The Willis-Cayton Debate (1984)


by Wayne S. Walker

     On Tuesday night, April 10, 1984, at the building of the Brown Street church of Christ in Akron, Ohio, brother Lewis Willis, preacher for the Brown Street church, and “Elder” Vernon Cayton of the Truth Tabernacle in Niles, Ohio, met to discuss the existence of miracles today. This exchange was brought about as a result of Brown Street’s “Bible Talk” call-in radio program on Sunday mornings. Someone, apparently a member of Truth Tabernacle, called to claim that Mr. Cayton had the power to perform a miracle and urged Lewis to contact him. After several attempts, brother Willis was able to talk with Mr. Cayton and made the arrangements for the discussion.

     After an opening prayer, brother George Lemasters, an elder for the Lord’s church in Barberton, Ohio, began the service and announced the mutually-agreed-upon ground rules. Each disputant was to have a 50-minute speech with brother Willis to go first. There were to be no audible or physical demonstrations from the audience. The proposition to be discussed had been dictated to brother Willis by Mr. Cayton over the phone. Mr. Cayton had told brother Willis, “God through Vernon Cayton is going to perform that miracle if Mr. Willis or any of his followers will hear the apostles’ doctrine.” An audience of 585 people were assembled to hear and see this question discussed.

     Brother Willis began by defining the proposition and its terms. He said that Cayton needed to perform “a notable miracle that cannot be denied to establish with infallible proof that he can do as he has claimed.” Then he identified the character of New Testament miracles as opposed to modern claims. In dealing with the part of the proposition which read “will hear the apostles’ doctrine,” Lewis predicted that Mr. Cayton would use this as his door of escape, demanding that his idea of “the apostles’ doctrine” be accepted. Of course, those of us in the audience would have been ready to believe Mr. Cayton’s preaching if he were to perform just one true miracle to confirm it.

     The next topic brother Willis introduced was Mr. Cayton’s view of one person in the Godhead. After pointing out from Ephesians 3:3-5 that the Bible is written in clear, understandable, definable language, he asked Mr. Cayton to define the meaning of Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and end up with just one person. He also cited John 17:20-21 to show that the oneness of God and Jesus is equivalent to the oneness of believers, that there can be oneness yet separate personalities.

     Following this, brother Willis told us several things that Mr. Cayton might do to dodge the issue. He might assert Lewis was blaspheming God. He might appeal to audience or human testimony, as does Ernest Angley, Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Baker. He might resort to ridicule such as calling Lewis a liar or saying how dumb Willis is. He might assert that he, Cayton, is a miracle. He might question the faith of the Brown Street church. Or he might try to prove that Lewis is tempting God.

     In fact, brother Willis said that Mr. Cayton had several options. He could totally refuse to honor his promise. He could try to “hide in the woods.” He could blame the audience for his failure. He could admit he was a false teacher. Or he could perform a notable miracle. In closing, brother Willis challenged Mr. Cayton to produce the miracle he claimed he would perform. The ball was now in his court. He must either “put up or shut up.”

     When Mr. Cayton arose to speak he said that if we would let the word of God be the final court of authority beyond which there is no appeal, he could “prove in less than 45 minutes everything Mr. Willis said was nothing but a fabrication and a plot of hell.” However, he must not have been satisfied with that because he did just as brother Willis indicated he probably would do. He claimed that God’s promises have always been conditional saying, “You’ll never find one person in the word of God that ever received the Holy Ghost blaspheming it . . . . Not one person has ever been healed that rejected (they might not have had faith) but not one person like Mr. Willis and his condition with his thumb has ever experienced the touch of God standing up in God’s face, ‘God, you do not do this’ . . .”

     The only actual argument from scripture that Mr. Cayton made was taken from 1 Corinthians 13:8, upon which, he affirmed, brother Willis based his whole doctrine. Lewis had argued that the miracles were to be done away when that which is perfect, or the completed revelation of the New Testament, had come. Cayton answered that the book of Revelation was written in A.D. 96 while James 1:22-25, written in A.D. 60 says that “the perfect law of liberty” existed then even though there were still New Testament books to be written. Thus, he concluded that “that which is perfect” must refer to the second coming of Christ.

     Throughout his speech, Mr. Cayton accused brother Willis of mocking as did the scoffers on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, of hypocrisy for expecting a miracle while ordering a “gag rule” on the audience, and of being a false prophet for telling such lies to the people. At one point he quoted Paul’s statement, “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” and said brother Willis was having fellowship with the atheist by asking for a miracle. He affirmed that if one doesn’t believe the “apostles’ doctrine,” he would not receive one thing from God.

