The Ketcherside "Unity" Movement

Elvis Bozarth
Las Cruces, New Mexico

In January 1957, Brother Carl Ketcherside wrote in his Mission Messenger:

"Through long prayer and intense study we became convinced that a program of wide diversification would accomplish but little in our remaining years. We decided to concentrate our feeble talents upon the two greatest themes which can challenge the thinking of mortals--the restoration of the ancient order and the unity of all believers in Jesus, the Messiah."

With these words he launched a new "unity" movement. This "preamble" is appealing to all; it is only when the "articles" of his platform are revealed do we see the insidiousness of his plea, and the need for reaction. He went on to say:

"Most of the brethren are satisfied to 'settle on tl1eir lees', being convinced that they are the special recipients of divine grace, and all others are sectarian except themselves . . . If we were content to make this little journal an organ for a faction, we could at least be popular with . . . that faction."

When I read this my reaction was, first, surprise, and second, alarm. My surprise was that if anyone had breached the "unity of all believers," accused "all others are sectarian," and made a "little journal an organ for a faction," more than had Brother Ketcherside, I had not heard of him. His factional leadership of thise advocating "mutual ministry," "evangelistic oversight," and opposing "Bible schools" and "located preachers," had changed their label from "Sommerism" to "Ketchersideism."

To all of this he confessed in the February, 1957 issue:

'At first, I labored under the misconception that because we had discovered some truths which had long been hidden that we had found them all . . . I became convinced that we were well on the road toward creation of another sect . . . I learned how little any of us really knew, and how much there was yet to learn . . . I have made mistakes which are saddening to reflect upon. I have wasted much time."

My alarm was aroused when I realized his confessions did not refer to his peculiar hobbies, but rather was an indictment of "The Church of Christ" (always put in quotes by him). In the same issue he stated his "personal primary aims" and how he planned "to accomplish these objectives":

"I want to help in my weak way to restore the primitive pattern . . . to lift up my feeble voice in behalf of the unity of all believers. I hold that the sheep of God have been neglected and driven out to wander among the hills of sectism I would like to put my shoulder to the wheel of the Restoration vehicle and push it out of the mud and mire of neglect and indifference where it has been stalled so long . . . I plan to go wherever the Lord opens up a door for me. I have spoken in Jewish Synagogues . . . Catholic classes . . . met in personal discussions members of the clergy of the Lutheran and other faiths . . . I've been allowed to speak to groups of the Christian Church. In none of these conferences has anything but a spirit of humility and kindliness prevailed."

When his bill of particulars of the "unity" movement is examined' we can easily understand why he has repeatedly been invited to speak to these groups and is received so kindly. His proposals are new to the New Testament but not new among men. He has only revived, as have others before him, the controversies over "Christians among sects," "Pharisaism," "Public Debates," "Sect baptism," "Discipline and Fellowship," "Name of the church," "Heresy," and "what the gospel is." He stated as much in a personal letter to me in the fall of 1963:

"Actually what I am saying is simply a rehearsal of the position of Alexander Campbell, J. W. McGarvey, David Lipscomb, et al, although they said it better than I am able to say."

It is true that on each article of his platform he can find support from one or more of those named, but no one of them advocated all he does. Brother Ketcherside's implication that they did is only an attempt to gain respectability for his heresy.

The summation of his views reveals an effort to restore the Restoration Movement rather than to restore the New Testament church. Our concern should be to present to the world "simply a rehearsal of the position of "Jesus Christ, Paul, Peter, et al. When we "speak as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11), we will say it as they say it. We will not need to debate over what Thomas Campbell really meant by the motto, "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent."

When Brother Ketcherside continued to press for the "Unity" movement, I hoped other brethren whom I feel better qualified would deal with it, but when I suggested it, they only urged me to do it. Except for a few articles in two or three journals, no real opposition has appeared. Therefore, I decided to go ahead, feeling as Walter Scott when he wrote:

"The task might have fallen upon someone more able to perform it, but as none as yet appeared to occupy this ground, we have yielded to the wishes of those who were perhaps better judges in the case than ourselves, and have done the best we could. May the reader derive as much profit from reading it as the author has been gladdened while writing it." (The Evangelist, Preface, 1838.)

