Campbell-Patterson Debate

By Larry Ray Hafley

In August, brother Kevin Campbell met Cecil Patterson, a Missionary Baptist, in debate in Gulfport, MS. The subjects debated concerned the place of water baptism in the gospel plan of salvation. Mr. Patterson affirmed that one is saved “before and without water baptism.” Brother Campbell argued for the plain teaching of Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3,4; Colossians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:26,27; 1 Peter 3:21.

Cecil Patterson is an experienced Baptist preacher, aged 50. Mr. Patterson is a sincere and capable advocate of Baptist doctrine. He conducted himself as a gentleman.

This was brother Campbell’s first debate. Kevin is only 22 years old (I have spots on some of my neckties that are older than he is). Several brethren, myself included, had misgivings about Kevin’s age and lack of experience and of his ability to handle the truth against an opponent who was preaching before he was born. But those fears and doubts were totally unfounded. Brother Campbell is a quiet, reserved young man, but he has a keen, analytical mind and is a tireless student. His humble demeanor is a tremendous asset. Kevin speaks with great force, power and authority (Tit. 2:15). He knows how to punch, pinch and pierce an argument while maintaining his poise. Frankly, I was surprised at his talents as a speaker and debater. God has richly blessed him, and he has developed those abilities. Our prayer is that Kevin will continue to grow in the Lord and in the front lines of the good fight of faith. May God grant us others of like precious faith and raise them up as good soldiers of Jesus the Christ.

It is refreshing, in these days of soft, vague preaching, in these days when preaching is often reduced to general, topical principles, to hear young men who will sound out the form of sound words without fear or favor and do so with fervor, boldness and “great plainness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12; 5:11).

Mr. Hoyt Chastain, a veteran war horse (I use that term with respect and affection) for Missionary Baptist schools and churches, moderated for Mr. Patterson. Mr. Chastain met the late and lamented W. Curtis Porter in debate four times. Chastain’s mentor was Ben M. Bogard, perhaps the most famous Baptist debater who ever lived. Mr. Chastain is almost without peer as a defender of Missionary Baptist doctrine. So, Mr. Patterson had the ablest help he could have had.

It was my pleasure to moderate for brother Campbell. Actually, I did not truly “moderate.” I made a few announcements and poured water for Kevin to drink, but other than that I simply sat and enjoyed hearing the truth. I was completely useless as a moderator, and it is all brother Campbell’s fault, but I have forgiven him. The only time I ever felt more unnecessary was when I tried to teach a duck how to swim.

Kevin had numerous charts which answered Mr. Patterson’s efforts to deny what the New Testament teaches (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). He was thoroughly prepared, and it showed. A Baptist was “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:26, 27) during the debate. (Who says, “Debates don’t do any good”?) Campbell preached to more Baptists in two nights than he will preach to in a year of gospel meetings. The attendance was moderately good. Brethren attended from six different states. Several liberal preachers were present as were a few Missionary Baptist preachers.

Baptist Argumentation – Bible Refutation

Mr. Patterson followed the typical route of Baptist preachers. He cited many passages dealing with salvation by faith. Brother Campbell did not deny that salvation is by faith; rather, he showed that salvation by grace, faith and blood does not exclude water baptism.

Cecil Patterson was inconsistent and illogical regarding Mark 16:16. He argued:

(1) There is only one condition of salvation in Mark 16:16; namely, faith.

(2) “Shall be saved” refers to salvation in heaven, not to past or alien sins. This, of course, made baptism essential, for if “saved” is heaven, then baptism is necessary to go there. Secondly, if “saved” equals heaven and not the removal or remission of past sins, then faith in Mark 16:16 is not a condition for the forgiveness of past sins. Mr. Patterson could not clear up his confusion on these points as Kevin pressed him, so he resorted to point number three.

(3) Mark 16:16 is not a part of the Bible. It is not Scripture. This nullified his two previous arguments, for if the passage is not the word of God, it is the word of men and teaches us nothing.

(4) The most obvious failure Cecil made was his argument regarding salvation and how to get to St. Louis. Said Cecil: “He that entereth a train and is seated shall reach St. Louis.” From this he argued that entering the train was essential to get to St. Louis, but whether a man sat or not was immaterial. He had to enter the train, but being seated was not essential. He that entereth the train shall reach St. Louis whether or not he ever sits down. Hence, he that believeth is saved whether or not he is ever baptized.

