By Ronny MillinerMiddlebourne
On March 10, I received a letter from Brother George T. Eldridge suggesting that I write an article on the Adams-Inman Debate which is to be held on May 30, 30, June 1, and 2 in Middlebourne, West Virginia. He suggested four questions. “1. Why is the debate occurring in Middlebourne, population about 1,000, and not in the city where the Ohio Valley College is located? 2. What events or circumstances led to the debate? 3. Why were these two able men selected? 4. I assume your work with the Fair View (should be Fair Avenue) congregation. What is the seating capacity of the building, and why is the debate only occurring in that building?” Most of this material in this article was in the December 11, 1977 issue of The Beacon (our local bulletin), but it may be that the larger audience of Truth Magazine may be interested in it.
The Beacon and Brother Inman
Back in the June 12, 1977, issue of The Beacon we had an article entitled `Debating.” In it, we spoke of some of our more liberal brethren’s action in regard to their willingness to debate the Baptist, Pentecostals, etc. but their lack of doing so in regard to things which have divided the church. We called upon some churches who practiced church support of man-made institutions, the sponsoring church arrangement, and / or church recreation to “open its door so as to have these things discussed.” We never did hear from any churches regarding such a discussion, but we did hear from Brother Clifton Inman.
I received a call from Brother Inman on July 3. He had come up to preach in Sistersville and said he wished to speak with me. As I had already made plans to do some visiting in the hospital in Sistersville, I told him I would meet him there. I had asked Brother Paul Fletcher (one of the elders here) to go with me, so I informed Brother Inman of such. We met in the building of the Sistersville Church of Christ. We spent a great deal of the afternoon discussing Ohio Valley College, church autonomy, and other things which had appeared in recent issues of The Beacon.
It was during this meeting that Brother Inman stated he would be willing to debate “anyone, anytime” regarding those items mentioned in The Beacon. However, he said he would only do so if the Middlebourne church would have the debate in our building or some place we would provide. He said he would not have it in Parkersburg. He would not agree to a discussion with two different congregations providing the place, that is, one congregation upholding his views providing accommodations two nights and another congregation- opposed to his views providing accommodations the other two nights. I mentioned that the size of our building would not be commodious to such a number who would desire to attend such a discussion. However, I told him I would report his comments to the elders at Middlebourne for their discussion.
The elders here, as well as myself, consider it would have been fairer for Brother Inman to have a congregation to back him and share in the provisions for such a discussion. But they decided they would provide a place for the whole discussion ands thus, began searching for a place large enough for the debate. Being unable to locate such a place in Tyler County the elders felt the best place to have the debate would have been in an exhibition building located on the Wetzel County 4-H Campgrounds. This site is about 15 miles from Middlebourne.
The elders also decided to ask Brother Connie W. Adams to meet Brother Inman in the debate. Brother Adams has had debating experience and they felt he would capably defend our beliefs in these matters. I then wrote to Brother Inman on August 16, 1977 stating we felt we had a suitable site and that he would need to contact Brother Adams regarding the propositions.
I received a reply dated August 30, 1977 in which Brother Inman stated he would be willing to discuss the issues with Brother Adams. However, he added, “There are some restrictions which would place upon the place in which I will meet for the discussion. It should be in the immediate Middlebourne area, or in a place where the church in the area invites it. So before signing a proposition, I would have to know where the discussion is to be held.”
On September 3, 1977, I responded in a letter and sent him the information regarding the building and its location. I stated, “We certainly hope that this will be suitable for you, and that a small distance of 15 miles would not hinder a discussion which we feel would be profitable for all concerned.” His reply of September 21, 1977 stated, ‘It is my understanding that the Wetzel County 4H grounds are very near to New Martinsville and not very near to Middlebourne, comparatively speaking …. I see no reason for having the discussion in the area of the two congregations at New Martinsville and other surrounding congregations. Only if those congregations desired the discussion and desired me to be their representative would I consent to a discussion there.”
We answered in a letter dated September 27, 1977 expressing our disappointment in his attitude in this matter. I stated, I personally cannot see how this would pose any problem for the surrounding churches. After all, we do not have any dioceses. In fact, it would seem that the two congregations in New Martinsville should be willing to back you any way since you have the same convictions on these matters. Why not write them and see if they would be willing to stand behind you in this matter? They might consider such to be good.”
Brother Inman responded on September 28, 1977, “I do not believe that the church has any dioceses, yet there are elders who have oversight of congregations located in various vicinities. I believe in respecting those elders, their oversight, and the congregation’s autonomy …. There is a matter of courtesy and fair dealing involved which means something to me.”
We cannot help but wonder, if Brother Inman believes in church autonomy, why he is affirming a proposition that denies such. Now I suppose, according to his reasoning, we would need to tell all our radio listeners in the New Martinsville area to turn off their radios because they were not under our jurisdiction but rather that of the New Martinsville elders. I would guess it would also be wrong for us to run a teaching column in The Green Tab (local advertising paper) because a good number of the readers live in New Martinsville. A diocese is defined as “the territorial jurisdiction of a bishop.” Does Brother Inman believe in dioceses? We will let our readers decide for themselves.
We replied to Brother Inman on October 6, 1977, after the elders decided that they would go ahead and try to have the debate here in our building. We do so with regret knowing that there will be crowded conditions. We estimate that we will be able to get 375400 in our building by placing speakers in the basement and using it as well as the main auditorium. Thus, everyone may not be able to see the speakers, but we only hope that all who wish to hear the discussion will be able to do so.
We learned in a telephone call to Brother Adams on November 10, that Brother Inman had signed the propositions. The propositions are basically those used in the Willis-Inman Debate with the exception that the radio program of the Central Church in Clarksburg, West Virginia as the sponsoring church has also been added along with the Herald of Truth. This debate is still in print and published by the Cogdill Foundation.
It is indeed sad that some brethren seem to be afraid to defend what they believe. It seems to me that Brother Inman just wants to preach to the Middlebourne congregation. We wonder if he would debate a Baptist or Methodist under the same conditions. Is he afraid for some of his brethren to hear these things discussed? Did Jude say, “Contend for the faith only within, your own diocese”?
We of the Middlebourne congregation always stand ready to defend our practices and beliefs. (We do not, however, want to set a precedent of always having to provide the place and possibly the audience.) We feel this defense is our duty. We are shocked at the actions and attitudes of some of our brethren with regard to their lack of contending for the faith. But history has shown that this attitude is usually characteristic of those who depart from the word of God.
We extend an invitation to all who would be able to hear this discussion. Some of the brethren here have voluntered to open their homes to those visiting from afar. There are also a few motels in the area. Any one desiring further information can contact me at P.O. Box 371, Middlebourne, West Virginia 26149 or (304) 7584313. We look forward to a crowded but profitable debate.
Truth Magazine XXII: 19, pp. 316-317
May 11, 1978