By Mike Willis
The January 1983 issue of Restoration Review, the periodical edited by Leroy Garrett, contained the following letter:
I’m a member of a Church of Christ, non-instrument (a right-wing as you would call it, of the Guardian variety). Having attended Florida College, names like Garrett and Ketcherside were taboo. I had a fairly negative picture of you both, having read only the papers within our party. How surprised I was to find you writing about things I held as deep dark secrets that I dare not express to anyone else. I now read the Bible as if it were for the first time, for no other desire than to find truth, not to prove a predetermined conclusion. – Mark Nitz, Cincinnati, OH.
I read this letter with much sadness and concern because brother Mark Nitz is preaching for the Lockland Church of Christ in Cincinnati, a church which has been known for its stand against liberalism in the Cincinnati area.
Private Efforts To Help Brother Nitz
The published letter did not catch me completely off guard inasmuch as I had participated in at least three private conversations with brother Nitz pertaining to the very issues associated with the grace-unity movement. Several months ago, a young preacher in the Cincinnati area sent me a copy of brother Nitz’s sermon outline entitled “Some Practical Approaches To Greater Unity Among Us” (reproduced elsewhere in this issue) which was delivered before the elders and preachers of the liberal churches in Cincinnati, Ohio. The outline was filled with the standard catch-phrases of those who advocate the grace-unity positions. Upon receiving a copy of this, I made an appointment and talked to brother Nitz privately regarding my concern for what he was teaching.
At that meeting on 25 November 1982, brother Nitz denied having any sympathy with the Ketcherside-Garrett unity movement. I pointed out to brother Nitz several statements in the outline which I believed to be contrary to God’s word, which reflected his sympathy with Ketcherside and Garrett, and which I challenged. I could detect no evidence that he did not believe what I had concluded from the outline.
A few weeks later, I received a copy of brother Nitz’s correspondence with Ben Vick, Jr., a liberal preacher in Indianapolis. Brother Vick followed W.L. Totty at the Shelbyville Road church in Indianapolis and holds the same convictions as brother Totty held. This correspondence was tangible evidence that brother Nitz was willing to place into the category of Romans 14 such issues as instrumental music in worship, church support of human institutions (missionary societies, orphan homes, old folks’ homes, hospitals, colleges, etc.), church sponsored recreation, and other things in which liberal brethren have become involved. Consequently, I again made contact with brother Nitz, this time approaching him in the presence of Weldon Warnock and another preacher. Though his letters were not directly discussed, the fellowshipping of false teachers on the basis of Romans 14 was discussed.
During the lectures at Florida College, I had a third opportunity to talk to brother Mark Nitz, this time in the presence of Ron Halbrook and one of my nephews. For a third time, we discussed the issues pertaining to the Ketcherside approach to unity. Upon concluding that discussion, I remained unconvinced that brother Nitz was making any changes in his position.
Then, I began to see the public declarations that caused me and others to conclude that brother Nitz stood identified with the grace-unity brethren. His letter to Leroy Garrett appeared in the January issue of Restoration Review. An article entitled “Paul and James On Faith and Works” was published in the 8 February 1983 issue of Firm Foundation, another liberal paper. Based on these public documents, I became convinced that something needed to be said regarding brother Nitz.
Doctrinal Convictions Held By Brother Nitz
Here are some things held as doctrinal beliefs by brother Nitz which I consider to be deviations from God’s word:
1. The conviction that things which are taught by example and necessary inference should not be made tests of fellowship (see Roman numeral I, sub-point C of his outline). Here are some things which we have learned by example and necessary inference to which this might apply: (a) partaking of the Lord’s supper on the first day of every week; (b) the items to be used on the Lord’s table; (c) that instrumental music in worship is sinful; (d) that church sponsored recreation is sinful; (e) that church support of human institutions (missionary societies, hospitals, orphan homes, colleges, etc.) is sinful; (f) that the sponsoring church form of organization is sinful. Brother Nitz believes that only those things which are taught by an express statement of Scripture should be treated on the basis of 2 John 9-11 and that those matters taught by inference and deduction should be treated on the basis of Romans 14. In his view, passages such as Matthew 15:8-9 (“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”) should not be preached in such a way as to imply that those who are involved in the above mentioned things are necessarily separated from God thereby. Whether he realizes it or not, he is taking the well-worn path of several young apostates of the past decade who took the liberal position that apostolic examples and necessary implications of Scripture have no binding authority. We have privately pled with him about the dangers to biblical faith in such a path, to no avail.
