PREFATORY ESSAY *
One way to describe this set of books from Carl Ketcherside's pen is to say that it is the story of a man's passion and plea for unity and fellowship among all God's people. Or it might be seen as a long and painful adventure into brotherhood, and yet as a "pilgrimage of joy," as Carl himself put it. It is a love story, a profile of a "people-person" who learned to love unconditionally.
In these volumes that span upwards of a half-century we read the younger Ketcherside as well as the older one, the less mature as well as the more mature. His spiritual pilgrimage moves from a sectarian and parochial perspective to a catholic and ecumenical outlook, all within these volumes.
These volumes cover so many years and so much change that you will find Carl disagreeing with himself, which makes for good reading since we learn from those who live precipitously. They take us from his debating days to the time when he rejected that means of resolving differences among brethren.
The strength of these volumes is that they reveal the author’s transparency. He lays bare his soul, sharing his agonies and frustrations as well as his hopes and dreams. His strengths, weaknesses, failures, triumphs, heartaches, and joys all pervade these volumes, even his doubts and uncertainties. If he unveils himself as a man with feet of clay, it is also evident that he was a man of heart and valor. One thing is certain, he was never in limbo but always a man on his way.
Since I had a substantial role to play in this exciting drama through most of its years, it might prove helpful for me to give some account of Carl's and my relationship in all of this. It may serve to answer the question I am often asked; "Why is it when I hear one of your names, I hear the other also?" Often in derision, he might have added! Or as one editor put it who came by to visit me while on the program at the Annual Denton Lectures held in my hometown: "They use your names down there as if "Ketcherside-Garrett" was the name of one person!"
Carl and I began to work together in 1952. It was an unlikely pairing seeing that we not only lived far apart but grew up in different segments of the Churches of Christ. I was a graduate of two of our Christian colleges; he opposed such institutions, not as educational entities as such, but because, as he saw it, they preempted the work of the church. His hero was or had been Daniel Sommer; my hero was N. B. Hardeman. Hardly two sides of the same coin!
Having started preaching when but a boy and being eleven years older than I, Carl was when I met him far more advanced among his people than I was among mine. He was in fact at that time the most influential leader among the "Sommerite" persuasion, which then numbered about 300 churches, mostly through the Midwest. He was a gifted preacher, a widely-read editor, and a fearless (and feared!) debater. He had already taken on such stalwarts as Rue Porter and G. C. Brewer. He was in a debate with G. K. Wallace in Paragould, Arkansas in 1952 when we first met.
I was, on the other hand, virtually unknown among the mainstream churches. I was a schoolteacher, an occasional preacher, and still doing graduate work. But that was soon to change. Nothing will catapult one into fame (or infamy!) in the Restoration Movement as much as becoming an editor! I began Bible Talk the same year Carl and I met, in which I challenged the modern "pastor system" as he had long been doing in his Mission Messenger. I was almost overnight a controversial figure.
Carl lost no time in discovering that he had an ally in the new Texas editor. He used things I had to say against "the System" in his debate with G. K. Wallace, a testimony that had some weight since I was a product of the same college as Wallace. G. K.'s response was one that set the tone for decades to come, "Take him; we don't want him!"
In time Carl's and my name came to be conjoined in a manner unlike any other two men in our history. We were variously caricatured in such a manner as the "Ketcherside-Garrett Movement" and the "Ketcherside-Garrett Unity-in-Diversity Heresy." Any list of "liberals," "heretics," or "false teachers" began with our names. We were "the issue" in various journals and the whipping boys at various lectureships. Among the keepers of orthodoxy we came to personify apostasy.
It was assumed that Carl and I were a conspiracy of two editors, deviously plotting our strategy against "the faithful." The truth was that we didn't know what was in each other's journal until it arrived in the mail, and there was never any "strategy talk" on what we might do as a team. We reached our conclusions independently, and we by no means agreed on everything.
Even the unity meetings we held together were either arranged by others or by one or the other of us, each hoping the other would be free to help out, which was not always the case. For the most part each of us was busy doing his own thing, as the Spirit led. But we were wonderfully blessed in doing a lot of things together, which are now cherished memories. And we had a voluminous correspondence, hundreds of exchanges of letters through the years—sometimes disagreeing, but always loving and respecting each other.
We found harmony, not in being clones of each other (We were really quite different!), but in a common passion for the ongoing reformation of the church. What is most unusual is that we both, mostly independent of each other (though there may have been some mutual influence), gradually moved from an exclusive, sectarian posture to a more open, ecumenical one.
