Editorial: The Ketcherside Unity Plea

By Leslie Diestelkamp

Most Christians today are perhaps aware that brother Carl Ketcherside, of St. Louis, Mo., has been throughout the last three decades one of the most able and most conservative gospel preachers in America. I do not imply by that statement that most of us agreed with him, but we had to recognize his ability and conviction. Many of the things for which he stood so firmly were true to God’s Book, though he did indeed become extreme in his domination of churches, in his disfellowshipping tactics and in some other ways. However, there has now been a big change and, though his former divisiveness was evil, his present position is worse! He has gone to the other extreme, and now in trying to make a dynamic plea for unity, he has espoused a cause that is good, but has completely abandoned the true principles of the New Testament regarding and regulating the unity of believers.

I have not been able to secure all of his recent writing but feel obligated to respond briefly to some that has been seen by me. This is done with the hope that it will cause many younger men who seem to be almost swallowed up in this new movement to re-evaluate their attitude and re-consider the contrast between the word of God and the new and fair words of brother Ketcherside. Brother Ketcherside carries his new plea to various people by means of speeches wherever he can secure an appointment, it seems, and also by means of his paper, “Mission Messenger.”

In his articles on unity, brother Ketcherside stresses, properly I think, that we should not withhold fellowship from people because we differ or disagree. However, he fails to deal with the problem regarding those who practice unscriptural things, and who, by so doing would involve us in such sin also if we participate with them.

Brother Ketcherside often writes now of the sectarian spirit which he used to have, and which he seems to think almost all Christians now have. He properly criticizes his own divisiveness of other years when he did not recognize as brethren those who disagreed with him. Anyone who has been familiar with his record knows that he did need badly to repent and reform his ways and his attitude of sectarian, dictatorial aloofness. Furthermore, it is good that all of us be warned against any such creedalism and bigotry. When differences exist, instead of immediately separating ourselves from all others, branding them as apostates and “disfellowshipping” everyone who doesn’t agree with us, we must exercise patience and toleration with all people, at the same time teaching, studying and reasoning together.

That Other Extreme

It is dearly apparent that brother Ketcherside, in advocating some splendid principles which had not previously been included in his life and work, now has gone completely, altogether, without reservation into another extreme which may well be more destructive to souls than his former divisiveness. He now goes so far as to beg and plead and urge for unity without identifying the Bible principles upon which that unity can be based. Toleration is his theme, and he begs for such, not only with regard to men but with regard to principles. The actual crux of his appeal is not only that we be patient with men in error, but that we be tolerant with the error they advocate and practice. He is critical of those who try to keep the letter of the law of Christ, and like former brethren Warren, Wilburn, Key, etc., who were making these same pleas ten years ago and more, he seems to think one can keep the spirit of the Lord’s word without complete obedience to what is written in the New Testament. The other men just named, and still others unnamed, were able to lead many honest, deluded souls after them into real modernism, and their influence, especially here in the north has been hard to overcome. No doubt brother Ketcherside’s powerful voice and potent pen will also cause many to wander into denominationalism and destruction.


On page 8, Vol. 24, No. 4, of “Mission Messenger,” brother Ketcherside indicates that the “design” of baptism should not divide people who differ about it. This is equal to saying that it doesn’t make much difference whether one believes that baptism is “for remission of sins” or that it is the duty of a Christian. But valid baptism must be by the authority of Christ (Ac. 2: 38; Ac. 19:1-5; Col. 3:17, etc.) If one is baptized, believing that he is a Christian and that baptism is his duty as a child of God, that baptism could not possibly be by the authority of Christ. We might as well argue that the “action” or the “element” makes no difference in baptism! If the design of baptism can be dismissed as so inconsequential, then immersion is also unimportant and water is not a necessity at all. Brother Ketcherside will surely agree, and in so doing, abandons the very principles of salvation.

