Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 4, 1955

Otey-Briney Sequel


Since the reprint of the Otey-Briney debate came from the press three months ago we have had many letters and comments from brethren who express themselves as being almost astounded at the close similarity between the arguments used by Briney in defense of instrumental music and the societies and the arguments many brethren now are using 'in defense of modern arrangements and promotional projects. The parallel is indeed revealing. There is not only a close similarity in arguments, but the very pattern of thinking behind the arguments can be traced out in point after point.

In view of the wide-spread interest in the question, we thought our readers might like to have this statement from Brother Otey, giving some of the background and also some of the follow-up of the debate with Briney. Here is Brother Otey's statement:

Except for a very few of very old people, brethren of this present generation have no real conception of the force and speed of the seemingly irresistible tide that swept over the churches when the digression came. To say that there was a general feeling of defeatism is to state it mildly. We fought everywhere a battle of retreat. The common question, heard on every side, was: Where is the next congregation to be swept into the tide? Who will be the next trusted preacher to surrender to the enemy?

When we challenged the leaders of the digression for debate, we were laughed to scorn. We were considered too little and insignificant a group of fanatics to notice. In August, 1906, the elders at Sand Creek, Illinois, turned over to me some letters that had been exchanged with J. Fred Jones, State Evangelist. I pressed Jones for a debate. When he got tired of side-stepping, and the pressure became embarrassing, he persuaded J. B. Briney of Louisville to take up his side of the controversy. After fourteen months of PRESSURE, Briney was literally driven to stand and make his defense.

Before the debate (and even to the present day), I have often said that in my opinion Briney was the strongest debater since Campbell when defending the truth. But in our Louisville debate he did not have the truth. Briney did everything within his power to prevent publication of the debate. Two months after the debate, the Christian Church in Lynn, Indiana, my home town, had Briney to come and deliver an address on "Science and the Bible." When he stepped upon the rostrum, I approached him, and extended my hand. When Briney saw me, a dark scowl crossed his face, he put his hand behind his back, leaned away from me and hissed like a serpent. His address was dead even before it started.

The debate with Briney was the fore-runner of many others which rapidly followed. Other innovators now seemed willing to follow the lead of Briney; and soon such men as T. B. Thompson of Kentucky and Hardeman and Brewer in Tennessee, and many, many others were finding the digressive brethren willing to meet them in debate. And once the questions were brought out in free, open discussion it was a foregone conclusion that error would be stayed and truth would gain. It was true then, and is true now, that truth gains always by fair and honorable discussion.

I have stated that there was a general spirit of defeatism throughout the church at the time of the Otey-Briney debate. I personally did not share that feeling, for I have never known what fear is relative to any man whom I regarded to be in error. I have not stopped to ask, Will I lose friends? Will I suffer hardship? Will I have meetings cancelled? I have tried to ask only: Is it right? or is it wrong? Pardon this personal statement, but perhaps it will help to encourage some younger preacher of the cross to be faithful to his trust. I write these lines on March 14th, my eighty-eighth birthday. Were it possible to travel this long, long path again, I would be guided by the same motives, and would put my trust in the same God who has so richly blessed me thus far.

J. B. Briney has long since passed over to the other side. But even so, he did live long enough after the Louisville debate to see the evil consequences and the monstrous character of the Frankenstein creature he had defended. Within a very short time after the Louisville debate, Briney turned against the society, and to the day of his death was its bitter and implacable foe. He was "steam-rollered" in the Kansas City Convention, and utterly ignored in his plea to address the gathering. He realized, too late, the awful force of evil that results when one turns from a "thus saith the Lord" to rely on human wisdom and human reason.

It is to be ardently desired that many sincere and conscientious brethren of our day who have unwittingly followed Briney's line of reasoning will see their error and turn before it is too late. Reading the Otey-Briney debate should be a sobering and eye-opening experience to many of the "promoters" among us who have gone all out in their efforts to enlist the churches behind their centralized brotherhood projects. The book is now available, and can be had from the Gospel Guardian Company. Price is $3.00.

— F. Y. T.