Unity in Diversity

KetchersideThanks to Edward Fudge, I’ve discovered Unity in Diversity, a web site that includes most of the writings of Carl Ketcherside. Ketcherside is routinely vilified by many among the conservative Churches of Christ because he helped initiate the progressive movement. We progressives owe a lot to Br. Ketcherside.

I am persuaded that Ketcherside remains among the best — if not the best — writer the Churches have ever produced. I read a lot of material written by a lot of people, and Ketcherside remains my favorite.

After I taught a class at the ACU lectureships a while back, the son-in-law of Br. Ketcherside thanked me for the class and gave me a couple of his books, saying that I taught in Ketcherside’s spirit. It was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. One of those books included this article from 40 years ago —

At the risk of becoming offensive when my only aim is to be objective, let me be as specific as possible. One of the mainline journals published in Texas in defence of Church of Christism has a very personable and well-informed editor. He is, of course, as all such editors are, caught in a partisan trap which makes it essential for him to trim his sails according to the factional winds, and this means that he cannot keep a straight course but must steer by tacking from one week to another. Thus his editorials must veer from left to right and back again, as the passenger load shifts from one side to another.

This method may eventually land him, or a succeeding pilot, close to the goal, but it is a costly way to travel and makes for a lot of seasick voyagers who are going along for the ride. Recently our fellow-editor has had to take note of other godly, sincere and consecrated brethren in the Lord who are heading for the same goal but who see no harm in using instrumental music in conjunction with their expression of praise unto the Father. How does he justify our fragmentation of God’s wonderful family over such an issue?

The answer is made over and over. “It is a question of the authority of God’s word.” It is just that simple. Our Texas editorial brother respects the authority of the Bible. Those who have instrumental music reject and despise that authority. They do not recognize the Lordship of Jesus over their lives. If they say that they do they are dishonest. If they did they would throw the instrument out, confess their sin for ever having thought it was justified, and then the loyal brethren who have always respected the authority of the word would forgive and receive them, and we would all be one. Unity is that simple! It is just that easy!

Is it really? In order to keep you from becoming more confused I will designate the editor of whom I have here been speaking as Editor Number One, for there is another paper published in Texas, and its editor also opposes instrumental music. But he is equally opposed to the support of Herald of Truth and orphan homes which Editor Number One endorses and defends. Editor Number Two says it is simply a matter of respect for the authority of God’s Word, and that division between them is wholly unnecessary and caused by Number One.

All that Number One needs to do is to repent and renounce Herald of Truth and the institutions, and acknowledge his sin in once defending them, and the loyal brethren who have stood for the truth will forgive him and receive him, and unity will follow as day follows night, or better, as night follows day!

In the meantime. Number One calls those who use instrumental music “liberals”, and those who oppose Herald of Truth “antis.” He brands the first as sectarian and the others as extremists. He calls them hobbyists. Number Two brands those who use instrumental music as “liberals” but he also labels the supporters of Number One as “liberals.” He tries to put them in the same boat, but Number One refuses to allow this. He thinks that his is the only boat that has a ghost of a chance of making the crossing. Number Two laughs at this. He thinks that Number One is already on the rocks and doesn’t know it!

However, this is just the beginning of sorrows. There is another paper published in Texas by a genial and perceptive editor. He is opposed to instrumental music and Herald of Truth, but he is also opposed to Sunday Schools, of which Number Two is an ardent defender, even to the point of pushing and promoting the sale of literature to perpetuate the classes. Number Three says that it is simply a matter of respect for the authority of the word of God. He concludes that he reveres the Lordship of Jesus whereas Number Two rejects and denies it.

This crazy-quilt pattern results in absurd simplistic propositions for eliminating division. Editor Number One suggests that if those who use instrumental music love their brethren more than they do the instrument they should give it up and thus restore peace by removing the cause of offense. Since he has adopted the policy of peace by surrender of offending items, Editor Number Four now has a tool for effectively removing individual cups from every congregation in the land. Instead of debating the issue, which always intensifies the sectarian spirit, all he needs to do is to plant a brother in every “cups church,” as he comically and quaintly refers to them, and let these infiltrators demand that what the brethren preach on the instrument they practice on the cups. “What is sauce for the goose is applesauce for the gander.”

Seriously though, what is our difficulty? It is not a question of attitude toward authority at all. Our brethren who keep parroting this moss-covered cliche should realize they are divisive. I know brethren who love Jesus as much as anyone on earth and they feel justified in using instrumental music, not because they do not study the Bible but because they do. The point is that they highly regard the authority of God but they just do not acknowledge the authority of Texas editors. And they can tell the difference! They insist on reading the scriptures for themselves. They acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus but not that of men.

… How shall we extricate ourselves from our predicament? We can do it by refusing to play God with the consciences of other men. Not one of our petty divisive issues has one thing to do with fellowship in Christ. We are in that fellowship because we are called into it by God. We are children of God by the Spirit, and not citizens of a pro or con party on any of these matters.

… But I am asked, “Shall we accept brethren in error?” Certainly so. There are no other kinds of brethren. No one knows it all. No one is infallible. If brethren accept you they will have to do it in spite of your error. You do not accept the error because you accept the brother, any more than you have to become cross-eyed because a brother in your physical family has such a defect.

