Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 1, 1960
NUMBER 30, PAGE 8-9,11a

The Seattle Debate

Luther G. Roberts, Salem, Oregon

A debate between Lowell D. Williams, preacher for the church in Kirkland, Washington, and Johnnie B. Gibbs, preacher for the Green Lake church, Seattle, Washington was conducted in Seattle, Washington, September 13-16, 1960. The first two nights of the debate were held in the meeting house of the Northwest Church of Christ, and the last two nights were conducted in the building of the Southwest Church. The propositions for the discussion were:

Proposition I

"According to the Scriptures, churches of Christ, each acting in its congregational capacity, are adequate to accomplish all the work of benevolence that God has given the church to do, and they should do this work without delegating it, by the contribution of their funds, to Benevolent Organizations."

Affirmative: Lowell D. Williams Negative: Johnnie B. Gibbs

Proposition II.

"Resolved: It is in harmony with the Scriptures for churches of Christ to use the type of church cooperation in evangelism as is being used to continue the Herald of Truth program."

Affirmative: Johnnie B. Gibbs Negative: Lowell D. Williams

The Sufficiency Of The Church

Brother Williams was affirming the all-sufficiency of the church in doing the work of benevolence God has assigned the church to do. In the analysis of the proposition Williams showed that the church was adequate, able, sufficient to do all the work God had assigned to it. Brother Gibbs strongly contended that the church in its "congregational capacity" was not able to do this work. He made a play on "congregational" and changed the word to "congregated." He claimed that the church in its "congregated" capacity was not able to do any thing. Of course, brother Williams showed that he was not affirming that the church in its "congregated" capacity could do benevolence, but that whatever the church authorized to be done was the church doing in its "congregational" capacity as his proposition stated.

The Church Versus The Individual

Brother Gibbs claimed that the church and the individual are the same and that whatever the individual does it is the church doing it, and whatever the church does it is the individual doing it. Brother Williams showed that in 1 Tim. 5:16 there is a difference in the church obligation and the individual obligation. He, also, quoted Matt. 18:15-17 and substituted the word "church" for the word "brother." Look how it would read: "If thy "church" sin against thee "church," go, show him ("church") his fault between thee ("church") and him ("church") alone: If he ("church") hear thee ("church"), thou ("church") hast gained thy brother ("church"). But if he ("church") hear thee ("church") not, take with thee ("church") one or two more ("churches")" etc. This showed how ridiculous this contention was. Also, brother Williams illustrated this point by showing that the individuals who compose the Senate of the United States Congress are not the senate individually, and that the senate only does that which it authorizes. Brother Williams stated that according to Gibbs' contention that the individual and the church are the same then Paul should have been answered by Agrippa, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a 'church'." Needless to say, this was not brought up again by Gibbs. But he did not admit his error on it.

Brother Williams presented a chart on which he showed that God had assigned to the church the work of evangelism, edification and benevolence. He made the argument that the church did not need a Missionary Organization in the field of evangelism through which the church should do this work. He argued that the same was true in edification and in benevolence. Gibbs said that the seven men selected by the brethren in Jerusalem to serve tables was "a society," and that the society relieved the widows in Jerusalem. He said it was not the church for the entire congregation would have to go for it to be the church. But when he came to the affirmation on the Herald of Truth proposition, he said that Judas and Silas were sent by the Jerusalem church to carry an epistle to the churches in Antioch, Syria, Cilicia and Galatia, and that that was an example of the church sending to a church like the churches send to Highland for the Herald of Truth. So, Gibbs switched sides on this matter, and took different positions on it in the debate.

Brother Williams presented a chart to show how the brethren in Antioch cooperated with the brethren in Judea during the famine predicted in Acts 11:27-30. He showed that Antioch did not send to a benevolent society and the society in turn distribute the relief to brethren in Judea by the following diagram:

Antioch---------------------Benevolent Society------------------------------ Lydda, Joppa, Jerusalem

Brother Gibbs said that the above was exactly how it was done. He claimed that Paul and Barnabas constituted "a society" through which the brethren in Antioch distributed the relief to the brethren in Judea. So, here is one man who accepts the "in-between-organizations," and maintains that the church cannot do its work any other way.

The Church And The Home

Gibbs made the claim that it did not make any difference whether the home was under the elders or under a board of directors; they were both the same. In fact, he said there would be no difference between a home under 14 elders or 14 Christian men, it is the church doing it any way. He said the church was not the home, but he insisted that the home could be under elders, but that the home was not the church either. When brother Williams pressed Gibbs on the fact that if the seven men of Acts 6 were a society, then the apostle Paul and Barnabas constituted a missionary society, as per Acts 13:1-3, brother Gibbs endorsed the missionary society. To say the least he was consistent in this. He definitely endorsed the missionary society in evangelism and affirmed the benevolent society in benevolence supported by the church. Gibbs argued that the component parts of the home were the corporation and the children, and that if either was lacking there was not a home. Of course, Williams showed that the corporation of the Broadway church in Lubbock, Texas existed long before they had a home to care for children or a child to care for. Lowell, also, read from the NEWSNOTES from Sierra Children's home, Roseville, Calif., Feburary, 1960, where they said the board of directors were looking for a superintendent, and were making arrangements to secure "final okay to use the property near Vacaville as the site for the Children's home," and that the house on the purchased property was rented out for $70.00 per month" and it was agreed with the renter that ample notice would be given him to get another place when the board needed the house. Here was a benevolent society with no children. And for years Broadway in Lubbock had a corporation with no children.

