By Larry Ray Hafley
It was my good pleasure and privilege to serve as an assistant to brother Dick Blackford during his debate with Steve Epley, a Pentecostal preacher. The debate was held in the meeting house of the Pentecostals in Owensboro, Kentucky, during the week of June 9th.
Before I get into the pertinent details of the debate, a word must be said about my service as an assistant. Frankly, I was simply outstanding! Whenever Dick needed water to drink, I poured it for him. Whenever he needed papers, notes and charts shuffled, I came through. Not once did I spill a single drop of water. It was a tremendous performance. Of course, I was there to help Dick, but he was so well prepared and so thoroughly organized that I was not needed in the least. So, if you are in a debate and do not need any help with arguments and ideas, call me I can pour you water to drink with the best of them.
Seriously, the preparation Dick made was amazing. He had over 200 charts beautifully constructed and carefully arranged. Dick has a kind and loving manner of speech that comes across to those with whom he disagrees. Brother Blackford is not afraid of “going to the jugular” when it is necessary to do so, but he has a way of getting the truth to the minds of men without being personally offensive.
Those who despise debates because of their alleged tendency to “get nasty” should have attended this one. The audiences were respectful and attentive. The disputants pressed their points without rancor or bitterness.
Mr. Epley is an above average debater. He likes to debate and will likely meet other gospel preachers in debate. Do not take him lightly. He is an effective speaker and knows how to turn an argument. He follows the standard Pentecostal line, but he relies heavily on the material of Raymond Bishop and other adept Pentecostal debaters.
The building for the debate seated 225 people. There were 300 present the first night. There were a dozen or so Pentecostal preachers present. There were about that many gospel preachers present, too. Consider this. During the debate, brother Blackford preached to more “outsiders” than he will preach to in gospel meetings over the next 10 years. Think of the opportunity that represents. No, no one was baptized as a result of the debate; at least, not immediately, but the seed was sown in the hearts of men and women who needed to hear it. The Lord will give the increase; His word will not return unto Him void.
With careful planning and under the right circumstances, more debates need to be held. Let us uphold the hands of men like Dick Blackford in efforts of this kind.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 15, p. 458
August 7, 1986