Unity With Error: A Comparison

By Steve Wallace

Modern denominations are built on the sands of error and have now long sailed on the seas of human wisdom. One result we are seeing in our day is that many churches are seeking unity beyond the restrictions of their particular rules of faith. The kind of unity that has resulted is one that clearly tolerates sin, i.e., it is even clear to many in human denominations! This is very similar to the kind of unity some brethren have called for today. Hence, it is helpful to compare some of the things going on in the religious world with what is happening among us. Please notice the following elements that are part of such unity efforts among human denominations and among brethren.

Receiving People Who are Clearly in Sin

This is exemplified in the following quote which comes from an article entitled, “Pastor who backs Bible on sex elected to head Presbyterians:”

An Alaskan pastor who said he upheld biblical standards on sexuality was elected Thursday to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Rev. David Lee Dobler, 43, was elected moderator of the 2.8 million member church . . . In questioning before the balloting, Dobler said he sup- ported the church’s position in opposition to sex outside marriage for ordained persons, but said homosexuals or heterosexuals who violate the church standard should not be excluded from the church.

With one arm, we should embrace our biblical standard,” Dobler said. “With our other arm we should embrace those persons by being caring, concerned and loving” (The Stars and Stripes, May 5, 1993, my emph, sw).

The people whom Mr. Dobler above advocates “embracing” are fornicators! It matters little that he “said he upheld biblical standards on sexuality” when he fellowships such people (Tit. 1:16). Let us not miss how this compares with what is going on among churches of Christ today. Brethren among us can be found who condemn the false teaching of a given brother on marriage, divorce and remarriage, but still will have that same brother in for a gospel meeting, or they will advocate fellowshipping him in spite of his error (cp. Rom. 16:17-18; 2 John 9-11). These same brethren will condemn homosexuality and we are all thankful that they will not fellowship homosexuals. However, as we consider the above example from the denominational world, how long will it be before one of our brethren does in the realm of homosexuality what others among us are doing in the realm of marriage, divorce, and remarriage?

Failure to Preach on Differences

Several years ago, a newspaper article described an effort by the 1993 Parliament of World’s Religions:

Leaders of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hindu- ism and other faiths have drawn up these guidelines as part of a historic Global Ethic. . . .

The goal of the parliament, the first since an 1893 gathering that marked the beginning of the interfaith movement, is to promote peace among religions and nations.

In that spirit, the global ethic does not delve into such issues as abortion, euthanasia, women clergy or homosexuality that are divisive within each of the major faiths (The Stars and Stripes, Sept. 4, 1993, my emph, sw).

The only way such a movement as that described above could ever begin or continue to exist is by failing to preach on serious differences. These people did address such matters as murder, marriage, and remembering the poor and the aged. However, it is what they did not address that brought about and maintains such unity as described above. In this light, one cannot help but note the reticence on the part of some among us to openly and specifically condemn error (Eph. 5:11). However, a much more powerful lesson for Christians is to be learned from the above quote: Once you embark on the road of tolerating those in error you will either stop it or you will get to a point where you say goodbye to any teaching which would condemn the error you are tolerating (cp. Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2-3). Sadly, some churches of Christ have already come to the point where they no longer preach on differences which clearly involve adultery, a sin which will send souls to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Finding a Broader Basis for Unity

When one seeks the kind of unity under review in this article he will have to use something other than the Bible as his basis. An AP article from the late 1980s tells of a unity effort which did just this:

Now at its 25-year mark, a grand-scale plan to unite American Protestants still is moving ahead, but on an altered tack that seeks a loose-knit form of unity. . . . The nine denominations involved, with a total membership of 23 million, include: (lists participating churches, sw).

Moede (Rev. Gerald Moede, General secretary of the Consultation on Church Unity, sw) said the covenanting approach would involve “inity in essential things, but with the present structures still in place, and with a lot of diversity in traditions” (Eugene, OR, Register-Guard, April 25, 1987).

It is axiomatic that one cannot bring nine different de- nominations together without finding a broader basis upon which to do it. The rules of faith of the participating de- nominations are simply not broad enough to facilitate such unity. Likewise, the rule of faith of the Lord’s church (the New Testament) is not broad enough to allow the kind of unity some have argued for today (Matt. 28:20). Hence, we should not be surprised when we hear of brothers Owen or Harrell using honesty and sincerity as a basis for receiving an erring brother or of brother Rubel Shelley saying that there are different levels of truth, some essential and some not so much so. More such bases may be in store for us in the future. When someone seeks a broader unity than the Bible allows, he must find a broader basis than the Bible.


The Bible instructs us clearly on the three points dis- cussed herein. It tells us how to treat those in sin (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 2 John 9-11). We are taught to preach the word “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2-3). We are to let the word of God be the sole basis for unity with others (John 17:20-21; 1 Pet. 4:11).

Some of our denominational neighbors have reached bottom and began to dig. The accounts given herein of what is happening among them may teach another lesson beyond those we have drawn above. They may help some among us to see more clearly where this is all headed in spite of the protestations of the leaders in the present call for unity-in-diversity.