2. A Christian is not separated from God by his sins of ignorance or by the weakness of his flesh. Brother Nitz used Philippians 3:15-16 and I John 1:6-10 to argue that so long as a Christian was walking according to the level of knowledge to which he had attained and was sincerely trying to do right, he is not separated from God by his sins of ignorance and the weaknesses of his flesh. He makes application of this to all baptized believers, including those who are in the Christian Church and the liberal churches of Christ. Hence, he believes that so long as a Christian does not know that using mechanical instruments of music in worship, church support of human institutions (colleges, orphan homes, old folks’ homes, hospital, etc.), church sponsored recreation, and other such sins are sinful, he will not be separated from God thereby. He said, “If God will accept me with my imperfect life, imperfect understanding and knowledge, surely I ought to accept my brethren with the same” (sermon outline, Roman numeral 11, sub-point B).
The Lord applied His teaching in Matthew 15:14 to the situation of men being involved in offering worship based on the traditions and commandments of men. He said, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:13-14). The Lord did not say that the blind follower would not be lost because he was blind; rather, He said that both would fall into a ditch. It seems inconsistent to hold the alien sinner responsible for his ignorance (Acts 17:30-31) but not to hold the Christian responsible for his ignorance. Brother Nitz is reading his opinions into Philippians 3 and 1 John 1, which teach the necessity of adhering to apostolic doctrine and say nothing about special categories of sin (i. e., sins of ignorance, presumptuous sins).
3. In principle, he makes the “gospel-doctrine” distinction common to denominationalism and to Ketcherside and Garrett, though he will deny using all of the terminology usually associated with that distinction. Modern denominationalists hold that there is a core of teaching which everyone must believe in order to be saved; this is usually called “gospel.” Another body of teaching usually called “doctrine” is not essential to a right relation with God or to our final salvation in heaven; Christians may differ on these doctrinal matters through a lifetime and still be regarded as growing in Christ. The denominationals are able to fellowship each other because they all believe in Jesus (the gospel) in spite of their. denominational differences (doctrine). Ketcherside and Garrett applied this principle to the “heirs of the restoration movement.” The core body of teaching they label “gospel” and there could be no differences allowed in this area. It included several basic facts about Jesus and one act – baptism. (As Garrett and Ketcherside have progressed in their apostasy, they logically have begun to find room for disagreement regarding baptism. Now they recognize anyone who believes in Christ as a Christian regardless of whether or not he obeyed the gospel in baptism.) The areas in which we are disagreed were labeled “doctrine” – usage of instrumental music in worship, premillennialism, church support of recreation, church support of human institutions such as missionary societies, colleges, orphan homes, hospitals, old folks’ homes, etc. Unity could be had so long as everyone held to the “gospel” in spite of his “doctrinal” differences.
Brother Nitz does not use the precise “gospel-doctrine” terminology of Garrett and Ketcherside, but he accepts the basic ideas of the gospel-doctrine distinction. For instance, he believes that singing is authorized and that instrumental music in worship is not authorized. Yet he believes the Christian who in ignorance uses instruments in worship may be faithfully growing in Christ, may enjoy a right relationship with God and may possess the biblical hope of heaven, although brother Nitz’s conscience would not permit him to worship with him. (This sentence was worded with brother Nitz’s help and approval.) This is precisely what Ketcherside and Garrett mean by “doctrine.” Sharing such a basic principle with them, Mark could well write, “How surprised, I was to find you writing about things I held as deep dark secrets . . . . “
I have not read of any such distinction in my Bible. I have not found a hermeneutical rule which helps me to go through my Bible to separate “gospel” from “doctrine.” Furthermore, I have not found anything which implies that “doctrinal” departures from God’s word do not separate a person from God. I cannot find any reason for concluding why one can be wrong about “doctrine” and still be in fellowship with God but cannot be wrong about “gospel” and still be in fellowship with God. The same principles which will allow one to be in fellowship with God while practicing sin in reference to “doctrine” will allow that same person to be in fellowship with God while practicing sin with reference to “gospel.”
4. Brother Nitz does not consider as “enemies of the cross” (Phil. 3:18) those who embrace, practice and propagate usage of instrumental music in worship, church support of human institutions, and the sponsoring church arrangement. In his 28 December 1982 letter to brother Ben Vick, brother Nitz called into question brother Vick’s criticism of John Clayton for preaching in a Christian Church without rebuking them for their sins. He wrote,
You spoke of the Christian Church as our “enemy” and Clayton as a “traitor.” Are these people really “enemies of the cross of Christ” because of what we believe to be their wrong conclusion concerning the interpretation of the silence of the scriptures? I believe you and I would differ on the right of the church to support orphan homes (I am persuaded that the church can not fulfill its benevolent obligations by supporting another institution). However I would not consider you an enemy of the cross.
