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Book Review – Divided We Fall by Luder G. Whitlock Jr.


Book Review – Divided We Fall by Luder G. Whitlock Jr.

One of the most common criticisms against Christianity that I encounter from both Christians and non-Christians alike is that we are a divided church with a history full of divisions. This is a valid criticism and one which Christians everywhere should take to heart. Christ himself told us that his desire is that we would be unified. Why? Christ gives us two reasons in John 17.20-23: 1) that the world would believe that Christ was sent by the Father, and 2) that the world would know that the Father loves us in the same manner in which the Father loves Christ.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

That sad reality is that the church is not unified. There have been many attempts to unify the church and all of these attempts have their own understanding of what it means for the Church to be one. Who should we unite to? Are we to be one in doctrine? Practice? Liturgy? Should we all submit to one central head of the Church? Whatever the answer, one thing is clear and that is that the Church is fragmented and our lack of unity contributes in some way to unbelief.

Divided We Fall  by Luder G. Whitlock Jr. is a book which was written to address the issue of unity and disunity within the Church. Whitlock starts off by establishing the biblical call for unity. After this, he takes the reader on a fascinating tour of church history and the many attempts to unify the Church. This was by far the best succinct abridgment on the topic that I have ever read and gives the reader just enough information to understand the key historical moments. The ample footnotes provide a good launching pad for further study if desired. Next Whitlock begins to develop the doctrine of the communion of the saints (colloquially known as “body life”). This includes a historical treatment of the communion of the saints as well as a bit of flushing out the concept in a user-friendly manner. From here, Whitlock looks at the ecumenical movement, schisms, and sectarianism before addressing some challenges and concerns with attempts at unifying the Body of Christ. Finally Whitlock concludes the book with some well reasoned and constructive steps that believers can take to begin the process of unifying the church.

One of the things that I really appreciated while reading Divided We Fall is that Whitlock leaves plenty of room for diversity within the Body of Christ. That is to say that he doesn’t insist that unity means that we all hold to the same interpretation of scripture as long as we are committed to some key orthodox doctrines. This leaves room for say, a Presbyterian and a Baptist to maintain their doctrinal distinctives while still striving for unity. Whitlock understands that unity and mutual affection between believers does not mean that they have to agree on every doctrine. Instead, unity it is characterized by love, kindness, and a willingness to associate and dialogue with those who believe differently.

Divided We Fall is a wonderful book on Church unity that seeks to honor God and his desire for unity. At the same time, Whitlock avoids the common mistakes of most ecumenical attempts which sacrifice orthodoxy for the sake of getting along. Divided We Fall also avoids the extreme approach to unity which insists that the church must be unified under one human head and share a common liturgy. This book outlines an excellent example of the type of unity which Christ prayed for and the church will be all the better for heeding Whitlock’s wisdom.

Where to Purchase

Amazon | P&R Publishing

About the Author

Divided We FallLuder G. Whitlock Jr. served as president of Reformed Theological Seminary from 1978–2001, where he had previously been a professor. Today he is executive director of the CNL Charitable Foundation and the JMS Foundation; president of Excelsis; and minister at large for the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. He and his wife, Mary Lou, have three children and eleven grandchildren.




Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from P&R Publishing in exchange for an online review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

28 thoughts on “Book Review – Divided We Fall by Luder G. Whitlock Jr.

  1. Michael Osborne

    This is the second time that I have seen something on this book this week. I long for a church that loves God enough to unite instead of divide. But I long for the unity to be doctrinally sound and not compromising. Can we just agree that those of us especially in the Reformed traditions have much to agree on? Why do we find it so hard to just lay down our verbal weapons and work together?

    • Pride. The flesh wants to be right at all costs. Even if it means sacrificing unity.

  2. Yes. Thank you. I appreciate Whitlock mostly his work on the NAE and at the Trinity Forum. He is very sound minded. A leader we should all listen to.

    • Thanks Ryan. I appreciate your perspective.

  3. Yep pretty much! This is what kept me from being a Christian for so long and why I ran away from God calling me for over a year before finally submitting to him. I thought if the news is really that good and it really gives us a new heart then why do so many Christians still have a really ugly heart and not really believe that the good news can change us? And reformed people are the worst! I’m saying this as a reformed person myself but my people are really mean sometimes!

    • Ruby a friend of mine pointed out that those who are attracted to Reformed Theology tend to like to make distinctions and distinctions are important to them. Being reformed myself and also finding myself thinking that distinctions are important, I think I would agree with him. This makes us come across as very strong willed and somewhat unteachable. This explains some things but does not excuse it. We must try all that much harder to ensure that we are responding in love and with respect. I enjoyed hearing a small part of your story. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gregory

    The church is divided because God says it must be so in order for those who are genuine to be recognized. If God wanted us to all unite he would have made it so but instead he desires is to be fractured so the real church would be all the more evident

    • Gregory, what exactly do you mean by saying that God desires for the church to be fractured? I’m assuming you are referring to 1 Corinthians 11 but how do you reconcile your statement about God wanting a fractured church with his prayer in John 17? Is there a greater unity that allows for some divisions while still keeping the unity between those who are genuine? Does God need to peer through the divisions in order for him to know who is genuine?

