Lewis – Smith Debate

By Julian R. Snell

On the night of December 6-7 and 9-10, Harry Lewis, Christian, met Gerald Smith, Baptist, in debate at Lexington, KY. The proposition, “A child of God can so sin as to be lost in hell,” was discussed, with Lewis in the affirmative the first two nights and Smith in the negative. The last two nights Smith took the affirmative with the proposition being changed by, “cannot,” to reflect the Baptist position. Attendance ranged from 300-400 for the sessions.

Harry Lewis, preacher for the Liberty Road church in Lexington has a daily call-in radio program. Gerald Smith, who preaches for the Northside Baptist Church in Lexington, apparently prompted by what he heard on the program, called in and challenged brother Lewis for the discussion. During the course of the debate, it became apparent that Smith had been a regular unidentified caller on Lewis’ program as questions and answers there given made up a prominent part of Smith’s argumentation. Much out of the ordinary for present day Baptists was the aggressive spirit of Mr. Smith and his associates in challenging for other debates. Propositions were signed during the discussion for a debate on “essentiality of baptism” and arrangements are in the making to debate “origin and name of the church.”

The first two nights of the debate were held at the Northside Baptist Church where brother Lewis affirmed. The latter two in a school auditorium provided by the Liberty Road congregation, where Smith affirmed. This produced an interesting development giving real insight into at least this group of Baptists’ attitude toward other churches, the Lord’s church in particular. Preliminaries to the debate included a song and prayer, intermission also included a song. The Baptists declined to participate in this and when someone questioned and chided the failure the moderator for Mr. Smith gave a revealing explanation. His words, as nearly as I remember, were, “We did not contract to worship with you people and refuse to do so. We will not sing with a group of infidels who have denied and refused the grace of God.”

While our purpose here is to simply report the debate we would pay compliment to the splendid job brother Lewis did in presenting truth and punctuating error. He was well prepared with telling affirmative arguments, beautifully presented by charts. His anticipation of Smith’s arguments was reflected in the charts prepared in advance which proved devastating. Mr. Smith found it necessary to stay in the negative even through a greater part of the last two nights when he was supposed to be affirming. Actually, he presented no affirmative argument until his last speech the final night. This within itself shows his difficulties. At one point during the discussion when clarification of statements was necessary, Mr. Smith was asked, “Do you believe the Christian can sin?” He answered, “Yes,” and in so doing he sacrificed his proposition. This really tells the story of the debate.

While this was the first debate for both men, even though each is an experienced preacher, it was fairly representative. Mr. Smith has been 17 years at the Northside Baptist Church. Harry Lewis, in his first year at Liberty Road, though many years a faithful preacher, conducted himself in an admirable way and his efforts are appreciated by all who were present. He is deserving of the commendation of brethren everywhere who love the truth.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, p. 55
January 20, 1983