The Gospel/Doctrine Distinction Bred in Infidelity; Nurtured by Cynicism; Spread by Discontent

By Tom M. Roberts

Part Two: Nurtured by Cynicism

In a previous article, we revealed the source of the fallacious and confusing claim that the gospel is distinct from doctrine. We have noted that C.H. Dodd (1884-1973), Church of England professor at Cam-bridge, promoted this concept in his day and was widely received by his contemporaries.

Dodd – Ketcherside Connection

Sadly, Dodd’s false doctrine did not stay in England. His popularity in denominational circles did not escape the notice of men among us who had an axe to grind, an agenda to keep, a cynical attitude to promote. None was more cynical of “traditional orthodoxy” or more willing to violate sound doctrine among churches of Christ than Carl Ketcherside, editor of Mission Messenger.

Carl Ketcherside was considered a radical spokes-man of bizarre causes in the early 1950’s. Arrested once on a college campus because of his invasive tactics among young students, Ketcherside connected with Dodd in a strange way. Originally, Ketcherside opposed “located preachers” because of his application of the gospel/doctrine distinction. He, like Dodd (perhaps because of Dodd), advocated that the “gospel” (containing seven core facts) had to be “preached” (kerysein), while “doctrine” (everything else but gospel) had to be “taught” (didaskein). In the earlier years, he drew such a rigid line of fellowship on his views that most brethren were excluded. Later, he switched and, accepting tenets of Calvinism like the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, opened his arms in fellowship with nearly anyone who accepted his “gospel” definition. He made the classic distinction between gospel and doctrine as did Dodd and was led to accept a broader fellowship with those who held doctrinal differences. Let me emphasize that there is not a man living who can be consistent, accept Dodd’s premise, and fail to accept doctrinal differences as unimportant to fellowship.

Ketcherside accepted the gospel/doctrine distinction with a vengeance.

“The gospel was proclaimed as fully and completely on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus as it ever has been, and nothing written later was added to it” (“Twisted Scriptures,” Mission Messenger, Dec.1972, p. 181). “Not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel of Christ . . . the letter to the Galatians was not a part of the gospel” (Ibid., Feb. 1973, p. 20). Under this flag, he spent years promoting an expanded fellowship with all who accepted the deity of Christ (gospel) regardless of their doctrinal persuasions and practices. He was equally at home among Christian Churches, Pentecostals, Catholics and any group nominally accepting the deity of Christ (gospel).

A contemporary of Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, stated the classical deductive position which derives from the gospel/doctrine distinction. Speaking of Galatians 1:6-9, he said, “This passage is abused in our day in such a manner that the effect is as much a perversion as it was with the Judaizers in Galatia. One is preaching `another gospel,’ we are told, if he holds some doctrinal error, or what is presumed to be an error, such as maintaining a TV program like Herald of Truth or using an instrument in congregational singing” (“The Word Abused,” Restoration Review, XVII, No. 3, p. 42).

He added, “The gospel is thus made to embrace all of our deductions, inferences and interpretations that extend throughout the New Covenant scriptures. A brother who visits from the Christian Church is not called on for anything, nor is he even recognized as a preacher of the gospel, all because he is `wrong’ on music . . .” (Ibid.).

“The implications of all this to unity and fellowship are weighty. It means that the gospel itself, not our doctrinal interpretations, is the basis of our being one in Christ and in fellowship with each other. That is, when one believes in Jesus and obeys him in baptism, he is our brother and in the fellowship . . . This is oneness and this is unity. That fellowship is strengthened and made joyful by doctrine, but it is the gospel and not doctrine that determines the fellowship” (Ibid.).

Though Ketcherside and Garrett were not respected, generally, among brethren, either conservative or liberal, others within the “mainstream” of liberal churches were reading, accepting and nurturing the expanded fellowship that “gospel” or “word of the cross” preaching permitted.

Dodd – Ketcherside – Liberal Connection

Larry West, in an article in World Radio News (Nov-Dec, 1993, p. 2) came down clearly on the side of compromise. Commenting on the heritage that he grew up in (and evidently now rejects), he said, “The problem came, however, with what the emphasis led to. With our craving to restore the `pattern,’ many have in the process de-emphasized the `power’ (Rom. 1:16).” Lest there be any doubt about his meaning, he added, “Restoring `the pattern of the New Testament church’ shifted the cry away from the cross of Christ and onto the church of Christ. It got off the resurrected Saviour and on the saved. Over the years, then, our movement became centered largely on correcting religious error rather than on the proclaiming of a Saviour.”

Why would he teach such a thing? How could he come to such a conclusion? First of all, there must be a re-definition of terms as Dodd and others advocated. “There is a distinctive difference between the Gospel and the rest of the Bible. All the Bible (not just the New Testament) points to the Gospel (that’s why the Bible is generically called `good news’), but there is a definite distinction between the specific Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:3-4) and the other points of New Testament doctrine (or teachings).”

The practical effects and application of this error can be seen in the recent event in Florence, Alabama, where the Magnolia church of Christ had a joint “Celebration of Worship” with a Methodist church. “How,” you might ask, “could anyone justify this kind of digression?” Let the “gospel” preacher explain. Joe Van Dyke of the Magnolia church said: “We’re not here together tonight to say that we agree on everything there is to discuss. We’re here to say that there’s something greater that we share in common than any-thing that would divide us.” “The greater things including the message of salvation, the death of Jesus on the cross, the resurrection and the commandments to love the Lord God with all our might and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The lesser things include doctrine.” (Quotes from The Voice, local church bulletin edited by Larry Fain, Vol. 22, No. 12, December, 1993, in an article, “A Sad Historic Event” by Gary Patton.)

