The Gospel/Doctrine Differentiation

By Cecil Willis

For a little over forty years, I have been fairly acquainted with the happenings among brethren. But in my wildest imaginations I never could have predicted the various and sundry positions that have been publicized among brethren on the marriage question. I have been shocked to find how much conservative brethren have been affected by loose teaching on the marriage issue. Frankly, nothing that happens among liberal brethren shocks me now. They have been laying the foundations of all kinds of liberal doctrines for decades.

When I was just a boy preacher, I used to hear brethren preach about the weird view on marriage held by brother E.C. Fuqua, then living in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, and then the publisher of an interesting journal called the Vindicator. So far as I knew then, he was the only brother advocating that unscriptural marriages were made to be scriptural ones after baptism. Brethren who opposed brother Fuqua’s position charged that he believed baptism washed away wives. Sometime later some similar (though not identical) doctrines were attributed to brother Lloyd Moyer, then of California. Since then the names of quite a few otherwise conservative brethren have been associated with similar positions. Some arrive at their conclusions quite differently than others, but they all come out at the same place: nearly any marriage can be justified, and we can almost tear Matthew 19:9 out of our New Testament!

Some brethren may not appreciate my saying so, but this loose position is found among conservative brethren almost exclusively in the Western States. I express here no opinion as to why that is. But just to show what I am talking about, let me just state that I can name on one hand all the preaching brethren whom I know who take one of these loose marriage positions and who live East of the Mississippi River, and still have a finger or two left over! But it Appears from what is being said and done that big problems could lie before us over the marriage question. There may be some innocent speculations about the Bible, but even if there is, the marriage and divorce issue is not one of them. If these loose marriage doctrines are taught in churches, the churches of the saints will become the churches of the sinners. Moses Lard, one of the pioneer preachers once said that churches were becoming virtual Noah’s Arks: full of clean and unclean things! If loose marriage doctrine prevails, churches will be filled with adulterers. Brethren should remember: if it is alright to preach it, it is alright to practice it.

Bifurcating the Gospel

For about one hundred years there have been some denominational writers who pretend to see some great differences between “gospel” and “doctrine.” The word “bifurcate” means “to divide into two branches or parts,” and some brethren also have divided the gospel into two separate parts. Space limitations preclude documenting the origin of this gospel-doctrine differentiation among denominational scholars, but it is not difficult to document its presence in the writings of our brethren. Many of the brethren who are advocating that we must not draw lines of fellowship on the marriage subject undergird their argumentation with some form of the assumption that we must have unity on gospel, but we must have “unity in diversity” on doctrine.

Back in the early 1950s, when I was just beginning to preach, brethren G.A. Dunn, Carl Ketcherside, and Leroy Garrett (and many others) were arguing that churches could not utilize full-time, paid evangelists to work with them, because one could not preach the gospel to the church. Instead, one must preach the gospel to the world, and one must teach the doctrine to the church. Lot me give you an example of their teaching (or is it preaching?):

Now, the idea of preaching the gospel to the church, is one that is not held forth in the New Testament scriptures…. My friends, there is a great difference between preaching and teaching. I want you to know that you cannot preach the gospel to the church and here is a good place for us to center this discussion. Let my good brother Wallace put his finger on that passage in the New Testament scriptures where it indicates that anyone every preached a gospel sermon to the church (Carl Ketcherside, Wallace-Ketcherside Debate [Paragould, AR], pp. 21,22).

Even yet I can see the bantum G.K. Wallace challenging Ketcherside to prove his gospel-doctrine differentiation by preaching a while, then to shift gears and to teach us a while, so we could see the difference. Modern purveyors of this bifurcation of the gospel might like to accept that Wallace challenge today. If so, they can be accommodated, I am sure. Brother Leroy Garrett also taught the gospel-doctrine distinction (or did he preach it?). I guess he would have had to preach the gospel part of the distinction, and teach the doctrine part. And that could get confusing, even for a man of his intellectual stature.

Now note, in all 122 times there is not one instance, unless these two that have been introduced are possible exceptions, there is not one instance where the gospel was ever preached to the church (Leroy Garrett, Humble-Garrett Debate, p. 25).

The Unity-In-Diversity Advocates

About thirty years ago brethren Garrett and Ketcherside began to make a different usage of the gospel-doctrine differentiation. They then preached that we had to be united on “gospel” (though they never agreed on exactly how many facts comprised the gospel; later it was “one fact and one act”. . . faith and baptism), but could have all kinds of diversity regarding doctrine. Note carefully what they said back then:

Few other errors have worked the mischief that has resulted from confusing the faith with the letters of instruction, admonition and exhortation to the people of God who had embraced the one faith. It was that which made them the people of God. Because of this error there has grown up that curious postulate which makes a specific degree of knowledge of doctrinal deductions essential for acceptance into “fellowship.” All sorts of creeds, both written and unwritten, have thus been devised, and are now expounded as if creed-making was the will of God for preachers and elders . . . . The gospel consists of seven facts about a person. Those facts are the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation and glorification of Jesus . . . . The gospel is not the collation of apostolic writings forming the new covenant scriptures. The gospel is the glad news about a person, while the apostolic letters are composed of commendations, exhortations, warnings and criticism, sent to those who have accepted that person as Lord (Carl Ketcherside, Mission Messenger, Vol. 36, No. 9, pp. 130,132).

