Campbell-Sparks Debate

By Larry Ray Hafley

Brother Kevin Campbell met Bobby L. Sparks, Missionary Baptist, in a four night debate at the Pruett and Lobit church in Baytown, Texas, the last week of January, 1993. Essentially, the debate was centered on the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

The first two nights, Kevin affirmed that water baptism is “for (in order to obtain) the forgiveness of sins.” The last two nights, Mr. Sparks affirmed that salvation is “by grace through faith, before and without water baptism.”

Brother Campbell’s affirmative arguments were based on the clear and concise statements of the Bible which he presented on overhead transparencies. The effect of plain, positive Scripture was overwhelming in itself, but Kevin carefully contrasted the Bible with Baptist doctrine. For example:

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16).

He that believeth and is not baptized shall be saved (Baptist doctrine).

The contrast with Baptist teaching made the words of Jesus stand out with even greater power.

Further, brother Campbell tied his questions to Mr. Sparks with his affirmative. He asked:

“Which of the following statements gives the order of occurrence?

‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’

`He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized.”‘

This question was asked each night of the debate. Sparks hedged and dodged, refusing to answer the question directly, even though in his first debate with Kevin he had said that “He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized” was the correct order of occurrence in Mark 16:16.

One must remember that Baptists are lost. They have not obeyed the gospel. Thus, it is necessary to press and drive home the truth to the hearts of those who are blinded to things that appear so simple to us. This is part of brother Campbell’s skill as a debater. He impresses the truth on the heart and directs his efforts to the lost to help them see the contrast between what they believe and what the Bible teaches.

Naturally, Acts 2:38 figured prominently in the discussion. In answer to brother Campbell’s question, Sparks agreed that those in Acts 2:37 who inquired, “What shall we do?” were lost and unsaved. In the first debate Sparks argued that “for the remission of sins” means because of the remission of sins, but in this debate he contended that “for” has so many meanings and uses that its exact meaning is doubtful, controversial and inconclusive.

Brother Campbell then asked Sparks if the expression, “for the remission of sins,” was equally doubtful, controversial and inconclusive in Matthew 26:28, where we are told that Christ’s blood was shed “for the remission of sins”? Sparks said it was not. Kevin showed that as Christ’s blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” so repentance and baptism are “for the remission of sins.”

Grounds Vs. Conditions

A great part of the debate centered around the grounds of salvation and the conditions of salvation. Sparks stressed that baptism cannot have any part in salvation or forgiveness because it is the blood of Christ that forgives and saves. “Christ is our Savior, not baptism; the blood provides forgiveness, not water,” he contended. These declarations served to comfort the Baptists, confuse the issue and contradict the word of the cross.

Kevin correctly and consistently contended that, yes, Christ is indeed our Savior and that his blood is what washes us from our sins, and, he said, that he was not arguing to the contrary. However, those facts were not under discussion; no one dares to deny them. The issue is not: Is Christ our Savior; Or, does his blood procure pardon? The issue is when, or at what point, does Jesus save us by his blood?

The grounds of salvation include such things as mercy, grace and love, which provided the blood of Jesus. Those items are the basis of salvation, but the debate was about the terms or conditions. Time and again Kevin showed that the blood of Christ is what washes us from our sins, but that it does so when we are baptized (Rev. 1:5; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:11-13). The blood of Christ is what remits our sins, but it does so when we are baptized (Matt. 26:28; Acts 2:38).

With relentless and irresistible force, brother Campbell hammered home this vital point. With great effect, he used the case of Naaman, the leper. With several clear charts, he showed that Naaman was healed by the Lord and not by the water, but that he was not healed by the Lord until he dipped seven times in the river Jordan (2 Kgs. 5). Just so, God’s power to save and Christ’s blood to save will not be applied until we have complied with the conditions of pardon as set forth in the New Testament.

“Justified By Faith”

Sparks argued that we are justified by faith, apart from baptism, citing numerous passages that attest to salvation by faith. Kevin agreed that salvation is by faith (Rom. 5:1), but “when,” he asked, are we justified by faith? Brother Campbell taught that we are justified by grace (Rom. 3:24), by faith (Rom. 5:1) and by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9), but when does this occur? “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17,18).

In conjunction with this, Kevin said that the walls of Jericho fell down “by faith,” but only “after they were compassed about seven days” (Heb. 11:30). Thus, a thing may be accomplished “by faith,” even though certain acts of obedience are required. Kevin asked Sparks, “Is the following statement true or false: `The walls of Jericho fell by grace through faith, before and without marching around the city’ (Josh. 6:2; Heb. 11:30).” Mr. Sparks admitted that the statement was “false.”