We changed in our views of unity and fellowship, and we began to reach out to those that we had earlier rejected, especially in unity meetings all over the country. We had difficulty in persuading leaders of the various factions to join us in these unity efforts. Ervin Waters, bless his soul, the "hatchet man," to use his term, of the one-cup/non-Sunday School Churches of Christ, was the first to heed our call, albeit with some trepidation. In time others joined us, not only from all factions among Churches of Christ but from Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ as well. In a few instances we had leaders of other churches, including Roman Catholic priests.
When this happened we were accused of swinging from one extreme to the other, from being very narrow to "fellowshipping anybody and everybody." We responded to this by noting that our change was more in terms of attitude toward sisters and brothers in the Lord and less in doctrine. We believed what we had always believed, but we were no longer going to be sectarian about it. We would no longer make our opinions a test of fellowship.
We made it clear that we were in fellowship only with those that were "in Christ" and not "anybody and everybody." But we insisted that we were in fellowship with all of God's family and not only those in the "Church of Christ." Fellowship is a sharing of a common life in Christ, a "ship" between "fellows," we explained, and it has nothing to do with whether one sings acappella or with an instrument or with whether or not he or she supports Herald of Truth or goes to Sunday School.
We can enjoy fellowship with people without approval of any error they may hold. Fellowship is not endorsement of one's position on "issues," but commonality in Christ. We can differ and still be united, and we can accept brethren we deem to be "in error" without compromising any truth we hold. All this we said repeatedly and in different ways all through the years.
Since this is not where the Churches of Christ were in either their theology or practice, this proved to be our undoing. We were summarily rejected as extremists, vacillating from far right to far left. As Reuel Lemmons put it in the Firm Foundation in reference to Carl: "He has swung from the extreme of the narrowest of sectarian spirits to the broadest cover-everything-stand-for-nothing-liberalism."
This was hardly the case, for we were both in fact always theologically conservative. When we were accused of "embracing the denominations," we explained that fellowship is between Christians, not denominations. When we were badgered for "fellowshipping people in error," we retorted that there was no one else to fellowship, for we are all in error in one way or another.
In the early years it got rather nasty. We were "written up" in the "loyal" papers, and we were called every conceivable name drawn from the glossary for heretics. We were pariahs at lectureships, some refusing to speak to us or eat with us, with some even asking "What are you two doing here?" And at one of the lectureships I was thrown in jail! When this happened Carl, who was not with me on that occasion, did one of his fun things by complaining, "You lucky dog! All these years I've been trying to get those fellows to throw me in jail!" It was a "blessing" that always eluded him, though I think he came close a few times! I recall that at one debate there was a near riot.
The most zealous would call our names in their pulpits, warning people not to read us, as they waved our papers before them. We were sometimes branded as heretics and consigned to hell even when we were in the audience. With this sort of free billing, our subscription lists grew!
By the time Carl died in 1989 the atmosphere had dramatically improved. For some years many of our former persecutors had been writing us or dropping by our homes with apologies, explaining that they now understood what we had been saying. But some now identified with us because they too had made similar changes and were being treated the way they had treated us! We learned along the way that our bitterest critics were those who seldom or never read us and had little grasp of what was going on.
One Church of Christ in Houston honored us jointly, bestowing upon us their annual "Marty Award" — in that we were "almost martyrs"! An increasing number of churches had become less apprehensive about using us. The journals, except for the most reactionary, no longer caricatured us. Even the Church of Christ colleges, always the slowest to yield to change, had become more conciliatory toward us.
For years Carl assured me that Abilene Christian would one day invite him to one of its preachers' workshops, which finally came to both of us in 1973. Carl and Harold Hazelip, now president of Harding University, exchanged views on fellowship, an unlikely development even then and a pleasant surprise to many. And Pepperdine risked awarding me their "Distinguished Christian Service Award," as well as a part on one of their annual lectureships.
I was pleased that Carl especially could enjoy some appreciation for his labor of love by the time he was "absent from planet earth," as Alexander Campbell liked to put it. History teaches us that reformers have to be "absent" a long time before their tombs are garnished.
The most interesting reaction through all the years was occasionally made by those in a position to know: "The powers that be know that you and Carl are right. They simply can't afford to say so. They are still rather slow to say so! Even when they now praise others for saying what we said, now that the time is more opportune, they don't want to recognize that we said it decades ago. But that is OK with me, and I am sure it was with Carl. I (we) rejoice that others are now saying it. That is what reformation is about. We pass the torch.
