Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 30, 1956
NUMBER 17, PAGE 9-7a

Brother Key -- Mistaken Or Misunderstood?

Gordon J. Pennock, Rockford, Illinois

That Brother Roy Key is the center of a measure of disunity and confusion among churches of the Chicago area is widely known. He has been charged with teaching ideas that are unscriptural and erroneous — ideas which compromise — if not contradict, certain basic truths regarding salvation as set forth in the New Testament. Some few have fallen into sympathy with him — or his ideas. Others seem to have largely ignored the matter. While still others have opposed his teaching openly and are, pursuing the course recommended by Paul in Romans 16:17: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them."

As a result of the attitude of this latter group, Brother Key has filed a plea, saying that he has been misunderstood. A letter to this effect was circulated in this area several months ago. Following it, he sought to make a similar statement in the Gospel Advocate, through the late Brother G. C. Brewer. And now recently, in an article entitled "We Are Brethren," in the Gospel Guardian of June 28th, 1956, page 6, he presents himself "as one who has been in the midst of misunderstanding."

It should not be needful for us to say, that there is nothing personal in our calling attention to this matter. We may say that the writer has met Brother Key but briefly upon two occasions. He found him to be kind, courteous and apparently sincere. So far as we know, Brother Key's daily deportment is that of a Christian gentleman.

Our interest is solely in an issue. That issue involves certain principles of truth — commandments which have proceeded from Almighty God. Our concern is for the church. Her soundness and purity is at stake. Her effectiveness in reaching the world with the gospel is dependent upon both the unity of her membership, and the purity of her message.

In all fairness then, we must agree, that if Brother Key has been misunderstood, then we are obligated as Christians to solve these misunderstandings and seek to restore harmony among the churches. But if Brother Key is mistaken, as is believed by a vast majority of brethren, then the cause of unity can only be served when he is ready to acknowledge his error and abandon it, in the same public way in which he promoted it. Let him make some forthright oral and written statements upon the matters in which his position has been questioned. To merely cry that he has been misunderstood is to challenge the intellectual capacity of thousands of brethren, including scores of able and faithful preachers of the gospel.

That Brother Key is mistaken and consequently in error, and not misunderstood, appears to be self-evident in some of the statements which he has made. So, we set down here some direct quotations from his tongue and pen. We suggest that the reader consider them carefully. Our quotations in this article will be limited to questions which have been put to Brother Key, and his answers. As each will be a complete statement in itself, surely no one will accuse us of taking them out of their context.

Our first quotations are from a booklet entitled "The Law of Christ," which was published by Brother Key in1954. We commence at the top of page 35 and run through to page 37. We have placed emphasis upon certain words and statements in order to facilitate a quick analysis by the reader. We quote:

Question: "If the true intent of circumcision, sacrifice, washing of hands, etc., could be realized apart from literal obedience to these rites, do you mean to imply that the purpose of baptism and the Lord's Supper can also be realized apart from literal obedience to these ordinances?"

Answer: "May I make it clear that I do not wish to encourage anyone to neglect either baptism or the Lord's Supper. I would not, knowingly, teach anyone to break the least of God's commands. He has given them for our good and our salvation. It is the part of love and humility to accept them, seeing in them what He wants us to see, trusting His promises to bless."

Question: "You have not answered my question. Do you preach their essentiality?"

Answer: "I do not. I do not find the New Testament talking of essentiality. I do not believe that every unbaptized person will be eternally lost ..."

Comment: Brother Key's replies to these questions would be endorsed by our Baptist and some other denominational friends. He seems to say that baptism is important, yet it's not important. It's essential, but it's not essential. He stresses it upon the one hand and minimizes it upon the other. He seems to conclude that although Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), he that believeth and is not baptized may also be saved. Or, while the Holy Spirit through Peter said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38), many will enjoy the remission of their sins, without obeying these commands. Thus he liberalistically deals with the word of God.

What do we mean by the term "essential" as we use it in connection with baptism and other matters? We simply mean that they are indispensable in rendering obedience to the authority of God. We are not questioning the ability of God to do what He pleases; we are simply insisting upon the "immutability of his counsel." (Heb. 6:17.) "He (Christ) became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation." (Heb. 5:9.) Let not this sacred truth be corrupted by human wisdom.

Let us again listen to Brother Key as 'he continues in his book:

Question: "Do not the scriptures clearly connect baptism with salvation?"

