A Review Of The Sharp-Polk Debate

By Jeff Asher

On September 28,29,30 and October 1, Keith Sharp met Johnnie Polk, in Stamps, Arkansas to discuss in public debate four propositions that pertained to the work of the church in evangelism and benevolence. This was the last in a series of two debates arranged by brethren in Stamps and Saratogo, Arkansas.

Sharp was originally to have met Noel Meredith; however, due to unavoidable illness, Polk, on very short notice, substituted for Meredith. This in no way affected the debate since brother Polk was well qualified and well prepared to represent his position. The only impediment to the debate was the effort on the part of area preachers to discourage their brethren’s attendance. This seriously affected the participation of those whose view brother Polk represented, even to the point that on Wednesday night there were more visitors than actual members of the Stamps Church of Christ present. Some of these actually left at the intermission noticeably affecting the size of the audience. This was very disheartening to both disputants.

On Monday night Polk affirmed that it is in harmony with the Scriptures for churches of Christ to contribute from their treasuries to benevolent institutions such as Southern Christian Home and others of like character. As characteristic of these brethren, Polk never defined “home.” When asked by Sharp to do so, Polk replied “home” was not in the proposition. Sharp quickly pointed out that his proposition said “Southern Christian Home.” Polk essentially argued for a “restored home” which when incorporated is not affected in nature or character. Very interestingly, Polk affirmed that the seven men of Acts 6 appointed to care for the Grecian widows constituted a board of directors over a home parallel to that of Southern Christian Home. Sharp quickly showed that Acts 6 exemplified the local church doing its work of benevolence providing both means, methods and personnel in order to relieve needy saints.

Tuesday night put Sharp in the affirmative showing the Scriptures teach that a local church of Christ is limited in the benevolent work it may support from its treasury to the relief of needy saints. Methodically, Sharp proved the proposition by establishing that just as there is a pattern for singing only as worship there is a pattern which establishes that needy saints only are the objects of the benevolent relief of the local church. The following charts were the sum total of Sharp’s affirmative.

The Church’s Work of Relieving The Needy

Acts 2:44-45

Acts 4:32-35

Acts 6:1-4

Acts 11:27-30

Romans 15:25-26

1 Corinthians 16:1-2

2 Corinthians 8:4

2 Corinthians 9:1, 12-13

1 Timothy 5:3, 9-10, 16

The Pattern Revealed

The Bible Teaches The Church Is To Engage In “Limited” Music

1. Matt. 26:30 – “sung” Shall We Add

2. Mk. 14:26 – “sung” Instrumental Music?

3. Acts 16:25 – “sang” Another Kind or

4. Rom. 15:9 – “sing” Classification

5. 1 Cor. 14:15 – “sing” Of Music?

6. Eph. 5:19 – “singing”

7. Col. 3:16 – “singing” What Happens

8. Heb. 2:12 – “sing” If We Go

9. James 5:13 – “sing” Beyond God’s

Limited to Singing – We Limit?

Cannot Go Beyond The Limits God Set (2 Jn. 9)

The Bible Teaches The Church Is To Engage In “Limited” Relief Of The Needy

1. Acts 2:44-45 – “All that believed” Shall We Add

2. Acts 4:32-34 – “them that believed” Aliens?

3. Acts 6:1-4 – “the disciples” Another Kind or

4. Acts 11:27-30 – “the brethren” Classification

5. Rom. 15:25-26 – “the poor saints” Of People?

6. 1 Cor. 16:1-2 – “the saints”

7. 2 Cor. 8:4 – “the saints” What Happens

8. 2 Cor. 9:1, 12-13 – “the saints” If We Go

9. 1 Tim. 5:3, 9-10, 16 – “widows indeed” Beyond God’s

Limited to Saints – We Cannot Limit?

Go Beyond The Limits God Set (2 Jn. 9)

Polk’s only response involved 2 Corinthians 9:12. This passage was introduced with the charge that Sharp behaved like a sectarian does on James 2:24. Polk argued that 2 Corinthians 9:12 said “not saints only” relative to the objects of the relief. Sharp rebutted by showing that 9:12 is a sentenced with a “not only . . . but also . . . ” construction. Therefore, Paul said “the administration” not only supplies the needs of the saints but “the administration” is also abounding through many thanksgivings. Paul did not say “not only the saints but also the non-saints.” Further rebuttal was offered from the immediate and remote context to establish the contribution was for needy saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25,26, 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; 9:1).

Sharp continued in the affirmative Wednesday establishing that the Scriptures teach that a local church of Christ may contribute from its treasury to another local church of Christ only for the purpose of meeting benevolent needs among the members of the receiving church and only by sending directly to the church where the need exists. Again, Sharp introduced the principle of a pattern. It was shown that in cooperation between local churches of Christ three things were always true.

Pattern For Church Sending Funds To Another Church (Summarized)




A church with ability sends directly to a church in need to produce equality.

In the matter of benevolence, the sending of funds was always to another church (not through another church) as in Acts 11:27-30. In the course of the discussion that night Polk gave up Philippians 4:15 as an argument for the sponsoring church when he admitted in a question he asked Sharp that the Philippians sent directly to Paul. This was critical to the rest of the discussion that night because Polk was forced to contend that the sponsoring church existed at Jerusalem in Acts 11. Sharp responded to this with the following chart exposing Polk’s diocesan concept of cooperation.

Acts 11:27-30

Opponent’s Diocesan Concept

Opponent reads into passage of diocese of Judea with Jerusalem elders

Over relief for district!

The passage neither states nor implies the elders of the Jerusalem church:

1. Oversaw general relief effort throughout Judea.

2. Received funds to disburse throughout Judea.

3. Oversaw work for several churches.

4. Became agent for churches.

cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2

Polk resumed his affirmative on Thursday with the following proposition: “The Scriptures authorize churches of Christ to support from their treasuries a sponsoring church arrangement for the preaching of the gospel such as international Gospel Hour.” The only affirmative argument Polk made was that the sponsoring church was necessary in order to avoid making a “pastor” out of the preacher who received wages from the churches. That is, that preacher must be under elders who receive the “wages” and in turn “pay” the preacher. Of course, this does not begin to describe the sponsoring church as represented in “International Gospel Hour.” Sharp introduced the following chart which reveals the nature of the thing.

Sharp showed that the local church, the society and the “sponsoring church organization” (which is not a church) all “run on the same track.” Thus, it was shown again not to be a question of how churches cooperate, but who shall do the work.

This series of debates has been most profitable demonstrating not only the truth, but also that brethren can discuss these things amicably. These were the first debates to have been held in South Arkansas on these subjects. The obvious reluctance on the part of those brethren who support Southern Christian Home and International Gospel Hour to participate is, I believe, indicative of a change in sentiment among them toward the authority of the Scriptures and the need for a “thus says the Lord.”

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 24, pp. 750-751
December 17, 1987