By James W. Adams
Religious movements are begun, perpetuated, and consummated by men. We refer to movements purely human in character. Such movements, like rivers, never rise above their sources; their course is ever downward unless elevated by alien elements. They degenerate. Since movements do not rise above their sources in character, but manifest instead the nature of their origin, it is important in reviewing a movement that one observes carefully the sources from whence it springs.
This means that one cannot separate men and their movements. It also means that one cannot deal adequately with movements without paying his respects to the men whom gave them birth. It is idealistic, unrealistic, impractical, and often dangerous simply to address oneself to the principles of a movement and ignore its principals. This is my reason for noting the sources among “conservative” brethren from whence springs the neo-Calvinistic, “unity-fellowship” movement or cult, which is the occasion of this series of articles.
Conceived by Extremists
Ernest Renan remarked concerning the Pharisees of our Lord’s time, “Religious zeal is always an innovator, even when it pretends to be in the highest degree conservative” (The Life of Jesus, p. 238, Dolphin Book). In a sense, this is but the adaptation of an old proverb to the effect, “One extreme begets another.” While I have no sympathy with the skepticism of Renan, I judge his analysis of Pharisaic character to be eminently correct. Fanatical, religious zeal is rarely, if ever, constant. It rebounds from one extreme to another heedless of consistency. In the field of Biblical exegesis, it often combines crass meticulosity with the grossest kind of loose constructionism with never a care regarding incongruity or equivocation. Therefore, movements generated by extremists are always suspect.
Our current “unity-fellowship” movement has at its very roots a number of well known, ultra-extremists, though men of unusual ability, who became so obnoxious to brethren generally, over a long period of time, that their influence was all but dead. According to their own testimony (and I heard them give it recently), they took a good, long look at themselves and were appalled by what they saw. As a result (according to their own testimony l, they thereby and therewith experienced a complete spiritual metamorphosis. Whereas they had been the slaves of a Diotrophesian exclusiveness (3 John 9, 10), which was the product of a Pharisaical self-righteousness (Lk. 18:9-14) and an untenable concept of the demands of Divine authority, they indentured themselves to a Pergamosian or Thyatiran type of permissiveness (Rev. 2:14-16; 18-23). Whereas they formerly could include in their fellowship almost no one; they now can include in their fellowship almost anyone. With no feeling of personal animosity whatsoever and with no desire to wound needlessly the feelings of errant brethren, honesty and the necessity for clarity demand that I identify brethren W. Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, and Ervin Waters among this number. In fact, in my candid judgment, they are classic examples.
In the use of Pergamos and Thyatira as examples, I do not imply that the brethren to whom reference is made believe in or practice the immorality characteristic of the false teachers of those places. I emphasize only the permissiveness of their fellowship. However, I am thoroughly convinced that their concept of salvation by grace with its resultant allpervasive fellowship will lead ultimately and inevitably to a compromise of moral principles. It has done so among Calvinistic bodies. The doctrine of “the impossibility of apostasy” which is inseparably linked with their concept of “salvation by grace” has spawned licentiousness. As far as I am able to determine, the Nicolaitan doctrine of New Testament times (Rev. 2:15) differed little from Calvinistic theology in this respect.
Libertarianism in Morals vs. Libertarianism in Doctrine and Service
Libertarianism in the realm of morals is certainly no worse than the same spirit when it manifests itself in the realm of doctrine or religious service. In fact, Uzzah of Old Testament notoriety died at the hands of God for merely taking hold of the Ark of the Covenant in an effort to save it from falling and possibly breaking (2 Sam. 6:1-7). On the other hand, David was allowed to live despite the sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the consequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11: 1 to 12: 24). Furthermore, David and Bathsheba were permitted to continue as husband and wife, and Bathsheba became the mother of Solomon, heir to the throne of Israel and divinely honored builder of the temple of God.
Does It Make a Difference?
It may be asked, “Does it make a difference in one’s consideration of the current ‘unity fellowship’ movement that its originators and primary promoters have been for many years noted extremists?” It does, indeed! Any movement emanating from men who have spent the major part of their lives building systems of religious faith and practice on the bases of distorted concepts of the teaching of Scripture, the fundamental teachings of which carry within their bosoms the germs of their own destruction, and which are in fact in the final throes of their demise, is not likely to be possessed of a high degree of validity.
W. Carl Ketcherside has spent most of his life with an ultra-radical wing of the all but dead, so-called “Sommer Movement, of the Midwest. (More about this later.) Leroy Garrett came up as a sort of proteg4 of G. A. Dunn Sr. in his later years. In those years, G. A. Dunn (and I knew and loved him) all but destroyed his usefulness through preoccupation with opposition to what he called “the pastor system” and other equally extreme concepts. Garrett’s early years as a preacher were spent in obtaining a succession of academic degrees and theological degrees from sectarian seminaries while he himself was opposing and rabidly denouncing educational institutions operated by brethren in which the Bible was taught daily in an effort to achieve the development of the “whole man —physically, intellectually, and spiritually.” Ervin Waters has spent his whole life in the advocacy of the non-Bible class position and the one container on the Lord’s Table position.
Had these men been more balanced, moderate students and teachers of the Word, had that which they were affiliated with been meeting with a higher degree of success and growth, had they, in the midst of their labors and at the peak of their influence, forged their views on “unity” and “fellowship,” and out of pure philanthropy, at the risk of place and position, in a thriving religious community, committed their reputations, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to their cause, it would have made a difference! At least, it would have liberated the minds of all from lingering doubts and haunting suspicions based on the well-known fact that “necessity is the mother of invention.”
The Acid Test
Despite the fact that the “unity-fellowship” movement does not recommend itself by reason of the men who have conceived and launched it, this does not mean that it shall be judged solely on this basis. It will stand or fall on the basis of its Scriptural merit or lack of it. In articles to follow, a thorough review will be made of the men, the movement, and the teaching and practices, which are associated with them and it. Truth is the issue. Where it lies is of paramount importance.
There are valleys of sophistry to be filled. There are mountains of spurious piety to be leveled. There are rivers of inconsistencies to be dammed and bridged. There are multitudes of evasions of consequences, which must be exposed to light and truth. We promise you, it will be done!
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 21, pp.3-5
March 29, 1973