Anyone who embraces, practices and propagates apostasy from the doctrine of Christ necessarily brings separation from God and division among brethren. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).
Those who introduced instrumental music in worship, church support of human institutions (missionary societies, colleges, orphan homes, hospitals, etc.), church sponsored recreation, and other such items into the worship and work of the church, divided the church! The unity of God’s people was destroyed by these men who introduced unauthorized additions to the worship and work of God’s people. People who continue to embrace such things perpetuate apostasy and division. These brethren cause divisions contrary to the word of God (Rom. 16:17-18), they teach doctrines which are not “of Christ” (2 John 9-11), and they introduce the doctrines and commandments of men into the worship and work of the church (Matt. 15:8-9). But, brother Nitz assures us that these kinds of men are not “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Are they faithful servants of Christ? If so, we must quit trying to destroy the apostate influence of these men, agree to disagree, use them in our meetings, and join them in evangelistic efforts.
5. An erroneous position on fellowship. In the 12 September 1982 issue of Armor of God, the local bulletin published by the Lockland church, brother Nitz wrote on “Fellowship With God.” He said, “Therefore it is important to determine the basis of my being received by Christ and continued fellowship with Him. In other words, we should not make conditions of fellowship that God has not made conditions of salvation.” Later, he made application of this saying, “We therefore conclude that one may be wrong about many of our `latter-day’ issues and yet have done what the Bible says to become a Christian. God accepts us on the basis of who we know, not how much we know. Of course our faith prompts us to study God’s word, diligently, pressing on to perfection, striving to better please the Lord in all areas.” In the 8 February 1983 issue of Firm Foundation, brother Nitz said, “We work (obey God) because we are saved, not in order to get saved.”
Notice the logical conclusions from these two statements. First, brother Nitz does not believe that anything should be made a condition of fellowship which is not a condition of primary salvation. Secondly, he does not believe the works which a Christian does are conditions of salvation, i.e. they are not conditions to continuing a right relationship with God or to the final hope of heaven. The conclusion seems inescapable, holding these two premises, that brother Nitz should be compelled to recognize as in fellowship every baptized believer. This he is willing to do, except in cases where he decides that presumptuous sin has been committed. Brother Nitz needs to realize that the New Testament dealt with baptized believer who departed from sound doctrine in various ways by showing that they had separated themselves from God and faithful saints (“some among you,” 1 Cor. 15:12-34; “men crept in,” Jude 3; “say that we have fellowship,” 1, 2, 3 Jn.). They were told, “Repent. . . of this thy wickedness” (Acts 8:22), rather than being assured of fellowship with God and the saints on the basis of being a Christian.
6. The Calvinist doctrine of works. The article “Paul and James on Faith And Works” (Firm Foundation, 8 February 1983, p. 6) espouses the Calvinist doctrine of works. The Calvinist doctrine of works, which also has been espoused by Baptists, is reflected in The Second Helvetic Confession. Here is how this confession reads:
We Are Not Saved By Good Works. Nevertheless, as was said above, we do not think that we are saved by good works, and that they are so necessary for salvation that no one was ever saved without them. For we are saved by grace and the favor of Christ alone. Works necessarily proceed from faith. And salvation is improperly attributed to them, but is most properly ascribed to grace. The apostle’s sentence is well known: “If it is by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is of works, then it is no longer grace, because otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6).
Each of us who has tried to teach a Baptist that water baptism is a condition of salvation has heard their standard reply, “A person is not baptized in order to be saved but because he is saved.” Baptists put water baptism in the area of “works” and this expresses their doctrine of works. Brother Nitz does not put water baptism in the same category as they do. Yet, a reading of his article in the Firm Foundation caused me to conclude that he holds the same doctrine of works as the Baptists hold except that they make application before baptism and Mark makes it after baptism. Brother Nitz’s article claims that the obedience rendered to God after baptism is only “the byproduct of salvation, not the basis of it . . . . We work (obey God) because we are saved, not in order to get saved.” No Baptist preacher could have said it better!
If one takes the position that the obedience of faith which a man continues to render to God after being saved by the blood of Christ is not in order to our final salvation, but because one is saved and secure, I do not see how he is going to avoid the conclusion of Sam Morris in his infamous statement:
“We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul . . . .
. . . All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger” (Rev. Sam Morris, “Do A Christian’s Sins Damn His Soul?”)
I am aware that brother Nitz will repudiate any agreement with the Baptist Sam Morris but it appears to me that he is logically compelled to agree with this conclusion. The only alteration needed to fit Mark’s present position is this: We take the position that a Christian’s non presumptuous, non-divisive, weakness-of-the-flesh, ignorant sins do not damn his soul . . . . all the sins of this category he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger.
