BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES OF UNITY
by: Joe R. Price
Agreeing to Disagree
on the Revealed Faith and Doctrine
Some brethren believe that we can disagree on matters of
faith and doctrine since we are saved by grace. They define the true grace of God wherein
we stand as agreeing to disagree on some parts of the faith once for all
delivered to the saints (1 Pet. 5:12; Jude 3). It is being taught that God accepts
men in spite of doctrinal error, therefore, we must accept one another in spite of
differences in matters of the revealed faith and doctrine. These definitions and
applications of grace and unity are foreign to the word of God.
If we are displaying the same grace toward one another that God displays towards us by agreeing to disagree on matters of the revealed faith and doctrine, then it is clearly implied that we can disagree with God and still be saved by His grace!! If this is true, then all who left denominationalism upon learning of their error and sin should repent of leaving those churches and return to the grace of God which allows us to agree to disagree! Hallelujah for choosing the church of your choice! I can go back to the Methodist Church and tell my parents that we dont have to be concerned anymore about our disagreement over matters of faith and doctrine!! God in His grace will accept us anyway!!
If brethren do not wish to leave this implication, then we plead with them to give up their man-made definition of grace with its perverted doctrine of fellowship (agreeing to disagree). Feeling the impact of the logical extension and consequence of their doctrine, the reply has been,
I know that some will say that if this be so, then
we can disagree on such things as baptism and denominationalism, and we can allow such
things as fornication and clear adultery to occur in the church. But I think most people
can readily see that this is just a smokescreen.
No, this is not a smokescreen. It is the logical
extension of the doctrine of agreeing to disagree. Whenever a doctrine can, by logical
extension, be reduced to clear error, the doctrine itself is shown to be false. One cannot
simply say, That is a smokescreen, and make it so. If we must display a grace
which agrees to disagree because God displays that kind of grace towards
us, then baptism can be included in this discussion. It is doctrine, yet not
everyone agrees on it. (It is not as clear to some as it is to others.)
We call upon the agree to disagree proponents to apply this reasoning to themselves. Do they show grace and receive into fellowship the denominationalist who teaches that water baptism is unnecessary for salvation? God does not (Mk. 16:16). Yet, they will show grace to the person who teaches that adultery is a non-sexual sin (RETHINKING MARRIAGE, DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE, Jerry Bassett, p. 77-78), even though that teaching is foreign to the word of God (Heb. 13:4)! Why will these brethren allow a man to redefine adultery, but refuse to allow another man to redefine baptism? Clarity? Common sense? These are arbitrary, subjective decisions which cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and which do not support the conclusion that we should define grace and unity as agreeing to disagree.
Imagine if a member of a congregation which defines grace as agreeing to disagree on matters of the revealed faith let it be known that he had never actually been baptized (some churches of Christ have such members). Further, he made it known that he disagreed with the teaching that one must be baptized to be saved. What would that church, which pleads for tolerance in matters of doctrine and the revealed faith, do in this situation? They could not be consistent if they told the man he is wrong (it would be too arrogant to oppose a doctrinal difference!). (Remember, the defenders of this grace-unity view assert that because we do not have apostles with us today, our own interpretation of the Scriptures is flawed. According to them, we are helpless to know with absolute certainty what is right and what is wrong.) All these brethren could tell that person is that they disagree, but would continue to work together. They would have to continue to fellowship him. This doctrine forces brethren to compromise, tolerate and accept error. This is the logical extension or outcome of the concept when put into practice. It is not a smokescreen to discuss baptism in this regard. Beware the subtlety of false doctrine! (Acts 20:29-32)
The Effort to Defend Unity in Doctrinal Diversity
Several rationales are being presented in an effort to persuade us that the people of God must agree to disagree upon at least some parts of the revealed faith if we are to accomplish unity of the saints. Here are two which deserve attention from the scriptures so that we may put our faith in the power of God and not the wisdom of men as we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
The appeal to common sense to convince us we must agree
to disagree upon some matters of the revealed faith of Christ goes like this: Common
sense tells us that some things in the scriptures are clear and some things are not so
clear. And of course, on the surface, such reasoning appears sound. There are indeed
some parts of inspired scripture which are hard to understand when compared to
other parts of scripture (2 Pet. 2:16). But that distinction is never used to endorse the
agree to disagree philosophy of fellowship! To do so is to twist the
scriptures in the very way Peter was warning against as he described the writings of the
apostle Paul (2 Pet. 3:15-16). More difficult passages require more diligent study to show
ourselves approved - not before the bar of mans common sense - but before God (2
Tim. 2:15). So, in 2 Peter 3:18, Peter commands us to grow in knowledge (which is the
result of diligent study).
