At Last . . . Now . . . an Open Confession: The Pattern of Ecumenical Liberalism

By Ron Halbrook

From No-Pattern On Doctrine To No-Pattern On Gospel

Ketcherside is caught in the same trap as many other ecumenical evangelicals: the trap of Liberal premises which they have accepted, running counter to their professions of fundamental faith. On the one hand, if the Bible is the Word of God, logic and consistency lead to the restoration concept of doing only what is authorized in the Bible. The Campbells and many others saw that if “the Bible, the Bible alone is the religion of the Protestants,” the necessary consequence is that we ninst “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent,” This restoration of the inspired message as the only authority in religion involves the pattern concept and the restoration of the New Testament church. Those who try to retain fundamental faith in the Scripture and the Christ of Scripture while rejecting the restoration principle, are vulnerable to religious Liberalism. The arguments used to reject restoration involve the very premises of Liberalism.

Ketcherside (with Dodd) argues for pluralism and variety rather than uniformity in “doctrine.” But, they claim there must be uniformity and conformity rather than variety in “gospel.” Many of Dodd’s fellow liberals argue that he is “legalistic” in his view of a uniform “gospel,” just as Ketcherside argues that it is “legalistic” to require doctrinal unity. In other words, the very arguments which are used to destroy a uniform “doctrine” can be equally used to destroy a uniform gospel. ” Ketcherside says the New Testament manifests a variety of patterns in regard to the church. Liberals attacking Dodd’s uniform “gospel” say that early “preaching” exhibits “a plurality of theologies” rather than a uniformity! In arguing for their theories, they simply handle the “gospel” texts the same way Ketcherside handles the “doctrinal” texts. “Several Christologies can be discerned” in early preaching texts, they say. “Dodd maintained that a normative, centralized pattern of Christianity actually existed and influenced decisively the development of early Christianity,” but Liberals deny this pattern concept.

Worlev, a liberal, crosses over from Liberalism on “doctrine” to Liberalism on “gospel” by means of the No-Pattern Bridge. He cites W. D. Davies, “Let me insist again that there is no single ordered pattern to be discerned in all this liturgical and disciplinary activity of the Early Church,” thus the church of the New Testament “can assume many forms, and is not limited to any one particular form which is the expression of its being.” NOTICE THE NEXT STEP: “The earlier arguments that I have offered are intended to substantiate the same conclusion about preaching and teaching,” says Worley (emphasis added). H.E.W. Turner is then quoted approvingly, “Already within the New Testament itself there exists a considerable variety of theological traditions” (quotes from Worley, pp. 53, 55, 70, 174). With other ecumenical evangelicals, Ketcherside sits upon the horns of a dilemma: (1) profession of fundamental faith in Scripture and the Christ of Scripture, (2) assertion of the no-pattern premises of Liberalism.

Regardless of whether a man considers himself conservative or liberal on fundamental issues like the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, and the resurrection, he finds himself in a quagmire if he tries to define and maintain the gospel-doctrine distinction. For instance, no one questions Alexander Campbell’s position on such fundamental issues. Yet, he tried to observe a gospel-doctrine distinction. His views of many things were evolving over a long period of time, and certainly his views on the work of spreading the gospel changed. In 1823, he not only opposed missionary societies but also apparently opposed the whole concept of supporting someone to labor in the gospel among the heathen. Instead, he proposed that a church, “though it were composed of but twenty,” could “emigrate to some heathen land. . . . support themselves like the natives, wear the same garb . . . and hold forth in word and deed the saving truth” (The Christian Baptist, I, 2, p. 45). Though with several motives, he nearly led the Brush Run church to emigrate from Western Pennsylvania to Zanesville, Ohio, in 1814. But by 1828 he was teaching that a local church could independently send and support “a person to declare the glad tidings to a people ignorant of them,” or “two churches or twenty may agree to . . . co-operating” in such work-as through the Mahoning Regular Baptist Association (which sent out Walter Scott in August of 1827; quotes Ibid., V, 8, pp. 196-197). But nowhere did Campbell have more trouble than in defining, maintaining, and consistently observing the gospel-doctrine distinction which he picked up from Dr. George Campbell (from whom Alexander picked up several mis-leads on words, as “reform” in Acts 3:19; Lard’s Quarterly, 1, pp. 174-175). Cecil K. Thomas correctly comments that Alexander Campbell had the same problem which C. H. Dodd has: “the difficulty . . . in making a precise and clear distinction between simple preaching, on the one hand, and interpretation or exposition, on the other” (Alexander Campbell and His New Version, p. 176).

