At Last . . . Now . . . an Open Confession: Paper Dies, Issues Live

By Ron Halbrook

The misguided Mission Messenger missile is no longer in orbit since the December, 1975, issue. The author and finisher of Messenger’s faith set the old ship down because he felt she had accomplished his objectives for her and because he wanted to free himself for new travels. “The routine of editing was interfering with things I felt impelled to do,” he says. What should be done? “The answer came while I was praying . . . one morning at two o’clock,” so at daylight, “I wrote the first notice that I would allow the paper to expire with the December issue of this year” (explanation in December, 1975, Mission Messenger p. 177).

W. Carl Ketcherside was born in 1908; Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) was his mentor for many years. Churches of Christ in the North under Sommer’s influence had been somewhat divided from churches in the South. In the 1930’s Sommer issued his “Rough Draft,” a plea for unity through recognition of the difference between certain congregational (church-supported schools) and individual issues (support of private “Bible” colleges), as well as of the difference between matters of faith (pattern of worship) and opinion (local church arrangements for preaching and teaching). He also made a visit to churches, brethren, and schools in the South. Certain “caustic and wobbling” brethren of the North charged Sommer with compromise. Ketcherside had started his Missouri’ Mission Messenger in 1938; but, being in the number who were disenchanted with Sommer’s unity efforts, he launched Mission Messenger’s career “as a medium around which the ‘loyal’ members could rally on a wider scale” in the mid-1940’s (p. 178). About ten years later a trip to Belfast, Ireland, convinced him something was wrong with his divisive spirit. So around 1960, he launched his paper into orbit with the objective of creating a new unity movement based on “one fact and one act” (faith and baptism). With the completion of Vol. 37, he ended the paper but is expanding his work. His last issue reveals several interesting things about the nature of his work-past, present, and continuing. We propose to review that last issue of his paper; quotations are from that source unless otherwise noted.

Ketcherside’s Devolution

At one time Ketcherside believed we must have book, chapter, and verse for everything we practice in religion. He believed there is a pattern for the church revealed in the New Testament. But even in those early days he had difficulty keeping his balance when it came to matters of faith and matters of individual opinion, For instance, on March 23-26, 1937, he was living at Nevada, Missouri, when he met Rue Porter of Neosho, Missouri, in debate at Ozark on “Church Support of Orphan’s. Homes, Schools, and Colleges.” On the proposition dealing with church support of orphanages, Ketcherside showed there was no scripture for turning the church’s work over to human institutions. But the proposition on schools and colleges did not deal with church support, but the right of individuals separate and apart from the church to have schools which included Bible teaching. Ketcherside could hardly find the handle to this one, and he tried his best to hang church support of colleges around Brother Porter’s neck. Brother Porter denied the latter; he only maintained that individuals may give to many institutions and maintain many endeavors but that does not mean the church is doing it. Ketcherside went all over the country stirring up debates and dividing churches over the right of individuals to have private schools with Bible teaching, over the right of preachers to locate with a church while being supported by it, and over his theories of evangelistic oversight of churches. At least the Ketcherside of those days was interested in whether a thing is authorized by command, example, or implication in Scripture and would defend his teaching on the public platform of debate.

Ketcherside’s pendulum swung from making laws where God made none and binding personal opinions to loosing laws which God had bound and treating matters of faith as he once should have treated matters of opinion! He now admits that in his former days he was “imbued with the party spirit . . . ambitious for recognition,” thus his motives involved self-promotion through factionalism (p. 178). It was in this unholy context that he “enjoyed” debating, he explains (p. 179). His motives are supposedly purified now, but the truth is that he still seeks his place in the sun: He fervently prays that “when historians record the events of these times, they will find I have contributed . . . to the appreciation of brotherhood” across all our “barriers” (p. 186). He is elated, that with his new approach to unity, he has the heaviest schedule of his life in 1976. He is proud to report that “a good deal of my work now is outside of our own movement,” and it is apparently this demand by demoninationalists that was interfering with the demands of editing a paper (p. 184). Ketcherside literally beams in pride when he personally tells of how much in demand he is on the “banquet” and “convention” circuits. In recent years he has been quite handy at accusing other brethren of being Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers, but what were the motives of such people according to the Bible? Matthew 6:lff and 23:lff are quite explicit on that matter, and Ketcherside’s profession of newly purified motives rings rather hollow along side his beaming reports. Paul refused to promote himself through crafty use of the Scriptures, but Ketcherside has made a life-long vocation of it (2 Cor. 4:2). Ketcherside is certainly pleasing the crowds this time and seems to be plenty proud of it. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them” (1 Jn. 4:5).

