By Kevin Campbell
It was my good pleasure on December 4, 1992 to attend a Bible debate between brother Larry Ray Hafley, who preaches for the Pruett and Lobit congregation in Baytown, Texas, and Mr. Robert C. Brock, a Pauline Dispensationalist. The debate was held in Pinellas Park, Florida in the Union Hall building next to the building of the Skyview church of Christ. The brethren of the Skyview congregation made arrangements for the debate and continued in the proclamation of the gospel by having brother Hafley in a meeting the following week. The attendance was a moderate 140-150, which is not all that high considering that the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has a high concentration of the Lord’s people. Hopefully the problem is not a lack of interest in such discussions or the feeling that “debates just don’t do any good.” There were quite a few denominational people in attendance who certainly heard the pure preaching of the gospel for the first time. Those brethren who did attend were strengthened and edified as they saw the truth of the gospel defended and the theories of men assaulted. The disputants both conducted themselves as gentlemen in keeping with the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
I am not sure how many debates Larry has participated in at this debate, but this was the first that I have personally witnessed. Larry was thoroughly prepared even to the point of anticipating Mr. Brock’s arguments and answers by having overhead charts with the appropriate Scriptures cited. He dealt with Mr. Brock’s doctrine in a very firm and straightforward manner without ever attacking or abusing Mr. Brock’s character. Mr. Brock felt the force of Larry’s arguments from Scripture as he pressed them and I am sure Brock was happy he had only agreed to a one-night discussion. Brother Hafley attempted to have at least two nights on the subject but Mr. Brock refused. I can safely say that Larry is one of the best debaters among us, if not the best. It gives me great pleasure to work with and learn from him.
The subject discussed related to whether or not the gospel that Paul preached included water baptism. Mr. Brock was in the affirmative and affirmed that Paul’s gospel did not include water baptism. Dispensationalists teach that “the mystery” (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 2:2) was a new revelation given only to Paul for his ministry to the Gen-tiles. They will agree that passages like Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 teach the necessity of baptism for salvation but deny that those passages apply to us today. Passages such as Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:11-13 and Galatians 3:26-27 are said to refer to a Spirit baptism and not water baptism. “Peter’s gospel included the gospel of the kingdom and water baptism but Paul’s gospel was a gospel of grace and did not include water baptism” — or so they say.
Brock began his first speech by recounting the case of his “conversion” to Christ when, “I asked Jesus into my heart as my Savior.” Larry asked Mr. Brock for the passage that taught such a doctrine but he never could find it. Some things never change! Brock later said that, although baptism in water had been essential under Peter’s gospel, God’s plan had changed by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He then added that salvation “is now Christ plus nothing.” Larry wondered if Mr. Brock was affirming salvation by faith alone and presented a chart where Mr. Brock had said that “salvation is by accepting the risen Christ as one’s Savior and that’s all (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10)! No water baptism: no church membership: no good works: Just trusting Christ 100 percent for salvation is all that is necessary for today.” However, when Larry had tried to get Mr. Brock to affirm the proposition that “salvation is by grace though faith alone,” Brock had written: “That salvation is by grace through faith alone . . . is not an ac-curate description of the truth.” Larry asked Mr. Brock to reconcile these contradictory statements from his own lips but he never came back to it.
Brock then proceeded to teach that “Jesus did not institute Christianity” and that “Jesus never told any believers in the gospels that they would go to heaven.” Larry observed that “the law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17) and that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). He then showed that Jesus did preach about heaven in passages such as Matthew 5:12 and 6:19-20. Brock then argued that Peter’s message “on Pentecost was Judaism: there was nothing Christian about Peter’s message.” He further contended that water baptism was part of Judaism, not Christianity, and that Jesus and Peter preached Judaism to the Jews while Paul preached the “gospel of grace” to the Gentiles. Larry showed that the message the Jews and Gentiles received was the same by showing a chart with the text of Acts 15:7-9,11 on it:
7. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth show hear the gospel and believe.
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
11. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
This effectively showed that there was “no difference” between the gospel that Peter preached and the gospel that Paul preached. Larry then showed the contrast between the Bible and Dispensational doctrine by presenting a chart en-titled “Opponent’s Bible: Acts 15:7-9,11”:
Peter said, Men and brethren ye know that God made a choice that the Gentiles by Paul’s mouth should hear the gospel and believe.
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, in a way he never did to us;
And made a big difference between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles), purifying their hearts by faith.
11. So we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ they will be saved, different from us.
Larry had several written questions for Mr. Brock that especially highlighted the differences of their doctrine. Mr. Brock did not prepare any questions for Larry and agreed to answer the questions in writing before the discussion actually began so that Larry could address his answers in his first speech.
The first question that Larry asked was, “Is water baptism `in the name of Jesus Christ’ water baptism (Acts 2:38; 10:48)?” Mr. Brock answered “yes.” Larry then showed that Paul baptized both the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-5) and the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:13; 6:11; Acts 18:8) in the name of Christ, which Mr. Brock had admitted was water baptism. Thus, water baptism was a part of Paul’s gospel. Brock responded by saying that there was no re-baptism in Acts 19:1-5! Larry also had a chart to show that salvation by grace though faith (Eph. 2:8-9) included water baptism. This chart simply had the texts of Ephesians 1:13, Acts 19:5 and Ephesians 2:8-9 on it and showed that when the Ephesians heard the gospel and were told to “believe on Christ Jesus,” they responded by being baptized in water. This, Larry argued, is truly “salvation by grace through faith.”