Some Explanation Is Needed
There have been several things occur in this matter which need some explanation in order to continue to attribute moral integrity to brother Nitz. Here are several of them:
1. A denial of being sympathetic with the grace-unity movement. The first time that I approached brother Nitz, I told him that, if I correctly understood the thrust of his sermon before the liberal preachers and elders in Cincinnati, he was teaching the tenets of the grace-unity movement as espoused by Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside. He denied that he was in sympathy with them. Ben Vick accused brother Nitz of being in sympathy with Carl Ketcherside and brother Nitz responded, “I have read but little of Ketcherside or Garrett. What I have read was judged solely on the merit of the article alone. I do not agree with their rigid distinction between the gospel and doctrine” (letter dated 7 January 1983). I do not know the date of brother Nitz’s letter to Leroy Garrett, but I received the material in print on 8 February 1983. (I usually run 4-6 weeks lag time in printing of Guardian of Truth.) However, when he wrote to brother Garrett, he said, “How surprised I was to find you writing about things I held as deep dark secrets that I dare not express to anyone else. I now read the Bible as if it were for the first time, for no other desire than to find the truth, not to prove a predetermined conclusion.” I can not understand how brother Nitz could be telling me that he disagrees with the grace-unity movement and express appreciation for brother Garrett’s material in Restoration Review. It would be helpful for brother Nitz to spell out his areas of agreement and disagreement with brother Garrett.
2. His attachment to a sectarian party. The letter to Leroy Garrett also demonstrated that brother Nitz believes that those of us who stand opposed to instrumental music in worship, church support of human institutions, the sponsoring church arrangement of church organization, and church sponsored recreation are nothing but a factional sect. He speaks of himself as a “member of a Church of Christ, non-instrument (a right-wing as you would call it, of the Guardian variety).” He had only read “the papers within our party.” Hence, he believes that we are nothing but a sectarian party. Brethren, if I were convinced that I was a part of a factional, sectarian group of people, I would get out and become a part of the Lord’s church. Yet, brother Nitz stays within the “party” holding his personal convictions as “deep dark secrets that I dare not express to anyone else” (but which he has expressed both publicly and privately when he thought the timing right – to the preachers group, to Garrett, to Ben Vick and to others!). This does not reflect moral integrity. Brother Nitz condemns factional sectarianism and admits being in a sectarian party. Some explanation is needed.
3. Brother Nitz recently sent out “An Open Letter to Brethren of the church of Christ” which falls far below the standard of ethics. Rather than mentioning any of the evidence of wavering discussed here, he presents himself as the victim of “fraudulent,” “deceptive,” “fabricated,” and “reckless accusations.” The letter is for the consumption of gullible brethren who want to hear brother Nitz say that everything is fine and it ends with, “I do not intend to respond further . . . .” This was the familiar path of Ed Fudge, Gordon Wilson, Randall Trainer, and Bruce Edwards as they wobbled off into liberalism and tried to cover their tracks. No amount of crocodile tears can suffice to answer the hard evidence of compromise we have presented here. Nothing will suffice short of a total, unequivocal repudiation of the error we have recounted.
Brethren, this battle with the grace-unity issue is not over. Other preachers have been espousing these doctrines recently. I want to close by calling your attention to one of the things giving support to these men. Several have written articles which have explicitly stated or implied that the sins which a Christian commits in ignorance or through weakness of the flesh do not separate a person from God. Men such as brother Nitz are taking these statements and applying them to those who are in the Christian Church and liberal churches of Christ. They are using the respected names of these brethren to defend themselves. I would like to call upon the men who have written articles of this nature to show men such as brother Nitz the logical reason why those in the Christian Church and liberal churches of Christ are separated from God by their sins of ignorance or weaknesses of the flesh but those in the faithful churches are not separated from God by the same sins.
I am thankful for the number of brethren who are encouraging us in the exposure of men such as brother Nitz. In every section of the country in which I have traveled, brethren express thanks to the staff of Truth Magazine/Guardian of Truth for the work which we have done in exposing the grace-unity movement and the -men promoting it. We are encouraged by the numbers of solid brethren, both young and old, who are joining with us in opposing the grace-unity movement.
I have done everything I know how to do to prevent brother Nitz from going with the grace-unity brethren and all has been unsuccessful. I pray that the efforts of others might accomplish what I have failed to do. Brother Nitz needs to recognize his sin, repent of it, and publicly repudiate it. It is my desire that this might be accomplished.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 10, pp. 290, 310-313
May 19, 1983