We Pinpointed The Issues: “Brotherhood, Grace and Fellowship”

“My paper was altered in content to reflect my growing knowledge of such subjects as brotherhood, grace and fellowship,” says Ketcherside of his turnabout (p. 182). For three or four years now, Truth Magazine has warned brethren of growing error in the sphere specified by Ketcherside; we have challenged brethren to get their Bibles and study these issues or else pay the price of default. Some folks have been less than “overly” thrilled at our effort, to say the least, and not a few have even denied the existence of the new grace-unity movement. Let each man speak his own peace the best way he can (we have never claimed infallibility of judgment for our own methods, approaches, and expressions), but let us acknowledge (1) real issues do exist, (2) the issues are “brotherhood, grace and fellowship, ” (3) the difference between Bible truth and current error on these matters needs to be plainly taught!

As Ketcherside recently told a news reporter, “he is traveling and speaking for unity and church renewal among people of Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ and independent Christian churches.” Or, as he puts it in his last issue of Mission Messenger, “I came to see that my brethren . . . were scattered through all of the parties” historically related to the Restoration Movement. When he speaks of his brethren “scattered over the sectarian hills,” he means that he now recognizes those in the denominational world as his brethren in Christ (p. 180). As he says in the January, 1976, Mission magazine (not M.M., but Mission put out by ultra-liberal brethren in Austin, Texas), “I became convinced that no party, segment or faction in our Restoration movement was the kingdom of God’s dear Son to the exclusion of all others. From this, I was led to see that no movement in the body of Christ can ever be equated with the body. . . . The sheep are still scattered over the sectarian hills” (emph. added).

New concepts require new vocabularies: “I had to reform my vocabulary to express my new thought patterns . . .” (p. 180). As he put it in Mission, “The old mottoes and cliches no longer serve any useful purpose.” Giving examples in Mission Messenger, he says, “Such expressions as ‘loyal brethren’ and ‘faithful brethren’ had to be thrown into the garbage dump . . . I had to rid myself of the arrogant term ‘brethren in error’ (p. 180). Make no mistake about it, brethren, Ketcherside is pioneering the desertion of Bible concepts and Bible language. His “new frontiers” are the very, very old frontiers of denominational theology and theological verbiage. When Ketcherside says all brethren are “brethren in error,” does he mean all brethren in error are in fellowship with God or just some of them are? Either horn of the dilemma is equally unbiblical. When Paul warned brethren, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them,” he did not mean to imply that any of such leaders or followers would be in fellowship with God (Acts 20:30). Paul told Titus to rebuke brethren “that they may be sound in the faith,” but a brother who advocates heresy “after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Tit. 1:13; 3:10-11). When Simon sinned, as a new convert, Peter did not tell him he was now “a brother in error just like all the rest of my brethren”! He rebuked his brother so as to make him sound or healthy in his relationship to God: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23). Whether he realizes it or not, Ketcherside is sloshing around in the swamps of denominational theology regarding unconditional forgiveness-all brethren are in error, yet all or at least some of these are still in fellowship with God. No wonder he cannot feel comfortable with “the old mottoes and cliches” of Bible language. No wonder his speech is honeycombed with denominational terminology.

Truly he speaks a “new” language on “brotherhood, grace and fellowship.” He can be justly proud that “a good deal of my work now is outside of our own movement”-among “evangelicals and ecumenicists,” as he puts it in Mission-for he now speaks their language and expresses their thought patterns. While claiming to bring “the ideal of restoration to those of other backgrounds,” he eschews “the term ‘restoration.’ ” “The religious world is not looking for restoration but it is looking for renewal,” so Ketcherside pleads “renewal through recovery” of something he calls “the apostolic proclamation, purpose and power” (p. 184). Yes, we must give them what they are “looking for” (1 Jn. 4:5). That is not restoration of the inspired standard in all matters of faith and practice, under any terms! And, he is not giving them a plea for that standard, but a plea for something they have already accepted a long time ago: renewal through recovery of something they call the kerygma (a few facts about events in the life of Jesus).

Lines of Fellowship Drawn By “Gospel” Not “Doctrine”

In his drive for new concepts of “brotherhood, grace and fellowship,” he is optimistic about the disintegration of lines of division over “mechanical instruments” in worship, the “Herald of Truth and kindred matters.” Bad “attitudes” and “negativism” have already contributed to “wide cracks of dissidence” within these divisions. In particular he buries us “Antis” again (how many times does that make that we have been “buried” by various undertakers?), saying we “will suffer from additional defections while being unable to increase” perceptibly in number (pp. 185-186). When he speaks of “majoring in minors” and “the mortar of negativism,” he could well be referring to the division he helped create thirty years ago, which indeed has almost died out (and should ). But the fact that he once treated matters of opinion as matters of faith does not mean that the solution to division is to treat all matters as matters of opinion!

