The History Behind “Freedom’s Ring”
by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (II Peter 2:19).
My first encounter with the doctrine promoted by Freedom’s Ring was when the congregation where my wife and I met got pulled into apostasy by well-intentioned members. One started receiving a series of magazines written by Charles A. Holt, called The Examiner. Though I was no longer a member of that congregation, I was given copies of this publication. At first glance, it sounded interesting, but the more I dug into the teachings, the more I realized how subtly twisted was its teachings. Unfortunately, these teachings spread like a wildfire in that small congregation and it resulted in a split.
My second encounter came while preaching in Nebraska. Two young couples moved into the area. We enjoyed having them as a part of the group, but rumblings were soon heard that they were spreading false doctrine in private Bible studies. I asked and received a copy of a book called Freedom’s Ring by Cecil Hooks. Reading through it, I realized that it sounded very familiar. It was Holt’s teachings repackaged. After a series of confrontations both public and private, the couples left, along with two new converts that they had influenced.
Cecil Hooks’ website has extensive links to the writings of W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. Charles Holt acknowledges that his views stem from his reading of W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett [“The Editor and His ‘Admirers’– Some Observations,” The Examiner, Vol. 4, No. 4]. Carl Ketcherside was influenced by Daniel Sommer, editor of the Octographic Review, which was also called the American Christian Review. Sommer opposed the idea of located preachers. Later in Ketcherside’s life, he became fascinated with the idea of unity, renounced many of his old beliefs, and began promoting the acceptance of all believers in Christ. [Scott Harp,”The Life of Carl Ketcherside,” ]. It is the later Ketcherside teachings that were picked up by Garrett, Holt, and Hooks.
However, the seeds for these beliefs are even older. Back in 1856, a debate occurred between Robert Milligan and Tolbert Fanning in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. Fanning advocated this view:
“The logical teachers, and overseers of the church were elders. The elders were by the elderly men in the church. They ‘kept the house for the Lord,’ and edified the saints. All the teaching was done by this group. They had no office, but each elder (old man) in accordance with his ability, taught and edified the church. The evangelists went from place to place, preaching the gospel, establishing churches, and encouraging them to meet regularly. With Fanning located preachers were but pastors and were taboo. So with salaried ministers.” [Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, p. 342].
The tenet that preachers should not be located at and supported by one congregation is advocated by what is commonly called the mutual edification movement. Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garret, Charles Holt, and Cecil Hooks are all apologists for this movement.
“The Examiner. This movement, spearheaded by Charles Holt, opposed the traditional eldership as a self-perpetuating, back-room decision making, board. It called for an end to the concept of the located preacher and the local church treasury. The movement had minimal effect on the churches generally, though some individuals adopted the view and separated themselves from the local church.” [Ferrel Jenkins, “Please Don’t Call Us ‘Anti’,” Pepperdine University Bible Lectures, May 1, 1998].
We should be aware of the history behind these teachings. When we were dealing with the false teaching in La Vista, people were repeatedly stating that the ideas advocated seemed like a jumbled mess without a unifying core. Knowing the history, it can be explained in Ketcherside’s shifting beliefs that were picked up wholesale by others.
While these men have been faced down in the past and proven wrong repeatedly, they would tell their readers that no one has been able to oppose them and that no one would debate them – claims that are easily proven to be false. Yet, with the Internet providing easy access to documents of the past, the old ideas that were proven wrong get picked up again, requiring churches to defend the truth all over again.