Lest there be a misunderstanding that some of these events are happening in out-of-the-way places, we are reminded that the gospel/doctrine distinction is now assuming the robe of scholarship since it is emanating from “the Holy Hill,” Abilene, Texas. In The Cruciform Church, C. Leonard Allen (ACU Press, Abilene, TX, 1990), quotes from C. H. Dodd as he takes up the cause for getting the church back to the cross (thus, a “cruciform” church). His premise is that we have left the “word of the cross” out of our preaching as we have evolved to preach doctrine more than gospel. He said, “In view of the displacement of the cross in the Stone/Campbell movement, I answer that what was left was a distorted and anemic gospel. The gospel of grace became a gospel of duty, law and perfect obedience. Covenant, we might say, became contract” (p. 122). “As the cross was diminished in our movement, God’s gracious and deeply personal covenant, mediated by a stunning display of suffering love, increasingly became a bare contract” (p. 123).

Not surprisingly, he footnotes C. H. Dodd’s The Parables of the Kingdom, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, and The Johannine Epistles. It is not surprising since he occupies the same basic error as Dodd on the gospel/doctrine distinction. Although his “core gospel” definition differs from Dodd (as does every other person who attempts to define a non-biblical position), he seeks to build a case study on his definition of the “core gospel.” His conclusion is that we are guilty today of a kind of “doctrine idolatry” (p. 87). Such a “doctrine idolater” forgets that “Doctrines do not save us; we are saved by Christ. Doctrines do not cleanse us from our sins; it is the efficacious blood of Christ. . . . We are not baptized into [doctrines], but into Christ. We do not hope in them, trust in them, glory in them, but in Christ Jesus our Lord” (quoting Charles L. Loos, teacher with Campbell at Bethany College, p. 89). Please let it register that, in the thinking of many brethren, it is “Christ or doctrine,” or “Christ versus doctrine.” Depending on how far the new definition of “gospel” extends, doctrines that insist on vocal music, baptism for remission of sins, local church autonomy, etc. are “doctrinal idolatry.”

In yet another example of how far this gospel/ doctrine error has extended into mainstream thinking is Bill Love’s, The Core Gospel. Another book from ACU Press, it purports to be an analysis of four generations of preachers (from Stone/Campbell to the present). Somewhat arrogantly, Love defines gospel in a way that suits his purpose, not the biblical definition. Though different from Dodd or Ketcherside in some aspects of definition, it differs not at all in application. But, having arbitrarily substituted his definition “rule,” Love measures these preachers of yesteryear and finds them wanting. Naturally, since they did not have the advantage of knowing they were going to be measured by Love’s “rule of gospel” they did not include enough “gospel” to suit Love. Consequently, men like Stone and Campbell, Moses Lard, and T. W. Brents, fail to pass muster. Likewise, men of the stature of T. B. Larimore, Benjamin Franklin, J. W. McGarvey, J. D. Tant and Foy E. Wallace, among others, failed Love’s test. Again and again, the “core gospel” so reminiscent of C. H. Dodd, limited in scope to the “death, burial and resurrection of Christ,” is applied retroactively to recorded sermons to show how deficient all these men were in “gospel preaching.” All these great giants of the past, according to Love, did not preach enough “gospel.” Would to God that I could measure something. How many people did Larimore and Franklin and Campbell convert to Christ compared to Love, Allen, Ketcherside and cohorts? Where are the waters being stirred in baptism by Love and Allen compared to the scores of thousands who came to Christ under restoration preaching? J.D. Tant alone, with all his “doctrine idolatry,” probably led more to Christ than all these combined. Where are the people who are coming out of denominationalism to Christ under the preaching of Love and Allen as they did under restoration preaching? Are not the churches under Love’s and Allen’s influence of soft preaching and the New Hermeneutic returning to denominationalism? For sure, no one can accuse them of “doctrine idolatry.” What would Love and Allen do in the face of the onslaught of premillennialism? Foy E. Wallace met them and defeated them with the gospel that portrays Christ on the throne of David. Would Love’s and Allen’s “gospel” stem the tide of digression on premillennialism, or on any other point of “doctrine”? I think not.

As someone has said, “Let your opponent define the terms of your disagreement and he will whip you every time.” Even so, let latter day “scholars” wrest the meaning of “gospel” and “word of the cross” to exclude “sound doctrine,” and you can be chided for “anemic preaching” and “doctrine idolatry.” What is amazing is that they are so successful with this subterfuge.

Dodd – Ketcherside – Liberal – Conservative Connection

Recent articles from brethren much closer to home reveal how deeply engrained this error has become and how prevalent a part of our thinking it has become. Though it is quite evident that not everyone is aware of the source of this error nor how deeply it has been accepted by the New Unity Movement or the New Hermeneutic crowd, it is nevertheless being used by brethren who ought to know better. It is not essential to know the history of an error to oppose it. But it is without excuse to allow someone in error to define biblical terms in an un-biblical way and to use that error to criticize sound brethren.

It has already been related that Leonard Allen in The Cruciform Church made the charge against T. W. Brents and Alexander Campbell (et al) that they began a drift away from the emphasis on the cross to an emphasis on the church by their attempts to “restore the ancient order of things.” They imply that the drift away from the cross became a stampede in later generations. This charge is based upon the faulty definition of the gospel being distinct from doctrine.

Though one should avoid crying “wolf ” at the drop of a phrase or cited quotation, it seems that we have a right to be alarmed when brethren expose true cynicism toward doctrinal preaching. It is being repeated again and again that doctrinal preaching is not gospel preaching. Even among the advocates (maybe even especially from the advocates) of “positive Christianity,” the most negative reactions arise to doctrinal soundness. If there is a need to balance our preaching so as to encompass the “whole counsel of God,” let us not allow cynicism to be our teacher.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 13, p. 16-18
July 7, 1994