Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 22, 1955
NUMBER 33, PAGE 12,15b

Tant-Harper Debate

Charles A. Holt, Franklin, Tennessee

Last week, November 28 - December 1, it was my privilege and pleasure to attend the debate between Bro. Yater Tant and Bro. E. R. Harper. The debate was conducted in the City Auditorium in Abilene, Texas. It was a very auspicious occasion. There were from 1600-1900 people in attendance at each session. Preachers, elders and others were present from all over the nation. It was an important occasion and the gravity of the hour was appreciated by all.

The question under discussion was THE HERALD OF TRUTH — the nation-wide radio program under the direction of the Highland church in Abilene. The program is paid for by nearly one thousand churches sending the money to the Highland elders and these elders in turn supervise and control the program. Over a year ago they were seeking from churches all over the nation the staggering amount of $1,400,000 to carry out their radio and TV plans. Bro. Harper is the preacher for the Highland church and is now one of the speakers on this program. He has become, more or less, the official champion and defender of this sort of cooperation among churches. Bro. Tant, as the editor of the GOSPEL GUARDIAN, has been and is one of the leading opponents of such cooperation efforts. The actual question under debate was whether or not such cooperation among and between churches as is found in THE HERALD OF TRUTH set-up is in harmony with the Scriptures. Bro. Harper contends that it is. Bro. Tan t denies that it is and affirms that such is contrary to the New Testament pattern of congregational cooperation. For four nights these two men debated this issue.

It was a good debate. The conduct on the part of all was the very best. This demonstrates once more that brethren can come together and discuss their differences in the light of God's word and only good come from it. The fact that 1800 people came together for four nights to study the question shows the interest in it. This is further evidenced by the fact that hundreds of those in attendance had come from distant places. There has been no other effort launched in this generation that has excited as much discussion and as much OPPOSITION as THE HERALD OF TRUTH. The opposition to this program and other like efforts is mounting in leaps and bounds. With anxiety we view the future. What does it hold? Is there to be another division in the ranks of the Lord's people? The ones who are promoting and defending such projects and cooperation efforts give no appearance of stopping such, nor relenting for a minute. Certainly those who believe such arrangements to be contrary to New Testament teaching are not expected to let up in their opposition to such. Indeed they dare not do so. One thing is sure — we face perilous times and we must all do our best to promote SCRIPTURAL peace and follow exactly the teaching of God's word. The more debates and public discussions of these issues that we can have the better. Such debates help to awaken people to the issues involved and make them study for themselves. Verily it is my belief that such brotherly discussions and debates is the only hope we have of preventing a cleavage in the church. May God grant to all the wisdom and love for the truth that will motivate us in the proper channels.

Several significant things happened during the debate. One of the most significant was recognized the first night. On the one side sitting with Bro. Harper as his moderator and helper, were Brethren James W. Nichols and Thomas B. Warren. Both of these men — although men of ability to be Sure — are quite young. Neither of them much more than thirty. Here is youth, immaturity and inexperience.

On the other side sitting with Bro. Taut as his moderator and helper were Brethren W. Curtis Porter and C. R. Nichol. These two men are battle-scarred veterans of the Cross, the victors in many a battle against error. Perhaps these two men have had more debates than any men in the church today. They represent age, wisdom and experience. Quite a contrast to meet the eye. Bro. Nichol is now around eighty, but is still mentally and physically active in the Lord's Cause. In years gone by he has fought many a battle against digression and the Missionary Societies — in one form or another. He said after hearing Bro. Harper for two nights that we have a Missionary Society within our ranks now under another name. He further predicted that another cleavage in the Lord's church is inevitable because the promoters of these big projects will not be deterred now. They have too much invested and are wrapped up in their pet projects!

The above expression did not come from some "half-baked Sommerite" or from "Johnny-Come-Lately!" Neither did it come from some "hobbyist" who is connected with the Gospel Guardian and who takes orders from headquarters in Lufkin, Texas! It came from a stalwart veteran of the Cross and A STAFF-WRITER FOR THE GOSPEL ADVOCATE! Surely this ought to have some significance with even the most ardent Gospel Advocate supporter. Truly it is being more and more recognized that the opposition to such projects is not solely on the part of a few "Guardian Angels." Indeed, as Bro. Tant pointed out in the debate, if the GUARDIAN should be destroyed and everyone who writes for it forever silenced, it would not stop the opposition to such projects nor solve Bro. Harper's problems!

Another significant thing was Bro. Harper's last minute change of defense. Less than three weeks before the debate Bro. Harper threw "overboard' nearly all of his preparation and material used in the Lufkin debate, and in near-desperation grabbed some arguments and material manufactured by Bro. Thomas B. Warren, of Fort Worth. Bro. Warren lays claim to having studied this matter for over two years. He is reported to have said that he was an "experienced debater" and he knew his arguments would stand! From all indications those who talked with him and who have heard him gathered at least one thing about the matter — there was nothing modest in his claims for his arguments! In reading Bro. Warren's paper on the subject one is struck with these facts: (1) Here is the brain-child of one who has come to depend solely upon human wisdom and reason; completely aloof from the word of God; (2) there is the appearance on the surface that he went into the study determined to prove what he wanted to prove; (3) the arguments are mere assertions and assumptions, and so filled with blunders that one is made to wonder how one of Bro. Warren's ability could have concocted such a thing.

Bro. Harper used this material. It was very evident that it was not his and he could hardly read it. Bro. Tent exploded the arguments in two very vital places and showed how absurd the whole thing was. It seemed that Bro. Harper felt the effects of this as badly as anything.

Another thing very evident was Bro. Harper's absolute failure to appeal to the Word of God to prove his proposition. He used nearly everything but that! Bro. Tant very calmly and deliberately kept pointing out this fact and kept calling for a "thus saith the Lord" for such cooperation among churches. In turn Bro. Tant showed the two types of cooperation that the New Testament sets forth (Phil. 4:15-19; 2 Cor. 8, 9; Acts 11:2730), and emphasized that HERALD OF TRUTH is like neither type; but that it is in principle identical with the type of cooperation found in the original missionary Society.

Bro. Tant did his work well. Bro. Harper did his best and, be it said to his credit, did have the courage and conviction to defend his practice. The debate did untold good and good results will continue to come therefrom.

The debate is to be put in book form. It will sell for $3.50 per copy. Orders may now be taken at a special prepublication price of $3. Place your order with the Gospel Guardian Company, Box 980, Lufkin, Texas.

Other debates on these issues are forthcoming. The Lord willing, Bro. James Walter Nichols and I will debate the matter here in Franklin. It is set for March. Also, Bro. Thomas. B. Warren and I will debate these issues both here in Middle Tennessee and in Forth Worth. I look forward to these debates and others like them.