The Appeal of Ketcherside's Teachings
We have been saddened lately by a few brethren, mostly among the young, abandoning strict adherence to a "thus saith the Lord" and casting their lot with liberal brethren, even to the extent of "open fellowship" with the denominations - as advocated by Carl Ketcherside. Several young preachers, who were brought up on "soundness," are numbered with these. The question naturally arises, how and why did this happen? What led to this radical change in their belief and actions?
Conditions a Contributing Factor
Most of these young people grew up in the "thick of the fight" against liberalism. Their parents (some of their fathers were preachers) stood firm for truth, demanding a "thus saith the Lord" for everything, and consequently were opposed, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, and sometimes made to suffer socially and economically by the liberal minded who pressed for unscriptural practices. These young people grew up with "trouble in the church," and were, themselves, made to suffer as their parents were among those hated "antis," in the minority, and in many cases put in economic straits. They were sick and tired of all the bickering, contending, debating, and disfellowshipping, going on. They wondered about the love and unity they had heard so much about. They knew true love demanded exposure and dethronement of soul destroying things, and that loyalty to Christ must be maintained, even to the alienation of father and son, mother and daughter, brother and brother, etc., but in the midst of such standing, love and unity seemed obscure. It was a confusing situation. These conditions made those who thus grew up ripe for a teaching (theory) that would allow fellowship in the midst of differences. This is exactly the teaching of Carl Ketcherside. He tells the confused young, there was, and is, no need for all this contending, charging (you are liberal - you anti), and disfellowshipping, and consequently, the suffering you have endured because of it, for the Lord's word provides for love and fellowship even though there are differences. But, just how does he argue this?
Gospel and Doctrine
It is argued that "the gospel" only involves the things about Christ, the scheme of redemption, and does not include the epistles or instruction given to saints. Such passages as Jude 3 ("Contend for the faith") and II John 9 ("Abide not in the doctrine of Christ") have only to do with things about Christ and His mission. Therefore the only differences that would break fellowship would be a failure to believe in Christ and obey the gospel. As long as one believes that Christ is the Son of God and obeys the commands of the gospel, he is contending for the faith and abiding in the doctrine. Questions about the worship of saints, organization and work of the church are no part of "the faith," but merely human opinions and should never divide those in Christ. Now, if these contentions be true, then indeed, what brethren have been contending about, and dividing over, for the past two decades are immaterial. But, are these contentions so?
The Scriptures do not bear out the claim of a difference between the gospel, doctrine of Christ, and teaching in the epistles. Some perverted the gospel Paul preached to the Galatians, not by denying that Jesus had come in the flesh, died, was buried, and resurrected, but by trying to bind practices of the Mosaic law on Christians (Galatians 1:6-7). The "gospel" Paul laid before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:2; Acts 15) involved Jewish practices not being bound on Christians. Paul's charge that, at a certain time, Peter and others "walked not according to the truth of the gospel" had to do with their refusing to fellowship Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). Truly, the gospel involves more than just things having to do with the divinity of Christ. "Observing all things whatsoever I have commanded you" is just as much "gospel obedience" as being baptized (Matthew 28:19-20). Paul addressed Christians, people who had obeyed the gospel, in Rome and said "I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (Romans 1:15). This gospel that Paul preached in Rome was God's power to save (Romans 1:16) and revealed the "righteousness of God from faith to faith." Are all that is needed to be saved and be the righteousness of God in Christ included in the acceptance of the fact that Christ came in the flesh and compliance with the commands to repent and be baptized? What about the matter of being "raised to walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4), and "henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6)? Paul says "the wrath of God is revealed . . . against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth [or gospel Paul preached] in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). Paul's gospel, therefore, embraced not continuing the practice of sin or uncleanness (Romans 1:24). The teaching that gospel or doctrine of Christ only involves things about the Christ and not the teaching in the epistles, which would allow fellowship among all obedient believers while differing on the name, worship, organization, and mission of the church, is simply false teaching, based on a perversion of the Scriptures.
Romans 14 Also Perverted
In this chapter, Paul teaches that brethren who differ about observing days and eating meats must not "set at naught thy brother." Likewise, it is claimed by "open fellowship minded brethren" that those who differ over the use of instrumental music in worship, the organization and mission of the church must not disfellowship one another. After all, they say, brethren differ over many other things (war question, the covering, posture in prayer, etc.) and continue fellowship, so why not with reference to matters over which we do disfellowship?
According to the teaching in this chapter, brethren may differ over things which are personal and individual in their nature, wherein "to his own master he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4), and continue fellowship. For one to press his feeling on others to the violation of their conscience in so acting would be wrong. To apply this passage to actions that do involve others, as worshiping with instruments of music, contributing funds to be used in unscriptural endeavors, or being a part of unscriptural body functioning, is to misapply it, or pervert it. The passage is properly applied, however, to such private, individual matters as the war question, posture in prayer, and the covering. This is why brethren may continue in fellowship with those who differ with them on individual matters, but not with those who would involve them in unscriptural actions.
Love, Peace, and Harmony
These desired virtues, we are told are found among the liberals but lacking among the conservatives (antis), and are impelling motives for identifying with the liberals. The majority having embraced unscriptural practices, and believing them to be matters of indifference, naturally feel no need to contend or furnish proof for their actions. All opposition is brushed aside with "just a bunch of antis" and their teaching involves platitudes on love and declarations of "the good we are doing." On the other hand, we are charged with spending our time discussing the issues, examining every thing in the light of Scripture, and seeking to "cast down every imagination" contrary to truth, which, we are told, creates confusion, animosity, and indicates a lack of love.
Love, peace, and harmony are indeed necessary virtues. But, love will not close it's eyes to destructive and damning forces, and there can be cries of "peace, peace, when there is no peace." And, there can be an ecumenical harmony that is a far cry from the "unity" taught in the Scriptures. Paul loved and desired peace and harmony as much as anyone could, but he "would give place by subjection, no, not for an hour," to some who would bind unscriptural practices on others, "that the truth of the gospel might continue" (Galatians 2:5).
True love, peace, and unity are exhibited more by those who are continually "proving all things," "contending for the faith," "convicting the gainsayer with sound words," "pulling down strong holds," "casting down imaginations," "speaking the truth in love," and "marking them that cause division contrary to the doctrine learned" than by those who wrap themselves in the contented blanket of deception or self-righteousness, beeping out ear-tinkling platitudes.
These perversions of Scripture and feigned virtues have, indeed, led some away from truth, and our hearts ache for them. Our efforts and prayers are aimed at opening their eyes with the eye-salve of God's word that they might see, and turn, before they die.