By James W. Adams
Trouble among the churches of the Lord did not begin with the Gospel Advocate’s and Tolbert Fanning’s and David Lipscomb’s fight against instrumental music and missionary societies. It did not originate with the Gospel Guardian’s fight against centralized control and oversight and human institutionalism, nor did it first spring from Truth Magazine’s current opposition to Ketchersideism in any or all of its forms. It began among the churches while apostles of Christ were yet living. Because of difficulties among brethren springing from false doctrine and bad attitudes, James wrote:
AWho is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom deseendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace@ (Jas. 3:13-18).
James raises the question: “Who is a wise man?” Then, he answers his question. If I know my heart, and I believe I do, I desire in all matters of controversy among brethren to be a “wise man” as defined by James’ inspired statement. With this as a guide, I should like to make some observations concerning a recent editorial in the Gospel Guardian written by Brother Edward Fudge of Athens, Alabama (Vol. 25, Number 19, September 13, 1973).
My Personal Attitude
All readers of Truth Magazine know that I have been critical of Brother Fudge concerning his teaching and actions relative to matters connected with the baneful influence of Ketchersideism among conservative brethren, especially among some of our excellent young men aspiring to preach. Such has sprung from no personal ill will on my part toward Brother Fudge. In fact, I barely know him in a personal way:.My criticisms emanate from no love of strife on my part. I detest strife among brethren. My personal record in local work and meeting work over the past forty years will bear that out. I have never been asked to leave a church, nor have I ever left one in a state of turmoil. This is not to say that there have not been problems that had to be worked out nor that there have not been erroneous ideas and unrighteous attitudes and practices that have had to be rebuked and corrected. It in to say that my relationship with the churches with which I have labored has been as tranquil and irenic as that of any preacher whom I have ever met. I, therefore, keenly resent and unequivocally repudiate as gross misrepresentation any suggestion that I have at any time or . place filled the role of a “meddlesome troublemaker,” and I unhesitatingly challenge any man to name such a time and place. Such charges always characterize those whose teaching and practice are justifiably suspect.
The Dictator Complex
The Gospel Guardian and Brother Fudge seek to cast Truth Magazine and its writers in the role of aspiring dictators and invaders of the sacred precincts of “congregational autonomy and individual conscience.” I challenge the Gospel Guardian and Fudge to cease using innuendo and be specific. Let them name the time, place, and circumstances in which we have violated congregational autonomy or invaded the sacred realm of individual conscience. Brother’ Fudge by implication charges us with employing “pressure and force” rather than “the godly power of truth and moral persuasion.” I categorically deny the truth of this implication and ask Fudge to say when and where on the editorial page of the Gospel Guardian or stand indicted with gross and wilful misrepresentation. If an individual or a congregation teaches and / or practices pernicious error, I have both the right and duty to challenge and oppose such in as public a manner as the teaching and practice has been done. I invade neither the realm of conscience nor congregational autonomy in so doing. Neither John nor Paul was guilty of “lording it over the faith, autonomy, or conscience” of individuals and churches when they wrote them rebuking them for their false teaching and illicit practices. We do not equate ourselves with apostles of Christ, but when truth has been violated, we have the same right as did they to oppose and expose it.
The Arlington Meeting Again
Brother Fudge quotes scattered excerpts from a speech I made at the Arlington Meeting several years ago and avers that his attitude toward fellowship and mine as expressed in that speech are the same. I categorically deny this to be true. I wrote Brother Fudge several weeks ago that my attitude today is exactly the same as that which I expressed and manifested in the Arlington Meeting and always has been from the beginning of current problems, and that my practice has been uniformly consistent with it. Brother William Wallace, several years ago, affected to perceive an inconsistency in my opposition to certain liberal statements made by him relative to fellowship and my sentiments expressed at Arlington. I replied to that in the most public way and heard no more of it. Brother Bill should have warned Brother Fudge about such an approach, or did he encourage him?
The capable men at Arlington who constituted my opposition there understood me perfectly. They had charged that we instigated a breach of fellowship over these matters. My speech was a denial of this charge. I pointed out, that from the beginning of the discussion of the issues under consideration, I had not desired to discuss the question of “fellowship,” that I wanted fellowship to be the very last consideration. They, of course, charge everywhere that it was Brother Yater Tant who raised the fellowship issue. I have uniformly defended him against this charge insisting that he was misunderstood and his statements distorted. My desire was for a complete study of all issues from the standpoint of Bible teaching with the hope that a breach of fellowship would not occur, and wherever it is possible, I still desire this. However, the Gospel Advocate made such all but impossible when its editor called for a quarantine of all of us who believed and taught against the scripturalness of sponsoring churches, and church support of human institutions.
