As a Johnny come lately, I have not had the pleasure of reading but few of the works of Carl Ketcherside (now deceased). He was a man of great faith and energy and like myself was blinded for some time by proud and partisan politics brought into the fellowship of believers who fell under the name of Christian. Finding myself free of legal constraints for some 15 years or so with regard to the failed interpretation of the letters we call the New Testament in our Bibles, I have discovered several well written men who had, long ago, removed themselves from the bitterness of dissension and the ignorance of improper hermeneutical interpretations of the meaning of the inspired words. The New Testament scriptures were penned by those early Saints and Apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Men like Carl Ketcherside who, at the ripe age of some 40 years discovered the Freedom we have in Christ… not to sin or err or to lead others astray but to fully embrace the joy and freedom that is ours in Christ as children of the Most High God. Freedom to live, to love and to work with any and all true disciples of Christ in works and in worship in ways that mean to elevate that holy name which is above all others and reach out to heal the suffering that is rampant in the world. With the one great goal of introducing the lost, the fallen, and the hurting to the King of kings who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; to give hope to the world that the spiritual kingdom of God is alive and waiting for all who do right. Like Carl I desire most to promote a faith that is not based on perfect knowledge but on perfect grace.
For so long I have been wanting to pen my thoughts on the failure and corruption of turning the apostolic letters into a legal treatise; but others have more eloquently beaten me to the punch and so with this said I take the liberty given the Ketcherside memorial efforts and reprint his words concerning the entanglements of false legalism that is so often used to coerce, condemn and crush God’s people by the very persons who claim him as Lord. His words are a breath of fresh air and speak boldly of the true joy that God had intended in the New Covenant with the man Jesus Christ. I have modified the work of Carl here only to eliminate his apologetic forward – he needs none and to erase the denomination from which he has drawn his fundamental beliefs and of which he corrects the error of their ways. It may save some embarrassment to those who are family in this particular sect.
I am dedicated to the task of pleading for oneness in Christ. I think it will be very difficult to express for the simple reason that most people want you to be one in something else. A lot of them want everyone to be institutionally one, and they want it to be in their institution. This is especially true of groups which exist on a legalistic basis. Before you go off half-cocked let me tell you that when I use the term “legalistic” I am not speaking derogatorily of adhering to the commands of our Lord. I intend to keep them as meticulously as I know how. That is the only way I can overtly demonstrate to others that I love Him.
A legalist is one who thinks that we are under a written code and relate to God because of our subservience to it. To such a one, a righteous person is one who lives up to the law, and who both attains and sustains righteousness on that condition. I do not believe that. We are not under law but under grace. No flesh can ever be justified by law-keeping and one might as well seek to reach heaven by a Hindu rope trick as to attempt it. Justification is by divine declaration. It is upon the basis of faith in the Son of God. You can no more earn it or work it out for yourself than you could dip the ocean dry with a stainless steel teaspoon.
For fifteen hundred years God sought to keep His people together by a written code. He put them under bondage to law and shut them up under it so He could deliver them to Christ. Then He made a new covenant. It was not like the former one which was made at Sinai, or Horeb. “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Many people would change this to read, “The law came by Moses, and another one came by Jesus Christ.” Unwilling, or unable to trust in grace, and anxious to prove their own righteousness, they think that Jesus nailed one written code to the cross and handed another one down. That is not true. God did not send another law.
He sent grace and truth.
Law is a principle of action. The principle which governs us is called “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” That is our law, our rule of existence. That is why we are not under condemnation. If we were still under a written code and seeking to be justified by it we would be under condemnation and our state would be hopeless. We would be of all men most miserable. But we are not under law, we are in Christ. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). We have not simply swapped legal masters. We have been set free!
A great many casual readers, frightened and insecure because we are no longer under a written code, attempt to forge the love letters constituting the so-called new covenant scriptures into such a code. They ask me, “What is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus?” Because the word law occurs here they think it consists of the compilation of the biographies of Jesus, the account written to a Greek city-state official by Luke, the twenty-one letters and the apocalyptic account by John. But these letters had not been written and even after they were it took more than a century before they were collected, collated and compiled. The primitive saints had no law-book. They had Jesus. Their law was what Paul said it was, “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” That’s my law, also!
The written code was weak through the flesh. Every written code, without exception, is weak for the same reason. God did not send another law. He sent His Son. “For what the law could not do, being weak in the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Under law man was condemned. In Christ sin is condemned. I do not avoid sin simply because it is forbidden by law. I hate it because Jesus condemned it, and he did so in the flesh. Sin killed the dearest friend I ever had. It was my sin that did it, not his. He died to redeem me and I am in Him. He bore my own sin in His body on the tree. You do not need to pass a law condemning sin. I deplore it, hate it, and detest it. I am not dead in sin, I am dead to it. There is no life in law. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (Galatians 3:21). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of
sin and death.” I am off the treadmill.