Campbell Juggles “Gospel” & “Doctrine”

In 1823, though Campbell used the word “missionary” and not “evangelist,” he clearly made the evangelist one who announced glad tidings for the very first time in the world, who therefore had to possess miraculous powers to confirm the tidings, and who was no longer needed. “The Bible, then, gives us no idea of a missionary without the power of working miracles” (Christian Baptist, 1, 2, p. 42). The very nature of an evangelist’s work excludes his function or office from this age. Four years later, in July, he defined “the work of an evangelist” as “proclaiming the gospel to those who had never heard it.” Since now-a-days “this work is done by Christian parents to their children, and by the overseers of the churches . . . there is not the same reasons existing for an order of persons exclusively devoted to this work as there was in the apostolic age” (Ibid., IV, 12, p. 262). Notice that this has overseers, men he regarded as the “pastors and teachers” of Ephesians 4:11, EVANGELIZING OR PREACHING. After saying “an order of persons exclusively devoted to this work” was not appropriate to this age, the very next month he instigated the appointment of Walter Scott by the Mahoning Association to do this very work! Though Campbell avoided using the term “evangelist,” using instead “messenger,” he clearly describes Scott as an evangelist and later used that very term of him. Campbell commented joyfully in October of 1827, just as Scott began his labors, “He is to proclaim the word to those without, and to teach those within to walk in the Lord” (Ibid., V, 3, p. 74). So, after having pastors and teachers evangelize, he now has the evangelist teach!

Early in 1828 a Mr. W. of Clinton County, Ohio, rebuffed Campbell for rejoicing over the Mahoning Association’s appointment of Scott as an evangelist; Scott should have been appointed to preach the organization’s funeral: “how can an unscriptural association act according to the gospel?” Furthermore, on another occasion Campbell had said that ail evangelist’s work was to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it, yet 1-2 Timothy “show that Timothy’s business was chiefly among believers” at times. Campbell’s attempt to answer Mr. W. speaks for its own weakness and was obviously discarded by Campbell himself later: “Timothy, so far as he proclaimed the word, performed the work of an evangelist; so far as he read, taught, exhorted, and kept good order in the assembly, he performed the work of a bishop; and so far as he or Titus planted churches and set things in order which were wanting, they acted the part of apostles” as their “general agents” (Ibid., V, 7, p. 169-170; 8, pp. 195-196). In other words, “Timothy did more than the work of an evangelist while in Ephesus.”

In 1833, Campbell spoke of his own work “as an evangelist,” called Scott “air evangelist,” and commended the growing “number of evangelists” (Millennial Harbinger, TV, pp. 172-175). When Campbell brought out the second edition of The Christian System 1839, he said in a new section on “The Christian Ministry,” of the evangelist, “His work is to proclaim the word intelligibly and persuasively–to immerse all the believers, or converts of his ministry–and to plant and organize churches wherever he may have occasion; and then teach them to keep the commandments arid ordinances of the Lord.” Notice in this parallel statement that the latter work was not “more than the work of an evangelist” but was inherent to “the office of an Evangelist”: “But that Evangelists are to separate into communities their own converts, teach and superintend them till they are in a condition to take care of themselves, is as unquestionably a part of the office of an Evangelist, as praying, preaching, or baptizing” (ibid. X, pp. 458-459; Christian System, pp. 82, 84). So, an announcer or proclaimer can teach as “a part of the office” or work “of an Evangelist”!