     Following this, Mr. Cayton began appealing to the testimony of himself and others. He claimed to have experienced healing in his own life and to have seen people touched of God, healed, made whole. He later said that there was a woman present who had been raised in “this kind of church” but had come out from “all these lies and hypocrisy” to receive the Holy Ghost. In fact, he indicated he could speak with hours of testimony. However, he ignored the presence of several individuals with obvious physical handicaps by saying that the greatest miracle that could happen to anyone is to be baptized with the Spirit and speak in tongues.

     In an attempt to answer brother Willis’ question about the Godhead, Mr. Cayton cited John 1:1 and 14 and said that since Jesus was both God and man it was the flesh crying out. Unfortunately, he never did tell us to whom the flesh was crying out. He closed by trying to identify brother Willis with Satan who tempted the Lord to turn stones into bread when he challenged Cayton to “grow a leg on that man.” Evidently Mr. Cayton forgot about another situation in 1 Kings 18:20-40 where it was the miracle-working Elijah that issued the challenge and then performed the miracle to confirm his message.

     Mr. Cayton had ample opportunity to perform a miracle. Water was provided which he could turn into wine, blood, or Pepsi-Cola. There were two loaves of bread and a can of sardines with which he could feed the entire audience and a basket in which to collect the leftovers. He could walk on the water of the baptistry and, like Jesus did with Peter, invite Lewis to go with him. Brother Willis has a crooked thumb which he would like healed. Three men were sitting on the front row, George Baker and David Kiefer both with legs missing, and Russ Kegg with polio.

     For whatever reasons, Mr. Cayton declined to perform his miracle. The best he could do was to aver that miracles have not passed away and that there are no people like the so-called church of Christ that come any closer to blaspheming the Holy Ghost when they speak against the work of the Holy Ghost. There was no attempt at a rebuttal. The audience was left to weigh the evidence for themselves. The conclusion was obvious. It is clear to this reviewer that Mr. Cayton does not possess the powers that he claims. Thus, truth was vindicated by brother Lewis Willis.

     —Taken from Guardian of Truth; June 21, 1984; Vol. XXVIII, No. 12; pp. 364-365


What We Can Learn from Job


(Job 1:1-22)

By Wayne S. Walker

     One book in the Old Testament concerning whose background we know almost nothing for certain is the book of Job.  We do not know author, although some think that it might have been Moses.  We do not know the precise time frame in which the account takes place, although some believe that it could have been during the patriarchal age.  We do not even know exactly where Uz was.

     However, Job is part of the inspired scriptures, and therefore contains a message from God.  And even though it is part of the Old Testament, which we understand is not God’s law for us today, still it has been preserved for our admonition and learning.  So in this article, we want to look at Job 1:1-22 and see what we can learn from Job.

Job’s character

     First, we see Job’s character in verses 1-5.  He was blameless.  This does not mean absolutely sinless because “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23).  Rather, it refers to one who is striving his best to live so as to be guilty of no blame in God’s sight.  We are to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15).  Of course, even though we have sinned, whenever receive forgiveness, then we are truly blameless before God.  Also, Job was upright.  This simply refers to one who constantly tries to do that which is right in the sight of God (Ps. 7:10).   “Blameless” has somewhat of a negative connotation, speaking of one who refrains from doing that which will bring blame, whereas “upright” has a more positive connotation, speaking of one who seeks to do what is right.

     In addition, Job feared God.  This fear does not mean being afraid of or terrified by, but having a deep reverence, respect, and awe for.  We are to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13-14).  Furthermore, Job eschewed or shunned evil.  This simply means to stay away from evil.  We are told to abstain from every form or appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5.21-22).  So in all these areas, Job is a good example for us.

     Moreover, Job was very wealthy (vs. 2-3).  There is nothing necessarily wrong with being wealthy, although God does warn us often to be careful about our attitude toward riches (1 Tim. 6:9-10).  And Job was evidently very concerned about his family (vs. 4-5).  We would assume that he undoubtedly tried to do what God told Israelites to do about teaching their children (Deut. 6:4-7).  This illustrates what God expects parents to do in bringing their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  Job’s children were evidently grown by this time because they had their own houses, though in a patriarchal society they still probably lived close to home.  Yet Job was still interested in their spiritual welfare and wanted them to be right with God

Job’s attack by Satan

     Second, we see Job’s attack by Satan in verses 6-12.  Satan (vs. 6-7) is a Hebrew term meaning adversary or enemy.  He is referred to as “the tempter” when He comes to Christ in the wilderness (Matt. 4.1-10).  He is also called the devil, which is a Greek term meaning slanderer or accuser.  “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who  deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12.9).  There is much that we do not know about Satan, especially about his origin and how he became evil, but he is presented in Bible as a real being.