Anyone who seeks to convert the new covenant scriptures into a written code by which a man must be justified makes them simply another law of sin and death. Written Code Number Two can no more produce life or righteousness than Written Code Number One. In that beautiful treatise on the difference between the old and new covenant, contained in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul points out that we are the real letter from Christ. The apostles were the penmen and divine postmen. That letter is not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the loving God. It is not inscribed on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. He says, “Our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.” I believe that with all my heart. And it is in my heart the new covenant is written.
It shouldn’t take a lot of profound reading to determine that the apostolic letters were never intended to be an enactment of corpus juris. A little plain, old-fashioned, down-home common sense is all that is requisite. Take, for example, the letter to Philemon. Certainly it is not a compilation of statutes. It was written by an inmate of a Roman prison, and addressed to a brother in Christ, with his wife and son. Their slave, whose name was Onesimus, “went over the hill” and hitchhiked to Rome where he was picked up by the local police and clapped into jail.
Here he was led to Christ by the prisoner, whose name was Paul, and he was persuaded to return to his master. To make it easier for him, Paul sent along this letter in which he promised personally to pay off any debts which the slave owed. He also made a request. “Prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted unto you.” You might as well incorporate a personal promissory note or a request for a room reservation at the Ramada Inn in the State Constitution as to try and make this part of a written code of legality.
The letters to Timothy are no exception. They are personal and not statutory. They were written by an aged campaigner to a younger son in the faith. They mention the mother and grandmother of the younger man by name. They tell what happened to a group of associates who “flaked off” and went to different places. They request
Timothy to pick up a topcoat which was left hanging in the closet at the home of a man named Carpus, and bring along some books, but especially writing materials. What would you do if you were reading the Statutes of the State of California and you hit a spot which read, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”?
Of course, nothing I have said will make the slightest impression on a first-class Grade-A legalist! He is going to be under law if he has to make one up. Regardless of what God says about the new covenant being written on the heart, he must get it down on paper. Even though God declared the new covenant was not written with ink, he is going to get twenty-seven books into the new testament, and bind them in black leather stamped with gold. This must be the law-book, the book of statutes.
That way the preacher can lay down the law. This is much easier to do than to live up to love. He can memorize “the statutes and judgments” and reel them off, and give “book, chapter and verse,” and if he is a clever enough lawyer he can make them apply to things of which the original writers never even dreamed. He will become especially adept at creating precedents out of things not even in the same category as that which he is currently condemning. I know what I am talking about because I constantly hold forums which legalists sneak away and attend. Nothing upsets them more than someone who is really free to love all of his brethren in Christ Jesus. Any man in bondage has it in for one who is free. You can tell how freedom “bugs” them by the questions they ask. I’ll cite a few of them to show you what I mean.If the new testament scriptures are not the new covenant, why do you quote from them to validate your position and refer to them as authority for what you say?
The answer to that one is simple. These scriptures were written by people
who were in the covenant. They were in it long before a word of the new covenant scriptures was written with ink. Every apostolic letter was written to people already in the covenantal relationship. The covenant is actually Jesus. It is not a code, but the Christ. The covenant is a person, not a precept. God said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes of them that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6, 7).
The apostolic letters were written under the guidance of the Spirit. They reveal to us the nature of the covenant. I regard them as the sharing of the thoughts of God. The scriptures are for instruction, edification, correction and reproof. They reveal to us how Jesus would have reacted to certain situations which arose, and how He would have responded to circumstances. But they are no more the divine-human covenant than a marriage manual is the marriage covenant. People can be married who cannot read a word in a marriage manual, and they can be married to Christ and not be able to read a word in the new covenant scriptures. My paternal grandparents could not even read their own marriage license, and my grandfather had to make an “X” where his name was written in by another, but they had a wonderful life together. They knew what a covenant was even though they could not read the marriage license.
It is from the scriptures I have learned that the new covenant is written on the heart by the Spirit. It is from the scriptures I have learned that we are not under law but under grace. It is from the scriptures that I have learned that Christ is the end of the law for justification to everyone who believes. It is from the scriptures I have learned that the law was a custodian to bring us unto Christ, and once faith came we were no longer under a custodian. I happen to believe every one of these things. These statements are valid to me. I do not employ casuistry to turn them into a written code and thus seek to circumvent them. I must confess that I once thought the new covenant scriptures were given as God’s law. His written code, to our particular segment of the Church. As good lawyers, we warped them into a compilation of (the) Church …. exactly as the Jews created Judaism as an admixture of the Torah, their interpretations and traditions all whipped up together.
