August 19, 2017

Unity and the Gospel Guardian Peace Offensive

By James W. Adams

In the October issue of The Preceptor, I made certain observations concerning the Gospel Guardian's "Peace Offensive" as well as statements which the owner and manager of the paper, Brother William E. Wallace, had made in a recent issue. Brother Wallace's statements had to do with the "Peace Offensive," an extensive trip which he had made to "feel the pulse of the brethren," the relationship of the Arlington Meeting to the "Peace Offensive," and a discovery which he had made concerning the attitude of brethren generally toward the issue of mechanical instruments of music in the worship of Christians as compared to current issues over human institutions and the sponsoring
church cooperation.

Wallace's Response

In response to my observations, Brother Wallace published advertisement of the Arlington Meeting Book in the Gospel Guardian recently in which he took certain statements of mine from my last speech in the book out of context and arrayed them so as to make them appear to be contradictory. Brother Wallace did not write an article nor preface his citations with any sort of explanation. He inserted this material in an advertisement and urged people to buy and read the book. His implication was clear.

This is what is known as innuendo. It is hardly what anyone would regard as ethical, hence quite naturally was keenly resented.

A Meeting Between Wallace and Adams

A mutual friend of Wallace and Adams, knowing that I would not ignore such treatment of anything I write or say, approached Wallace with the suggestion Wallace and I meet and discuss the matter. Wallace was willing, hence our mutual friend approached me. I, too, was willing, therefore we met and talked. As a result, Wallace is to make a statement in the Gospel Guardian and I in The Preceptor. This article is my statement.

Some Preliminary Facts

Let it be observed that I know exactly what I said in the Arlington Meeting speeches and have nothing to retract. They are perfectly consistent with my position past and present and with themselves. I stand ready to defend them publicly or privately as to their consistency with any responsible and reputable opponent. Wallace is right about one thing. You ought to buy the book and read it! I have already distributed fifteen copies in the congregation here and hope to distribute more. The paragraph following the one quoted by Wallace, had it been quoted also, would have shown beyond question that no contradiction existed in the statements quoted by Wallace. They are both true and perfectly consistent.

Wallace explains that he knew I did not contradict myself, but he wanted me to answer him, then he would show that his position and mine are the same. I accept his explanation at face value and hold no further resentment against him in the matter while at the same time I am completely unable to follow his thinking as to such procedure. The statement of my position in the Arlington speeches was perfectly clear. Wallace's statement of this had been misunderstood by multitudes. More about this will be said later.

Adam's Position on Fellowship

From the beginning of current controversies, I have carefully avoided references to fellowship or disfellowship, hoping and praying that our differences might not produce this unhappy situation. For this reason, in the early years of the controversy, I was not enthusiastic about oral, public debates, knowing their tendency toward the production of party alignments. I thought the gospel papers were the proper area for discussion and controversy. In this, I was much influenced by the thinking and counsel of Brother Fey E. Wallace Jr., a longtime friend and advisor.

In the matter of fellowship, I have allowed the opposition to set the pattern and push the question-- which they did as evidenced by the Gospel Advocate's call for a quarantine of all of us. My attitude has been to teach what I believed to be the truth on the question as forcefully and in as responsible a spirit as I knew how and to let the matter of fellowship take care of itself, and it has in almost every case. This is yet my attitude.

In almost every church I have served as local preacher since the current controversy began--Central, Beaumont, Texas; West Avenue, San Antonio, Texas; Mound and Starr, Nacogdoches, Texas (twice); Tenth and Francis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma--there have been people in the membership who have not agreed 100 percent with my views on the issues. Some have been elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and others prominent in the work of the church. At none of these places, and in respect to none of these people, were current issues made a test of fellowship by me or the congregation. These people have led prayers, taught classes, served at the Lords table, led singing, and have otherwise been used in the work. So long as they did not press their views to the disruption of the peace of the church or insist on support by the church as a church of these questionable practices, they were recognized as Christians and fellowshipped. In my judgment, this has been true in every church that had existence before the eruption of current issues and divisions.

In every place where I have preached, as local preacher or in meetings, I have uniformly taught that current problems are related to church organization exactly as mechanical music is to church worship. I have seen no inconsistency in the past in my attitude, and I see none now. It is my conviction also that some of the men who are now most vocal in their unrestrained harangues about so-called "fellowshipping the liberals" have done and are now doing, in many cases, exactly the same thing. They preach a theory which they have not and do not practice except in rare and extreme cases.

Misguided brethren, who have been led to disturb and divide faithful congregations and good, sound people by such men and their theories of "fellowship," need to back off and take a second look at what they have done. As a practical demonstration of the soundness of the attitude and procedure which I and others have followed through these years, and not with any desire to boast, I call attention to the fact that I have never yet lost a church to liberality while I served as its preacher nor have I divided one. This is considerably more than most of the advocates of radical, "hard-nosed" policy toward our brethren from whom we differ can say.

