The Ketcherside Discussion in Tampa Was It Wise?

By Ray Ferris

On January 25, 19T2, at 10:00 p.m. an overflow crowd gathered at the meetinghouse of the University Church in Tampa, Florida. For approximately three hours, or until one o’clock in the morning, a lively exchange took place. For thirty minutes Carl Ketcherside set forth his views on the question of fellowship, and immediately following Robert Turner spoke for thirty minutes on the same subject. Then for about two hours the audience participated in a it question and answer session” with the two speakers, plus Harry Pickup, Jr. and Ferrell Jenkins who were added to the panel.

In subsequent articles I will plan to deal to a very limited extent with the discussion itself, but let it suffice for now to note that Carl Ketcherside now has fellowship in the worship with those who are using mechanical instruments of music as they worship, and defends the practice; that he “fellowships” the pious unimmersed as “brethren in prospect” and refers to’ them as children of God. In this paper I wish only to express some thoughts regarding the meeting and the background for it.

First, let me hasten to say that the attitude which prevailed was excellent on the part of all who participated in the effort. Then, let me marvel a bit at the interest manifested in the discussion. Most of the people present had been in attendance earlier for two hours of speeches at the Florida College Campus, and many of them had attended lectures from nine o’clock in the morning through the entire day and evening and yet they stayed patiently and orderly through this three-hour session into the early morning hours. Here are literally hundreds of people who are vitally concerned with TRUTH!

Background of the Meeting

Although I do, not have all of the details involving the reason for the meeting, these basic facts were involved. The extremely liberal views of brother Ketcherside, and others, seem to be gaining more than a pawing interest among some of the Lord’s people in the Tampa area. (The nature of these views and their liberal extent will be noted later.) To what extent these have been influenced and in what numbers have no certain knowledge, but I am concerno4 about this matter. Carl Ketcherside has had contact with some of the young people on the Florida College Campus, and even that afternoon had gone to one of the dormitories for 4 sessions with some of the student body. Then was no permission sought from the ad ministration of the school for this meeting with the students, and none had been given as I understand the situation.

Prior to this, the meeting at the meeting house of the University Church had been set up. There was, to my knowledge, no basic connection between the school and the church in this matter. Neither was there any necessary connection between the college lectures, the session in the dormitory, nor the “forum” in University Church building.

In spite of this, brother Ketcherside’s opening remarks were made as though he were on the campus of the school and speaking as a school function. The insinuation could hardly be overlooked – the school and the church were linked together in his remarks. We will have further thoughts on this in a future paper.

Was Any Useful Purpose Served?

There have been mixed reactions to meeting among those who were present. Basically the, question seems to be – was there any useful purpose served by the meeting? Or did it simply provide an occasion and a hearing for these false views? Some seem to feel brother Ketcherside had everything to pin a nothing to lose by the discussion.

At first glance that may well appear to be true. It is almost certain that most of the audience was made up of conservative Christians, many of whom would be hearing Carl Ketcherside for the first time, and most of whom would be getting their first in-person presentation of his lately-formed doctrine of fellowship. Others who may have begun to “tilt” in that direction would have a first-hand opportunity to be pushed farther in that direction.

While it is ordinarily true that a discussion of such a nature should involve opportunity for both “sides” of the controversy to be representatively involved in the participants and the audience, it seems to me some points need to be emphasized.

First, and most important, Truth will always be enhanced by the test of controversy when advocated by capable men. Anyone who thinks it was not advocated by capable men in this instance was not present!

There was doubtless some representation of the view of brother Ketcherside in the audience. To what extent I have no way to determine, but these people – including Carl himself – were surely given some thoughts with which they must wrestle.

Perhaps the most significant group present were those, however many or few their number, who were being swayed by this sweet-sounding doctrine. Surely these could not have left that building, if they listened to the exchange with open minds and questing spirits, without having reversed themselves in their tendency away from truth. At the very least they would be forced to re-think the whole matter before doing something drastic.

Would these things not have made the whole meeting a worthwhile effort? Granted that it was not ideal in every area, yet the brethren of the University Church need to be thanked for their willingness to arrange the meeting and provide the facilities.

What About The Alternative?

Though I do not know the details of how the meeting came into being, someone certainly must have desired it. Regardless of whether it was Carl Ketcherside and his following, or conservative brethren who stand fast for the truth in the matter, or Christians who are now in a state of uncertainty in the matter – how will the cause of truth be served profitably by a refusal to enter into such a discussion?

Many of us have been sure in our minds that a host of men stood ready to defend what they believed to be the truth in this, or any other matter, and to do so in the spirit of love and patience. If there was ever a doubt in the mind of brother Ketcherside and others of that persuasion that this was true, it is now completely removed. Those on the platform, those in the audience who asked questions, and the many of us who sought to be heard and could not, proved the point beyond doubt.

But, most significant of all to me, is the fact that one who goes to the extreme of defending his worship with a mechanical instrument of music in accompaniment, and who advocates fellowship of those not immersed into Christ was firmly but kindly resisted in his efforts before some fine young people who have been fascinated with his “sweet words of love.” These young minds, older ones too, must have been impressed with the willingness to study that was indicated- on every hand, and to do so in love.

But suppose the proposal to discus the matter had been refused – regardless of who made -the request – what then? Thaw things have a way of being circulated widely, and it would not have been to our credit, it seems to me. I am thankful I could be present and only wish my questions and comments could have been given opportunity to be heard.

A Final Word

There are those among us who have shunned all forms of controversy, if possible, in recent years. Such was not the way of the Lord, His apostles and Christians of the first century. As food for thought, how many people do you suppose would have been at the church building that night to hear any preacher that was in town speak in any “regular” sermon he might have chosen? Could it be that we are missing opportunities to teach in our own numbers by not using some sort of forum, panel discussion, or even debate (!) in our teaching programs?

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 22, pp. 6-7
April 6, 1972