Jesse Jenkins – Cecil Willis Debate

By Cecil Willis

Arrangements have been made for Brother Jesse G. Jenkins of Denton, Texas and me to be participants in a four-night Bible discussion September 23, 24, 26, 27 in the Houston, Texas area. The subject which we will be discussing will be what is commonly referred to as the “College Question,” but which in this instance more precisely will pertain to whether it is right for individual Christians to form organizations like Florida College in which the Bible is taught as a regular part of the curriculum. As I understand the matter, Brother Jenkins’ objection or objections will pertain only to the “Bible Department” of Florida College. The precise points at issue will be more clearly defined when I quote the propositions below, upon which we have agreed, and to which we have affixed our names.

Periodically, over the years, the question of whether it is right for colleges, like Florida College which teaches the Bible, have the right to exist. This article is intended to be merely an announcement of the particulars pertaining to the discussion, and to extend to brethren everywhere an invitation to attend this discussion.

A few months ago, Brother Ernest Finley wrote an article in the bulletin of the Oak Forest church in Houston which dealt with the right of the Bible to be taught in educational enterprises, such as Florida College located at Temple Terrace, Florida. Brother Finley’s article was entitled “Fuzzy Thinking.” Several brethren evidently objected to what he taught in that article. Thus a written discussion has resulted between Brother Glenn Burt who preaches for the church in Deer Park (a Houston suburb) and Brother Ernest Finley. That written discussion has been published in Bible Standard, a religious journal published from Austin, Texas by Brother Bob Craig, and edited by Brother Kent Ellis. Bible Standard is a very worthwhile periodical for you to receive, and if you do not already get it, let me suggest that you order it by writing Box 3284, Austin, Texas 78764. The subscription price is $3.00 per year.

There was also some interest in an oral discussion on the same subject to be conducted in the Houston area. The Oak Forest church, via Brother Ernest Finley, contacted me to see if I would be willing to engage in such an oral discussion with Brother Jesse Jenkins, with the discussion to be conducted somewhere in the Houston area. Though I was not our seeking any debate on that subject, I am not averse to discussing what I believe the Bible to teach, whether privately or publicly.

It was at first thought that the Red Bluff church in Pasadena, Texas would endorse Brother Jenkins for the discussion, and that Oak Forest would endorse me to speak in their behalf on the point at issue. However, the brethren at Red Bluff thought it best not to involve the congregation as such in such a discussion, and instead proposed that some individuals would see that a suitable place would be provided for the discussion. They emphasized that since neither Brother Jenkins nor I believed it to be right for a church to contribute to an organization like Florida College, they thought it best that the congregations be left out of the discussion entirely. This suggestion, conveyed to me by letter from Brother Curtis Torno, appeared to me to be a wise one. Thus I asked Oak Forest that, they release me from my agreement to represent them in such a discussion.

Brother Torno wrote that he thought the Deer Park High School auditorium could be rented for such a discussion. Since neither congregation will now be involved in the discussion, I therefore have sent my personal check to pay for one-half of the cost of renting either the Deer Park High School auditorium, or some other suitable meeting place which the brethren in the Houston area will select.

Brother Jenkins and I have only met one time, so far as either of us can remember. We did have one rather extended telephone discussion about the proposed debate. Everyone who has made any remark to me concerning Jesse Jenkins has commented that he would be completely fair in such a discussion, and I hope to conduct myself in a similar becoming manner. Brethren have spoken highly of Brother Jenkins’ debating ability. I do not know how many debates he has participated in, but I know he has conducted several debates. My debating experience is limited to four, but that fact should have no bearing on the debate.

One thing I liked particularly about my telephone conversation with Brother Jenkins. I explained to him that since neither of us knew the other very well, it might be very helpful and save a lot of unnecessary preparation if we each knew what the basic line of attack and defense would be. So I volunteered to tell him precisely upon what ground I intended to attempt to defend the teaching of the Bible in schools like Florida College. My thought was that if my argument was answerable merely because he knew what it was going to be beforehand, then it really was not a sound argument to begin with. Brother Jenkins just as readily told me what his basic objection would be to the Bible Department at Florida College.

Both Brother Jenkins and I have been very concerned about the effect of a debate on this subject in the Houston area. We both wanted no part in it, if the result would be a division among the brethren in that area. Of course, it already is well known that there are a considerable number of brethren who take opposing views on this issue in the Houston area. We both sought the counsel of several brethren in the Houston area whom we considered to be knowledgeable about the possible impact of such a discussion. The reaction was predominately in favor of such a discussion being held. In fact, only one brother expressed to me any apprehension regarding having it.

Brother Jenkins and I shall approach this discussion as good friends, though we do not know each other very well, and trust that we shall leave after the discussion even better friends, by virtue of having come to know each other better. I feel sure that the brethren where he preaches would permit me to preach there, if I should have occasion to be in that area; and I am confident that the brethren where I am a member would be glad to have him to speak to us. If I am not mistaken, Brother James R. Cope, President of Florida College, sometime in the month of May, 1974 was at the Denton meeting house to present a series of lessons on the home, which he has presented in nearly a hundred places from coast to coast. This, to me, evidences a good spirit about the matter.