In recent histories of the Churches of Christ both Robert Hooper (David Lipscomb University) in 1993 and Richard Hughes (Pepperdine University) in 1996 treat the "Leroy Garrett-Carl Ketcherside Movement" with more fairness and objectivity than has been the case. Even though Hooper repeats the old bromide that we had moved "from extreme right to extreme left," he conceded that we were at last "ecumenical," and that our goal was "to unite all segments of the Restoration Movement."
Hughes more discerningly recognizes that we had not "ridden the swinging pendulum from one extreme to the other," as so often charged, but were always conservative. But we did change to "a more ecumenical, grace-oriented perspective," and we "called on Churches of Christ to abandon both legalism and exclusivism, to cultivate a greater appreciation for the grace of God, and to manifest a greater tolerance for Christians in other traditions."
Hughes names Carl and me, along with our pictures, as the founders of "the progressive movement" that was led by a growing network of biblical scholars who emerged among mainstream Churches of Christ during the 1960s. This was because we had attacked "the bedrock presuppositions of Churches of Christ" and "appealed to a more educated clientele."
It remains to be said that during all these years we did not suffer reprisals and rejection from other wings of the Reformation Movement as we did from Churches of Christ. In the course of the years one or both of us were on programs at most all the colleges of the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ, and several of them hosted our unity meetings. Their journals published our essays and College Press published our books. We spoke at hundreds of their churches, and Carl in particular was a frequent speaker at the North American Christian Convention.
We were also active in the World Convention of Churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, and the European Evangelistic Society. All three of these seek to be an "umbrella" ministry for all segments of the Movement, which was consistent with our own approach.
It should also be noted that some marginal groups among Churches of Christ were responsive to our call for change. The premillennial Churches of Christ, traditionally more open than the mainstream churches, not only welcomed our efforts but provided needed leadership for our unity meetings.
Most surprising of all were the non-Sunday School Churches of Christ, commonly viewed as far right wing, who were sympathetic almost from the beginning of our efforts and have provided dynamic and able leadership. Today they have a number of avant-garde congregations that are implementing changes that Carl and I could only have hoped for. Since this wing of the Movement, consisting of more than 500 churches, represents the best hope for the future of Churches of Christ, we can rejoice in any influence we have had. And from our right wing! It shows how the Lord surprises us when we leave it up to him.
I have frequently been asked as to what point in time Carl and I began to move together in a more ecumenical direction. Was there a single event that served as a turning point? Yes, Carl and I agreed that it was in a debate we had with Seth Wilson and Don DeWelt, both of Ozark Bible College, on instrumental music in Nowata, OK, in 1958, which proved to be a different kind of "debate."
This was because we approached the subject in a spirit of love and fellowship, and with the understanding that even though we differed on the subject to be discussed this would not affect our accepting each other as brothers. Sometime before the debate I wrote Carl that we should enter the debate with the attitude that Seth and Don were as much our brothers as we we're to each other, and that while we differed on instrumental music we should not make it a test of fellowship. We would love and accept Seth and Don, whom we had not yet met, just as we loved and accepted each other.
While Carl wrote back his approval of such an approach, he did something at the debate that I was not expecting. In his opening speech he read my letter to the audience, stating that he agreed, and in his inimitable way embraced our "opponents" in debate as equals in the fellowship of the Spirit. He made it clear that whatever disposition we might make of the "instrument question" it would have no bearing upon our love and acceptance of each other.
That profoundly affected the two sides that had gathered, who were doubtless expecting a typical debate in which the disputants went after each other with tooth and claw. It also set the tone for Carl's and my ministry together over the next 30 years. It both articulated and demonstrated the essence of our plea: Unity and fellowship are not contingent upon approval or endorsement; we do not have to agree on everything in order to accept each other as brothers and sisters.
The extent to which this plea consumed the ministry of Carl Ketcherside is evident in his consciousness of what happened to the heritage he loved back in 1889 at Sand Creek, Illinois. He often told the story of how Daniel Sommer, only 80 years after Thomas Campbell wrote his Declaration and Address, presented his "Address and Declaration" at Sand Creek. The first document was instrumental in launching the Movement to "unite the Christians in all the sects," while the second was a withdrawal document that contributed to the separation of Churches of Christ from the Christian Churches.
