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What Do These Men Really Mean by Unity?
by Carl Widrig, Jr.

A Book Review of "The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs"
by E. Glenn Wagner

"Are we wasting time fighting those who are our brothers? This is a delicate issue. We do not want to fight, to cause dissension. Yet we are not to turn the other way when heresy rears its ugly head. -- E. Glenn Wagner, p.41.

E Glenn Wagner is Vice President of Ministry Advancement with Promise Keepers (PK), the popular mens movement headquartered in Colorado that is having a very significant influence on the evangelical Church in America in the 1990's.

Mr. Wagner has recently written a book called 'The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs'. In his book, Wagner acknowledges the importance of "earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints" (39, Jude 3), and commends the Bereans for examining "what the Apostle Paul was teaching to see whether or not it was true" (42, Acts 17:11). Wagner assures the reader that he is concerned about "sound doctrine" (Titus 1:9) and about "careful study of the Scriptures" (p. 42, 2 Tim. 2:15).

However, for Wagner, "the way to fight off heresy is to be clearly focused on the truth" (41). While the Greek scholar W.E. Vine writes that the Greek word for "contending" signifies, "to contend about a thing, as a combatant", Wagner's study of the Greek has yielded the conclusion that the Greek word for contending...

is probably best defined as `staying true,' or `being sharp or alert.' It has the idea of not being distracted, of staying focused on the important goals and objectives... contending for the faith originally meant the idea of being able to clearly articulate the faith. Yet remember, there is never found a biblical injunction to be combative with someone in the family of God. (40)

In other words, if the reader were to follow the example of the Bereans, and actually find a little heresy in the pages of Wagner's book, Wagner would rather not see the reader "refute" (Titus 1:9, cf. 2 Tim. 3:16) him, but rather de facto "turn the other way when heresy rears its ugly head" and simply "be clearly focused on the truth," while meanwhile his book continues to be used as discipleship material for Promise Keepers' small groups.

Actually, Wagner does allow for "refuting" those who commit "the sin of heresy," as long as the heresy concerns a "primary issue" that "has as it's basis one of the five fundamentals of the faith that we've presented in this book" (180). In other words, if the "heresy" contradicts the teaching laid out in The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, then we should "restore him gently" (14-15, Gal. 6:1), and if that doesn't work,

then Matt. 18 comes into play... he or she must be put out of the local church fellowship and/or the denomination. It's not our desire to discipline someone in sin and to cut off fellowship, but given the lack of repentance we are left with no other choice when it concerns a primary issue of Scripture. (180)

So the reader who decides that The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs contains some objectionable material must not "refute" it (the reader could try to contact Mr. Wagner personally and attempt to "restore him gently"; i.e., the only acceptable way to attempt to prevent Mr. Wagner from misleading the Body of Christ with his "Shared Beliefs" would be to restore Mr. Wagner himself). Actually, one who disagrees with Wagner's "Shared Beliefs" must be "cut off ... given the lack of repentance."

There's more. Wagner says that the kind of people who would (obey God's Word and) speak out against Wagner's "Shared Beliefs" have their own problems; namely, that they are "fighting" and "lobbing grenades" at their own brother, instead of "focusing on the enemy... the devil" (15-16). Why are they "fighting"? validate their own existence... , to justify [their] position; ... the fundamental cause for fights is low self-esteem. (13-14).

In light of all this, not having contacted and personally restored Mr. Wagner myself, I find myself intimidated from publicly presenting any objections I might have with the material presented in The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs. The Lord has given me the grace (and the truth) to continue though, so on I go...

Biblical Unity?

In The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, Mr. Wagner, along with six fellow PK leaders, have greatly elaborated on one of the seven "promises" of PK regarding "biblical unity":

A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. (Promise #6) [emphasis added]

The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs is a book about "unity," "biblical unity" in fact, this despite the fact that the only two verses in the entire New Testament that speak of "unity" are not brought up at all in the pages of The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs.

According to William Thayer and W.E. Vine (whose works have been published by Baker Book House), the Greek word HENOTES (the neuter form of the Greek word translated "one"), translated "unity" [and could also be translated, "unanimity, agreement" according to Thayer] in the English language, can only be found in two verses in the entire New Testament: Eph. 4:3,13.