Kevin answered thusly:

Enter Train + Seated = St. Louis

Believe + Baptism = Salvation

Brother Campbell reminded Mr. Patterson that since he believed that salvation occurred instantly, the very moment one believes, then one is saved before he has an opportunity to be baptized. So, since entering the train is equivalent to belief, then one arrives in St. Louis before he has time to be seated! The audience, both Baptists and Christians, chuckled aloud at this. But Kevin was not through. He told Cecil that one could fly or drive to St. Louis and that entering a train was not the only way to get there. Since faith was the same as entering the train, and one can get to St. Louis without it, then one could also get to salvation without faith. Therefore, neither faith nor baptism is essential!

In response to 1 Peter 3:21 (“baptism doth also now save us”), Mr. Patterson said, “This is the passage they use to teach that baptism saves us. I don’t believe that.” Need I say more?

Kevin asked Cecil if he had ever told a penitent believer to “Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Cecil said, “I have not.” Ananias was not a Missionary Baptist preacher, for he told Saul to do something that Cecil Patterson will not tell anyone to do.

Mr. Patterson argued that Saul was called “brother” before his baptism, so he was a brother in Christ before baptism. But Kevin blunted this Baptist blunder by pointing out that unbelievers were called brethren several times in the Bible (Acts 2:29; 13:26; 22:1). If calling one a “brother” before he is baptized means one is saved before baptism, then calling one “brother” before he believes means one is saved before faith.

Thanks to the Morris Rd. church in Gulfport for their support during the debate. They all worked hard in preparing for the discussion. It is good to see a church that actively and aggressively encourages controversy and contends openly for the faith once delivered. Some churches may not desire debates against error and may prefer a pseudo positive, non-combatant gospel, but not these brethren.

Some Baptist Advice

Prior to the debate, brother Campbell sent advertisements to scores of denominational churches. Two Baptists preachers responded thusly:

I am forced to say that I cannot post your bulletin about your debate over water baptism.

. . . if you will read the Scriptures, we are told very clearly . . . that debate is dangerous. 2 Timothy 2:14, “words without profit but to subverting of the hearers or (NKJ) ruin of hearers.” We both know that nothing will be settled by such a debate and the world will have one more reason to believe Christians are the crazy ones who cannot get along even with one another. . .

I believe what you are proposing is destined to cause only more confusion among believers. Read 2 Timothy 2:23.

I would urge you to cancel the debate to avoid more confusion in the world about the function of the church.

Yes, debate is “dangerous,” especially to Baptist doctrine. In the context of 2 Timothy 2:14, Paul refuted the doctrine of Hymanaeus and Philetus (2:14-18), showed that Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (3:16,17 – the very nature, purpose and function of debate), and told Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:24). Does that sound like a condemnation of open, honorable Bible study?

Indeed, Paul condemned, as do we, contentious, wrangling, strifes and quarrels, but he did not condemn orderly sessions wherein disputants are given equal amounts of time to declare their views before a respectful audience. Paul engaged in debate (Acts 9:29; 17:2,3,17-32; 18:4; 19:8,9; 28:23). Several of his debates ended in madness and mayhem (Acts 9:29; 13:44-46; 17:2-10; 19:8,9,23-29), but he was still “bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thess. 2:2). Editors, papers and Baptist preachers who avoid controversy and debate are unlike the apostles and prophets. Jesus and Stephen debated and their audiences killed them (Acts 7:51-60). Ungodly audience reaction is not a detraction against Bible teaching and debate. Did Paul cause the world to believe Christians “are the crazy ones” (Acts 17:4-10)?

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Tim. 2:23). Is salvation by grace through faith a “foolish and unlearned question”? If so, pitch out the Romans and Galatians letters. If not, then the passage does not apply.

It is precisely because of “confusion among believers” that debates must be held. There would not be so much “confusion,” though, if Baptist preachers would not tell people that you do not have to do what the Lord said do in Mark 1

6:16 and Acts 2:38. When Jesus says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and Baptist preachers say, “He that believeth is saved and shall be baptized,” there is confusion. Debates help clarify that confusion.

Certainly, the “world” is confused “about the function of the church.” The world is also “confused about the function of the Christ. ” Should we, then, cease “to teach and preach Jesus Christ,” lest we add to their “confusion” about him? But the world would not be so confused “about the function of the church” if Baptists would cease parading their churches before the world with their human names, titles, organizations, doctrines and practices which are foreign to the New Testament.

