The Grace-Fellowship Theory (2)

By Wayne Partain

“Structured Worship”

You should be very suspicious of criticisms of “three songs and a prayer.” Some brother might sincerely want to change the order of worship once in awhile, but you should listen closely to determine if someone wants an innocent change or if he is attacking what he calls “structured worship.”

By this they mean everything should be informal and spontaneous. They say we should not be strict about a time for meeting, and when we meet, let each person, man or woman, just spontaneously start singing or praying when he or she feels like it. If a person wants to take the Lord’s Supper, let him get up and go take it. Or they may want to sit on the floor, hold hands, use candlelight, with everything strictly unplanned. This is supposed to be more spiritual. Strong attacks are made against “Church of Christ tradition.”

But the disorder they like is precisely what Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians 14. He concludes (v. 40) by saying, “But let all things be done decently and in order.” And orderly worship is entirely spiritual – because this is precisely what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God and therefore knows what He wants (1 Cor. 2:11).

Gospel-Doctrine Distinction

Another danger signal to watch and listen for is the artificial distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine.” They teach that “gospel” refers only to the Christ event (1 Cor. 15:1-4); that acceptance of this assures us of salvation, and that fellowship should be extended to all who accept this basic truth.

Then “doctrine” is made to mean all other teaching in the New Testament, and should not affect fellowship, according to them.

But consider: Roman 1:5, “obedience of faith”; 2:8 “obey . . . truth”; 6:17, “obedient . . . to . . . teaching (doctrine)”; 10:16, “obeyed . . . gospel” (KJV); 16:26, “obedience of faith.” Notice also 1 Timothy 1:10,11, “sound doctrine, according to our gospel.” These terms, and several other synonyms, are used interchangeably, and show that the gospel (the faith, the truth) must be obeyed.

Examples And Inferences

We’re told that examples and inferences should not be bound, that they do not have the binding force of precepts (commands). They say that inferences constitute human authority and human doctrine. This is a major attack against scriptural authority. They say we cannot bind examples because we have to choose which ones to bind, but then they have to choose which commands to bind (they don’t bind John 13:14; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 14:39).

Why minimize examples? For the same reason liberal brethren have done so for years: to get away from the binding force of the examples of New Testament churches cooperating only as they acted concurrently, without any centralization of funds in one church (“sponsoring church”). Some liberal brethren have questioned the binding force of apostolic examples in Acts 20:7; but this is the only text that requires first-day-of-the-week observance of the Lord’s Supper. Acts 14:23 (apostolic example) is the only text that teaches that elders should be appointed in each congregation. But the grace-unity brethren deal even more recklessly with these texts than do the other liberals.

Remember this: the organization, worship and work of the church is largely set forth in examples, and by no means exclusively by precepts, And since the movement seeks to undermine these matters, they attack the binding force of examples.

Listen for them to say regarding inferences, “You bind human reasoning.” No, what is bound is what God says – by implication. God does not say everything explicitly (in so many words). But they know this. How do they learn what they affirm concerning commands, or anything else? By inference! Anything they say even about the commands of the New Testament is an inference. Here is their gross inconsistency – they constantly infer that we should not infer what God’s requirements are for us.


One error gives rise to another. Since man is said to have a corrupt nature, he can never be righteous. Therefore, Christ’s personal righteousness (His obeying, doing, law-keeping) is said to be imputed or reckoned to our account. This is pure Calvinism. Be on the alert for such remarks as “Christ kept the law for us,” “Christ is our representative law-keeper,” “we’re saved not only by His dying, but also by His doing,” etc.

This false doctrine is based on the assumption that God can accept only perfect keepers of His law; therefore, since all men have sinned, Christ had to be our substitute, and keep the law for us. Ask them, “Which law did Christ keep for us?” And, “Where does the Bible say anything at all about Christ’s obedience being reckoned to our account?” 1 Corinthians 1:30 (Christ “was made unto us wisdom . . . righteousness . . . sanctification, and redemption”) is perverted to teach this doctrine; to be consistent they would have to teach that His wisdom and sanctification are also reckoned to our account.

It’s important to remember that this is the principle doctrine on which Baptists base their doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” (“once saved, always saved”), because if we have Christ’s own personal righteousness, how can we be lost?

Automatic Forgiveness (Continuous Cleansing)

More recently some brethren have come up with a modified version of the Calvinist doctrine of imputation, affirming that our sins of weakness and ignorance are automatically forgiven or continuously cleansed as soon as they are committed – and, therefore, are not charged against us. 1 John 1:7 (“if we walk in the light . . . the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin”) is perverted to teach that if we have a “usually good life” and “a penitent, prayerful attitude,” then we commit sins of ignorance or weakness, we have the “automatic” or “continuous” forgiveness of such sins, without repentance, confession and prayer.

