Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 18, 1954
NUMBER 28, PAGE 4-5a

Echoes From Indianapolis


We are sure many brethren are much interested in knowing something of the general impressions made by the great debate held in Indianapolis last month between Brother W. L. Totty of that city and Charles A. Holt, Jr. of Franklin, Tennessee. The issues discussed there — church support of Christian colleges, institutional orphan homes, and "sponsoring church" evangelism — have been much in the thinking of the brethren generally these last few years, and are of vital importance to the church and her future life, growth, and unity.

The debate attracted wide attention, and brethren were in attendance from as far away as fifteen hundred miles. While we have seen no complete register or list of preachers and elders in attendance, we personally recognized gospel preachers from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Canada. There were probably several other states represented among the hundreds of people who filled the Garfield Heights Church building to capacity every night; gospel preachers in attendance made up a very appreciable percentage of those present.

Disappointments There were three distinctly disappointing features of the debate. Most serious of all was the failure of Brother Totty and Brother Watson (who took over for Brother Totty the last two nights of the discussion) to discuss the real issue, and to present scriptural arguments in favor of their propositions. Almost the sum total of argumentation presented in defense of church support of the schools, institutional orphan homes, and "sponsoring church" evangelism, was by way of charging various brethren who oppose these things with inconsistencies. Over and over again Brother Totty appealed to Lipscomb, Fanning, Brewer, Goodpasture, E. R. Harper, and others whom he described as "Giants of the Faith" as being favorable to his contentions. It was somewhat surprising to see him have E. R. Harper listed on his chart as one who endorses church support of schools, since Brother Harper only a few weeks ago took vehement exception to this writer's suggestion that he had once solicited church contributions for Freed-Hardeman College.

A second very disappointing feature of the discussions was the persistent and dogged determination with which Brother Totty and Brother Watson sought to "smear" all who opposed their views as "hobbyists," "church-splitters," "Sommerites," etc. There were probably twenty references in their speeches to the Gospel Guardian for each single reference to the sacred scriptures. For the first two nights particularly, as Brother Holt sought simply to follow their affirmative speeches, without advancing positive negative arguments the debate was a keen disappointment. This was all changed, however, in the last three sessions.

A third unfortunate and disappointing event was the illness of Brother Totty. For some time prior to the discussion he had been in severe physical pain from kidney stones, and entered the debate against the express orders of his physician. It was obvious to all from the very first night that he was speaking under great difficulties and in much pain. After the third night he found himself utterly unable to continue, and Brother Sterl A. Watson of St. Louis, Missouri, his moderator, finished the debate for him. Brother Totty's condition improved somewhat the last two nights, and he was able to attend the sessions, though not in any shape to speak.

On the credit side While these features of the discussion were a disappointment to all, they were considerably off-set by certain things on the credit side of the ledger. For one thing, the very courteous and brotherly hearing of Charles A. Holt throughout the entire five days made a deep impression upon all. Under the severest kind of provocation, in spite of constant vilification and false accusations, he refused to respond in kind, but spoke always with restraint and Christian dignity. Brother Totty had apparently made a searching investigation of all the places where Brother Holt has done local work during his preaching career (Jackson, Mississippi; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Mt. Pleasant, Texas, and Franklin, Tennessee), as well as various places where he has held meetings, in an effort to find something that might discredit him. He seemed to have the belief that if it could be shown that Holt was a "hobbyist" and "trouble-maker," it would prove that church support of colleges, etc. is scriptural.

On the third night of the discussion, in his opening speech, Brother Holt made a solemn pledge to the audience that he WOULD NOT reply to the base and false charges and slanderous attacks being made against him, but would devote himself to the arguing of the issue. He stated that brethren had come from more than a thousand miles to hear a discussion on Bible teaching relative to the propositions, and that for his part he was going to devote the remaining three nights to a discussion of "what the Bible teaches" relative to the principles involved.

This action of Brother Holt's was received with deep appreciation by the great audience. And for the last three nights they sat in perfect order and with obvious relish as he produced a series of about a dozen carefully prepared charts, outlining the scripture teaching on each of the three propositions. Actually, the propositions were closely inter-related, and a discussion of any one of them would almost necessarily involve a discussion of the others.

Holt showed that both the "institutional orphan home" and the "sponsoring church" type of evangelism were based on the conception of the church universal working through a single agency — the same fundamental concept from which brethren a hundred years ago developed the Missionary Societies. He produced a huge chart the last night of the debate showing that almost every argument brethren Totty and Watson had made in defense of their propositions had been made (and better made, incidentally) by J. B. Briney in his debate with W. W. Otey in 1908.

One of the most surprising developments of the discussion was the action of Brother Sterl A. Watson in coming out boldly in defense of church contributions to schools. He had debated Carl Ketcherside (who, by the way, was present for this debate) some years ago taking the position that the schools should NOT be supported by church contributions. He also apparently held that position as recently as two years ago when G. K. Wallace debated Ketcherside in St. Louis. His switch in this debate came as a distinct shock to many of those who had known of his previous position.

The Totty-Holt debate was taken down by tape recorder and is being published in book form. It will make a volume of about 300 pages and will sell for $3.00. Many advance orders are already being received for it. It will be ready for mailing sometime early in the spring, and can be ordered from this office. In spite of the attitude of brethren Totty and Watson in dealing in personal reflections, we believe they presented about as good a defense of their propositions as any of the others supporting these ideas have done. Brother Totty has been recognized and designated by Brother G. C. Brewer as a representative man for the "institutionally minded" brethren; Brother Goodpasture was present for the first night of the discussion, and presumably endorses Brother Totty both in his manner of debating and in the content of his arguments. At least he did not indicate any dissatisfaction so far as we observed. We take it, therefore, that this will be considered as a representative defense of the "church contributions to colleges, institutional orphan homes, and `sponsoring church' evangelism" brethren among us. It is our honest judgment that the ranks of such brethren were considerably diminished by the Indianapolis debate; that their number will be further greatly reduced when the printed volume gains wide distribution; and that any further debates on these issues will be rather difficult to arrange with either Brother Totty or Brother Watson.

Janes W. Adams moderated for Brother Holt. We heard unstinted praise from scores of people for the truly Christian and brotherly spirit shown throughout the discussion by both Brother Holt and his moderator. Their behavior was an example in every way of what a discussion between brethren ought to call forth from true servants of Christ. A discussion like this cannot but do good. We could fervently wish it to be repeated in every city in the nation.

— F.Y.T.