The Willis-Inman Debates

J. P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky

On the following dates: Sept. 19, 20, 22, 23 and October 31, Nov. 1, 3, 4 brethren Cecil Willis of Marion, Indiana and Clifton Inman, of Parkersburg, West Virginia met in debate in Parkersburg, West Virginia and Dayton, Ohio respectively. The Marrtown Road church made all arrangements for the Parkersburg debate, and the Knollwood church arranged for the Dayton discussion. Both discussions were held in public school auditoriums.

I. Propositions

The propositions covered the two main issues among churches of Christ today: The sponsoring church type of congregational cooperation with particular emphasis on the Herald of Truth radio and television program and institutionalism with special emphasis on orphan homes. The same propositions were used in both localities and discussed in the same order.

II. The Participants

Clifton Inman: Brother Clifton Inman has lived and preached in the Ohio Valley (in around Parkersburg,' West Virginia) for many years. He is a very good man, and one who commands respect from those who know him. He has had a wide influence upon the church in the area where he has lived. He was indeed a very congenial opponent throughout both discussions, and pitched his part of the encounter on a very high plane.

Cecil Willis: Brother Cecil Willis has preached for the Brown Street church in Akron, Ohio for the past eight years. He is widely known for his integrity, and his love for the truth. Though he is but a young man, relatively speaking, he has accomplished more than many men much older. He manifests the judgment and maturity of a man of more years. His preparation for these discussions was very evident. His part of the discussion was also carried on in a very fine spirit of brotherliness, and high esteem for his opponent.

III. Argumentation

Brother Inman's argumentation was largely on principles. His main arguments were displayed on charts which set forth certain Bible principles upon which all of us are in general agreement. His main thrust was an effort to show that his opposition either did not believe the principles or misapplied them. Let us look at his main arguments.

CHART NUMBER 1. This chart divided activities into three categories. (1) Things demanded of all. He used baptism as an example. (2) Things demanded under some circumstances. He used "husbands love your wives" as an example of this, and pointed out that "wives don't obey that one." (3) Things which may or may not be done. He gave marriage as an example of this principle, using Paul's choosing not to "lead about a wife" and Peter's choosing -thus to do as illustrations.

He put the Herald of Truth and benevolent societies in the third category; "Things which may or may not be done." Along with these he also classified: Cloths on the Lord's Table, baptisteries, church buildings, etc. He sought to parallel these items with the Herald of Truth and orphans homes

In reply, Brother Willis emphasized that he did not deny the principles set forth on the chart, but rather brother Inman's application of them. He then pointed out the evident fact that a brotherhood eldership, a brotherhood treasury, and a separate human organization to do the work of the church are not parallel with cloths on the Lord's Table, baptisteries, and church buildings. With a large chart he showed that in order for these items to be parallel we would have to have a brotherhood eldership over a brotherhood treasury or a separate human organization receiving funds from the church universal to be expended in supplying these items for the brotherhood.

Brother Willis further showed that cloths, baptisteries and church buildings are authorized under general authority; that they inhere in the commands to have the Lord's Supper, to baptize and to assemble. They come within the scope of the law. They are authorized by general authority. But a brotherhood eldership over a brotherhood treasury, and separate human organizations to do the work of the church violate specific authority. He pointed out that elders are local (not brotherhood) officers (I Peter 5:2). The treasury is a local affair which is to be under the oversight of the local church (I Cor. 16:1, 2). The local church is the specifically authorized organization to do the work of God.

CHART NUMBER 2. On this chart brother Inman had the following statements: (1) Sin is the transgression of law I John 3:4. (2) No law, no transgression Romans 4:5 (3) Law not to be confused with prohibition. He challenged brother Willis to give the law (the pattern) concerning how orphans are cared for, and the law for how money is to be transferred from one church to another.

Again, Brother Willis accepted the principles set forth by brother Inman, but denied his application of them. He showed that the discussion was not over HOW to care for the needy, but rather WHO: the local church or a separate human organization? He showed that there is a law as to WHICH ORGANIZATION is, to care for the church's needy and that is the LOCAL CHURCH, not a human organization, and that those who use other organizations transgress the law and therefore sin. He also pointed out that a brotherhood eldership and treasury transgress the law and are therefore sinful.