In ail 1849 article on “Church Organization,” Campbell repeatedly says it is the work of an evangelist to teach the church: “As Evangelists they preached, baptized, set churches in order, and taught them to observe and do all things given to them in charge. . . . But Evangelists are standing functionaries in Christ’s kingdom, and as necessary to-day as they were in the age of Timothy and Titus; nay, more necessary.” Miraculous powers are “not essential to the work of air Evangelist. His work was to preach the word, baptize, teach and ordain.” He could not do his work as (in evangelist “without teaching, exhorting arid ordaining Pastors arid Teachers.” After converting the lost, “He collects them into a society, and organizes a church, and teaches them the way of the Lord” (ibid., XX, pp. 459-463). Campbell, no more than Ketcherside or anyone else, could not keep clear lines drawn between “Gospel” and “Teaching. ” The theory is not Scriptural, it is a disaster; attempts to observe it end up in shambles.

Those who try to maintain and define the gospel-doctrine position today are in a quagmire. Since the distinction is arbitrary in the first place, attempts to designate what is, included in the “gospel” are also arbitrary. Ketcherside says, “The Good News does not consist of what we must do for God, but of what God has done for us. . . . But the response of man is not a part of the Good News at all,” “The Good News, consisting of the seven great facts” was “complete . . . and this consisted of the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, Coronation and glorification of Jesus.” “The apostolic epistles” are “not a part of the gospel at all” (Mission -Messenger, Dec. 1972, pp. 179-181). The idea that “gospel” is limited to historical events alone has already been exposed as unbiblical. The “announcement of good tidings” did include commands, duties, summons, and instructions, arid the epistles are indeed included in the authoritative announcement of heaven. Ketcherside’s strictures take nonsense of Paul’s statement, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). Historic facts alone cannot be obeyed. When the Apostles preached “the gospel,” the hearers not only knew what God had done for them but also how God expected man to respond (Mk. 16:15-16).

Which Seven (Or Five Or Three) Complete Gospel Facts??

Seven great facts “complete” the gospel, according to Ketcherside. Yes, just seven, agrees his acknowledged mentor C. H. Dodd. But Dodd’s Seven Complete Gospel Facts differ from Ketcherside’s! Dodd says that Christ fulfills the prophecies of a new Age, he was born of David’s seed, he died, he was buried, he arose, he is exhalted, and he will come again as Judge and Savior (Apostolic Preaching, p. 17). “The outline is Dodd’s and not that of the early church” (Worley, op. cit., p. 42). One man’s arbitrary list differs from another man’s arbitrary list. T. F. Glasson “suggested that the idea of the imininent return of Christ as Judge should be orilitted” and “the idea of the preacher as a witness to all that has been proclaimed” added (Ibid., p. 156). Some form critics have narrowed the kerygma down to five and others down to three events. Several versions of the seven list have been proposed. Ketcherside’s close cohort Leroy Garrett claims “the virgin birth of Jesus . . . never became a part of the Good News. It was not included in the Kerugma (the thing preached) and no big point is made of it by the Christian writers, with most writers of the New ‘Testament not even referring to it. For this reason we would err” if we made fellowship depend on such an issue (Restoration Review, 1968 p. 150). On several occasions Ketcherside has said tiiat Billy Graham preaches the gospel, yet he proclaims the premillennial postponement theory which denies that the “coronation and glorification of Jesus” have yet occurred!

Those who follow the gospel-doctrine distinction have no objective criterion for determining exactly what the “gospel” is. The “gospel” turns out to be whatever subjective, arbitrary hodge-podge each theoretician can concoct at a given time. The real criterion is whatever is necessary to expand the circle of fellowship according to each man’s subjective desire. Though Ketcherside decries “opinions, deductions and interpretations,” his no-party party relies upon those very things in concocting its “gospel” (p. 179).