      • Gregory

        Yes because it says right there that divisions MUST exist. So there you have it. The church must be divided. This is so we can tell who is genuine. Example, Westboro Baptist church is a division. They needed to divide so we can tell who is genuine. It clarifies who is not genuine (Westboro) and who is (Other churches who are not Westboro).

        • Gregory, who is the Church that Christ prayed for? Does that include all who identify as Christian or a subset of that population? Or…?

          • Gregory

            Based on the context I’d have to say he is only praying for true believers. Verse 20 says “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” So His disciples for sure but also all who truly believe.

          • I agree. What are your thoughts in those in 1 Corinthians who were introducing schisms into the church? Clearly they were a part of the church but are they true believers?

  5. Jordan F. Tyler

    You probably already know my position and what I’m going to say but the only way to have a unified church is tp have a catholic church under one bishop, the Bishop of Rome. There is flexibility in the liturgy and other things but to be unified is to be under one unified head. There is no way around that.

    • Is not Christ our shepherd who we are all under?

      • Jordan F. Tyler

        Yes Christ is the shepherd but he needs representatives on earth who are visible and living. So the priests and mostly the Pope are his vicars.

        • Jordan, what do you mean by “he needs representatives on earth who are visible and living”?

          • Jordan F. Tyler

            Well we need to start at the beginning. In order to ensure unity in His Church he established one man to be in complete charge of His Church. He left this to Peter, the first Pope immediately after his confession and this role has been passed down since then through the Popes. The authority as Christ’s visible head of the Church on earth has been passed on from Pope to Pope.

          • What do you mean by..
            1) “in order to ENSURE unity…”
            2)”…complete charge of His Church
            3)” …this role has been passed down…”
            4) “visible head”
            5) “authority as Christ’s visible head..”

    • Lenette

      Jordan this is not true at all. If this were true there would be one Catholic church but if you really consider the Catholic Church to be the one true church then you must also take responsibility for all of the the divisions because you have already said there is just one. The East and West split then protestants split and continue to but the one thing in common by your logic is they all divide from Catholicism. Or said differently if all the different churches are divided from the “true church” then the Catholic Church is a divided church not a unified church. I have been there. For many years.

      • Jordan F. Tyler

        But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:33

        • Jordan the implication if I am reading you correctly is that Lenette is apostate– I disagree. If I have misread you please do accept my apology but if you are intending to say that she is apostate then I will defend her. Let’s keep it civil.

  6. Jordan F. Tyler

    By “in order to ensure unity” I mean that Jesus in his divine wisdom established a lineage of popes to rule over the Church. As it turns out it has worked. There is still one holy Catholic Church.

    By “complete charge of His Church” I mean that the Pope has complete charge. Christ gave Him complete authority.

    By “this role has been passed down” I mean that there has been an interrupted transfer of authority from Peter down to Pope Francis. This is astounding if you think about it and is evidence that the Catholic Church is the enduring Church.

    By “visible head” I mean the Pope stands in the place of Christ during this time between accents. We can’t see and hear and behold Christ today so we have the Pope as his “stand in”.

    By “authority as Christ’s visible head” I mean that the Pope is ruling in place of Christ as long as Christ and his Church are separated by this world and the next.

    • Thanks Jordan. I appreciate you putting thought into that. Now that you have defined what you mean, I’d like to know how you came to those conclusions. Specifically, how did you conclude that

      1. “Jesus… established a lineage of popes”?
      2. That the goal of unity worked?
      3. That “Christ gave him complete authority”
      4. The pope stands in the place of Christ?
      5. That the pope is ruling in the place of Christ?

      In addition to explaining how you came to those five conclusions, can you further clarify what you mean by:

      1. “There is still one holy Catholic church”
      2.”there has been an interrupted transfer of authority from Peter down to Pope Francis” (I am assuming you meant uninterrupted)
      3. “the Pope stands in the place of Christ during this time between accents”

      I think that’s all for now. I may have more questions later.

  7. Jordan F. Tyler

    Aaron Thanks for reopening the comments and for responding to my email. For everyone else I’m not trying to be dodgy by not answering right away and didn’t realize that the comments close after 2 weeks. Aaron graciously agreed to change it so they stay open.

