The Cincinnati Debate - A Review
Thomas G. O'Neal
On the nights of July 25 and 26, brother Leo B. Plyler met brother Gaston D. Cogdell in a debate in the meetinghouse of the Pisgah, Ohio, Church of Christ. Pisgah is in the greater Cincinnati area.
In this article, we propose to review some of the things said in this debate. It was my pleasure, along with brother Leo Plyler's father, brother A. M. Plyler, brother Don Craven and brother Haskill Jones, to attend this discussion.
On July 25 the proposition was: "It is contrary to the Scriptures for the Church, the body of Christ, to contribute to the support of benevolent organizations such as Childhaven, Potter, Tennessee and Shults-Lewis orphan homes." Brother Leo B. Plyler was in the affirmative of this proposition and brother Gaston D. Cogdell was in the negative.
In his first speech, brother Plyler set forth the necessity of confining our activity in religion to that which is authorized in the scriptures. He introduced such passages as 2 Jno. 9-11; I Cor. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16-17, and others showing by them that all we do must be authorized in the Word of God. Having shown this, he proceeded to show that the issue was the right of churches of Christ to build and maintain, with financial contributions from the treasury of the saints, such institutions or benevolent organizations as those specified in the proposition.
In reply, brother Gaston D. Cogdell introduced a copy of the Saturday Evening Post that had a picture of a baby on the front page. He used this picture both evenings, keeping it before the audience. The proposition said the "Scriptures" but brother Cogdell introduced for his proof the Saturday Evening Post. Further, brother Cogdell thought that the proposition and the subject to be discussed was a "serious subject" of "profound importance" which should be "thought of prayerfully" and one over which "soul's are at stake" and "are going to hell." He contended that this was a new issue that had come up in just the last few years.
Brother Cogdell contended that the sup-port of the benevolent organizations named in the propositions is a "matter of opinion." This is significant since W. L. Totty contended with Brother A. C. Grider in Mendian, Miss., just a few months before, that the support of the institutions from the church was a matter of faith.
Brother Cogdell admitted that the institutions named in his propositions were human organizations, while the Gospel Advocate literature, some of which he passed out during this debate, says these organizations are divine organizations. (See Adult Gospel Quarterly, Oct., Nov., Dec., 1961, Page 40.) The human organizations were put on the par with seats, lights, songbooks, etc.
Brother Cogdell said on Thursday night that he did not get to work on the preparation of the debate until after church services the preceding Wednesday night! He took the position that James 1:27 was addressed to the church.
Brother Cogdell said the Lord's money could be used for anything the elders decide to use it for, provided it is "moral and right." - --Thus he took the position that whatever the elders decide to use the Lord's money for, as long as it is "moral and right," is alright and we have no right to object.
He contended that we are not under a legal system. James 1:25 was read and "liberty" was stressed. Brother Cogdell said we should underline in our Bibles the word "liberty" and not the word "law." He said he was not interested in the proposition, yet he signed to discuss a particular and specific one.
Our brother admitted that we don't have any authority for using songbooks in order that we might sing. Therefore, he admitted that he was doing something for which he did not have any Bible authority. In fact, he talked about one thing being more Scriptural than another thing. If a thing is authorized in the Scriptures and another thing is authorized in the Scriptures, how could one of them be more Scriptural than another? If one verse authorizes a thing, it is SCRIPTURAL. If no verse can be found in the Bible for a thing, it is NOT scriptural.
Brother Plyler asked brother Cogdell if a church could SCRIPTURALLY contribute to all institutions from which she could buy services. Brother Cogdell said that if the elders decided to contribute to any institutions from which they could buy services, that it would be scriptural. He said that if elders can pay a company for services rendered, they could contribute to it. He specified that since the church can buy Bibles, tracts, etc., from publishing companies and other such companies, the church could therefore contribute to them.
