By Steve Curtis
On the nights of April 3 and 4, 1997, a debate was con-ducted discussing the terms of salvation. Gaddy Hall affirmed the proposition, “The Scriptures teach that water baptism to the penitent believer is for (in order to) the re-mission of sins in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:14; Rom. 3:25).” The following night Darrell G. Wright affirmed the proposition, “The Scriptures teach sinners are saved by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:14; Rom. 3:25) alone, before and without baptism.” The de-bate was conducted in Whitesburg, Kentucky at the Letcher County Courthouse. Gaddy Hall preaches for the Haymond Church of Christ, which is about six miles from Whitesburg in Eastern Kentucky. Darrell G. Wright is a preacher and “Pastor” of the Bible Baptist Church of Colson. It was the first debate for both disputants. Each is to be commended for publicly defending his position and allowing his position to be challenged and scrutinized. Despite the fact that this was brother Hall’s first attempt at debating, he capably defended the truth. God has put his power in his word (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12). Paul said, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak . . .” (1 Cor. 2:12-13). What brother Hall may have lacked in experience, he overcame by speaking the “things” the apostles spoke. No one can defeat the wisdom of God’s word.
Each speaker was given one 25 minute speech followed by a 30 minute speech. Afterwards, those in attendance were given an opportunity to submit their own questions to the speakers. Each speaker was then allowed two minutes to respond to the question. Andy Alexander served as moderator for the debate.
Baptism Is For The Remission of Sins
Brother Hall was well prepared to affirm his proposition. He used the following passages to make his affirmative. In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus gives a universal command, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” This passage teaches salvation is conditional. Belief + baptism = salvation. Brother Hall used Acts 2:37-38 to show how the words of Jesus in the Great Commission were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. After hearing the gospel proclaimed, some were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, `Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, `Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”‘ Those who believed + were baptized (for the remission of sins) = saved (Acts 2:41, 47).
With just two passages discussed, any honest soul could see that brother Hall had successfully affirmed his proposition from the word of God. The Scriptures teach (Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them) water baptism to the penitent believer is (Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the remission of sins (for the remission of sins”).
Brother Hall continued his affirmative discussing other passages which support the proposition. From 1 Peter 3:20-21, it was shown that God teaches us that baptism “now” saves us. It is the doctrine of men which teaches baptism does “not” save us. An effective argument was made from Galatians 3:26-27, “For you are (present condition) all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For (indicating the cause of present condition) as many of you as were baptized (past action) into Christ have put on Christ.” These passages plainly teach it is impossible to be saved and to be a child of God unless one has been baptized for the remission of sins.
Mr. Wright was never able to answer any of these arguments from the Scriptures. An attempt was made by Mr. Wright to sway the audience by showing a chart which dealt with “Pet Verses of the church of Christ.” These verses included Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 22:16; John 3:5. Such an argument had no force since his responsibility was to show that these Scriptures do not teach that water baptism is for the remission of sins and this he totally failed to do.
He tried to elude the majority of Scripture by teaching 91% of the Bible applies to Jews only and 9% to Gentiles. To support his argument, he gave what he referred to as contradictions in the Bible. One example he used as a contradiction was Matthew 19:17, “keep the commandments” and Romans 3:20, “by the deeds of the law, no flesh will be justified.” According to Mr. Wright, all contradictions arise when one takes Jewish passages and applies them to Gen-tiles. He applied his argument to Acts 2:38. In Acts 2:22, Peter referred to Jews, “men of Israel, hear these words.” Therefore, this would limit the command of verse 38, “re-pent and be baptized for the remission of sins” to Jews only. Mr. Wright argued that anytime we try to apply what Jesus and Peter taught concerning baptism to what Paul taught concerning salvation by grace (Eph. 2:8) contradictions would occur. This would be avoided, according to him, if we stuck to the 9% of the Bible which applies to Gentiles, Romans through Philemon.
Using such mentality, his response to the “pet verses of the church of Christ” mentioned above was “I just throw that out.” The only passage which he attempted to address was Galatians 3:26-27. His response to baptism in this pas-sage was that it was the Holy Spirit baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13. However, not once did he define what it is or how one receives it.
Mr. Wright spent part of his second speech trying to ex-plain that he did not mean to say the Bible contradicts itself. Yet, on the other hand, he continued using his argument on Bible contradictions concerning the baptism of Jesus and Peter and the gospel of Paul. Using a premillennial time line, he referred to six different gospels mentioned in the Scriptures: of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others. Since Paul preached the “gospel for the uncircumcision,” as Gentiles we must follow his gospel which, according to Mr. Wright, was not a gospel of baptism (Gal. 2:7; 1 Cor. 1:17), but of grace (Eph. 2:8). Brother Hall clearly showed that Paul not only received the baptism which Christ commanded and Peter preached (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16), but Paul also preached it (Eph. 2:8; Acts 19:1-5, 18).
