Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 2, 1956
NUMBER 38, PAGE 5,9b

Porter - Woods Debate

Charles A. Holt, Franklin, Tennessee

It was my pleasure and privilege last week (January 3-6) to attend the debate between Brother W. Curtis Porter and Brother Guy N. Woods. The debate was conducted in the Garfield Heights church building in Indianapolis, Indiana. The subject under discussion was whether or not it is scriptural for churches to build and maintain such benevolent organizations as Boles Orphan Home (and others) through which to do their work of benevolence. For two nights Woods affirmed that such is scriptural. The last two nights Porter affirmed that such was contrary to New Testament teaching. This is a question that is currently causing no little stir and concern among the saints. The debate was well attended. Preachers and elders were in attendance from many states. The interest in the debate was high. Both men are able and experienced debaters, and both are certainly representative of their respective positions. The conduct on the part of all for the most part was fine. All in all it was a good debate and the results of it shall long be felt. The debate is to be published in book form and will in that way do even greater good than did the debate proper.

The first two nights Woods was in the affirmative. His one and only argument was that these homes constitute nothing more than an organized effort like the Bible classes; just a systematic procedure for discharging a duty binding upon the church. Hence, he made the old argument that the church is commanded to relieve the needs of widows and orphans, and since the manner, method or mode is not given, the churches may choose whatever course they may please. Therefore, they adopted "the orphan home method" such as we have today and therein or thereby carry out their duty. Woods even argued that some such home or organization as those among us today actually INHERES in the command to relieve the needs of the destitute and the work cannot be done without such! Woods never did explain how it was that a human organization, such as Boles Home, could inhere in one command, but that the missionary society, another human organization, did not inhere in the command to teach.

Most of the time Woods was his usual calm and polite self. However, he resorted to personal reflections upon Porter and those who hold with him, several times. When he was seeking to recover himself from his exploded (by Porter) argument, and when he was trying to gain favor with the crowd through prejudice, he would talk about Porter's newly espoused hobby, call him a "Sommerite," and his position "Sommerism." Porter pointed out that such was beneath the dignity of honorable debate and represented a manifest weakness in argument on the part of Woods. Such is done for the same reason that the sectarians call us "Campbellites" — they cannot meet the issue. Woods was irritated by Porter's arguments and by Porter's "silly grin" — as Woods spoke of it. Such a personal thing was a distinct disappointment to me. At times Woods seemed to desire to employ some of the vicious and low tactics of Totty and Watson.

Woods was also given to bragging and boasting during the debate. In almost every speech he reminded us that he had engaged in over one hundred debates and in at least twenty with the Anti-Class brethren. He was constantly talking about how weak Porter was — that his was "the weakest and most ridiculous" position and arguments he had ever met! He reminded us often of how complete was his victory in the debate and how weak, poor, silly, ridiculous and pitiful were Porter's efforts and arguments. Porter pointed out that such "talk" was characteristic of Woods, and that the last man he meets in debate is always the weakest man he has ever met! Porter's modesty and humility were quite in contrast to the lack of both on the part of Woods. Porter has had as many debates, if not more, than Woods, but not once did he brag about it nor seek to personally reflect on Woods.

In reply to Woods' argument that these orphan homes and Homes For the Aged are nothing more than a systematic procedure, Porter pointed out that such is not true. He showed that these homes are human organizations, arranged and set up by men; that most of them are incorporated and chartered under the laws of the particular state; and that they constitute another distinctive body or organization and not simply a manner or method of doing the work. Porter emphasized with telling effect the parallel between the benevolent societies and the missionary society. If the command to relieve the afflicted includes or even allows the formation of another organization besides the church to do the work, then by the same logic and scripture the formation of a missionary society to do the evangelistic work of the church is established. Woods could not successfully deny such — and neither can any other man. The digressives of by-gone days argued in defense of their missionary society just as Woods did in defending his benevolent societies. Both argued that it is simply a question of manner or systematic procedure.

Woods had been given a letter that Porter had written to a close (?) friend of his (Porter's) in January of last year. In the letter Porter was telling how he thought the churches in Memphis might cooperate in an old folks home. Woods grabbed the letter as a drowning man would a straw. He was desperately in need of something to say and with which to take the pressure off himself and confuse the issue. He completely misused the statements by Porter, but spent more time on this one thing than anything else. Such is the kind of defense and proof offered to justify these human benevolent societies!

Woods, like Brother E. R. Harper in his debate with Tant, was so desperate for material and argument that he adapted the argument of Thomas Warren for THE HERALD OF TRUTH, to his own case. He offered the argument as an "irresistible argument — one of the strongest he had seen in twenty-five years of preaching and over one hundred debates." He was willing, so he asserted, to rest his case on the one argument alone. The argument was based on the axiom that "the whole of a thing is equal to the sum of its component parts." Woods listed what he called the three component parts essential to the orphan homes, and since Porter accepted all three as being true, therefore, Porter must admit the homes are right or else repudiate what he admitted to be true. Porter very effectively pointed out that Woods' argument was not complete in that he had failed to list ALL the necessary component parts to the orphan home question. The one necessary component part left out was the one Porter denied, which was that churches could form human organizations through which to do this work! Porter wrecked this argument completely. It should be apparent to any thinking person that when one attempts to prove a proposition by the scriptures and must leave the scriptures for human logic and reason, something is wrong with the proposition! This new-fangled way (though it is not really new; it has always been employed, 1 Cor. 1:18-25) of "logically" approaching these questions has turned out to be not only illogical but contrary to God's word. As Woods so often said, "it is the weakest and most ridiculous" argument I have ever seen!

As I look back over Woods' efforts, I wonder what he would have said, just what material he would have used IF he had not had Porter's letter, G. C. Brewer's chart (on the church and orphan homes moving on parallel lines — as well as other Brewer arguments!) and the Warren argument. Truly he would have been utterly void of material.

Brother Porter in his smooth, calm and yet very effective way kept before Woods and the audience that the debate was NOT about whether or not it is the duty of the church to relieve the orphans and widows — this is admitted. Neither is it a debate over the manner, method, mode or systematic procedure which THE CHURCH may employ in prosecuting this work. The debate had to do with the scripturalness of churches building and maintaining HUMAN ORGANIZATIONS, other bodies, in and by which the churches are to do their work! Porter argued successfully that it is just as unscriptural for the churches to build and maintain benevolent societies as it is to build and maintain missionary societies! Other arguments were made to show the wrong in such action. Also, arguments were offered to prove that the church as the Lord gave it is all-sufficient to do the work God has assigned to it without any man-made appendages.

The debate was worthwhile. It is our hope to see these two men meet in another debate in Nashville or, at least, in Middle Tennessee. Such discussions are needed all over the nation. Only by open, fair and honorable discussion can we ever arrive at the unity on the questions which we should have. Let us have more debates!