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Excerpts from

True and False Unity

By Pastor Bob DeWaay

Please read the entire article at

(Emphasis added throughout)

"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Philippians 1:27

Over the past few months I have received many phone calls and emails like the following:

"I need some advice; I have been told that I am a bad influence on the congregation and that I am dividing the body of Christ. What happened was that our pastor decided to change the church to the seeker sensitive model. He no longer preaches the gospel. The sermons are watered down and have little Biblical content. What Bible is used is from a paraphrase. The music is more entertainment than worship. Everything has changed. When I asked the pastor about it, he told me these changes were necessary for the church to reach new people and grow. I told him I strongly disagree and asked him to preach the gospel. He has most of the church board on his side. I was saved in this church and have supported it for many years. I do not want to be divisive; but it doesn’t seem right that Bible teaching and gospel preaching have been removed from the church. What shall I do?"

We are in the midst of a radical change in evangelicalism that has left countless Christians starving for God’s Word in their churches. Proponents of the change have labeled as “divisive” those who resist the movement away from gospel preaching and Bible teaching. Opponents of the change are declared judgmental and selfish “Pharisees” and are told that they should be more loving toward others and quit hanging onto their old ideas about church. In short the “troublemakers” are told they must embrace the new paradigm or leave.

At issue is the true nature of Christian unity. Are we unified by God’s work of grace that converted us, giving us the unity of the Spirit with all true Christians, or are we unified organizationally with the corporate “vision” of the new paradigm change agents? My thesis is that Biblically defined unity is a gospel-centered unity that always works toward the unity of the faith. Biblically defined unity is never a unity centered about the corporate vision of the new religious marketing agents.2

True Unity is Gospel Centric

Paul exhorted the Philippians to be, “[S]tanding firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27b). The book of Philippians is filled with passages that show Paul’s passion for the gospel. He was imprisoned for the gospel, but he rejoices because his circumstances turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12). He saw the gospel as so important that he could even rejoice if it were preached by people having bad motives (Philippians 1:15-18). He rejoiced because the Philippians participated in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). As we saw in Philippians 1:27, for Paul, Christian unity was all about the faith of the gospel. To stand against opponents was a good thing because there will always be opposition to the gospel (Philippians 1:28-30). Christian unity starts with the gospel and ends with the resurrection from the dead for those who have joined Paul in seeing the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8-14).

Therefore, there is no true Christian unity unless it is unity grounded in the gospel of Christ. This gospel includes the truths of the person and work of Christ (who He is, what He did, and why it is important: Philippians 2). Those who proclaim the gospel are always friends of Christian unity and will be welcomed by those who have been made one body by God’s work of grace. Paul rejoiced because the Philippians proved to be friends of the gospel. They were not ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment and had sent one of their own to risk his life to bring a gift to Paul. Paul had unity with the Philippians because of their common commitment to the gospel. This was not so with some other churches such as the one in Galatia. Anyone who speaks of Christian unity, but is not a clear proclaimer and supporter of the gospel, shows himself to be disingenuous.

Saved From Unhappy Circumstances or Saved from God’s Wrath?

...The true gospel is about God reconciling sinners (enemies) to Himself through the blood atonement:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10)

The false “gospel” being preached today says that Jesus came to save people from a lack of purpose, lack of happiness, or from living a stress filled and problem filled existence. The true gospel delivers sinners who are God’s enemies (whether they know it or not) from God’s wrath through the blood atonement. This is the gospel Paul preached and this is the “faith of the gospel” around which Paul told the Philippians they should strive to unify. Any church that does not clearly and publicly preach this message from the pulpit, yet talks about “unity,” is promoting a false and man-made unity that is unbiblical....

Striving for True Christian Unity

The New Testament pattern is gospel preaching (which includes the person and work of Christ and the need to repent and believe) followed by nurturing the flock with the whole counsel of God. This is God’s means of establishing true Christian unity. There will always be attacks against this unity. There were such attacks in Paul’s day and Paul prophesied that such attacks would come to the Ephesian church after his departure:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)

This passage shows first there will be attacks from within the church that will threaten Christian unity. These attacks are against the faith of the gospel. Second, pastors (or elders or overseers, whatever term one uses) are commanded to guard the flock against these attacks from false teachers. The key words for church leadership, overseers, elders, and pastors, are used in Acts 20 of the same group of people.3 This shows that there is no “bishop” somewhere with final authority over the local church.....