If this is accepted, then if the church can buy services from the Electric Company; it can contribute to it. This should open the eyes of some of our brethren! Think of it, brethren. Does the church ever buy a meeting house from the denominations? If so, according to this position, the Lord's church could also contribute to this denomination. Who so believes?
On the night of July 26, brother Leo B. Plyler denied and brother Gaston D. Cogdell affirmed the following proposition: "It is in harmony with the Scriptures for the Church the Body of Christ, to contribute to the support of benevolent organizations such as Childhaven, Potter, Tennessee and Shults-Lewis Orphan Homes."
In affirmation of the above proposition, brother Cogdell used about five passages of Scripture, none of which even remotely touched the proving of the proposition. During the course of his speech, some of brother Cogdell's brethren passed out the tracts, "Where There Is No Pattern" by Athens Clay Pullias and "New Testament Principles of Caring for the Needy" by Gus Nichols. Some of the brethren, like Guy N. Woods, have said that to pass out material like this during the course of a debate evidences the weakness of one's position. If so, brother Cogdell evidenced the weakness of his position or his inability to affirm it.
Brother Cogdell affirmed that a congregation or an individual could be faithful to the Lord and not contribute to these human organizations such as named in the proposition. Brother Plyler asked brother Cogdell if a congregation could contribute to the Boy Scouts? In reply, he said that there was nothing scripturally wrong with it, but added that it would be inexpedient.
Brother Cogdell said that the Jerusalem church sold everything they owned as individuals and then gave it to the church and all men lived out of a common fund. Then he said that there was no human need that could not be supplied out of the collection on the Lord's Day.
Brother Plyler pointed out from an article that brother Cogdell had written that he was calling Catholics brethren! To this brother Cogdell responded by showing that he was calling them "brethren" in Adam and not in Christ. He cited such verses as Acts 2:29, 22:13, 22:1, saying that what he had done was in harmony with the practice of brethren in the Bible. Of course, brother Plyler showed that while he claimed he was calling the Catholics "brethren" in Adam, that he was using the term in a religious way and was calling them brethren in a religious sense.
Brother Cogdell made the worn out charge that brother Plyler and his brethren are opposed to taking care of orphans in any way. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
It was the expressed feeling of brother Cogdell that he was wasting his time being there in this discussion and should be out trying to convert people to Christ. I suppose that the reason he felt it was a waste of time was that he had not made sufficient preparation for the discussion. He said on the second night that he prepared for the discussion a few hours yesterday and most of the second day, but that he was sorry that he had taken that much time to prepare for it.
Brother Cogdell made the mistake that the Christian Church has made with the Scriptures. He said that the Scriptures have not forbidden us to use these human institutions. Instead of finding where they are authorized, he argued that they were not forbidden. Such an argument was upon the basis of what the Bible has not said rather than on the basis of what the Bible has said.
Brother Plyler pointed out that brother Cogdell said James 1:27 was directed to the church, yet, the tract, "New Testament Principles of Caring for the Needy" by Gus Nichols, which he passed out, said on page "I know that James is discussing the individual when he mentions visiting the fatherless and widows (James 1:27)." Further brother Plyler pointed out that Cogdell has written that the New Testament pattern in some instances was being destroyed, but he had circulated a tract by A. C. Pullias, "Where There Is No Pattern."
Brother Cogdell wanted to extend the time after the discussion on this last night so he might have the opportunity to ask some questions that he wanted the kind of answer to that he was seeking. Brother Plyler had answered his questions but had not given him the answers he wanted him to give, so he wanted more time in order to try and make brother Plyler answer his questions like he wanted them answered.
Not only did he want to extend the time, but also he tried to ask questions of an individual in the audience. The man he asked told him he was debating brother Plyler and to confine his questions to him and he was sure brother Plyler would answer them.
These brethren are to be commended for coming together to discuss these matters and if brother Cogdell had worked in preparation for such a discussion, surely his side of the question would have been better presented.
Truth Magazine VIII: 5, pp10-12 February 1964