Arlington - One Year After
It was one year ago that a group of brethren met in Arlington, Texas, in a carefully planned and prayerful effort to "re-establish communications." That a division has taken place among the Lord's people is too obvious to need comment; that it bids fair to be permanent and irremediable is a cause of sadness to us all. These brethren met in Arlington in an honest effort to define and clarify insofar as they could the basic differences, and to search for any hopeful sign they might find pointing to any possibility of a solution to the worsening situation. Most of those who were in the meeting (in fact, all who were in it so far as we know) felt that the gathering had been helpful. The differences which were present when they convened were still present when the meeting was ended. Nobody had "represented" anybody but himself and none of those in the meeting presumed to have any right to speak for anybody but himself.
And now, one year later, how can the achievements (if any) of the Arlington meeting be assessed? What good was accomplished? And what harmful results came out of the meeting? Judged in the light of the year that has passed, what can be said for the effort made at Arlington?
On the plus side surely would be the fact that at long last brethren were willing to come to grips, in a brotherly fashion, with the most serious problem the church has faced in this century. This was a meeting not to prove "who split the log," or who was to blame for the trouble; it was not designed to "try to find a compromise" or anything of the sort. But it was planned as an open, frank, and brotherly discussion of the differences. That such a brotherly discussion did indeed take place was the report of all who attended. This sort of colloquy is an absolute necessity if there is ever to be any sort of reconciliation of differences. If brethren are not willing to discuss differences, how can there be any hope for a removal of the differences?
Also on the plus side should be noted the generally improved tone of nearly all writing and speaking on the differences, even among those who were not participants in the Arlington meeting. Brother James Adams' excellent article on the front page this week is but one of a great number of articles which have appeared in journals and church bulletins these past twelve months seeking to encourage a more specific language and the elimination, as much as possible, of prejudicial and imprecise terms in all our discussion of issues. Whether others have noted it or not we do not know, but this writer has been quite aware of a much warmer and friendlier atmosphere these past months as he has come in contact with brethren "on the other side" of current controversies. We have made opportunity several times to attend services of our institutional brethren, and have usually been recognized from the pulpit and asked to have some part in the service. A more relaxed and brotherly spirit has been all to the good.
On the minus side of the Arlington meeting, one year later, will have to be noted the misunderstanding of the meeting by some on both sides — both as to its purpose and as to its accomplishments. When some brethren thought (and reported) that the problems over which we have all agonized these past twenty years were "settled," or very nearly so, at Arlington this was a serious disservice to the cause of both truth and unity. But such a report did go out, and the efforts of it were most discouraging and hurtful. A great many uninformed people, not understanding the absolutely fundamental nature of the differences existing, were encouraged to think "it's about all over now" and so cease their efforts to discover the truth of God's word. We have had more than one report from faithful gospel preachers in places a thousand miles or more from Arlington telling how difficult it was for them to show people the danger and evil of institutionalism "now that the brethren have gotten together and ironed out their differences!"
Perhaps such a development was inevitable. It was a gross misunderstanding, and misstatement of what actually did happen at Arlington. And, frankly, we feel that some very careless and unguarded statements from some of the participants (specifically Brother Lemmons and Brother Thomas) contributed greatly to the misunderstanding. These men did NOT misunderstand what took place; but their overly optimistic reporting of the meeting and its accomplishments served to produce a counter-action among conservative brethren which was most unfortunate. And, to be equally honest, we will have to say that we feel many "on the other side" from Thomas and Lemmons showed a marked lack of restraint in their criticisms of the meeting. The resultant tension was not helpful in any way.
And what about the future? Well, we are happy to report that other meetings, informal in nature and not quite so tightly structured as the Arlington meeting, have taken place and are taking place. This is all to the good. The Arlington meeting has shown that brethren can discuss their differences, and can do so in good faith and with a good spirit. Such discussions cannot but do good. We should all seek to encourage them as much as possible. Our troubles did not develop over night or within a few months or even years. They will not dissolve over night or after a few meetings. But if any progress is ever to be made toward healing the breach, it will have to come in an atmosphere of mutual trust and good will. We believe there is no hope at all of saving a great number of both congregations and brethren. They have gone too far to turn back; they are too fully committed to a denominational "Church of Christ" and to liberalism in doctrine. But, even so, we are fully convinced that there are literally thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of sincere and humble Christians who DO have a respect for God's word — and with these, our brethren, we can and should have a continuing series of studies and discussions. The Arlington meeting has shown that it CAN be done; let other places and other brethren be encouraged by this example.
— F. Y. T.