By the end of the first night, everyone could see that Wright was wrong. His attitude toward the Scriptures be-came the proverbial thorn in his flesh. Even the audience members could see through the absurdity of such an argument that the Bible contradicts itself. This could be seen in their questions to Mr. Wright.
Salvation By Faith Alone
The second night found Mr. Wright affirming his proposition. Mr. Wright started off on his left foot. The first passage he referred to was Hebrews 11:1 which the night before he had tried to eliminate from the debate as being part of the 91% of the Bible which applies to Jews only. From this passage, he argued that faith is unseen. There-fore, one who is saved must put his faith in the unseen shed blood of Jesus Christ and not in the seen ordinance of water baptism. Every example given of faith in Hebrews 11 contradicts Mr. Wright’s understanding of faith. He followed this mistake by reading Romans 8:24, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” Mr. Wright made another wrong by showing the Scriptures teach we are saved by hope. Therefore, we are not saved by faith alone. Unlike brother Hall who successfully defended his proposition with just two Scriptures, Mr. Wright had successfully defeated himself in just a few minutes.
Mr. Wright used apples to illustrate the “measure of faith” of Romans 12:3. One apple he cut into pieces applying it to those who put their faith in confession, repentance, baptism, and Christ. Another apple he left whole to represent putting faith alone in Jesus Christ, which represented Mr. Wright’s faith. Brother Hall responded by showing the Scriptures teach we are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8), mercy (Tit. 3:5), the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2), blood (Col. 1:14, 20), faith (Rom. 5:1), works (Jas. 2:24), obedience (Heb. 5:9), baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), and hope (Rom. 8:24). Mr. Wright accepted all the passages which fell within the books of Romans through Philemon, but argued grace, mercy, the gospel, faith, and hope are just part of faith. This statement contradicted his apple illustration.
He had claimed his faith was only in Jesus Christ. Contradicting his own proposition, now he had admitted his faith involved several elements. He refused to respond to the passages which he felt applied to Jews only saying, “I just throw that out.” Mr. Wright clearly showed his doctrine also contradicted the Scriptures. Several times Mr. Wright appealed to his knowledge of the Scriptures. He referred to the fact that he had read through the Bible several times and that he had memorized the first nine chapters of the book of Romans. However, for someone who claimed to be so well versed, he failed to show the Scriptures teach one is saved by faith alone. His remaining arguments defeated his proposition. He spent a great deal of time just reading Romans 4 and 5. Using Paul’s teaching concerning faith and the righteousness of Abraham, he tried to demonstrate that it was Abraham’s faith alone which made him righteous. However, just because one reads through the Bible, memorizes chapters upon chapters, then announces his belief and cites some passages that mention faith does not make those passages teach faith alone.
Brother Hall responded by showing the Scriptures do not teach that Abraham was made righteous by faith alone. Using the text of James 2:14-26, it was shown faith without works is dead, the devils have faith and are not righteous, Abraham’s faith was made perfect by works, and the Bible plainly says “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
The question and answer period following the discussion found Mr. Wright in more hot water. In responding to some of the questions, Mr. Wright bragged about being a Gentile of which Jesus said were dogs. He bragged about being a liar, stretching the truth to save his skin, and lusting after women (even with his wife and children in the audience). Furthermore, he believed one who had put his faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ would be saved and go to heaven even if he was a drunkard. As I heard him make such statements, the importance of the debate was brought to mind. Souls were at stake. The Bible plainly teaches those who practice such will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). The purpose of this debate was to bring this error to light in order that souls might know the truth.
I know there are brethren who feel they are too dignified for debate, that taking the arguments of those who teach error and exposing the hypocrisy of their doctrine in light of the word of God is cruel and harsh. I overheard one of Mr. Wright’s companions say that brother Hall and those who assisted him appeared angry. Yet, have you wondered how the Lord would deal with a man who teaches a doctrine that will lead precious souls to hell? To see how the Lord would handle such an individual, read Matthew 23 which discusses Jesus’ thoughts concerning those “who travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as your-selves” (verse 15).
I appreciate the willingness of both men to engage in such a format. It is commendable to find such an attitude in the age of unity in diversity. Especially, I appreciate brother Gaddy Hall and the brethren in his area who supported him as he exposed this false teaching and its teacher. As he mentioned a couple of times during the debate, he came to show what God’s word said concerning baptism for the remission of sins and salvation by faith alone. It would be the responsibility of those who heard the truth to accept it or reject it.
Although no one obeyed the gospel, the precious seed was sown. God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). Only time will tell what the produce will be.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 11 p. 21-22
June 5, 1997