Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 29, 1956
NUMBER 46, PAGE 6,11b

The Porter-Woods Debate (I)

J. P. Lusby, Amarillo, Texas

It was my privilege to attend the Indianapolis debate between brethren W. Curtis Porter and Guy N. Woods. The subject discussed was whether or not the churches have a scriptural right to build and maintain benevolent organizations through which to do their works of benevolence. Brother Woods affirmed they do and brother Porter denied. The debate was well attended; the order was good and the interest high.

Brother Porter did his usual fine work in defending the truth and exposing error. Brother Woods' strongest argument was to shout: Change, Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, Sommerism, Radicalism, Anti-ism, Hobby-ism. His second strongest was to talk about how "silly" and "ridiculous" Porter's arguments were, and tell the audience how "weak" Porter was. Said Porter was the "weakest" he had ever met in twenty five years of preaching and one hundred debates. Well, Porter took care of all that and kept pressing his arguments. Woods was unable to answer so, he shouted: "Sommerism." On the other hand, Porter answered every argument Woods advanced — took it away from him and turned it against him. It was a masterly affair, and the truth of God and church of our Lord stood out more brilliantly in contrast to the errors of men and organizations of earth.


In his introductory remarks of his first affirmative Woods said he was contending for the truth and not discussing changes that may or may not have been made. Yet he charged Porter with changing on the subject under dispute, then complained when Porter proved Woods had changed.

In defining his proposition he said by "benevolent organizations" he meant "charitable institutions." In reply to questions he said that a corporation is a "body politic" and that a "body politic" is an "organization chartered under the laws of the state." Porter then read from the charters of both Boles Home and Tipton Home. It was pointed out that the church is one body and the benevolent organization is another body — that one body and another body make two bodies — that Paul said in Ephesians 4:5 there is but one body.

Throughout the discussion Guy was continually shifting ground on the meaning of the word "organization." With reference to "benevolent organizations," which he defined to mean "charitable institutions," he said he meant by the term "organization" simply "a systematic method of procedure." To illustrate his meaning he said one could not send flowers to the sick without some form of organization! He attempted to make these "charitable institutions" the method, procedure, functioning, manner — the "how." But when Porter, in his forceful way, paralleled the missionary organization with the benevolent organization, the word "organization" lost its meaning of "a systematic method of procedure" and became instead a "machine using means." So, when it was to Guy's advantage organization meant "systematic method," but when it was not to his advantage the word meant a "body politic, a corporate body, an organization chartered under laws of the State."

Guy attempted to make the benevolent organization parallel to "place" or "a means of travel." Porter simply pointed out that the organization was not the place nor means of transportation, but that the organization had to provide a place and use a means of travel. It was simply the old digressive arguments revived.

Guy even argued that the term "relieve" in 1 Tim. 5:16 implied the benevolent organization. Porter asked him if the term "teach" in Matt. 28:19 implied the missionary society. Guy replied that the missionary society does not "inhere" in the term "teach," but that "place" does "inhere" in the term "relieve." So he shifted ground and tried to make "organization" mean "place" with reference to the benevolent organization, but a "body politic" with reference to the missionary society.

Porter used the following diagram with telling effect:

Matt. 28:19 — Teach — How — Organization (Church
(Missionary Soc.
1 Tim. 5:16 — Relieve — How — Organization (Church
(Benevolent Or.

This was pressed by Porter each night of the discussion. Woods never could escape the force of it. The only reply attempted was that the missionary society was a "machine using means" and that the benevolent organization was a "means" itself. Porter asked him to tell whether the benevolent organization uses means. Woods replied that it uses means in the sense that all Christians use means in carrying out their obligations.

It has been argued by many and by Woods in particular, that the benevolent organization is simply a means, a medium, through which the churches operate in doing their work of caring for the needy. But in the course of discussion Woods made this statement: "The orphan home is not doing the work of the church, but of the home." Ponder the implications and consequences of that gem! According to that the church has a scriptural right to build and maintain organizations to do that which is not the work of the church! This sort of reasoning would justify the church's establishing and maintaining Christian colleges, hospitals, entertainment societies, etc. — just so long as they didn't do the work of the church, but of the home!

In connection with the above consider this statement made by Woods: "By organization we mean simply a way or means, not something separate and apart from the church — that's wrong." And, of course, Guy was arguing that the orphan home was this way or means.

There are two assertions in the above begging for proof. First, that the orphan home is simply a way or means. Second, that the orphan home is not something separate and apart from the church. All the proof offered was Woods' assertion. In harmony with these assertions, consider the following syllogisms:

Syllogism No. 1

  1. Organization means a way or means.
  2. An orphan home is an organization.
  3. Therefore, an orphan home is a way or means.

Syllogism No. 2

  1. Organization means a way or means.
  2. A missionary society is an organization.
  3. Therefore, a missionary society is a way or means.

Syllogism number one is Woods' argument. Syllogism number two is a parallel. If the first one is true, the second one is so. But if the second one is false, the first one is untrue.

If an objection is raised that the missionary society is something separate and apart from the church, I reply so also is the orphan home. If it is said that an orphan home is under the elders, therefore a part of the church; I raise the question, would it make the missionary society a part of the church to place it under elders? If yes, should it do the work of that of which it is a part ? Should the "way or means" employed by the church accomplish the work which is the church's work to accomplish, or should it accomplish the work of some other institution?

Remember, brother Woods is on record (or will be when the debate is published) as saying, "The orphan home is not doing the work of the church, but of the home." There are others, however, allied with him who insist that the orphan home is doing the church's work of caring for orphan children, or that the church is using the orphan home as a medium through which to do its work of caring for orphans. To these brethren I pose this question: If it is scripturally right for the church to do its work of benevolence through benevolent organizations as a means, would it not be scripturally right to do its work of evangelism through these same organizations? If not, why not? Is it unscriptural for the church to use the same means in doing one part of its work that it is allowed to use in doing another part of its work?

Guy says, "By organization we mean simply a way or means, not something separate and apart from the church — that's wrong." According to the statement and its implications the orphan home is simply a "way or means." A way or means of what? Not a way or means of doing the work of the church, for "the orphan home is not doing the work of the church!'

Further, this "way or means" is not something separate and apart from the church. Therefore, it is something that is a part of the church. But this "way or means" is the orphan home. Therefore, the orphan home is "not something separate and apart from the church" — that would be wrong. (So some of the brethren had better repent of the arguments they have made to justify it!) It is a part of the church. Yet this "way or means" — a part of the church — used by the church — is not doing the work of the church! Neither is the church doing its work through this way or means" for "it (the orphan home) is not doing the work of the church, but of the home."

It was an interesting, informative and profitable discussion. May there be many more.