He conceded, then, that an event may be done “by faith,” as a gift of God (Josh. 6:2; Heb. 11:30), yet have conditions attached to it; so, Kevin pressed, can we not see that salvation too, is “by grace through faith,” though we must be baptized?

Further, to drive the conclusion into absolute certainty, Kevin documented the salvation of the Ephesians, who had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” for the remission of sins (Acts 19:5; 2:38). Later, Paul wrote to them and said they were saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8,9). But to whom, brother Campbell asked, did Paul say this? He said it to those who had been baptized for the remission of sins. Hence, those who have been baptized are the ones who have been saved by grace through faith.

Quips and Quibbles

Sparks averred that Christ is in the water, if baptism is essential, so when the baptistry is drained, Christ goes down the sewer. Kevin said that, if so, then the Baptist Church must be in the water since one is baptized into the Baptist Church; so, when the baptistry is drained, the Baptist church goes down the drain. Sparks’ argument backfired, and, feeling the effects of it, he denied that baptism puts one into the Baptist Church. He said that he did not “baptize people into the Baptist church.”

Kevin said that proved once and for all that the Baptist Church is not the Lord’s church, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” the church (I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22,23). One is baptized into the church of Christ, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), but one is not baptized into the Baptist Church, therefore, the Baptist Church is not the Lord’s church! Kevin very politely and kindly thanked Mr. Sparks for this admission.

Sparks said that if one had to be baptized it negated the cross and Jesus’ death, because Jesus did it all on the cross. Kevin wondered that if one had to believe and repent, did that also negate the cross and Jesus’ death?

Sparks charged that Kevin avoided arguments and said that if Kevin played baseball, he would have to play for the “Dodgers.” Kevin replied that as afraid as Mr. Sparks was of passages with water in them, it was obvious that he (Sparks) could never play for the “Mariners!”

Isolated, these quibbles sound like childish banter, perhaps, but in the context of the overall debate, they helped to highlight and underscore the truth of the gospel. For ex-ample, Mr. Sparks had a parody of the great, old hymn, “Amazing Grace.” His satire was entitled, “Amazing Water.” As he read and reviled that grand hymn of grace, he said that this is what water baptism does to grace. It makes baptism our Savior, rather than grace, so we ought to sing, “Amazing Water.”

Kevin replied with his rendition of “Amazing Faith.” Since, he inquired, Sparks believes that one must have faith in order to be saved, does this mean that faith, and not grace, is our Savior? Of course not! Again, Sparks’ “profane and vain babblings” gave truth an opportunity to radiantly shine forth and to thereby dispel the mists of error.


The debate was well attended, averaging 231 per night. We had a large number of Baptists present, nearly 50 or more on one night alone. Numerous tracts were distributed, especially Grover Stevens’ invaluable work, “Why I Left the Baptist Church.”

The response to the debate has been outstanding in every way! Some who formerly expressed doubt about a debate have now expressed their whole-hearted approval of them! Two folks known to me said, “I was wrong. This debate was great!” Brother Campbell’s poise, his earnest presentation of truth and his ability to expose error in a pointed but kind manner has helped brethren to see the good that a debate, properly conducted, can do.

As this review is being written, a Baptist preacher has called brother Campbell and expressed his appreciation for Kevin’s attitude during the debate. This Baptist preacher said he was disappointed with the way Mr. Sparks handled his part of the debate, but that he appreciated Kevin’s manner. He also said that he had some questions to ask Kevin and that he needed some answers to satisfy his own mind about some things that troubled him! Is that good news or what?

Further, our young people have been strengthened. Their comments and insight into the various issues have had them talking about the Bible. They have been edified by it. For the first time in their lives, they saw their faith in Christ tested by an able opponent, and they have come away with a renewed faith in the word of the Lord. Who says that debates do not do an good? Not our young people, that is for sure!

Kevin Campbell is now a “veteran” of four debates at the ripe old age of twenty-five! His thorough preparation and his seemingly innate ability to answer error with Scripture is a source of admiration and inspiration to all who hear him. I am so thankful to God for young men like Kevin. His work is a blessing to the cause of the cross of Christ, to whom we ascribe glory and honor, both now and forever.


Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 6, p. 10-12
March 18, 1993