Report Of The Atlanta Debate
"Bro. Robert L. (Bob) Craig of the DeQueen Blvd. church in Port Arthur engaged in a debate with Mr. W. E. Yocum, who is the pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Atlanta, Texas, on the dates of February 24-27, 1959. The entire discussion was held in the United Pentecostal building in Atlanta, Texas.
The debate came about in this way. Some time ago brother John Dillard debated a U. P. preacher in Logansport, La. Yocum moderated for the Pentecostal preacher and in the course of this debate made the assertions repeatedly that no "Church of Christ" preacher in Northeast Texas would meet him. A member of the DeQueen Blvd. church was at the debate, heard these boasts by Yocum, and told him that brother Craig would meet him. Through correspondence between Craig and Yocum the propositions were signed and dates set. Yocum agreed to have the discussion in his building.
Some three weeks before the discussion, brother Craig, brother Leon Odom, the elders of DeQueen Blvd. ' church, and I received letters from Atlanta. These letters were identical and were signed by twenty-one men of the Atlanta church of Christ. Their letters stated that they were "embarrassed to have to write" us, that "this coming discussion would not help the cause of Christ in this community or elsewhere," that we would "be sowing discord among the brethren," that "no good thing can come fro this public discussion," that they did not "believe that this will be an honorable debate," that "in fact, it will not be any more than a street quarrel," that "if and when we decide that a discussion will be of value to this community we would like to have the privilege of selecting our own man for the discussion." The letter continued by saying that they were appealing to us, in the name of God, "to try to find some way out of this mess," and that if we didn't then "our only alternative is to publically announce that we will not support you or have anything to do with the discussion. We hate to do this but if forced, we must." The letter assured us that "we don't want to leave the impression that we are afraid of public discussions for we are not, neither are we afraid of Mr. Yocum," that "we know this letter may seem harsh but it is not intended to be," that "we hope that you will understand our position and not have your feelings hurt," and ended by pronouncing a benediction upon us, thusly: "May the Lord bless you in every effort that is right, and defeat you in every effort that is wrong is our prayer."
The elders of the DeQueen Blvd. church answered these brethren in one letter, and brethren Craig, Odom and I replied jointly in another letter. In both letters it was pointed out to these brethren in Atlanta that this discussion did not involve them, their building, their money, their support, nor their endorsement. We told these brethren that we did not believe that they believed in debates as Yocum had continually challenged their preachers to debate him. We pointed out to them that we had an opportunity to come and discuss the truth before a group of sectarians at their own invitation in their own building and that we were going to take advantage of the opportunity, that we felt not to do so would be disobedience to the Lord. We told them we did not recognize their diocesan concept of the kingdom of God, and that if the matter were reversed and their preacher was coming to Port Arthur to debate a sectarian that we would be happy for such and would give him our support and encouragement. We told them to go ahead and do all the announcing they wanted to about not supporting us and the truth, and that such would tell the world just what their attitude toward truth really is.
We heard no more from these brethren but when we arrived in Atlanta for the debate we learned that they had made public announcement on the radio there that they were having no part in this debate, that they did not desire to have the debate, and that bro. Craig, bro. Odom, bro. Crews and I did not have their endorsement.
On the first day we were in Atlanta we went by to see the preacher there, bro. E. C. Stevens. We found him to be a typical product of the modern theological seminary. He let us know that he is a graduate of Harding College. We learned that it was he who wrote the letters to us and twenty other brethren in Atlanta signed them also. He told us that he did not feel that brother Craig was qualified to defend the truth since he does not hold a degree from one of our brethren's seminaries, and that he (Stevens) had checked up on Craig and found out that he wasn't a graduate of one of our brethren's colleges.
After further discussion and questioning we learned that their main objection to brother Craig and to those of us with him was that we are opposed to congregational support and subsidization of human institutions. He told us that the Methodists and Baptists there in Atlanta did not approve of Yocum and he felt their influence with those sects would he hurt by our debating Yocum. In the light of all this and his soft and compromising attitude in general toward refuting error and upholding truth, we rebuked this false teacher somewhat along the lines of Acts 13:4-12, Gal. 2:11-14 and Matt. 23, and took our leave of him.
The subjects under consideration in the debate were baptism in the name of Jesus only, baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Godhead, and the scripturalness of the church of Christ. Brother Craig did an excellent job even though this was his first formal public discussion. Many brethren, including many faithful gospel preachers, came from a wide area to encourage him. Yocum treated us as kindly and courteously as he possibly could, even suggesting that he and his people take up a "love offering" for us to take care of our expenses. This we declined, of course, but it shows that he did have a fine attitude toward us. The majority of the crowd each evening were Pentecostal people. Attention was good and deportment of the debaters and the audience was excellent. Even though there was plenty of "spice" in the debate and no one went to sleep, there was not an untoward-incident of any kind to mar the debate. The debaters remained friendly throughout the entire discussion and shook hands when it was over.
Brother Craig was accompanied on this trip by brethren Leon Odom, Bill Crews, and this writer. It was an enjoyable trip, a good debate, and we feel that much good was accomplished, We think that debating and contending for truth will be esteemed more highly by those attending this discussion. It was conducted as a debate should be. We thank God for the opportunity that was presented to us to discuss the truth with these people, and for the health and strength of body and mind that He has given brother Craig which enabled him to do such a fine job in upholding the truth and refuting error.