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Lest We Forget

Cogdill - Woods Debate
(Roy Cogdill's First Affirmative)
Roy E. Cogdill

Editor’s note: What appears below is a computer scanning of the first affirmative speech by Roy E. Cogdill in the Cogdill – Woods debate, also known as the Birmingham Debate, conducted in Birmingham, Alabama, November 18 – 23, 1957. The enhancements included in this publication highlight scripture quotations within the text. The other text enhancements appear in the original text. The Copyright from the book appears at the end of the article. Permission was sought from and granted by Mike Willis of the Guardian of Truth Foundation, which holds the copyright on the book, for this publication to be made. Our thanks are extended to brother Willis for his cooperation. This is a classic presentation that I wanted to have included in this issue of Watchman on the subject of institutionalism.


    It is contrary to the scriptures for churches of Christ to build and maintain benevolent organizations for the care of the needy, such as Boles Home, Tipton Home, Tennessee Orphan Home, Childhaven, and other Orphan Homes and Homes for the Aged that are among us.

      AFFIRMATIVE: Roy E. Cogdill
      NEGATIVE: Guy N. Woods

Cogdill's First Affirmative

Gentlemen moderators, brother Woods, ladies and gentlemen:

I am grateful for the good providence of God that has made it possible for us to assemble upon this occasion that we might study together his word. I am also very grateful for the presence of this good audience in spite of the storm and pray that it has done a minimum of damage, especially to those who are of the household of faith. We are glad that you are here and we are grateful for the fact that many brethren have come from all over the country to study these questions with us. Your presence at a sacrifice of time and money upon your part, many of you an extended sacrifice, indicates the great interest that you have in the issues that are involved in this discussion. An interest that I hope and pray is born of a desire to know the truth of Almighty God concerning these issues, that we may stand before him for that which is right and according to truth.

If I know my own heart I'm not interested in a personal victory of any kind over anyone. Neither am I interested in gaining any personal recognition or glory of any sort. I would not participate in such a discussion as this were it not for the fact that in it an opportunity is offered for us to come together and study the Word of God, and therefrom learn the solution to the problems that are involved in the things to be here discussed by us. Our only hope for such a solution as will bring peace and unity, and insure a continuation of fellowship in the service of God among us is for all of us to get together on, the word of God. Human wisdom and sophistry will not bring a solution to these problems that will satisfy the hearts of those who respect God's will. Our appeal must not be to such. God's word is truth, and only the truth can make us free. To the truth as it is revealed in the word of God then we must go and from it we must not turn away for a moment's consideration of anything else. The will of God is right. The word of God is truth. The wise man of the Old Testament counseled, "Buy the truth and sell it not." Pay any price for the truth, no matter what it may cost, and when once you possess it refuse to part with it no matter what you may be offered for it.

Every question must be answered, every issue must be resolved, every problem must be settled in the light of God's word. Peter said, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:11. We've stated that principle through the years in this fashion — We'll speak where the Bible speaks, and we'll be silent where the Bible is silent. Upon this principle of divine truth we must stand, if God is to be pleased and our souls are to be saved.

The first point that is raised in our proposition as we turn to an analysis of it emphasizes the importance of this. The proposition says, "It is contrary to the scriptures..." By the scriptures, we mean, of course, the word of God, particularly the New Testament of God's word, the gospel of Christ, the righteousness of God which is revealed therein. By "contrary to" we mean out of harmony with, not in agreement with, the scriptures, or with the righteousness of God as revealed in them. But how can a thing be contrary to the scriptures and by what means may we determine that such is true? I submit that there are two principle ways for a thing to be contrary to the scriptures. They are, first, where there is an express injunction and a specific prohibition in the word of God violated; second, when there is no scriptural authority for such practice, and doing it requires a "going beyond" the word of the Lord. There are many things wrong in the sight of the Lord for which no specific injunction has been given in the scriptures. God has not said, for example, "Thou shall not have mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship". Or, "Thou shall not put ice cream and cake on the Lord's table." But either of them would be wrong, and we understand why. There is no divine authority for either of them. There is, therefore, no means of establishing that either is the will of God; both are presumptive and are excluded by what God does say.

