By Sammy Bynum
On the evenings of January 14, 15, 17 and 18, Ed Bragwell, Jr., who preaches for the Golden Springs church in Anniston, Alabama, met Roger Jackson of the Betta View Hills church in nearby Oxford, in a public debate of issues involving church benevolence. The discussion, held in the meeting house of the E and Quintard church of Christ, was attended by an estimated 125-150 each night.
Ed O. Bragwell, Sr. of Fultondale, Alabama, moderated for Ed Jr., who was engaging in his first public debate. Clyde Ray moderated for Roger Jackson, a staff writer for Firm Foundation and widely used by brethren who support human institutions.
It will be our purpose in this article to review and examine some of the major arguments made by each disputant during the course of the discussion.
The First Proposition
The proposition discussed the first two nights and affirmed by Roger Jackson was the following: “It is in harmony with the Scriptures for churches of Christ to contribute from their treasuries to benevolent institutions structured like Childhaven, so that the needs of orphaned children might be adequately met.”
In lieu of Scripture to support his proposition, Jackson’s argumentation consisted chiefly of human reasoning, setting forth emotional and hypothetical situations, and taking verses which address individual responsibility (Jas. 1:27; Gal. 6:10) and trying to apply them to collective church action in benevolence.
Not surprisingly, he began with the assertion that the issue was one of “how” the work of benevolence was to be done, and that the “home” of his proposition was simply a “how.” He further claimed that his proposition would be established by necessary inference based on James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10. Also included in his affirmative argumentation were various statements made to appeal to emotion and prejudice. He enjoyed talking about a petty cash envelope, containing some of the church’s money, out of which he supplied the needs of sinners, and queried whether or not all the members of Betta View Hills would go to hell if they did not repent. Many other efforts in the vein, no more worthy of mention than the latter, were also made in seeming imitation of Woods, Highers, etc.
The main thrust of Jackson’s affirmative was what he referred to as a “component part” argument, in which he purported to have put together elements comprising the “total situation” from Scripture which justified church support of benevolent institutions like Childhaven. In it he included the following points: (1) God has given the church an obligation to orphans; (2) God has not specified the details; (3) Recognition of the true meaning of the word “orphan”; (4) God’s love extends to all men and we are not to do the opposite as His body (Matt. 5:43-48); (5) The church and the home are two distinct institutions; (6) The needs of a destitute child cannot be adequately met without his having or being a part of a home; (7) A home can scripturally meet legal requirements; (8) Legal homes structured like Childhaven are homes; and (9) The church may send funds from its treasury to institutions structured like Childhaven.
Brother Bragwell countered the affirmative arguments of brother Jackson by first pointing out that the discussion was not one of “how” the work of benevolence was to be done-method-but “who”-which organization is to provide for the needy to whom the church is responsible stating that it is the work of the church and not a human benevolent institution. Effectively shown by use of a chart was that the church has no more right to maintain a benevolent institution to do its work of relieving the needy than it does to maintain an evangelistic institution to do its work of spreading the gospel, or an edification institution to do that work for it.
He also noted that Jackson had shown no passage in which a benevolent institution like Childhaven was necessarily inferred, and that it was a misuse of Scripture to apply passages such as James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10 to church activity. He also replied to the various emotional and prejudicial statements by simply pointing out that such were characteristic of denominational attempts to justify unscriptural action or to set aside the teaching of Scripture.
Bragwell countered the “component part” argument by (1) noting that some essential “parts” were missing, namely Scripture showing that benevolent institutions like Childhaven are authorized, and that the church can contribute to it; (2) pointing out that he was assuming the thing to be proven with his last part of the argument, (3) using the same kind of misapplied logic to show that with such any kind of proposition could be proven.
The Second Proposition
The second proposition was affirmed by brother Bragwell the last two nights of the debate. It stated: “The Scriptures teach that the local church in its work of benevolence, may only provide the needs of the saints.”
At the outset of his speeches, brother Bragwell stated the basic issue involved in the proposition. He pointed out that it was not (1) whether churches have a work of benevolence, or (2) what the responsibility of individuals may be in benevolence, but whether a local church is to provide benevolent aid for non-saints from its treasury.
Furthermore he emphasized the importance of respecting scriptural authority by following the New Testament pattern for church benevolence. By examining passages in Acts 2, 4, 6, 11, Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 16, and 2 Corinthians 8-9, he showed that the objects of church relief were always saints, thus limiting church benevolence to saints only. He paralleled the New Testament pattern in benevolence with the pattern found therein with respect to singing, pointing out that just as the exclusive pattern of “sing” authorized d6singing only,” so the exclusive pattern of church benevolence to saints authorized “saints only.”
Brother Bragwell also reminded the audience that since he was in effect affirming a “negative proposition,” that it would be necessary for brother Jackson to give scriptural authority for church benevolence to sinners to sustain any rebuttal.
Brother Jackson’s responses to the affirmative were characterized by the same kind of argumentation that he used when he was in the affirmative-inflammatory and emotionally charged statements, supposition and speculation, and misuse of Scripture-only to a greater extent.
Being weak in scriptural argumentation, his apparent attempt to turn the debate from one based on “thus saith the Lord,” to one muddled by the wisdom of man, was quickly manifest in his stating that the issue was “Can’t the church give to a little child as a token of love,” and whether or not an innocent, hungry orphan would starve before the church would take ten cents from the treasury to feed it. In response to these and a number of other such “classics” (including some absurd statements made in total ignorance about the costs of brother Bragwell’s clothes, car, and living quarters), brother Bragwell aptly noted that such were an admission of being deficient in Scripture.
Jackson replied to Bragwell’s argument on the New Testament pattern of church benevolenct to saints only by conjecturing that Acts 2, 4, and 6 possibly included some nonsaints who were aided. He discoursed on the possibility of their being one or two hundred “walk in” children to the assembly in Jerusalem who were aided out of the treasury.
In response to brother Bragwell’s point that he needed to give Scripture to justify benevolence to sinners, Jackson responded, “I don’t have to prove a dime’s worth of anything.” It might be added that as far as Scripture is concerned, he was pretty true to his statement.
Although using James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10 as he had the first two nights, Jackson sought to make his stand from Scripture at 2 Corinthians 9:13. From there he made the argument that “them” were Christians, and that the “all men” were sinners; thus the churches had helped both saints and sinners. His apparent lack of understanding of the passage was indicated by (1) his stating that there was nothing in the context that would limit “all men” to Christians, and (2) his battle with the straw man argument that all transfer of funds does not constitute fellowship, overlooking the import of koinonias in the verse. In his response to Jackson’s argument from 2 Corinthians 9:13, Bragwell pointed out (1) the limitations of “all” in the context, (2) the meaning of the term translated “distribution,” as indicating the relationship which exists only among Christians, and (3) the fact that such construction as found in the verse is not necessarily mutually exclusive, as he illustrated by Matthew 3:5.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the discussion held in Anniston illustrated that brethren who disagree can do so in a cordial manner, and that such a discussion affords an opportunity for many to hear both sides of the issues which divide brethren. Tapes and charts of the debate are available and can be obtained by contacting brother Bragwell.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, pp. 562-563, 566
September 19, 1985