The Burns - Rogers Debate --- No. I
A debate between Robert L. Burns, preacher for the Westside congregation, and Lee M. Rogers, preacher for the Diamond Hill congregation, was conducted in Ft. Worth, Texas, December 5, 6, 8, and 9, 1960. The first two nights of the debate were in the Diamond Hill building and the last two nights were in the Westside building. The propositions for discussion were:
Proposition No. 1: "The Scriptures teach that a congregation may relieve only saints in benevolence." This was affirmed by Robert L. Burns and denied by Lee M. Rogers.
Proposition No. 2: "The Scriptures teach that a congregation may relieve both saints and aliens in benevolence." this was affirmed by Lee M. Rogers and denied by Robert L. Burns.
Note Attached to Propositions: "It is understood that those 'who will not work' to help themselves are not included in either proposition. This note was suggested by Rogers, and it was a stone around his neck. For when he would argue that the "all" in 2 Cor. 9:13 meant "all men, unlimited," Burns would refer to the note and remind the audience that Rogers didn't really believe the "all" to be unlimited. And when Rogers would argue that "God's law of love" demanded that the church help all who received "the sunshine and rain," Burns would remind the audience that Rogers didn't believe it for the "man who will not work" receives these physical blessings from God. Rogers admitted that the Christian must love the "man who will not work," but said that he couldn't physically relieve him. Thus he admitted that "love" does not necessarily demand physical relief.
In the affirmative Burns appealed only to the Scriptures for his proof. He introduced a chart with the following passages (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-34; Acts 6:1-6; Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15: 25-32; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9; and I Tim. 5:16). He showed that in each case the congregational relief was for needy saints. He asked Rogers to either show where one not a saint received relief in these passages or introduce another passage where the congregation relieved one not a saint.
Burns then introduced Gal. 6: 10 and James 1:27 and from the context showed that each of these was individual in application. He called upon Rogers to take up his arguments on these passages and show where he had erred in his argument.
Brother Rogers began his first speech by saying that the position held by Burns was "the most God-defying, Christ-denying, and Bible-disgracing doctrine to which I have ever been exposed." He later said that Burns preached a "haters of mankind theory." Yet he freely admitted that Burns and those who stood with him would relieve saint, alien, and orphan out of their pockets. Therefore, we were "haters of mankind," not because we would let any go unrelieved, BUT BECAUSE WE REFUSED TO SHIFT OUR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY OFF ON THE CHURCH. Though in the negative, twenty minutes went by without Rogers even remotely referring to a thing that Burns had said. Most of the time was spent in appealing to emotionalism. With ten minutes left, he said he would get to the arguments made by Burns. He said the nine passages on Burns' chart proved that the church could relieve saints, but that they did not limit church relief to saints. Yet he offered no proof that anyone other than saints could be relieved by the congregation. He said at least five times that he would offer this proof when he got in the affirmative.
The only arguments that Rogers made from the Scriptures while in the negative were (1) if disciples in Acts 11 meant the congregation, then disciples in Gal. 6:10 meant the congregation; and (2) since "all" (pantas) in Acts 5:11; Gal. 6:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 Thess. 5:15 included both saint and sinner, "all" (pantas) in 2 Cor. 9:13 included both saint and sinner.
Burns answered Rogers' emotional appeals and then quoted "the greatest thinking machine" that Rogers moderator has ever known as saying that an appeal to emotionalism was an "evasion of the law of rationality." Burns showed that Acts 11:27-30 was congregational action because it involved "together action" of Christians in carrying out that which the congregation was charged to do. He then pointed out that "disciples" was not even in Gal. 6:10. He further showed that Gal. 6:10 did not necessitate "together action" and called upon Rogers to show "together action" in this passage. Needless to say, Rogers did not even attempt to do so. Burns showed the fallacy of Rogers argument on the "all" (pantas) of 2 Cor. 9:13 by referring to four passages that used the word "baptized" (baptizo) in reference to water baptism and then concluded that, by Rogers' line of reasoning, "baptized" (baptizo) in I Cor. 15:29 was water baptism. Burns then stressed the fact that the context of a passage had to be considered to determine the meaning of a word in any given passage.
The discussion of the first proposition ended without even attempting to answer Burns' argument on Gal. 6:10, James 1:27, and 2 Cor. 9:13. He did refer to these passages, but he did not refer to the arguments made by Burns.
By the time Rogers got in the affirmative he had promised more than half a dozen times to abundantly prove by the Scriptures that the congregation was to relieve both saints and aliens. So we entered the last two nights with great anticipation. But to our dismay he spent most of his time in appealing to emotions and quoting from men. The only argument based on the scripture that he made in his first speech was relative to Matt. 5:43-48 and "God's law of love" extending to all men. To explode this Burns had but to refer to the "man who will not work" and show that even Rogers knew that love did not always necessitate physical relief.
Burns reminded Rogers that his proposition said, "The Scriptures teach," and encouraged him to introduce the scriptures that authorized the congregation to relieve aliens.
Finally, Rogers placed 2 Cor. 9:13; Gal. 6:10; and James 1:27 on a chart and said these were the passages that proved his proposition.