One illustration that has been used is that of a windshield wiper, which won’t keep the rain off the windshield, but will immediately remove it. This is the Calvinistic doctrine that our sins are not charged or reckoned to our account. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (“not reckoning unto them their trespasses”) and Romans 4:8 (“Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin”) are perverted to teach that a Christian’s sins are not charged against him, provided they are sins of weakness or ignorance. The Bible teaches that every sin committed is charged against (reckoned unto) the sinner, but Romans 4:7 makes it clear that when God forgives that sin, it is no longer reckoned (“the Lord will not reckon sin”). It’s a matter of when He will not reckon sin.

In Romans 4:5-8 Paul says the same thing in different ways: v. 5, “justifies the ungodly,” “his faith is reckoned for righteousness”; v. 6, “God reckoneth righteousness apart from works”; v. 7, “iniquities are forgiven,” “sins are covered,” and, stated negatively, “the Lord will not reckon sin.” When we study this phrase, “will not reckon sin,” in its context, it is obvious that it simply means forgiveness.

There is no implication in these verses that the sins of weakness or ignorance of a Christian will not be put on his record. But if it could be proved scripturally that sins of weakness or ignorance are not reckoned to the Christian’s account, then by the same reasoning it could be shown that none of his sins is ever reckoned unto him.

Be alert to new classifications of sin. We now hear of “minor sins,” “inadvertent sins,” “incidental sins,” and “non-alienating sins” about which we should not worry, since we have “automatic” or “continuous” cleansing of them. These sins are set forth in contrast to “willful sins” and “rebellious sins” which do require repentance, confession and prayer and are not cleansed continuously. We’re told not to be concerned about” non-willful sins,” for the blood of Christ will automatically take care of them. But remember that 1 John 1:7-9 says that if we walk in the light, which includes confessing our sins, the blood cleanses us of all sin.

All this arbitrary classification of sin is borrowed from the Catholic concept of “mortal” and “venial” sins.

“The only solution for sin for alien sinners is that they repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The only solution for erring Christians is that we repent, confess sin and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; James 5:16; 1 John 1:8,9).”

They speak of “a continuous flow of grace” in the spiritual body of Christ, compared to the flow of blood in our physical bodies which removes impurities. They talk of a “state of forgiveness,” which means “continuous forgiveness” for sins of weakness and ignorance. If we walk in the light, we are assured that sin is not imputed (put to our record), because of the constant cleansing of Christ’s blood. Be not deceived, this is pure Calvinism.

If we don’t accept their doctrine, we’re accused of teaching that our only hope lies in never sinning. 1 John 2:1 teaches that we should not sin, and the Bible nowhere teaches that man has to sin. Many Scriptures teach us to strive for perfection. But no one teaches that our hope depends on our never sinning at all, because all men sin (1 John 1:8, 10). However, when we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:2), unless we’re persisting in the practice of sin (1 John 3:6-10).

But the doctrine of “continuous cleansing” means that the Christian’s sins of weakness or ignorance are not even charged against him. They are cleansed immediately just as germs are killed immediately when they enter the bloodstream.

Also we are accused of teaching that the Christian immediately falls from grace every time he sins. No, Paul called the Corinthian church “the church of God” (I Cor. 1:2), told them “ye are Christ’s” (3:33), and “ye are the body of Christ” (12:27) in the same letter in which he accuses them of sin. Christ told the church of Ephesus, “Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and win move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5).

It is imperative that we strive diligently not to sin. Every sin must be taken seriously. We should be very anxious to please God, and should be conscience-stricken when we do sin, and with genuine penitence should immediately confess it and pray for forgiveness. God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4), and may the Lord grant that we “find mercy of the Lord in that day” (2 Tim. 1:18), but we must not presume on His mercy. He is also a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Christians do not practice sin. We do not have a corrupt nature. We are servants of righteousness, not of sin.

Neither Paul, Christ, nor any other inspired person every told a church or individual not to worry about sins of weakness or ignorance. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:11 that a “weak” brother could perish. The second letter to the Corinthians shows that the first letter got positive results. What if it hadn’t? How long would it have been before they would have been disowned by Christ?

Also we are accused of teaching that the Christian must remember every single sin he has committed, repent of it and specifically confess it in order to obtain forgiveness. No, no more than a person has to remember every single sin he ever committed in his life and repent of it before being baptized. A man can repent of being a liar, without having to remember every single lie he ever told. The publican simply said, “God, be thou merciful to me a sinner” and “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:13,14).

One of the main tactics used by the proponents of “automatic forgiveness” or “continuous cleansing” to deceive the unsuspecting is the use of hypothetical cases. Perhaps the one heard most is that of a man breaking the speed limit and being killed before he can pray for forgiveness. Some brethren use this to supposedly give us more assurance (“don’t worry about things like this!”), but they’re taking the bait of the grace-unity people. All this talk about dying-before-praying is a coverup; the real purpose of the doctrine is to minimize sin, and especially doctrinal error. The bottom fine of this doctrine is that we should fellowship those in error.

