James W. Adams And The Arlington Meeting

By Harry Pickup, Jr.

The “Arlington Meeting,” held in 1%8, could not have come about without the work of James W. Adams. This meeting included 26 preachers who met to discuss various facets of the “institutional question,” upon which they were seriously disagreed and which had disturbed and divided brethren for a number of years. Two “teams” of brethren, 13 on a “team,” addressed issues between them in a brotherly and respectful manner.

At the time of the meeting brother Adams was in the prime of his life and had the respect of both “teams.” His thinking was clear and he was well able to express his mind logically. His manner was conciliatory and controlled. He was an ideal choice to bring brethren together in order to discuss opposing views in an atmosphere that offered the greatest opportunity for sound thinking. He had spent his life in studying truth, disciplining himself to use it and training himself to preach and defend it. His early training produced in him a spirit of independence and deep convictions about the truth.

“Issues” among brethren have always been matters of personal concern to him. He never manufactured them in order to promote himself prominently before brethren. He never viewed matters of individual interest or private concern as issues about which the brotherhood should be troubled. His personal philosophy regarding defending the faith has always been to argue “faith” and not “opinion.” When he did speak out it was not his nature to speak timidly or ambiguously.

My first impression of brother Adams was formed when we were classmates at Freed Hardeman College in 1941. He was then a mature preacher, husband and father. He was there to learn. I was a boy; I was just there! Even then he was dignified, reserved and precise. His dignity was modified with tasteful humor. Though reserved he was not aloof. Split infinitives and dangling participles even then were inconsistent with his love of precision. He never played the buffoon nor preached with bombast. These characteristics, though refined are still evident.

Young and immature preachers, who manifested even slight evidence of eventually “growing up” could count on his sympathetic encouragement. These qualities have brought him respect, trust and appreciation from brethren across the nation.

His familiarity and involvement with “issues” have included two major doctrinal divisions among brethren: Premillennialism and Institutionalism. He has spoken and written clearly, precisely and powerfully on both of these issues. His love for brethren never prevented him from defending the faith. His loyalty to truth never kept him from being understanding of human weaknesses and extending a helping hand to those less strong in the faith. His contributions toward enlightening the brethren and the fact of his always being willing to help heal divisions are facts well documented.

When the issue of institutionalism had crystalized the church into opposing groups, some brethren began to think about reconciliation. It was not surprising that brother Adams was a man to whom brethren turned to explore the biblical grounds of unity, knowing that he would not compromise conviction and believing that he was both willing and able to act in a conciliatory manner. Norman Starling sought him out to explore his mind and attitude toward a calm confrontation between “institutional and non-institutional brethren.”

As might be expected, brother Adams was receptive to any discussion which could possibly lead to reconciliation in a manner consistent with revealed truth. Brother Starling and he agreed that subjects should be discussed which were fundamental to the fact of division. Also that men invited to discuss these volatile subjects should be per sons of self-control. Additionally, that the men invited should be under no opinion that they were representing anyone other than themselves and that these brethren were not called together to hammer out a human plan for unity.

In working out this plan it was obvious that a place should be chosen which would lend itself to contemplation and informal controversy. No formal agenda was decided upon; each brother would be invited to speak conversationally and extemporaneously. This first meeting, a precursor to the “Arlington Meeting,” was held at Buchanan Dam, outside of Burnet, Texas. Eight brethren attended and were together, memory tells me, for most of two days.

The “change was carried on in a plain, pointed and cordial manner. Memory again tells me that brother Reuel Lemmons made the suggestion that another similar meeting should be held with more Christians present, with a more formal agenda. All present agreed to this suggestion. The result was the “Arlington Meeting.”

Brother Starling deserves credit, if this be the proper word, for conceiving this idea and enlisting the help of brother Adams to bring it to reality. Without someone of Adam’s nature and character, I doubt that “teams,” from the two sides could have been brought together to subjects of such divergent difference.

For such a meeting to occur, someone was needed of general reputation who could couple fairness and conviction, reasonableness and refutation. Brother Adams was such a man. Each “team” selected 13 speakers. Five “major” subjects were chosen and 2 speakers from each team were selected to make a “major” presentation. Two other speakers from each team were then offered the opportunity to make “minor” speeches. The “major” speakers spoke from manuscripts. The “minor” speakers spoke without manuscripts extemporaneously.

Brother Adams helped set the tone to what, in my judgment, was a remarkable occasion. Men of deep-seated convictions with highly charged personalities spoke; and yet the discussions could be accurately characterized as being orderly and reasonable. Basic concepts were pleasantly presented. Arguments were made at close quarters. Language was plain, expressed vigorously, but, for the most part in a non-accusatory manner.

It was agreed that these lessons should be transcribed and published. The book entitled, The Arlington Meeting, was born. From my personal point of view, again based expressly from memory, I believe the meetings – including the book – produced good results. First of all, it is good whenever truth is presented and given wide-spread dissemination. Secondly, it became obvious that the differences were neither small nor petty; they were basic. Again, from my point of view, it seemed clear that the basic difference was the different approach to the authority of God’s will. Again, – this comment may not be entirely objective – some who have read the book have been persuaded that institutionalism is without divine authority and that institutionalism is unquestionably practiced by some brethren.

The philosophy of relativeness is characteristic of our age. Even brethren have not escaped the effects of this virulent error. The spirit of compromise hovers like an atomic cloud over the church. James W. Adams has made. a significant contribution to the Lord’s people by warning them of this threat. His writings will continue to “put in remembrance” coming generations, that God’s word is truth and Satan’s philosophy is lie.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 23, pp. 716-717
December 3, 1987