Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 16, 1958
NUMBER 36, PAGE 1,13b

Cogdill-Woods Debate

James W. Adams, Nacogdoches, Texas

(Having served as Brother Cogdill's moderator, it seemed good that I should write a review of the debate from the standpoint of those who stand where Brother Cogdill stands on current issues. For Brother Cogdill's protection from unjust imputations on the part of any growing out of sentiments which I express concerning the debate or disputants, I have asked Brother Tant not to show my articles to Brother Cogdill before publication. What is said are my personal views concerning the matter and are without any knowledge on Brother Cogdill's part. JWA)

Debates have always been important milestones in the history of the movement to restore New Testament Christianity. It is our conviction that history was made in the recent Cogdill-Woods debate in Birmingham, Alabama, November 18-23. Scholars of generations yet to be will mark this event as one of the most significant of our time from the standpoint of its ultimate effect upon the history of churches of Christ. The issues which occasioned the debate have reached such magnitude and are fraught with such possibilities as to justify fully the discussion.

The Place Of The Debate Significant

The city in which the debate was had is strategically located. It is a modern, industrial city of more than 600,000 population situated in the very heart of the United States. Churches of Christ are more numerous in the area from Birmingham north to Nashville, Tennessee than in any other place on this earth. There are more than thirty flourishing congregations in the Greater Birmingham area itself. These churches, permeated with the influence of fifty years of sound gospel preaching by Brother John T. Lewis (who attended every service of the debate), are known throughout the nation for their loyalty to New Testament principles. Birmingham is one of the few major cities of this country in which the forces of liberalism and institutionalism have not captured the majority of the congregations. This, we are confident, had much to do with the willingness of Brother Guy N. Woods to meet Brother Roy E. Cogdill in debate without the unfair advantages in wording of propositions and order of procedure which Brother Woods ordinarily demands and gets. The conservative attitude of the Birmingham churches is both a challenge and an insult to our institutional promoters. This debate was an all out effort on their part to try to capture this area. To say that in this regard they met their Waterloo is to put it mildly. It is our belief that none knows this better than do they.

The Disputants Significant

The disputants in the discussion add much to its significance. Brother Guy N. Woods is the recognized polemic champion of the institutional cause. He fully represents the editorial position of the Gospel Advocate, and has also the endorsement and support of the major portion of the benevolent institutions established and maintained by churches of Christ. This fact was clearly demonstrated in the Birmingham debate. Superintendents and board members from Boles, Childhaven, Sunny Glen, and Maude Carpenter we know to have been present aiding and abetting Brother Woods in his effort to defend the scripturalness of their institutions. Representatives of other institutions may have been present. Brother Woods is a staff writer for the Gospel Advocate, one of the editors of its Bible School literature, author of a number of books and pamphlets, and, according to his own admission, is the victor of more than 100 polemic encounters, "twenty of them with the Anti-Sunday School brethren." Too, Brother Woods modestly confesses, orally and in the pages of the Gospel Advocate, to having completely routed veteran debater, Brother W. Curtis Porter, on current issues at Indianapolis, Indiana and Paragould, Arkansas. (The only evidence we have of the truth of Woods' assertions concerning his debates with Brother Porter, however, is the boasting of Brother Woods and his partisan colleagues.) Brother Woods has written copiously in the defense of benevolent organizations and sponsored cooperation (centralized control and oversight). Furthermore, he has launched bitter and virulent attacks against brethren who oppose these promotions in practically all of his meetings of recent years. Since he is nationally used in such work, this has been done from Coast to Coast. All of this emphasizes the fact that he has made a thorough, exhaustive study of the propositions discussed in the Birmingham debate, hence came to the debate completely prepared to defend his position. Brother Woods is possessed of a poor speaking voice. It is high-pitched and nasal in tone making him very hard to understand when he speaks rapidly and with emphasis. Yet, he expresses himself with facility and in a terse and elegant style. Too, Brother Woods is considerably above the average in mentality. These qualities, coupled with a studious disposition, years of diligent application, and wide experience on the polemic platform, make him a formidable opponent in any controversy. He is wonderfully adept in the use of all of the subterfuges of the sophists. He can with consummate skill misrepresent the issue of his proposition and the arguments of his opponent. This is done in a manner so subtle as almost to evade detection on the part of the listener. The result is the creation of a state of confusion that is favorable to the position which Brother Woods occupies. While some of the qualities we have mentioned are of questionable virtue, they are definitely potent factors that must be dealt with in public controversy. It is certain that no more representative or capable man could have been found to defend the cause which Brother Woods championed in the Birmingham debate.