But how may scriptural authority be established? In order for a thing to be in harmony with the scriptures there must be either; first, an express command or statement; second, an approved example; or third, a necessary inference, in the word of God for it. In other words, it must either specifically be authorized, or included within the scope of the thing that God has authorized. We have long recognized this simple and fundamental fact concerning Bible authority and I'm sure that brother Woods will not dispute or deny it. If there is no authority at all for a thing then it is contrary to the will of God for it to be practiced by the church of our Lord. Without any authority, it is unlawful and therefore sinful because it would be an invasion of the sacred realm of God's silence, and this God has always condemned and cursed. It is the sin of presumption caused by man's reliance upon his own wisdom, and his lack of respect for the will of God. This is true whether it is a matter of doctrine, of worship, or a substitution of man's way for the way of God. It may lie within the realm of general authority and be, therefore, a matter of expediency or of judgment. But it must be included within the thing authorized or it is contrary to the scriptures and displeasing to God. In order that we may be able fully to understand this process of ascertaining whether or not there is divine authority for a thing, we introduce just here a simple chart illustrating the matter. The first one please.

Chart #1, Cogdill's First Affirmative

This chart is illustrative of the matter of authority by the Lord's Supper. We use the Lord's Supper to illustrate the fact that our practice in such worship is divinely authorized. We have in the scriptures an express command for its observance, for Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me" 1 Corinthians 11:23-24. He did not expressly stipulate, though, in the record given to us, the specific day, if any, upon which this institution was to be, or is to be, observed. We learn that from the practice of a congregation assembling for such worship in the New Testament. Acts chapter 20 and verse 7 - "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread,..." Here we have the church at Troas assembling to break bread, observe the Lord's Supper, on the first day of the week. Paul was present and took part in that worship. This is New Testament example. The church of our Lord under apostolic approval and guidance assembled on the first day of the week to break bread. There is no example of them ever assembling upon any other day of the week for this purpose. They assembled only upon the first day of the week to break bread. Hence, we learn that breaking bread in the assembly of the saints, in the worship of God, can be done with divine approval only upon the first day of the week.

But neither the express command nor the approved example tell us how often such a practice is to be engaged in. How do we learn the frequency with which we observe the Lord's Supper? The answer is by necessary inference. The clear, unmistakable import of the language used necessarily implies that they observed the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week as regularly as that day came. We have here a comparison between the command for the observance of the Sabbath and the observance of the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week. If "...the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", meant every Sabbath day as regularly as it came, then "the first day of the week to break bread" means every first day of the week as regularly as it comes. The conclusion is inescapable. It is necessarily implied.

But someone asks, "at what hour upon the first day of the week should the church assemble to break bread?" The answer is obvious: Any hour within the first day of the week is authorized, comes within the scope of authority, is scriptural. The particular hour is not specified, either by express command, approved example, or necessary inference, hence; any hour within the first day that is expedient can be the hour of assembly and there is scriptural authority for it. However, if there is neither command, approved example nor necessary inference that includes a practice within its scope, that practice is without scriptural authority and anything without scriptural authority is contrary to the scriptures We shall have more to say about this matter later as it applies to the issues at hand in the discussion.

The next statement of our proposition says, "... for the churches of Christ...". By this expression we mean congregations of the Lord's people, Christians, using the term in the same sense as it occurs in Romans 16:16, when Paul said "The churches of Christ salute you." This proposition concerns what the churches of Christ can and cannot do scripturally. We're not discussing what Christians as individuals can and cannot do. We may agree on that or there may be some disagreement between us, but it is not a concern of this proposition, or of this debate, for our proposition reads, "churches of Christ".

These churches of Christ are local churches, congregations, planted in their various localities by the same gospel and, therefore, of the same faith and order. What can they do as congregations — as churches of Christ? That is the issue. We're not debating the right of other organizations to do anything at all. We're not concerned in this discussion with what any organization can do except the church of Christ.

The third statement in our proposition is, " build and maintain..." We mean by this, of course, to organize, establish, bring into existence and perpetuate, sustain their order and activity. This would include financing but would not be limited to that. Supplying the means of its existence is only a part of building and maintaining a thing.

