Debates In The Upper Ohio Valley: Wallace-Jones Debate

Bruce Daugherty

“The colorful Texas preacher J. D. Tant claimed that for every person who would go to a protracted meeting, four would attend a religious debate. He also claimed that the number of converts from a debate was 500% higher than from any other means.” (Casey 47). The Wallace-Jones debate at Moundsville, West Virginia, is a prime example of Tant’s claims.

The Wallace-Jones debate (August 1932), held at Moundsville, West Virginia, was an important debate on the question of instrumental music. The debate was the result of the church at Moundsville answering the challenge of Sam P. Jones, preacher for the Christian Church. In a series of widespread meetings, Jones, a self-styled “walking Bible,” challenged members of the church of Christ to “put up or shut up” to answer his seven arguments in favor of the use of the instrument in worship to God. The Moundsville congregation asked Foy E. Wallace, Jr., editor of the Gospel Advocate, to represent them. (Syrgley 988). Wallace accepted the challenge and denied biblical authorization for the instrument, while Jones affirmed it. The debate was held at the Camp Ground Auditorium for five nights from August 16 through 20. Attendance for each night was estimated between 2500 and 3000. (Plum 1004).

The debate received widespread coverage. Reports appeared in the Gospel Advocate and the Christian Leader. It was covered in the Moundsville Daily Echo and the Wheeling Intelligencer. More than thirty preachers from several states were present at the debate. It also generated a fair amount of heat as audience members expressed their emotions in outbursts during some of the speeches. Notably, the wife of Mr. Jones spoke up on the last night during one of Wallace’s speeches, saying she could answer his questions. Wallace replied by quoting the Apostle Paul, “Let your women keep silence in the churches . . . And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” (1 Cor. 14:34-35). Wallace then added, “Perhaps Sister Jones knows her husband does not answer questions.” (Syrgley 988).

The significance of the debate is seen in the fact that it demonstrated that the question of instrumental music was far from a decided issue, even though the U. S. Census office recognized the division between churches of Christ and the Christian churches in 1906. The debate also signaled that many honest souls desired to know the truth on the issue, and some, for the first time, were made aware of “the gravity of the sin of adding a human requirement to the Divine.” (Moore 4).

For those who are skeptical regarding the effectiveness of debating, it should be noted that several prominent members of the McMechen Christian Church, whose meeting with Jones had triggered the debate, renounced the instrument and desired to practice Christianity as found in the pages of the New Testament. Among them was a leading elder by the name of Siburt. His son, Charles Austin, became a prominent preacher. Years later he wrote, “I was reared in the Christian Church. My family was led out of it through personal work of C. D. Plum and debate on Instrumental Music by Foy E. Wallace and Sam P. Jones in Moundsville, W. Va.” (Preachers 311). Debating gives a focus to discussion that allows some to see the implications of their doctrine that they never would have seen otherwise. 

Works Cited: Casey, Michael. Saddlebags, Citystreets, & Cyberspace: a History of Preaching in the Churches of Christ. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1995; “Charles Austin Siburt,” in Preachers of Today, Vol. 1. Batsell B. Baxter and M. Norvel Young, eds. Nashville: The Christian Press, 1952: 311; Moore, Ira C. “The Jones-Wallace Debate,” Christian Leader Sept. 6, 1932: 4-5; Plum, C. D. “Report on Moundsville, W. Va. Debate,” Gospel Advocate Sept. 8, 1932: 1004; Syrgley, F. B. “The Moundsville Debate,” Gospel Advocate Sept. 8, 1932: 988, 1000.

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