Needham-Shafer Debate

Lewis Willis
Greencastle, Indiana

In Greencastle, Indiana on the dates of August 20, 21, 23, 24, Brother James P. Needham of Louisville, Kentucky engaged Mr. Wilbur Shafer, preacher for the First Pentecostal Church in Greencastle, Indiana in a discussion on the Godhead, baptism in the name of Jesus only, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in unknown tongues. There is no knowledge among the brethren of any debate ever having been conducted previously in Greencastle. The four two-hour sessions aroused a lot of interest, with some brethren coming from as far away as Owensboro, Kentucky and Gary, Indiana to attend. The brethren here gave good support to every session and about 40-50 of Mr. Shafer's brethren attended. The largest attendance was 180. The debate was conducted on the highest possible plane. Bro. Needham found Mr. Shafer to be a most congenial opponent. In this brief article it is my purpose to review some of the argumentation used by both men.

Needham's Affirmatives

Bro. Needham affirmed the proposition: "Resolved that the Godhead consists of three distinct personages: God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that water baptism is to be administered in the name of these three as per Matt. 28: 19, 20, and is the one baptism of Eph. 4."

(1) Needham's first chart showed that the Father is God (Jn. 3: 16); the Son is God (Heb. 1:8); and that the Spirit is God (Acts 5:3). He noted that though there are three beings in the Godhead, these three beings in the Godhead, these three are one, all being Deity or of the same nature and characteristics. Further, this same chart showed that the Father is not the Son (2 Jno. 3; Acts 7:56); the Son is not the Spirit (Acts 10:38); and that the Spirit is not the Father (Jn. 14: 16j 17, 26). Needham pressed Shafer in every speech to discuss these passages, but to no avail.

(2) Next, Matt. 28: 19, 20 was introduced to prove that baptism is to be administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was shown that Jesus' authority is contained in His word, and the only authority to baptize that he ever gave was in this passage. Needham challenged Shafer in almost every speech to read Jesus' authority to baptize. He never did, but rather observed the "Passover."

(3) Only one argument was made to prove that water baptism is the one baptism of Eph. 4:5. Paul wrote Ephesians in A.D. 64. Peter wrote this same year that this baptism was in water (1 Pet. 3:21). Shafer did not respond to this argument.

Shafer's Affirmatives

In his first speech, Mr. Shafer was in the affirmative, choosing to ignore Needham's affirmative material and presenting his own. Thus, Needham virtually was forced to be in the negative from his second speech to the end of the discussion.

(1) Shafer introduced Jn. 10: 30, "I and My Father are one." Needham replied by saying that Shafer could see the fallacy of his doctrine if he would only observe the simple rules of arithmetic. He showed that "I and my Father" make two, NOT ONE, numerically speaking. Needham's negative argument showed that all Christians are to be one according to Jn. 17:22, but that this does not mean that Jesus prayed that there would be only one big Christian in the world. Also, in marriage, the two people become one i flesh (Gen. 2: 24), but not one person. A man would not expect to recover from some disease if his wife took the medicine prescribed for him.

(2) Shafer said that "Jesus came in the Father's name, therefore, He was the Father." Needham answered by saying that Shafer claimed to come in the Lord's name, but he was not the Lord. Hence, coming in the name of someone does not mean that the two are identical or the same person. Needham introduced Jn. 14:16, Jesus' promise to send ANOTHER comforter, and challenged Shafer to observe the definition of words and define ``ANOTHER." Shafer saw what this would do to his "Jesus only" theory, so he would not define this or any other of the fourteen words he was asked to define.

The Subject of Tongues

Shafer said tongues were a sign to the person who speaks that he has the Holy Spirit. Needham replied that tongues were for a sign to unbelievers (I Cor. 14:22), and asked Shafer to demonstrate that he had the Spirit in this miraculous way. There was no response made.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The argumentation was that usually used by those who claim to possess the Spirit miraculously. Shafer read that some were to receive the baptism of the Spirit. Needham asked that he show where Mr. Shafer was included in these promises. Shafer made no attempt.

The Highlights

There are two particularly high points in the debate. (1) Pentecostals believe that the one member of the Godhead has been manifested in three ways: As the Father in creation, as the Son in the flesh, and now as the Spirit. Needham pressed Shafer to say if Jesus was the Son of God now. Shafer answered "NO." Needham then introduced 1 Jn. 2:23, "He that denieth the Son, denieth also the Father." He then charged Shafer with being "Godless," for he had denied both the Father and the Son. (2) Twenty questions were given to Shafer for answers. Throughout the debate, Mr. Shafer refused to attempt to answer but three of these questions. In Needham's final speech he asked, "Is it wrong to baptize people according to Matt. 28:19, 20?" From his chair Shafer answered "Yes," This proved fatal to Shafer, for he was then shown to be a man who believes it wrong to do what Jesus said to do; a man claiming to know more than the Lord Himself!

This is only a part of the argumentation, but it shows the way the debate went in general. It is my opinion that few men could have handled the truth better than Bro. Needham did. He would have been much more effective if he could have gotten better response from his opponent. All in all I would say that this was a good debate and one worth repeating when opportunity is available. I might add that this particular group ("Jesus only") of the Pentecostals seems ready to defend their doctrine. Perhaps some of you brethren who read this would be interested.

Truth Magazine VII: 3, pp. 12-13
December 1962