Joe Warlick (1866-1942) was born near St. Louis. The family later moved to Texas. In 1885, at age nineteen, Joe preached his first sermon in a small west Texas town. For the next fifty-four years, until he suffered a heart attack in 1939, Warlick continued preaching, debating, and writing without interruption.
His preaching was mostly in evangelistic meetings in which Joe would preach daily and nightly before moving on to preach at another location. He presented the gospel plan of salvation so plainly that thousands were led to faith in Jesus, repentance, and baptism for the forgiveness of their sins.
Preaching and Debating
Joe alternated between debating and preaching. A significant number of conversions resulted from the debates. Warlick presented the truth so that it stood out clearly in sharp contrast to the error presented by his opponent.
Warlick participated in 399 debates!
Joe had a fine education and made the very best use of it. Both in his writing and in his speaking, his training enabled him to express himself in the most understandable way.
Joe had an older brother, Jim, and some younger sisters. Their father had decided that since he could afford to send only one child to school, it would be Jim, since he was older. But Jim said, “I don’t care for an education and Joe does….Let Joe go to school.” Joe said that this was the turning point in his life. Jim died in 1937 in Oklahoma City. At Jim’s funeral, Joe said, “Whatever success I have attained in life I owe to Jim.”
Joe and his first wife, Florence, had four children. In 1901, five years after Florence died, Joe married Lucie. Joe enjoyed the great blessing that both Florence and Lucie were fully supportive of his life’s work.
It would be natural to think first of the amazing number of Warlick’s debates, and of the wonderful way in which the Lord blessed his preaching. He preached in many states and in Canada.
But Joe Warlick was also an outstanding writer. He made his points as simple and clear to the reader as he did to the listener.
The Stark-Warllick Debate
One very historic example of Joe Warlilck’s use of both his speaking and writing skills was in the Stark-Warlick debate on the use of instrumental music in the worship.
This was a public, spoken debate, but the two disputants agreed that they would afterward write out their speeches for publication in a book to be published by the Gospel Advocate Company.
The debate was held at Henderson, Tennessee, in 1903. Henderson was significant because it was the home of West Tennessee Christian College.
At that time it appeared that any hope of stopping the tide of digression was dim. The church throughout that area was going into apostasy with such innovations as the introduction of instrumental music into the worship and the missionary society. The debate was a great success—a victory for truth.
Here is a typical sentence of Warlick’s debate. It illustrates his clarity and forcefulness. He challenged his opponent: “If there be in all the Bible one…verse authorizing instrumental music to be used in the worship of the church of Jesus Christ, bring it forward.” His opponent could not.
More than a century has gone by since that debate. And for more than a century, at that very location, Freed-Hardeman University has been training great numbers of faithful gospel preachers and has helped toward building thousands of Christian homes. How different it might have been, were it not for the way the Lord used Joe S. Warlick!