James W. Adams vs. A New Unity Movement

By Ron Halbrook

In the process of reviewing the ecumenical errors of W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett, James W. Adams exposed and challenged certain men who were creeping about peddling the same errors among sound brethren. Like the faithful watchman of Ezekiel 3, brother Adams warned brethren against those who were undermining the foundations of the walls of Zion in the very aftermath of the battles fougat over the apostasy of institutionalism. Several of these young princes thought themselves to be somewhat and thought their trite theories to be some new thing under the sun. Brother Adams showed keen insight in analyzing their principles, and courage in calling their names – names such as Edward Fudge, Randall Mark Trainer and Gordon Wilson. Persistent and firm in the face of controversy and even persecution, brother Adams proved himself to be “set for the defense of the gospel” just as he had always been before (Phil. 1:17).

Between 15 March 1973 and 22 August 1974, brother Adams reviewed and analyzed the Ketcherside-Garrett unity movement in a series of articles published in Truth Magazine. The first article was entitled “A Stone of Witness” and reflected his resolve to reaffirm the basic fundamentals necessary for the restoration of New Testament Christianity. When he finished, twenty-six articles had been published, twenty-one of them between March and September of 1973. The editor of Truth Magazine at the time, Cecil Willis, quickly realized the value of these articles on the true nature of biblical unity and fellowship, and he began to advertise that one thousand extra copies of each issue containing one of these articles were being printed for distribution.

Ecumenical Error Exposed As Extreme, Arbitrary

Adams observed that men like Ketcherside and Garrett once had occupied such radical extremes in one direction that they could fellowship almost nobody and now had swung to an opposite radical extreme where they could fellowship almost everybody. Even though their application of certain faulty concepts had changed, their character as radical extremists had proven to be constant.

Ketcherside claimed that “one fact and one act” were sufficient grounds for unity and fellowship. The “one fact” is the deity of Christ and the “one act” baptism. Brother Adams pointed out the necessity of faithfulness to God’s pattern of truth in all things. If the pattern of truth in regard to worship can be sacrificed so as to permit fellowship with baptized believers worshipping with instruments of music, why not sacrifice the Bible pattern on baptism in order to have fellowship with sprinkled believers? The arbitrary nature of Ketcherside’s eeumenical error was exposed.

Ketcherside had much to say about fellowship not meaning endorsement of error, but Adams noted that Ketcherside’s fellowship with people in error did constitute endorsement and compromise because he did not cry out against their apostate practices. “Unity in diversity” was a favorite slogan of Ketcherside in teaching that if people have been baptized they can believe or practice almost anything. To the contrary, brother Adams showed that the unity Christ prayqd for and Paul preached was based upon the platform and pattern of divine truth. Ketcherside contended that fellowship should be withdrawn only when people explicitly deny the deity of Christ, become openly immoral, or create factions over matters of opinion.Again exposing the arbitrary nature of Ketcherside’s ecumenical errors, Adams pointed out that a simple reading of New Testament passages on withdrawing fellowship reveals other grounds for withdrawal.

Ecumenical Capitulation to Error and Apostasy

In explaining the sources of this “Neo-Calvinistic Unity Cult,” brother Adams recalled the identical theories of various extremists who had left the faith all through the years. In addition, he noted that various brethren were becoming newly enamoured of denominational concepts concerning love, grace, unity, and fellowship. In other words, the so-called “new” unity movement was nothing but capitulation to the error and apostasy which brethren had always fought against in their efforts to defend the truth Qf the gospel of Christ. The methods of this “new” movement were shown to be devious and deceitful. “Ketchersidean Subversion” was promoted through advocating an underground operation and avoiding open debate. His followers and admirers were told to work from within by utilizing cell groups, young people (especially intellectual types), and Sunday night visits to various factions for fellowship.

