By James W. Adams
(Note: I regret there has been a slight interruption in the appearance of these articles, but it could not be avoided. Meeting work has taken me away from home and library making it impossible for me to prepare the articles to run in consecutive issues. JWA)
An individual can repeat a misrepresentation, however absurd, often enough to propagandize and catechize a great many unsuspecting people. In fact, he quite often convinces himself despite what he unquestionably knows to be the facts in the case. Brother W. Carl Ketcherside has for the past fifteen years written like Jehu of Old Testament fame drove his chariot, “furiously” (2 Kings 9:20). He has written so much and so “furiously” that one researching his literary misadventures all but drowns himself in a sea of semantics. I have never read after a person who can say the same thing, so many times, in so many different ways. Our erring brother is famous for his ability to “con” his audiences and readers with “cute” clichés and inveigle them with epigrammatic errors. If rhetoric were argument and showmanship were truth, Ketcherside would be all but irresistible. Fortunately, they are not. Two of the more common Ketchersidian, rhetorical flourishes are: “Unity is not conformity” and “unity in diversity. “
Unity vs. Conformity
When our garrulous brother in pulpit and press parrots the affirmation, “Unity is not conformity,” he implies there are those who contend that unity demands absolute conformity in every view which is held respecting the faith and practice of Christians. If this is not true, his often-repeated epigram is pointless. I categorically deny that any representative preacher or writer, “heir of the Restoration Movement” or otherwise, so affirms. Why then does Ketcherside continue to prejudice the issue by constantly reiterating this cliché’? The answer is obvious. A politician uses whatever makes good propaganda, nor is he above insinuating what he dares not specifically affirm.
Ketcherside himself believes, notwithstanding his rhetoric, that there must be a relative degree of “conformity” before New Testament “unity” can obtain among professed Christians. According to him, all must subscribe to the following tenents: (1) Christ is God Lord; (2) all must be immersed in water as an act of obedience to God; (3) “partyism” must be theoretically and practically abjured; (4) none must be guilty of “moral turpitude.” Yes, strange as it may seem, Keteberside demands absolute conformity relative to the person and nature of Jesus, the action of baptism, a permissive spirit of brotherhood, which he calls “fellowship,” and circumspect morality (I suppose according to his “interpretation” of the ethics of New Testament revelation). So often are these points emphasized in the speeches and articles of Ketcherside that documentation is unnecessary.
It appears, therefore, that the whole matter resolves itself into the old and often debated question: “What are the minimal, essential elements of Christian unity and fellowship?” Ketcherside admits that almost everyone believes unity to be desirable, God to be displeased with division, absolute conformity to be neither required nor feasible, and truth to be basic while recognizing not all elements of truth on every subject to be of equal weight in the matter of unity or fellowship (“Unity in Diversity, “Mission Messenger, January 1961). The truth is that all our crusading brother has done is to come forward with his list of essentials which are subjectively, arbitrarily, and inconsistently conceived and applied. A current, cynical observation of rebellious youth is in order at this point, “So, what’s new! ” As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing except the untimely birth of another unity cult now diffused in many denominational bodies and in many divisions among those who profess to be New Testament Christians, but inevitably destined to polarize, then solidify, and finally materialize as another sect or die. Ketcherside should be an expert at this because he has been through it all before.
What About “Unity in Diversity?”
Brother Carl all but suspends his whole contention on this concept. Is it or is it not a valid one? Like the former concept involving unity and conformity, it is not new. No representative teacher known to me would think of denying that Christian unity permits some degree of diversity. To go about parroting “unity in diversity” is not to announce a panacea for the ills of division. It resolves nothing. The question is not whether this is or is not true, for it can be either true or false depending upon the degree of diversity contemplated by him who declares it. Rather, the question is: How diverse can our beliefs and practices be without disrupting fellowship and making unity impossible? Ketcherside himself agrees that professed Christians cannot hold diverse views relative to the nature and the spirit of brotherhood and Lordship of Jesus, the action of baptism, the spirit of brotherhood (anti-” partyism “), and the standard of morals. He arrives at his conclusions through ingenious and devious routes with which we shall deal later, but it will suffice for present purposes to observe that he will not allow absolute diversity either in the realm of “opinion” (his term for interpretation) or practice. So, we are back again where we began, with the old question: What are the minimal essentials, or where does diversity begin and end’?
In the January 1961 issue of Mission Messenger, Ketcherside had an article, which he called, “Unity in Diversity,” to which attention has been called previously in this article. In the article under consideration, he used what he chose to call “common examples” which he believed to be analogous to his “unity in diversity” concept in religion of ten the case in reasoning. However, as is so by analogy, his examples did not exemplify and his analogies were not analogous. In reasoning, all logicians know that analogies yield only “probable conclusions” (An Introduction to Logic, Creighton, p. 275) and that the degree of probability ranges all of the way from zero to reasonable certainty depending upon the number and validity of the points of resemblance. Ketcherside’s examples of his “unity in diversity” concept do not contain vital points of resemblance essential to establishing the fact that they are indeed analogous. His examples prove nothing, therefore, with reference to the validity of his concept.