My reference to brethren who think me “soft,” which Brother Fudge cites, was to certain extremists among “conservatives” who think every person who holds views which they consider “liberal” is the devil incarnate and lower than a snake that crawls on his belly in the dust of the earth. I deplore such an attitude. I do not subscribe to the idea that so-called “liberal” brethren are dishonest, mean, and wilfully determined to take the churches down the road to apostasy and ruin. I believe that many of these brethren, and they are my brethren, even preachers among them, are as sincere, as dedicated, and as interested in keeping the churches in harmony with the will of God as I like to think of myself as being. They are persons who have been born again; they are in covenant relationship with God through Christ.
Despite these facts, however, they are in serious error relative to their faith and practice. By reason of this fact, I cannot extend to them the “right hand of fellowship” as faithful brethren in the Lord. I must regard them as brethren who have been “overtaken in a fault” and need to be “restored” (Gal. 6:1). Yes, I am forced to regard them as “brothers who have erred from the truth” and need to be “converted” (Jas. 5:19, 2;). Such being their state in my thinking, I cannot with good conscience call upon them to participate actively in the services of “conservative” congregations, nor can I without considerable qualification announce their meetings and urge faithful brethren to attend them. As I have pointed out in the past when writing upon this subject, however, these decisions have to be made locally and on the basis of circumstances and attitudes. It would be arrogant and presumptuous for me to make some sort of rule to govern all churches and all persons in these matters and insist upon unvarying uniformity of its application everywhere and under all circumstances on the penalty of being unfaithful to the Lord if such is not done. I have no aspirations in the direction of creed making.
My record from the beginning of the controversy(over these matters will substantiate the accuracy of the facts just stated both in my teaching and my practice. My record will also show that no church with which I have labored has been lost to so-called “liberality” while I labored with it. No church, while I labored with it, has been compromised so as to render its stand for truth ineffective. For that matter, no church with which I have labored, after my leaving it, has been lost to cause of truth or compromised as a result of anything I taught or practiced or urged to be practiced while I labored with it. No. Brother Fudge, you do not have my attitude as expressed at the Arlington Meeting with regard to fellowship and unity. By the time this article appears in print, there will have appeared a number of articles by me and others which will abundantly demonstrate this to be a fact.
I have in the past and would again call on brethren for prayer under proper circumstances who would probably classify as “liberal” in certain aspects of their faith and practice. There are all kinds of so-called “liberals” and many and varying degrees of so-called “liberality.” Their degree of “liberality” and their attitude toward truth and toward those of us who differ with them on the issues under consideration would weigh heavily in a judgement decision as to whether they should or should not be called upon for prayer. Too, circumstances vary as widely as persons, hence the prevailing circumstances would weigh heavily also in a judgement decision as to whether such persons should or should not be called upon for prayer. I have the same problem with some so-called “conservative” brethren who are “sound” on these “issues” but suspect in the realm of morality or factionalism. I would never call on any person in either class for prayer in the public services of the church if respectable, faithful members of that church were opposed to its being done on the basis of conscience. To do so would demand that I either cause them to violate their conscience or to forego participation in the particular act of worship under consideration. Our criticisms of Fudge go much deeper than what has just been described. We are concerned with Ketchersideism and its baneful effects upon more than fifty conservative preachers and numbers of churches and the influence Fudge’s attitude and teaching have had in the matter as well as the Gospel Guardian’s stance relative thereto.
Every church I have served since the issues under consideration became issues has had in its membership people who did not accept my views on these matters in every particular. Some of these were even elders or deacons. Yet, as long as these men were content for the congregation to forego the support of the practices in question, did not seek to impose their contrary views upon the congregation, and were willing for the whole truth to be taught relative thereto, there was no breach of fellowship and no discrimination of any kind whatsoever against them. I loved, respected, and fellowshipped such persons as brethren, and I yet act in this manner wherever such a state of affairs obtains.
However, I cannot fellowship brethren who quarantine me, force me and others like me from their midst, and forbid me to teach my convictions relative to these matters. With such brethren, I cannot participate actively in areas of agreement in any manner that could be construed as a recognition on my part of their faithfulness to the Lord. I can endorse as right what they do in these areas. This is true of denominations and denominational people. Many things which they do are right and I endorse their practice in such matters, but at the same time, I cannot fellowship the people because of their error in other vital matters. I am absolutely convinced that Ketcherside, Fudge and others are seeking a middle-ground of some sort, a neutral territory, a no-man’s land in the realm of fellowship and unity which is a mirage born of over-heated imagination and misguided philanthropy.
In writing this article, I have made an unusual number of personal references to my practice and teaching. None of this is done in a spirit of self defense. My position in these matters has been too long and too well known to demand such. I write these things to demonstrate, if possible, to Brother Fudge that his position and my position on unity and fellowship are about as much alike as night and day!
(NOTE: This finds me in Kansas City, Mo. in a meeting, hence this article has been written away from my library and files. It has been written under physical difficulties. Upon my return home, I shall enter Nan Travis Hospital in Jacksonville, Texas for hernia surgery, October 17. If this article falls short of the usual quality of my writing, this is the reason. Also, this will mean that it will be several weeks after this article appears before I can resume the series. JWA)
Truth Magazine, XVIII:1, p. 8-9
November 1, 1973