The Padfield-Deaver Debate

by Gene Taylor

On June 20, 21, 23 and 24, 1994, David Padfield, preacher for the Lewis Ave. Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois met Mac Deaver, preacher from Wellington, Texas in debate. The first two nights of the debate were held in the building of the Church of Christ in Schaumburg, Illinois, the church that sponsored Deaver. The last two nights were at the Lewis Ave. church's building in Zion, Illinois. Roy Deaver, LL.D., Ph.D., Th.D, also of Wellington, Texas, served as moderator for his son. John Welch of Indianapolis, Indiana moderated for Padfield.

This was the first debate among brethren to be held in the greater Chicago area in 25 years. Interest was high and attendance good throughout all four sessions in spite of the fact that the Chicago area was experiencing a tremendous heat wave and the building in Schaumburg had no air conditioning which made the temperature inside over 100 degrees. Thankfully, the weather moderated and the building in Zion was air conditioned. Attendance averaged about 180 people per session.

The propositions for the debate both dealt with the limits of church benevolence. This is an area worthy of consideration because opposing views on this subject have divided brethren for the last 50 years. For too long there has been an unwillingness on the part of many to discuss the differences that exist. Although this debate will not resolve all of those differences, it is a step in the right direction for brethren will never be able to reconcile or come to a common understanding and application of the Truth of God without discussing those areas in which they disagree.

Proposition One

The first proposition debated was "The Scriptures teach that a local church may grant benevolent aid to alien sinners." Mac Deaver affirmed this proposition. David Padfield denied it. Although Deaver presented four arguments, they were all centered on the concept that whatever the individual can do the church can do with a slight twist. I believe Deaver realized that argument had been successfully answered in past debates by showing its inconsistencies (A Christian can marry, can the church marry? A Christian can go into business, can the church go into business?), so he altered it slightly to circumvent those challenges.

He stated it this way: "All passages which authorize the performance of an act based upon the peculiar ground of one's being a Christian are passages which apply with equal force both to the church and the individual Christian." He summarized it by saying that "whatever an individual can do upon the peculiar grounds that he is a Christian the church can do." You can see how, in reality, this is the same old argument with only a slight variation.

Deaver appealed to Matthew 5:44-48 as authority for his position. He said that as the individual Christian by doing good works shows his sonship to people in the world, the church can likewise demonstrate its relationship to Jesus by supplying benevolent aid to those outside of Christ. He declared that such benevolence is a vehicle for evangelism.

Padfield was prepared to answer this argument. He had listened to two of Deaver's previous debates on this subject (Jack Holt - 1987; Keith Sharp - 1991) in which he had used it. In fact, Deaver did not use any argument in support of his proposition that he had not previously used. Padfield, meticulous in his preparation, was ready for every argument Deaver forwarded.

Limited church benevolence

In response to the "peculiar grounds" argument, which he dubbed "Deaver's Law" because its origin was with Deaver not Scripture, Padfield first showed how the individual in Christ is authorized to wear the name "Christian" (Acts 11:26; I Pet. 4:16). He then asked if "Christian Church" would be a proper name for the church. In his 1987 debate with Jack Holt Deaver had said that it was not proper for the church to be called the "Christian Church" but in his 1991 debate with Keith Sharp he had said the church could wear that name "if expedient." Padfield cited Deaver's brethren who agreed with his position on benevolence but not on this point. He pointed out that Dub McClish, writing in the same issue of The Spiritual Sword in which Deaver also had an article, called it a "sectarian name." Most damaging to Deaver, on this point and several others, were the writings of his father. Padfield, having read most of the Deavers' writings from the past 30 years, used the writings of Roy Deaver to show how his son was digressing further and further from Biblical teachings. In this case the elder Deaver, in his book The Baptist Church and the New Testament Church, had emphatically stated "Mark it well that the New Testament church was never called the 'Christian Church.'"

This proved to be an embarrassment for the younger Deaver the second night when his father stood up and, without calling a point of order, loudly stated that this statement would remain in further editions of his book though Padfield had showed how it clearly demonstrated that he and his son disagreed on this point. Roy said there was no disagreement between them but it was obvious to all who were present that a difference exists.

Padfield then showed the fallacy of this "peculiar grounds" argument by going to Romans 14 where the apostle Paul said that an individual Christian, one who is "weak in the faith" (vs. 1), can keep a certain day as a holy day (vs. 5) and observe it "to the Lord" (vs. 6). He asked that if a former Jew, as an individual, could keep the Sabbath to the Lord could the church keep the Sabbath "to the Lord?"

He pressed on by asking if an individual who had been a Baptist and kept Christmas as a holy day, being weak in the faith, could keep Christmas as a day "unto the Lord," could the church keep Christmas as a holy day? He also applied it to the converted Catholic who had kept Lent as a holy time and to the converted Muslim who kept certain dietary laws religiously.

Padfield showed from Galatians 4:10-11 that the church was not to observe days other than the first day of the week. In response, Deaver actually admitted that the church could observe Christmas but not as the world did. It could only keep it if it kept it "right." The obvious question is, "How could the church observe Christmas as a holy day in a 'right' manner since there is no authority in Scripture for keeping it at all?"