Preaching the gospel is for the world, Its design is to call men out, to enroll them in the school of Christ (Carl Ketcherside, Mission Messenger, Vol. 36, No. 5, p. 71).

The gospel is to be announced, proclaimed or heralded to the world. It is to be preached in all the world and to every creature. It is the euaggetion, the evangel, designed for the lost, and its purpose is to announce that divine love became effective and the word which was with God and was God became incarnate, and through him we have been reconciled to the Father. This message is not for the saved. You cannot evangelize saved persons. The new covenant scriptures know nothing of “preaching the gospel” to the saints of God. Such an expression would have seemed ridiculous and unintelligible to the apostles . . . . The gospel is the seed, the sperm, by which we are begotten. The doctrine is the bread upon which the children feed, and by which they grow. . . . It is easily demonstrated that not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel of Christ. Every such letter was written to those who heard, believed, and accepted the gospel. . . . As long as preachers mistakenly assume that the gospel embraces the entire new covenant scriptures they will brand as unbelievers those who truly believe in Jesus but may be mistaken about some point of interpretation in one of the epistles (Carl Ketcherside, Mission Messenger, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 19-21).

Later still was brother Edward Fudge’s usage of the gospel-doctrine differentiation in the Grace-Unity Debate.

Any error which denies this “gospel” condemns, because it denies that which saves. . . . There is another sort of apostolic teaching, designed for a different purpose. Most of the epistles come here. This teaching does not give life; it sustains it. It is not to tell men how to be saved but how to live after they are saved and urge them to stay saved. . . . (2) We should learn to make a biblical distinction between teaching necessary for salvation in the first place and teaching designed to aid our growth in Christ. Otherwise we will be condemning each other for spiritual immaturity or unwillful ignorance – a thing never done by New Testament writers (Edward Fudge, “Truth, Error, and the Grace of God,” Reprint of Articles, pp. 9,4).

Is it only an accident of history that these brethren were on their way to denominational ecumenicity when they made their gospel-doctrine differentiation? Look around us. How many of the Fudge cohorts and minions are still with conservative churches? Very few, if any.

It is unfair to attribute to specific individuals positions they do not specifically espouse, and I make no such indictments about particular brethren among us. However, let me state that I recently have purchased most of the publications (books, debates, tracts) on the current marriage controversy, and I found repeatedly that heavy battles were waged as to whether Matthew 19:9 was gospel or doctrine. Peruse the Roy Deaver-James Bales Debate, if you doubt my word.

What About Gospel-Doctrine?

Biblically, there isjust on Body of Truth, but it is called by many different names in Scripture. But this should pose no problem to knowledgeable brethren. The church has many different descriptive terms (body, kingdom, vineyard, temple, family, etc.), yet there is but one church. In likemanner a Christian is denominated by different descriptions (believer, disciple, brother, saint, servant, heir, son, etc.), but there is no substantive difference. We speak of sin as transgressions, lawlessness, iniquities, disobedience, backslidings, and we call salvation, redemption, remission, reconciliation, cleansing, sanctification, and all seem to understand easily. Why is it then that some want to make a big distinction between gospel and doctrine, when there are scores of other New Testament terms used to describe the body of truth, and no additional distinctions are made? Though I may become tedious in documenting this point, please bear with me while we survey the New Testament to see what the will of God is called.

The Faith

(Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 3:23; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:23; 2:7; 1 Tim. 1:2; 3:13; 4:1; 5:8; 6:10,12; Tit. 1:2,13; 3:15; 1 Pet. 5:9; Jude 3).

“word of faith” (Rom. 10:8)

“one faith” (Eph. 4:5)

“the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27)

“the faith of Christ” (Phil. 3:9)

“the faith of the Lord Jesus” (Jas. 2:1)

The Gospel

(Matt. 11:5; Mk. 1:15; 13:10; 16:15; Lk. 4:18; 7:22; 9:6; 20:1; Acts 8:25; 14:7,21; 16:10; Rom. 1:15; 16:10; 11:28; 15:20; 1 Cor. 1: 17; 4:15; 9:14,16,17; 15: 1; 2 Cor. 8:18; Gal. 1: 11; 3:8; 4:13; Eph. 3:6; Phil. 1: 5,7,12; 2:2; 4:3; 4:15; Col. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:8,10; Phile. 13).

