An Observation

In preparation for some recent writing, I worked through the Cogdill-Woods Debate (1957). (Actually, I used the Gospel Advocate edition of the debate, so it would be more accurate, I suppose, to say that I worked through the Woods-Cogdill Debate.)

What good, you might ask, can come out of such an exercise? You would be in good company were you to ask that question. In our day, there are few topics in the history of the Churches of Christ that get people more exercised than debates. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that debates are one of those things best left in the past, a rebarbative pursuit of our forefathers that we have rightly left behind.

So, if that’s the case, why waste my time on this stuff? Better yet, why treat a debate as a serious piece of theology? Maybe I can answer those questions later.

For now, something that caught my eye. I’ve read through a few debates during all of this writing and one seemingly negligible feature of the debates has consistently stood out to me. Many of the major debates — e.g. the Neal-Wallace Discussion (Winchester, Ky., 1933) and the Porter-Tingley Debate (Birmingham, 1947) — invariably include a notation at the beginning of each night’s speeches listing who led prayer and who led singing. In other words, the speeches for each night have a kind of “liturgical frame.” Usually the assignments — song leader and pray-er — were split between supporters of each debater. (I don’t know if this is universally true or not; I haven’t yet looked at every single debate book in my own library, much less others that I don’t own.) The event of the debate, in other words, was thought of, at least to some extent, as a worship service.

Curiously, by the time we get to Cogdill-Woods, neither the Advocate or Guardian editions list these pieces of information separately. That said, the debaters occasionally make reference to the prayers in their speeches, so at least each night’s speeches were preceded by prayer, if not by singing. Why does Cogdill-Woods no longer list this these details?

Moreover, with Cogdill-Woods we are no longer in a church building. (Not that every earlier debate was held in a meetinghouse.) Wallace-Neal began in the sanctuary of First Christian Church in Winchester (before it was moved); Porter-Tingley split the time between Central Church of Christ and Tingley’s Birmingham Gospel Tabernacle. With Cogdill-Woods, we are now convening in a public high school. How does that affect how the debate is viewed? Does it? Does it affect the decision about listing the prayer and singing information? Am I reading too much into this?

Your thoughts are welcome.

3 responses to “An Observation

  1. Somehwere online you can find audio of this debate, which opens whole new vistas for understanding inflection, pause, volume and tone of voice for each speaker. These audio files may include prayers and songs. On another note, I see from Faith and Facts Quarterly 2000:129, in an article about the Mt. Zion (OH) congregation, this note of interest: “Recently, brother Tom O’Neal has written about the closing of several older city congregations in the Birmingham, AL, area.”

  2. Are you sure its the audio for the ’57 debate? I’ve seen audio available for their Newbern, Tenn., debate (from ’64, I think), but didn’t know there was audio for the earlier one.

    Thanks for the heads up about the O’Neal piece. I’ll try to track it down.

  3. I’m not sure, but working from memory without a bookmark or the file on this machine.

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