I do not derogate the scriptures now that I refuse to make them something God never intended for them to be. No one frustrates the grace of God by placing His revelation in its proper perspective. The problem is that we still have too many Pharisees who think they have eternal life in the scriptures and they can attain it by memorization of whole sections of it, or by making a passing grade in law-keeping. Jesus said, “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life in them, but they are given to testify of me, and you will not come unto me that you might have life.”
It was not wrong to search the scriptures. It is right to do that. The wrong lay in the false concept that you could find eternal life in them. The scriptures became a substitute for the Messiah, and the Jews were so involved in “Bible study” they did not come to Jesus. The faith is not Jesus pointing us to a book, but the Book pointing us to Jesus. We can end up worshiping the book instead of the Lord. That would be like a girl so entranced by the love letters of her sweetheart that she couldn’t stop reading them long enough to marry him. I respect the love letters of the apostles but I certainly do not regard them as conferring life through my reading and understanding. Life is in the Son!
If we are obligated to obey the commands of Christ what difference does it make whether we regard them as a written code of laws or not?
It makes a great deal of difference. I will mention some of the differences in four different areas. Every constitutional law requires an authoritative interpreter. When the interpretation is rendered by such a supreme judiciary it is that interpretation which becomes the law. The Roman Catholic Church is a legalistic institution and it eventually developed a papal system, investing a man with infallibility in order to have an enforceable code of laws to which all must be subservient. Regardless of what the Spirit meant by what was revealed the interpretation of the pope became the dogma.
The United States of America has a Supreme Court and the decision of this judicial body becomes the law of the land whether the citizenry likes it or not. The Churches … have developed into a legalistic organization postulating the hope of salvation upon law-keeping rather than upon relationship to God through Christ by simple trusting faith. Since these churches claim to be autonomous, each congregation makes its elders a board of official interpreters who determine what “the law” means. From this decision no appeal may be made. Generally, a dissident or dissenter has no opportunity to even present his case before his spiritual peers. The elders are the plaintiff, prosecutor, bailiff and judge rolled into one. The individual is charged and must either subscribe to the ruling of the elders or he is thrust out!
The same spirit manifested by the pope on a universal level is characteristic of such elderships on a local level. The difference is one of degree and not of nature. But the fact is that we are not under a legalistic system at all and such tyranny has been drummed up to perpetuate The System. The letters of love were addressed to all of the saints. Each one is free and even obligated to read them for himself. The only court of decision is the individual conscience. There is no authorized interpretation. God has arranged for no official interpreters since grace requires none. No man can bind his understanding upon another person in Christ Jesus. He can state his opinion and share his conviction but he cannot make a dogma out of it. What one man cannot do a body of men cannot do. Each man must stand or fall to his own master!
Let me be specific about this, so you will not misunderstand what I say! Elders cannot interpret the meaning of the Word of God for others and make the meaning they derive a creed by which to coerce others. The right of private judgment in reading the word of God must never be abridged by any man or set of men. No one can mediate between you and the Father except the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus. It was John Locke who wrote: “It becomes all men to maintain peace and the common offices of friendship in a diversity of opinions, since we cannot reasonably expect that anyone should readily and obsequiously quit his own opinion and embrace ours with a blind resignation to an authority which the understanding of man acknowledges not.”
(2) All laws must have an enforcement agency, and such agency must be empowered to command obedience to the law or assess a proper penalty for infraction or non-compliance. In order to force such obedience the Roman Catholic legalistic system invented purgatory and made the priests and hierarchy official enforcers with power to pardon and to punish.
The Churches ….., which also predicate life upon conformity to statutes, seek to impose enforcement by threat of excommunication on earth and torment after death. Fellowship is manipulative by men who can, through interpretation, decide upon the terms of its extension or withdrawal. As a legalistic institution the “Church …” currently resembles a police state more than the prophetic kingdom of heaven. It employs police state methods in some places, with informers, spies, tape-recordings, intelligence agencies, and any other means for securing information, against one whom it considers to be detrimental to the continuance of the organization. It uses “carnal weapons” and reacts as a “kingdom of this world.”
This should not be thought of as strange. It is an inborn characteristic of legalistic establishments. One should expect elders and preachers to react as a Federal Bureau of Investigation, gunning down those whom they regard as subversives and keeping a tight control on the thought-processes. That all of this is utterly foreign to God’s design can be ascertained by those who read the scriptures without partisan bias. Few will do this, however, because to think for oneself is regarded as traitorous in any organization built upon a closed-in view of scriptural interpretation.
I am thinking now of a former elder in a congregation in a northern state. As he began to read this paper a few years ago he became convinced that what was being said made sense. He started gradually making suggestions about fellowship based upon faith and not conformity of opinion. The other elders served notice upon him that this type of thing would not be tolerated. Although he was as much an elder as they were, it became apparent that he would have to knuckle under or stand up and fight. Against the pleas of his wife he decided to resist.