If common sense is a marker for determining the clarity of Bible subjects (so that we can then decide what we must agree upon and what we can disagree about and still maintain fellowship with God and each other), whose common sense will we trust in making this important decision? The common sense of a Mormon? A Baptist? A Pentecostal? A Christian who advocates no arranged Bible classes, no located preachers? Whose common sense? Those who plead common sense as a guidepost for fellowship on Bible subjects want us to accept their common sense - make no mistake about it. But why should their common sense be elevated to this level of authority instead of yours, mine, or someone elses?! This approach to fellowship in doctrinal diversity is bound to fail because its foundation is man, not God.
As the controversy over sponsoring churches and church support of human organizations raged, B. C. Goodpasture argued for sanctified common sense to defend his teaching and practice. My question is, who sanctified anyones common sense so that we can trust it rather than the revealed word of God? (cf. Jer. 17:5, 7)
Have we forgotten the admontion of the Scriptures, there is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (Prov. 14:12)? Has Jeremiahs acknowledgement of inferiority become foreign to us: O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23)? Our common sense must conform to revealed truth, else it is merely human wisdom which may or may not happen to conform to the truth which God has revealed (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4).
Individual and Collective Matters
Another approach being used to support and defend
diversity in doctrine is that some things are individual matters and some things are
Yes, some things are individual matters and some things are collective matters. But where is the Bible authority which gives us the right to agree to disagree about individual matters of morality and doctrine, but not about matters of collective action (passage please)?
Those who make this appeal will not universally apply their own guideline. For example, fornication is an individual action, yet in 1 Corinthians 5 its presence in a Christians life demanded that collective action be taken. Paul rebuked the Corinthians because they believed the individuals sin did not and would not affect the collective -- but it would (v. 2, 6). The same leavening action of sin occurs today, and brethren must be warned not to take this sort of approach toward sin and error. Those who do as the Corinthians were doing fall under the same rebuke given to the Corinthians by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 5:2, 6, 13).
Trying hard to justify this faulty approach to unity, brethren are appealing to Romans 14 to support their misguided conclusion that individual action need not affect collective action. Here is how one proponent of agreeing to disagree on at least some doctrines presents this approach:
Paul spent an entire chapter on this in Romans (ch. 14). But even without this chapter, the principles of humility, forbearance and grace lead us to the definite and unequivocal conclusion that we must show grace (agree to disagree) toward one another in at least certain areas of doctrinal disagreement.
My dear brethren, nowhere in the Scriptures does grace mean that we may agree to disagree over the revealed doctrine of Jesus Christ. This is not the oneness shared by the Father and Son, and it is not the oneness we are to promote. (Jno. 17:20-21; Eph. 4:1-6).
Romans 14 establishes the basis for unity among Christians in the realm of authorized liberties. In such a context, individual conscience is to be respected (14:1, 5, 13). Romans 14 addresses practices which are clean and pure before God (v. 14, 20). The activities under view in Romans 14 could either be practiced or declined with Gods acceptance, provided one did so with a clear conscience (v. 1-5, 22-23). This cannot be said of sinful doctrine and conduct, since they violate the truth of the gospel (1 Jno. 3:4).
2 John 9 still stands as a warning for us to not take comfort in going beyond the teaching of Christ:
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.