“The Achilles’ Heel of the New Unity Cult” (I)

By James W. Adams

According to Greek mythology, Achilles, hero of the Trojan War, had been dipped at birth in the river Styx that he might thus be rendered safe from injury in battle. His mother Thetis, the sea goddess, held him by his heel to perform the operation; hence his whole body was covered by the water of the river except the heel by which he was held. This proved to be his undoing, for later in battle he was struck in that very heel by an arrow from the bow of Paris, son of Priam, inflicting upon him a mortal wound.

Ketcherside’s unity-fellowship theory, unlike Achilles, has, not one, but many vulnerable spots, however none is so exposed to view nor so susceptible of refutation as his concept concerning baptism. It is a veritable “heel of Achilles.” Not only does baptism give Ketcherside himself serious difficulties, but also it is a source of trouble and embarrassment to those who attempt to adopt and follow the Ketchersidean line. Attention has been called to the fact in a previous article. Recently, Brother Ketcherside has begun a series of articles in his propaganda medium, Mission Messenger, designed to explain his position and answer questions, which he says were posed in a taped interview with a group of young college students. In the May, 1973, issue, he has an article entitled, “Baptism and Brethren.” In this article, as in most of what he writes, like so many other false teachers, he complains bitterly of being misunderstood and misrepresented. Why is it that a false teacher is never understood and invariably misrepresented? This effort to explain his views is a masterpiece of double-talk. Never have I encountered more hedging, equivocation, and temporizing, and downright self-contradiction than did I in the reading of this article.

The Background of Ketcherside’s Dilemma

Ketcherside makes much in his speaking and writing of the fact that we are all sinners saved by grace, and that no one has perfect knowledge of the Divine will or is characterized by flawless execution of that will. He insists that all of us “are brethren in error,” that “he has no other kind of brethren.” From these premises, he concludes that “fellowship” obtains despite these errors on the basis of Divine grace and not on the basis of conformity to Divine truth in faith and practice.”

Yet, our apostle of sweetness, our ambassador of “brotherhood,” is unwilling to accept his own conclusion in its ultimate application. He hedges and equivocates, He insists there must be proper views of the deity and lordship of Jesus, proper moral practice, proper attitude toward the unity of God’s people (antipartyism), and proper practice relative to the action of baptism-the individual must be “immersed as a confirmation of his belief” in the deity and lordship of Jesus. In other places, he says one must be baptized “as an act of obedience to God” without regard to any other design or purpose. In our next article, this shall be dealt with at some length.

Participation in Saving, Divine Grace Not Unconditional

Ketcherside recognizes that participation in the saving grace of God is not unconditional in the following statements:

False Reports

“2. You are aware, are you not, that a number of brethren are saying that you claim to be in fellowship with anyone who is a believer in Christ, regardless of whether such a person has been baptized or not?” (Question purportedly posed by college students JWA.)

“I am probably more aware of it than you are, but it does not bother me except as I feel compassion for those who prefer to engage in falsehood rather than reporting the truth. But I am older than you and I have long since learned that a lot of preaching brethren are not too trustworthy in repeating the views of another, especially if they tend to differ with him and would like to see him wiped out. I am glad that I will be judged by the Lord instead of by preachers, for if they get control of the judgment we are all sunk.”

“My position now is, and always has been, that obedience to the gospel, that is acquiescence in the truth and credibility of the seven great historical facts related to Jesus of Nazareth, and immersion in water as a recognition of His Lordship over life, introduces one into that fellowship to which we are called by the wonderful grace of God. My position is identical with that of Alexander Campbell, that the belief of one fact, and the obedience of one act as a confirmation of that belief, is all that is required for entrance into the glorious family of the Father of spirits” (Mission Messenger, May, 1973, pp. 65, 66).

One of the favorite devices of the cagey editor of the Mission Messenger in speaking and writing is the diverting of the minds of those he addresses from the real issue by dragging “red herrings” into the discussion. Nothing illustrates this better than his constant emphasis of the fact that salvation is a matter of Divine grace. No informed preacher or teacher of New Testament truth would think of denying that Divine grace, mercy, and love constitute the basis of the procurement of the sinner’s salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus. None known to me among the brethren believes or teaches that the sinner procures his own salvation through the merit of fleshly birth and subsequent fleshly circumcision, the merit of natural religion or human morality, or even the merit of perfect compliance with Divine law. However, all faithful brethren of my acquaintance believe and teach that the enjoyment of personal salvation (remission of sins and acceptance with God now and eternal life with God hereafter) is conditioned upon obedience to the gospel which brings one into the realm of saving grace and faithfulness not sinless perfection-to Christ in doctrine and life which keeps one in the realm of saving grace.

Ketcherside constantly ridicules the idea that a clear understanding of the teaching of Christ through his apostles concerning worship, organization and work of the Lord’s disciples plus a faithful practicing of the Lord’s will in these realms have anything whatsoever to do with the fellowship and unity of those disciples in the one body of Christ. He is almost, but not quite, like our Baptist friends who insist that becoming a Christian is conditional, but remaining a Christian is unconditional entering the realm of saving grace conditional, but remaining in the realm of saving grace unconditional. Our erring brother enters a two-point demurrer to the latter of these two concepts. He insists that entrance into the “fellowship of Christ” is conditional and remaining in that fellowship unconditional with two exceptions: (1) immorality; (2) partyism.