The other elders subjected him to the “third degree” and when he admitted that he thought there were Christians in other bodies, they publicly charged him with heresy and announced that unless he repented, on a certain day he would be excluded from the congregation. He respectfully asked for an opportunity to state his position before the brethren who had chosen him for elder but was denied the privilege. He was “railroaded” out. This kind of action disturbs many people, but it should not. It is the natural reaction of those who are caught up in a web of legalism and who regard themselves as the guardians of orthodoxy and keepers of the gate.
(3) If the new covenant scriptures are regarded as a written code, one who violates them, even unintentionally, is regarded as a lawbreaker, or criminal. The old aphorism “Ignorance of the law excuses no one” will be repeated and made applicable, regardless of circumstances. Since all legalistic institutions must, for their own preservation, resist and punish any criminal element, the concept of penal exaction automatically intrudes itself. The law must be vindicated. The criminal must be punished.
But if we are not under a written code, one who misunderstands, or steps aside is not a criminal. If we are a family consisting of sons and daughters of the Lord almighty, and maintained by the bond of love, one who falls short of the demand of love is not a criminal. He is a mistaken brother, one who has been overtaken in a fault. The remedy is not to “lower the boom on him.” It is not to “throw the Book at him.” If he makes an unspiritual judgment the requirement is clear. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, 2).
In our legalistic approach there are no honestly mistaken brethren. There are just two classes—ourselves and false teachers. A false teacher is one who does not agree with us on “the issues” which have been exalted and inflated into divisive standards or criteria for fellowship. The expression pseudo-didaskalos only occurs once in the apostolic letters. It appears many times that often in one paragraph of some modern religious journals edited by men “who trust in themselves that they are righteous and despise others” (Luke 18:9). Peter made use of the term when he wrote, “But false prophets also arose among the people just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” He goes on to speak of their licentiousness, greed, exploitation with false words, and certain condemnation and destruction.
Those who are branded “false teachers” by radio preachers and front men who constitute the “palace guard” of the Churches …. are not like that. If a man does not think that instrumental music is as important as a lot of people make it he is a false teacher. If one does not think that the congregation becomes digressive if it has Bible classes he is branded a false teacher. If he refuses to get all lathered up over the support of Herald of Truth radio and television propaganda, and will not denounce Highland congregation in Abilene, Texas, of which he is not even a member, he is a false teacher, a compromiser, a liberal. One wonders just how silly we will get if we keep on drumming up new laws and new creeds with each passing decade.
One may be mistaken about instrumental music, cups, classes, or the millennium without being a false teacher. Not one of us knows all there is to know. As Will Rogers, the Oklahoma humorist put it, “We are all ignorant, but just about different things.” If being mistaken about some scriptural meaning makes one a false teacher, we are all false teachers, and our vociferous brethren are but examples of a lot of pots calling a lot of kettles black.
In view of our own human failings and shortcomings we would probably be better off if we were a little more understanding and tolerant and made allowances for one another as the scriptures teach us to do. Since I have learned we are not under a written code of law but under the demands of grace, I can be a little more gracious and a little less legalistic. I am not disturbed when other saints do not see everything as I do.
I recognize and respect the freedom of others in Christ Jesus. One who is not free to be wrong about some things is really not free to be right in anything. One who is not free to make mistakes is just not free. I cannot take away the freedom of brethren to think for themselves without forfeiting my own right to do the same thing. My brethren are not lawbreakers or criminals just because they do not concur with my opinions about instrumental music or the support of Herald of Truth. I am not one of God’s motorcycle policemen whose duty it is to zoom around on a Harley-Davidson and “chew everyone out” and give a ticket to those who do not share my position. I am not a “divine clearinghouse for ideas” but a sinner saved by grace.
Sometimes I am asked, “But how do you regard one who worships where they have instrumental music?” I wish all questions I have to face were that simple and easy. I regard him as a brother in the Lord who worships where they have instrumental music. One does not become my brother because he is opposed to instrumental music, but because he is God’s child. He does not cease to be my brother because he endorses instrumental music. We are not born of a position about music but of the water and of the Spirit. Since we are not under law but under grace I shall allow the grace of God to take care of the situation. I am not God’s patrolman and I carry no heavenly “billy-club” to batter my brethren into submission to my thinking.
(4) If we are under a written legal code we are doomed to a life of fear, dread and insecurity. We can never be sure that we know all of the law we aught to know, nor that we are living up to what we do know to a saving degree. We can never have the assurance of salvation and hope will be more anxiety than anticipation. It seems incredible to me now, but when I was under a written code, I actually was afraid to say that I was saved. I thought that such conviction was arrogance. The only thing you could be certain about was your uncertainty. To be decisive was to be unfaithful to the Book!