Baptism has been reduced to a sort of formal introduction into fellowship, subject to much diversity of purpose and understanding, with grace being received at the point of faith before baptism. The fact is that he has ended up treating everything as a matter of opinion except whether a man professes to believe Jesus is the Christ; immorality is supposed to be another hard and fast line in the gospel according to Ketcherside, but what he says about “sins of weakness” vitiates even that. Divisiveness is supposed to be the other line, but then he manages to justify that, too, under circumstances which meet his approval. In fact, he is now dividing us so that we may learn to divide no more! This business of treating all things as matters of opinion, except profession of faith in Christ, is not only, old-time denominational dogma but is also observable in the development of liberalism which plagued the Restoration Movement 75 to 100 years ago. The latter development was a movement of brethren (whose forefathers had left denominationalism) back into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism. And, today, Ketcherside would solve the serious issues which have separated us from denominationalism and those which have separated us from each other, by moving us back into the mainstream of Protestantism in thought, speech, and conduct.

Sad to say, Ketcherside’s optimism has some basis in fact-even among those of us who have opposed the tide of digression during the past 25 years. As someone has put it, some of us have become “traditional conservatives,” maintaining the old outward connections but losing hold on the Scriptural principles involved. Ketcherside’s concept of “brotherhood, grace and fellowship” is leading brethren “to join in cooperative efforts which do not call for a violation of conscience . . . this growing sense of relationship will increase and the mistakes of our fathers in a time of bitterness will be somewhat mitigated by their children who live in a more fortunate era.” As a result, finally the old “feuds” and “divisions” will just fade away (p. 186). This implies that there never were any real issues, just bad attitudes on both sides. When the old “bitterness” is removed by a new “sense of relationship,” brethren will see each other as in fellowship with God in spite of differences over instrumental music, social gospel practices, institutionalism, and centralized elderships.

In other words, there is no New Testament pattern regulating the church in its worship, mission, and organization; the whole concept of pattern-authority is wrong; therefore, none of the above practices separate men from God, in the final analysis. Where there is no pattern, there cannot be violation of the pattern-simply treat all such practices as matters of private and individual opinion! Ketcherside repeatedly, explicitly repudiates the pattern concept. But when Paul gave instructions on the organization of the local church, he said, “These things write I unto thee” so that the affairs of “the church” may be properly regulated (1 Tim. 3:1415). Similarly, Paul regulated worship activity (1 Cor. 11:17-32; 16:1-2). He said the holy writings were all-sufficient, fully equipping “the man of God . . . unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). These things which were written were meant to be binding after the death of the Apostles (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:2; 2 Pet. 1: 15; 3:1-2, 1518).

But Ketcherside pleads that some accuse him “of advocating that doctrine is not important, or that we should ignore all differences. That is silly! Certainly one’s opinions are important-to him !” (p. 187). The point is, he does say differences in belief and practice can be ignored for the purpose of fellowship. Note how he equates “doctrine” to “opinions.” We are to “hold our opinions to ourselves” and receive each other as brethren because we recognize each other as “united in Christ.” So, “doctrine” (“opinions,” by which he means differing practice over use of instruments, social gospel, institutionalism, centralization, etc.) is important to a man’s personal conscience, but that does not hinder “cooperative efforts,” recognition of unity “in Christ,” and a “growing sense of relationship” which over shadows the importance of all such issues. No, in Ketcherside’s scheme of things, doctrine is not important to “brotherhood, grace and fellowship.” And like all good liberals, he seeks to bolster his position by an appeal to Romans 14 (p. 189). This chapter exposes the “either-or” fallacy and gives “the wisdom of ‘either-and’ . . .” This chapter deals with matters of personal conscience and opinion; again, Ketcherside’s fallacy is treating all issues as matters of opinion, except profession of faith in Christ. Doctrine does not matter when it comes to “justification,” “brotherhood, grace and fellowship.”

