Ashworth – Rudd Debate

By Steve Wolfgang

During the week of February 26 – March 2, Brother W.C. (Billy) Ashworth of Dickson, Tennessee met Jack Rudd in a debate on the following propositions. Ashworth affirmed

“It is unscriptural for churches of Christ to build and/or maintain benevolent organizations for the care of the needy, such as Tennessee Orphan Home and homes for the aged”

the first two nights, with Rudd denying. This proposition was discussed at the New Hope Church of Christ, ten miles east of Dickson. The last two nights, Jack Rudd affirmed

“It is scriptural for churches of Christ to contribute funds from their treasuries in support of Herald of Truth Radio and Television Program, conducted by Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas (Sponsoring Church)”

with Ashworth denying this proposition. This portion of the discussion occurred in the meetinghouse of the Tennessee City Church of Christ, seven miles west of Dickson. This discussion came about as a result of several private discussions -between two members of the New Hope and Tennessee City churches respectively, who asked the two disputants to enter into this discussion. This writer moderated for Billy Ashworth; Don Hinds, from the San Francisco Bay area, moderated for Jack Rudd.

This debate was the first such discussion in a quarter century on these issues in Middle Tennessee. (A misprint in Brother Ashworth’s bulletin preceding the debate left the impression with some that it was the first debate anywhere in twenty-five years, and provided much of the substance for the remarks in Rudd’s first several negative speeches.) Brother Rudd included these comments in his first night’s speeches:

“If you want another debate, or if any of your brethren want a debate . . . brother Don Hines, who’s my moderator, told me he would be glad to take any of you to San Francisco and engage in a debate in that area. So I don’t believe you’re going to have any trouble getting a debate from any of us . . . No one’s afraid. We’ll debate you any time, any where, and if you want a debate, get the propositions made up, and I’ll get you a debate in almost every state in the union, and we won’t have to wait very long to do it.”

Since Brother Rudd so quickly volunteered his moderator to debate these same issues, this writer, as the other moderator, just as quickly accepted that challenge in the closing remarks the first evening. Correspondence has been exchanged with Brother Hinds relative to conducting such a public discussion in the San Francisco Bay area in the fall of 1979; announcements will be forthcoming as details are finalized.

It is not the purpose of this review to rehash the substance of the debate; Brother Ashworth did an excellent job in both expounding and defending New Testament teaching regarding the work of the church and needs no “scotching” from this writer. Of course, since this writer is his son-in-law, some might detect some justifiable pride on my part! For those who are interested, verbatim tapes of the discussion are available. Also, printed copies of most of the overhead projection transparencies and charts used by Brother Ashworth may be obtained by writing to the above address. Interested parties may wish to study or hear the taped debate themselves rather than rely on this writer’s judgment. However, there were some interesting occurrences during the debate which may be of some interest and worthy of report here.

Brother Rudd very early in the debate took the position that a single individual (he used himself as an example) was an “organization.” Attempting to bolster this position, he held up one of Brother Ashworth’s bulletins, published and mailed by the Oak Avenue church where Brother Ashworth preaches, and maintained that it (the bulletin) was “an organization” because it had the words “non-profit organization” written in the space describing the postal permit. Ashworth, a Postal Service employee for many years (including more than eighteen as a Postmaster), had some fun explaining to Brother Rudd the difference in the permit issued to an organization (a church), and the organization itself, or the organization’s publication. Rudd’s insistence that a mailing permit constituted a separate organization came back to haunt him the last two nights when he had to confront the fact that the Herald of Truth, allegedly a work of the Highland church in Abilene, has its own separate mailing permit!

When confronted with the question of how he could be consistent in opposing the missionary society but uphold benevolent or educational societies or an arrangement like the Herald of Truth, Brother Rudd made the following comments:

“I will make one statement and that will take care of the missionary society. The missionary society is wrong because it doesn’t teach the truth . . . . So the missionary society is wrong because it displaces, it takes the place of the church. In other words, it’s just another church. That’s what’s wrong with it, and it doesn’t teach the truth.”

Other such statements which hardly need to be answered for anyone able to think clearly included assertions such as, “the church supports the government when it pays taxes” (used by Brother Rudd to “prove” that the church could therefore “support” Tennessee Orphan Home by making monthly donations to it); and “1 Timothy 5:16 authorizes church donations to any kind of home.” Brother Rudd was given the following written question (among others), to be answered on Friday night: “Is it scriptural for a congregation of the Lord’s people to send money to a Baptist church for evangelism?” Here is the answer given by Jack Rudd, in his own writing: “I thought everyone, even anti preachers would know that was alright.”

In regard to the tone and decorum of the debate, the answer to the question just quoted, will give the reader some indication. Brother Rudd repeatedly made demeaning personal references to his opponent and the elders of the Oak Avenue congregation where Brother Ashworth preaches (and also serves as an elder), and in many ways turned the discussion to issues of personality and irrelevant matters, Tuesday evening being perhaps the worst in this regard. On Thursday evening, his first night in the affirmative, Brother Rudd did not even attempt to define the proposition he signed his name to prove, forcing Ashworth to define the terms of the propositions in his first negative speech. While it is not always easy to sit through this sort of personal abuse and refrain from replying in like manner (one’s seat does indeed become a veritable “hot seat” after a while), Brother Ashworth did a remarkable job of restraining himself and keeping reply to this sort of thing in the background while attempting to focus on the issues expressed in the propositions. I was reminded of the Texas preacher J.D. Tant’s remarks, made in conjunction with a debate in the Dickson area earlier in this century, that “a man can no more meet” such an opponent “successfully and occupy a high plane than one could kill a polecat with a yardstick and not smell bad” (Gospel Advocate, March 12, 1908; see J.D. Tant, Texas Preacher, p. 305).

Nonetheless, though a certain degree of this sort of irrelevant issue perhaps needs some minimal reply lest some in the audience think reply is impossible, Brother Ashworth did a creditable job, in my opinion as one who sat next to him on the platform, in “keeping his cool” and bringing the audience back to the issues at hand. Discussion of the issues that divide brethren cannot help but be a healthy enterprise, and there were a good many young people (as well as some not so young) for whom this was the first exposure to a public religious debate. Thanks should go to Brother Ashworth for preparing and executing his portion of the debate, and I should also like to take this opportunity to thank brethren Howard See, Donnie Rader, and Jim Caplinger who were especially helpful during the week in reviewing the tapes of preceding sessions and preparing charts and other materials. Though most of his charts and arguments were lifted directly from Guy N. Woods’ debate with Roy Cogdill, Brother Rudd is to be commended at least for his willingness to defend his practices, which is more than can be said of most other preachers who are of his persuasion on this issue. Contact this writer for details regarding the tapes or other materials germane to .this discussion.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 25, pp. 410-411
June 21, 1979