The Rebirth of a Dream

January 4, 2007

Thanks to an alert reader named “hawk” for pointing me to an excellent article in the restoration archives by W Carl Ketcherside. The title of the article is The Death of a Dream. It comes from the 1972 edition of Ketcherside’s journal, The Mission Messenger. (I’ve posted about Ketcherside previously.) In The Death of a Dream, Ketcherside compares Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address to a masterpiece painting by Raphael, which was hidden from Napoleon’s armies by painting an unremarkable picture over the original. Subsequently the masterpiece was forgotten, until the inferior painting started to peel away with age.

Like Raphael’s painting, the original aim of the Declaration and Address has been forgotten for over a century. Rather than unifying all Christians on the scriptures, the Restoration Movement has become a spectacle of division. But now there is evidence that the inferior painting of sectarianism is beginning to crack and peel away.

Ketcherside goes on to summarize the Declaration and Address (I wrote a previous blog series on the thirteen propositions here) He focuses on the aspect of the propositions addressing inferences and human opinions, and the need for a kind of unity that accepts diversity on such matters.

Then he describes an event in which Thomas Campbell publicly extended fellowship to a man with whom he disagreed on significant doctrinal points. Despite the controversy that this prompted, Campbell said:

Brother Raines has been with me during the last several months and we have fully unbosomed ourselves to each other. He is philosophically a Restorationist and I am a Calvinist, but notwithstanding this difference of opinion between us, I would put my right hand into the fire and have it burned off, before I would hold up my hands against him. And from all I know of Brother Raines, if I were Paul, I would have him in preference to any young man of my acquaintance, to be my Timothy.

Thomas Campbell found it in his heart to embrace a man as a brother despite differing doctrinal understandings. In the 20th century, the Restoration Movement lost sight of the kind of unity that leaves room for differing opinions. The movement has fully abandoned this biblical principle (Rom 14:1) Ketcherside laments how far the Restoration Movement has fallen:

We are divided over missionary societies, instrumental music, centralized control, colleges, orphan homes, national radio and television programs, the right to own television sets, leavened bread, unleavened bread, the manner of breaking the bread, fermented wine, individual cups, Bible classes, uninspired literature, evangelists, the hiring of ministers, the pastor system, marriage of divorced persons, speaking in tongues, divine healing, foot-washing, the hour of meeting to eat the Lord’s Supper, and a host of other things. And every division has been brought about by someone esteeming an opinion of greater value than the blood of Christ. Those who stand together one week and sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds,” sever it the following week over some trivial concept.

Then Ketcherside pledges to work for unity with diversity:

I will cross over every barrier, break through every wall, and ignore every fence which men have erected in Christ Jesus my Lord. I will labor with all of my brethren who permit me to do so, and love those who will not. My only creed is Christ, and while I respect every rock of truth scattered over God’s revelational landscape, I will build upon none of them. My hope of heaven depends not so much upon propagating a party to defend a truth as it does in personally casting myself in absolute dependence upon him who is the truth. And while every truth is precious to me, and will be included as discovered in my rock garden for meditation and enjoyment, I will plant my trust only upon him whom God planted his community, the Rock of Ages! For other foundation can no man lay!

This means that every child of God is my brother. And I have no half-brothers or step-brothers in the Lord. I accept you where you are and as you are. I accept you as God accepted me, in my weakness, frailty and failures. If you are good enough to be his son or daughter you are not too bad to be my brother or sister. And I receive you, and receive you now. We can stop this silly march into oblivion. We can halt the cancerous growth of division which is slowly consuming the body. We do not need to wait until we have debated every action of every faction. We can be one in Christ Jesus now! All we need to do is to extend the hand of fellowship in spite of differences, as did the brethren in Lexington, almost a century-and-a-half ago, and we can walk out of this hall tonight blessed as peacemakers and deserving to be called the children of God.

I have brethren who, in good conscience, can accompany their praise service to God, with instruments of music; I have brethren whose consciences will not allow them to do so. I have brethren who give money to support Herald of Truth and never look at it; I have brethren who refuse to support it and never miss seeing it. I have brethren who teach in Sunday Schools with classes for all ages, and others who gather in undivided assemblies to study the sacred pages. I have brethren who remember the shedding of the blood while drinking from individual cups; I have brethren who pass one container to the body of saints. They are all my brethren. I love them all.

Encouraging evidence is appearing that this kind of unity is once again on the minds of Christians. The recent decision at Richland Hills is one illustration. May the dream of unity be reborn, and become reality throughout all of the Lord’s churches!


  1. We have a mutual hero!!http://lookinferlearnin.wordpress.com/2006/11/20/according-to-the-pattern/

  2. Hi Shannon,I wish I could have known Carl Ketcherside. I think we need more people like him. The article at the link you provided from your blog is an especially good one, illustrating the folly of strict patternism. I need to go back and reread that entire series. Maybe I’ll write a review of the series.

  3. Thanks for the quotes. It seems like somewhere there in the Bible, maybe at least once Jesus stresses unity…but I could be mistaken :)I just don’t get how we can say we go so strictly by the book and yet miss that. How can we make any difference of opinion a fellowship issue?

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