Brother Hardeman's Reasons for Not Debating

Bryan Vinson Sr.
Longview, Texas

In a preceding article we noticed some things Brother N. B. Hardeman said in reply to questions asked him in a reported interview two persons had with him in Sept ember at his home in Memphis, Tenn. We wish to give further attention to matters presented in both this interview and a subsequent article written by him under the heading, "Disturbances In The Church," Both the interview and the article appeared in recent issues of the Gospel Advocate.

In the interview with Brother Hardeman it didn't take the two reporters long to reach questions designed to elicit from him his views on the current controversy among brethren. First, he was asked about the Gospel Press and the Herald of Truth. Of course, it is most likely they knew his position with respect to both these before asking him; however. we are interested in his reply. He places his endorsement on them, saying: "They are fine so long as kept simple and free from over-ambitious men. That they are means that could be corrupted, I doubt not." Of course the implication here is that overly ambitious men, in giving place to their ambitions, would be the occasion of the corruption of these "fine" humanly arranged and originated instrumentalities designed to do the work of the church. This was the attitude taken by the apologists for the missionary societies a hundred years ago. They were regarded as fine just so long as they didn't become the instruments of designing and ambitious men. But they did, and these have!! It is amazing that Brother Hardeman is unaware of the evidence of such. When men spend their time in nothing else but to beg money to ever increase the size and power of these organized efforts, which are essentially missionary societies as those of the last century were, and every church and preacher that becomes known to be not supporting them either in theory or practice is maligned by those running them, then they are already corrupt.

If this isn't true, then it would be highly interesting to have Brother Hardeman set forth just how they can be corrupted by ambitious men, and how they would manifest this corruption in relation to the churches.

In reply to the question of whether there will be a division over "these issues," he replied that he is afraid there will be, and immediately sought to liken the "anti's" to the Christian Church and the Premillenialists. in so doing he needs to establish the correspondence thus suggested. Brother Hardeman, did the Christian Church folks "have a plan or suggestion for carrying out the church obligation?" I have thought all along they did, and that you were opposed so, then are you not? Too, the Premillenialists had quite a plan - "a thousand year plan" all fixed up for the Lord to carry out when he comes. And you were against that plan, also, weren't you? This should enable you to see who today occupies the parallel position to these two groups you mention-it isn't the anti's," but you modern progressives who have the plan, just as did they in those controversies. And we oppose your "plan" just as you opposed theirs, and for exactly the same reason. In consideration of the fact we have no plan, and thus cannot affirm an affirmative proposition, he has ad wised Guy N. Woods to not debate us anymore. He criticizes us for going over the same ground with nothing new to offer. Nothing more is needed to meet the arguments his debater has made. If going over the same ground again and again nullifies the justification for further debates with the antis then it may be that is the reason he ceased finding Baptists and Digressives willing to debate him-he kept going over the same ground too often! Also, in his printed sermons there are several substantial "repeats." I wonder why he preaches the same sermons over and over, if repetition is so bad in others.

It appears that Guy has taken his advice about any further debates, though I haven't seen where he has assigned as a reason that suggested by Brother Hardeman, Evidently he is not avowedly in agreement with this advice, since he continues to assert to their plan. If this true, and if you are an anti in relation thereto, his willingness to debate but unable to get every thing just to his liking. I just wonder what kind of an affirmative proposition Brother Hardeman would deny, which sets forth "our" position, or that he would advise Brother Woods to deny. I recall that in the preliminaries leading up to the Boswell-Hardeman debate that Brother Syrgley posed an affirmative proposition for the "anti's" on the music question. Note the following: "But hear another wail from the poster: `Note from the above that the proposition made and accepted was that we affirm our practice, and you deny the same, and vice versa.' Yes, there is where the trouble always arises, because when you try to state your practice you always try to do it so no one can deny your proposition, and then hope to make some one believe you want to debate and no one will debate with you. Now let me try it with this statement before me; and to get exactly straight, f will try the `vice versa' first. We practice singing in Christian worship, and while I do not expect my brother to deny my proposition, it is all the music we practice; so I will state in regular form an affirmative proposition which I am willing to sign:

Proposition 1. Singing is scriptural in Christian Worship .

___.__ _____ Affirms

__ _____ _ __ _ Denies

Proposition 2. Playing an instrument is scriptural in Christian Worship.

_ ___._ _ ____ _ Affirms

__ ____ Denies

I go to your meetings when you have met to engage in Christian Worship, and you are doing this very thing-playing an instrument. Now, are you doing an unscriptural act? If so, why don't you quit? If not, why don't you affirm it? If John B. Cowden will sign the above propositions, I will undertake to have them signed in proper order. But I am sure he cannot sign the first, for he believes it as well as I do, yet he ought to sign or get some one to sign the other, and this will be better than writing posters for free distribution."

