“The Truth of the Matter Is…” Getting Muddled

By Ron Halbrook

We have recently warned of loose views on unity. Not only has our effort included the series in Truth Magazine, but also recent preaching in Tennessee and north Alabama (along with Tom O’Neal). Printed booklets (“Bible Unity vs. A ‘New’ Unity Movement”), bulletins (both Tom’s and mine), and charts were used-all including some documented references to Brother Edward Fudge’s loose 1feaching. Brother Fudge and this writer spoke Sunday afternoon, October 7, at the Jackson Drive Church of Christ in Athens, Alabama, that he might clear up alleged “misrepresentations.” Since others have quoted him critically recently, he has been trying to clarify such matters in the Gospel Guardian.

In the July 26 Gospel Guardian, he says, “The truth of the matter is . . .” We add respectfully, but firmly, “being muddled. “To muddle is “to make turbid or muddy,” “to mix confusedly.” We do not question motives; we do question whether anything has been clarified after all this clarification. If we have misunderstood Brother Fudge, we earnestly desire to understand him clearly. He did not show a single misrepresentation on Oct. 7 in Athens, but we remain open to consider anything he wants to say. He may feel the mud is in the eye of insincere beholders; we fervently implore him, with no motive but love of truth. Will he clear these muddled matters?

I. Ketcherside. “The truth of the matter is that I have never.. . held to or promoted a single concept, doctrine, or interpretation of Scripture that could fairly be considered uniquely ‘Ketchersidian,'” said Brother Fudge in the July 26, Gospel Guardian. Likewise, in Athens on Oct. 7 he objected to the material in the booklet (by Brother O’Neal and myself) because it indicates he has followed Ketcherside on some key matters.

Methinks Brother Fudge protesteth overmuch on this. It is a documented fact that he shares Ketcherside’s peculiar views on (1) a very limited definition of the word “gospel,” (2) the supposed distinction between “the gospel” and “the epistles” or “the doctrine,” (3) the idea that 1 Cor. 1:10 does not require doctrinal unity, and other matters. (Those not familiar with the documentation should see the booklet referred to above.) It is a documented fact that Ketcherside taught such ideas before Fudge. We are ready to document the fact that Ed was under Ketcherside’s influence while forming these ideas.

Why not give credit to whom credit is due and at least admit Ketcherside introduced him to these ideas? Then defend them as true, if they can be defended! Certainly among our brethren, Ketcherside is “unique” in his teachings on 1 Cor. 1:10, gospel-doctrine, etc. But the point is not “guilt by association;” it is that those who embrace the same premises generally end up with the same conclusions. No one says Ed has followed Ketcherside all the way, but it is true that Ed has borrowed some of. the peculiar-amongour-brethren ideas Ketcherside has been promoting.

II. Instrumental Music in Worship; Other Innovations. Is such sinful? For many years, Brother Fudge has said, “No. ” This has been a matter of public record since 1967. After specifically mentioning “instrumental music” (and other innovations like institutionalism, centralization of church work, etc.), he said: (1) We should not reject “God’s dear children, because they may not be able to see alike.” (2) Men should not be required to accept the innovations, but, “This does not give the objector the right to forbid the other brother’s doing” what he thinks best. (3) “Nor do these principles allow that the ‘conservative’ on any issue demand a ‘confession’ of the ‘converted liberal.’ ” (4) Such things “are matters of `opinion’ ” (see July 8, 1967 Christian Standard).

He held this position adamantly, right up into the week preceding Sunday, Oct. 7. But within a very short time before his Oct. 7 presentation, he says he discovered a new definition of sin in the Greek dictionary which will allow him to call the instrument in worship sin. We hope. this may be a hopeful sign. But, we wonder (1) exactly what the new definition is; (2) exactly where did he find it; (3) why is not the instrument sinful by the “old” definition; (4) is it sinful within itself, or just if pushed so as to cause division; (5) does it miss God’s mark (an objective standard), or just the mark of our own personal conclusions and inferences (a subjective standard)?

We ask for clarification. It cannot be clear as it stands because:

(1) He began and ended his remarks by saying he had NOT changed his position since he started writing on these matters.

(2) He did not agree to correct the matter in publications where his former position appeared.

(3) He defended his article on 2 Jn. 9 (Nov 30, ’68 Christian Standard), where he said “the doctrine of Christ” has nothing to do with “differences or arguments between saints on how best to please Christ,” especially since the instrument is not mentioned in the context.

(4) Whereas 2 Jn. 9 (“the doctrine of Christ”) cannot apply to such issues, he thinks he could use 1 Tim. 1:3 (“teach no other doctrine”); since 1 Tim. does not mention instruments any more than 2 Jn., how long can he hold this position? His rule seems to be that passages like Gal. 1:8-9, 2 Jn. 9, 1 Cor. 1:10, and Jude 3 can only be applied to the specific issue mentioned in the context. We wonder how anyone can meet any modern error with Brother Fudge’s rule for Gal. 1:8-9, 2 Jn. 9, 1 Cor, 1:10, and Jude 3, if the rule be applied to the rest of the Bible! And, why should it not be applied to the rest of the Bible? Maybe he will tell us.

(5) It was announced Oct. 7 that Ed’s articles on restoration and unity are being reprinted from the 1968-69 Gospel Guardian. (See IV below; to see firsthand, order from CEI Store, Athens, Ala.).