Just here, we must notice that Ketcherside constantly reiterates the argument that “opinions and deductions” halve nothing to do with “the establishing of a right relationship with God” (p. 189). In other words, since the Herald of Truth, sponsoring church, instrumental music, and social gospel activities are not condemned in a specific catalogue of sins, and since we must therefore infer that they violate the pattern of Scripture, such things cannot possibly affect our relationship to God one way or the other. He charges us with making private opinions matters of faith, “elevating opinions and deductions into items of faith” (p. 185). Those who engage in the above activities are not to be called “brethren in error.” Actually, it would not make a particle of difference if these things were condemned in a specific list, in Ketchersides view, because they would still relate to “doctrine” and not to “gospel” (more on this shortly). The truth is that Ketcherside is bound to regard all such matters as “opinion” whether the Bible states anything specific on them or not! Christ had no time for such watered-down theories. He showed the Pharisees that their attitude for getting around direct statements of Scripture as though not strictly binding, would exclude them from his Kingdom (ch. Matt. 19:3-9; Lk. 16:15-18). Also, he equally condemned the Sadducees as erring brethren for not inferring what God’s Word clearly implied (Matt. 22:2932). Too bad Ketcherside was not there to heap spicy ridicule on Christ’s head for daring to bind “opinions and deductions” as having anything to do with “a right relationship with God.” Ketcherside confuses the necessary implications of Scripture with mere private opinions; if there is a common thread running through his vacillations, it is the constant and unmitigated confusion over matters of faith and matters of opinion. Pursuing his place in the sun, he first made matters of opinion binding on all other men, and, now, he makes matters of faith binding on no man.

Admits It Now: “Special Tribute”

One of the keystones of Ketcherside’s theology is the so-called distinction between “gospel” (Ketcherside commonly uses Keryma to mean the gospel-message) and “doctrine” (didache). The “gospel” consists of “historical facts” alone, elsewhere identified as “the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation and glorification of Jesus” (Mission Messenger, Dec., 1972, p. 180). These seven facts tell “what God had done for mankind . . . in order that they might be reconciled to Him.” Right relationship with God or “fellowshipis created by the gospel and all who have obeyed the -gospel are in the fellowship.” He adds that “they are in the fellowship in spite of their many” differences over doctrine (didache). There is no explanation of how one obeys historical facts.

On the other hand, “the doctrine consisted of precepts” and explanations and discussions and “educative” materials, all based on and growing out of a fuller development of the “gospel” in its implications (pp. 180-181). Ketcherside’s very close cohort Leroy Garrett (in whose Restoration Review Ketcherside now writes a column) expresses it this way: “Strictly speaking, the teachings of the apostles are not facts, as the gospel is, but interpretations, implications, and edification based on the gospel. In this area, that of the didache (teaching) even the apostles differed in their ideas and emphases.” “The churches . . . were likewise different”, as churches today may be, in “worship” and “organization.” “Paul and Peter were as different as Jerusalem and Antioch. . . . The doctrine, which was still being created, was and always will be subject to differences. The doctrine allows for debate and dialogue . . . . Its design is not to make us all alike in our thinking . . . . The gospel is not of this nature, for it is the glorious revelation of heaven in the form of a Person that has inducted us into fellowship with God and with each other” (R.R., 1969, p. 48).

Ketcherside claims that he learned to distinguish gospel and doctrine, first from Alexander Campbell, and then especially from “Dr. George Campbell, of Edinburgh.” But he admits more than he realizes when he pays special tribute to some who confirmed him in this matter and increased his confidence for making it a keystone of his new unity building. “From the more than fifty scholars who helped me on this matter, I want to pay special tribute to two. One was Dr. C.H. Dodd, Vice-Chairman and Director of the Joint Committee on Translation of The New English Bible. The other was his protege, Dr. Alan Richardson, at the time Professor of Christian Theology, in the University of Nottingham” (p. 180). These men are rank modernists and pioneers in the liberal ecumenical movement. They share many of the presuppositions of humanism, which Ketcherside currently designates as our greatest enemy; whether he realizes it or not, he himself has imbibed some of the same concepts. Actually, Ketcherside has already admitted his indebtedness to such men, which involves more than mere word studies on kerygma and didache. Witness the following statement from the July, 1967, Mission Messenger:

“We are wholly sympathetic to ‘the call for renewal’ as voiced by our religious neighbors in ecumenical circles. . . What they have said and written has affected a great many of us who would not like to credit them for an impact upon our thinking, but they have dragged and pulled some of us into the twentieth century quite against our wills.”

Ketcherside is currently animated by the spirit and premises of “our religious neighbors in ecumenical circles.” Alexander Campbell and even Dr. George Campbell may have left their marks on the old Ketcherside, but C. H. Dodd and other liberal ecumenicists have shaped the new Ketcherside!

Truth Magazine XX: 37, pp. 583-586
September 16, 1976