The fourth statement of our proposition is, "...benevolent organizations for the care of the needy." It becomes obvious from this wording of our proposition that there is involved in this discussion benevolent organizations other than, separate and apart from, the churches of Christ, but built by them for the work of caring for the needy.

We are not discussing the matter of churches of Christ caring for the needy, but their right to build other benevolent organizations to care for the needy. It is also obvious that we are not primarily discussing to what extent churches of Christ might use existing agencies aside from these benevolent organizations involved, or whether or not they can; but do churches of Christ have the scriptural right to build organizations through which to do their work of benevolence.

The fifth statement or our proposition is, "...such as Boles Home, Tipton Home, Tennessee Orphan Home, Childhaven and other orphan homes and homes for the aged that are among us." This part of our proposition certainly identifies the type of benevolent organizations that this debate is about. They are specifically mentioned and their character is easily determined. There are others, several of them, maybe some of a different type, but those specified in the proposition will identify the kind of an organization that we mean by it. All of these institutions involve two things: First, the organization that characterizes them; second, the work they do. In each instance there is an organization in control of the work, receiving the money, expending it, hiring and firing the superintendent, controlling the program of work in caring for the needy unto whom they minister. We are concerned in this proposition about the organizational structure of the body, which has authority to do and control the work that is being done. We are not concerned in this proposition with the mere means or methods which the organization employs or by which it cares, provides care, for the needy or with the doing of the work itself. But with the right of the church to build such organizations to do this work, whatever means or methods might be employed by such organizations. The work done is not the organization which is built. There is no point in trying to confuse the two.

All of us recognize that there are some things essential to any work which can be done. It does not matter whether the work is evangelism, benevolence or edification, there are certain things necessary in order to do it. For example, a place would be required, necessary provisions and facilities must be furnished. Personnel to actually do the work is essential. There is no discussion about this point. This proposition does not primarily involve whether or not a congregation can provide whatever is necessary in caring for the needy, such as a place, necessaries of life, care and supervision. I believe it can. Brother Woods may disagree and if he does then we'll differ on that. But the proposition does not necessarily involve that question. It would not necessarily follow that because churches cannot build other organizations to do their work of benevolence that the churches themselves cannot make such provision as is necessary.

To illustrate the point, in discussing the right of the churches to build a missionary society, there is not necessarily involved the question of whether the churches themselves can do missionary or evangelistic work. Granting that they can do such work, there is still the question of whether or not they have the right to build other organizations to do it for them. Neither are we discussing in this proposition the specific means or methods that a congregation may use in providing a place for the needy; and necessary provisions and care for them. Because churches do not have the scriptural right to build other organizations to do such work for them, does not necessarily mean that the churches themselves, as organizations, cannot use methods, systematic arrangements, judgment or means of doing their own work of benevolence. To deny the right of the churches of Christ to build other organizations to do their work, does not deny that they can use means in doing it.

To illustrate this, we deny the right of the churches to build other organizations to do their work of teaching in the Bible school. But that does not mean that we are trying to eliminate methods, systematic arrangement, good judgment or to specify the particular way by which it can be accomplished. My proposition obligates me to prove that such organizations as "Boles Home, Tipton Home, Tennessee Orphan Home, Childhaven and other orphan homes and homes for the aged that are among us", are contrary to the scriptures when built and maintained by the churches of Christ. I'm not here to discuss alternatives or to sit in judgment on every kind of a hypothetical proposition that can be imagined and presented. I have a mighty poor estimate of a man that tries to set aside Bible teaching by asking what about the man who makes the confession and starts to the creek to be baptized and a limb falls on him and kills him on the way. What's God going to do with him? Hypothetical cases are invented largely to avoid the truth of God's word. There are many problems in the realm of marriage today, for example, that it would take the wisdom of a Solomon to unravel and to solve. But no set of hypothetical facts can set aside God's law. To properly apply the principles of divine truth, one must know thoroughly the facts as they exist, and be able to exercise wisdom in properly applying the truth to them.