Brother Willis showed that the New Testament pattern for transferring funds from one church to another is that the sending church must have ability to give, and the receiving church must be in physical need. He gave 2 Cor. 8, 9 as authority. He emphasized that the Highland church in Abilene, Texas which operates the Herald of Truth is not a needy church. He gave some random statistics to show this. Some samples of her weekly contributions were listed as follows: $10,182.57, $16,325.99, $37,150.19. In 1964 Highland (exclusive of contributions from other churches to the Herald of Truth) had a yearly contribution of $375,174.40. Brother Willis pointed out that this hardly sounds like a needy church! Yet, she constantly begs churches all over the world for more and more of their money.

Brother Willis gave dozens of passages of scripture to substantiate his arguments, but brother Inman constantly charged that he had not given the pattern for taking care of orphans and congregational cooperation. Brother Willis replied that he had given the pattern, but it had been ignored.

CHART NUMBER 3. On -this chart brother Inman had a statement from a famous speech of Thomas Campbell: "Nothing ought to be included upon Christians . . . nor required of them as terms of communion . . . but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God." During the course of the discussion brother Willis quoted from some able preachers of the past on some of the points he was making, and also from financial reports of some orphan homes and the Highland church in Abilene. Brother Inman said that he had an advantage of Brother Willis because he had only studied one book, the Bible, in preparation for the debates. Brother Willis asked him from which book of the Bible he had obtained the statement by Thomas Campbell?

CHART NUMBER 4. On this chart brother Inman had the following: "What is the law concerning broadcasting the gospel? Money from one congregation to another." Brother Willis challenged brother Inman to produce just one passage authorizing money to be sent from one church to another for evangelism. The debates closed without such being given. Brother Inman tried to use Acts 11:27-30, but Willis retorted that this was for benevolence, not evangelism.

CHART NUMBER 5. On this chart brother Inman had pictures of a television camera and a microphone, and the following statement: "Which is better? Our way o) doing it or your way of not doing it?" Brother Inman hung this chart up, at every session but the last one or two in Dayton. Brother Willis quoted from a recent article written by a liberal preacher in which he said that the liberal churches are giving fifty cents per member per year, that is approximately a penny per member per week to care for orphans. Willis pointed out that this is the way the liberals are doing it. Brother Inman then came back and challenged Willis to "show what you are doing." He said, "I would like to see the figures." Willis then showed that the benevolence of the Brown Street church in Akron where he preached had averaged more than three times more per member than the liberals are giving according to their own figures! He also showed that the Brown Street church with a membership of around 300 has spent more than $22,000 during the past twelve months for evangelism. He then said, "Brother Inman likes the way they are doing it better than the way we are NOT doing it."

On the orphan home issue, brother Inman constantly confused passages dealing with individual and congregational benevolence. In fact, he argued that when the Jerusalem congregation carried on works, of benevolence (Acts 2:44, 45), they were "implementing Jesus' command to individuals in Matthew 25:31-46." He argued that this was the church's interpretation of Jesus' command to individuals. He was repeatedly challenged to produce the proof for this assumption. It was never forthcoming. Brother Inman also tried to line up James 1: 2 7 with I Tim. 5:16. He argued that I Tim. 5:16 mentions a widow for whom the church is responsible. James 1:27 mentions a widow also, therefore, the widow of James 1:27 is, a widow for whom the church is responsible. Willis replied that I Tim. 5:16 mentions a widow for whom the individual is responsible. James 1:27 also mentions a widow. Therefore the widow of James 1: 2 7 is a widow for whom the individual is responsible James 1:27 also mention a widow. Therefore the widow of James 1: 27 is a widow for whom the individual is responsible. He pointed out that if the argument will work one way it will work the other.

Willis pointed out that in all the passages Inman introduced on benevolence a very vital element is missing, namely, a human organization to do the work of the church. He pressed him to find authority for such. Of course, he could not, and did not.