Since Brother Fudge seems to be doing some extra study on how to define sin just lately, we respectfully submit 1 John 3:4 and Matt. 7:23 for consideration. He will not even need a Greek dictionary for this-no disrespect for the Greek intended! (Ed Fudge has a Masters Degree in Greek-Cecil Willis) John says, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (KJV) or “sin is lawlessness” (NASV). Matthew says “iniquity” or “lawlessness” will cause us to be lost. Since Brother Fudge admits instruments are not authorized, he should be able to see with or without a Greek dictionary that such things are without law, outside law, and therefore utterly lawless. Anything that is lawless is sin, for “sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, if Ed’s special rule for 2 Jn. 9, etc., be applied, we confess that we would not recognize any sin unless it were dressed in first century garb. The simple recognition of sin can become a complex, scholarly, enigmatic system of gnosticism when Ed’s special rule gets involved. It would be interesting to see what our esteemed brother would do if he tied in with a sharp Christian Church preacher on the instrument-if the preacher knew about our brother’s special rules of interpretation, special definitions of sin, and special theories on “gospel” and “doctrine”! We fear our brother still fails to see the dangerous, practical results of all this. And so he goes on muddling the truth without seeing why his brethren are concerned, why certain ones have become unsettled )y such theories, or why anyone fears a “new” unity movement. All he seems to see are spiritual cannibals with bad attitudes and ugly spirits.

III. “Fellowship” Halls. In paragraph 2, p. 218, Aug. 9, 1973 Gospel Guardian, under “Coffee and Donuts,” Brother Fudge tries to settle brethren’s fears on his position concerning certain innovations. If there ever was a case of stirring up mud and making, it thicker, this is it! Ed says of the reasoning that leads to kitchens, gyms, etc., “It reflects . . a fleshly-oriented, pleasure-seeking, and worldly-minded attitude that is totally out of harmony with all the Bible says.” Clear enough? Yes, until one reads paragraph 3. Concerning those who worship where such innovations exist, Ed says, “No doubt many such people are very spiritual-minded and have the right attitude about these matters in general.” Clear as mud-stirred and made thicker!

Building, maintaining, and using “fellowship” halls, gyms, etc. involve the collective activity or corporate program of the church. This is not like a sin of one or two members; it involves the function of the body. Yet, many spiritually minded people work and worship where the corporate function and collective activity of the church is “fleshly oriented, pleasure-seeking and worldly-minded . . . totally out of harmony with all the Bible says.. .” What is the result of having part in “the works of the flesh”-and can one “live in the Spirit” without walking “in the Spirit”? (Gal. 5:19-25).

IV. The Bible and Unity. This confused mixing is not new. Consider “Christian Unity-Second Thoughts” (June 20; 1968, Gospel Guardian). “It is right to emphasize the place of the Bible in Christian unity.” Clear? Let us see. It is not “strictly true that the Bible is the basis upon which we are to unite … We are to unite around Christ and in him.” Next, “correct understanding of any subject … belongs. . . not to the subject of Christian unity . . . based on such passages as Jn. 17, 1 Cor. 1:10ff, 2 Jn. 9-11, or Eph.- 4” (Emphasis added). Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 1:10 only emphasize “unity of sentiment, of aim, of spirit, of love,” but this “is not the unity of Jn. 17.”

Results: Whatever we may emphasize about the Bible and unity, (1) we cannot emphasize the Bible as the basis of that unity, but must emphasize Christ instead. (2) Understanding and obeying the apostles’ doctrine is not required for unity by Jn. 17, 1 Cor. 1:10, 2 Jn. 9-11, or Eph. 4.

Or, consider “That They May All Be One” (May 1, 1969, Gospel Guardian). We must “trust . . . and obey Him,” should not make “an unscriptural distinction between Christ and His teaching,” and should emphasize “the New Testament Scriptures in dealing with … unity.” But, not “even the plainest New Testament teachings are the basis of unity” and it is not “strictly true that the Bible is the basis upon which we are to unite,” he adds. If the Philippian jailor learned and obeyed nothing after baptism, he still had Christ, salvation, and unity. “It is possible to conceive that he never enjoyed the benefit and blessing of additional instruction.”

Results: After we emphasize faith, obedience, and the Bible, we are still left with this: (1) The Bible is not really the basis of unity. (2) If one is scripturally baptized, he may have Christ even if he never hears, understands, and obeys the divine order for the New Testament church.

V. Human System of Interpretation. Brother Fudge recently wrote some fine thoughts on the need to avoid falling into human systems of interpretation (“Take My Yoke . . .” Aug. 23, 1973, Gospel Guardian.) He has repeatedly told me that “some” conservative brethren have created “an elaborate, legalistic, human system of interpretation” in fighting recent innovations. When I urged him to expose it and show us all where the truth lies, he said he would not do so because all he has is “a-more scriptural human system of interpretation.” This kind of talk and teaching is what has many brethren concerned and confused about our brother. Brother Fudge does not seem to see these contradictions and blatant inconsistencies, so he feels “misrepresented” when someone objects to the muddle.

VI. Compromise. In the July 19, 1973 Gospel Guardian, Brother Fudge declares he is all-out opposed to compromise. That should settle it, he thinks. But if we asked Carl Ketcherside if he was for or against compromising God’s Word, he too would make a declaration against it. What Ed needs to see, and what we are trying to show him, is that the positions he has taken on various matters is compromise. Instead of just waving his hand and saying he opposes compromise, Ed needs to defend what he has taught and show it is not compromise.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:5, p. 10-11
November 29, 1973