The Lufkin Debate
It was my privilege to attend the debate held at Lufkin, Texas, April 11-14 between Brother E. R. Harper of Abilene, Texas, and Brother Yater Tant of Lufkin. During the discussion I served as time-keeper for Brother Tant, and Brother James W. Nichols served in the same way for Brother Harper.
Attendance was good throughout the debate, running as high as 600 or more at some of the sessions. Some women attended the discussions, but inasmuch as it concerned issues facing the leaders of the churches, the audiences contained many more men than women. Preachers and elders were especially interested in a discussion of this nature. More than 300 gospel preachers were present. They came from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, California and perhaps other states I do not recall as I do not have a complete list.
Many brethren looked forward to this debate with a great amount of uneasiness fearing that it would develop into a fight of personalities by men determined to scalp each other, but this feeling of uneasiness was entirely unfounded, as the debate was conducted upon the highest plane possible. Both the speakers and all concerned treated one another with that friendliness and brotherly kindness that ought always to characterize such discussions. And it would be safe to say that the men who engaged in the debate were closer together as brethren when the debate closed than they were before it began. Irreparable harm will never be done to the cause of Christ when differences are discussed upon the high plane that characterized this one.
The debate was concerning the idea of "congregational cooperation," and in particular as it pertained to the Herald of Truth radio program sponsored by the Highland church in Abilene. There was no disagreement as to whether congregations may cooperate. Both speakers were in favor of congregational cooperation. Nor was it a discussion as to whether radio preaching may be done. Both speakers were in favor of radio preaching. But the discussion was an effort to help the audience determine if there is a scriptural pattern for church cooperation, and if so, does the Herald of Truth program, along with similar brotherhood projects, come within the scope of the divine pattern? Because no line of fellowship has been drawn over these matters let no one decide that the discussions have to do with only matters of human judgment and human opinion. Such is not the case, as can be seen relative to other things being taught by some. A number of preachers, following the line of Brother E. C. Fuqua, are contending that divine laws do not apply to aliens and, therefore, aliens may marry, divorce and remarry as many times as they wish, for God pays no attention to such things among aliens. So the wife a man may be living with at the time of his conversion, although she may be the tenth living wife of the husband, is the one that God recognizes as his wife when he obeys the gospel. This teaching has already resulted in some public debates concerning the matter. Yet no lines of fellowship have been drawn. Does this prove that the differences over the marriage question are mere matters of human judgment? Not at all. And so with the issue of congregational cooperation. The debates upon this issue are not conducted for the purpose of division and disfellowship but rather that the entire brotherhood might come to a complete unity on how churches may scripturally cooperate.
The debate is to be repeated at the Highland church in Abilene, June 20-23, this year. In view of the fact that the brotherhood has learned that such debates can be conducted on a high plane of brotherly love and friendship, the attendance for the second debate should be much increased. It is an issue that every preacher and leader in the churches should study seriously. We feel confident that much progress was made in the Lufkin debate toward solving the difficulties that exist, and much more progress should be made in the debate at Abilene. In fact, it is not too much to hope that complete unity will be reached between Brother Tant, Brother Harper and the Highland elders with respect to the Herald of Truth and similar projects in the brotherhood. If the basic principle of the Herald of Truth and of similar efforts at evangelization is the same principle of the Missionary Societies of the Christian Church and of the cooperative efforts back of them that led to the organization of such societies, we believe, when once this fact is grasped by the brotherhood generally, that unity upon a scriptural basis is not only a possibility but a certainty.
I shall make no effort to argue the matter one way or the other here. Neither will I make any effort to give the arguments made by both men. Neither man had engaged in many discussions prior to this one. Brother Harper had debated about five times, I believe, and this was the first debate for Brother Tant. But both sides of the issue were ably represented by the speakers and this discussion was interesting and educational.
Now is the time to start making your plans to attend the Abilene debate. It will be time well spent on your part. Even the success and growth of our own country have been promoted by frank, open and free discussion by our leaders in the halls of Congress. Without it America would never have reached the place she now occupies among the nations of the world. Surely, open, free and brotherly discussion on differences among us as the people of God will accomplish good for the church of the living God. And your presence in Abilene will increase the possibilities for good. May we see you there?