The Bonner-Gage Debate OR Would The Real Anti Please Stand?

By James Sanders

The anti-class and women teachers position is usually thought of as ultraconservatism. Brethren who have doubts about either women teachers or Bible classes often think of themselves as moderate. They say, “Id rather be safe and not do it.” To their way of thinking, they are acting unassumingly and are trodding the certain path. But such is not the case. It is never safe or conservative to bind where God has not bound.

Recently I attended a discussion in the panhandle of Texas which aptly illustrates this very point. The debate was between David Bonner of Dumas, Texas, and Ralph Gage of El Dorado, Arkansas. It lasted four nights1 and two main propositions were disputed. The first point of controversy dealt with Bible classes. Bonner affirmed they were Scriptural and Gage denied. The second half of the debate, however, is what made the series rather unique. Here Gage (anti-class) affirmed universal benevolence by the church, i.e. “The local church has the obligation to help all the needy in the world as it has ability and opportunity to do SO.” Bonner, Of course, denied. The result was that Gage was at once both ultraconservative and liberal. You ask, “How can that possibly be?” And we reply, “Because anti-class is not conservatism!” Brethren are not being safe when they bind where the Lord has not bound.

Gage, consequently, was in a very awkward position. He had bound (anti-class) when God had not done so and had loosed (universal benevolence) where the Lord had not loosed. Even the Apostles themselves could not do this. The Christ had said to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19b, NASB).2

The Debate Itself

The conduct of both disputants during the debate was superb. F. W. Robertson once remarked, “Disagreement is refreshing when two men lovingly desire to compare their views to find out truth.” Such was the Bonner-Gage debate.

David Bonner was excellent in his defense of truth. His conduct was that of a gentleman and his pursuit for Scripture was that of a warrior. It was the twenty-fifth debate on classes for Ralph Gage. I believe he was honest. Gage attempted to reply to every argument submitted by Bonner. Not once did he call names, knowingly misrepresent, or dodge a point.

The real crux of the discussion, however, was neither classes nor benevolence. The central theme was Biblical authority and how to establish it. Gage literally had no concept of doing all in the name of the Lord.

Bonners basic arguments on classes were mimeographed and distributed. He has extra copies. Write him: Church of Christ, 6th & Meredith, Dumas, Texas 79029.


1 February 28-29; March 2-3, 1972. Four propositions were debated. The writer was only able to attend the first two nights. A written report on the remaining two nights provides the source for comments given on the benevolent issue.

2 The verb form is a perfect passive participle and expresses a thing in a state of having been already forbidden. It is accurately translated by the New American Standard Bible.

April 27, 1972