A Review of the Padfield–Deaver Debate On Limited Benevolence

by Karl Diestelkamp

It has been many, many years since we, in the greater Chicago land area, have had an opportunity to attend a debate between brethren occupying different positions in reference to the benevolent work of the church. David Padfield of Zion, Illinois, met Mac Deaver of Wellington, Texas, June 20, 21, 23 and 24, in debate, with the first two nights held in Schaumburg, Illinois. The Schaumburg church and the 23rd Street church in Zion challenged Padfield for the debate and endorsed Deaver. The Lewis Avenue church in Zion endorsed Padfield and provided the meeting house for the last two nights.

Attendance was 176, 125, 183 and 147 for the four nights with by far the greater number of those attending being from non-institutional churches. The debaters and those who came to hear manifested courtesy and a good spirit demonstrating that debates can provide a wholesome atmosphere for study of subjects on which brethren disagree.

The first two nights Deaver’s affirmative proposition was, “The Scriptures teach that a local church may grant benevolent aid to alien sinners.” His main support for his proposition was expressed in the following syllogism:

  1. “All things that the individual can do because he is a Christian are things the church can do.” (Some-times expressed as “on the peculiar grounds of being a Christian.” K.D.)
  2. “Helping deserving needy non-saints is a thing that the individual can do because he is a Christian.”
  3. “Therefore, helping deserving needy non-saints is a thing the church can do.”

When Padfield pressed him to give Scripture for his first premise and to list some things which “the individual does on the peculiar grounds he is a Christian” that the church can also do, Deaver’s response was: “It is axiomatic” or self evident and he made no effort to establish this first premise from Scripture or that it is truly “axiomatic.”

Deaver stated: “It is wrong for the church to render benevolent aid to saints only,” and introduced Matthew 5:43-48, claiming the church is to “practice a higher ethic than the world” and demonstrate that we are “sons of God” by helping the non-saint. During the course of the debate he would say, “If I can help him (a non-saint, K.D.), you can help him, and we can help him,” implying that the “we” is the church. When Padfield argued that Matthew 5 did not involve the church treasury, Deaver asked where the church treasury was “excluded” or how did Padfield “get the treasury out of Matthew 5.” Since Deaver claimed the church was in Matthew 5, it was his responsibility to show that the church treasury was “included” in the passage, but he did not do so. Rather, he asked Padfield where the individual’s “billfold” was in Matthew 5.

Another telling admission was made by Deaver when Padfield asked him to identify what he meant when he used the word “church.” Deaver said:

"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."

Padfield pointed out that following Deaver’s argument would allow for activating of the universal church, yet the New Testament gives no pattern or machinery by which the universal church may function.

Ignoring the context of James 1:27, Deaver made an emotional appeal by asking, “Can the church practice pure and undefiled religion?” Padfield responded by showing that “religion” is something possessed and practiced by the individual, not by the church in its collective sense. Deaver then charged that Padfield was saying the church could not practice pure and undefiled religion, even though he had not established that James 1:27 was speaking of “the local church” as his proposition demanded. Padfield showed three things not found in James 1:27: 1. the local church. 2. The local church treasury. 3. The local church contributing to the needy. He also showed from the context that James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10 were instructions to individuals.

Deaver argued for “benevolence as a vehicle for evangelism,” and defended church support of a clinic in Africa to provide opportunity to teach the gospel to those non-saints who were aided. When Padfield pressed him in regard to “church of Christ hospitals” being built in this country like “Baptist hospitals,” Deaver asked, “Can the church hand out Band-Aids?” Padfield pointed out that hospitals do much more than pass out band aids.

Deaver contended that the “widow indeed” of 1 Timothy 5:3,5,16 is not necessarily a saint (Christian), but rather, may simply be a woman who has nowhere else to turn but unto God. He made a distinction between her and the woman of verse 9 who may be “enrolled” or “taken into the number.” Padfield argued that the text says she “trusts in God” and “prays night and day” which shows that she is a saint.

Several times Deaver said, “Every precisely worded question is either true or false.” He would then proceed to submit a number of questions which he insisted Padfield should answer “true” or “false” without any qualification. However the questions were not asked in a context where anyone could know how he was defining the words used, such as “church.” When Padfield answered with more than a “true” or “false” Deaver complained that the answer was not what he had asked for.

Padfield’s affirmative proposition for 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.” He used 1 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Timothy 5:16; Matt. 18:15 and Acts 5:2-4 to show the difference between individuals and the church. He used charts to show the New Testament pattern of funds of local churches used to aid saints (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-35; 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25,26; 1 Cor. 16:1,2; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1,12,13; 1 Tim. 5:2-16) and illustrating that there is no instruction for, or example of, the local church assisting non-saints.

Deaver dismissed most of Padfield’s first affirmative speech by saying he agreed with most of what he had said. He admitted that all of the passage cited constituted “part of the pattern” but that there was more to the pattern and suggested that James 1:27; Galatians 6:10 and Matthew 5 were part of the pattern for the church to act in behalf of non-saints. He introduced 2 Corinthians 9:13 with less than three minutes remaining in his speech be-fore Padfield’s last speech of the debate but failed to establish that “unto all” includes “non-saints.” Padfield chided him for waiting so late in the debate to introduce his complicated argument that used seven overhead charts and knowing that Padfield would not have time to fully respond in his very last speech.

Padfield showed that by non-saints not being included in the revealed pattern where the local church is clearly involved in benevolent work, they (non-saints) are thus excluded from assistance by the local church. He illustrated this by showing that mechanical instruments of music, Friday observance of the Lord’s supper and pizza and Pepsi as elements for the Lord’s supper are excluded be-cause they are not part of what is revealed. Padfield pointed out that “music” in worship is “limited” to the kind that is revealed (authorized) and just so also benevolence by the local church is “limited” to the kind that is revealed always, and in every case, to “needy saints” or “brethren.” Padfield demonstrated that while the text does not say “sing only,” it only says “sing” and though the text does not say “saints only,” it only says saints when the church treasury is involved.

Interest was high and I believe considerable good will come from this debate. If only more brethren would be willing to put their questionable doctrines to the test of an honorable discussion.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 16, p. 12-13
August 18, 1994

For further study