Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 14, 1955
NUMBER 10, PAGE 1,12-13

Highlights Of The Lufkin Debate

Roy E. Cogdill

"That Principle Eternal"

Brother E. R. Harper introduced on the first night of the Lufkin debate a new means of establishing scriptural authority. He made the statement that there are four ways of establishing scriptural authority for what we practice: 1) precept or command, 2) approved example, 3) necessary inference, and 4) principle eternal. He did not stop to explain in his speech just what a "principle eternal" was or what he had in mind by it. Neither did he give any example of such being the case except to say that Herald of Truth is justified by "principle eternal." He offered no proof, scriptural or otherwise, of the truth of such an assertion, he simply asserted it and seemed to think that made it true.

Brother Tant responded to this "principle eternal idea" by saying that he had never heard of it in all his years of preaching. It was completely new. From the comment among the preachers during the rest of the debate, it was evident no one had heard of it. Brother Tant challenged Brother Harper to name just one scriptural instance of it. He contended that every scriptural principle is set forth in either a command or precept, approved example, or necessary inference and that there was no other way of establishing authority for anything. He demonstrated his contention with numerous examples such as: 1) The principle of honesty set forth in the command "thou shalt not steal"; 2) the principle of chastity or moral purity set forth in the command "thou shalt not commit adultery," etc. He urged and persuaded and demanded that Brother Harper demonstrate what he was talking about in the fourth way of establishing authority by "principle eternal." He prodded Brother Harper for three nights of the debate about the "principle eternal" and got no response from him about it.

On the last night of the debate, Brother Harper, evidently feeling the pressure of the prodding that had been done about the matter, tried to explain that what he had meant to say was "expediency" — that was what he meant by "principle eternal." He favored the audience then with a short dissertation on "expediency" and argued that since the Lord had not given us any pattern for congregational cooperation in fulfilling the mission of the church, we are left free to choose any way that we please and therefore "Herald of Truth," being one way chosen, is scriptural. He took the familiar route that numbers of the brethren are taking to justify what they want to do and that is by contending that God has told us what to do but hasn't told us how to do it, and we are left up to our own wisdom in executing God's plans. This has become a wide spread idea. It is absolutely false and lets down the flood gates completely for all sorts of digression. This writer has read recently a bulletin from the Central Church in Amarillo, written, I suppose, by L. R. Wilson their preacher, in which it was contended that God has never given the "how" of doing anything but only the "what." It makes one wonder just how far supposedly faithful gospel preachers are willing to go to justify what they want to do.

We are reminded continually that brethren need a refresher course in the doctrine of expediency. A good place to read a thorough discussion of it would be the Otey-Briney debate which has recently been reprinted and is available. Brother Otey pointed out in discussing instrumental music with Mr. Briney that the doctrine of expediency in the Bible required these fundamental considerations: 1) In order for a thing to be expedient it must first be lawful. (I Cor. 10:23.) This means that it must come within the scope of general authority. A thing that has no authority is unlawful. 2) In order to be expedient a thing cannot be specifically commanded or authorized. If God has specified, we have no choice but to obey. This is true of observing the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. That day has been specified by approved example and the Supper cannot be observed on any other day without disregard for God's Word. 3) In order for a thing to be expedient it must not be an offense to the conscience of brethren and must edify. We are not to seek our own but every man another's good. (I Cor. 10:23-32.) If any are emboldened by our example to do the thing which is questionable in their own conscience, we lead them to sin.

Kinds Of Authority

There are two kinds of authority, general and specific. A command, approved example, or necessary inference can be either general or specific. When general authority is given, the method is not specified and we are left to our own judgment, preference or convenience. This is the realm of expediency. When the command, approved example or inference is specific, then there is no judgment, preference, or individual liberty to be exercised. We must do what God has specified and only that or we are disobedient. In specifying the first day of the week by approved example (Acts 20:7) and no other day for the assembly "to break bread," God limited this observance to the first day of the week; any other day would be disobedience. In specifically commanding that the unleavened loaf represent his body and the fruit of the vine represent his blood in the Lord's Supper, the Lord excluded every other element. To add another loaf or cup would be disobedience. By necessary inference God has specifically authorized the observance of this divine institution regularly and steadfastly on the first day of the week, as often as it comes. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" was the Old Testament commandment and meant every Sabbath day as regularly as they came. "The first day of the week to break bread" is the New Testament pattern and means every first day of the week, as regularly as it comes. Quarterly observance, when the preacher comes, or the brethren may think it a good thing to do is excluded by this specific inference and to observe the Lord's Supper intermittently is disobedience. But what hour shall it be observed? We have neither command, example or necessary inference specifying the hour. God has not therefore specified the hour and any that comes within the scope of the commandment, "the first day of the week," would be obedience. How shall we decide what hour to assemble to observe this divine memorial? The elders, or the brethren in case there are no elders, must determine as wisely as they can the hour that is most expedient, convenient, to all and that determines the matter.