Deaver further showed his problem in answering Padfield's logic by likening the "days" mentioned in Romans 14 to such things as Wednesday night Bible study, lectures set by the church and even debates. He said that by arranging and observing these elective days the church was acting in accordance with Romans 14. Padfield cited verse one to show that these were the brethren who were "weak in the faith" who were observing these days. If what Deaver said was true, then, only the weak would attend Wednesday night Bible study, go to lectures, debates, etc. What a ludicrous defense on the part of Deaver.

Proposition Two

The final proposition that was discussed the last two nights was "The Scriptures teach that the exclusive New Testament pattern for the benevolent work of the local church from its treasury is the relief of needy saints." David Padfield was now in the affirmative, Mac Deaver in the negative.

Padfield's main argument was to show the nine passages from the New Testament which refer to the benevolence given from the local church treasury. In every passage the recipients of the benevolent relief were Christians. He likened this to the pattern for music in worship. That pattern also has nine passages and mentions only vocal music thus making acapella music the authorized practice for the church in its worship in song.

Deaver agreed that all the passages given by Padfield did refer only to saints but he protested that Padfield had left some vital passages out of the pattern. The three he cited, Galatians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 9:13 and James 1:27, all applied to responsibilities of the individual Christian. That is why, when in the affirmative, he strongly endeavored to establish the principle that the church can do what the individual Christian can. Again Padfield was ready.

He showed from I Timothy 5, citing the needy widows, that where a widow had children they, as individuals, needed to provide for her and "not let the church be burdened," thus showing a recognizable difference between the individual's responsibilities and those of the church.

Padfield plainly demonstrated from Matthew 18:15-18 that even if you have a plurality of individual Christians they do not necessarily comprise the church. A distinction is made in Scripture between the individual, a plurality of individuals acting as individuals and the collective actions of the church. This was an argument Deaver did not answer. I believe he did not answer it because he cannot answer it. It condemns his position but he cannot refute it.

Sundry Conclusions

During the debate Deaver, when asked what he meant when he used the word "church," responded by saying, "He wanted me to identify the church. It doesn't matter if I mean the church local, like the church at Laodicea, the church regional, the churches of Galatia, the church universal, the brotherhood, the church ethnic, the churches of the Gentiles, congregational collective, the churches of Christ. It doesn't matter what I mean. I mean that whatever an individual can do upon the peculiar grounds that he's a Christian, the church can do. The brotherhood can do. The regional churches can do it. The local church can do it. Groups of churches can do it. The ethnic churches can do it. It doesn't matter. Why is that a puzzle?" By making this statement, Deaver activated the church universal and church regional giving them structure and function. He even said the church regional could withdraw fellowship. Quite different from the Scriptural view that the local church is the largest functioning collectivity found in the Bible.

The attendance at the debate showed who was really interested in arriving at unity and teaching the truth. While I said earlier that attendance was good, the crowds averaged 85 percent from the non-institutional groups versus a mere 15 percent from those groups who agreed with Deaver. It is no wonder that institutional churches in the greater Chicago area, let alone in many other locations in the country, are drying on the vine, some even closing their doors.

The attendance by so many faithful brethren from many different cities and states was impressive as a show of strength and unity. Their discussions after each session centered on the debate and spiritual topics. How different from the post-service talk at regular assemblies which usually centers on the weather, sports, etc. These were people who were willing to make the necessary arrangements and sacrifices to uphold truth and encourage its defense.

The Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois is to be highly commended. As I said before, the last debate in the Chicago area was 25 years ago (By the way, it was sponsored by the church in Zion too). Most local churches seem unwilling to engage in controversy. How refreshing to have a congregation which is willing to not only allow but also underwrite such an effort. They allowed David Padfield to take the time necessary to prepare for the debate. They paid his expenses for his materials. They also underwrote the expenses of his moderator, John Welch, his helpers, Harry Lewis and myself. Their generosity in this area and others is appreciated and worthy of commendation.

Another valid conclusion is that David Padfield was extremely well prepared. From the first night it was evident that Mac Deaver had not done much preparation—his charts were from his previous debates on this topic, his arguments were the same and his repeated use of true-false questions all spoke of how little he had done. On the other hand, David had produced almost 300 new charts. He anticipated and answered every argument and objection Deaver made. I believe David's first night presentations set the tone for the entire debate for Deaver was sent reeling that first night. He never recovered. In fact, the final night he seemed only to want to get through his speeches and get away. Deaver's final speech that last night was a complete waste.

Many Christians believe nothing good can come from debating. I believe much good was accomplished by this one even a thousand miles away from where it took place. I preach in Tallahassee, Florida. In our congregation we have several families who have left institutional churches and have been attending with us. Since my return home I have been preaching lessons based on the debate and Padfield's charts. Every family has come to understand and acknowledge the Scriptural position that the local church's benevolent responsibilities are to saints not to those outside Christ. One lady told me she was so glad to hear these lessons because she never understood this topic. Now she did. She said she wished that she had heard such lessons 30 years ago. Debates still accomplish good because the truth, when properly presented, will still convince and convert the good and honest heart.

For further study