Debate Notes

By Connie W. Adams

The debate is over. Looking back over what transpired, several interesting things developed. The time of year no doubt hindered many from coming both locally and from a distance. Yet the attendance was good and the interest keen. Considerable numbers came from this area and many from over the country. Good order prevailed on the part of the audience.

More representative men could not have been selected to do the debating. For several years now Guy N. Woods has been recognized as the champion of the institutional movement among brethren. He is well known not only as a debater, but also for his part in preparing the Gospel Advocate literature. Roy E. Cogdill is known as preacher of great ability, having conducted meetings for many years throughout the country, as has Brother Woods. He is the author of “THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH” which has sold through several editions. His debating has been much more limited than Brother Woods’ efforts in that field.

The first three nights Brother Cogdill affirmed that it is “contrary to the Scriptures for churches of Christ to build and maintain benevolent organizations for the care of the needy such as Boles Home, Tipton Home, Tennessee Orphan Home, Childhaven and other orphan homes and homes for the aged that are among us.” He began by showing how scriptural authority is established. There must be a direct statement, approved example or necessary inference. In the absence of such, a practice is contrary to scripture. Brother Cogdill showed that in the work of relieving, the organization God authorized is the local church. He then showed that the benevolent organizations of the proposition were different from both the church and the home in origin, nature, form and function. These organizations are not a home; they are chartered to “provide a home.” To me, the most forceful part of Brother Cogdill’s presentation was his list of charges against the practice mentioned in the proposition, charges which were never even mentioned by Brother Woods, though he claims to answer everything, “item by item, statement by statement.” Cogdill charged that these organizations are: (1) Transgressive in that they go beyond the divine pattern in relief. The benevolent organizations are coordinate with the church and therefore additions to the word of God. ( 2 ) They are unholy, not sanctified by the blood of Christ. The New Testament was sealed by the blood of Christ, and anything practiced without New Testament authority is not cleansed by blood. (3) They are presumptive since there is no assurance that God accepts them. (4) They are irreverent in that they impeach the wisdom of God. Their existence is a tacit admission that the church as God purposed it is not adequate to fulfill its mission and human wisdom can improve upon his eternal purpose. (5) They are lawless in spirit. The word “iniquity” means without law. Since the New Testament does not authorize them, they are lawless. (6) They are sectarian in nature. While claimed as “expedients” they are made the test of fellowship to which brethren either submit or must get out. (7) They are Pharisaical in that they count themselves righteous, say “look what we are doing, what are you doing?” (8) They are unrighteous for God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel, and these are not. (9) They are perverse in that they divert the church from its true mission and plunge it into secular business. ( 10) They are wasteful in that about 40% of funds raised goes for management and not actual care.

Brother Woods argued that the church could not be over a home, but could send money to a home. He said the organization constituted a “restored home.” He cited some passages, which concerned private duties of Christians and had no bearing on the responsibility of the church. For the most part his time was spent trying to show Cogdill inconsistent, raising sophistical questions, saying that Cogdill had changed, that the Newbern church had changed, and in appealing for the sympathy of the audience. After three nights had passed, and serious charges had been made against the scripturality of churches of Christ building and maintaining benevolent organizations for the care of the needy, we were never treated to the passage that so authorizes the practice. If anybody could do it, Brother Woods could, but in three nights he did not produce it.

The last three nights Woods affirmed the scripturality of the Herald of Truth. He started with the great commission and said that such a task required the cooperation of all congregations to realize fulfillment. He said that in New Testament times one church sent help to another for benevolence, and then reasoned from that that it could do so in evangelism. He introduced the “total situation” argument, in which he asserted that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, that each part of his situation was scriptural, therefore his proposition stood. Cogdill showed that he had only asserted some of his fundamental essentials. He pressed him for the passage that says that one church ever sent funds to another for the purpose of evangelism. That was never produced. Woods wanted to know if one church could send a New Testament to another. Cogdill showed that for this to be parallel to the Herald-of-Truth arrangement that one church would have to receive funds from many churches in order to become a New Testament disbursing church overseeing a brotherhood work. Woods again charged that Cogdill had changed, that the Newbern church had, showed a chart with a picture of Cogdill (supposedly) driving the wedge that split the log. Cogdill showed that he had changed, was not ashamed of it, but that Woods had plainly changed and yet had never admitted it. Cogdill showed that in the work of the church, each congregation had an equal relation to the work of preaching the gospel and that the New Testament did not authorize a centralization of funds as in the Herald of Truth. He showed that each congregation consisted of members, resources, worship, work and discipline, and asked if one church could turn over part of its resources to another then why could it not delegate the oversight of some of its members, its work, worship or discipline. He showed that the Herald of Truth is separate from the Highland church, that Highland contributes to it like other churches do, that it has a separate mailing permit from the Highland church, has its own employees, offices and equipment, and issues its own financial report. According to their own published financial report for 1960, it took 56″ of every dollar contributed to grease the machinery. The debate ended without Woods ever reading the passage that authorized one eldership to become a brotherhood eldership, or that justified such a centralized agency as the Herald of Truth.

This report of the debate will not please Brother Woods. All through the debate he made remarks to the preachers present about how they would “write it up.” Let it not be denied that Brother Woods is skilled on the polemic platform. He knows debaters’s trick in the book, and used many of them in these six nights. He made assertions instead of proof. He switched terms to make play on words. He sought to load Cogdill with many questions read so hurriedly the audience could not very well follow them. He sought to draw Cogdill into side issues. He made emotional appeals to the audience. Yet, many of his partisans went off telling what a fine job he had done, when they could not tell if their lives depended on it, what passages he offered that really had any bearing at all on either proposition.

At all these discussions there are people whose minds are open and who honestly seek truth. There were some present for this debate of that mind. Already doors are opened for further study with various ones from this area. The church here is stronger as a result of it. The elders are well pleased with the work Brother Cogdill did in contending for what we believe to be the truth. There ought to be more public debates on these matters. Lies have been whispered in the darkness, unnecessary suspicions have been aroused; prejudice has clogged the minds of some. Such public discussions tend to clear the air with those who want the truth. We appeal to all who came, study your Bibles for yourselves, take no man’s word. Accept only what God said. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”

Truth Magazine VI: 6, pp. 17-19
March 1962