I'm not infallible in my judgment. I've not always made the proper application of the principles of truth for which I have tried to stand. I take it that my opponent would make the same admission. We can know the principles of divine truth though, if we will study the word of God and determine by it alone to be guided. What then is the issue in this discussion? The issue is not, first, caring for the destitute. All of us, I take it, believe in that. I cannot conceive of a Christian who doesn't. Second, the issue is not whether it is the obligation of the church to engage in such work. Third, the issue in this debate is not the scope of the obligation of the church to engage in such work; that is, for whom the church should care. Four, the issue is not the necessity of making adequate provision for (1) a place for shelter, (2) the necessaries of life, (3) supervision and care, Five, The issue is not the right of the elders to determine the matters of expediency involved in the congregation caring for those for whose care it is obligated, Sixth, the issue is not the use of systematic arrangement in providing for such care. The issue in this discussion is, which organization, shall provide for, direct, control such work as the church is obligated to do in caring for the needy?

We have two organizations under consideration in this discussion. One of them the church of Christ, and the other a corporate body. These two organizations differ in nature in a very marked way. First, one of them is divine in its origin; it originates with God, with the will and wisdom of God. It is the tabernacle which the Lord has pitched. Hebrews 8:2. While the other organization, the corporate body, is human in its origin, originating with the will and the wisdom of man, a tabernacle which man has pitched and not God. Second, one of them, the church,

We have the point illustrated here on a chart.

Chart #2 for Cogdill's first affirmative

exists by the authority of Christ, chartered by the Lord, while the other is found no where in the word of God, has no divine authority for its existence, but is chartered by the state. Third, one of them, the church of our Lord, is regulated by the gospel of Jesus Christ, by the scriptures that constitute the word of the Lord, derives all of its authority and its direction from New Testament scripture, while the other derives all of its authority and direction from the statutes enacted by the legislature of said state. Fourth, one of the organizations, the church, is under the supervision and oversight of the elders, authorized by the Lord and appointed and directed by his word, also called bishops and pastors; while the other organization, a human arrangement, is controlled by a board of directors, selected and directed by the will of man.

Here is a divine arrangement, the church of our Lord, and a human arrangement, a corporate body, both of them organizations, orderly arrangements; both of them a body of associated persons, separate, distinct and completely independent of each other. On the other hand we have the work to be done, over on this side of the chart. In this instance the work happens to be the relief of the destitute. A Bible command directed to the church of our Lord. Certain destitute that God commands the church to relieve. We mean, of course, by that specific work, or the character of that specific work which God has commanded the church to do, such as is set forth in 1 Timothy 5: 16. "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it", the church, "may relieve them that are widows indeed." Here is a work that the church, by the God of heaven, is specifically authorized to do. Through what organization shall the church accomplish this work? If God had not given the church an organization then perhaps it would be free to fashion one of its own through which to do any of its work. It happens, however, that God has designed an organization. Christ established it, the Holy Spirit reveals it, the word of God authorizes it, through which the church is to do all of its work-the congregation, the local church. Philippians 1:1. "To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:". We call your attention to the fact that all of the necessary provision in the relief of the destitute can be made by either of these two bodies. (Give me five minute's notice.) Each is entirely capable within the scope of the authority granting them existence and directing their activities of providing all things necessary to the accomplishment of the work under consideration. Either or both of them could provide a place of shelter for the poor; such is within the realm of possibility for both. Either or both of these organizations can provide the necessary things of life for the poor and the destitute. Either or both of them can provide the personnel necessary to supervise and minister to their welfare. All of these things are essential to such work and they can be provided by either organization.

Let me emphasize further that the place, necessaries, and care furnished the destitute is entirely separate from the organization providing it. If the place is the home for the destitute, as we use that word in the sense of a place of residence, or domicile, a place where they live and are cared for, then the home is not the organization, but is provided by the organization. Whether the church provides such a place and thus accomplishes the work, or the place is provided by the corporate body, and thus the work is done, the destitute would have a place for shelter in either event. No one in my acquaintance objects to providing a place for the sheltering of the destitute. It has been not a matter of whether such a work should be done, but a question of which organization shall do it. Which organization shall make such provisions? Which organization shall direct and control the work that is done? It should be carefully observed here that the work done and the place provided are two different things from the organization that is doing it.

