Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 30, 1955
NUMBER 9, PAGE 1,5-6a

Highlights Of The Lufkin Debate

Roy E. Cogdill

How To Prove A Thing Scriptural

One of the main interests I had in hearing the debate which was recently held in Lufkin, Texas, between E. R. Harper and Yater Tant on the Herald of Truth was my desire to hear the kind of proof Brother Harper would rely upon to prove his proposition. He was in the affirmative the first two nights of the debate and therefore under obligation to prove that the "Highland Church of Christ is scriptural in her teaching and practice of congregational, church cooperation." It has always been my understanding that the only way to prove a thing scriptural is by the scriptures. We have always insisted upon this when meeting denominational preachers in debate. I am sure that Brother Harper has done so, but he utterly forgot that such was an obligation in the affirmation of his proposition in the Lufkin debate. He introduced his speeches by quoting a passage or two each night concerning the spirit that should be shown but he failed to offer one single affirmative argument based on a passage of scripture to prove his proposition. He introduced Acts 11:29, Phil. 4:14-16, Philemon 4-22, I Cor. 4:12, II Cor. 8, II Cor. 9, and I Cor. 16. He did not read these passages or make any argument on them. He only stated that they proved cooperation among congregations, a thing no one in my knowledge has ever denied.

Brother Tant in his first negative 'speech made an argument on II Cor. 8:14 showing that the only purpose for which a contribution was ever made by one church to another church was "that there might be equality" between the giving and the receiving church. This is the design of such a contribution just as the remission of sins is the design of baptism. If a man is baptized for any other reason, his baptism is not scriptural. If churches contribute to one another for any other reason, such contribution is not scriptural cooperation. He then showed that Highland Avenue in Abilene, the receiving congregation in the Herald of Truth arrangement, was not originally nor is it now a congregation that because of of its own want has inequality. By the very cooperation sought from other churches, inequality is created in that they are enriched far beyond any other church in the land. This argument gave Brother Harper trouble during the rest of the debate. His "junior advisers" gave him much counsel on it and got him into a lot of trouble about it. He tried to deal with it in every remaining speech in the debate and the harder he worked on it the more confused and the worse lost he became. We will discuss the position on these passages in a later article but in this one we want to emphasize that there was not a solitary passage on which he was willing to rest his case. He had none to offer and he offered none. This has characterized his writings and the writings of all the other brethren who have sought to justify the "sponsoring church" plan of operation for the church universal. I thought I knew before the debate that he could not and would not prove his practice scriptural but I thought surely a gospel preacher would make an attempt at least to prove his proposition by the Bible.

Has the time come when preachers in the Churches of Christ think that there is some other way of proving a thing to be scriptural than by the scriptures? That has been the pattern of all the writing done by our "institutional brethren" from the beginning of the discussion of these issues in this generation. They have made a miserable failure to establish their contentions by the Bible. Cecil N. Wright's long tirade on the question was noticeably lacking in any effort to present scriptural proof but was full of abuse, vilification, and misrepresentation. Brother Harper wrote fourteen articles which were published in the Guardian before the debate. In all of them he made but one feeble effort at a scriptural argument and so miserably failed in that one that he didn't even repeat it in the debate on the question. Perhaps our readers remember that he combined the incidents in Acts 11 and II Cor. 8 and argued that the Jerusalem church received all the funds and distributed the benevolence furnished by other congregations throughout all Judea. I wondered if he would repeat it in the debate. He didn't.

I simply cannot understand the thinking of brethren who can be so easily pacified and satisfied by a harangue of what the other fellow has done and said without any attempt to establish the thing as scriptural by the Word of God. How far have we drifted from the practice of giving "chapter and verse" for all that we preach and practice. Have we completely surrendered the plea that we will "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent" ? It seems so from the effort these brethren are making. I believe D. N. Jackson's Baptist brethren would be ashamed of him if he couldn't do a better job of offering scriptural proof for his doctrine than E. R. Harper did. It would be interesting to see a debate arranged with moderators and a chairman moderator that would rule out all attempts to prove anything to be scriptural by anything but the scriptures. Brother Harper could not have spent fifteen minutes affirming his proposition combining all four affirmative speeches if he had been limited to scriptural argument. It would be interesting to see him try, if he would.

What kind of proof did he use? We give you just one or two examples to show what the supporters of Herald of Truth must depend upon when they make the best effort they can to prove that it is scriptural. First of all, Brother Harper had a chart and made quite a speech about the Music Hall Meeting in Houston. From this he tried to show a parallel with the Highland Church soliciting from 10,000 churches in order that they might put on their radio program. In response to this Brother Tant showed that he was under no obligation to defend the Music Hall meetings or anything that anyone else had done and that such argument would not prove anything to be scriptural. He pleads with Brother Harper to write the scripture on the board that set forth the scriptural pattern for Herald of Truth. After four nights it was eloquent and impressive that though Brother Tant had repeatedly given the scripture for the kind of cooperation he preached and practiced Brother Harper had not rubbed out the question mark and put the scripture in its place for the kind of cooperation represented by the Herald of Truth. His failure to do so was most impressive.