If there are sincere brethren who are really concerned about our having more assurance, but do not want to fellowship doctrinal error, let them show it by preaching all the assurances found in such books as 1 John (he says “we know” about a dozen times), and by ceasing to use the language and the tactics of the grace-unity crowd.

“Walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) is clearly explained by the context: 2:3, keep the commandments; 2:5, keep His words; 2:6, walk as He walked; 2:10, love the brethren; 2:29, practice righteousness; 3:22, do what pleases God; 4:6, hear the apostles, etc. John does not say “if you have a usually good life and have a penitent, prayerful attitude, you will have continuous cleansing of your sins of ignorance and weakness.” There is no hint of a “state of forgiveness” that doesn’t require confession of sin. This is a gross perversion of this text.

Brethren need to abandon all this talk about “dying-before-praying” and get on with the work of preaching the gospel of Christ, in season, out of season, and in order to give assurance, keep on quoting Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” There are some influential brethren among us who need to quit lending their influence to the grace-fellowship movement. 1 John teaches (4:1-6) that every doctrine (and this includes every phase of Calvinism or Neo-Calvinism) should be tried and exposed by apostolic teaching.

Many Scriptures Perverted

We’ve mentioned some already. Others are: Philippians 3:16, “whereunto we have attained (by trusting not in the flesh but in the gospel), by that same rule let us walk”; this is perverted to say something that never entered the mind of Paul: that is, that each person should just serve the Lord according to the “level of knowledge” he has, (for example, in our time, according to his knowledge concerning instrumental music in worship, premillennialism, institutionalism, etc.); James 1:15, “full grown sin” is sin not repented of; but this is perverted to refer to willful sins, in contrast to sins of weakness and ignorance; 1 John 5:16,17, “a sin unto death . . . not unto death,” according to whether it is admitted and repented of (the thrust of the letter makes this clear); but this is perverted to mean that only willful and rebellious sins (which they equate to leaving the faith) are unto death; Psa. 19:12, “hidden faults” are confessed by David, and forgiveness is sought for them (“clear thou me”); but this is used to illustrate sins of ignorance for which we have continuous forgiveness, whether we confess them or not. False teachers can see their doctrine in every book of the Bible.


The Scriptures were written that we might not sin (1 John 2:1). There is no excuse for any kind of sin. No one has to sin. Man is not born with a corrupt nature.

Ignorance of sin comes from ignorance of the Scriptures. Therefore, the solution to the problem is found in 2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word.” We must seek truth (Matt. 7:7,8). God helps truth-seekers (Acts 10:2-4; 18:26) and He also helps those who do not love the truth to believe a lie (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Some brethren are having a lot to say about ignorance, and are attempting to make excuses for it, and justify it. But the gospel dispels ignorance. The Bible plainly teaches that those who sin in ignorance are condemned and must meet the conditions of forgiveness (Lev. 5:17-19; Acts 3:17-19; 1 Tim. 1:13-16).

The only solution for sin for alien sinners is that they repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The only solution for erring Christians is that we repent, confess sin and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; James 5:16; 1 John 1:8,9).

What happens to the person who is guilty-in-ignorance, should he die before learning of his guilt and meeting the conditions of pardon, is not revealed in the Scriptures. Many passages speak of the longsuffering and mercy of God, and we all need mercy, and should pray for mercy (2 Tim. 1:16-18), no matter how faithfully we live. The Bible also teaches that God gives us time to repent (Rev. 2:4-5,14-16). But we must never take liberties with His mercy nor take it for granted. We place our souls at great risk when we are presumptuous in our attitude toward His mercy and grace. Assurance is based on God’s promises. But these promises are conditional. His mercy is shown conditionally (James 2:13).

Grievous wolves still enter in among God’s people (Acts 20:28-31). They still carry off disciples. In our time this gracefellowship movement is one of the most subtle and dangerous doctrines being circulated among churches of Christ. Elders and preachers who do not do their homework on Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism may well let some individual (perhaps some zealous couple) come in among them and corrupt three or four individuals or couples before anyone knows what is going on. Then the church will be corrupted or divided by these brethren who say they are so concerned about unity and fellowship.

“Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock. . . .”

(Editor’s Note: “The Grace-Fellowship Theory” by Wayne Partain is available in tract form and maybe ordered from the Guardian of Truth Bookstore. We commend the tract to you and express appreciation to Byron Gage, it’s publisher, for allowing us to reprint it here.)

Guardian of Truth XXX: 15, pp. 456-457, 466-467
August 7, 1986