    To be honest I haven’t given much thought about how I can to these conclusions other than it’s what I have been taught and what the Church teaches. That’s the Catholic Church. I realize that there are other denominations but I’m speaking as a Catholic. The line of reasoning from scripture here is that when Peter made his confession that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus then made him the first Pope by saying that he will build his church on Peter and the popes after him. That is to say that the future Bishops of Rome would also be the ones who rule the church. Then Jesus declared that the Popes are not only to rule in His place but also will have the final authoritative say on doctrine and can speak infallibly. He declared this to be true when he said the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Obviously for this to be possible the Pope has to have the final authority and can speak in an infallible manner. Otherwise the gates of hell can prevail over the church. So I think this answers # 1, 3,4 and 5. For # 2 I would say that the goal of unity worked because there still a Catholic Church. It isn’t divided like Protestant churches and in fact has its origin in unity not division like the Protestants.

    For the 2nd #1 kind of like I said above there is still one Catholic Church. It isn’t divided like the Protestants. We are one and you are like, 30,000. For the 2nd # 2 I mean that the Popes have had a succession starting from Peter and God has never left us without a Pope to represent Him on earth. This is pretty fantastic if you think about it. That is unity!

    For the 2nd #3, I just mean that since we don’t have Jesus here now we have to have someone to help clarify truth. An authority to watch over the church because Jesus can’t. God didn’t leave us without a way to work out heresy- he gave us the Pope and his church.

    • Thanks Jordan. I appreciate the dialogue. A few more questions:

      1. How do you conclude that Jesus established the papacy from his pronouncement that he will build his Church upon “this rock”? I get that he was using word play on Peter’s name, but how do you get from point A (the pronouncement) to point B ( the elaborate doctrine of the papacy)? Also, how do you get to the doctrine of papal infallibility from the broad statement that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church?

      2. I’m a little confused about something you said. You say that the goal of unity works because there is still an undivided Catholic church; but you also seem to acknowledge that Protestantism is the result of a division within the Catholic Church. That’s to say, from what you are saying about the Reformation , you believe that it was a divisive split. What I don’t understand is how you can have such a significant division of the church while at the same time claim that it is not divided. Now I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed so you’ll have to help me out here…isn’t that impossible? Either you had a division or you have continuous unity. From my (perhaps ignorant) perspective you can have one or the other but not both.

      I’m not going to go into the history of the popes except to say that there hasn’t always been agreement on who the pope is. At one point there were two men claiming to be popes and if memory serves me right, both simultaneously ruling from different places. There is also a part of the Catholic Church today that doesn’t accept the lineage of the pope subsequent to Vatican II…so it isn’t entirely clear that there has been an uninterrupted lineage as you claim. This is somewhat beside the point because in the end, the Roman Catholic Church still exists and this is evidence that it has survived despite the divisions and disunity… but your original point was that the Catholic Church is and always has been unified right?

      3. You say that God didn’t leave us without a way to resolve heresy. I agree with you but would differ in that I believe that he left us an infallible scripture instead of a fallible man.

  8. Jordan F. Tyler

    1. I don’t know to be honest. I guess it seems like a stretch but the Church has special insight into these things that the rest of us are blind to. We just need to trust that I guess. I don’t know how to connect all the dots. I’ve been trying for a few hours and I am coming to dead ends everywhere.

    2. I guess I did contradict myself. I would have to say that the Protestants did divide from the Church and still exist as well. I can’t deny those facts. So I guess I need to trash the other option that the Catholic Church is unified. As long as there are Protestants and the Eastern Catholic Churches then the Church is divided. I concede this. There isn’t any way around it without denying proven historical facts.

    2. That’s a very Protestant way of looking at things and departs from a majority of Christians.

    • Hey Tyler, I’m having a difficult time reconciling that last statement with the facts. I had to look up the numbers myself but it doesn’t seem to be so clear cut. It turns out that 1.2 billion Catholics make up the 2.4 billion Christians in the world. This equates to about 50%. There are some oddities with the numbers though. I think what I read somewhere else gave the number of Catholics at almost 1.3 billion so that makes it seem as if the Catholic Church does make up the majority of Christians, but these same numbers had the number of protestants in China at 40 million (official numbers established by the Chinese government) but other numbers which try to account for the underground protestant churches which meet in secret at anywhere from 100 to 200 million. At any rate, it’s difficult to assess the true number; especially during a time in which church identification is so fluid. Evangelicalism is growing rapidly and Catholicism is shrinking at an astonishing rate. We can say for sure that the Catholic Church makes up roughly half of the worldwide Christians. Perhaps a majority and perhaps not. That said, I don’t think either one of us are willing to make an argument that truth is determined by the majority. Right?

      • Jordan F. Tyler

        Ok. I’m finding the same numbers depending on where I look. Let’s not make this a talking point. You’re right on when you say truth is not a product of popularity. I’m going to see if I can learn more about what we believe so I can answer some of your questions better next time. I don’t feel like I am equipped to answer adequately.

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