“the gospel of the circumcision . . . uncircumcision” (Gal. 2:7)

“the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thess. 2:2,8,9; 1 Pet. 1:17)

“the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4)

“the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16; 15:19,29; 1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 9:13,15; Gal. 1:17; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 3:2)

“Christ’s gospel” (2 Cor. 2:12)

“the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14)

“the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11)

“the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mk. 1:14)

“the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5; Col. 1:5)

“the word of the gospel” (Acts 15:7)

“the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24)

“the gospel of peace” (Rom. 10: 15; Eph. 6:15)

“the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13)

“the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19)

“this gospel” (Matt. 26:13; Mk. 14:9)

“the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6)

“my gospel” (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8)

“that gospel” (Gal. 2:2)

“the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27)

The Truth

(Mk. 12:32; Jn. 5:33; 8:32; 8:40,44,45; 8:46; 14:6; 16:7; 17:17,19; Rom. 1: 18,25; 2:8; 1 Cor. 13:6; 2 Cor. 4:2; 12:6; 13:8; Gal. 3:1; 4:16; 5:7; Eph. 4:15; 2 Thess. 2:10,12,13; 1 Tim. 4:2; 3:15; 4:3; 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:18,25; 3:7,8; 4:4; Tit. 1:1,14; Heb. 10:26; Jas. 3:14; 5:19; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 1:6,8; 2:21; 3:19; 2 Jn. 1; 3 Jn. 1,3,8,12).

“the truth of God” (Rom, 3:7; 15:8)

“the truth in Christ” (Rom. 9:1)

“the truth of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:10; 1 Tim. 2:7)

“the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5; Col. 1:5)

“the truth in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21)

The Word

(Acts 6:4; 8:4; 10: 36,44; 11: 19; 14:25; 16:6; 17: 11; Rom. 10:8; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 5:26; Phil. 1:14; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Tim, 4:2).

“the word of the Lord” (Acts 8:25; 11:16; 13:48,49; 15:35,36; 16:32; 18:11; 1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Pet. 1:25)

“the word of Christ” (Col. 3:16)

“the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:10)

“the word of truth” (2 Cor. 6:7; Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:15)

“the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8)

“the word of the gospel” (Acts 15:7)

“the word of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8)

“the word of wisdom” (1 Cor. 12:8)

“the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19)

“the word of doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:7)

“the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3; 20:32)

“the word of promise” (Rom. 9:9)

“the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3)

“the word of righteousness” (Heb. 5:13)

“the word of life” (Phil. 2:16; 1 Jn. 1:1)

“the word of my patience” (Rev. 3:10)

“the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5)

“the word of the oath” (Heb. 7:28)

“the word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22)

The Way

(Jn. 14:4,6; Acts 24:14; Rom. 3:12; Heb. 5:12; 12:13).

“the way of God in truth” (Matt. 22:16; Mk. 12:14)

“the way of God” (Lk. 20:21)

“the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79; Rom. 3:17)

“the way of the Lord” (Matt. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23; Acts 16:17; 18)

“the way of truth” (2 Pet. 2:2)

“the way of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:21)

“the right way” (2 Pet. 2:15)

The Doctrine

(Jn. 7:17; Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 3:16).

“doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 2:7; 2 Jn. 10)

“word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17)

“doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:12) Note: Doctrine is here taught to aliens!

“the doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3)

“sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1)

“good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6)

“apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42)

“doctrine of Christ” (Heb. 6:1; 2 Jn. 9)

“form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17) – “doctrine” here used of Plan of Salvation!

“His doctrine” (Matt. 7:28; 22:33; Mk. 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; Lk. 4:32; Jn. 18:19; 1 Tim. 6:1)

“the doctrine of God our Savior” (Tit. 2:10)


Having enumerated and documented that well over seventy different terms are used in the New Testament to refer to the same Body of Truth, is it not preposterous to try to take only two of those terms (“Gospel” and “Doctrine”), and to try to dichotomize, fragment, compartmentalize them into separate bodies of truth? Why not then do the same for all the other terms (the way, the faith, the word, the truth) and make them into separate bodies of truth? And once one had done that, then why not try to make some arbitrary difference among all the sub-headings we have cited under the major headings? The methodology of error is strictly arbitrary, and is made to fit whatever they want to fit, and that only.

No sharp gospel-doctrine differentiation is found in the New Testament. The gospel is to be preached to both saints (Rom. 1:7,15,16) and sinners (Mk. 16:15,16). The doctrine is to be preached to both saints (1 Cor. 4:17; Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 2:42) and to sinners (Rom. 6:17,18; Acts 5:28; 13:5,7,8,10,12; 17:19). In the New Testament, things which are in some places called “gospel” are in other places called “doctrine” (see Rom. 6:17,18 and 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 1:16). And that which matures the Christian is called both “gospel” (Gal. 2:14; Eph. 6:15; 1 Tim. 1:10, 11) and “doctrine” (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42). Virtually no audience is ever 100 percent saints or 100 percent sinners. In mixed audiences which one would one teach/preach: “gospel” or “doctrine,” both, or neither?

I suggest that you preserve this entire issue of Guardian of Truth. You will have future occasions to use it. Watch for some to argue that we have to be united upon the essentials of the gospel, but that we have much room for disagreement (diversity) about doctrine . . . particularly about the subject of marriage and divorce. When that happens, then remember where the pseudo-differences between gospel and doctrine have landed brethren in the past.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 13-15
January 2, 1992