As we examine what these two verses of Scripture teach us about "unity," the question must be asked, "If Glenn Wagner & Co. are really interested in teaching all of us evangelicals what the Bible says, why is it that they seem to be avoiding what the Bible says? Do their own views come from the Bible, or are they attempting to superimpose their own views on the Bible where convenient?"

According to Eph.4:3, "the unity of the Spirit" is something that can be "kept... in the bond of peace," "kept" indicating that "unity" is something all Christians already have "of the Spirit," a unity that is rooted in our common baptism of the Spirit that makes us "one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul wouldn't be instructing the Ephesians to "keep" this "unity of the Spirit" if all Christians didn't already have it. This "unity of the Spirit" is "kept" in "the bond of peace".

Further elaboration regarding this "bond of peace" is likely found in Col. 3:15a:

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body.

This same "one body" language is found in the verses immediately following "the unity of the Spirit": Eph. 4:3:4-6

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 all.

Note that this "unity of the Spirit" involves interrelated matters of doctrine.

In Eph. 4:13, the Bible defines this "unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" as "a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ". It is a "unity" borne out of maturity, a maturity that involves all Christians coming to the same "faith" (The faith) and the same "knowledge of the Son of God." This maturity is contrasted with the description of this picture of immaturity:

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 by which they lie in wait to deceive.

The Holy Spirit's use of this picture is evidence that "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God," a.k.a. "a mature man", involves doctrine, "the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God", and the absence of "winds of doctrine", clearly false doctrine, indicated by this statement that these "winds" are perpetuated "by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive."

This "interpretation," that the Eph. 4:13 "unity" is all about a mature understanding of the truth (the faith and the knowledge of Son of God) is further supported by the very next verse, Eph.4:15:

but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him who is the head -- Christ.

This Eph. 4:13 "unity"/"maturity" is the end reason why Jesus gave the Bible, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the Church (Eph.4:11).

The above material regarding de facto biblical "unity" is not covered at all in, The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs. Instead, as we shall see, another "unity," an arbitrary "faith," and another "maturity", is set forth for us by E. Glenn Wagner and his accomplices in The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs.

Just the Facts

What is unity? It is being in relationship to one another. This is a unity rooted in love, sacrifice, and a common commitment to Jesus Christ ... It is this idea of relationship that will bring us into unity,

writes Mr. Wagner (23, 11). While this may sound good, the "unity" the Bible speaks of is rooted in our common baptism of the Spirit that has made us "one body." "Relationship" is a result of "biblical unity", never a cause. The early Church of Acts 2 was not "gathered together in one accord" because they believed in a "relational unity," but in the Apostles doctrine, which faith had resulted in their baptism of the Spirit (Acts 2:42-44, 11:15-16) that caused them to act "in one accord." Wagner et. al. suspiciously avoid acknowledging that there is a "unity" that already exists in the Body of Christ.

Wagner's error regarding "unity" is enhanced in the Foreword by Promise Keepers President Randy Phillips, who writes:

Various denominations have their own uncompromising convictions that mirror their God-given uniqueness. Yet Scripture reminds us of God's heart: uniqueness must ultimately flow into unity. (vi).

E. Glenn Wagner (xii -- xiii) himself cites excerpts of the two passages in the New Testament (1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12:3-8) that speak of the God-given uniqueness (or "diversity" as Wagner and Phillips write) among individual Christians in regards to spiritual gifts. But even among individual believers it could not be said that "God's heart" is for "uniqueness" to "ultimately flow into unity," because, in the very context of these two passages, the many members are already one body in Christ (Rom. 12:5), all having been baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13, cf. Eph.4:3).

The simple truth is that Randy Phillips and E. Glenn Wagner cannot demonstrate that the Bible explicitly states that denominational "diversity" is "God-given" and thus acceptable, which is what PK wants us to believe -- if all denominational "uniquenesses" are "God-given," then these matters should not be "argued" about for the greater cause of "biblical unity" -- but this concept is a myth, a faulty premise to begin with in the pursuit of a "biblical unity."

