By James W Adams
“That which is hath been long ago; and that which is to be hath long ago been: and God seeketh again that which is passed away” (Eccl. 3:15). This verse of Scripture impresses upon us the fact that there is nothing absolutely new; nothing that exists in isolation. Human events constitute a chain; the present is linked to the past and the future is linked to the present. The Preacher (Solomon) particularly wishes for men to recognize this as being inseparably connected with God’s providential rulership of men and events. My use of this fact which he calls to our attention will be to demonstrate that present error in religion is rarely, if ever, new. It finds its roots in the past and its harvest of chaos in the future. Particularly is this true of the errors of Brother W. Carl Ketcherside relative to “fellowship and unity” among Christians.
In an article in Truth Magazine some months past, I stated that I could see little, if any, difference between Ketcherside’s theory concerning “fellowship and unity” and the old time-honored and time-worn denominational concept of “the invisible church.” In this article, I shall explore this fact in greater depth.
“The Invisible Church!’
Just what is “the invisible church” theory? Simply stated, it is this: (1) There are saved and unsaved people in all formally constituted religious bodies called, “Churches;” (2) the body of Christ-the universal (catholic) church of Christ-is essentially one and is made up of all truly redeemed persons (sincere, pious believers) in all Churches regardless of creed, organization, or practice; (3) these people, being in fellowship with Christ and quickened by the indwelling Spirit, are in fellowship with one another, hence they are united in the one body of Christ (Eph. 4:4) and, in such union, are an acceptable answer to the prayer of Jesus for the unity of His disciples (John 17:20, 21); (4) the membership of this body, being known only to God (2 Tim. 2:19), constitutes it an “invisible” body; (5) the unity and fellowship thus enjoyed is tangibly expressed in the recognition of the fact that there are saved persons in all Churches, in the manifestation of a spirit of love and concern for such persons, and in cooperation with them in all areas of mutual agreement and interest. The above are not direct quotations, but rather, are a summary of the theory in my own words. To corroborate my summary, attention is called to some direct quotations from scholars, past and present.
Let us note first a lengthy quotation from Marcus Dods, an eminently pious and scholarly theologian of the Scotch Presbyterian denomination (1834-1909):
“The world looks on and laughs while it sees the church divided against itself and wrangling over petty differences while it ought to be assailing vice, ungodliness, and ignorance. And yet schism is thought no sin; and that which the Reformers shuddered at and shrank from, that secession which they feared to make even from a Church so corrupt as that of Rome then was, every petty ecclesiastic now presumes to initiate.
Now that the Church is broken into pieces, perhaps the first step towards a restoration of true unity is to recognise that there may be real union without unity of external organization. In other words, it is quite possible that Churches which have individually a separate corporate existence-say the Presbyterian, Independent, and Episcopalian Churches–may be one in the New Testament sense. The human race is one; but this unity admits of numberless varieties and diversities in appearance, in colour, in language, and of endless subordinate divisions into races, tribes, and nations. So the Church may be truly one, one in the sense intended by our Lord, one in the unity of the Spirit and the bond ofpeace, though there continue to be various divisions and sects … so far as man can forsee, there is no possibility, not to say prospect, of the. Church of Christ becoming one vast visible organization. Oneness in that sense is prevented by the very same obstacles that hinder States and governments on earthfirom being merged into one great kingdom. But as amidst all diversities of government and customs it is the duty of States to remember and maintain their common brother*ood and abstain from tyranny, oppression, and war, so it is the duty of Churches, however separate in creed or form of government, to maintain and exhibit their unity. If the sects of the Church willfrankly and cordially recognise one another as parts of the same whole, if they will exhibit their relationship by combining in good works, by an interchange of ecclesiastical civilities, by aiding one another when aid is needed, this is, I conceive, real union. Certainly Churches which see it to be their duty to maintain a separate existence ought to be equally car~bful to maintain real unity with all other Churches.
AAgain, it is to be borne in mind that there may be real union without unity in creed. As Churches may be truly one though, for the sake of convenience or of some conscientious scruple, they maintain a separate existence, so the unity required in the New Testament is not uniformity of belief in respect to all articles offaith.
“But the question remains, What truths are to be made terms of communion? Is schism or secession ever justifiable on the ground that error is taught in the Church?