Has God specified the organization through which the church shall execute its mission in the world or has it been left in the realm of general authority for men to choose the kind of organization through which they as Christians shall undertake to carry on the work which the Lord has assigned his church to do? Here God has specified the local congregation as the medium or unit of government or organization through which Christians shall function in executing the mission of the church. He has designed and given us the congregation with its eldership, deacons, evangelists, teachers, and members and has not given any other. There is no other, large or small, through which Christians can execute God's plan for the functioning of His church. By this specific arrangement he has excluded every other organization as surely as singing excludes instrumental music; unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine exclude any other element; the first day of the week excludes very other day of the week; and regular weekly observance excludes every plan of intermittent, irregular observance. This should be so evident to students of the New Testament that anyone who has learned the ABC's of the book would know it, but it seems that our "institutional brethren" have forgotten it and think that the church can function through a "Board of Directors" and a separate organization to do the work God has assigned the church to do. They need to start to school in the New Testament all over again.

But what if it is under an eldership? Many brethren, including Brother Harper and the Herald of Truth brethren, seem to think that putting some kind or any kind of an arrangement under a local eldership makes it a scriptural procedure. They need the second simple lesson in the application of New Testament authority. Even the "principle eternal" for which Brother Harper is vainly looking has not authorized the elders of a congregation to oversee anything but the affairs of the congregation over which they are elders. (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2.) That is as specific as the day of the week to break bread, the elements on the Lord's table, and the regularity of its observance. To try to give the elders authority over anything but the work of the congregation over which they are elders is to pervert God's plan. When any eldership undertakes to direct a radio program for the whole brotherhood, or to direct a program of caring for orphans for many churches, they are acting "ultra vires," without and outside the scope of their authority. Such action is excluded by New Testament authority as certainly as instrumental music.

Cooperation And Baptism

But can many congregations contribute to one congregation in order to enable it to do a "good work," or a "greater work" than it could otherwise do? Is this the pattern of New Testament congregational cooperation? If it is Brother Harper utterly failed to produce the scripture for it and so have others. Under what circumstances then can one congregation contribute to another congregation and why? Brother Tant made this crystal clear in his argument and it ran like this:

Essential elements of the pattern laid down in the New Testament scriptures:

  1. The action: Many churches — Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, etc. — sent to one church, Jerusalem.
  2. The reason: To benefit the receiving church — "that there may be equality." (II Cor. 8:14.)

He drew a parallel between Baptism and Cooperation like this:

Scriptural: Immersion Penitent believers For remission of sins
Unscriptural: Sprinkling, Pouring Infants Because of remission of sins
Congregational Cooperation
Scriptural: Gift from one church to another. Churches havinginequality onein want - onewith abundance. "That there may be equality" (II Cor. 8:14)
Unscriptural: Centralizationof funds. Churches havingequality "To do a good work."

It is needless to say that Brother Harper struggled with this argument in every remaining speech and miserably failed to reply to it. It cannot be answered. The design of baptism is corrupted and the action is unscriptural when it is for any other reason than "the remission of sins." Brethren everywhere can see that. So is the design of one church contributing to another church corrupted and perverted when it is done for any other reason than "that there may be equality." This idea of one church contributing to another was always between a church with abundance and a church in want in the New Testament. No other fact situation is scriptural. Highland Church in Abilene does not receive contributions because she was in want. She had equality with the churches, even the most capable ones, before any contribution was ever made to her. For other churches to contribute to her exalts her and destroys that equality. The whole Herald of Truth pattern is unscriptural.