The epistles show that Paul always publicly refuted teachings that were changes or additions to the gospel of God’s grace. God graciously saving people through the gospel is the beginning and foundation of Christian unity. Those who teach things that are not consistent with this principle threaten true Christian unity. Paul’s response to those people who preached the true gospel with bad motives as opposed to those who preached a false gospel show how important it is that the gospel is preached accurately. He rejoiced about the former (Philippians 1:18) and anathematized the latter (Galatians 1:9). The content of the gospel is everything. If we cannot get that right, we are in grave peril! Paul writes, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). ...

True Unity is Nurtured Through the Pure Teaching of Scripture

The Bible is God’s unchanging authority for all true Christians throughout the church age. It stands to reason that the more our thinking and practice are in line with the Bible, the more unified we shall be. People with a love for God because of His work of grace through the gospel and a love for the truth of Scripture will be more unified with one another as they learn Scripture together....

The fact is that Christians who have been nurtured on the Scriptures purely taught will find themselves in unity with other such Christians even when they come from diverse cultures or different denominational affiliations. In recent experience I have enjoyed unity with people from a variety of denominational backgrounds because of our shared passion for the gospel and God’s word. On the other hand, I have met others with backgrounds similar to mine with whom I have had no such unity; we are at odds over just about everything.6

People with very different views on such matters as eschatology and modes of baptism can enjoy significant unity. It is not that these matters are not important—they are. Those who agree that Scripture settles all issues and that whatever Scripture says about any matter is ultimately authoritative, those people have a framework within which to work. However, if the gospel itself is compromised, there will be no unity....

 The unity of the Spirit Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:3 is that which God created through baptizing us into one body: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1Corinthians 12:13). I have argued elsewhere that God’s Word is a means of grace.7 Since the unity of the Spirit is to be preserved so that Christians might demonstrate the virtues of humility, patience and love toward one another (see Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12-14), we need an inward work of grace so that we overcome the fleshly motivations that would hinder this unity. This growth is nurtured by God’s Word: “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1Peter 2:2). When human wisdom rather than God’s Word is preached in the public assembly, Christians are being robbed of one of God’s means of changing lives that would preserve the unity of the Spirit....

...sound, expository preaching preserves the unity of the Spirit by giving people God’s means by which He graciously changes lives and promotes progress toward the unity of the faith. Notice the problems that are to be therefore laid aside: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). The winds of doctrine that are blowing people about and undermining their precious faith must be resisted. Equipping the saints with God’s Word will give them the spiritual strength to withstand these winds and to progress in true Christian unity....

False Unity is Man-centered

...true unity is gospel-centric. The false unity that is being promoted today is not like that. In most cases it is unity under a religious leader’s “vision.” What is meant by the term “vision” is not the same as the Biblical usage. It is used in a modern marketing sense and relates to the leader’s mental image of what he wants the product and corporation to be like in the future.

When I was in seminary I was required to take a class that dealt with church growth. Part of the requirement was to make a field trip to witness a successful church. The one we visited had grown from a few hundred people to 2,000 through creating a children’s program that was so astounding and exciting that the kids dragged their parents to church. The other part of the program was to create community activities and teachings relevant to the parents who normally would not be interested in church. The pastor who had orchestrated this successful venture spoke at a seminary lecture. He spoke about vision and “vision casting.” He told us that Bill Gates had visualized the Windows platform and cast his vision for that to his corporation and actualized it through the processes of the corporation. In like manner, the pastor is to be a visionary who in his mind can see the church becoming something it is not, cast that vision to his key people, and set up the processes necessary to fulfill this vision. This is what that pastor had done successfully. The result was a thriving “seeker” church that was popular with people in the community.

The unity that is necessary to create a church molded from the mental image of a religious leader’s dream of an optimal future is unity under the religious corporation’s vision. To fulfill the dream each piece must work together and each piece must contribute to the purposes determined by the visionary leader. The wisdom of business gurus has been mined by Christian leaders who have created religious versions to help pastors market the church. That is precisely what I was taught in the seminary class. I resisted this publicly in the class; but many of the students bought it.