What Provoked My Reference to Wallace and the "Peace Offensive?"

(1) It was provoked by Brother Wallace's continued references in a derogatory manner over a period of months (many months) to the Arlington Meeting, and his effort in his September 4, 1969 article in the Gospel Guardian to tie the meeting in with his so-called "Peace Offensive." Brother Wallace, beginning as early as March 31, 1968 and continuing to September 4, 1969, in the Belmont Bible Banner, The Torch magazine, the Gospel Guardian, and in private letters as well as private and semi-public conversations has been critical of the Arlington Meeting.

I and others who were involved in the meeting tolerated, without direct reply, this journalistic sniping. I did write an article, "Enough Is Enough," in which I offered to meet in the papers any reputable man who desired to challenge the meeting and examine his objections. I had no takers. When, however, Brother Wallace began promoting his and the Gospel Guardian's so-called "Peace Offensive," proposing things infinitely worse, in my judgment, than anything any conservative brother who participated in the Arlington Meeting has said or written before or since, including Brother Dudley Ross Spears in the Gospel Visitor, I thought it high time that something be said. For Brother Wallace to change horses in mid-stream and yet maintain a critical attitude toward the Arlington Meeting while seeking to capitalize on its effects was just too, too much. Brother Wallace became so exercised about Spears' statements that he wrote:

"It appears now that this brother, a friend of mine has become so reckless in his writings, embarrassing conservative brethren who were with him in the meeting and alarming many others. If his writings reflect his actual attitudes it seems he is destroying his usefulness to the conservative brotherhood (Sic JWA) and endangering the welfare of the congregation for which he preaches" (The Belmont Bible Banner, March 31, 1968.)

(2) I was also alarmed by the party spirit which, in my judgment, inhered in Brother Wallace's recent trip across the nation that he described as follows:

"We were tapping the sentiment of those among the cream of the crop of God's servants. We were feeling the pulse of those who stand tall and straight in the ranks of God's soldiers of the faith." (Gospel Guardian, September 4, 1969)

This, coupled with Brother Wallace's repeated use of the expression, "conservative brotherhood," and his feeling that he could speak with authority with reference to those who may or may not enjoy "usefulness" (op. cit.) in that body, made it seem mandatory that I pay my respects to the "Peace Offensive."

For the record, I am not a member of "the conservative brotherhood" (op. cit.) nor of any other type of conservative "hood." I profess to belong to the New Testament "brotherhood." ( 1 Pet. 2:17.) If there exists such a thing as "the conservative brotherhood," it ought not to, and, yet, if it exists, it would be worse to be "useful" to it than it would not to be, hence I long ago counseled Brother Dudley Ross Spears not to be upset about his so-called loss of "usefulness" to it.

Since this explanation is designed to clear the air among us with reference to my differences with Brother Wallace, I think the air needs to be cleared with reference to Dudley Ross Spears. I have this fall conducted a pleasant and profitable meeting with the Tenth and Francis congregation in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Brother Spears is the preacher for that church. Before his tenure of service there, I labored happily and peacefully at Tenth and Fancis for six years. In fact, I recommended Brother Spears to the congregation of the elders when I decided to move from Oklahoma City.

I should like to state as firmly and as sincerely as I know how that Dudley Ross Spears is just as sound in the faith as those who have been his most persistent critics, and the church which he serves is just as sound and faithful as the church which they serve. This does not mean that I endorse the manner in which Brother Spears expressed himself in every case concerning the matter of our differences with and attitude toward the brethren from whom we differ on human institutions and the sponsoring church. I think some of his terminology was Unfortunate. He wrote from the context of what he thought to be a favorable situation in his city for progress toward Bible unity. I thought I understood him, and because I knew he was faithful and loved him as a friend and brother, I was not alarmed.

He and I have discussed at length these matters, and he knows my attitude. But despite unfortunate terminology or an error of judgment with reference to some with whom he dealt in Oklahoma City, I believe Dudley was unjustly maligned and abused beyond anything that could be called reasonable much less right. I believe he ought to be vindicated in this matter. Had Brother Spears "embarrassed" me, I could and would have told him so without the help of a proxy, and I think the other men who participated in the Arlington Meeting could and would have done so.

(3) I was most alarmed of all by Brother Wallace's statement, which I challenged in the October Preceptor, concerning what he thought he had discovered to be the attitude of brethren generally toward the issues of mechanical music and human institutions and the sponsoring church.

