By Gordon J. Pennock
Among the most forlorn words ever written are these from the pen of the beloved John: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19). With these words he recorded the apostasy of some of his brethren. To say that he tearfully wrote these lines would require very little imagination.
Surely, the hearts of all sincere Christians are saddened when any brother makes “shipwreck of the faith.” And, although departures from “the faith” have taken place from time to time ever since the beginning of the church, such have not become any easier to accept. And so, with sadness, we feel it necessary to report that brother Roy Key identified himself with the “Christian Church” several months ago. While this news was relayed to us some time ago, it was not until recently that it was confirmed by one whom we considered to be in position to be certain of the facts. We are informed that Roy is now preaching for a “Christian Church” in the Des Moines, Iowa, area, and studying at Drake University.
Brother Key’s change will not be surprising to many brethren, especially in the Chicago area. In fact, it has been anticipated, despite his avowals that he would not do so. Those familiar with the peculiar views held by him were firmly convinced that unless he could be led to see the error in them and abandon them, he could not remain indefinitely with the church. This turn of events indicates the correctness of their judgment. It will be a matter of embarrassment to some who sought either to defend Roy, or to criticize those who criticized him. It is good that the final judgment of such matters rests in the hands of God. Who knows but what Roy’s defection could have been averted if only some had spoken who failed to speak?
Some of Roy’s views have been matters of controversy for a number of years, especially since he wrote and published a booklet in about 1954 entitled THE LAW OF CHRIST. Several brethren reviewed this book in their preaching and writing. Brother G. C. Brewer wrote a review, which was carried in a series of articles in the Gospel Advocate in 1955, the reading of which we would commend to the reader who has access to them. Likewise, two articles by brother Key, with scriptures and reviews by this scribe, may also be found in Volume I of Truth Magazine, which we believe would be enlightening.
I think that we can fairly state that brother Key’s positions were not clearly expressed by him and therefore not easily understood. His statements were ambiguous, inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. He seemed upon the one hand to want to hold fast to the teaching of the New Testament on the plan of salvation (although he objected to that term), and at the same time liberalize it so as to include the multitudes who pay lip service to Jesus, but who have failed, either ignorantly or willingly, to obey the gospel. He seemed to say that baptism was important, yet not important; that it was essential, yet not essential. He stressed it upon the one hand and minimized it upon the other. He seemed to conclude that although Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), he that believeth and is not baptized may also be saved. In a personal discussion with the writer he once posed this question: If a man receives sprinkling, with the same faith, intent and purpose with which another is immersed, how do we know that God does not accept his sprinkling as baptism, thus granting to him the same contingent blessings and relationship? He contended that the earnestness of a man’s heart might offset any failure to comply with the expressed conditions of salvation, and that we should not preach to the contrary.
Brother Brewer, in his review, appraised Roy’s position in these words: “He particularly thinks that we should not let baptism be the one hazard which we cannot overcome in seeking fellowship with the religious world. He evidently has the virus of ‘Ecumenicity.’ … Some people, who are not good enough to submit to the will of the Lord, are just too good to be lost and, therefore, we will have to remove the will of the Lord so that they can be saved” (Gospel Advocate, Vol. 97, p. 206).
In our view, Roy has become a victim of teachers and teaching which preceded him. He expressed to us, personally, keen admiration for Ralph Wilburn who once preached in Chicago, but who long since departed and joined himself to the “Christian Church.” He defended James Warren, another Chicago preacher, who bitterly indicted faithful gospel preachers with his book, The Heresy of Legalism. Roy’s only criticism of these men was for their leaving the church of Christ. He was closely associated with, and considered a leader by, such men as J. P. Sanders, Bill Baker, Don Anderson, Don Horn, Henry Walderon, Don Osborne, Robert Box, Ferrel Walters, and perhaps others, who one by one have either gone to denominationalism or terminated activity with any religious group. (That any of these have been converted from the error of their ways, has never come to our attention.) That Roy would inevitably follow in their steps was vehemently denied by him from time to time. But error, with time, has taken its toll.
What happened to the faith of brother Key is really known by God alone. We can only surmise and speculate. Brother Brewer, in his review of Roy and others, was strongly of the opinion that their troubles stemmed from their studies in infidel schools in the process of acquiring academic degrees. It is well known that several of the men who defected, studied at Chicago University during their stay in that city. Here might be a good time to insert a quotation from the venerable Adlai S. Croom, who once studied in such schools as Harvard and Chicago Universities, and who served Harding College for many years, in various capacities, especially as President and director. Now, nearing the four-score milepost, he recently issued this warning:
“Deviations from the straight course laid out in God’s word into the byways of men’s philosophies as preparation to preach, is to ignore Paul’s warning: ‘Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit.”…
“It might be well for brethren everywhere to mark those who have sought preparation to preach in such infidel hotbeds as Harvard Divinity School as well as the one in Chicago University, as those who have been exposed to a dangerous contagion. This might dampen the enthusiasm of those who seek distinction through a degree from these high rated schools. Whoever advises a young preacher to enter such an institution is flirting with a millstone for a necktie. ‘Evil companionships corrupt good morals’ was not limited to those whom some like to call immature. It is true of old and young, educated and uneducated.” (Gospel Light, November, 1961.)
That brother Key, and others whom we have mentioned, will one day return to “the faith once for all delivered” is devoutly desired. But we have no basis for optimism. We are impressed by their experiences that many pitfalls beset the paths of Christians, even gospel preachers, of which we need to be aware. “It is so easy to be caught in the web spun by the wisdom of men,” and be “committed to the service of Satan.”
Truth Magazine VI: 5, pp. 2-3