So what "denominational barriers" are there that a Promise Keeper is committed to "reaching beyond" in order "to demonstrate the power of biblical unity"? The issues that distinguish denominations are "their own uncompromising convictions" in matters of doctrine and practice. But the Bible does not say what Randy Phillips wrote, that these matters "mirror their God-given uniqueness." Scripture indicates that it is not God's revealed will that "denominational uniqueness" even exist, nor that any "diversity" be allowed among Christians in matters of doctrine and practice ("diversity" that would signify destructive immaturity, cf. Eph. 4:14), except in individual matters of practice we are not commanded to obey but are instead given liberty in, (Wagner, p. 181; cf. Rom. 14-15, 1 Cor. 8) as long as another brother is not stumbled in their own walk with Christ upon seeing our practice of something (1 Cor. 8:9, Rom. 14:13) not commanded by Scripture.

But E. Glenn Wagner and Promise Keepers have allowed for additional matters of "diversity" to exist in the Church in their plan for "biblical unity." Wagner identifies these matters as "secondary" issues (p.180). A few pages earlier, he writes,

I must be willing to put aside nonessential issues of taste and preference to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. (p.177)

Wagner isn't just talking about "secondary", "non-essential" issues of practice that believers are given liberty in according to Romans 14-15. Wagner favorably quotes Charles Colson:

True unity is not sought by pretending that there are no differences, as modern ecumenists have done, but by recognizing and respecting those differences, while focusing on the great orthodox truths all Christians share. (p.26)

For Wagner and Promise Keepers, "secondary issues" that we are to "put aside" [i.e., don't "earnestly contend for"] include those matters of doctrine other than "the great orthodox truths all Christians share" (what Wagner refers to as "one that has as its basis one of the five fundamentals of the faith that we've presented in this book" (p.180)). What exactly are "the five fundamentals of the faith" presented in The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, "the great orthodox truths all Christians share"?

The Five PK Fundamentals:

  1. The Bible
  2. God
  3. Jesus Christ
  4. The Holy Spirit
  5. The redemption of man

Do all Christians, all Christian denominations, "share" the same detailed beliefs regarding the above "primary issues" of "the faith"? Who is going to determine the details of "the five fundamentals of the faith" in the first place? PK of course, the details of which "faith" Wagner equates with the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and "The Fundamentals" (10, 36-38), which sounds reasonable at first (as long as you accept these things in the first place and find that they say exactly the same things The Power of Shared Beliefs teaches).

But what if some Christians or denominations were to think that there should actually be additional "fundamentals of the faith" added to Wagner's (PK's) list? Too bad; PK has already narrowed the list down to five items, the details of which have been provided in, The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs. Anything that the Bible teaches that The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs does not teach is not part of "the faith once delivered to the saints" according to PK (p.39, Jude 3).

Who gave PK the authority to assume such a role of leadership over the Body of Christ, determining (in a de facto a priori fashion) such things as what "shared beliefs" all Christians are to rally around in the name of "biblical unity", a "unity" on the one hand that they don't eagerly acknowledge already exists (among "denominations", i.e. all Christians) according to the Scriptures (Eph. 4:3), and a "unity" on the other hand that will only exist when the Body of Christ

comes to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph.4:13), that we should no longer be children, tossed to and from and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive (Eph. 4:14),

which unity PK has inoculated the Body from even getting close to if "the faith" includes/excludes anything contrary to the "5 points" of "Shared Beliefs"?


Recall that in Eph. 4:11-15, the concept of the "maturity" of the Body of Christ is taught to be the job of pastors (among others, Eph. 4:11) to affect via "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) "until we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph. 4:13). PK Vice President of Ministry Advancement, E. Glenn Wagner, has redefined "spiritually mature" for us on pages 44-46 as exemplified in David, on the basis that he was "a man after God's own heart (will)" that was "willing to repent": these attributes of David could easily be the case of a new believer (that is, a believer who is not "spiritually mature")!

Nowhere does the Bible point to these two attributes as the definition of Christian maturity. E. Glenn Wagner doesn't even address a single verse in the New Testament having to do with Christian maturity. There is simply no way that PK's game plan for "biblical unity" would accomplish the "unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" maturity "God intends" for the Body of Christ, the very reason God has given "pastors" to the Church in the first place (Eph. 4:11)! One must ask the question then, "Has God given PK `pastors' to the Body of Christ? Is PK really a "move of God"?