Again, in “Mission Messenger,” Vol. 23, No. 3, page 3, brother Ketcherside says, “Every sincere person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah and God’s Son, who is immersed in water in the implementation of that faith, is God’s child. He is my brother. He is in fellowship, the same fellowship into which I have been called.” But many such people believe that they were saved while sitting on a stump in the woods, while kneeling at a mourner’s bench or while and when some other physical, emotional matter overwhelmed them. They do believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. They are then baptized “to follow the Lord.” But this is not the baptism Jesus authorized, it is not into Christ nor is it into “the one body.” (1 Cor. 12: 13.) A few years ago here in Chicago-land Roy Key advocated that if a person was sincere, and truly believed, we could not say he had not been obedient to Christ simply because he had not been immersed. Brother Ketcherside is still a step behind, but undoubtedly will soon openly also advocate this false doctrine that wil1 destroy the souls of men.

In Vol. 23, No. 6, pages 5 and 6, brother Ketcherside says, “I have never advocated fellowship with or between sects or sectaries, but with the Christians in all sects.” ” I conclude that I am in fellowship with every sincere baptized believer on the face of the earth.” But we must keep in mind that if children of God are in the sects, it is in spite of God’s word and not because of it. If they are there, it is in violation of that word and not in adherence to it. If they are in such they are also in jeopardy of losing their souls eternally. Christ did not die for a sect or party. He has never added a single soul to such. And, again remember that many, many sincere, baptized believers have never obeyed Peter’s command (Ac. 2:38) and they would deny that baptism had any part in their supposed salvation.

Brother Ketcherside argues that there is only one church in existence, for all the called of God” are added to it. Indeed, those who are called by the pure gospel and are obedient thereto are only and altogether added to that divine organism, Christ’s church. But we cannot deny that there are many churches. People have been “called of men” into human societies. Brother Ketcherside says that there can no more be many churches than there can be many Lords. True. However, there are indeed many, many lords (masters). Likewise there are many faiths, many baptisms, many hopes and even many gods. Truly there is one real Lord, faith, baptism, hope and God. In the same sense, there is only one true church. (Eph. 4:4-6.) (See also 1 Cor. 8:5-6.) Paul says there are gods many and lords many. Today we can say there are churches many. It is not possible, scripturally, to have fellowship with people in the many denominations simply because some children of God may have left the one true body to join themselves to a human society. Neither can we scripturally assume that denominational doctrines, even though they may be honestly believed, will ever make real Christians. Brother Ketcherside says man can no more create a church than he could create a God or the Holy Spirit. Indeed man cannot create a true church that belongs to Christ, but he can create one that belongs to men and that will lead souls to destruction, just as he can create a god that is after his own desires and that avails nothing but eternal ruin.

Brother Ketcherside says, “Division among the children of God is a sin, a work of the flesh.” (Vol. 24, No. 4, page 2, “Mission Messenger.”) He then properly emphasizes that we must not judge a brother, but must wait for Christ to render the judgment against those who go astray. This is indeed a proper emphasis. (Rom. 14:10.) However, the New Testament does teach us to do three things that are hardly mentioned by brother Ketcherside in his fervent over-emphasis upon unity (unity at almost any cost). (1) We must teach and practice true principles to the fullest of our ability without compromise. (2 Tim. 4:1-4; 2 Tim. 2:4.) (2) We must fight sin and false doctrine, openly and vigorously. (1 Tim. 4:1-4; Eph. 6:10-18.) (3) We must withdraw ourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly (2 Thes. 3:6) and we must “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine” which was given by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 16:17.) A fourth principle, equally important is that we must endeavor to maintain unity in spite of differing opinions. This one principle brother Ketcherside emphasizes effectively, but almost to the exclusion of the other three just mentioned herein.

Unity is a beautiful thing (Ps. 133:1), but unity in error makes no one right. If I am at peace with sin, it makes me a sinner. (Eph. 5:10, 11.) If I have fellowship with those who teach and practice error, I bid them “God speed” and am “partaker of his (their L. D.) evil deeds.” (2 Jn. 11.) Let us plead for unity upon a scriptural basis. Let us never abandon truth just in favor of unity.

Truth Magazine VI: 9&10, pp 2-4
June – July 1962