The Fading Fear and the Spirit of St. Louis (I)
The editor of Truth Magazine has asked me to write some articles dealing with the recent meetings in Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri between well known men in both the conservative Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These were significant meetings and we shall be hearing more and more about these and similar meetings as time passes.
For some time there have been a number of "feelers" evident as to possible avenues of fellowship between some in the Christian Churches and some of the more liberal brethren in churches of Christ. When James Deforest Murch (who then styled himself a "conservative liberal" in the Christian Church) reviewed William Banowsky's book, THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT, he wrote a letter to Banowsky in which he said that for some time he had been feeling more in common with congregations like Broadway in Lubbock, Texas (where Banowsky was then preaching) than with many in the Christian Churches. This letter was printed in the Broadway Bulletin. Since that time, a jarring division has occurred in the Christian Churches which climaxed in the Kansas City Convention of 1968 at which time the liberal Disciple element prevailed and voted to "restructure" themselves into a full-fledged denomination. Conservative Christian Churches have severed all relations with the Disciples and now constitute a loosely federated body committed to a more fundamental approach.
In the November, 1969 Mission Messenger, Carl Ketcherside refers to other more definite "feelers" which date back at least to 1967. In fairness it should be observed that the Memphis and St. Louis meetings were not arranged by Ketcherside, and the brethren selected by Reuel Lemmons to attend these gatherings in the main would regard Carl Ketcherside as too liberal for them. Ketcherside himself has been arranging "unity forums" for several years now and advocating fellowship without resolving divisive issues. While impatient with the procedures of the Memphis and St. Louis meetings, he expressed his delight with these developments and offered his comments in an article entitled "The Fading Fear."
Ketcherside's Attitude About Division Over Instrumental Music
(I) Abusing the pioneers. For a man who claims to love all his brethren regardless of their loyalties, he certainly reveals an uncharitable attitude toward those who oppose instrumental music, though he says he does not approve of it either. He speaks of the division over instrumental music as a "ghastly laceration" and says that this occurred in a "frontier culture" and that many of the participants were "uneducated and illiterate, possessed of quick tempers and touchy pride." From what reading I have done in Restoration literature of that period, those men who led the fight through the journals of the period were far from being "uneducated and illiterate" on either side of the conflict. The pioneers were just men and subject to error, but they were not as Ketcherside has described them.
(2) He characterizes the debates on the subject as "lambasting each other with lexicons and pasting each other with patristics."
(3) He argues that it was sinful to divide over this. He says he believes it is wrong to use the instrument, but still there must be no division over a practice which he says is wrong. What were those brethren in that "frontier culture" to do at Midway, Kentucky and a host of other places later when the instrument was forced in over the consciences of those who 'opposed it and demanded scriptural authority for it? Were those who favored it the only ones possessed of rights? Had there been no division, then all would have been forced to accept an innovation and every congregation would have been swept along with it.
(4) Ketcherside disdains debates and discussions in which the issues have been studied. He writes.
"After all the conferences have been held and the bone-weary negotiators have completed their awesome studies of 'ham on the Lord's table,' and 'gopher wood in the ark' in relation to instrumental music, the only way they can unite is to unite. I am starting where they will be ending! I have fiddled away too much of my life already. I have no more time to waste!"
So, according to him it is a waste of time to argue that instrumental music is an error equal to having "ham on the Lord's table" or "gopher wood in the ark." What I want to know is what answer has been given to these arguments? If we can add "play" to the specific "sing," then why can we not on the same premise add "ham" to the specific "bread"? If Ketcherside indeed believes the instrument is wrong, then I should like to know how he concludes that to be so without considering the question of generics and specifics. Until someone comes up with a good answer to the argument on "gopher wood," then I intend to keep on making it.
Evidence of Compromise
Ketcherside rejoices that his dream is slowly being realized and that "The cold snows of division in the higher peaks are beginning to melt." The following quotes from his article speak for themselves as to straws in the wind indicative of compromise over the instrument.
"More than two years ago a meeting of top-level men in the Churches of Christ was held in an eastern city with a prominent brother from the Christian Church. It was agreed that these leaders in the non- instrument ranks would tone down factional approach in their articles broadcasts, (Emphasis mine, eliminating such material as would tensions between the two groups. No of the meeting ever leaked out to journals but the effect has been seen from coast to - coast" (Emphasis mine, CWA). Observe that at least some of the participants were writers and broadcasters who could be classified as "leaders" and "top-level men." The article continues:
"In New York, the Manhattan Christ entered into 'the fellowship of and receiving' with an important Christian Church family. In California, across the nation, the administration Pepperdine College reached the conclusion that the use of the instrument was no to fellowship in Christ Jesus. Since the president and vice-president have both spoken at the North American Christian Convention, hailing those in attendance as their brethren"
"A front-rank man in the Bible department at Abilene Christian College recently
said that if the instrument was being introduced now, the brethren who oppose it would look at it a long time before divide over it." I hail with great pleasure every attempt of brethren to meet and discuss our sinful schism. Such a meeting took place in a southern city several months back, the proceedings were all conducted in an amiable fashion. One of the ironic twists o! fate is that present for the occasion was my esteemed brother, James DeForest who has lived down his detractors on sides, and is now able to meet with men who once heaped opprobrium upon him working on what was known as the Witty-Murch plan for unity."
"The brethren who oppose the instrument agreed to work for lessening of the on the mission field where the question is not an issue. They also disclaimed any intention of becoming involved in public partisan' debate over the matter. (Emphasis CWA) They conversed and prayed together~ in a spirit of harmony and fraternity, and parted with a mutual resolution to other such meetings on an expanded scale in the future."
(1) How did these brethren propose to lessen tensions on the mission field where the question "is not an issue"? Did Ketcherside misrepresent them? Does this mean that those who oppose the instrument who go out on "the mission field" will no longer preach against it? If they do not preach against it on "the mission field," then how will people in the Methodist or Baptist Churches learn that it is unauthorized? How will those influenced by Christian Church preachers on "the mission field" discover that the practice is wrong, if no issue is raised over it? Or have these brethren decided that they can take it or leave it?
(2) The men participating in the Memphis meeting agreed, according to Ketcherside, not to take part in "partisan debates" on the subject. Yet Murch, in the interview which we shall discuss in a later article, referred to these meetings and deliberations therein as "debates." What rule of hermeneutics makes informal debates right and formal ones wrong? Is it right without an audience and wrong with one? In light of some of the men present, this development is most interesting. Reuel Lemmons and those with him at the Memphis meeting will not engage in open, formal debate with advocates of instrumental music. They have outgrown them now. Bill Humble was present at the St. Louis meeting. I do not know if he attended the one in Memphis. He wrote a fine book on CAMPBELL AND CONTROVERSY and spoke highly of the good of such debates as he reported. Earl West was present at St. Louis. He gave us the excellent two volumes on SEARCH FOR THE ANCIENT ORDER. Surely these men will not allow themselves to be identified among the numbers who refuse now to engage in public debate on instrumental music!
In the next article I shall present material from an interview which Thomas H. Olbricht and J. W. Roberts of Abilene Christian College had with Reuel Lemmons and James DeForest Murch after the St. Louis meeting. A copy of this interview was sent to us by brother Olbricht with the comment that we might want to present our own evaluation of the matter. That we shall do.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 27, pp. 5-7
May 14, 1970