Unity Will Result In "Awesome Power"

So why is PK promoting "biblical unity"? "The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs" is why. According to the teaching of PK, "Awesome Power" will be the result of the Church attaining "biblical unity." Their chief text relating to this is found in John 17, Jesus' prayer for "those who will believe in Me through" the word of the apostles. Wagner, on pages 24-25, quotes extensively from the passage following, conveniently employing "... " to cut out a few verses out of the context, so as to make it appear that Jesus' prayer, "that they may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" could be answered independent of "the glory which You gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one" (John 17:22), most likely (according to the context of John 17, cf. v..5,24) referring to that "eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17) that "will be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18) when Christ our life appears for us in the clouds (Col. 3:4) to take us to be with Him, "gathering together into one all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10), when we will behold His "glory" (John 17:24).

Ignoring all this, Wagner points to the initial fulfillment of Jesus' John 17 prayer as "the explosive growth" found in "the first six chapters of the book of Acts" (28), demonstrating that "unity brings with it a power. It is a power spoken of in Acts 1:8" (27).

Awesome Power Will Result In Revival

PK's "purpose" for "biblical unity": "that the world may believe" (26). Let's think about this for a moment. What does "that the world may believe" mean to PK? Is not PK implying that "the world" does not believe at present, that a "biblical unity" would be a precursor to "the world" "believing"? What would it look like if "the world" did "believe" according to PK's implied meanings in this language? What a wonderful thought: this "that the world may believe" almost sounds like a worldwide revival, the salvation of perhaps a billion souls; that if a "worldwide revival" didn't happen, Jesus' prayer would not have been answered by the Father, and God would be a failure -- Oh No!; perhaps we better adopt PK's interpretation of Jesus' prayer for "unity" then, that when the church "unites" (and we know it will since Jesus prayed it would [and we have already learned from PK that the Church is definitely not "in unity" in any shape or form at present], so we might as well be obliged to follow "this move of God" called Promise Keepers, lest we be found to fight against God!), a worldwide revival will break out: the one thing keeping millions and millions of people from accepting Christ are all these "denominations" -- it's not that all those unbelievers are totally depraved, not of "the elect" to begin with, or any other reason really (according to PK's mentality at least).

Transforming Culture

Will not "the world believe" that the Father sent Jesus when the Father sends Him again to return to earth with power and glory with His Church to establish the millennial kingdom spoken of in Revelation 20, an event that will "transform culture" (p.174)? That's not E. Glenn Wagner's thinking:

We're not transforming the culture. The culture is transforming us. It's time to reverse that trend. That's unity's purpose. (p.27)

That's PK's ultimate purpose for "biblical unity", to "transform culture" to reflect the "ethical standards" (175) PK promotes so much. But their desire for a "transformed culture" flies in the face of God's plan as revealed in the Scriptures!


Misrepresenting what the Bible teaches about "the faith," "unity", "spiritual maturity", the context of Jesus' prayer in John 17, and God's plan for the future, among other things, PK is trying to make this present world a better place to live. PK's whole de facto game plan to "unify" [take over?] the Church in the name of "keeping promises" (isn't it "good" to "keep promises"?) and "point men" is at best "of man," doomed to fail according to the clear rendering of the Sacred Text, and is doomed (as it already has) to wreck (subtle at times but) very real havoc on the Church, tossing everyone to and fro with their adulteration of the Scriptures.

In light of all this, we must remember according to The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs (p. 22-23), PK is not promoting organizational unity (even though they are an organization that recruits "point men" at their stadium-filling meetings/wake-up calls and has "discipleship material" to get everyone on track with the PK agenda), is not preaching unity at expense of truth (forget all of PK's false doctrine on basic concepts like "unity", "maturity", etc.), nor a lowest common denominator unity (forget the 5-points thing), nor are they a political organization with a hidden agenda (forget about "President" Randy Phillips et. al. and the plan for a 1997 PK March in Wash. D.C.), nor does PK promote a unity enhanced through program/curriculum (please disregard all the reading comprehension/group study questions at the end of each chapter of PK books), nor are they a dangerous organization that could take advantage of the power of shared but false beliefs like the Nazi's did in W.W.II (p.36)

Reprinted from the October 1995 issue of The Christian Conscience Magazine. Carl Widrig will be reviewing two books by Coach Bill McCartney's Pastor, James Ryle, in the May issue of The Christian Conscience.