One of the young, intellectual princes enamoured of Ketcherside was Edward Fudge. Fudge’s family controlled the Gospel Guardian at that time, which was being edited by William Wallace. One of the saddest and most painful phases of this controversy was occasioned by William Wallace’s trying to make accommodations on behalf of Edward Fudge. Edward Fudge’s close association with the Gospel Guardian drew that paper into an effort to defend Fudge and led to Wallace’s speaking harshly of Adams and Truth Magazine in several editorials. Wallace never really joined the Ketcherside unity movement, but he seemed to waver partly, if not largely, in personal deference to Ed Fudge and the Fudge family who controlled the Gospel Guardian. Later, through the good graces of Theron Bohannan, the Gospel Guardian passed out of the hands of the Fudges and was edited by Adams himself until it combined with Truth Magazine.

Adams’ Analysis Accurate

The accuracy of Adams’ analysis of the KetchersideGarrett-Fudge unity movement can be seen from the fact that he never really was answered by any of these men. Fudge nibbled at the edges by questioning a few incidental points – such as whether he had visited Ketcherside at a certain time – but no real attempt to grapple with the issues raised by Adams ever occurred. One attempt at satirical ridicule was published anonymously by Jerry Phillips in the form of a single issue printing of a parody of Truth Magazine under the name of Faith Magazine (for details see articles by Cecil Willis and myself in the 5 February 1976 Truth Magazine). Copies were mailed to several churches and individuals in January 1974. Its articles, aspersions, cartoons, and innuendos unmercifully lampooned brother Adams along with Cecil Willis. “So persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:12). Brother Adams’ defense of the truth had been derided as yellow journalism by his opponents, but their own true color was finally exposed and evidenced.

Evaluating Adams’ Articles

Fifteen years have passed since brother Adams began his series. What can we say about the value of his articles as we look back upon them? First, they are perhaps the most thorough survey of the KetchersideGarrett-Fudge unity movement and its implications for New Testament Christianity which has been published. rhc anicles were not answered at the time they were written. They have not been answered since then. They will not be answered now at this late date. The power is not in brother Adams in a personal way, but it is in the truth he was defending and upholding (Jn. 17:17-21; 1 Cor. 1:18-23). That truth stands today as it always has. God ordained that men should preach and uphold the truth, and we should thank brother Adams for the excellent job he did in this battle.

Second, his instincts and insights have proven to be absolutely accurate. For instance, he said,

I am absolutely convinced that Ketcherside, Fudge and others are seeking a middle-ground of some sort, a neutral territory, a no-man’s land in the realm of fellowship and unity which is a mirage born of overheated imagination and misguided philanthropy (“Who is a Wise Man?” Truth Magazine, 1 November 1973, pp. 7-9).

He couldn’t have been more right! These men and their movement have gone further and further away from the truth in chasing their mirage.

Last, the articles should be judged in the light of brother Adams’ original intentions. Did he attain his purpose?

When I began this review a year ago, it was not because I entertained in my mind the idea that I could help or in any way change Brother W. Carl Ketcherside. In fact, I am reasonably certain it amuses him immensely that I should suppose he needs to change. My purpose was to rescue, if possible, a considerable number of gospel preachers (particulady young men just beginning) from active acceptance of and involvement in Brother Carl’s concepts and activities. From the beginning, I was not even very optimistic about accomplishing this with reference to some of these young men who were and are deeply steeped in Ketchersidean propaganda. My principal hope was to save young men and other Christians (not preachers) who were not yet involved in this error but who were or niight be attracted by the artful deception of such men as W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett (“Afraid of A Good Man?” Truth Magazine, 30 May 1974, pp. 470-71).

Brother Adams’ principle hope was certainly realized because brethren were forewarned and awakened to the danger creeping in among them from place to place. In fact his articles encouraged me to publish in Truth Magazine the material I had been preparing for some months on the dangers of what Ed Fudge was teaching privily and publicly. My first article appeared in the 20 September 1973 issue just five pages after one by brother Adams entitled “How Successful is Ketchersidean Subversion (II)?”

May God bless brother Adams for the good he has done and raise up other men who will be like him “set for the defence of the gospel.” Thank you, brother Adam, for your stedfast labors and warm encouragement in the gospel of Christ!

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 23, pp. 718-719
December 3, 1987