Answer: "They do, and I preach `baptism for the remission of sins' and 'the gift of the Holy Spirit' continuously, leading people, as best I can, to make their commitment in faith to Christ in their baptism. I regret that erroneous teaching causes many people to make it elsewhere, and they miss the fulness of the meaning of Christian Baptism, but many of them still do, in fact, give their hearts and lives to Christ, and this is what baptism was intended to help them accomplish."

Comment: Certainly the New Testament teaches that shiners make their "commitment" to Christ in their baptism. Paul says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." (Gal. 3:27.) Every student of this passage understands that its import is both inclusive and exclusive. Every one who has been baptized has not "put on Christ — has not made his "commitment in faith to Christ"

The implication of Brother Key's statement is that men can, and in fact do, make it elsewhere. The dispute is between Brother Key and Paul.

Let us read again from Brother Key's book:

Question: "If God's love is so great, why can He not save infidels and all?"

Answer: "Salvation is not a legal decree. That seems to be the view that is troubling you. Salvation is becoming like Christ, so that one can will His will, work His work, and find eternal joy in His companionship. Baptism as an arbitrary condition of salvation has no place in the Christian era of grace. The comparison of two men whose hearts are equally committed to Christ, having no difference, except one has been baptized and the other not, and ascribing salvation to the one and condemnation to the other is a speculative interest only to the legalistic mind."

Comment: Brother Key has waxed very bold in his reply here. And he has made himself quite clear. He cannot be misunderstood! He says: "Baptism as an arbitrary condition of salvation has no place in the Christian era of grace." He tells us that two men can be "equally committed to 'Christ," while the one has been baptized, the other not. He declares that to ascribe salvation to the baptized and condemnation to the unbaptized is of "speculative interest only to the legalistic mind."

Does Brother Key realize what he has said? We don't wish to seem harsh nor unkind, but, wittingly or unwittingly, he has indicted the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Listen friends: Jesus did make baptism an arbitrary condition of salvation, when He said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16.) The word arbitrary as used by Brother Key means, according to Webster, fixed or absolute. It is not a may or a may-not matter. It is a must! Jesus said that the Pharisees and lawyers to whom John the Baptist preached, "rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him." (Luke 7:30.) Is it not a fair deduction that this same judgment will rest upon those who fail to be baptized now? We believe that it will.

Turning now from Brother Key's booklet, we wish to quote briefly from a tape-recording of a discussion which Brother Key held with brethren James W. Boyd and Monroe Hawley, in 1954. In keeping with the plan of the discussion, the speakers were granted a period in which they cross-questioned their opponents. Here are some questions which were asked by Brother Boyd of Brother Key, and his answers:

Question: "Brother Key, how can a man obey a literal, specific command of God in any other way than literally?

Answer: "I would not say that God gives us literal, specific commands that do not have another meaning — a spiritual meaning."

Question: "Can a man obey the command to be baptized in any other way than by being immersed in water?"

Answer: "He can obey the spirit of that command. T think."

Question: "What is the spirit of that command?" Answer: "The spirit of that command is to undergo in his own life the death, burial and resurrection — the death and burial of the old man and the resurrection of the new."

Question: "And a man can do that without being buried in water?"

Answer: "That is true."

The tap-root of Brother Key's error is exposed in this quotation. Unquestionably, it is his attitude toward the verbal commands of God. While he professes to believe and teach them, as they are written, he also insists that God does not give commands "that do not have another meaning — a spiritual meaning." He insisted throughout the discussion that the "aim, intent or purpose" of the commands is all that is really important, and that this "aim, intent or purpose" may be realized "without literal obedience to the verbal expression of God's will.

Let us present what we are convinced is a just and fair representation of Brother Key's position. Jesus said: "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." (Matt. 4:10.) Now Brother Key will agree that the terms "worship" and "serve" only state in a general way, man's duty to God. He will furthermore agree that the New Testament has elsewhere defined and delineated the various acts of worship and service to be performed. But now he separates from his brethren: he will contend that a man may acceptably worship and serve God, in rites and manners which are unrevealed in the New Testament. In other words, that so long as the individual has the proper desire, aim, intent or purpose in his heart, God will accept his expressions of worship and service, whatever they may be.

We believe that the foregoing facts will show that Brother Key has not been misunderstood, but that he is mistaken. For many months we have hoped and prayed fervently that the dissentions and divisions, which have been created by the attitudes and teachings reviewed here, would be dissipated from among the churches. Should these lines make a contribution to that end, then they will have accomplished the purpose for which they were written.