“Evangelion” – “Didache” and 2 John 9

By Mike Willis

One of the main tenets of the “unity-in-diversity” fellowship movement is that one must carefully distinguish between the gospel (euangelion) and doctrine (didache). To this group, the “gospel” is that which is necessary for salvation; “doctrine” is that which leads to spiritual maturity. Christians must have conformity with reference to the gospel but are admonished to exercise tolerance in areas respecting the doctrine. Here are some quotations from the pen of Carl Ketcherside which express the position mentioned above:

“Again, it will be noticed that I have had no recourse to what the apostolic epistles have to say about baptism. My reasons for not referring to them are quite simple. These epistles are not a part of the gospel at all . . . . The gospel was proclaimed as fully and completely on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus as it has ever been, and nothing written later was ever added to it” (Mission Messenger, Vol. 34, No. 12, p. 181).

“It is easily demonstrated that not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel of Christ. . .” (Ibid., Vol. 35, No. 2, p. 20).

“The gospel is the seed, the sperm, by which we are begotten. The doctrine is the bread upon which the children feed and by which they grow” (Ibid., p. 19).

`As long as preachers mistakenly assume that the gospel embraces the entire new covenant scriptures, they will brand as unbelievers those who truly believe in Jesus but may be mistaken about some point of interpretation in one of the epistles” (Ibid., p. 21).

Following this reasoning, Ketcherside accepts every baptized believer as his brother regardless of his position on instrumental music, orphan homes, sponsoring churches, premillennialism, present day manifestations of miraculous spiritual gifts, etc. These, he maintains, are differences in “doctrine” which must be tolerated.

2 Jn. 9-11 becomes a thorn in the flesh of Ketcherside since he believes that doctrinal (didache) differences are to be tolerated. His explanation of the “doctrine (didache) of Christ” in that passage is as follows:

“We can determine what ‘the doctrine of Christ’ is in this sense by the effect of going beyond’ or abiding in it.’ One who advances has not God; one who abides in it’ has both the Father and Son. The doctrine of Christ in this case, does not consist of the things Jesus taught, but of the thing taught about Jesus” (Mission Messenger, Vol. 27, No. 6, p. 1).

If Ketcherside’s position (i.e. that doctrinal differences must be tolerated) is consistent, then he should be able to tolerate differences in doctrines about Christ since the “doctrine of Christ” is didache and not euangelion. Yet, when he wrote about the gnostic heresy referred to in 2 Jn. 9, he said, “This was the foundation. One who was on that foundation might be mistaken about many things and all of them were, but they dare not be mistaken about the foundation” (Ibid.).

Although I would agree with Ketcherside’s comments about the heresy under discussion, these comments are unfortunate for Ketcherside’s position because here is a case where he is willing to divide the body of Christ over doctrine (didache). Ketcherside’s dilemma is this: (1) He must tolerate different views about Jesus (such as the modernist’s position, for example), even though John condemned toleration of them, in order to be consistent in his distinction between gospel and doctrine. (2) Or, he must admit that his distinction between gospel and doctrine is illegitimate, an admission which would cause his “unity-in-diversity” fellowship position to collapse. However, Ketcherside will probably pursue neither of these alternatives. Instead, he most probably will ignore his inconsistency and pursue the course which he has chosen to follow. To ignore the objections one has raised against his position might be unwise, as indeed it is, but that is the course Ketcherside has chosen to follow.

Truth Magazine XVIII: 2, pp. 29-30
November 14, 1974