Whether consciously or unconsciously, Ketcherside has been remade after the image of an Ecumenical Liberal. His premises, language, and concepts reflect the pattern of ecuirienical liberalism. In studying the carmarks of Liberalism, his case is most instructive. For instance, he explains that divisions have come because “the heirs of our particular restoration movement . . . developed a legalistic approach to God’s revelation” (p. 179). “Legalism” has been a pat explanation of division by Liberal Disciples of Christ, as anyone knows who is even passingly acquainted with their literature. We shall not turn aside here to give quotations to prove something so well established and widely recognized. Representative books by Liberal Disciples include Alfred T. DeGroot, The Restoration Principle, Oliver Read Whitley, Trumpet Call of Reformation, The Renewal of Church Series: The Reformation of Tradition edited by R. E. Osborn, The Reconstruciion of Theology edited by R. G. Wilburn, and The Revival of the Churches edited by W. B. Blakemore. See also references to “legalistic primitivism” and “legalistic restorationists” in the newly published history of the Disciples by William E. Tucker and Lester G, McAllister (Journey In Faith, pp. 238, 361).

Ketcherside’s speech further betrays him as he uses the language of Liberalism and Neo-orthodoxy. Like Brunner, he speaks of “the divine-human relationship” (p. 179). Referring to his trip to Ireland and resulting traunia, he tells of his “encounter” with Jesus: “For the first time I came face to face with the Son of God. It was a kind of ‘Damascus Road’ encounter such as most sincere persons have at some time or other in their earthly existence” (p. 178).

Encounter and Discovery of Great New Truths?

Ketcherside’s conversion story, “encounter” and all, reads like a typical story of the metamorphosis of someone from a conservative to a Liberal orientation. His “encounter” led him “to completely revised concepts” (p. 179). “This meant that I had to reform my vocabulary to express my new thought patterns as I walked out of the gloom into everincreasing and brighter light . . . great truths began to become evident” (p. 180). Liberals always imagine themselves to be discovering “great truths” as they leave the “gloom” of “legalism” behind, most of which truths are denials of direct Scriptural teaching or Biblical principles. For instance, par for the course, he has changed his thinking about the value of debates. Whereas he “had been accustomed to debating,” he discovered the great truth that “we are no longer a frontier movement cornposed of backwoods settlers. The crude and boorish tactics which created swaggering heroes out of debaters in the rough-and-tumble days of yesteryear will no longer attract thinking people in our day” (pp. 179, 185).

Paul said the time would come when men would want “to have their ears tickled” and so would “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:3-4; NASV). People’s ears are itching for easy, soft, smooth teaching; there are plenty of Ketchersides willing to supply the necessary compromised, watereu-down, lenient teaching which tickles the itching ears! A “gospel preacher” is no longer expected to challenge error in its strongholds and its citadels; instead, he is expected to grin and play dead like a possum in the face of error. It’s “unchristian” to debate, so we must either pretend that issues between truth and error do not exist or else that such issues do not matter very much.

Ketcherside and other Liberals seem to think themselves just a little above the Lord and his Apostles with their “backwoods,” “crude and boorish tactics.” The dictionary says that to debate is to contend in words, to discuss a question by considering opposed arguments or views. It may or may not include formal propositions and rules of procedure. Debate is a verbal study, answer, defense, discussion. Paul was “set for” it, Peter said to be “always ready” to engage in it (Phil. 1:17; 1 Pet. 3:15).

Romans 1:29 does not prohibit such debating, for it only prohibits malicious fussing and feuding which seeks, not the salvation of souls, but harm and destruction to others. Envy, brawling, and deceit are bound up with such bitterness and ugly strife. A standard dictionary of Greek words explains “debate” in Romans 1:29 as “the expression of enmity” or hatred. But a debate or discussion which is centered around a desire to know, believe, and obey divine truth, and which therefore is an expression of love, is in no way related to the expression of enmity condemned in Romans 1:29. Our Lord debated, disputed, and discussed the things concerning his kingdom throughout his ministry. He did it in a spirit of genuine love, but men have always poorly understood such love. “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (Jn. 2:17).

