False Doctrine Destroys Christian Unity

Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers:

I do not pray for these [my disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. John 17:20–23

Notice that immediately prior to these words, Christ prayed:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. John 17:17–19

The context of Jesus’ prayer for the unity of those who would believe in Him is the sanctifying truth of God’s word – the very word that the Apostles subsequently delivered to the Church, and through which we now believe in Christ.

Through that word, we are being made ‘perfect in one’ – the word of God itself creates Christian unity. And through that uniting and perfecting word, we know that the Father sent His Son to die in our place, that the Father loves us for the sake of His Son and puts His righteousness to our account. Through God’s word, those who believe it have confidence that:

having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1–2

God’s word, then, is essential to our Christian faith. We hunger for sound doctrine, because sound doctrine is nothing other than that word, faithfully delivered.

The Christian life depends upon sound doctrine. But is it harmful to Christian unity to rebuke false doctrine and separate from those who wilfully assist in its propagation? Some seem to think so. Yet Christians are nowhere in Scripture called to unite around false doctrine or practice, but to reject error and instead speak the truth in love to one another. We are to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which as once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).

Christian unity originates with the unity of the Spirit that we have in Christ through His word. Paul writes:

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1–6

Notice that, even as he exhorts the Ephesians to keep the unity of the Spirit, he roots that unity in ‘one body and one Spirit’, ‘one hope of your calling’, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’. These are the things of which sound doctrine speaks – ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’.

It is immediately obvious that false doctrine – that which is contrary to the faith once delivered – is necessarily destructive of Christian unity, for it seeks to lure people away after other bodies, other spirits, other hopes, other lords, other baptisms, other gods.

Paul goes on to tie the ‘unity of faith’ with ‘the knowledge of the Son of God’, explaining how both develop as God’s appointed ministers of the word equip the ‘saints for the work of the ministry’:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, or the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ Ephesians 4:11–12

We have the word of Christ delivered through the Apostles and prophets of old. That same word, once delivered, is even now proclaimed, explained and applied by evangelists, pastor and teachers. These ministers of the word are charged with equipping the flock by that word until:

we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:13

God has charged them with this task so that:

we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:14–16

In other words, Christian unity develops as sound teaching overcomes the winds of false doctrine, and Christians mature together into Christ by the speaking of truth (and, contextually, the true doctrine of God’s word) in love.

Sound doctrine gives life. False doctrine, though, is the enemy of true Christian unity, the enemy of the Faith, and the enemy of our souls. Unity of faith cannot arise where false doctrine is tolerated.

A little (bad) leaven leavens the whole lump, making it unfit for consumption (Matt. 16:5–12; 1 Cor. 5.6; Gal 5:9). Likewise, water from even the purest well is rendered deadly by even a tiny amount of poison. So it is with false doctrine. That is why those who understand these things are ‘quick to argue theology’.

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. 2 Timothy 1:13–14

5 thoughts on “False Doctrine Destroys Christian Unity

  1. Daniel,
    So thankful for your words, They are always gracious thoughtful and God honoring. Perhaps you could address the “elephant in the room” (fun intended): I believe that Rick Warren and TD Jakes and any other national spotlight minister that receives scrutiny from the brethren would heartily embrace your post on it’s face and rejoice in it’s simplicity and truth.

    Here is the issue and it is pastoral and contemporary, how? How do we confront error and how and when do we separate ourselves from the persons who continue in unrepentant error? It is here that I think that the modern church is struggling. When the church was relating to one another in cities and when the leaders gathered periodically in councils to correct error and when the Saints were in agreement that the results of these councils were the unified voice of the church etc. things were a bit clearer. After the reformation there entered a new way to solve doctrinal problems and it was to start your own group that believed like you. And now some 400 years later with over 20,000 organized sects of the church of our Lord all believing that the other sects have erred in regards to doctrine and all having separated accordingly we seem to have created a bit of a mess. Simply, your post works well in the first century church context but does it work now? If so, how? Specifically, when ministers warn against the false teaching of others who are they warning? the church at large or just some tiny sect? When a influential blogger or other social media person is able to raise the conversation to the level where a bit larger portion of the church pays attention, so what? Has “the church” benefited? You celebrated the division that the conversation in ER2 caused but did it really benefit? Don’t those churches just link up with someone else that assuredly has false doctrine that needs to corrected also?

    Daniel, isn’t it true that unless we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and STOP dividing and instead begin uniting around the truth by which our Lord sanctifies us and begin to find practical ways to do that (the Elephant Room not the best model as we have seen but surely what they were trying to accomplish is to be applauded) in a way that can and will bring a sense of global unity (see many efforts in the past) that all we will do is fire correction into small crowds and cause more division rather than promote the unity which your post rightly assumes “that we long for”. I surely do, I just think that the methods that we employ to bring correction and reproof bring division (which is sometimes necessary) more than they bring unity. Let me restate that so you may see my intent, if for instance the body of Christ was edified, Bishop Jakes admonished and strengthened in his understanding of God and the saints at large unified by the reaction to ER2 then I would say we have done well. And even if Bishop Jakes were unrepentant and the saints at large were unified and profited as they parted company for the sake of the truths of Scripture then all would be well. But that is not in fact what happened. What happened was that men who agree on doctrine (that is agree with Driscoll and McDonald’s theology) divided from their brothers on “how they handled false doctrine”. And that division is what I see as harmful and destructive and unGodly. It is not in keeping with the spirit of the Scriptures you used in you post. Unless the product of the Reformation (the division of the church into 20,000 sects that all think they are right and have separated themselves accordingly) is seen as Godly (and I believe it has done as much damage to the church as the abuses of Rome) and in keeping with the unity of the faith, then the church at large has much repentance to do and ER2 only heightens that reality.

    How do we go forward? How do we correct in this divided church and with this global access to one anothers points of view? I do think that you could figure it out by the way. Please do!

    One who loves you even though we’ve never had tea,
    Bobby Capps

  2. So true and I thank you for being so brilliant in backing up and tying the One true unity with God’s WORD.
    Anyone who leaves and claims we cannot have unity unless we accept ERROR, or get rid of God’s word is the one who is not seeking true biblical unity. They are the ones causing divisions and problems.
    True unity is based on TRUTH. Unity itself is never the measure of truth, God’s word is the measurement of truth.

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