Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 22, 1956
NUMBER 45, PAGE 1,9b

The Porter-Woods Debate (IV.)

Hoyt H. Houchen, San Antonio, Texas

Brother Woods introduced the now famous argument which was devised by Brother Thomas B. Warren, a young preacher in Fort Worth, Texas. Since this argument was used by Brother Harper at Abilene in his defense of the Herald of Truth and it was blown to pieces by Brother Tant, we were quite surprised that Brother Woods would dare introduce it at Indianapolis in his defense of the benevolent institutions. Brother Woods presented the argument on a chart and he verbally blew it up huge. At the top of the chart was placed the axiom: "The whole of anything is the sum of its parts." Then under the axiom was placed the following syllogism: (1) All situations, the component parts of which are scriptural, are scriptural situations; (2) The component parts of the whole work involved in my propositions are scriptural; (3) The whole work involved in my proposition is scriptural. In his effort to prove that churches can build and maintain benevolent institutions, Brother Woods presented three component parts: (1) There is an obligation to care for the needy, (2) It is the obligation of the church to care for the needy, and (3) Churches can cooperate in doing the work. Brother Woods contended that since these component parts are scriptural, churches may therefore build and maintain the benevolent institutions. Brother Woods thought that he had presented an irrefutable argument and he lauded it with unprecedented glory. He declared that in a period of twenty-five years in which he had been in over one hundred debates, he considered this argument to be one of the finest that he had ever seen and that he believed it to be irresistible. Surely no hero of the battlefield ever received more praise than was heaped upon Brother Warren's argument by Brother Woods.

After Brother Woods had blown up the argument as large as he could, Brother Porter responded by first emphasizing the verbal exaltation that was given to the argument by Brother Woods. Brother Porter projected the encomium on the screen in the exact words of Brother Woods which had been taken from the tape. Brother Porter then made quick work of the highly touted display of man's wisdom. He projected a chart on which was presented a deadly parallel to the chart that had been introduced by Brother Woods. Based upon the axiom that "the whole of anything is the sum of its parts," Brother Porter showed that the Missionary Society requires three component parts: (1) An obligation to preach the gospel, (2) It is the obligation of the church to preach the gospel, and (3) Churches can cooperate in preaching the gospel. All three of these component parts are scriptural and they are included in the Missionary Society; therefore, the same argument that will justify the benevolent institutions will also justify the Missionary Society. This was the pin that burst the balloon! Brother Porter also made it plain that there was one component part missing in the argument of Brother Woods and that is the right of churches to build human institutions. That component part does not exist in what Brother Woods is attempting to defend. Brother Porter showed the audience that it does not take nearly as much effort to answer the argument of Brother Warren as it does to make it. So completely did Brother Porter vitiate the argument that Brother Woods did not even mention it on the last night of the debate. It died without so much as a word of eulogy by Brother Woods and it did not receive so much as a decent burial. Brother Porter said that if he were Brother Woods he would be so ashamed of the argument that he would take it out and hide it. Brother Woods took his advice.

Brother Woods spent much of his time on a letter that was written by Brother Porter to Brother Bill Rogers in Memphis, Tennessee, on how the aged of that city might be cared for. Brother Woods, by this letter, was attempting to prove inconsistency on the part of Brother Porter. This matter was wholly irrelevant to the issue because even if Brother Woods had been successful in proving Brother Porter's inconsistency, it would not have proved the proposition of Brother Woods, that churches have the right to build and maintain benevolent institutions. This was the issue of the proposition and the burden of proof was on Brother Woods.

During the first two nights of the debate, Brother Woods, who was in the affirmative, used the old debater's technique of trying to get his opponent into the affirmative. In an effort to get Brother Porter to take the bait, Brother Woods repeatedly predicted that Brother Porter would never show how the needy are to be cared for. Brother Woods learned, however, that he would have to use his strategy on someone other than Brother Porter. Brother Porter pointed out that Brother Woods was in the affirmative and that he, Brother Porter, was not obligated to prove anything. Brother Porter was denying the scripturalness of the proposition being affirmed by Brother Woods. Brother Porter kept Brother Woods in the affirmative during the first two nights.

Again, Brother Porter proved Brother Woods to be wrong. When Brother Porter took the affirmative the last two nights, affirming the negative of the proposition, he showed from the New Testament that congregations may care for the needy, but that the work is not to be done by separate institutions from the church. The needy widows in Acts 6 were cared for, but an institution separate from the church was not built and maintained; the work was done by the church. Brother Porter pointed out that the church in its congregational capacity was able to fulfill its obligations in evangelism, but no society was formed through which to do that work. He also showed from Ephesians 4:16 that the work of edification was done through the church, but no extra organization was formed through which to do that work. The church did her work of evangelism, benevolence, and edification but not through separate organizations from the church. The prediction of Brother Woods that Brother Porter would never show how to take care of the needy did not come to pass.

It is pitiable that Brother Woods is now defending organizations independent of the church through which the church is to accomplish her work. He was once opposed to this and as further evidence of it, Brother Porter read from the 1946 Annual Lesson Commentary, pages 338 and 341, published by the Gospel Advocate Company and written by Brother Guy N. Woods. Commenting on the contributions in Acts 11:27-30 and 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 9:2, Brother Woods wrote the following:

"It should be noted that there was no elaborate organizations for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the offering. This is the New Testament method of functioning. We should be highly suspicious of any scheme that requires the setting up of an organization independent of the church in order to accomplish its work.

"The self-sufficiency of the church in organization, work, worship and every function required of it by the Lord should be emphasized. This lesson is much needed today. Religious secular organizations are always trying to encroach on the function of the New Testament church, interfere with its obligations, and attempt to discharge some of its functions. The church is the only organization authorized to discharge the responsibilities of the Lord's people. When the brethren form organizations independently of the church to do the work of the church, however worthy their aims and right their designs, they are engaged in that which is sinful.

"No organization is needed to accomplish the work the Lord has authorized the church to do. When men become dissatisfied with God's arrangement and set up one of their own, they have already crossed the threshold to apostasy. Let's be satisfied with the Lord's manner of doing things."

Thus Brother Woods once wrote and once believed. A man has the right to change his position but it is lamentable that Brother Woods has done so but openly denies that he has.

This series of articles was not intended to be a full-scale review of the Indianapolis debate but only an analysis of some of the main arguments that were used by the two disputants. We have seen a few reports of a glowing victory from the camp of Brother Woods; however, these few brethren who claim that Brother Woods championed a complete victory for their cause would have done better had they examined the arguments that were presented by both speakers and then let the readers decide. Brethren may be assured that Brother Porter is just as capable to defend the church against error from within as he has always been in opposing denominational errors from without. Brethren may never be afraid to call upon Brother W. Curtis Porter to defend the truth in debate. It is the conviction of this writer as well as others who attended the debate that he not only answered every argument presented by Brother Woods but he answered every quibble as well. The debate is to be printed and everyone should read it. It can be ordered from the Gospel Guardian.