On Pentecost after Jesus arose, “the wonderful works of God” for man’s salvation were preached in many languages by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:115). Some who heard the Good News challenged the speakers (vv. 12-13). They were debating-offering verbal arguments. After hearing both sides of the discussion, hearts and minds were enlightened as to the truth (vv. 40ff). From this time on, repeatedly the preaching of the gospel included debatingstriving against the arguments raised to question the gospel, striving for the whole counsel of God. Paul disputed or debated concerning the gospel “in the synagogue,” and “for three months” at one place, even “daily in the school of one Tyrannus” (Acts 17:17; 19:8-9). Every New Testament epistle advocates the truth and specifically disputes some error concerning the gospel. Not one of them identifies earnest and sincere discussion as wrong or useless. Paul and Barnabus had “no small” disputation with erring brethren at Antioch. They travelled to Jerusalem, where the matter was vigorously debated with “much disputing;” Peter put his hand to this good work with Paul (Acts 15). The text uses the word “disputing” and Greek dictionaries tise the word “debate” in defining that action.

The Bible warns against the abuse of preaching and debating. (1) Philippians 1:15-17 shows that wrong motives and attitudes must be avoided. Love of truth, souls, and Christ must prevail. (2) Wrong propositions should be avoided (1 Tim. 1:4). “Fables and endless genealogies” are not proper subjects for preaching or debating. Matters that do not affect Bible doctrine should not be debated. But when men get “too good”to debate, they have gotten “better” than the Lord and His Apostles, which is just a little too good, period!

Since both speakers in a debate often “quote the same passages from which they deduce different conclusions,” Ketcherside concludes, “Quoting scripture in a debate generally proves little because the representatives of both factions quote scripture” (p. 186). While this is true, it did not keep the Lord or his Apostles from debating. FURTHERMORE, we insight remind Ketcherside that this even happens at a “dialogue,” which he advocates in place of debating! When Jesus faced Satan, “both sides” quoted Scripture and reached different conclusions (Matt. 4:lff). Ketcherside complains that debates “are tools of division not of unity” (p. 186). Actually, they are simply tools of investigation and study, just as Ketcherside envisions his “dialogues.” But he adamantly insists debates must go by the wayside, and, “We must discover and adopt a dynamic which makes it possible for us to receive one another, in spite of our differences” (p. 186). Or as he puts it in Mission Magazine, “When we can sit down around the council table, not as warriors from separate tribes, but as brethren in a common cause, many of our problems will be solved” (Jan. 1976, p. 5).

This table of dialogue is well described by Liberal Disciple W. B. Blakemore, “In dialogue there are two sides which at, the outset seem to be opposed; the expectation is that each of these is a variation upon the same truth, and that in dialogue there will emerge a new statement with which both parties to the dialogue will be able to identify.” In other words, dialogue presupposes the possibility of compromise. Like Ketcherside, Blakemore exults, “Fortunately in our day the debate with the Reformers, typified in Mr. Campbell’s encounter with Mr. Rice has been superseded by dialogue with the Reformers” (The Discovery of the Church, pp. 7, 34). Remember, too, that Ketcherside and Garrett, like Dodd and Blakemore, are willing to sit at this table of dialogue in the fellowship of compromise with all groups “within the Restoration tradition,” denominationalists, abd even Roman Catholics.