The second question Larry asked was, “Was `the mystery,’ Paul’s gospel, spoken of in the Old Testament?” Brock checked “no.” Larry proceeded to show many Scriptures which teach that Paul’s gospel was spoken of in the Old Testament — Romans 1:1-2; 3:21; 16:25-26; Acts 24:14 and Acts 26:22-23. Brock replied by saying that Romans 1:1-2 probably wasn’t translated properly and was therefore a “debatable” passage. Such reasoning is common among false prophets when their doctrine is exposed to the light of truth. He then said that “the scriptures of the prophets” spoken of in Romans 16:25-26 were actually “Paul’s epistles.” Especially effective on this point was a chart that had the text of Acts 26:22 on it:
22. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.
Larry then demonstrated how this passage should read if Mr. Brock’s doctrine were true by presenting another chart entitled “Opponent’s Bible” which said:
22. Having therefore obtained help of God, I have started this day, saying many other things which the prophets and Moses never even heard about.
On the same point, Brock argued that Paul did not “preach the gospel of the kingdom” but instead preached the “gospel of grace.” Larry once again exposed Mr. Brock’s doctrine to the spotlight of truth by presenting passages that show that Paul did preach the kingdom (Acts 19:8; 20:24-25; 28:23,31). Brock then began to “crawfish” and said that Paul did, on occasion, preach the kingdom to the Jews but had ceased doing so by Acts 28. Larry then read Acts 28:30-31 which says that Paul was “preaching the kingdom” for at least two more years with “no man for-bidding him.” Larry wondered aloud if perhaps Mr. Brock, had he been there, would he have forbade Paul from preaching the kingdom?
Another question that was posed to Mr. Brock was, “Is Spirit baptism a command to be obeyed or a promise to be received?” Brock replied “a promise to be received.” Larry then used Romans 6:3-4,17-18 to show that the baptism of Romans 6 was water baptism. He argued that the baptism of Romans 6:3-4 was the “form of doctrine” that the Romans had “obeyed from the heart” in verses 17-18. Since Brock had already admitted that Spirit baptism was not a command to be obeyed but a promise to be received, the baptism in Romans 6 could only be water baptism since it was “obeyed from the heart.” In connection with this, Larry also used a chart with the texts of Romans 6:3-4, Acts 22:16 and 2 Timothy 1:9 on it. From this chart he demonstrated that:
Paul was baptized in water to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).
The Romans had received the same baptism as Paul had as evidenced by Paul’s use of the pronouns “we” and “us” in Romans 6:3-4.
This is how they had been saved by grace in Christ (2 Tim. 1:9).
Mr. Brock simply “observed the passover” on this argument and never even referred to it.
One very interesting statement came from Mr. Brock’s lips when Larry made an argument on Galatians 1:23, which says:
But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
Larry asked Mr. Brock if he could tell us what faith it was that Paul had destroyed. Since Paul persecuted those that Peter converted, and since Brock believes that Peter preached the faith of Judaism, then he would have Paul preaching the faith of Judaism, according to this passage. But Brock had contended that Paul did not preach Judaism but Christianity. Mr. Brock saw the implications of the argument and attempted to dodge it by saying that Galatians 1:23 was only a rumor. Yes, he actually said it. He said that Paul preaching “the faith which once he destroyed” was only an unfounded rumor. Imagine that! An inspired utterance of God reduced to nothing but an “unfounded rumor”! Larry observed that Mr. Brock’s predicament was due, not to a lack of intelligence, but to a doctrine that was based upon the speculations of men.
On Ephesians 3:3, Larry asked Mr. Brock why Paul didn’t say that the mystery had been revealed to “me only.” Brock spoke from his seat at this point and said that that is what Paul meant, i.e., — that the mystery or gospel of grace was revealed only to Paul. Larry then read verse 5 which says that the mystery had been revealed to the “apostles and prophets” (plural). Brock later replied that the other apostles had received their knowledge of the mystery through or by “Paul’s writings.” Larry then demonstrated that verse 5 says it was done “by the Spirit” and not by Paul’s letters. The more Brock said about the matter, the deeper the hole became that he was digging for himself. He finally recognized that it was best not to speak anymore from his seat regarding the matter.
Debates such as these do worlds of good even though we might not have immediate tangible evidence of such. Sometimes, if there are no conversions as an immediate result of a debate some will lament, “Debates just don’t do any good.” No so! When the truth is spoken and defended, brethren are strengthened and edified if nothing else results. That in itself makes the effort worthwhile.
In a day and time when some want to “eliminate the negative” from preaching, we need more men who are willing to “hold fast the form of sound words” in both a positive and a negative way (2 Tim. 1:13). Some may be of-fended and ashamed of bold, confrontational, and controversial preaching, but they are not of the same mold as Paul (Rom. 1:16). Several times his preaching resulted in madness and mayhem (Acts 19:29; 22:22-23) but he continued to “expound and persuade” the people concerning the Christ (Acts 28:23). Those who preach the gospel have the responsibility to “declare . . . all the counsel of God” without addition or subtraction (acts 20:26-27). Although some may think otherwise, discussing matters such as the place of baptism in God’s plan of salvation is a part of “preaching the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18).
There has been some correspondence regarding another debate between brother Halley and a representative of the dispensational doctrine. Let us remember men such as brother Hafley in our prayers as he continues to “expound and persuade” sinners “concerning the Christ.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 4, p. 12-14
February 18, 1993