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Unity a ‘first tier’ doctrine?

Posted by on Apr 15, 2010 in unity | 6 comments

You’ve probably heard the concept of the multilevel (or tiers) of doctrines. Generally, depending upon who is talking or writing about this, there are two or three tiers of doctrines. The first tier typically separates believers (Christians) from nonbelievers (non-Christians). The second and/or third tiers then separate believers from one another, usually determining whether or not the person talking/speaking feels it necessary to relate to someone who differs from him/her.

In other words, two people who both agree on the ‘first tier’ of doctrines would consider each other believers, but they would not find it necessary to fellowship, serve, meet, whatever together if they disagreed on second and/or third tier doctrines.

I think there is a huge problem with this multi-tier view of Christianity. The problem is that unity is a ‘first tier’ doctrine. What do I mean? Look at this passage from Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 ESV)

According to Paul, a person who divides from brothers and sisters should be warned twice. If the person still remains divisive, then the church should separate from him. In other words, “divisiveness” is a reason supposing that someone is NOT a brother or sister in Christ.

In Scripture, there are very, very few reasons given for one believer to separate from another believer. This separation is the same as refusing to recognize someone as a brother or sister in Christ. Thus, “divisiveness” is a first-tier doctrine that is placed on the same level as teaching a false gospel, practicing gross immorality, and refusing to work to support yourself and others (yes, this is a ‘first tier’ doctrine also).

What does this mean? It means that just as it is impossible for someone to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and be indwelled by the Holy Spirit and continue in gross, unrepentant immorality, it is also impossible for a believer to divide himself or herself from brother or sisters based on disagreements (i.e., in Titus, Paul describes these as “controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels”… we have plenty of those, don’t we?).

The various ‘tiers’ only provide us reasons and justifications for dividing from others who we still consider to be Christians. Thus, they allow us to verbally acknowledge someone as a child of God without accepting them as a brother or sister in Christ. This is a concept that is completely antithetical to the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is, then, in fact, only one ‘tier’… if you want to call it that. Either someone is or is not a brother or sister in Christ. If someone is a brother or sister in Christ, then we MUST treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ, regardless of disagreements. Otherwise, WE are the ones being divisive, and the church should seek to divide themselves from us.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-15-2010


    I think you have a valid point here.

    What makes this complicated, though, is when people want to make their version of what unity should look like a first-tier issue, and then end up dividiing the Church even further as a result.

  2. 4-15-2010

    Yes, it is complicated. I see unity as essential. But it’s obvious that many of my brothers and sisters do not. Can I be united with someone who creates and maintains divisions? If not, then I will be creating division.

    … I can go in circles on this one. I can’t figure it out. So I’m just going to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide.

  3. 4-15-2010

    Hey guys,

    I agree. We have to be very careful with this. Many have been taught that divisiveness is good and godly. It will take much patience and humility to seek unity.


  4. 4-16-2010


    Also something to be stressed is that disagreement is NOT the same as divisiveness. Let’s say, for example, somebody in a church disagrees with a certain legalistic doctrine or belief that that church holds. Pointing it out or maintaining a different viewpoint can lead to that person being labeled “divisive,” when in fact it’s just the other way around. The church that is in error is dividing from the one who holds to the truth. That individual may want to point it out to the church so that they all may become more unified in the truth, but the church would have none of it. Make sense? In this passage, the NASB reads “factious man.”

  5. 4-16-2010

    I’m wondering about the implications for those that do practice separation as a major doctrine. Not wanting to judge them, just wondering…

  6. 11-15-2011

    Good post, Alan. I very much agree.


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