Campbell and Patterson are to debate the general church question in the near future. This debate will help clarify whatever confusion that may exist.

Something was “settled by” the debate. As mentioned earlier, a Baptist was “baptized into Christ.” Confusion abounds where controversy is squelched and stifled. Preachers or papers who refuse discussion end up being a shelter to error and a haven to heretics. This may occur with the noblest of intentions, but it is the result of refusing rebuke and reproof nonetheless. Those that will not engage in controversy cannot refute error effectively. Whether they mean to or not, they become a harbor for every teacher of error who needs cover from the fire of the gospel. Efforts to avoid discussion end up as critics of teachers of truth and as apologetic sympathizers for the preachers of error. This happens when men enter the war zone with a shield but without a sword.

The second letter brother Campbell received appears below.

After reading your letter and seeing your flyer the only conclusion I can come to is that you and Mr. Patterson will make a mockery of the Christian life and bring reproach to the body of Christ. No where in the Scripture are we commanded to debate baptism! Also, seeing the position you take on baptism, I can see that you know nothing of the Greek language, in which the Bible was written or else you would understand what Acts 2:38 is saying. Baptism is the evidence of salvation. It does not bring salvation. If it could, then all the people before Christ would be saved, for we know that they were baptizing before the Lord died on the cross. Here’s a question you need to ask yourself, “If water could bring salvation, then why did Jesus have to die and shed his blood?” (Heb. 9:22-28) However, from the statements you made in your letter, I don’t think you will believe the Word. You seem to me to be a self-proclaimed, know-it-all-theologian who has all the answers. May God help you! The sad thing in all of this is that the majority of the people in our area are dying and going to hell, and you are more interested in debating than getting the Gospel out. It’s my prayer that you will forget this silliness and do what will honor and glorify the Lord Jesus. “Preach the Gospel! “

If this Baptist preacher had attended the debate, he would have seen how well brother Campbell knew “the Greek language,” especially that of Acts 2:38. But any man who reads Acts 2:38 and says “Baptism is the evidence of salvation,” needs more help in the English language than anything else. Jesus shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Wonder if that means his blood is “the evidence of salvation”?

“No where in the Scripture are we commanded to debate baptism.” How about Jude 3; Philippians 1:17; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:4? Would this Baptist preacher refuse to discuss faith, grace or salvation by the blood of Christ with a Jew because

“we are not commanded to debate” those topics? Note a parallel and paraphrase of the letter above:

No where in the Scriptures are we commanded to debate repentance! Also, seeing you know nothing of the Greek language . . . or else you would understand what Act 2:38 is saying. Repentance is the evidence of salvation. It does not bring salvation. If it could, then all the people before Christ would be saved, for we know that they were repenting before the Lord died on the cross. Here’s a question you need to ask yourself, “If repentance could bring salvation, then why did Jesus have to shed his blood?” It is not blood and repentance, it’s just blood (Heb. 9:22-28) . . . The sad thing in all of this is that the majority of the people in our area are dying and going to hell, and you are more interested in writing against debating than in getting the gospel out . . . . .. Preach the Gospel!”

The letters above are characteristic of those who argue that it is wrong to argue. I wonder if it is wrong to argue that it is wrong to argue? Further, note the “loving” words and phrases in the latter letter – “make a mockery . . . bring reproach . . . you know nothing . . . I don’t think you will believe the Word. You seem to be a self-proclaimed, know-it-all-theologian who has all the answers . . . you are more interested in debating than getting the Gospel out . . . forget this silliness. . .”

Whew! All of these “sweet, loving” words in one paragraph from a man who likely deplores “unloving, judgmental” preaching and debating! Those who rail against sharp rebuke (Tit, 1:13), often do so quite sharply. It is typical of those spiritual sweeties who disdain “negative” preaching as an affront and as an insult to their urbane, dignified, sophisticated, above-the-battle posture. They spit accusations and use harsh words against those who use harsh words. From ambush that will not allow a reply, they smile and let you know that they are above such things I Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he condemneth.


Brother Campbell wishes to thank all of those who helped him prepare for the debate. We anxiously await the next Campbell – Patterson debate on the general church question. Both men will affirm: The Scriptures teach that the church of which I am a member is scriptural in origin, name and doctrine. Let us pray for our young brother Campbell as he continues to contend for the faith.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 20, pp. 616-618
October 18, 1990