bible unity as discussed in Ephesians 4:1-6, not the unity Christ prayed for in John 17:21-23, a unity based on the words He received from the Father and delivered to His apostles (John 17:8,14).

It doesn’t accomplish Bible unity, but rather more division among churches of Christ. Several congregations have been either taken over or divided by this “unity” movement. It is ironical that some who talk the loudest about grace, unity, love and spirituality, resort to such carnal methods in order to promote their cause. No sectarian movement has ever demonstrated more conniving hypocrisy.

What are its principal doctrines? What are the danger signals? Presented here are a few of the major doctrinal approaches of this movement, and “catch phrases” for which members of the church should be watching. It is imperative that this heresy be detected early and dealt with firmly, lest it divide more congregations or convert them to a form of Calvinism.

One of the basic doctrines of the grace-fellowship theorists is the Calvinistic doctrine that man is born with a sinful nature. This is said to be the source of sins, and the cause of so much ignorance and weakness. This false doctrine emphasizes the inability of man, placing the responsibility for his salvation entirely, or almost entirely, in the hands of God.

It should be understood that there are modified versions of Calvinism. Some would deny believing the doctrine of “total depravity. ” But if man has a corrupt, sinful nature, then he sins because he cannot help it. So there is no significant difference between “corrupt nature” and “total depravity” so far as the results are concerned. If man has to sin, it doesn’t really matter why.

Romans 7:14-17 is perverted to teach that Paul, as a Christian and an apostle, was still, as he wrote this, carnal and in bondage to sin, with no control over his life. They would have us ignore all that Paul says in Romans 6 about crucifying the old man, putting off the body of sin, not letting sin reign in our bodies, etc. In Romans 7 Paul is describing service under the law (“in the flesh”) and, being a Jew himself, he identifies himself with his people. But some false teachers are more interested in upholding a theory than in analyzing exactly what a text teaches, even though their interpretation does violence to God’s word. Remember the warnings of 2 Thessalonians 2-10-12; 2 Peter 3:16; etc.

Also Ephesians 2:3 is made to say “we are by nature the children of wrath,” whereas Paul says “we were.” And the expression “by nature” means “by confirmed practice,” and not, as they would have us believe, “by birth.”

Be on the alert for such expressions as “man, because he is man, sins.” Why teach this? In order to affirm that Christians are characterized by ignorance, weakness and sin; and that we are all brethren in error, ignorant of many of God’s requirements – too weak to do all He says for us to do. Hence, they teach that grace has to cover such sins. In reality according to them, our salvation does not depend on what we know or what we do. This sounds sensible and logical to many humble brethren who are so conscious of their struggle with temptation and sin. But does the Bible teach us, therefore, to have a resigned and tolerant attitude toward sin and error? No, and above all we must remember that the Bible teaches that when we do sin, we are totally responsible. We can’t blame a so-called i4corrupt nature” that we supposedly inherited from Adam. And the Bible emphatically teaches that we can and must learn God’s will and follow it.

Do not be deceived by such questions as “Do you know it all?” or “Do you do everything perfectly?” Whether you do or not, that is not the purpose of such questions. This is just another attempt to pull the faithful down to the level of the unfaithful, by encouraging an indifference toward God’s will and the performing of it. Always remember that in the name of “unity” and “fellowship” this movement is designed to destroy respect for scriptural authority.

Be alert for such remarks as “We’re all ignorant of some things. ” The immediate reaction of most sincere brethren would be, “Oh, yes, certainly we are.” In so replying we take their bait. Then step by step they lead us to the conclusion that “Yes, after all, I guess we shouldn’t be so hard on our liberal brethren, since we’re all so ignorant and wayward.” Instead of taking the bait, ask the question, “What are these things we’re ignorant of?” We want to learn and make corrections so we’ll please God. But they aren’t the least interested in telling you exactly of what you might be ignorant. They never correct “brethren in error”; they just fellowship them in their error! This is an open attack on the revealed will of God.

Romans 14 teaches us to receive and fellowship each other instead of having contentions and division over such matters as eating certain foods or observing certain days. 1 Corinthians 8 deals with a similar matter involving the individual conscience, and liberty in matters of opinion. We rightly apply this teaching to an individual’s conscience regarding the covering, mixed marriages, the Christian’s relationship to civil government, swearing in a court of law, etc.

But this movement also includes in the category of opinions such things as instrumental music, premillennialism, church-sponsored institutions, societies and social programs. It is absurd to put all these doctrines and practices in the same category as eating or not eating certain foods or observing or not observing certain days (Rom. 14:3,5). Premillennialism, for example, is based on a fallacious system of Bible interpretation and represents the church as an accident; instrumental music corrupts the worship of the church; and the very nature and function of the church as taught in the Scriptures are perverted by church-sponsored institutions and social programs.

So be on the alert for this misuse of Romans 14.

Romans 6:14 (“ye are not under law, but under grace”) is perverted to teach that we under no law whatsoever, not even the law of Christ, so far as salvation (justification) is concerned. They will admit that we are under Christ’s law so far as sanctification is concerned, but they rule out all law so far as salvation is concerned. This is pure nonsense. The law of Christ is simply the expression of the will of God and Christ tells us repeatedly (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; etc.) that we must do God’s will to be saved.