"Is It Wrong Just Because Not Found In The New Testament"

Yes, the above question was really asked by brother Gibbs when brother Williams pressed him for New Testament authority for human organizations in the work of the church. Gibbs wanted to know where it was in the New Testament that a preacher was paid from the treasury of the church. He scoffed at the idea of a thing being wrong just because it was not found in the New Testament. I was amazed to hear a gospel preacher make such a claim. Of course, brother Williams showed that 1 Cor. 9:14 authorized the church to support the preacher.

Whom Shall The Church Support?

Brother Gibbs asked brother Williams if the church could help the needy in its work of benevolence. Brother Williams replied that he knew of no scripture that authorized the church to provide for any except needy saints. Then, Gibbs used Gal. 6:10; the Good Samaritan, and Matt. 22:39 to prove that the church could help every body saint or sinner alike. But the next night brother Williams asked brother Gibbs, "Would it be right for a church of Christ to contribute money from its treasury to a Catholic or denominational orphan's home?" Gibbs answered. "I do not think so." Thus, he contradicted the claim he made the previous night. He was also asked in question number 2, "If your answer to question number one is 'no', please tell us why? Gibbs answered, "It would be fostering Catholicism." For the remainder of the discussion brother Gibbs observed the "passover" on the question of whom the church could help.

The Herald Of Truth Proposition

Brother Gibbs said that there is no pattern in the New Testament for the church doing evangelism, and that the New Testament was not a book of patterns. Yet, he tried to show from the New Testament that the type evangelism being done by Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas is found in the New Testament. He argued that since churches sent to Paul in Corinth, and Paul was a member of the church in Corinth, then it is scriptural for churches to send to the Highland church in Abilene for Highland to do a work for which each congregation is equally responsible according to ability. He attempted to show that churches sending to Paul was parallel to churches sending to the elders in Highland. According to this since Paul received the money from churches and used it for his needs, then, the elders of Highland received the money from many churches and use it for their own needs.

Another argument which brother Gibbs made in support of this proposition was that the church in Jerusalem bound the decision of the Holy Spirit concerning circumcision on Antioch, and sent the decision through Antioch on to the other churches. According to this contention one church has a right to hind its decisions on another church. (But this brother Jackson, Gibb's moderator, denied in a one night discussion at Sunnyside, Washington, September 26. He said one church did not have the right to bind a thing on another church. Yet, even he made the argument that the decision reached in the "conference" at Jerusalem was bound by the Jerusalem church on Antioch and other churches.) Every one knows that the decision reached in Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles being circumcised before baptism was the decision of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 15:28) This passage was perverted in the debate.

Another attempt to prove his proposition was that Paul sent a letter to the church at Colossae and told them to send it to the Laodicean church for them to read. Therefore, it is right for many churches to send to Highland for Highland to preach the gospel throughout the whole world. Brother Williams pointed out that what brother Gibbs needed was where a church or many churches sent money to one church and told that church to send it to still other churches, and his argument on Paul writing to one church and telling them to send it to another church for them to read did not touch Gibbs' proposition.

Brother Gibbs made the amazing statement that Paul refused to receive support from the church in Corinth because he was filled with pride and vainglory, and that he sinned in not taking the money. He also said that the elders of the Highland church sustained the same relationship to every contributing church as they did to Highland with reference to the Herald of Truth. Brother Williams showed that according to this statement the Highland elders were overseers of a part of the work of the contributing churches to the Herald of Truth and that this was what made it scriptural. Brother Gibbs contended that Phil. 4:15ff was benevolence and not evangelism. However, in his written discussion with brother Williams in Northwest Church News, Gibbs used Phil. 4:15 and applied it to evangelism.

Brother Gibbs made the argument that the universal church is made up of local churches and that when local churches function, that is the universal church functioning. Yet, he agreed with brother Williams that the church universal had no function. He also said that the Ethiopian eunuch was a member of the church universal, but not a member of a local congregation. According to this statement the universal church is not made up of local congregations, but it is made up of individual Christians, which is the truth in the matter. Brother Gibbs made the statement that Phil. 4:15 was not a pattern for supporting preachers in preaching the gospel because Paul was a bachelor, and that this was an example of benevolence and not an example of supporting a preacher. He also said that Paul in Corinth took "wages," which meant that he received more than he needed for necessities of life and that he had some "spending money" which he could use as he desired.

Brother Williams showed that Paul said he did not use his "right" to be supported by Corinth that he "might not hinder the gospel of Christ." (1 Cor. 9:12) He also showed that Paul said the church at Philippi had "fellowship" with him in the preaching of the gospel. (Phil. 1:5) So, Phil. 4:15 does refer to evangelism, despite brother Gibbs' assertion.

Brother Williams showed that the Herald of Truth arrangement destroys the independency of churches. After the money is sent to Highland, the contributing churches are dependent on Highland to preach the gospel. The contributing churches cannot preach the gospel over Herald of Truth program until Highland acts. On the other hand the Highland church cannot preach the gospel over the Herald of Truth program until the contributing churches send the money. Highland is dependent on the contributing churches for the money with which to pay for the time on the network in order to preach the gospel. Thus, the Herald of Truth arrangement cannot be produced as it is now arranged without destroying the independency of the church. This is a violation of the teaching of God's word concerning the church. This argument was not noticed by Gibbs.

Brother Gibbs made the claim that those who oppose the Herald of Truth program, with many churches contributing to one church for that church to do the preaching of the gospel, were dividing the church. But brother Williams produced a chart on which was illustrated who "split the log." He showed that those who introduce into the teaching or practice of the church a doctrine or practice not authorized in the word of God cause the division, such as, those who introduced instrumental music into the worship, or those who introduced the doctrine of premillennialism into the teaching of the church.

The conduct on the part of the disputants as well as the audience was of the highest type. I served as moderator for brother Williams and brother Virgil Jackson served as moderator for brother Gibbs.