February 17, 2019

Observations of the Wharton-Deavers Debate

By A.0. Raney

On November 4th through 7th, there was a debate between Bro. W. L. Wharton and Bro. Roy Deaver at Fort Towson, Okla., the purpose of which was to explore the area of the obligation of the church in general benevolence. This paper is not intended to be a review of the arguments and conclusions of the debate, but simply to offer some of the impressions indelibly impacted upon the mind of this witness.

It was both pitiful and disgusting to see Bro. Deaver, who is otherwise a capable and accomplished preacher of the Gospel, standing on the familiar platform of public debate, where heroes of God have won so many dramatic victories for Truth, reduced to stammering impotency and made to look like some bizarre caricature of Ned in the first reader. It was a shock to watch the confusion of a man used to wielding the sword of Truth trying to win a fight with only a couple of silly cartoons. One could almost taste the bitterness of his frustration and the gall of his humiliation.

We are used to seeing preachers of the Gospel step into the polemic arena clad in the "whole armor of God," armed with the "sword of Truth" and fired by the confidence of an unshakable conviction: . . . with prayer in his heart and scripture upon his lips, utterly invincible before every trick, evasion and artful sophistry of proponents of Error. To have this concept suddenly shattered is a sobering and saddening experience.

Brother Deaver is a man of naturally keen mind, perceptive judgment, ample vocabulary, good education, and has a good knowledge of the content and arrangement of the scriptures. With this equipment, and his fearless spirit, he is more than a match for any half-dozen sectarian debaters that could be marshaled against him. Yet when he stood at Fort Towson to first deny the truth he should have been upholding, and then to affirm the error he should have been destroying, he was as naked, un-armed, and helpless as any other defender of error. It needed not the masterful logic, scriptural correctness and forceful presentation of brother Wharton to defeat his position. Any bush-league preacher from the boon-docks could have done it. Not because Bro. Deaver is a nit-wit, or an incompetent -- far from it -- but simply because he was un-armored and un-armed. No amount of debating skill or polemic ability can make error strong enough to overcome truth when one who believes it presents truth clearly and understandably.

Stripped of the resources of truth from the beginning by positions incompatible with truth, the only weapons of either defense or attack left to Bro. Deaver were the oft discredited and ineffectual weapons of sophistry, diversion, confusion, ambiguity, and emotional and prejudicial appeal. Though he used these with great vigor, they were no more effective than they have ever been in the hands of sectarians, atheists and other enemies of truth. Give this man the advantage of truth and he will defeat any proponent of error who dares to stand before him. Without it he is nothing but sound and fury -- signifying nothing.

Let this sad experience be a warning to others who rise to espouse and defend some alluring departure of sentimental countenance, dressed in pretty clichés. If you are determined to stand by such -- right or wrong -- then learn the dearly purchased wisdom of the sectarian world: ignore the challenges of truth to do open battle for the minds and souls of men. Be content to make your gains by undermining and stealth. Creep slyly around the fringes of light, preying through guile upon the souls of the unwary. Stand in the shadows and crook the fingers of enticement at the weak and unwise There are many of these and the recruiting is easy. Beguile unstable minds with I unfounded promises of great and spectacular ~things. Set dancing in empty heads sugary visions of greater accomplishments by human ingenuity than are possible by the wisdom and power of God. Fill hearts of little faith with the blinding fog of human emotionalism and lead them captive into the enfolding darkness of apostasy; but never, never, be foolish enough to challenge the sun of divine truth to a duel! It is in the very nature of things that darkness cannot quench the light, but light always dispels the darkness. The only way you can ever stand tall and noble, in all the glory and dignity of the conqueror God created you to be, is to walk in the TRUTH of God without wavering. Suffer yourself to be led aside after ANY humanism, no matter how alluring, and you are inevitably lost in the darkness. Only God is light.

Remembered in sad nostalgia are the golden days when the Whartons and the Deavers, the Holts and the Harpers, the Tants and the Lemmons, and a countless host of others walked arm-in-arm and heart-in-heart together, holding aloft a single faith in the mightily truth of God. To see some of these mighty ones now fallen in defeat, clutching the ragged banner of error, brings no pleasure or joy of victory, but only heartbreak.

Truth Magazine VIII: 7, pp. 14-15
April 1964