Quite often brethren make the argument that Paul does not say “the law” in Romans 6:14, that he does not use the definite article, and therefore, refers to law in general. But no argument can be made on the presence or absence of the definite article (see Thayer’s lexicon on “nomos”).

Paul is discussing the law of Moses throughout the Roman letter. Look at Romans 7:4, “ye also were made dead to the law”; were they dead to the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21)?

But why teach that we are not under the law of Christ as far as salvation is concerned? For the same reason the denominations have always taught it: to minimize scriptural authority, and to minimize the doctrine of man’s accountability (responsibility) to learn and do God’s will. Calvinism teaches that due to man’s depraved nature, salvation is wholly of grace, and that man is passive in his salvation. So they feel compelled to set aside the many texts that deal with obedience to Christ’s law.

The charge of “legalism” is hurled at us for teaching that we must obey the gospel and “Legalism”

17 Guardian of Truth – July 17, 1986 (433)

work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). They love to call us “Pharisees” and “legalists” who are under law and not under grace,” and accuse us of “perfectionism” and “self-righteousness.” AD such expressions readily identify this movement. Do not be deceived.

Faith Vs. Works

Remember that these brethren sound a great deal like Baptists. To the extent that you are familiar with Baptist doctrine and sophistry, to that extent you’ll be able to recognize these teachers. They teach salvation by faith only. They don’t usually like to add the word “only” but they always strongly imply it, and sometimes say it outright. The word “works” is a dirty word with them, because it emphasizes the fact that salvation is conditioned upon learning and doing God’s will. You cannot even preach a sermon about obeying the gospel without them accusing you of teaching “salvation by works.”

Listen for criticism of “the five steps of obedience.” Or someone might even repeat the worn-out expression of modernism, “preach the man and not the plan.”

Above all, don’t be deceived by their remarks about our “depending on what we do” for salvation. This is another smoke screen. They don’t want to just come right out and say that we don’t have to obey and do God’s will to be saved. So they will come down hard on the “terrible practice” of depending on what we do, rather than depending on Christ. Shouldn’t we depend on Christ rather than on ourselves? Yes, but depend on Christ for what? He won’t obey the gospel for you. We depend on Christ as our Savior, of course; that is the basis of our salvation. But salvation is conditional; we must accept it by meeting the conditions the Lord lays down.

But the main thing to remember is that there is no way you can express the necessity of obeying, doing and working that will suit them! It is vain to try. This talk of “depending” is just to throw you off balance. They will accept only faith as a condition of salvation, and like other sectarians they’re willfully ignorant of the fact that if we preach even one condition (faith), then salvation is conditional. If we accept the fact that salvation is conditional and if we have any respect at all for what Christ teaches, we will preach all of the conditions set forth in His word.

Romans 11:6 (“if it is by grace, it is no more of works”); Ephesians 2:9 (“not of works, that no man should glory”); 2 Timothy 1:9 (“not according to our works”), and Titus 3:5 (“not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves”), are all perverted to exclude the works that are required of us by Christ and His apostles. Paul is made to say that we are not. saved by any kind of works – at all. They would have us believe that all works are excluded so far as salvation is concerned, even the works clearly required of us in the New Testament.

They make Paul and James (2:24) refer to the same works, involving them in a hopeless contradiction, and of course, make Paul contradict himself (see Gal. 5:6; Phil. 2:12; etc.). Let no one deceive you: this charge that is being made against them here is absolutely true! They glibly parrot Paul’s statements about the works that are excluded (works people depend on for salvation instead of obeying the gospel, “works . . . we did” in the past), and array these texts against us with the charge that we are trying to save ourselves by works when we emphasize baptism, attendance, taking the Lord’s Supper, giving, visiting, studying, etc.

Listen carefully for such sectarian statements as: “we are not saved by good works, but unto good works”; “we work because we’re saved, not in order to be saved”; and “all our good works are cancelled by our sins.” Some even go to the extreme of perverting Isaiah 64:6 (“our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment”). Baptists and other sectarians have been making these statements and perverting these passages on “righteousness” and “works” for centuries.

They Confuse “Basis” With “Condition”

Let no one unsettle you with his confusion on this point. The basis of our salvation is grace (Christ, the cross, the blood, all that God has done and is doing for us). But salvation is conditional. We must accept it, by meeting the conditions or requirements taught in the will of Christ (obey the gospel, do God’s will, study, work). Our obeying is not the basis or procuring cause of our salvation. Of course not. No one thinks that it is. But false teachers constantly attack the importance of obedience by charging that we make it the basis of our salvation; hence, that we are trying to save ourselves as if we thought we did not need the cross of Christ. This is pure sophistry. Don’t be taken in by it. It is gross misrepresentation. Only a fool would say, “I have been baptized and I attend services, so I don’t need Christ.”

But just let these who trouble Israel tell us whether or not we have to do the Father’s will to go to heaven!

(To Be Continued With Next Issue)

Guardian of Truth XXX: 14, pp. 433-434
July 17, 1986