On Sept. 23rd and 24th, I will affirm: “It is scriptural for individual Christians to organize, operate, financially support by contributions, and to utilize liberal arts educational enterprises, in which the Bible is taught as a regular part of the curriculum (as is practiced by Florida College). ” On Thursday and Friday nights, Brother Jenkins will affirm: “It is unscriptural for brethren to form a collectivity that solicits contributions from individual Christians, and that employs and oversees men in the work of teaching the Bible (as is practiced by Florida College).”

Two additional points are a part of our discussion agreement: “(1) Neither disputant will write a review of the debate in either Truth Magazine or The Bible Standard; (2) If the moderators write respective reviews of the debate, no more than one such review by each moderator shall be printed in either Truth Magazine or The Bible Standard. If such reviews are printed in either Truth Magazine or The Bible Standard, they shall also be printed in the other.”

Religious debate, when properly conducted, constitutes one of the finest ways to study a question. Ordinarily the principals of such a discussion come well prepared. They present their material succinctly and precisely. Those who attend are the only judges on earth who must ascertain which side is teaching the truth on the issue being debated. More than on nearly any other occasion, it seems to me to be imperative that those who intend to get the most out of such a discussion come prepared either with a tape recorder, or with a Bible, note pad, and writing instrument. Brother Jenkins and I hope to see you there!

Another Debate Possible

A few weeks ago Brother Bill Cavender, who preaches for the Imhoff Avenue church in Port Arthur, Texas, called me to ask if I would be willing to participate in a discussion with Brother Leroy Garrett. I orally agreed to do so, and have since written confirmation of my willingness to participate. Brother Garrett and I engaged in a rather lengthy telephone conversation about the possibility of such a discussion. Brother Garrett does not like some of the connotations that the word “debate” has, so he prefers to “dialogue.” I prefer that he “monologue” a while, and then let me “monologue” a while. It does not appear that this semantical issue will prevent the occurrence of the discussion. Brother Garrett is now supposed to be checking with the Proctor Street church, where he recently participated in a “Unity Forum,” to see if they will endorse him for such a discussion. The format finally agreed upon may be a little different than that which we usually have in a debate, but without doubt, there will be a head-on confrontation of ideas in the areas wherein we differ, particularly as these differences relate to the subject of fellowship.

Brother Garrett is a college professor, and thus the Semester break would be about the only time when he could arrange for a four night discussion. I think two nights are entirely too little time to devote to a topic of such proportions, and also personally am reluctant to schedule a Wednesday night session, for most of the churches have their Mid-Week services that night. So it is probable that this discussion will occur in January or February. A specific announcement will be made later.

I am reluctant to schedule the discussion with Brother Garrett much sooner, since I have given my word that I will meet Nathan Urshan, Radio Speaker of “Harvest Time,” in Indianapolis the early part of December. When I lived in Indianapolis in the early 1950s, Mr. Urshan’s program immediately preceded ours on radio station WISH. So actually he and I have already had a few debates! “Harvest Time” is heard weekly on 700 radio stations in 19 countries. Frankly, I am fearful Mr. Urshan will back out on his agreement to have the Indianapolis discussion in December. But he agreed to meet me, and Raymond Parnell (United Pentecostal preacher at Lafayette, Indiana) wrote me to that effect. Then I talked to Mr. Urshan by telephone, and he and I tried to work around two rather full schedules to arrange a mutually agreeable time. It seemed that early December would be most convenient for us both. Mr. Urshan suggested that their new 1200 seat auditorium would be much too small to accommodate the crowds which he expected to attend. So we discussed the renting of various larger facilities in Indianapolis, and agreed to share equally the rental cost.

For several weeks now, I have heard nothing from Mr. Urshan, though I have written him since our telephone call to try to finalize the debate arrangements. But having given my word of honor that I would meet him in December, I therefore am reluctant to plan to meet Brother Garrett until after this Indianapolis commitment has been fulfilled.

In the meantime, I am scheduled to work in gospel meetings at the following places, and with the debates injected, my schedule recently and for the remainder of 1974 looks like this:

Jamestown, Indiana (June 10-16)

Fremont, Ohio (June 24-30

Fairbanks, Alaska (July 28-Aug. 2)

Anchorage Alaska (Aug. 4-11)

Waipahu, Hawaii (Aug. 14-21)

Bradley, Illinois (Sept. 8-13)

Jenkins Debate (Sept. 23, 24, 26, 27)

Brown Street, Akron, Ohio (Oct. 6-11)

Wooster, Ohio (Oct. 14-20)

Sciotoville, Ohio (Nov. 11-17)

Indianapolis Debate (early December)


Truth Magazine, XVIII:33, p. 3-5
June 20, 1974