Burns took James 1:27 and pointed to such individual references from verse 19 through 27 as "every man," "man," quoted Rogers' moderator as saying, "him is a man in anybody's language." (Deaver - Hathaway, Debate p. 147)
Burns turned to the context of Gal. 6:10 and showed that just as the sowing of verse 7 is to result in the individual's reaping in the judgment of verse 9, so "doing good" of verse 10 is also independent action.
Relative to 2 Cor. 9:13 Burns showed that "all" is an adjective modifying Jewish saints. He pointed out that the contribution from Gentiles was "not only to fill up the measure of the wants of the saints (poor Jewish Saints), but" — beyond mere carnal relief to poor Jewish saints — "is abundant by many thanksgivings unto God" on the part of "all" Jewish Saints for the Gentiles' "professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ." Simplified, he showed that the money was raised for poor Jewish saints, sent to poor Jewish saints, and relieved the wants of poor Jewish saints; and that this exhausted the use made of the physical funds. But that in addition to relieving the poor Jewish Saints the other Jewish Saints were also benefited in that the contribution created good will and thanksgiving on their part for the Gentiles who had taken thought of the poor Jewish brethren. He concluded that only in this manner could it be understood that the gift went unto others than the poor Jewish Saints.
Written Questions And Answers
A profitable feature of the debate was the five written questions and answers submitted by each speaker each night. From these it was plainly indicated that Rogers did not know how to determine if a passage authorized independent or joint action. The first night Burns asked the following question: "Please explain how one may determine if a passage is to be carried out by individual Christian (independent action) or by the congregation (collective action)." Rogers answered: "By determining whether or not the passage relates to purely religious duties." The second night Burns asked: "Please explain how one may determine if a passage relates to purely religious duties." Rogers answered: "Those duties which relate to the carrying out the mission of the church — the salvation of souls." The third night Burns asked: "Since you said Monday night, in answer to question No. 1: 'By determining whether or not the passage relates to purely religious duties,' and Tuesday night, in reply to question No. 2, you said: 'Those duties which relate to the carrying out of the mission of the church — the salvation of souls,' we would like for you now to tell us plainly how one may determine if a passage relates to the carrying out of the mission of the church — the salvation of souls, and is purely religious." Rogers answered: "All works which the N. T. obligates a child of God to perform on the peculiar basis of his religion, are works which relate to the mission of the church, and are works to be performed both by individual 'Christian and by the church." Here Rogers gave up his proposition, for he had already admitted that reliving aliens and orphans were not obligations of a child of God on "the peculiar basis of his religion." but that these were obligations because the individual was a human and a Christian. He agreed that even the alien has a humanitarian obligation to relieve his needy neighbors.
In answer to question No. 5 the first night Rogers said that James 1:27; Gal. 6:10; and Matt. 25:35-36 were both individual and congregational in scope. Burns pointed out that if James 1:27 was authority for the church to build and maintain orphan homes, then Matt. 25:35-36 was authority for the church to build and maintain hospitals, motels, food stores, clothing stores, and prisons.
For the first three nights Rogers had argued that "all" in 2 Cor. 9:13 meant all men. Thus he used "all" as an adjective modifying men. However, on the last night he asked: "Since you have insisted that 'all' (pantas) of 2 Cor. 9:13 is an adjective, would you please identify the Greek noun which it modifies?" Burns answered: "It is elliptical and is determined by the context (saints are under discussion in 2 Cor. 9:1, 12)." In reply to Burns' answer Rogers said that "all" was here used as a pronoun; thus he invalidated every argument that he had made on 2 Cor. 9:13 the first three nights of the debate.
On the last night two questions were asked relative to church support of colleges. The answers were very informative. We will notice these questions and answers in an article to follow.
Rogers said that Burns was inconsistent in that he made application of 2 John 9 to both the individual and the congregation, but would not make application of James 1:27 to both individual and congregation. Burns answered by showing that 2 John 9 was individual in application, but that it regulated the individual's behavior whether he acted independently or jointly. He showed that 2 John 9 cannot be obeyed by individuals without it effecting the behavior of the congregation, but that James 1:27 can be obeyed by individuals without effecting the behavior of the congregation.
Rogers said that Burns' doctrine would not allow the church to furnish a crib for an alien child. He stressed that he did not mean the child of an alien, but an alien child. Burns said it would not be very practical even if it were Scriptural for a child who was old enough to be an alien to be placed in a crib in the nursery. Rogers never did explain what he meant by an alien child.
Rogers argued that if Burns was right it would be unscriptural for the church to allow an alien to get a drink out of the drinking fountain. Burns asked Rogers if it was Scriptural for a wealthy man to be the object of church benevolence. Rogers answered that it was not. Burns showed that while Rogers said that the wealthy man could not be an object of church benevolence, he would allow the wealthy man to drink at the fountain. Therefore, Rogers well knew that the drinking fountain was not for benevolent purposes, but to accommodate those who gathered to worship and/or study God's word.
I would estimate that there was an average of about 250 present each night and that no more than an average of 40 who stood with Rogers. Even Rogers stated regrets that the Diamond Hill members were not attending.
The two elders from Diamond Hill attended each night, and they were very congenial. It is to their credit that they allowed the use of the Diamond Hill building for one half of the debate.
In demeanor both disputants acted as those professing Christianity should.