Subjectivity With A Vengeance

Another earmark of ecumenical liberalism is doctrinal subjectivity with a vengeance. “I still hold most of the views I have always held. I think they are valid. Certainly they are for me. I did not change my position on things but merely altered my views as to who constituted my brethren” (p. 182). This is the “do-your-own-thing” subjectivity applied to what he calls “doctrine.” What is right “for me” may not be right for you! While the questions the honesty or sanity of “legalists,” he himself is “in the calmest water in which I have ever sailed in my life” (p. 182). In the system of subjectivism, one can assert what is “valid . . . for me,” recognize differing views as right for other people, and therefore be strongly opposed to virtually nothing. Every man is right “for himself.” When a man has to make no more defense of his position than the plea “it is right for me, ” the sailing is indeed smooth. Jesus said that on Judgment Day, those who have obeyed “the will of my Father” will be accepted of Him. The plea of “we did what was right for us, ” “we did our own thing,” or “we did what we thought was best” will not avail in that Day. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). Iniquity is whatever violates God’s law, and “the “ill of the Father” is not what every man considers right for himself!

It is another earmark of Liberalism-though Liberals are not the only ones guilty-to attribute the spirit of subjectivity to ”love. ” “the action of God, ” “the Holy Spirit” at work. Liberalism does away with the confidence of knowing God is pleased when we obey just what the Bible says. Confidence and calm must be restored by identifying that nebulous gush of emotion upon which the new unity is based as “love”-the gift of God. After all, who can doubt what the Father and His

Spirit do. Never mind that there is no objective standard, – just leap and love. Doctrinal unity upon the word of Christ cannot Unite, for “love is the only dynamic which can draw us together” (p. 186). In “the brotherhood of the indwelling Spirit,” we simply submit to “the indwelling Spirit” and “through the Spirit” we can overcome “dissension and the party spirit” (pp. 186, 189). This is the language of Liberalism as reconstructed and modified by neo-orthodoxy and neo-pentecostalism. In the objective sense, it means no more than the National Council of Churches’ or the World Council of Churches’ nebulous “confession”: “Jesus is Lord.” That can mean whatever a man wants it to mean, and whatever it means to him is right for him. It is all subjectivity with a vengeance.

Liberal jargon is characteristically double-talk, and Ketcherside has learned the art well. “God loves through us! We do not have to work and fret in an attempt to develop love for our brethren. It is not a human achievement but a divine gift. . . . If I am open to the Spirit, the love is poured out into my heart.” This love can best be manifested when we “refuse to take sides and treat all of the dissidents with the same kind of loving concern” (p. 188). This makes as much sense as the old Reformation concept of just opening up your heart and letting God pour in “faith.” “Faith cometh by hearing . . . the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The hearing, and therefore the faith, do require action on man’s part. We must be careful what and how we hear; God does not do that for us. Likewise, to grow in love, we must feed upon the word of God and submit to its every command (2 Pet. 1:5-11). We must “give diligence,” and God will not do that for us. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn. 5:2-3).

Ketcherside and his “brotherhood of the indwelling Spirit” do not have the Biblical concept of love! They have the sentimental, subjective concept of love characteristic of Liberalism, Neo-orthodoxy, and Neo-pentecostalism. This talk of man having nothing to do but be “open to the Spirit” so that God can pour the “love” in, is the characteristic double-talk of such movements. On that basis, we could just as well plead for universalism and Humanism-just open your heart and God will pour the love in. Then if someone disagrees and appeals to some objective standard of love, they are legalists whose sanity, honesty, or both are suspect!

Conclusion: Examine Issues, Speak As The Oracles of God

Ketcherside’s devolution is a sad story. At least it is proper that in the closing issue of Mission Messenger he should confess his debt and pay special tribute to such Liberals as C. H. Dodd. FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MAN KETCHERSIDE are the faith-eroding concepts which he continues to mediate to this generation. With malice toward none, let us continue to examine the issues which he continues to raise: brotherhood, grace and fellowship; faith and opinion; gospel and doctrine; the conditions of forgiveness; debate and dialogue; love and the Holy Spirit. Seeking nothing more or less than to please God and save souls. let us “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).

Truth Magazine XX: 40, pp. 630-634
October 4, 1976