James W. Adamsee, His Role In The Institutional Controversy

By Robert H. Farish

Brother Randy Harshbarger has requested me to write about “Brother James W. Adams’ Role in the Institutional Fight. “I am glad to have this opportunity to publicly recognize and express appreciation for James’ sacrificial efforts to stem the tide of digression which developed in the waning years of the 1940s and early 1950s.

Before considering the role which brother Adams played in the controversy, it is in order to briefly consider what the 49controversy” was all about. Some brethren began to think of the church general or universal as being made up of all congregations, rather than simply the individuals who had been “called out” by the gospel. In the former apostasy, of about a century before, attempts were made to activate the church universal by a missionary society. The missionary society was promoted as a means of “congregational cooperation.” The same sort of thinking in the latter apostasy inspired the so-called “sponsoring churches” as a means of “congregational cooperation.”

Not only did institutionalism pervert the organization of the church, it also adopted ideas of the so-called “social gospel.” The mission of the church was secularized. Physical and social needs which belonged to the individual were shifted to the church. This in brief is what it was and is “all about.”

Brother Adams was with those, who were in the forefront, in contending for scriptural authority for the work of the church and for that work to be done by “the church, moving in its congregational capacity alone.” Those who are acquainted with James, either through hearing him speak, or reading what he wrote, are impressed with his familiarity with the Scriptures, his logical presentation, his firmness of conviction, yet fairness of treatment of an opponent.

Brother Adams had two articles in the first issue of The Gospel Guardian. The title of one of these articles was “Defending the Gospel or Placating the Germans.” Some Lutheran preachers had charged that “American bombers had destroyed their organ.” The brother who was selected to answer the charge, made the statement that “that was not done by Christians.” Brother Adams pointed out that, “It is not true that every soldier of World War II was not a Christian.” This presumption of authority by “sponsoring churches” to speak for “the churches of Christ,” continued to crop up over the years.

This article on institutionalism by brother Adams in the first volume of The Gospel Guardian, was followed by eighty-two (82) more articles dealing with the organization of the church, the mission of the church and scriptural cooperation. These articles appeared over a period of twenty years. During this twenty year period, James wrote a total of one hundred and forty articles. Eighty-three of these were exposing the errors of “institutionalism.” The sheer volume of articles, opposing the various facets of institutionalism, is very impressive. And when the high quality of the writings is also noted, we can begin to grasp what a debt of gratitude we owe to our brother. This vast volume of scriptural, logical, understandable material was not produced casually with but little time and effort! Respect for the truth, combined with love for God and concern for the purity of the church, and not the desire for riches, fame or any other base motive prompted James to so wholeheartedly throw himself into “contending earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

A “Special Number” of The Gospel Guardian, dealing with the “institutional” problem was published in 1956. The article, “How New Testament Churches Cooperated,” was written by brother Adams. This should, in my judgment, be put into tract form. It would complement the tract, I ‘The Church and Organizations” which was written by James and is in print.

Time and space forbid a more detailed treatment of the writing which brother Adams did in combating the efforts to exchange the divine organization of the church for human arrangements and to activate the church in social, recreational and other activities not authorized by the Lord.

Thank you, James, for your work.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 23, p. 715
December 3, 1987