     Satan accused or slandered Job (vs. 8-11).  This is one of the ways that the devil tempts people to lead them away from God when he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8).  He, and those who do his bidding, often accuse Christians today of serving God only because they want to get blessings, or because they want to escape punishment, or because their parents told them to, thus leaving the impression that all Christians are hypocrites and that serving God really is not all that important.

     So God allowed Satan to test Job (v. 12).  The book of Job helps us understand that all bad things which happen come from Satan.  He is the one who had bound the woman with a spirit of infirmity (Lk. 13:11-16).  He is the one whose messenger was the thorn in the flesh that was given to Paul (2 Cor. 12:7).  While God allows these kinds of tests, as He did in the case of Job, He is not the cause of them because He never tempts anyone to do evil (Jas. 1:13).  And even then, as with Job, He always limits what Satan can do.  “No temptation has overtaken you such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Job’s testing

     Third, then, we see Job’s testing in verses 13-19.  He lost his oxen and donkeys (vs. 13-15).   Most likely these were used to do the work on Job’s farm or ranch or whatever we might call it.   God’s rule has always been that that men must work to live and meet their needs (2 Thes. 3:10).  So Job lost the animals that he needed to the work required to provide for his family.  Also, he lost his sheep (v. 16).  Sheep were used primarily for food and clothing, some of the basic necessities of life.  “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).   So Job lost the number one source in that part of the world for the food and clothing that he and his family needed.

     Then, Job lost his camels (v. 17).  Assuming, as many scholars do, that the land of Uz was somewhere near Arabia, camels were the main form of transportation.  We remember how that Joseph was sold by his brothers to a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to Egypt (Gen. 37:25-27).  So Job lost the means by which he could transport his excess out to sell elsewhere and to bring in whatever he could not provide by himself.

     Finally, Job lost his family (vs. 18-19).   It is quite clear that Job loved his children.  He obviously considered them as the Psalmist spoke.  “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Ps. 127:3-5).  Yet here, Job has lost all of them in one fell swoop.

Job’s response

     Fourth and finally, we see Job’s response in verses 20-22.  Obviously, all these tragedies made Job very sad (v. 20).  His tearing the clothes and shaving the head were customary signs of extreme sorrow in Bible days, as Joshua did upon the Israelites’ defeat at Ai (Josh. 7.6).  This life is full of trials and tribulations, hardships and difficulties, burdens and struggles, and other problems, all of which make us realize what Job himself later said, that “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).  Job’s heart was heavy because of what had happened.

     However, notice what Job said (v. 21).  “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has staken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Job understood the principle that is stated so often throughout the scriptures.  He had just lost everything, but he still knew that life is more than food and the body more than clothing (Mt. 6:25b).  He recognized the truthfulness of Paul’s statement, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7).  So many people react to crisis and tragedy by asking, “Why me?”, blaming God for their pain, and even turning away from the Lord.  Yet in the midst of all his suffering Job continued to acknowledge his dependence on God.  Later he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13.15).  Job had no idea why all this was happening to him, but he continued to trust God

     And notice what Job did, or rather did not do (v. 22).  “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”  The big question that people have asked through the years is why does God allow bad things to happen, and like Job we do not always know the answer to that question.  We may not always understand why, but there are some things of which the Bible assures us:.  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us….And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:18, 28).  Thus, we can be assured that God does have a plan whether we recognize it or not.  With this attitude, then, we can use the trials of life to draw nearer to God and let Him use them for our good, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (Jas. 1:2-4).  Suffering can either make us bitter or better; Job’s example encourages us to let it make us better.


    Of course, the story of Job continues–and it gets worse!  In chapter 2, Satan is allowed to strike Job himself with painful boils, although again the Lord limited the devil and did not allow him to take Job’s life.  Even Job’s wife turned against him, telling him to curse God and die, and his friends who came to comfort him began to accuse him of some terrible evil to deserve what he got.  “Miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2).  Yet through it all, Job did his best to remain faithful to God and was rewarded in the end.  “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends.  Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 40:10).

     The book of Job is God’s inspired answer to the issue of suffering in life.  Again, in this life we may never fully understand all the whys and wherefores, but there are some conclusions that we can reach based upon what God has revealed in His word.  Whatever happens, God is still there, He is still in control, and He always cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).   He may not necessarily remove the difficulties that we face, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:8-10).   However, He will bless us as we have need and finally glorify us, promising that if we remain faithful until death we shall receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

     —taken from Expository Files; Jan., 2012; Vol. 19, No. 1; pp. 7-10