And all of this talk about “full fellowship” is sheer poppycock. It is wholly without scriptural warrant and has been conjured up by little minds and dwarfed hearts. God has no stepchildren so we can have no half-brothers. If we are in his family we are in it wholly or not at all. The idea that you can be in partial fellowship is like loving the right side of your wife and hating the left side. You cannot parcel God out and you cannot carve up his spiritual offspring either.

…  I have a deep sense of compassion for those who are trapped in ridiculous factional positions. I know exactly how they feel. I know their inconsistencies, their vain professions and their empty protestations. And I pray for all of them to be delivered from the dead albatross draped about their partisan necks.We can never offer anything tangible to a world hungry for peace and serenity so long as we think that because men differ with us over music or the millennium, cups or classes, that they are disowned by the Father. Our fathers were wrong when they made the deductions of men on music a test of fellowship. I do not care how honest and earnest they were–they were wrong!

And I was wrong when I followed their factional spirit and made tests of union and communion out of opinions about music, homes, colleges, and all of the rest of that motley horde of things which we turned into devil’s wedges to splinter and divide the royal family into which we were adopted through grace. No man is wrong when he speaks out against that which he cannot condone in the family, but that man sins who destroys the family ties over matters of difference.

I refuse to continue in the wrongs of yesteryear and perpetuate the consummate folly of factionalism. I refuse to project the arrogant and silly position that we have a corner on “respect for the authority of the scriptures.” I regard all of “our” editors in California and Florida as my brothers. I love all those who squat on our totem pole, even those who detest one another as brothers in error. But I go farther than that– much farther. I receive and accept as my brothers and sisters all those upon this whole wide earth whom God regards as his children. It is not their attitude toward a restoration totem pole that makes the difference, but their attitude toward the blessed cross of Calvary. We carved out the totem pole but God drove the cross into the earth. I have brethren on earth who never heard of Alexander Campbell or Barton Warren Stone. So long as they come to Christ they need not come by any group of men. We are saved by the grace of God and not by the favor of the “Church of Christ.”

Let us have done with the silly bickering which has negated our influence and made us the laughingstock of serious people in our generation. Let’s remove the stigma of schism which manifests itself in six or seven divisions in some cities, with brethren hurling thunderbolts of wrath and indignation at one another over the air waves. Shall we perpetuate our shame and glory in it? I thank God that our younger men and women are seeing a vision that their fathers have not caught. It is with these that the hope of our future lies. They are sick of the rehashing of the outworn arguments and the dishing out of slanted interpretations which are dishonest and irrelevant.

I pray that our brethren will sing out for freedom and speak up for liberty in Christ Jesus. We can no longer be held down and held back by skeletal hands reaching out of partisan sepulchers. Do we esteem the praise of men in our own little segments as of more value than the praise of God? The fact is that the kingdom of heaven is greater than any of our factions or all of them put together. Let us find the way to unity of the Spirit by rising above the smoking ashes of our hopes, slain and burned by our unwritten creeds.

Good stuff — for which he was persecuted ruthlessly. May God send us many more just like him.


6 Responses

  1. It would appear that the positions, divisions, rationales and tactics of that day have not changed at all.

  2. Excellent! The so called “brotherhood” gave him hell for telling the truth but he did tell it as long as he was able. Thank God for such men of courage.

    Today, I think there are many men who think just as Ketcherside did but don’t have the guts to voice it for fear of being “disfellowshiped” or making an elder, or some indluencial member angry.

    I think when we just go along to get along we are akin to someone who helps to enable the bad habit of a family member. All of us should tell the truth by speaking the truth in love.


  3. Amen and Amen. Praise God for men like brother Ketcherside. If only we who have come to the same conclusion could make our voices known without retribution from the masses. I am heartened that our number is growing. Grace, peace and freedom in Christ to you all.

  4. Maybe in bare bones honesty you will point people to Ketcherside’s repudiation of instrumental music AND hired preachers.

    Probably not so I will.

  5. The real Carl:

    # A genuine restoration, complete in details, of the primitive pattern of public worship will find the instrument excluded from use. It is our conviction that no one can show that it was employed in the congregations planted by the apostles, and this conviction has been reached after careful examination of all available material on the subject.
    # The employment of instrumental music in the public worship of God introduces an element unauthorized by our King, and therefore, constitutes will worship, which is condemned by the Holy Spirit.

  6. I’ve actually read several years worth of Carl’s Mission Messenger, and I’m well aware of his views. He was also opposed to Christian colleges and very much a non-institutionalist. Ironic that it took an “anti” to teach us grace.

    Over time Carl came to reject the legalism of his younger years. He had been Daniel Sommer’s (yes, the Sand Creek Address and Declaration Daniel Sommer) protege. But he outgrew it, and he very publicly confessed having been factious and a sectarian, making him all the more admirable. Thus, he was persecuted by both the “antis” and “liberals” for having the audacity to refuse to damn over such issues.

    You see, the key to it all is to accept as brothers those who disagree over such things.

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