Carl saw Sommer's reversal of the title as intentional: Campbell's Declaration and Address had united the Movement; his "Address and Declaration" would divide it. Campbell's was a mandate for acceptance and unity; Sommer's was a call for rejection and division. Campbell insisted that we can be one in spite of certain differences; Sommer demanded that because of certain differences "We shall no longer consider them brethren."
The dispute at Sand Creek between the "progressives" and the "nonprogressives" was taken all the way to the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois. It impressed Carl that a decision was finally handed down in 1906, the same year that the U.S. Census Bureau recognized that the Disciples of Christ were now two churches. It was reflected at Sand Creek with a "Christian Church" and a "Church of Christ" meeting in close proximity to each other, no longer in fellowship, the latter holding the original property since the court's decision was not to intervene.
Carl referred to it all as "the fateful occasion that started us down the long road of fighting and division." He noted that he was born only two years after the court decision, that he grew up in the "Sommerite" tradition, and that he knew about the "Address and Declaration" long before he heard of the Declaration and Address.
He was in fact a protege of Daniel Sommer. Carl told me that when he was yet a young man the aged Sommer told him that as the mantle of Benjamin Franklin had fallen upon him (So as to defend the issues!), his mantle should fall upon Carl. It was a charge that Carl did not take lightly. While yet young he was "a wing commander" of that particular faction, and he became its champion debater.
Back in those days Carl could hardly imagine that he would one day praise the Declaration and Address as our magna charter of Christian liberty while scoring the "Address and Declaration" as "The spirit entombed within it will force every generation to declare non-fellowship with every preceding one."
It must have been a drama-packed moment when Carl in 1975 returned to Sand Creek, only a few months before he closed down his journal, Mission Messenger, after 37 years of publishing. As a boy preacher and on into manhood he had often preached in the area, baptizing hundreds, many of whom he buried in nearby cemeteries. The old "Sand Creek Church of Christ" building still stands though no longer used.
In recalling what had happened there, he saw himself as part of the picture: "I was not only a victim, but an actual practitioner of the sectarian spirit." Then he added with his characteristic gratitude and optimism: "Now I rejoiced to see the descendents of those who had sued each other in the courts sitting together in heavenly places."
That is vintage Carl Ketcherside. Until his dying day he could not forget what he called "the lethal dose" of Sand Creekism, lamenting that only eternity can reveal the strife it cost its victims. To be victimized by sectarianism is tragic, to be its practitioner is worse. He saw himself as both. But once he accepted the principles of the Declaration and Address he freed himself of the shackles of the "Address and Declaration."
Daniel Sommer lived to regret and to some degree make amends for Sand Creek — even to taking part in unity meetings with the Christian Church when he was old and blind! But it was Carl Ketcherside, while still comparatively young, that turned Sand Creekism on its head, becoming the Movement's most effective envoy of peace and unity of the 20th century.
He was 67 when he unwittingly wrote his own epitaph, inspired by a return to Sand Creek: He rejoiced to see the descendents of those who sued each other in a court of law sitting together in heavenly places. What is more is that he helped to make it so. The victimized became the victor, the practitioner of division became the practioner of peace.
It was memories of Sand Creek that led Carl to pen these moving words:
"I shall make nothing a test of fellowship which God has not made a condition of salvation. I shall not seek to establish fellowship by definition of a human document, nor by conformity to opinion. I shall be a brother to all who have been begotten of my Father. Brotherhood based upon fatherhood, fraternity based upon paternity; this shall be my standard because it is scriptural. I will free myself from all partisan traditions, schemes, and ideas men have adopted to offset unity of the Spirit. I intend to be a free man in Christ, bound only by His word. 'You are bought with a price, do not become slaves of men' (1 Cor. 7:23)."
These words not only renounce the factional spirit of the "Address and Declaration" but capture the essence of the Declaration and Address. And they summarize the unity plea of Carl Ketcherside. Moreover, they tell us who we are as a Restoration/Reformation movement. Carl's call for unity, brotherhood, fellowship, and freedom takes us from Sand Creek back to Cane Ridge and Bethany, and on back to Pentecost. "Wherever God has a child, we have a sister or a brother," as Carl often put it, says who we are or who we are supposed to be.
The torch is passed. The more it is shaken the brighter it will burn.
(See my INTRODUCTION to Volume 1 for a further introduction to Carl Ketcherside)