By James W. Adams
Borrowing a line of approach from Brother W. Carl Ketcherside’s polished propaganda, let it be noted that the New Testament kerux (herald) was not a self-proclaimed specialist nor a self-sanctified sacrificial offering to any one element or aspect of Divine truth or human obligation to King Jesus and his benevolent rule of grace, love, and mercy. New Testament heralds (kerux) abdicated this field to the cultmongers of time and history. As our propagandizing brother has so often and so correctly noted, a sect (heresy) or party may emanate from and be based upon a single element of Divine truth inordinately emphasized. I charge as kindly as I know how, yet firmly and confidently, that none is guiltier of this than Ketcherside himself. Note his own statements:
“I am traveling, speaking, and writing, and otherwise seeking to promote the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I regard every child of God as my brother or sister, since I am a child of the Father. Wherever God has a son I have a brother” (Mission Messenger, Vol. 35; No. 5; May, 1973; p. 65).
For the past fifteen years, Ketcherside has devoted most of his time, energy, and effort in promoting his concepts on fellowship and unity in his “traveling, speaking, and writing.” I would not detract from the importance of fellowship and unity, but these blessed conditions with the instruction, which they entail and the obligations, which they impose, are not the summum bonum of Christianity. Ketcherside’s inordinate emphasis of and preoccupation with these themes stamp him indelibly with the mark of a true cult-monger (sectarian).
If personal testimony proves anything, I too travel, speak, and write. However, despite the fact that I have done considerable writing and speaking in the past two decades against innovations in church organization, worship, and work, those who know me best in local work and protracted meetings can testify that I speak the truth when I say in a take-off on Ketcherside’s statement: Wherever God has a Son (and that is in every relationship and experience of human life) I have a prophet, priest, and king, hence that His instruction, His saving mediation, and His practical lordship over the hearts and lives of eternity-bound, immortal souls have been my concern, not simply the fellowship and unity of professed believers. Yet, Brother Ketcherside with his endless protestations of love identifies me and others like me among churches of Christ as sectarian defenders of contemptible “Church of Christ partyism and exclusiveness.” Coming from a source so pregnant with sectarian attributes, such a charge plumbs the depths of absurdity. Oh yes, I love (agape) Brother Ketcherside, but his false doctrine and divisive activities under the guise of seeking unity make it impossible for me to love (philadelphos) him as a faithful brother in the Lord and to extend to him “the right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9).
Baptism, the Heel of Achilles
In my article just preceding this one, it was observed that the views of Ketcherside and the devotees of his unity cult concerning New Testament baptism, the baptism of the “Great Commission” (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15), constitute for them a veritable heel of Achilles. Ketcherside’s evaluation of the relative importance of the form of the act as contrasted with the design of the act constitutes one of the most vulnerable aspects of his views on the subject. While Ketcherside would deny such as being his view, the logical consequence of his teaching is that form is more important than design in gospel obedience.
Ketcherside insists that baptism is immersion in water and that sprinkling is not in fact baptism at all. Hear him:
“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 the fellowship to which we are called by the wonderful grace of God. . . . Sprinkling is not baptism. It cannot be equated with baptism philologically, philosophically, or scripturally. It is a different action altogether. One who has been sprinkled has not been baptized in the scriptural usage of that term” (Op. Cit. pp. 66, 73).
In reference to this subject, Ketcherside demonstrates the fine art of “hedging” at its best, or should I say, its worst? He manages to write on all sides of the issue with equal assurance. He contrives to express himself so that, from whatever angle he is attacked, he can cry, “Misrepresentation, or false report! ” When he is quoted on any side of the matter, he can always point to some statement of his disavowing that position.
He affirms that “immersion in water” is essential to one’s “introduction into the fellowship to which we are called by the wonderful grace of God.” The fellowship to which he refers is fellowship with Christ (1Cor. 1: 9) and with the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2: 1; 2 Cor. 13:14). See the Restoration Review, February, 1973, p. 22. Yet, in his discussion of baptism, Ketcherside finds hope or the possibility of hope for the unimmersed believer (the sprinkled) in what has been called in times past “the uncovenanted mercy of God.” He projects such on the bases of God’s acceptance of “the intent for the deed” or “any man who sincerely seeks to obey God” being “saved in spite of his mistakes” (the mistake under consideration being the wrong form or action of baptism). Recognizing the weakness of his contention and the suspicion to which it would give rise, Ketcherside hedged saying:
“This in no sense argues that God will save any person who has not been immersed…. I do not know whether God will save any person who has not been immersed. My only contention is that, if he chooses to do so, it will not be a violation of his declared will and purpose” (Mission Messenger, May, 1973, p. 7-9).
Brethren, mark this and remember that any religious theory which necessitates seconiguessing God relative to His saving men apart from clearly revealed and unequivocally expressed conditions upon which that salvation is predicated is worse than merely suspect; it is palpably false! Ketcherside spends a major part of the article to which I am referring seeking to vindicate God’s right to do this. Such unquestionably indicates that, despite Ketcherside’s protestations to the contrary, deep in his heart, this is actually what he believes God will do, hence his “brother in prospect” concept, concerning which more will be said later.