Here comes the problem. When this “vision” has to do with converting a Bible church into something else, there is an inevitable clash. The reason is that marketing the church to potential religious consumers in a given neighborhood is not the same as preaching the gospel. As I have said many times, the gospel offends sinners. The type of “vision” under which new paradigm churches unify is always linked to church growth. The church has to become something appealing to the unregenerate for this to happen in the way they envision it....

Once the leaders have made one simple decision—that the prevailing concerns and needs of the unbelieving community will determine the program and message of the church—the inevitable result is that gospel preaching and Bible teaching cannot be the mainstay of the church.

The New Vision Produces False Unity

Once it is adopted, the new corporate vision for church growth will change the nature of Christian unity. The vision is only successful if all the “team members” are willing to commit their talents, time and effort to in unity see the vision to fulfillment. Like the business corporation counterpart it was copied from, it requires everyone from the CEO to the warehouse workers to pull together for the same corporate vision and purpose. That is the reason books that train pastors to adopt this view and thereby change existing churches, teach them to be prepared to lose previous members, even most of them if it is necessary. They cannot succeed while spending energy trying to fight or cajole naysayers (i.e. born again Christians who think the gospel should be preached). ...

One tactic that is commonly used by leaders who are converting Biblically defined churches to religious organizations designed to meet the needs of religious consumers is to accuse those who resist of being “divisive.” They cite Bible verses to unsuspecting Christians who have tender consciences and do not wish to do anything that would be harmful to their churches. These Christians know something is wrong and they notice the church becoming more worldly, less godly, and placing less emphasis on important Biblical doctrines. These Christians are told they are dividing the body and that the Bible warns about such people: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17). The problem is that this verse is not about unity under a new corporate marketing plan. The verse says “contrary to the teaching which you learned” (i.e. from Paul).

Those who have replaced the unity of the Spirit and the unity of the faith with unity of the pastor’s personal vision are the truly divisive ones. They are guilty of the very charge they level against dissenters within the flock. Such leaders are causing dissensions and hindrances because they have willingly laid aside the teaching of Christ and His apostles in order to promote the wisdom of man.

A “factious” person in the Bible (Titus 3:10) was one who departed from sound doctrine or Biblical practice, not one who failed to help religious leaders fulfill their vision for the future success and glory of a religious corporation. For example, Luther was considered factious by the Roman Catholic Church. Whether he was or not has to be determined by examining his doctrine and practice with the Bible and doing the same for the Roman Church. One is not automatically a heretic or divisive because he or she has a disagreement with a man-made religious corporation. This is especially true if what is causing the division is the gospel itself.


Jesus said, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). The gospel is divisive when preached to the unregenerate. Those who respond in faith are divided from those who reject it. Christian unity is unity under and through the gospel. It is created by God when He regenerates people and makes them one in spirit with other believers. It is nurtured through the teaching of sound Biblical doctrine that has as its goal the unity of the faith. False unity is unity that is demanded and prescribed by religious leaders to their own ideas and organizations. This is the unity that the religious leaders of Israel wanted and that Jesus threatened. His gospel divided their religious system and spoiled their unity. They decided they had to get rid of Him. The gospel will divide churches as well if they are not based on the gospel itself. The false unity of corporate vision to create growth through adding religious consumers to the organization will create a “church” that would be divided by the gospel if it were preached there. Those who promote pure gospel preaching are the friends of Christian unity. Those who promote man-centered “vision” for their religious systems are enemies of Christian unity. Be encouraged in your support for the gospel; the Bible says that you are pleasing Christ by so doing (Philippians 1:27).

Copyright © 1992-2005 Twin City Fellowship

Please read the rest the of this much-needed message -- along with the endnotes -- at

Other articles by Bob DeWaay: Redefining the Church

Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement

 “Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?

Bob DeWaay is the Pastor of Twin City Fellowship, a non-denominational evangelical Church in Minneapolis, MN:  "We are a body of believers who attempt to live our Christian faith according to Acts 2:42 by devoting ourselves to prayer, fellowship, searching the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper. Our mission is to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this through expository preaching, study of the Scriptures, publications, our website and neighborhood outreaches."

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