By Mike Willis
During my thirty years of preaching, a goodly number has been spent opposing the loose fellowship stance that was propagated and promoted by Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. The influence of this movement among faithful brethren was apparent in the early 1970s when Edward Fudge, Bruce Edwards, Arnold Hardin, and a number of other brethren moved way from the truth into a broader fellowship.
Over the years, we have witnessed these brethren accepting the logical conclusions of their position on fellowship. These brethren asserted that the unity of Christ could be maintained in spite of serious doctrinal differences, justifying this position by such arguments as (a) the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account to cover his imperfections; (b) continuous cleansing which cleanses the sinning Christian “even as” he sins; (c) Romans 14; and other such positions. At first, these brethren were only interested in a broadened fellowship that included all of the heirs of the restoration movement, that is only those who have been scripturally baptized. Soon, these brethren realized that, if the grace of God could save the sincere man who was worshiping with instrumental music, that same grace of God could save the pious unimmersed. At that juncture, their platform of fellowship broadened to the point that they could have unity with denominational folks, our “brothers-in-prospect” who did not understand the place of water baptism in the grand scheme of God.
The logical implications of this position were not exhausted by the acceptance of the pious unimmersed, because there also are many good, honest, and sincere religious folks who believe in God but do not yet understand the role of Jesus Christ in the grand scheme of God. In reviewing the positions held by our unity advocates, we called attention to the logical implications of their position. Ultimately it would lead to universalism and fellowship with any sincere person without regard to what he believed.
As the years have passed, we have witnessed this evolution of the unity-in-diversity advocates. At first, some of them would attend the Christian Church but would not sing with their instruments. Later, they joined them in singing. Soon they were condemning those who believed that singing with an instrument was sinful. Over the years, they began speaking of what great spiritual folks some denominational preachers were. They were spiritual giants being attacked by our pygmy brethren, when brethren challenged their teaching on baptism. Reviews appeared in their papers about the good in such denominations as the Baptists Methodists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and others.
Their fellowship was broadened to join hands with the denominations in evangelistic conferences.
Now comes a new development. In the latest issue of Once More With Love, Leroy Garrett, editor of Restoration Review, tells us that faith in Jesus Christ is not essential to salvation. He tells us what the essence of faith is:
The essence of faith, as I see it, is a sincere disposition of heart to seek diligently after God and to respond to whatever knowledge God has made known (No. 38, August 1999).
What that means is that the sincere man who has never heard the gospel of Christ is just as saved as the believer in Christ. As proof of this, brother Garrett referred us to Cornelius. He reminds us of the virtues of Cornelius — “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Then he said, “He was justified while still a pagan.” To make sure that I have not misrepresented by brother, let him speak for himself:
It was the likes of Cornelius that led the apostle Peter to say, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears God and works righteous- ness is accepted by him (Acts 10:34-35). Peter is saying that wherever there are people like Cornelius there are people acceptable to God.
Peter names two conditions: fearing God, like Cornelius; doing what is right, like Cornelius. Such ones are accept- able to God, even if they are not yet part of his covenant people, even if they are not yet Christians.
Our brother continued to say, “The source of this faith for those without revelation is ‘the law written in the heart, the conscience also bearing witness’ (Rom. 2:15).” He continued,
This is why it is wrong for us to presume that all heathen/pagans are lost, for they too have the promise of eternal life if they do “by nature” the things that the law requires, “their thoughts accusing or excusing them.”
The evolution of this brother’s grace/unity movement has yet one step to go to reach its full universalism. Our brother needs to work himself to the conclusion that the pious atheist who “responds to whatever knowledge God has make known” to him is just as saved as any other pagan. If brother Garrett lives enough years, I am confident that the logic of his position will take him to that position.
Conflicting With Scripture
The problem of brother Garrett’s position is simply this: it is contrary to what the Scriptures teach about salvation. Let’s consider just a few things that pose problems for brother Garrett:
1. The Conversion of Cornelius. The record of Cornelius reveals that he was indeed a morally virtuous man. We know this because the inspired account tells us as much. That same inspired record clearly states that Cornelius was lost, even though he was a good moral man. The angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius and instructed him, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:13-14). For the conversion of Cornelius to help brother Garrett, this text should read, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; whom the Holy Spirit shall convince that thou and all thy house already are saved.” But the latter is not what the text says. The text plainly states that Cornelius would hear words from Peter that would of man who needs to be saved is a lost man! One cannot save a saved man!
2. The argument of Romans 2:15. My brother surely twisted the passage Romans 2:15 when he used it to state that good, moral Gentiles would be saved without obedience to the gospel or belief in Christ. The first sub- division in Paul’s argument to the Romans is 1:16-3:31. Every commentary that I have read identifies this sec- tion with some such as description as “Paul establishes the need men have of the gospel” or “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 1:16-32 is designed to show that the Gentiles are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20) in their sins and Romans 2:1-3:20 is designed to show that the Jews are “inexcusable” (2:1) for their sins. The conclusion of this section is summarized for us: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”(Rom.
3:23). The conclusion is that every man has sinned, has fallen short of the glory of God, and stands condemned as “guilty” before God. That was the reason Cornelius needed to hear words whereby he and his house could be saved — because he was lost! To cite Romans 2:15 to show that Gentiles were saved without the atoning blood of Christ is contrary to the whole thesis of Romans.
3. The plain statements of Scripture that make faith in Christ a condition for salvation. There are a host of Scripture that make faith in Christ a condition for salvation:
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins (John 8:24).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6).
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:15-16).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).
Any thesis that is contrary to so many Scriptures is obviously not the revealed will of God.
One of my purposes in reviewing this material of brother Garrett’s is to remind brethren who might be inclined to use Romans 14 to justify an on-going and never-ending fellowship with those who teach and practice many different doctrinal and moral errors where the logical conclusion of this position leads. At one time, brother Garrett was taking the position that he could not fellowship anyone who disagreed with his position on the located preacher. Once he accepted his new fellowship position, his view of fellowship changed and has continued to evolve over 30 years to the point that now he believes that God will save those who are mistaken about Jesus. And, in the words of his friend, Carl Ketcherside, one should not make anything a condition of fellowship that is not a condition of salvation! Thus, brother Garrett’s umbrella of fellowship is broad enough to include pagans and infidels.
Others who accept the same thesis as brother Garrett will not be more successful in stopping the evolution to.