The only sound and, therefore, right course to follow in this matter is to teach, press, and defend the clear expression of the Divine will in the Scriptures; namely, that the immersion of a penitent believer is for (in order to) the remission of past or alien sins (Acts 2:38) and to recognize only such people who have thus complied with the Divine will as properly belonging to the fellowship of the redeemed. To do otherwise is gross presumption and unmitigated arrogance emanating from pure human conceit and delusions of grandeur. Well did Moses say in his farewell address to Israel, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:291. It is not my duty nor Ketcherside’s duty, it is not my right nor Ketcherside’s right to speculate concerning what God may or may not do about the salvation of “honestly mistaken,” unimmersed, professed believers outside the express declarations of revealed truth much less to seek to vindicate God’s rights in this area.
“Brothers in Prospect”
Ketcherside believes that sincere believers who are unimmersed, by reason of their being “honestly mistaken or ignorant” concerning the essentiality of immersion in water, are “brothers and sisters in prospect,” and says he, “I love them! ” This statement has been literally wrung from Ketcherside by those who have pressed him concerning his arbitrary selection of baptism as the “one act” upon which “fellowship” depends. Probably, no one talks about love more than this man or practices real New Testament love less. I also love these people, but I do not consider myself unique in this respect, nor do I suppose that other people who do not regard themselves as being in fellowship with these persons thereby demonstrate they do not love them. Is love to be equated with fellowship? Certainly, fellowship demands love, but love can exist where fellowship cannot, hence is not to be equated with it. I have many dear friends and close relatives who, I have every reason to believe love me sincerely and devotedly, yet they are not in fellowship with me in religion nor do they or I regard ourselves as being in fellowship.
I love unimmersed believers, but not as children of God. That they are closer (“not far from the kingdom of God”-Mk. 12:34) to becoming children of God than rank unbelievers is unquestionably true, yet they are not in fellowship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they should not be regarded nor treated as being in the fellowship of the redeemed ones. What does one’s love for an unimmersed believer have to do with unity, fellowship, or participation with such people in Divine service? As far as I am able to determine, not a single thing. This being true, to what purpose is Ketcherside’s lengthy dissertation (in the article on baptism under consideration) on the new birth, begettal versus being born, and the nuances of the Greek term gennao?” Should we grant everything Ketcherside says in this regard, it would settle nothing relative to the question of fellowship. All agree that some unimmersed believers may very probably be closer to the kingdom than rank unbelievers, hence that the Christians responsibility relative to teaching them may be greater in degree than his responsibility to rank unbelievers on the basis of superior opportunity. However, by no stretch of the imagination can this be regarded as establishing any degree of Christian fellowship between the Christian and the unimmersed believer.
It should also be noted that Ketcherside literally brutalizes the “birth” figure used by Jesus in his conversion with Nicodemus. This is a common error. It is assumed that there is an exact parallel between a physical birth and the “birth of water and spirit” (John 3:5). This is a fallacy that should be obvious. Men are free moral beings both before and after conversion, both before and after the new birth. They choose to become children of God or children of the Devil. Even after entering a state of covenant relationship with God by free and willing choice, they can choose to reject this relationship with God and become children of the Devil (John 8:36-44; Josh. 24:19-24; Rev. 22:17). In the physical realm, a child does not choose to be conceived or born, and after being born, he cannot change physically the fact of his paternity. He may legally change his status, but physically, he ever remains the child of his father. In the spiritual realm, he chooses to become or not to become a child of God, to remain or not to remain a child of God. Therefore, any person who builds a religious theory by pressing the scriptural analogy between the new birth and the birth of the flesh beyond the contextual limits in each passage where the figure occurs perverts the word of God. Ketcherside perverts the word of God for this is precisely what he does.
Another striking example of Ketcherside’s sophistry is seen in his use of Acts 18: 10, also in relation to his “brothers in prospect” concept. Note his observations:
“I am astounded at the wounded ‘howl’ raised by some of the guardians of orthodoxy
and the keepers of the gate over the position that I occupy. When Paul was in Corinth, the center of lasciviousness, the Lord spoke to him at night in a vision and told him not to be afraid. He said, “For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18: 10). McGarvey says, “He called them his merely because he foresaw that under Paul’s preaching they would yet believe.” Evidently, then, they were children of God in prospect. They were also brothers and sisters of Paul in prospect” (Mission Messenger, May 1973, p. 67).
Does Ketcherside suppose himself to be God? I wonder. He arrogates to himself the prerogative of regarding certain persons as “brothers and sisters in prospect.” Will he deny that any of those persons to whom God referred as “his people” failed to become such through obedience to the gospel? I think not. This being true, will he take the position that all of the unimmersed believers whom he styles “brothers and sisters in prospect” will obey the gospel be immersed in water? I think not. To what purpose then does he introduce this text? God is omniscient; He sees the end from the beginning. He knows who will and who will not accept Christ in obedience to the gospel. Ketcherside is finite and fallible; he does not know who will or will not obey the gospel whether it is unimmersed believers or unimmersed unbelievers. God, therefore, can accurately and correctly speak of those yet disobedient as “his people,” or as Ketcherside prefers to express it, “Children of God in prospect.” Ketcherside cannot so designate “children of God in prospect” unless he has lately come to regard himself as God. After reading some of his pronouncements, I wonder. I do, indeed! There will be more coming on “The Achilles’ Heel of the New Unity Cult.” Watch for it.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 37, pp. 3-6
July 26, 1973