the weblog of Alan Knox

Unity is a “first tier” doctrine

Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in unity | 4 comments

Three years ago, I published a post called “Unity a ‘first tier’ doctrine.” The post was a response to something that’s been happening for 2000 years, but has been celebrated for the last few years. I’m talking about arranging different convictions and beliefs into “tiers.” Usually, there are 3 tiers. As far as I can tell, these different tiers only work toward one purpose: separating the body of Christ. However, from what I can tell from Scripture, our goal should be living in unity with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ – and, yes, that means working and serving together to further the kingdom of God.


Unity 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. 4-13-2013

    Very well said Alan, however, its first tier in theory only among the churches; even house churches.
    Other first tier doctrines such as Jesus divinity, blood propitiation, resurrection and Kingship draw near vigilante reaction from everyone when contradicted, while a call to unity in Christ alone will be met with yawns of disbelief and fear. You published this 3 yrs ago, and though I wasn’t on twitter then, Id bet it died a quiet ignoble death by neglect rather than stir up most of those who have already abandoned their institutions. I say that because Ive been loudly proclaiming exactly your point for 40 yrs, and have no friends to prove it.
    I made a choice to not back down or soften the sharp edges, guessing correctly that spiritual ‘stoning’ and being offered the left foot of fellowship are still first tier practice among the churches, even the many breakaways that have dotted the land since our cultural revolution.
    Jesus commandment to love one another as He loves us is and has been categorically rejected as the 11th commandment, and treated to the same cerebral higher criticism as obeying the law has. It was clearly for the early church only, and since they couldn’t keep unity, why should we knock ourselves out trying?
    I’ve never heard a sermon on the radio, read a ‘Christianity Today’ article or even heard another brother or sister speak up in a conference or large meeting on unity as a first tier doctrine.
    Everybody knows better.
    I’ve lost most of my (Christian) family, most of my Christian friends and my home and business because I’ve refused to compromise on this.
    In every case of loss, I was expressly or it was implied that I had to choose sides between brethren. Refusal is costly. I’ve never started a fight, or even challenged anyone publicly or called anyone out in a ‘gunfight’ on this issue. All I’ve needed to do was say clearly, that until all of the body of Christ are obeying Jesus in this, and we will have disunity, and orphans, and sickness, and poverty et al.
    That, in most minds, seems to imply that unity is either fully achievable by all, or not at all.
    Unity is not conformity, rather it is positional, which is by faith.
    Its how we view ourselves and one another, and follow thru that view with action, regardless of others inaction’s or views.
    That’s the basis behind Paul’s working model of the majority refusing to have fellowship with the maverick loner who will not obey Jesus, after long patience and exhorting with love and firmness.
    Today, the church can’t obey scripture because the majority are in disobedience, and perversely, refuse fellowship with the maverick who insists on obeying God.
    So we need a new majority.
    And in kingdom and biblical reality, even one or two in unity with Jesus is a majority.
    If you think so.
    So, in practical terms, to see unity become a front burner topic, somebody, somewhere, sometime is going to have to use their podium to point out that not only is the king not wearing any clothes, neither are we. They will need to resolve not to shut up when told that they have made their point and please sit down. They will find themselves explaining to the few who will listen, that God sees us as one body, and will allow the obedient few to share in the loss and disaster of the disobedient majority, rather than leave any of His blood bought kids behind. He’s a dad, and you would think we get it.
    The only way out of this mess is for those of us who see the dire picture clearly, to tell the others to quit wasting generations and testimony, and souls and Gods reputation avoiding this, and just do it.
    And they might as well know ahead of time that they will find themselves following lonely, persecuted David who refused to support the divide and conquer tactics of Saul, as he profited from Israel’s ‘doctrinal’ wars, and lonely, persecuted Jesus, as He neither sucked up to the Pharisees but didn’t play to the crowd either. They wisely led by example, knowing that a lone seed planted would eventually bear fruit among those currently too afraid or worldly to obey.
    I’ve agonized to see even the rippling on the water that is now occurring among the churches.
    Please don’t let this go away quietly Alan, and dear reader.
    Very rarely in history do we see an opportunity as we have today, and which was equally true in David’s day. His band of indebted, discontent men, nevertheless knew the times, and knew their brethren were uniquely positioned between a rock and a hard place, and knew that if they could employ loving craftiness among Israel, to win their affections toward David, when Saul was removed, David would stand alone as Gods man.
    Jesus is the rejected bastard son, like David, who must be propelled to His rightful throne in our hearts, by his followers, though they be few and equally misunderstood or discounted by the majority.
    That’s where we are today, in a remarkably similar geo political and cultural simile.
    It will only take a few good men to stir up the churches to obedience.
    These men will pay with their reputations and maybe their lives.
    But they may turn a generation, and a nation, back to God, thru the only vehicle left in the world that can bring God down from heaven and us to Him; a united church, however small and ragged.
    Who knows if you, dear maverick, have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
    Without this vision, I dare to say we, or at least this just barely birthed renaissance in church reform, will perish.
    We are not prepared to do spiritual battle with principalities and powers in high places, who are even now, moving our nation(s) rapidly toward the cliff of spiritual idolatry and civil war.
    And churches are leading the charge in their crusade to do God a favor.
    Satan envisions a harvest, as does God.
    What do we envision, and what are we willing to live for?

  2. 4-14-2013

    I suppose what is called ‘first tier doctrine’ is what I would call ‘the essentials’. These are not a basis for interaction… just for Christian fellowship. I would put there the Gospel, the authority of Scripture, and Jesus deity, and perhaps the Trinity, but nothing else. As far as I am concerned, those who share those beliefs are my brothers and sisters in Christ… even though they may not see it the same. Whether they believe unity is an essential is not an essential!
    Just out of curiosity, did you ever find a definition of the difference between tier #2 and tier #3?

  3. 4-14-2013


    Yes! Far too often unity is understood to be uniformity. The joyous truth of familial relationship in Christ isn’t allowed to enter the equation.

    Great article, and your last paragraph says it very well!

    Unfortunately, even recognition as a brother or sister in Christ is dependent on uniformity in one or more of several matters of doctrine,practice,lifestyle etc. One pastor said, “unity is in uniformity”. Hard to believe, but true.

    It’s safe in our little boxes. No challenges to meet! More importantly no growth, spiritually, mentally, or, relationally!

  4. 4-15-2013

    The more of us who seek to live in unity with one another in Jesus Christ despite our differences, the more our brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as others) will recognize the presence and power of Jesus in us.