The matters just discussed constitute the reason for my so-called "hard-hitting attack" (op. cit.) on the Guardian "Peace Offensive" and Wallace's statements in particular. I feel my "attack" was justified, even long overdue, but this fact did not and shall not keep me from doing anything consistent with righteousness to clear the air and have a restoration of understanding and peace with brethren such as Brother Wallace with whom I am in substantial agreement on almost everything else and whom I love and respect as friends and brethren. The Lord knows, and I speak with all reverence, that I have no desire to be at variance with anyone or to needlessly perpetuate argument and strife, hence the statements which follow.

Statements Growing Out of the Meeting With Wallace

(1) Brother Wallace stated that his opposition to the Arlington Meeting was on the ground of unfavorable reports emanating from some who were and some who were not present. Of course, this is true of every debate that has ever been had, hence furnishes no adequate ground for opposition to such confrontations on the basis of supposed "pitfalls." The important thing now, however, is that Brother Wallace, having read the book, finds nothing wrong with what took place. And I agree with him that criticisms should have waited the publication of the book regardless of how long it was in forthcoming. I accept his statement and am willing to drop the whole matter and to forget it.

(2) Brother Wallace explained that his trip did not begin as a "pulse-feeling" journey,

but as a promotional trip in the interest of the Gospel Guardian. He correctly points out that he mentions this in the third paragraph of his September 4, 1969 article. However, the title of this article is: "The Pulse of the Brethren." My criticism would be the same even though the "pulse-feeling was an afterthought." I consider such to be the setting of a dangerous precedent with destructive possibilities. I, however, accept Brother Wallace's statement that he did not intend this to be a "wetting of one's finger and holding it up to see which way the wind blows," but simply a discussion, exchange of views, relative to the merits of the "Peace Offensive." If Bill says this was not his intention, I believe it. Editors and writers need to write their sincere convictions as to the truth about any matter without regard to what the "brotherhood," "conservative" (?) or otherwise, thinks about it. It is my hope that Brother Bill (We did not discuss this point) may see the party spirit in such expressions as "conservative brotherhood" and avoid them.

(3) Brother Wallace says that what he meant with reference to his contrast of the issues over mechanical music with the issues over human institutions and the sponsoring church was that we should not deal with brethren who have espoused the latter in recent years in the same fashion in which we would deal with Christian Church people. Had he said this, I would not have challenged his statement, but would have agreed.

We have been separated from Christian Churches for a longer period of time than is covered by the memory of almost any living man among churches of Christ today. Mechanical music has become one of the minor rather than major differences, so prolific have become their innovations. We have been listed as separate religious bodies in the U. S. Census Report since 1906.

Whereas, our so-called "liberal" brethren and we, have been separated little more than a decade. In many areas the situation is yet fluid and not at all stabilized and irrevocable. Many still do not know what the issues are all about. Furthermore, many of us have known and loved many of those brethren for thirty and forty years. Also many of us have, until recent years, ourselves practiced the things which we now reject in their practice. Therefore, to take a "hard-nosed," implacable, intolerant attitude toward them is neither rational, logical, nor Scriptural.

(4) Brother Wallace now recognizes that the promotion of a "movement" or "offensive" is quite different from a simple declaration of his personal views on the subject of fellowship or unity. He says he does not intend to promote the "offensive" further. This sounds good and should satisfy his critics.

He further recognizes that his proposals to work with so-called "liberal brethren" in their fight against classical liberalism in their ranks was highly theoretical and that he had no practical suggestions as to how to implement his proposals. The mechanics of his proposals were what had brethren wondering. We think him wise to drop a matter which he acknowledges to have been theoretical rather than practical.

With this explanation, I propose to close my part of any exchange of views with Wallace and the Gospel Guardian on this subject. Brother Wallace and I are good friends and brethren. I want it to stay that way.

A Final Word

This is not directed to Brother Wallace but to brethren in general. It is utterly ridiculous in my judgment, for a man in the State of Florida (purely hypothetical) to presume to be able to decide exactly how a congregation in the State of California, three thousand miles away, should act in reference to certain "liberal" brethren or churches of their area. Whether a certain individual should be called on for prayer or whether a meeting should be announced are matters which have to be decided locally on the basis of truth, the possible local influence of the act, the known facts in the case, the circumstances, and the attitude of the individuals involved. Such matters are too complex, circumstances are too different between localities, and men are too diverse in their attitudes for any man to presume to write up a little set of rules and seek to impose them on everybody, everywhere, upon all circumstances.

If a congregation is known to be sound, if its preacher is known to be sound, why should we not assume that they have knowledge enough, judgment enough, and love for God and his truth enough to decide their practice in such matters as we are discussing? In the absence of certain knowledge to the contrary with reference to any particular situation, why should not the rest of us refrain from criticism and or presumptuous intervention? Brethren, we have too many would-be creed-makers, and it is a solemn fact that human creed-makers promote neither fellowship nor unity.

Preceptor December, 1969

TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 15, pp. 3-8

February 19, 1970

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