Holt - Nichols Debate
On March 12, 13, 15, 16 it was my privilege to attend the debate, serving as moderator for brother Holt, on the question of the Herald of Truth radio program, held at the West End Church of Christ, Franklin, Tennessee. Charles A. Holt, the preacher at West End, was the disputant who questioned any scriptural right for the operation of such an arrangement. The debate was significant because the defender of Herald of Truth was the man who instituted it, James W. Nichols. Certainly there was nothing outstanding in his argumentation, except the utter lack of logic and presentation of scriptural authority for his institution.
Nichols' speeches were characterized throughout by attempts at impugning the motives of Holt and the West End church. Some major insinuations were: 1. He implied that the invitation extended him by West End was caused by trouble and division within the congregation. One half of his first speech was made up of this harangue. 2. He repeatedly charged that Holt deep in his heart was not opposed to such arrangements. 3. He implied and his moderator averred that the debate was "palmed off" on the church when they did not actually want it. 4. Holt was charged with practicing the same thing in principle. 5. He declared Holt and the West End congregation to be "factious," and "refused" by the Fourth Avenue church of the city, and that it was a just refusal; no proof was offered to sustain the charge. 6. Holt was charged with being opposed to working under elders.
The proposition of the first two nights was framed and affirmed by Nichols. Instead of simply affirming that the Herald of Truth arrangement is scriptural, he sought cover in the excessive wordiness of the "neo-famous" Thomas B. Warren type of "reasoning." It consisted of the affirmation of several items as being scriptural. The purpose of the complex proposition was to give authority to it under the mathematical axiom that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Each item in the proposition was then discussed separately, without proving that all the parts were present, and without the addition of, or proper arrangement of, the parts.
His proposition affirmed that contributions from congregations can scripturally be made to Fifth and Highland in Abilene, Texas to preach the gospel, by Herald of Truth, to the world, a work to which Highland and all other congregations sustained the same relationship prior to Herald of Truth; but to which they do not sustain the same relationship since Herald of Truth is in operation.
Nichols introduced the great commission, which authorizes the preaching of the gospel, and some passages authorizing churches to send financial assistance to a congregation in a need peculiarly her own. This was done without showing how they were to be summed or arranged to produce Herald of Truth. But this was the substance of his argument, if, indeed, it could be called an argument.
Holt showed that there was no disagreement on those facts, but he also showed that these facts contain nothing concerning the type of co-operative arrangement as is involved in Herald of Truth. He pointed out that Herald of Truth is a distinct organization, or organic body, conceived by Nichols, started elsewhere and later placed under the direction of the elders at Fifth and Highland, that it could continue to exist without that congregation. Nichols' only reply was to assert that it is not an organization. He gave no proof for his assertion. Holt also showed: that it is not Fifth and Highland's peculiar obligation; that she is not a needy church; that the elders sustain the same relationship, as directors of Herald of Truth, to all the contributing churches as to Fifth and Highland.
Nichols refused to deny any proposition which Holt would affirm unless Holt would include some of the work of West End in the proposition. Thus the church bulletin, West End Contender, was included and the support of a preacher who does radio preaching in Wisconsin. Holt affirmed this to be scriptural and in the same proposition affirmed that he could "consistently" say Herald of Truth is not scriptural.
Holt gave the New Testament example of churches sending support to the preacher, and showed that the West End Contender was merely an expedient means of teaching, a thing commanded. Nichols' point of attack was on the fact that contributions from individuals other than West End members had been received for the distribution of the paper. Holt easily showed that individual contributions to a church for her work was not the point in question; but that the thing questioned is the inter-congregational arrangement for doing a work which is equally related to all the churches.
He gave a diagram to show that in this arrangement many churches are contributing to Fifth and Highland for the doing of a work beyond her peculiar need and obligation, evangelization of the world. He insisted constantly that Highland can have a radio program and be scriptural, but that a system for the combining of churches' resources in work to which they are equally related is unscriptural. He continually pressed for a precept, approved example, or necessary inference for the Herald of Truth arrangement. None was given throughout the debate. Nichols wrote some Scripture citations on the board but did not read the passages nor attempt to show that they authorized the system.
On the other side of the board, Holt kept before the audience a diagram showing the type of congregational co-operation authorized in the New Testament; that is, that the congregation with abundance contributes to the congregation in want which is her peculiar need, from 2 Cor. 8:13,14, et al. Nichols repeatedly contended that this example is neither binding nor exclusive. Holt pressed him as to whether he considered any New Testament example to be exclusive, using Acts 20:7, asking if the example of first day of the week partaking of the Lord's supper excludes other days of the week. Nichols, as others have recently done, saw the force of the point, and affirmed that it bound the first day observance, but not till specific question was asked from the floor in his last speech would he say whether or not it is exclusive. Then his answer was that this example alone does not exclude other days. They are swiftly coming to the old digressive position that unless a thing is specifically commanded we are not required to do it, and unless a thing is specifically forbidden we are at liberty to do it.
Nichols' failure to apply himself to the issue and to defend the unscriptural system of church cooperation which he instituted seemed to be apparent to the audience and to Nichols himself.
He injected the name of his moderator, G. K. Wallace, into the discussion as one who might discuss the matter further, and by previous advisement Holt was able to extend the challenge to Wallace to meet Roy E. Cogdill. At the close Wallace publicly expressed his willingness to debate, only on condition that he should be invited and endorsed by some congregation. We shall await with joyful anticipation the endorsement of brother Wallace by a congregation. The debate will be both profitable and enlightening.
Brother Holt did an excellent piece of work in this discussion, and it is hoped that many more discussions on the same subject can be had, using him and other able defenders of the faith. They will serve to enlighten the brethren, strengthen them and unify them in the faith.