Ketcherside employed a group of singers and a symphony orchestra to illustrate the validity of his “unity in diversity” concept in religion. He correctly noted that singers sing different parts, even sounding different notes, in unison and that instrumentalists play different instruments sounding different notes in unison, yet there is “harmony” or “unity of effect.” What he does not emphasize is the fact that all singers or players sing or play the same piece of music, which has been written and arranged by an expert in the field so as to produce the “harmony” and “unity of effect.” Had he pursued his analogy, he would have been forced to concede that New Testament revelation constitutes the perfect standard for the faith and practice of Christians and is so written and arranged by the all-wise “captain of our salvation” (Heb. 2: 10) as to produce beautiful “harmony” and transcendent “unity of effect” in ” one body” of redeemed souls of “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
Ketcherside also fails to mention that choruses and orchestras have directors to keep all participants functioning accurately so as to maintain “harmony and unity of effect.” The different singers or players are not permitted to make up their own music as they proceed or to inject innovations of would be composers of questionable competency. To allow such would be destructive of “harmony” and make “unity of effect” impossible. The result would be chaos. One could hardly inject sections of “An Ole Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” into “I’ve Found a Friend, Oh such a Friend” without the loss of meaning and the destruction of harmony. By the same token, I find it impossible to perceive sweet harmony and loving unity of effect in two religious bodies teaching in unison in perfect fellowship “baptism for the remission of sins” and “salvation by faith alone without further acts of obedience to God.” Ketcherside does not.
The next example employed by Ketcherside is the “planetary system.” He blasts off into the ethereal regions with an eloquent dissertation on the galaxies and their millions of planets “majestically rotating through space.” He calls Aristotle to witness to their unity of movement though diverse in “size, shape, speed and power of attraction” in his classic phrase, “the music (symphonia) of the spheres.” He reaches a grand climax in the use of the Psalmist’s statement, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” as a premise from which to conclude “that a part of the glory of God is revealed in a demonstration of unity in diversity.”
All of this high-flown rhetoric is supposed to prove that the “unity in diversity” which Ketcherside promotes in religion is analogous to the God-ordered unity in diversity of the planetary system. Honestly, brethren, how ridiculous can a man be? The planets, each one in every solar system in the nearest to the most remote galaxy, seen or unseen by the eyes of man, catalogued or uncatalogued by the astronomer, function in strict conformity with Divine law, the law of the universe, hence their marvelous unity. They are diverse, true, but not in reference to Divine law or their amenability to it. This is the kind of unity for which Truth Magazine and her editors and contributors plead, but which Ketcherside and his colleagues and sympathizers contemptuously reject as legalism. Can this be said of Baptists, certain Holiness, members of Christian Churches, and the constituency of churches of Christ who, according to Ketcherside, are in fellowship with God, hence in fellowship with one another and constitute the “one body” of Christ? Every responsible reader should be able to see (whether Ketcherside does or not) that such a concept is absurdity gone to seed.
Next, our effervescent brother cites Paul’s use of the human body to illustrate how unity can exist with diversity (1 Cor. 12). He affects to find in this illustration support for his “unity in diversity” concept. In discussing the matter, he recognizes that Paul’s point lies in the fact that “all members have not the same function.” Function, Brother Ketcherside, function-not faith and religious practice. Paul teaches that Christians must be united in faith and practice, but that each child of God has his own peculiar function, determined by his abilities or gifts, and in implementing their collective practice based on their faith.
The same is true of the “spiritual gifts” which is Ketcherside’s next example. There were different gifts. They were distributed as the Spirit willed to different members of the body of Christ. Not all had the same gifts. However, the gifts were all directed toward the same goal and were exercised by persons worshipping in the same congregation for the edification of the body unto the belief and practice of the revealed will of the head of the body, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Will Ketcherside please advise us how (1) the doctrines of salvation by faith alone and the impossibility of apostasy, (2) the impostures connected with so-called “glossolalia and divine healing,” (3) the practice of monthly, quarterly, and yearly communion along with the use of mechanical instruments of music in Divine praise plus (4) the multitude of other divergent beliefs and practices among immersed persons who believe in the deity of Jesus can logically or scripturally be shown to be analogous to the diverse abilities or spiritual gifts to which Paul referred in his body illustration? Though lie implies such in his plea for “unity in diversity”, I cannot believe that a man of his obvious intelligence would expose himself to the idiocy of trying to prove it. Such affirmations no doubt lie at the root of Ketcherside’s proclamation that he is forever through with debating. If I had written as much foolishness as he has during the past fifteen years, I am sure I would do as he has done, solemnly disavow debating. True it is that “discretion is the better part of valor.”
Ketcberside’s final analogy had to do with the fact that the church is “the body of Christ.” In this analogy, be pulls a Joseph Fletcher on his readers. In his book, Situation Ethics, Fletcher takes borderline cases in the realm of morals where only a choice between two evils exists and makes sweeping generalizations on the basis of principles he imagines exist in them. and, “Presto!” situation ethics is proved.
Ketcberside employs cases involving differences over immaterial matters, matters of mere opinion such as “eating of meats and observing days” (Rom. 14:8), then makes sweeping generalizations regarding the toleration of aberrations in matters of faith, doctrine, worship, organization, and work. He takes principles that involve the private practice of individuals and applies them to the collective work and worship of the saints. Such misuse of Scripture is appalling in one professing to be submissive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. With no desire to be unkind nor to judge any man’s heart, I am forced by what I read from W. Carl Ketcherside to believe that he has no more respect for the word of the Lord than he does for the comic strips in Sunday’s newspaper.
The most fitting way I can think of to conclude this article is to utilize a small piece of doggerel from the pen of W. Carl Ketcherside used by him to introduce an article on “The Drift of Time” and appearing in Mission Messenger, September 1955. At that time, our brother was crusading against some awful brethren whom he called “hired pastors.” He was upbraiding them because they represented a change in attitude toward the so-called “pastor system.”
As time goes on, and churches fill with pride, they sanction that which once they did deride; and bend the Scripture, which so long they taught, to uphold systems which for years they fought.
Well said, Brother Carl, you evidently had a vision pure of what you, yourself, were destined to become, so we will let Ketcherside of yesterday rebuke Ketcherside of today.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 28, pp. 7-10
May 17, 1973