The Inconsistency of this Position

In developing his thesis, Ketcherside has much to say about those who use the mechanical instrument of music in Christian worship believing in “the lordship of Jesus,” the idea being that their use of the instrument is no denial of His lordship because they profess to honor it. On this ground, he enjoys complete fellowship with members of the Christian Churches and is often featured as a speaker in their gatherings. On the other hand, as the quotation from Mission Messenger demonstrates, Ketcherside teaches immersion to be essential to a complete surrender of one’s life to the lordship of Jesus.

I know thousands of people who are as sincere as Ketcherside or any member of a Christian Church on earth who verily believe sprinkling to be scriptural baptism and, on that basis, practice it religiously. These people profess to honor the lordship of Jesus as fervently and sincerely as do members of Christian Churches, hence were I to accept Ketcherside’s point of view relative to the use of mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship, I would have to concede that sprinkling is no bar to Christian fellowship, and so must Ketcherside if he is to be consistent. He must accept the pious unimmersed. In such case, the report concerning him who he so decries would be abundantly correct. His lack of consistency is the only thing that keeps the report from being wholly accurate. Our crusading ecumenist needs to recognize that a practical denial of the lordship of Jesus is quite as reprehensible as a theoretical denial. Paul said, “They profess they know God; but in works they deny him (Tit. 2:16).

Ketcherside Acknowledges the Difficulty

Our brother recognizes the force of this objection to his theory and spends more than half of the article to which reference has been made addressing himself to the removal of the difficulty. As usual, he drags every “red herring” he can think of across the path of the discussion to throw his pursuers off the trail. He pictures those who oppose him by raising objections to his concepts as “Church of Christ” querists asking “typical Church of Christ questions” which emanate from their “legalistic approach to God’s grace.” Having unburdened his loving (?) heart of his thinly-veiled contempt for those who have been his brethren, he proceeds to charge these spiritually-warped individuals with attempting to “forge a set of handcuffs for God” making it impossible for Him to extend mercy beyond law to take care of the salvation of sincere practitioners of sprinkling. (Has our friend forgotten that there are some things God cannot do? Heb. 6:18.) Yet, at the same time, he says, “Sprinkling is not baptism.” Furthermore, he makes baptism essential to the new birth, son ship, covenant relation, saving grace, and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. All of this is to me a species of spiritual schizophrenia.

After making the usual completely inconclusive and presumptuously speculative arguments on what others have called “the uncovenanted mercies of God,” designed to extend hope to the sincerely disobedient, Ketcherside disclaims at great length any intention on his part to decide whom God will save. He then makes a distinction between those whom Ketcherside will ‘ fellowship on earth and those whom God may see fit to permit to enter heaven (Op. cit., pp. 66-75).


As I said in the beginning, Ketcherside’s article takes first prize for temporizing, hedging, equivocation, and self-contradiction. None of what is said actually deals forthrightly with the point of inconsistency involved in Ketcherside’s recognizing a state of fellowship as existing between him and members of Christian Churches and refusing to recognize such a state as existing between him and sincere practitioners of sprinkling for baptism. If the use of mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship without scriptural authority is no bar to fellowship because it does not antagonize the Lordship of Jesus by reason of the fact that its users profess to honor His Lordship, why should the practice of sprinkling for baptism be a bar to fellowship when its practitioners profess to honor the Lordship of Jesus and sincerely believe that in being sprinkled they are in fact doing the will of Christ from the heart? This is the question, and Ketcherside touches it not, top, side, nor bottom!

For the record, I do not sit in judgment on the eternal destiny of the soul of any member of a Christian Church because of his use of mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship, nor do I sit in judgment on the eternal destiny of the soul of any paedobaptist who sincerely practices sprinkling for baptism on the ground of that practice. This is not the point. The point is: I believe both practices to be contrary to the revealed will of Christ-one corrupting an appropriating condition of salvation, the other an act of Divine worship. I believe both of these practices constitute practical denials of the Lordship of Jesus; hence I cannot regard those who use them as being faithful and in a state of fellowship with Christ. I must regard both as being in a state of disobedience to Christ. Therefore, I cannot regard myself as being in fellowship with either of these classes of people as faithful children of God, hence cannot engage in any religious activity with them which would in my judgment constitute a recognition of them as such. To do so would involve me in a compromise of the principles of truth that are involved in our divergent beliefs and practices. In my sincere judgment, this is precisely what is involved in 2 John 9, 10 where fellowship is forbidden, Ketcherside’s exegesis to the contrary notwithstanding. I shall deal in a later article with this passage of Scripture when I discuss the kerygnia and the didache in the light of Ketcherside’s views concerning them.

I am by no means through with Ketcherside and baptism, but further discussion must wait until my next article, “The Achilles’ Heel of the New Unity Cult No. 2.” In the meantime, I recommend that our readers obtain and read Mission Messenger, “Baptism and Brethren,” May 1973. The writer of this article reminds me of the cavalryman who upon being advised that the enemy was approaching “jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions at the same time.”

July 19, 1973