The Thrasher-Jackson Debate on Church Benevolence

By Wayne Greeson

Brother Thomas N. Thrasher met brother Roger Jackson in public debate in northern Alabama on June 3-4 and 6-7, on the subject of church benevolence. The first two nights were conducted near Somerville, Alabama, at the Union church of Christ building where Roger Jackson regularly preaches. These first two nights, the proposition was, “The Bible teaches that a church of the Lord’s people may make a contribution, from its treasury, to a home for orphans.” Jackson affirmed this proposition and brother Thrasher denied it. The second two nights were held in the building of the church of Christ on Sparkman Drive in Huntsville, Alabama. Brother Thrasher affirmed and Jackson denied that, “The Bible teaches that, in benevolence, a church of the Lord’s people is restricted to the relief of needy saints only.”

Both Thrasher and Jackson have conducted numerous debates. Jackson has had about ten prior debates, at least two have been on church benevolence, one with Ed Bragwell, Jr., and another with Bob Myhan. Brother Thrasher has had almost 40 debates but this was his first debate on the subject of church benevolence. The discussion between Thrasher and Jackson revealed the debating experience of these two men and clearly showed their differences on the issue of church benevolence.

The first night of the debate, Jackson affirmed that a church may contribute to a home for orphans. In support of his proposition, Jackson introduced the following “rule,” “All passages which relate to peculiarly religious matters are passages which apply with equal force both to the church and to the individual Christian.” This rule reappeared in virtually every speech in the debate and became the main focus of the debate.

Jackson also introduced Galatians 6:10, James 1:27, Acts 20:35 and Galatians 2:10. Interestingly, Jackson’s own chart clearly labeled these passages as instructions to “individuals.” So how could they be instructions concerning church benevolence? Only by the application of Jackson’s “rule.”

Thrasher quickly got to the heart of the discussion by asking Jackson three questions: “Where is the command for a church to contribute to a home for orphans?” “Where is the necessary implication for a church to contribute to a home for orphans?” Jackson responded by saying there was no command or example, but James 1:27 provided the necessary implication. Thrasher skillfully pointed out that there was no authority by command or approved example according to Jackson for a church to contribute to a home for orphans. Thrasher went further and demanded to know how Jackson could necessarily imply from James 1:27 that a church could contribute to a home for orphans, when the passage said nothing about the church, or the church contributing funds from its treasury. Thrasher pointed out that even Jackson admitted a church contributing to a home for orphans was not the only way or even the best way, therefore, this meant there was no necessary implication.

Thrasher also pointed out that Jackson’s “rule” was really “Jackson’s Law.” Jackson made a law where God has not made one and Thrasher urged Jackson to prove his “Law” by the Scriptures. Jackson first tried to support his “rule” or “law” by arguing that Ephesians 5:19 was to individuals, but it gave authority for the “church to sing.” Jackson even asked for the passage that authorizes the “church to sing.” Thrasher answered that individual Christians are authorized to “sing in church” by Hebrews 2:12.

Thrasher also questioned “Jackson’s Law” on several other points. Thrasher asked, if every member of a church could give to a college, can the church give to a college? Jackson avoided the question by saying a church could give to a teacher of the Bible. Thrasher wanted to know whether benevolence was a peculiarly religious act and if so, could I the church give to the KKK for its benevolent works? Jackson was vague about whether benevolence was a “peculiarly religious act” but he argued that the KKK did other things so the church could not give to it.

As Thrasher pressed Jackson to provide Scripture support for his “law,” Jackson mentioned three passages, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Revelation 2-3 and Galatians 6:2. Jackson said that 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “As I gave order to the churches so do ye,” and this showed that orders to churches also applied to individuals, therefore, orders to individuals could apply to churches. Thrasher quickly noticed that none of these passages taught “Jackson’s Law.” Individuals and churches were not commanded to do the same thing in these passages. Further, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 was, if anything, the opposite of Jackson’s Law. Jackson said commands to individuals apply to churches, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “As I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye.”

Jackson also argued that Thrasher had two rules for Bible passages: one rule said passages to individuals could be applied to churches and a second rule that covered only two passages (Jas. 1:27 and Gal. 6:10), that the church must be specifically addressed or excluded. Thrasher said neither of these rules accurately reflected his position and he rejected Jackson’s characterization as false.

On the third and fourth nights of the debate, Thrasher affirmed that a church of the Lord’s people could provide benevolence to saints only. Thrasher, anticipating Jackson’s request for a rule of interpretation, went to Revelation 2 and 3 and indicated that he was going to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Thrasher argued that in church benevolence, the Spirit says “saints” and the Spirit only said “saints.” Thrasher illustrated this principle with a series of charts. Where did the Bible authorize “singing and playing” or baptizing “believers and non-believers” or partaking of “bread and fruit of the vine and something else” or church benevolence to “saints and non-saints.”

Jackson repeatedly tried to argue for the specific words “saints only,” and he suggested that to argue “saints only,” was like the Baptists arguing “faith only.” Jackson made an interesting argument from Matthew 5:47. He argued that we should not salute our “brethren only” therefore, the church could provide benevolence to non-saints. At the same time, Jackson excluded certain groups from benevolence. His charts specifically excluded the “lazy,” “false teachers,” “enemies,” “thieves,” “sinners” and “the rich.” The only ones Jackson allowed church benevolence to were children and the feeble minded.

Thrasher used Jackson’s exclusions to his advantage. He argued that in Matthew 5, God sends the rain and sunshine on the “just and unjust” and the “good and evil” and Jesus is telling us to love all men, not our brethren only. But the church is not here and the passage did not authorize the church to provide benevolence. Thrasher argued that Jackson believed in limited benevolence, but the difference was Thrasher limited it to what the Spirit says to the churches. Thrasher asked where does the Bible say benevolence is to “honest people only,” or “poor only,” or “workers only” or “non-enemies only.” Thrasher vigorously argued that Matthew 5:43-48 includes enemies, the just and unjust and sinners under God’s law of love, but that Jackson’s misapplication of the passage to church benevolence excluded them.

Besides Matthew 5:47, Jackson also used Galatians 6:10 and briefly 2 Corinthians 9:13. These passages were intended to show that the church could contribute to saints and non-saints. Thrasher took each of these passages in turn, read the context and noted that none of the passages authorized church benevolence to non-saints. Thrasher noted that the only possible way Galatians 6:10 and Matthew 5:47 could apply to the church was by “Jackson’s Law” and that was not found in God’s Word. In one chart, entitled, “Metamorphosis,” Thrasher showed how the command to the “individual” was meta-morphosized to a command to the “church” by Jackson’s Law.

Over all, brother Thrasher dealt with the issue and questions very straightforwardly and simply. One could not misunderstand where he stood and what he said. On the other hand, Jackson appeared at times to purposely avoid questions and try to create confusion and misunderstanding, to avoid the argument. However, Jackson is to be commended for his willingness to openly debate these issues, something fewer and fewer of his brethren are willing to do.

If anyone desires audio and/or video tapes of the debate, contact Thomas N. Thrasher at P.O. Box 9141, Decatur, Alabama 35602 (phone: 205-353-3085).

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 454-455
August 1, 1991