To illustrate: The Masonic Lodge provides and maintains institutions for destitute children. That place or home is not the Masonic Lodge. The organization is one thing; the provision it makes for the care of the destitute is another thing. So it is true of the church. If the church makes such provisions as God has commanded that it shall make for the destitute, such an arrangement would not be the church. We all understand that. The same thing exactly is true of the corporate organization when it makes provisions for the care of the destitute. The organization making the provision is one thing, the place, provisions and care furnished is another. The place furnished is not the corporation. It may be owned by the corporation or not. The personnel in the institution are not the corporation; the children are not, neither is the corporation the same thing as the institution or home. Rather it provides such.

(Five minutes)

It needs further to be noted that the corporation making such provision for the care of the destitute is not the kind of a corporate body that simply holds the title to a property in trust for someone else who is doing the work. The board of directors of this corporate body in question has complete control of the affairs of the institution and are answerable to no one but the law as to how they run it. They receive the money or it is received by their agent. They direct the expenditure of all the money received. They determine what facilities shall be provided, who shall be admitted to the home, and how they shall be cared for. They hire and fire the superintendent and through him as their agent, all other personnel. The work is completely in their charge. This is all true as we shall be abundantly able to show from the charters of these institutions mentioned in our proposition. The actual place of residence, the food furnished, the clothing provided, along with all other essential things, the supervisors and the attendants are all under the control and direction of the board of directors of the incorporated body and those appointed by them as their agents to perform whatever is necessary in making such provisions. This cannot be denied.

It is our contention that the church of our Lord, a divine organization, ought to do the work that God has charged the church with. There isn't anything necessary in caring for the destitute for whom God has charged the church to care that the church as such cannot furnish. The Bible teaches that the church is responsible for doing such work. The organization that God gave the church, and the only one that God ever gave, the local congregation, should do this work, making all necessary provisions itself and exercising the control and the oversight of its work. The congregation, under its elders, can provide whatever is necessary for the care of the destitute as well as any man-made organization. Another organization is not necessary. There is not one thing essential to such a program of relieving the destitute that cannot be provided by the congregation under the oversight of its elders. If so, I want to know what it is. What can this board of directors provide that the elders of the congregation cannot provide? What can this board of directors oversee and control that the elders of the congregation cannot oversee and control that is essential in such a program of work? The answer is absolutely nothing. Where, then, is the wisdom or the right of the church as God designed it and Christ built it, delegating the control over its work, the direction and the doing of the work that God gave it to do, to a human organization? Why should the church contribute its funds to such a human organization and yield the control over the work which God said for the church to do to a human organization? This is the crux of the problem so far as this proposition is concerned. We are to discuss in the second proposition to be debated the question of whether or not one congregation can accomplish and control the work of many churches.

We are interested, in this proposition, in whether or not the church of the Lord has the right to build organizations to do the work God has commanded the church to do. I contend that the church has no such right, scripturally. I believe I can prove it to the satisfaction of every unprejudiced mind. How much time do I have? Fine. Turn another chart for me, will you?

Chart #3, Cogdill's First Affirmative

For the churches of Christ to build and maintain other organizations through which to do their work is without divine authority. It is, therefore, a transgression of the law of God and sinful. There is no authority in the scriptures for the churches of Christ to build anything but the church. The law of God does not authorize but one organic structure through which the church accomplishes its work. That is the local church, the congregation. There is, in the word of God, no organization larger, no organization smaller, no organization other than the congregation. Here is God's established order. Philippians 1:1, "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: ". Acts 14:23, "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." Here is the authority for the medium through which Christians are to accomplish the mission of the Lord's church. A local congregation of the church of Christ is all and the only organization authorized to carry on Christian work or worship, and such organization excludes each and every other organization for the purpose of carrying on religious work or worship, whether the same be evangelistic, missionary or otherwise. This is the ground upon which we have stood, and upon which we will stand. God has specified the organization of the church as definitely as he has specified the kind of music that we are to use in his praise and the elements of the Lord's table. And for the church to build any other organization is to go beyond divine arrangements and divine authority. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." 2 John 9. "Now these things brethren," Paul said, "I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written;" 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Copyright of Cogdill-Woods Debate