It is proposed that we shall examine similiarities of Ketcherside's Movement with some of the past, and to show the historical background of the errors and the scriptural answers to them.

Voices of the Past

In January 1959, Brother Ketcherside wrote in his Mission Messenger:

"I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I am a student of bistorv. and I know that history is repetitive. Like causes produce like results."

In April of the same year he wrote:

"If 'whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning,' we must read what is written and we must learn from it. Only a fool will refuse to read the danger signs along a road he has not traveled before."

In both statements his specific application was to the moral bankruptcy of our land, and our failure to "discern the signs of the times." As we admit his admonitions in this respect, we are impressed with the fact that if Brother Ketcherside would "read the danger signs" as a "student of history" should, he would cease his participation in the pseudo-unity meetings being held around the country.

Brother F. G. Allen was one of the able preachers, debaters, and writers during "The Passing Years (1865-1885)." In his Old Paths Pulpit there is a sermon entitled, "Principles of the Current Reformation." His text was Nehemiah 6:3. He showed the opposers of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem resorted to:

(1) Ridicule: "But it came to pass that . . . Sanballat . . . said, what are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? ... Tobiah . . . said, Even that which they are building, if a fox go up, he shall break down their stonewall" (Neh. 4:1-3).

(2) Fighting: "And they conspired . . . to . . . fight against Jerusalem, and to cause confusion therein" (Neh. 4: 7-8).

(3) Plea for a Unity Meeting: " . . . Come, let us meet together . . . in the plain of Ono" (Neh. 6:2).

Nehemiah ignored the ridicule and went on working (4;6). When the federated enemies elected to do battle, he "set there the people . . . with their swords, their spears, and their bows" (4:13). But when the enemies learned "that I had built the wall, and that there was no breach left therein," they sent word they wanted the "unity" meeting. Nehemiah was "wise as a serpent" and concluded:

" . . . they sought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" (6:2-3)

The enemies of God failed. After relating all this, Brother Allen wrote:

"But, perhaps, someone is ready to say, 'All this is a very interesting lesson m Jewish history, but what is there in it for us? What bearing has it on the religion of Christ?' Much in several respects. I think it contains a very important lesson for us in our plea for the restoration of New Testament Christianity."

He then made a practical application of these "things written aforetime" to the attempts of the denominational leaders to defeat those pleading for a return to the ancient order of things. The denominational preachers ridiculed, but the servants of God ignored their ridicule and went on "building." Then some of them were ready to battle, but the men of God put on the armor of God, strapped on the sword of the spirit and stood in the breaches. Next came invitations to "unity" meetings, and concerning them Brother Allen stated:

"And just here, dear brethren, is our greatest danger. While we remain true to the principles on which we started out, there is no earthly power that can impede our progress. But the day we leave these walls and go out to take counsel with the world, will mark the day of our decline. We have nothing to fear from without. Our only danger is from within. This danger lies in the direction of indifference and compromise. While we are true to God in the maintenance of these principles, the divine blessing will rest upon our work. But should they ever be surrendered, ruin will as certainly follow as that the Bible is true."

It is sad to say that many brethren through the years have not exercised the wisdom of Nehemiah. Every few years we have some who are prominent, (and some evidently trying to get prominent), joining in some pseudo-unity movement. Some minor efforts have been made in joining ministerial alliances and in participating in union services such as Easter, Good Friday, etc.; but to do so is to compromise truth. Then, periodically, we read of some so-called gospel preachers joining with representatives of the Christian Church in some "unity" meeting. I have not been able to find one thread of evidence that any sectarians, including Christian Church people, ever gave up any of their error as a result of any of these meetings. It may be that the brethren who were supposed to uphold truth there, failed to point out the errors and thought they would help maintain "a spirit of humility and kindliness;' or it may be that the denominational people did not attend the meeting for the purpose of learning and correcting error.

