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Replay: Unity is a first tier doctrine

Posted by on Apr 14, 2012 in unity | 5 comments

Replay: Unity is a first tier doctrine

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Unity a ‘first tier’ doctrine?” I wrote this post in response to the phenomenon of dividing “doctrines” into different levels (or “tiers”). Then, it is suggested that it is acceptable to separate from people who we accept as Christians but who disagree with us on other “doctrines.”

The problem with this practice is that, according to Scripture, unity is paramount. In fact, the authors of Scripture constantly and consistently exhort us toward unity and away from divisiveness.

Here is the post:


Unity is a “first tier” Doctrine

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. 4-14-2012

    Hi Alan
    I wonder if you and other readers might help me with a response Ive been working on for a while. It is about just this topic, and it has devastated our lives, and many others.
    Im a late comer to the social media world, have had no time for internet for years and have obviously been missing valuable material that God is revealing to many.
    Here’s our dilemma and many others that Im meeting lately.
    We love God’s people. For decades we were part of a small rural fellowship that was operating by the love of God. No official leaders, no agenda’s, no quarrels to speak of, hormones under control, outwardly focused, leading many to Christ thru the years. We were happy.
    Average age when we all met in 1971 was 17. (high school christian group)
    In 1986, we were falsely and publicly (front page news across country) accused of being a secret sex cult, with sado masochistic practices.
    Several jailed, children taken (some never returned) and a 5 yr court case after which all charges were dropped and the judge scolded the children’s services and police for wasting their time on witch hunts.
    But Satan had effectively scattered the flock, smiting the leaders among us. Paranoia had crept in during this time and it turned to controlling and protecting against further loss.
    Every single church we were known to abandoned us.
    Over time, one of our (few) older mature women who has great sacrificial love, powerful gifts of faith, wisdom and boldness, became the defacto person in charge of crisis management, especially given that her children were most affected.
    Our innocence and simplicity gone, my family and a few others respectfully challenged the direction we were going, counselled everyone to return to the way we were. But control is hard to give up, and we were told to submit to her authority, in areas of conscience as well as civil choices. It became bizarre and we were divided and eventually had to leave to protect our hurt children from getting a wrong picture of God’s family.
    So we divided physically, but in our hearts we love and long for our brethren. We have been virtually alone for 11 years, missing family and life long friends, and our children don’t even know their grandmother and family.
    They keep calling us to return, we keep saying that we want to but not until they quit dividing leaders from sheep, legislating behavior and generally causing internal division because not everyone agrees but they submit.
    We went from living like a christian family style church that we read about in Acts to being a house church sect.
    They are really terrific people, not heretics, just deceived and abandoned by many of Gods people that could help.
    Alan, your post on tiered doctrines is exactly what Ive struggled for years to explain to them.
    Do you know of a booklet or concise treatment of this, that leaves little to argue with?
    Isn’t this common among many churches?

  2. 4-14-2012

    This is a problem that seems to be much more prevalent in the free church than in the underground church. Perhaps because we’re generally free of persecution, we feel we have the luxury to argue, debate, and lose our temper over the finer points of doctrine. It’s amazing how many Christian forum threads devolve into debates about election and free-will, law-keeping, spiritual gifts, etc. Sometimes it seems threads are started just to start an argument.

    Reading some of Richard Wurmbrand’s stories of his experience behind the iron curtain, I see the focus more on unity. When he met other believers of different theological persuasions, it was to encourage and build them up, not to tear them down. And this even though they had significant doctrinal disagreements.

    I’m not eccumenical. Unity is not the only first-tier doctrine. But we divide over too much. And this translates into lack of the fruit of the Spirit towards each other.

    A few years I saw 1 Corinthians 11:29 as being about this subject, and I wrote what I found at

  3. 4-14-2012

    Wow, Alan I see no division when in Christ, yet thare are many who believe and many who do not. there are many that are not ready for meat, and can hardly down the milk. Ther are a lot of disagreements, in and out of the body. The only thing I know is to wait on the leading of the Holy Ghost for waht to do, so that nothing comes back void.But all in all there is only one faith, one lord, one baptism. I do not see differant levels, and I know God does not have respect of person(s). From god’s vantage point all are equal and he loves all equal, which is hard for the Human Spirit to grasp and cannot grasp it. It is only through the trinity of God can this be grasped and done, Howard

  4. 4-14-2012


    In Scripture, there are valid reasons to separate from someone who claims to be a brother or sister in Christ. At this point, though, we beginning treating these people as if they are not in Christ and seek reconciliation and redemption.


    I agree that “ecumenical” and united are different things entirely. I also agree that it seems that many Christians focus on dividing and divisions.


    Yes, all who are in Christ are united in him, and as we are exhorted in Scripture, we should work together to maintain that unity we already have.


  5. 4-14-2012

    Hey Alan,

    Great minds must think alike… I just wrote a post on this very subject just this past week… Here is my ramblings on the subject…