“This is a question most difficult to answer. The Church of Christ is formed of those who are trusting to Him as the power of God unto salvation. He is in communion with all who trust in Him, whether their knowledge be great or small; and we cannot refuse to communicate with those with whom He is in communion. And it may very reasonably be questioned whether any part of the Church has a right to identify herself with a creed which past experience proves that the whole Church will never adopt, and which therefore necessarily makes her schismatic and sectarian. As manifestoes or didactic summaries of truth, confessions of faith may be very useful. Systematic knowledge is at all times desirable; ‘and as a backbone to which all the knowledge we acquire may be attached a catechism! or confession of faith is part of the necessary equipment of a Church. But no doctrinal error which does not subvert personal faith in Christ should be allowed to separate Churches. Theology must not be made more than Christianity. We cannot pay too much attention to doctrine or too earnestly contend for the faith; we cannot too anxiously seek to have and to disseminate clear views of truth: but if we make our clear views a reason for quarreling with other Christians and a bar to our fellowship with them, we forget that Christ is more than doctrine and charity better than knowledge.
A . . .It is monstrous that those who are vitally united to bound up with Methodism or Lutheranism or the Nor-one Person and quickened by one Spirit should in no way recognize their unity. ” (EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE; COMMENTARY ON FIRST CORINTHIANS; pp. 37-42.)
No one who has read after Brother Ketcherside with an unbiased mind and honest heart can fail to recognize the striking parallel between the concepts of Dods and the concepts of Ketcherside relative to unity and fellowship. The only significant difference I see is that Dods is more logical and consistent. Dods makes consistent application of the logical consequences of his point of view whereas Ketcherside makes application of his theory only to a certain point. He will not commit himself unequivocally beyond the point of an immersed believer in recognizing a state of fellowship and the practice of unity. He will recognize only such persons (i.e. immersed believers) as being Christians–in communion with Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Dods uniformly recognizes as Christians all who believe in and trust Christ for salvation, whether immersed or not.
However, fairness demands that I note the fact of a troubled spirit on Ketcherside’s part with reference to the “pious unimmersed.” He constantly refers to such persons as his “brethren in prospect” and avers that “he loves them”as though this were the issue. It is my candid judgement, based on what I conceive to be adequate evidence, that, in his heart, Ketcherside has already accepted the pious unimmersed but hesitates openly to avow it. Why he hesitates, I cannot know certainly. It is a reasonable assumption that he may realize that those he seeks to influence are not yet ready to go this far, although some under his influence have done so, hence for him so to avow would prejudice the success of his efforts. His “five rules of subversion” treated by me in a previous article would suggest that he is capable of such. Our revolutionary age has bred a strange species of ethics (much of it borrowed from Communism) even in religion. However, I do not charge Ketcherside in this regard; I only ask, Why?
That Ketcherside is not alone in advocating revolutionary ethics to achieve unity, is well known to all who have kept abreast of the ecumenical movement. A striking example of this are suggestions made by Dr. Martin E. Marty, at that time associate editor of the Christian Century and associate professor of history at the University.of Chicago. In his book, Church Unity and Church Mission (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), he says:
“At present there is little prospect that a large number Of seminarians, young ministers, collegians, and youthful members of congregations will become directly involved in ecumenical organizations. Their role will be less in the formation of such organizations at their centers than in the reformation of such by the way people act and think where they themselves live and work. Many of these, if they daily and in every way choose to ‘break the rules and violate the disciplines and disdain the orthodoxies of their own families, will find themselves ‘between communities,’ not at home in any embodiment of the Church.
“Such persons will find that their histories will be largely bound up with Methodism or Lutheranism or the Northeastern District or with First Baptist Church. We have been suggesting consistently that none of these institutions in isolation has a sufficiently deserving history to summon the best energies of Christians. What can be done? Negatively, to borrow Peter Berger’s phrase, they can engage in ‘sociological Machiavellianism’ -which, I am afraid, is the counsel of this chapter.
“Berger facetiously describes the tactic as one in which a person ‘acquires scruples and keeps on cheating.’ ‘Only he who understands the rules is in a position to cheat.’ . . .
“In a series of magazine articles written in 1960 I advocated something like Berger’s vision. Deliberately choosing dramatic terms to emphasize a point that could be lost in subtlety otherwise, I spoke of living in denominations and being faithful to their disciplines. But meanwhile, there must be ‘subversion,’ ‘infiltration,’ ‘encirclement= and other tactics which work toward the ultimate death and transfiguration of these forms. These tactics were subjected to some criticism: is there not in them a denial of Christian truth and discipline and a betrayal of ethics in an open-faced advocacy of this sort? This question is legitimate among those who equate the accidents of their denominational history with the whole of the Christian tradition. To those who make a distinction, the tactic appears in a different light entirely. ” (CHURCH UNITY AND CHURCH MISSION, pp. 124-1261.)