But Inman argued that when the church sends money to the orphan home, (which he admitted is a separate human organization) it does not do so to help the organization, but the children. Willis showed that this argument would justify the church contributing to a Baptist or Catholic orphanage also because it would be sending the money to help the children, not to the organization. Inman finally said that under same circumstances we would go to hell for not supporting a Catholic orphanage!

One very significant argument made by brother Inman was that nothing is established as authoritative by example only. Willis pressed brother Inman to establish first day of the week communion without using Acts 20:7 as an example. Inman never touched it! He made absolutely no reference to the point.

Brother Willis filed the following objections to the Herald of Truth: (1) it violates the New Testament pattern of congregational cooperation. I have already given the material he used under this heading. (2) It seeks to activate the church universal through a single agency. He gave quotations from the Highland elders where they state this as their objective. (3) It unscripturally makes the Highland elders overseers of a brotherhood work. (4) It sets a bad example before other churches and the world. He pictured the chaos that would result if all churches in the world followed Highland's example and put on a multi-million dollar begging campaign. He showed that Highland is a perpetual beggar. Highland continually obligates herself far beyond her ability to pay. Highland seeks to get control of other churches' money. (5) It is a sinful waste of the Lord's money. On this point, Willis gave some rather startling statistics. Only 50.6% of the money contributed to Highland church goes for broadcast time. The remainder goes for administration and other overhead expenses. For instance, some of the items are as follows: Broadcast production: $474,200. Answer response: $177,500. This means that they expend more than $14 to answer each letter they receive. Listener promotion: $104,500. General and administration: $100,450. Miscellaneous and contingency: $55,000. Fund raising: $196,100. Telephone bill: $12,000 per year. Willis pointed out that if the set-up were lawful, it would not be expedient.

One of the highlights of the Parkersburg debate was a Christian Church preacher's saying that Inman was making the same arguments for Herald of Truth and orphan homes that he makes for instrumental music and the missionary society. Willis had charged this but Inman denied it. But to cap the climax, the Christian Church preacher sat on the front seat the last night of the debate and said "amen" to every major argument that brother Inman made! He told Brother Willis in private that "In-man cannot now say one word against instrumental music in worship!" He also said that if Herald of Truth is scriptural, he could not support it because of their use of the funds received for it. He characterized it as "poor stewardship."

In summary, Willis showed that Inman had failed to distinguish between: (1) Law and expediencies. (2) General and specific authority, (3) Divine and human organizations, (4) Individual and congregational responsibility, and (5) Buying services and making donations. Willis further showed that Inman had tried to make it appear that he demanded that the "how" be specifically stated. He then pointed out that the New Testament does not tell us HOW to preach the gospel, but that this does not authorize a missionary society. He said that Inman had sought to put him in the position of denying that there is a realm of option in religious activity, but that he freely admitted such, but denied that the objectionable features of Herald of Truth and human institutions could properly be placed in the realm of option. Willis also pointed out that while Inman placed these matters in the realm of option in theory, he does not in practice because he said we would sin if we failed to support Catholic orphanages under some circumstances. When failure to perform an action will send one to hell, it is hardly a matter of option.

IV. Attendance

The Parkersburg debate had an average of around 400. Interest and enthusiasm throughout was excellent. The Dayton discussion averaged only about 200 per night. This was, partially due to an unexpected 12 inch snow that fell about mid-week. Interest was good, however, but most of the audiences were made up of those who agreed with Brother Willis. This was not true, however, of the Parkersburg debate, where attendance was more evenly divided.

V. Conclusion

I have tried to write this review of these debates as objectively as possible. It is very possible that in some instances I have failed to comprehend some argument made. If so, the author of it should feel free to call it to my attention. We believe that great good was accomplished by these discussions. Others are in the planning stage between the same disputants. Announcements will be forthcoming as they become more definite as to place and time. The Parkersburg debate is well on its way to the printer. You may order it from TRUTH MAGAZINE, Box 7245, Akron, Ohio. Send no money. You will be billed when you receive it.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 4, pp. 5-8
January 1967