The Grace-Unity Movement Is Not Dead

By Mike Willis

Well over ten years ago, the Guardian of Truth called attention to the grace-unity movement which was having some influence among us. The doctrine was discussed and several men among us who were propagating it were exposed. Some might think that the movement is dead and will have no more influence among us.

Let me assure you that the grace-unity movement is not dead. Our liberal brethren are fighting a life-and-death battle among themselves over whether or not unity with the Christian Church is possible. Several of their more influential men, including such names as Reuel Lemmons, Rubel Shelly, and others, are advocating a unity-in-diversity with those in the Independent Christian Churches. The movement to fellowship Independent Christian Churches is only a temporary stopping place in route to moving into the mainstream of modern Protestant denominationalism.

Those who have left the moorings of Bible authority have moved further and further into denominationalism. They themselves do not know how far to go and where to stop. For example, Carl Ketcherside began by going to the Christian Churches and not singing with the instrument, because at that time he still believed it was sinful. Before long, he was singing with the instrument and condemning those of us who preached that using mechanical instruments of music in worship was sinful. As his departure from the word of God progressed, he began writing about denominational people as “brothers in prospect” and now he considers them brethren. A similar journey away from Jesus could be described in Leroy Garrett, Edward Fudge, Bruce Edwards, and many others.

Major Tenets of the Grace-Unity Movement

What are the major tenets of the grace-unity movement? Given below are some of them:

1. Unity-in-Diversity. The grace-unity movement asserts that the only way unity can be attained and maintained is through unity in diversity. They argue that we can no more think alike than we can look alike. The unity-in-diversity brethren state that we have unity with the Christian Church by recognizing that we are different in our beliefs about using mechanical instruments of music in worship and by accepting each other in spite of this difference.

This kind of unity is not “of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). Paul did not try to maintain a unity-in-diversity with the Judaizers; instead the Judaizers were charged with preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) and brethren were told to “cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal. 4:30). John did not recommend a unity-in-diversity with the Gnostics of his day; instead he charged that they had gone beyond the doctrine of Christ and did not have God (2 Jn. 9-11). Those who were faithful to Christ were commanded not to bid them Godspeed lest they become partakers in their evil deeds. Yet, the unity-in-diversity brethren tell us to accept those who have corrupted the worship of the Lord’s church by introducing mechanical instruments of music in worship. The unity which they preach is a different unity than what is revealed in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.

The unity which they preach is a unity which requires those who oppose instrumental music in worship to compromise their convictions. Those who favor using mechanical instruments of music in worship make no changes whatsoever; they continue to use their instruments of music in worship and preach that it is right to use them, although they are not used at some unity forums lest brethren should be alarmed at where the movement is headed. Those who oppose instrumental music in worship are told to quit preaching that a person sins and brings himself into a state of spiritual condemnation when he uses mechanical instruments of music in worship. He must give up his conviction that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is a sin which will cause one to lose his soul.

2. Fellowship Without Endorsement. Recently, we have been treated to several treatises on fellowship which try to distinguish levels of fellowship. One might be in the fellowship of God but not in the fellowship of other saints. We have been told by some of our grace-unity brethren that those in the Christian Church are in fellowship with God but that they cannot join with them in the fellowship of worship (because it would violate their conscience).

Does fellowship imply endorsement? Leroy Garrett says, “No.” The Bible says, “Yes.” Paul mentioned that James, Cephas, and John “gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). The “right hands of fellowship” from these leading men indicated that they approved the gospel which Paul was preaching. Yes, the right hands of fellowship meant endorsement. In fact, inviting a Gnostic preacher into one’s home in such a manner as to aid his work and increase his influence resulted in “bidding him Godspeed” and becoming a partaker in his sins (2 Jn. 9-11). The unity-in-diversity brethren are flatly contradicting the word of God when they teach that we can receive those who introduce mechanical instruments of music into the worship of the church without endorsing that which is sinful.

3. Essentials and Non-Essentials. The grace-unity movement unscripturally distinguishes essentials from nonessentials. Everyone of us recognizes that there are essentials and non-essentials in the Bible. Paul placed eating meats sacrificed to idols (Rom. 14-15) in the latter category. Whether or not one decides to marry is placed in that category (1 Cor. 9), as are also whether or not a preacher is supported, meeting in an upper room, etc. However, there are other things which are essential, such as the deity of Christ, the Lordship of Christ, the resurrection, etc.

The grace-unity brethren work to reduce the essentials to a bare minimum. Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside reduce the essentials to seven facts and one act which they call “gospel.” The other items are called “doctrine.” With reference to the “gospel,” all of those brethren who can no more think alike than they can look alike must learn to think alike! Rubel Shelly’s list of essentials is the seven ones of Epheiians 4:4-6; however he quickly points out that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is not a violation of the seven ones.

Brethren who reduce the “essentials” to a bare minimum are forced to go through the commandments of God and decide which are “essential” and which are “non-essential.” Surely they would be so kind as to tell the rest of us what criteria is used to distinguish an essential from a non-essential. Their subjective and arbitrary lists are worthless. Is God’s commandment to “flee fornication” an essential or a non-essential? How can we tell? Brethren, I have no desire to join hands with those brethren who put themselves in the position of becoming a judge of the law of God, distinguishing which of God’s commands must be obeyed and which do not have to be obeyed (Jas. 4:11-12).

4. Who Is A Christian. As the grace-unity movement continues its evolution, more and more the question is raised regarding who is a Christian. Leroy Garrett recognizes Christians in all denominations, regardless of whether or not they have been baptized. They may even be modernists, embracing evolution and denying the virgin birth of Jesus! Rubel Shelly says that one is a Christian so long as he is baptized in order to obey God. (The Baptists who deny that baptism is for the remission of sins teach that one is baptized in order to obey God.) The grace-unity movement loosens what God has bound as the conditions for becoming a Christian.

The Lord Himself said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). 1 will not tell a man that he is saved before and without being baptized. I will not recognize as saved anyone who has not complied with the Lord’s conditions. We dare not loose what God has bound (Matt. 16:19; 18:18).

How Much Love And Tolerance?

The grace-unity brethren preach love and tolerance. However, when they speak of those who oppose their unity-in-diversity, they become filled with venom. Those who oppose the unity-in-diversity movement are “close minded,” “sectarian,” “legalists,” “would be popes,” etc. Their publications are on the “gutter level,” contain “smut,” and are “slander sheets.” Those who oppose the grace-unity movement are not invited to the unity forums because “they do not have the right attitude” and are “knuckleheads.” I continue to marvel that the tolerant are so intolerant of the intolerant! To the preachers of tolerance, I say, “Physician, heal thyself!”

Are ill-will and malice toward those who call for book, chapter and verse tenets of the grace-unity movement? One could draw the conclusion that this was so from reading their journals. When these brethren write about denominational folks, they are described in glowing terms – they are so full of the Spirit, they are scholars, etc. When speaking of Christians who call for book, chapter and verse authority for everything we do, they syternatically attack us with such derogatory terms as “keepers of the orthodoxy,” “watch dogs,” “legalists,” “would-be popes,” etc. The heart of these brethren is exposed by their words. These brethren have much more in common with the denominations than they do with the Lord’s church. They are bent on reshaping the Lord’s church into a denomination!


Brethren, beware of these false teachers. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. They preach love and tolerance, but they are full of venom, bitterness, and intolerance. While we continue to oppose the grace-unity movement, let each of us resolve to work for the unity of the Spirit in every way that we can.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 7, pp. 193, 214-215
April 3, 1986