Brother Roy E. Cogdill

Brother Roy E. Cogdill who opposed Brother Woods is easily one of the greatest preachers of this generation. His ability is unquestioned by friend or foe. While he makes no claim to fame in the realm of polemics (having had only three or four public, religious debates), his capability in this field is not a subject of controversy. Greatly contributing to Brother Cogdill's proficiency in polemics is the fact he has earned a degree in law from a recognized, fully accredited school of law, is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, and practiced successfully in the courts for a number of years. (Brother Woods has also studied law and has been admitted to the bar in Tennessee and Texas.)

Nature was lavish in bestowing her endowments on Roy E. Cogdill. He is imposing in appearance standing six feet in height, weighing some 200 pounds, possessing a well-knit frame accentuated by a leonine head, and having handsome facial features dominated by a pair of rather deep-set, piercing eyes that project his power and personality to an audience with irresistible magnetism. He has a clear, resonant voice of unlimited volume that immediately attracts and holds his auditors. His enunciation is superb, and from boyhood, he has been famous for the marvelous choice of words with which he expresses with clarity and forces, his ideas. In pulpit presence, oratory, and personality, few men, certainly not Brother Woods, are his peers. In these respects only was Brother Woods at a disadvantage saving, of course, for the fact that he did not have the truth.

All of his preaching life, which has been long and distinguished, Roy E. Cogdill has been known for his broad knowledge of the New Testament. His preaching has never been anything but fundamental and Bible-centered. With respect to the issues involved in the Birmingham debate, there is no man better qualified to discuss them than he. He is owner and publisher of the Gospel Guardian which journal has led in the fight against "centralized control and oversight" and human organizations in evangelism and benevolence. He, too, has written copiously on the issues involved in the Birmingham debate, and has spoken to thousands in special services all over the United States in opposition to Centralization and Institutionalism. It is doubtful that there could be found a person on either side of these issues who would question Roy E. Cogdill's being completely representative of the views which he espoused at Birmingham. The Birmingham debate, therefore, brought together two of the universally recognized representatives of the opposing views which have produced the issues that trouble churches of Christ and which occasioned the discussion in question. If these issues can be resolved, surely a discussion between two such men should materially help to bring it about. The Attendance Significant

The discussion was had in Phillips High School Auditorium. The auditorium seats some 2200 and is located in downtown Birmingham. The building was never more than two thirds full. This was partly due to inclement weather — rain, cold, and tornadoes (one striking the western part of the city). However, the significant thing about the attendance was not the number who attended, but the fact that people came from all over the United States — principally preachers and elders — to hear the debate. From Florida to the Great Lakes and from North Carolina to California and the State of Washington they came. The effects, therefore, of the debate will be felt in every part of the land. The brethren who like to oversimplify these issues and minimize their importance need to get their heads out of the sand and face up to the fact of the tragic and far reaching consequences with which they are fraught.

The Decorum Significant

Debates, deservedly or undeservedly, have for a long time been regarded by multitudes with jaundiced eye. They are almost universally regarded as being Anti-Christian in spirit. If the Birmingham debate accomplished nothing else, it should have convinced all present that Christians can meet and discuss controversial matters without descending to a plane of conduct injurious to the reputation and character of the Lord's work and people. The participants in the debate were studiously kind, courteous, and brotherly in their relationship to one another. The audiences were well-behaved, respectful, attentive, and grave. The tremendous significance of what was taking place seemed to be acutely felt by all present. The decorum of the Birmingham debate was a compliment of the highest order to the intellectual stature, brotherly kindness, and concern for truth and righteousness of those who came. If this same spirit could but find expression in such discussions of these issues in all the media open to New Testament Christians throughout the world — papers, college classrooms, college lectureships, congregations, etc. — there might be yet a ray of hope of their being resolved without wholesale division. Our hope and prayer is that the Birmingham debate may be a finger of light in the fog of Brotherhood confusion that surrounds us pointing the ship of Zion to a course that will ultimately lead her to waters that are tranquil and safe. It should be repeated in every major city in the land.

(More to follow)