One would suppose, having read Ketcherside and reading the above, that Ketcherside has so steeped himself in the propoganda of sectarian ecumenists, as it were by a process of osmosis, to have been infused both with their theology and their ethics. Such is simply the old doctrine of “the end justifying the means” in a new theological dress.
Fundamental to all of this reasoning is the concept of the “true church of Christ” consisting of the truly pious in all existing forms of so-called Christendom. Animated by such a concept, I any corporate body or form (now or ever existing) with its particular creed, organization, and practice must be conceived of as less than the church of God, hence is expendable in the search for fellowship and unity regardless of the ethics involved in the accomplishment of its demise.
This is why Brother Ketcherside suggests that young men imbued with his (Ketchersides’s) concepts not change religious parties but work subversively within those parties.
Further to establish our contention concerning Ketchersideism and “the invisible church theory,” let us note another quotation from a modern theological scholarone very popular both with Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett; namely, John R. W Stott. Mr. Stott is the Rector of All Souls Church, London, and serves as Chaplain to Her Majesty, the Queen of England. He is the author of numerous books and articles and is generally accepted as a representative scholar of our time. Mr. Stott says:
“At last the Christ came. Jesus of Nazareth announced the arrival,of the long-awaited kingdom. . . God’s people would no longer be a race apart, but a society whose members were drawn from every nation, kindred, and tongue. Go … the risen Lord commanded His followers, ‘and make disciples of all nations . . . ‘(Mt. 28:19). The sum total of these disciples He called ‘my church’ (Mt. 16.-18).
“So God’s pledge to Abraham, repeated several times to him and renewed to his sons, is being fulfilled in the growth of the world-wide Church today. ‘If you are Christ’s,’ wrote St. Paul, ‘then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3.-29).
“One of the most striking pictures which the apostle uses to, convey the unity of believers in Christ is that of the human body. The Church, he says, is the body, of Christ. Every Christian is a member or organ of the body, while, Christ Himself is the Head, controlling the body’s activities. Not every organ has the same function, but each is necessary for the maximum health and usefulness of the body. Moreover, the whole body is animated by a common life. This is the Holy Spirit. It is His presence which makes the. body one. The Church owes its coherent unity to Him. ‘There is one body and one Spirit, emphasizes St. Paul (Eph. 4:4). Even the outward, organizational divisions of the Church do not destroy its inward and spiritual unity which, is indissoluble. This is ‘the unity of the Spirit’or ‘the fellowship of the Spirit’ (Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:1 and 2 Cor. 13.14). It is our common share in Him which makes us deeply and permanently one. (For a striking parallel to this reasoning, see the unpublished manuscript of Edward Fudge’s thesis for his Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian College, Abilene Christian College Library, Abilene, Texas. I have read it! JWA)
“This spiritual unity, created by the One Spirit, has sometimes been termed ‘the invisible Church’. Its membership is unseen. It is the community of all true believers, or, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, ‘the blessed company of all faithful people’ Every real Christian belongs to it, whatever his racial, social or ecclesiastical background. If he belongs to Christ, then he belongs to this church.” BASIC CHRISTIANITY, pp. 106, 107)
Much of What Mr. Stott says is true and not at all objectionable if by “Church” were meant only the saved relationship and by “organizational divisions of the Church” were meant simply congregations of like faith and order. Unfortunately, as the reader can see, Mr. Stott meant more than this. His view and that of Brother Ketcherside are almost identical except for the fact that Mr. Stott would not, as does Ketcherside, limit Christians to the category of baptized believers, or to put it more accurately in nontransliterated. terminology, immersed believers. Mr. Stott, like Dr. Dods, is more logical and consistent than Ketcherside in accepting the total consequences of his concepts in practical application.
Dr. Martin E. Marty’s thesis in his book, Church Unity and Church Mission, is that there is sufficient unity for “Church Mission.” It is his contention that the unity which exists in Christ among the truly pious in all existing forms of the so-called “Church” is sufficient for tangible, concrete, unified action in areas of common interest and agreement among the divided sects of Christendom. This unified action, he calls, “Mission.” He suggests that “Mission” can be a reality without a corporate organization if all competition is decried and desisted from and if all will “support and accept each other in carrying on together their mission of serving and saving through word and work in the world” (Op. Cit. p. 27).
Brother Ketcherside believes immersed believers are in fellowship with Christ, hence in fellowship with one another.
He insists that despite membership in different corporate institutions, such believers should recognize one another as brethren, And despite differences in matters relating to work, worship, and belief should work together in all matters of mutual interest and agreement. I repeat, the only difference between Brother Ketcherside and “the invisible church@ theorists is that of degree and not of kind.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:33, p. 6-8
June 20, 1974