Unity in Diversity (I)

By Olen Holderby

“Unity in Diversity” is based on the theory that God receives into His fellowship those that practice the social gospel, instrumental music in worship, institutionalism and similar sins; we, therefore, dare not exclude them from our fellowship. This is not a new idea; Carl Ketcherside taught such as early as 1961though he has made fuller application of the theory more recently. I am aware that Christian Church preachers and a few others taught such doctrine long before Carl Ketcherside.

A number of years ago I heard Brother Cecil Willis make the “prophecy” that the “grace-fellowship” and “unity in diversity” problems would be the next wedge to divide the church and have some of the biggest battles yet to be fought. It has taken only a few years to prove him to be most accurate. But, why the battles? For the simple reason that such theories are based on error and not truth, are causing division and not unity, and are destroying souls rather than saving them.

In this series I shall briefly consider some of the error taught and call attention to some of the division wrought by this soul-condemning theory. I believe this to be one of those instances when, as James Adams put it, “silence is not golden.” Those teaching this “unity in diversity” doctrine may have the best intentions ever; their motives I do not question. However, they are still false teachers, to be marked in harmony with God’s Word and avoided by the faithful (Rom. 16:17).

I know of none who argue that “unity in diversity” is impossible, as long as this “diversity” is on matters of opinion or in the realm of judgment. However, when this involves a corruption of the worship, organization, or work of the church – matters legislated by God – such “diversity” is forbidden. Romans 14 is often used in an effort to enhance this “unity in diversity” movement, in matters legislated by God. However, this text does not deal with such matters. Rather it deals with individual actions in which others are not involved. These actions were not to be forced upon others; this would be sinful. Fellowship was not to be forbidden those involved in such personal actions; “to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4). Actions without Divine authority which involve others in such actions are forbidden (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6). Had God said eat (or not eat) a certain thing or to observe a certain day, those not doing so would sin; but such matters were left to personal choice. God is not pictured, in Romans 14, as overlooking error and receiving those who err.

Those who follow Bible examples will not fellowship those in error, even if they are ignorant of their error. Things not of faith are sin (Rom. 14:23); thus matters of faith are not under consideration in Romans 14. The only way sin may be involved here would be to violate our conscience or force such violation upon others. Not a single item of Romans 14 finds a parallel in instrumental music in worship, institutionalism, or any such innovations. Paul did not here, or anywhere else condone error or encourage it.

Expediency vs. SinSin is a transgression of God’s Law (1 Jn. 3:4). However, to condone a thing as a matter of expediency (Acts 16:1-3) or to practice that same thing as a matter of faith (Gal. 2:1-5) is quite two different things. Acts 21:18-26 is sometimes used in an effort to show that God approves the condoning of error for the sake of unity. Verse 21 clearly shows the accusation against Paul concerned “circumcision” and “customs.” Paul complied with the customs here as a matter of expediency and did not violate the Law of God in so doing. In Gal. 2:1-5, we are shown that when this same thing was required as a matter of faith, he refused.

Sin is sin, regardless of one’s ignorance or sincerity (1 Jn. 3:4; 5:17). Neither of these passages make any allowance for ignorance, sincerity, or any other unusual circumstances. Some sins may be relative (depending on capability and opportunity); while other sins may be absolute. When we fail to function to the fullest of our capabilities we sin. The fact that I know of none claiming perfection in this area, does not change the fact. We are simply in a position of seeking forgiveness and pressing on toward a fuller function.

Such general instructions as “grow,” “abound,” “teach,” or “visit,” are seen in varying degrees. Our best in many of these may still leave us short, but we cannot overlook them if we are to be acceptable to God. Having sought forgiveness we continue trying to improve. God, knowing the heart, can forgive and help us to improve. However, no part of God’s Will can be ignored. Human weaknesses may preclude maximum potential, but we must not stop, but keep on reevaluating and trying, seeking God’s forgiveness wherein we fail and applying ourselves to more effective service. It is still necessary to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) though greater efficiency in these is attainable with study and experience.

God has specified the acts of worship; there is no relativity; one either observes these or he does not. We may sin by adding to them taking from them, or altering them in some way. While improvement is always in order, there can be no dispute as to whether one performs these acts or not. Sin is not merely the result of imperfect knowledge and, therefore, to be overlooked. It seems that some have forgotten how the Bible defines sin (1 Jn. 3:4; 5:17; Jam. 4:17).

Sin separates a man from God (Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 18:20). I cannot fellowship God and fellowship the man separated from Him at the same time. To make an effort to do so is to separate myself from God (2 Jn. 9:11) for I have then sinned. I will remain separated from God until I have corrected the same (Acts 8:22).

Ignorance in the Church

The Lord’s church, ideally, is composed of those who are taught and properly informed in, the Gospel (Jn. 6:45; 8:31-32). Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17); and this faith is a prerequisite for baptism (Mk. 16:16). And, every member of God’s church is to live by faith (Rom. 1:17). In spite of these facts it must be admitted that much ignorance does exist in the church. Dangers of ignorance among God’s people have been seen in all ages (Hosea 4:6; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; Acts 3:17; Eph. 4:14). In 2 Thess. 2:10-12, Paul makes no allowances for ignorance and shows that such may cause eternal damnation. This is very important to the “unity in diversity” doctrine; for Sins of Ignorance are not suppose to consign one to hell.