Brother Tant further pointed out that I had made a statement about this Music Hall meeting as far back as July 29, 1954, published in the Guardian and of which E. R. Harper and his company was bound to have knowledge. That statement was as follows:

"I have thought and still think that there is a vast deal of difference between a congregation undertaking in its own city a work for which it feels responsible and obligated and allowing others to help it do that work and that same congregation promoting a program for the whole brotherhood for which it is no more responsible than any other congregation and expecting all the churches to finance that work for it, a work that it could not bear and would not undertake of itself alone, and then electing themselves to oversee such a 'brotherhood program' for the church universal. If there were no more difference than the size of the thing it would be much more dangerous because of its size. It has proven so difficult though to show the difference that I think I see in that to some of the brethren who seem determined to justify themselves in forgetting the New Testament pattern of the independence and equality of New testament congregations that I have long ago surrendered the ground and henceforth will hold no more such meetings lest I lead my brethren into sin."

Yet in spite of the statement, sincerely made, Brother Harper sought to force Brother Tant to either defend the meeting or condemn me. Our readers can judge the fairness of such an attitude and whether or not such an effort is honorable. I was seeking to take the same attitude toward that matter that Paul taught should be taken toward the eating of meat. If Brother Harper is justifying himself in the Herald of Truth on the basis of the Music Hall Meeting, which he evidently is if the argument is honestly made, then he is wilfully disregarding the fact that on that very consideration I am on record as giving up any participation in such meetings. The introduction of such an argument in the face of such well known facts indicates a willful intent to try to deceive someone by ignoring the true facts.

Then Brother Harper tried to make much capital of the Blytheville, Arkansas, radio program over which I preached while in a meeting there last August. He represented the program as supported by many churches in three states and therefore a little Herald of Truth. He played a recording of the announcement of the program, which I did not hear and of which I had no knowledge, stating that the program was sponsored by churches in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. I suppose his point in this was to prove insincerity on our part by showing that we practiced what we condemned. If that wasn't it, there was no point in it at all. Brother Harper and the supporters of the Herald of Truth seem to think that if they can discredit those who oppose their "idol," they will prove it to be scriptural. That is a peculiar attitude for Gospel preachers. It puts their tactics down on a par with the shyster lawyer who being unable to controvert the testimony seeks to discredit or intimidate the witness.

It is altogether unbecoming as an attitude for those interested in establishing the truth concerning anything.

But what about the Blytheville radio program? The truth about that had also been published and the elders of the Highland church, and surely Brother Harper also, had direct personal notice by letter that they were misrepresenting the program and my participation in it. I wrote them a personal letter, directing it to Brother Reese, last January when it was called to my attention that they had written private letters stating that they did not think that I would ever speak against the Herald of Truth any more because they had a recording of the Blytheville broadcast. I called to their attention in that letter that I had been told at Blytheville by the owner of the radio station that only two churches were participating in the support of that program, each one paying for its own time, and neither of them handling the other's funds in any way. I also told Brother Reese in that letter that I did not hear the introduction of the program at any time. They ignored my letter completely and I have not heard from them to this day, which is some way for brethren to act when they are not guilty. Brother Sudbury, owner of the station, was present at the debate and gave Brother Tant a statement verifying the above. Even this did not keep Brother Harper from misrepresenting it and seeking to discredit his opposition by doing so. It is my information that Brother Willeford and I suppose the other Herald of Truth brethren are still misrepresenting it in their preaching on the matter of "Congregational Cooperation." If there is anything honorable about such tactics, I have been reading the wrong book. If they were correct in their representation of the Blytheville broadcast, it would prove nothing with reference to the Herald of Truth being scriptural as must be evident to every honest, right thinking person.

This was the kind of proof offered and it was the only kind offered. Their efforts' sank even lower than this as we will show in articles to follow. It is all they have or they would have come up with something else by now. Does anyone suppose for a moment that they would rely upon such puny efforts if they had any justification for it in the word of God! Such evidence admits that they know they can't prove it by the Bible. Brother Harper does not have to rely upon such flimsy efforts when he meets a sectarian in debate and all the brethren, including even Herald of Truth supporters, would be ashamed of him if he did. Then he has Bible proof to stand upon and if he had such for the Herald of Truth he would use it instead of the unworthy efforts that he made to discredit someone, prove someone inconsistent, destroy someone's influence, by misrepresentation or any other course that he could use.

No one else can do any better in producing proof from the Word of God for the Herald of Truth. If so, let him try his hand. It hasn't been done yet. It is evident that W. L. Totty and Sterl Watson did no better in the Indianapolis debate which is in print now. In five nights they introduced less than half a dozen passages from the Word of God though they were in the affirmative all the way. They relied entirely upon the same kind of proof used by Brother Harper. Recognizing that they could not prove their propositions by the scriptures they tried to prove their position scriptural by trying to show that someone is inconsistent. They used vilification, abuse, browbeating, and such like all the way through. Brother Holt stayed with the issues and made but little response to the vile treatment at the hands of these two veterans of "gestapo" methods in debate. Never has such a demonstration of that sort of thing gone into print. They completely refused to discuss the issues from a scriptural point of view. I do not know whether or not they would have if they could but I do know that they did not and I do not believe they can. Of course, I am not "representative," and I don't want to be if that is the kind of debating a representative man must do. It makes too many honest people wonder what he is trying to represent anyway.

The "institutional advocates" among the brethren seem to be laboring under the impression that if they could just do away with the Gospel Guardian and discredit and "quarantine" those of us who are opposing their efforts to subvert the church of the Lord to their promotions and schemes they would be able to establish that they are scriptural. What they need to remember is that if all of us were completely out of the way and the Guardian didn't even exist, the Word of God would still remain and their "inventions" are utterly unknown to it. Their evidence (?) is "incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial." What they need is some Bible proof.