This general observation can be made of all the "unity" meetings I have read about in which brethren like Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett have been participating. They know they cannot go to these meetings and preach on the sin of instrumental music, institutionalism, etc., so they have resolved their difficulty by taking the position that these matters ought not to divide us in the first place.

Voices of Compromise

The March 1957 issue of Mission Messenger has an article, "The Sheep on the Hills," which has a textual base in Ezekiel 34. Brother Ketcherside quotes verse six and comments:

" 'My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill; yea my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did seek or search after them.' That is the picture of the flock today. They are wandering through the mountains and hills of sectarianism . . . This is not the will of God . . . He does not want them divided by partisanship or factionalism, but united in love and peace."

He continues his plea for "unity" to "all of the scattered flock wandering over the hills that have been created by men." Let us heal the breaches in Zion." Now just where are the hills over which the flock is wandering? He tells us:

"Even small communities are often fractured into Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Roman Catholic fraternities Sectarianism, division, party strife and schism must be dethroned.... What can we do? Those of us who.... seek to restore the one body in its primitive perfection, must seek to study together to investigate, to question that we may know 'tine Way"'.

If he meant to propose a study of the Bible with these sectarians and to investigate the creeds and practices of each one in the light of the Bible, then we could but say "Amen." But this is not his platform. What is actually being done can be learned from exchange of correspondence with his brother, Paul Ketcherside, during the fall of 1963, which can be furnished upon request. To save space I will only summarize here.

During a "singing" at the Keys church of Christ near Tahlequah, Oklahoma in August 1963, Brother Paul Ketcherside spoke briefly and stated he had been preaching in a Methodist church building in Northeast Oklahoma. He stated that he felt he didn't know everything and that other religious people might be able to teach him. I wrote him for clarification, indicating that from his remarks one would understand he was not conducting a worship period after the New Testament order and merely using the building as a convenience, nor was he preaching the pure gospel in their services, but rather was participating in the Methodist worship period on the basis of "full fellowship." I told him I intended to make this matter public but invited him to respond. Paul replied immediately and said he would not reply to my statements because he felt "that such an approach to our differences would only lead to further misunderstanding and could breach the bond of affection that I hold toward you as my brother in the Lord."

That the two brothers have unity on this "unity" theme is shown clearly by the following statement by Carl.

"As an illustration of what we mean, we mention our personal conviction that there may be children of God scattered among the various sects today. Since all children of God are born of the same father whom we claim we recognize them as our brethren, regardless of the mistakes in reasoning of which they are now guilty." Mission Messenger, February, 1958, page 12.

Brother Carl Ketcherside and his fellow advocates fail to distinguish between "unity" and "union." I speak not of a technical but practical distinction. A dictionary will show the meaning of the two words to be so close they may be used synonymously. Yet practically, this is not so. One of my Bible teachers in my childhood illustrated the difference by picturing a boy tying the tails of two cats together and then hanging them over the clothesline. He observed that while "union" was certain and swift, there was certainly no "unity" Perhaps the most apt illustration of "union" religiously is the National Council of Churches. On each level, from local to world echelons, the varied denominations have formed a "union,"--a framework in which they have agreed not to disagree over their differences, but can cooperate to achieve common goals. In February each year World Brotherhood Week presents to the community the "tolerant" spirit of the leaders among the Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. At Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, preachers of the denominations conduct joint services of various denominations. In all of these practical "union" is there, but there is no "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4: 1-6).

The Ketcherside "Unity" Movement essentially promotes "union" of people from all the sects and from, to use his terms, "the segments of the disciple brotherhood." It was conceived in compromise, born through capitulation, perpetuated by submission, and the result is surrender. This movement, like all threats to pure Christianity, must be stopped. "Wherefore take up the whole armor of God.... and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," and "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (Eph. 6:13.17; I Cor. 16:13).

Truth Magazine, IX: 2, pp. 15-18
November 1964