It seems that there are those going about declaring themselves deeply concerned for the unity within the body of Christ. I suppose it does not bother them much that they are causing division; since, of course, they do it “in ignorance,” and God will not reject them because of their ignorance. Others appear to be making use of Ketcherside’s step no. 3 (Truth Magazine, 9-3-73, p. 9), and staying within to accomplish subversion. In either case, such men need to be exposed for what they are (false teachers) and for what they are doing (causing division).

Some have argued that “God’s grace will cover mistakes of the intellect.” If this is so, why such warnings as Gal. 6:7a; Col. 2:8; 2 Pet. 2:1; Mt. 7:15? Mt. 13:15, speaks of a “waxed-gross” heart with which they could not understand. Is not the intellect a part of the heart? The parable of the sower (Mt. 13) shows what happens to the intellect that rejects God’s Word, as well as the intellect (heart) that is honest and good. Those who would substitute their own for the things of God need to carefully read Mt. 7:21-23.

The remedy for ignorance has clearly been offered by scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; Prov. 23:23; Psa. 119:11). In Eph. 2, Paul discusses the past of the Ephesians, and shows how sinning in ignorance had kept them alienated from God (Eph. 4:18). It was ignorance that nailed the Son of God to the cross (Acts 3:17; 1 Cor. 2:8). It is most difficult to get men to admit to sin. In fact only nine times in all the Bible do we hear someone say, “I have sinned.” Nonetheless, when we do sin, we need to remember 1 Jn. 1:9; Acts 17:30; Acts 8:22; 1 Pet. 1:22.

A Few Questions

Bible interpretation may be a field of dispute, but there are certain rules of exegesis that are rather common and usually serve quite well in arriving at the true meaning of any passage. In view of this, I would like to ask a few questions of the “unity in diversity” advocates:

1. Eph. 5:11, Where do you get the idea that this applies only to the unregenerated?

2.1Cor. 1:10, Whence the idea that this does not cover division caused by instruments of music in worship or institutionalism, but applies only to trouble over preachers?

3. Gal. 1:8-9, Where do you get the idea that these apply only to those changing the “first principles” or to the Deity of Christ?

4. 2 Jn. 9-11, Just how do you reach the conclusion that this applies only to the Deity of Christ?

5. Tit. 3:10, How do you arrive at the conclusion that “heretic” refers only to the “party-minded” or “factious person?” And, how is it that you are willing to apply this to those who oppose the “social gospel,” “institutionalism,” and similar errors?

6. 2 Thess. 3:6,14, How did you find out that this refers to those in “obvious moral error” and not to false teachers?

7. Rom. 16:17, Where did you get the idea that this applies to the false teacher only when he becomes factious in pushing his error?

Any doctrine that can be supported only by a wresting of scriptures ought to arouse the suspicions of every honest soul. The truth of the matter is that the “unity in diversity” crowd would have us fellowship those in error on institutionalism, speaking in tongues, instruments in worship, work of the church, and many other such errors.


I am here concerned with the theory that says the personal righteousness of the life of Christ is imputed to our lives, and this is what causes God to overlook our errors. If this theory was fact, it would do away with the necessity of much obedience (Mt. 7:21); and if true about some commands, why not all commands? Secondly, such theory makes God a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11), thus God is responsible for man’s being lost. Third, it would encourage and give comfort to those in error (2 Jn. 9:11). Fourth, it would make numerous passages of scripture false-Ezek. 18:20; 1 Jn. 2:4, etc.

Others espousing this soul-condemning doctrine say that to teach we can be free from sin would demand “infallible interpretation of the infallible guide.” In other words, if one fails to understand and comply with the instruction of the Lord, He will overlook it and save that one anyway. Would not this same reasoning apply to any command of God? How do we know where to draw the line? What is to keep the alien from misunderstanding Bible teaching on baptism and not

complying – yet, the Lord saves him? The ultimate consequence of this “unity in diversity” doctrine destroy the identity of the church and would empty sacrifice of Christ of its real meaning-for what happens, if one simply does not understand that sacrifice?

“Oh no,” shout our “unity seekers,” “we would accept such conclusion.” Why not? The Roman Catholics have their “seven sacraments” that, they say, brings man into fellowship with God. They have put certain teachings in a class by themselves and made them more important than other commands. Our “unity in diversity” brethren just have a shorter listof “sacraments”- and it gets shorter all the time. Maybe they should reread James 2:10-12.

True, Jesus died for us! But, where is the scripture that says He lived a perfect life for us? He most certainly lived a perfect life, but that made Him the perfect and acceptable sacrifice (Heb. 7:26-28). Justification not offered on the basis of the perfect life of Christ, but on the death of Christ (Rom. 3:21-28; 4:4-11; Gal. 2:21). “Meritorious works” on the part of man or Christ for man are not taught in the scriptures. Those to whom God “”imputeth righteousness without works,” are those “whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins a covered” (Rom. 4:6-7). Acts 2:38 and 1 Jno. 1:7, clearly show how those iniquities are forgiven.

God’s Will can be understood (Eph. 5:17). The failure lies not in the difficulty of the Word, but in man’s effort, determination, dedication, and faith (Mt. 5:6; He 5:14). Step-by-step this “unity in diversity” theory heads straight for the Calvinistic doctrine of the “direct operation” of God’s Spirit upon those elected. This ignores such statements as Heb. 5:9. The free-agency of man to choose is very close to being questioned. Thes are same of .the consequences of such thoughts a “Jesus first lived a life of perfect obedience, meeting the demands of God’s holy law, and enabling Jesus to stand before God for us as He now does.” (Edward Fudgi Answers to Questions, p. 112). To be continued.

Truth Magazine XXI: 1, pp. 6-8
January 6, 1977