It is very apparent that, while Brother Syrgley was agreeable to affirming an affirmative proposition on that issue, as above presented, he well knew the Digressives would not deny that which he would affirm. The same is equally true now. Our practice on the music question was not in dispute, they believed we were scriptural in our practice, and hence could not logically deny that which fairly affirmed our practice. Equally true is it that our practice today is not in dispute; those things, however, that Brother Hardeman believes to be alright, though the scriptures teach nothing to such an effect as admitted by him, are the matters which are in dispute. He cannot logically affirm a proposition on the instrumental music issue, other than as stated by Brother Syrgley, and such is undenied by the Digressives. Even so, that which would properly state affirmatively, or "affirm some kind of an affirmative proposition" would be as unacceptable to him to deny as was the above affirmative of our practice suggested by Brother Syrgley.

Inasmuch as Brother Hardeman has suggested this as a justification for declining any more debates, I am wondering if such was the reason he and Boswell had only one. In the preliminary discussions it was contemplated that this debate in Nashville would be followed by others and "carried into every community where either party thinks it wise to have it, the choice of place to alternate, until the field has been covered, or both parties are satisfied to close the discussion." Was Brother Hardeman unwilling to affirm an affimative proposition which Boswell would be agreeable to denying? In that debate conducted in Nashville, May 31, June 5, 1923, Brother Hardeman made eleven speeches entirely in the negative, he didn't affirm any proposition of any sort. If that being his position then, and his reasoning sound now, he would have to concede the justness of any declination by the Digressives to have any further discussions.

Furthermore, throughout that discussion Brother Hardeman was constantly citing the sources of scriptural authority as being exhausted by "an apostolic example, a direct command and necessary inference". Coupled with the repeated enumeration of these avenues of determining scriptural authority was the appeal to Boswell to identify his proposition with proof from either one or more of these, and pleading with him, in failing to do so, to give up his position and cease his practice. His was an eloquent appeal, embracing the plea for unity, and the moving asseveration that he would rather be the Roman soldier that pierced the Savior's side with the sword than to be responsible for injecting that into the church which would cause division. Today he says he fears that division will result from these present issues, and yet he is aligning himself with, and attempting a defense of, those things which are the occasion of the feared division. Does he, at eighty-six view with less concern the gravity and sinfulness of division than he did at forty-nine? Was he too young then to have a proper conception of the general character of the church, but with greater maturity feels less anxious about the body of Christ?

He was asked if he believed, in the light of his knowledge of the scriptures, there is one scriptural pattern excluding all others that the church must follow in caring for orphans and widows. His reply was that he does not, and that if such were true, then this would be the end of all controversy in regard thereto. He views all such as falling within the realm of expediency, good judgment and common sense as determined by the elders of the congregation. It occurs to me that, this being true, there should be no controversy at all; that each congregation should be left free without censure to follow such a pattern as they see fit among the several which, presumably, he believes the scriptures afford. Certainly, if the scriptures present a plurality of patterns thereto, no one has a right to veto either of them, and proscribe those who follow a different one than that which he prefers. No position which the scriptures authorize can rightfully be condemned, and those who thus act are doing so in opposition to the Word of God.

As thus considered the attitude of the Gospel Advocate toward those of a contrary persuasion and preference is wholly wrong, and Brother Hardeman partakes of this wrong in identifying himself and his contention with that of this paper. It is passingly strange that brethren can in one breath relegate the whole matter to the realm of expediency and human judgment, and in the next anathematize those whose judgment differs from their own. To do so is to elevate their judgment to the plane of law and become thereby law-makers in the kingdom of God. This is usurping a prerogative which belongs to no men on earth, and finds its exemplification in the arrogant presumptions of the Papacy. All law-making power resides with the head of the church, and not with the members of the church. Even the apostle Paul disavowed all pretensions of exercising dominion over the faith of fellow Christians. (2 Cor. 1:24).

In his remarks in these pieces in the Gospel Advocate Brother Hardeman clearly reveals that he doesn't consider these things in dispute to be within the "direct commands, apostolic examples and necessary inferences" of the scriptures; hence, he departs from this ground as being necessary to occupy. In so doing he places all such in the realm of "permissibility" where the Digressives put the organ and society. But when Boswell tried to put the instrument there, Brother Hardeman was unwilling to accept such a classification. He demanded scriptural authority, or else the repudiation of the organ by those using it. Now he seems to have come around to where he sees the fitness of the defense made by Boswell, and thus has adopted it and adapted it to these present questions. He even sees them to be parallel to such things as baptistries, meeting houses, and a variety of other things he mentions. Now if he can put human organizations in that category he should no longer object to his digressive friends putting the organ there, and also their human societies.

Several years ago he wrote in defense of churches supporting colleges from their treasuries in which he took the position that such was exactly on a par with supporting orphan homes from the treasuries of the congregations. In the next article we intend to take up and consider in detail this position as then set forth by him, and note the logical consequences of his reasoning then and now in these things.

Truth Magazine, V:6, pp. 5-7
March 1961