God has specified the purpose for one church contributing to another church and by doing so has eliminated and excluded every other reason for doing so. God eliminated every other kind of wood when He told Noah to build the ark of gopher wood. Throughout the debate Brother Tant called upon Brother Harper to write on the board, instead of a large question mark which he had drawn, the passage that authorized one congregation to send a contribution to another congregation in order "to do a good work." The question mark still remains in the minds of those who listened to the debate and cries out for the passage to justify the Herald of Truth arrangement.

The pattern of congregational cooperation in the scriptures was also set forth by the instance in the New Testament scriptures of the church in Antioch sending to the brethren "which dwelt in Judea" when they were in need because of a famine in the land. (Acts 11:27-30.) Again it was pointed out that the church with abundance sent to the churches in need. It was further emphasized that this church with abundance sent directly to the churches that were in need. The relief was not sent to Jerusalem and distributed by the Jerusalem elders throughout the churches of Judea. Brother Harper had formerly argued this in his articles but got into trouble with it and didn't try it again. The relief was sent from Antioch to the elders of each church where the need existed and distributed by those elders among the members of the congregation where they were elders. This was the direct plan instead of the indirect, sponsoring church plan. This again sets the pattern and excludes the idea of some church setting itself up as the promoting and sponsoring church and doing the work for all the churches.

It was further emphasized that in II Corinthians 16:1-2, II Corinthians 8 and 9 when the churches of Macedonia, Achaia, Galatia, and perhaps others sent to Jerusalem when the "poor Saints" were in need, we again have the New Testament pattern. Here was a church in distress. Jerusalem had a greater need than she was able to supply among her members. It was her obligation and her work to take care of them. Other congregations sent out of their abundance in order to help the Jerusalem church meet the need. This is congregational cooperation It is a specific example of congregational cooperation. I is the "How" of congregational cooperation so far as the Bible is concerned and it eliminates every other method All of these churches sent directly to Jerusalem by the individual messengers which they themselves had chosen to take the contribution. They did not send to a "sponsoring church" to do the work for them. It was the work o the Jerusalem church — peculiarly and exclusively the work of the Jerusalem church. Other congregation simply enabled them to meet their own need and do their own work. HERE IS THE PATTERN. Brethren take notice and don't be guilty of saying that God hasn't told us how to do it. You misrepresent the Lord and His Word when you do.

Brother Tant further pointed out by way of contrast with the New Testament pattern that the Herald of Truth is not peculiarly and exclusively the work of Highland Church in Abilene. This was shown by a number of pertinent facts that Highland cannot dispute. They are as follows:

  1. Highland Church did not originate the Herald of Truth program.
  2. Highland Church does not sustain the program. She does not even contribute enough to pay the salary and expenses of her own elder who supervises it.
  3. Highland Church did not select the preachers for it. She was rather selected by the preachers who "promoted" it.
  4. Highland Church "accepted the responsibility, including the authority to change preachers."
  5. Herald of Truth had operated under two different congregations before it ever came to Highland Church.
  6. Highland Church could not stop the program — she could only stop her contribution to it (a little over one-half of one percent of the total sum sought). All the preachers would have to do would be to find another eldership ambitious enough to "accept the responsibility" of supervising it.

In addition to these facts Brother Tant pointed out that the elders of Highland IN SUPERVISING THE HERALD OF TRUTH DO NOT ACT IN THEIR CAPACITY AS ELDERS OF A CONGREGATION BUT SUSTAIN THE SAME RELATIONSHIP TO ALL THE CONTRIBUTING CHURCHES AND HAVE EXACTLY THE SAME RESPONSIBILITY TO EACH THAT THEY DO TO HIGHLAND CHURCH This argument was never mentioned by Brother Harper. It is indisputable. These elders have indeed made "brotherhood elders" out of themselves. Who can justify that by the Word of God?

From all of these and many other arguments made it was shown to every unprejudiced mind that God has specifically authorized the kind of congregational cooperation that is according to His will and has therefore excluded every other kind. That which God has specifically authorized excludes every other arrangement in the same way and for the same reason that bread and the fruit of the vine excludes all other elements in the Lord's Supper: "singing" excludes instrumental music in the worship; "the first day of the week"" excludes every other day for "breaking bread"; "elders in every church" excludes majority rule and an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The facts are clear and simple New Testament facts and the force of the argument is conclusive.