The See-Vanderpool Discussion

By Daniel H. King

March 15, 16, 18, and 19, 1976, witnessed one of the few public debates that has been held in Nashville in recent years. It was held at the Eastland Church of Christ meeting house and was well attended throughout by those representing both points of view. Brother Howard See, who preaches regularly at Eastland, represented the church of Christ, while Mr. H.C. Vanderpool of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Goodlettesville, Tennessee represented the Missionary Baptists. The debate was instigated by the fact that Brother See follows Mr. Vanderpool on WNAH radio Monday through Friday. The two sparred with one another on the air for a time over the issues involved in the discussion and this led Brother See to challenge Mr. Vanderpool for a public discussion. Mr. Vanderpool accepted the challenge and propositions and other arrangements were worked out over a series of months. The result was an exciting and beneficial discussion.

The See-Vanderpool debate was Brother See’s twelfth venture onto the polemic platform, although it was only his second discussion of the Missionary Baptist doctrine. He formerly met W.B. Curnute at Graywon, Kentucky, in 1956. However, he had debated on Primitive Baptist doctrine several times. More recently he met P.D. Hardin of the Church of the Firstborn (1974) in Nashville, and J.W. Holcomb on the subject of women teachers (1975). Brother See did an exceptional job all four nights of the debate, was very well prepared (a good grasp of all of the issues, mastery of the arguments, many splendid charts, available printed materials for all, and one of the best printed outlines that I have ever seen. Vanderpool was especially irked by it, calling it the “Declaration of Confusion.”) Also, we were well pleased with Brother See’s Christian behavior and gentlemanly manner. Not one time do I recall an instance where he left these lofty issues to “get personal”. As most of us know, this is one of the reasons that debating has been given a bad name in recent years, and we are proud to say that this was not of that low caliber. Brother Guthrie Dean who preachers in our city for the Franklin Road church served as Brother See’s moderator. Most are probably aware that Brother Dean suffered a severe heart attach on the Sunday morning following the debate.

H.C. Vanderpool is well-known and is certainly considered a champion among his Missionary Baptist brethren. He is noted as a preacher, debater, Baptist historian, editor and writer. This was not his first debate with our brethren. He debated Weldon Warnock twice in Louisville and Glenn Ramsey in Carthage, Tennessee (Oct. 1975), and possibly others. He co-authored the book Twentieth Century Baptists with W.T. Russell in 1963 (his own biography appears on p. 159, wherein he relates his experience” of salvation); independently wrote Travel With Me Through Bible Lands (1970), and his autobiography I Became Rich During the Depression (1974). He is also the editor of the Baptist Banner. Mr. Vanderpool proved himself a worthy opponent and a gentleman. Truly it might be said that “he did the best he could with what he had.” F. L. Ray acted as his moderator in the discussion.

The facilities of the Eastland church had been decided upon because of its seating capacity of 520. Mr. Vanderpool had said that the house would probably be filled by his own brethren. Many Baptists did come, but attendance figures were Dot quite tip to his expectations. The average for the four nights of discussion was around 300 per night. The crowds were very lively and enthusiastic with many “Amens!” and 1-J)h Uhs!” but were amazingly well behaved in light of the great gulf that separated the views of the opponents. One incident that sticks in my mind occurred on the last night of the debate. A Baptist man had become very heated at the fact that lie did not think Mr. Vanderpool was meeting See’s arguments. He was seated in the rear Dear my wife and was heard to say as lie rose in a huff to leave, “I’m getting sick and tired of this. That fellow isn’t teaching the truth!” (Vanderpool was speaking at the time). Evidently the discussion did at least one man some good. Even if he never does anything about it, it could be said that he heard the truth and was convinced by it–and in a debate! Who said debates do not accomplish any good any more?

The propositions for debate encompassed a much-discussed proposition and a little-discussed topic as well. The first two nights centered upon the following proposition: “Resolved that the Scriptures teach that repenting sinners are saved, receive remission of sins, through faith in Christ and that before water baptism.” Vanderpool affirmed and See denied. But the second topic dealt with an area that is not usually taken into consideration when debating the differences between ourselves and the Baptists. It may be stated in the form of a question: When do we come into contact with the blood of Christ? The proposition was worded as follows~ “Resolved that the Scriptures teach that baptism in Water is essential to the blood of Christ being applied to the alien sinner for salvation, the remission of sins.” This peculiar wording allowed for a slightly different slant in the debate. In my own limited experience I have not been made aware of a discussion with this particular wording in the proposition. I think that this is the real contribution of this disputation. And, in my own estimation, it caught Vanderpool flat-footed. He was forced to simply restate his affirmative arguments from the first two nights on the last two nights. It was obviously a very awkward situation that he found himself in during this second part of the debate.

Mr. Vanderpool’s first affirmative began with the argument that those who were already disciples of Christ were to be baptized. He attempted to sustain this by linking the statement of Matt. 28:19, “Make disciples . . . baptizing them” to Lk. 14:26 where Christ says that his disciples would forsake all and follow him or else they would not be his disciples. In addition, he pointed out that the love of the brethren and the love of God was the witness of salvation, or that we have “passed from death unto life.” At this point he introduced In. 13:35; 1 Jn. 3:14; 4:7; 5:4 and suggested that these were proof of the fact that the term “disciple” denoted a “saved individual”, and Christ had commanded to baptize disciples-not Sinners. To this See replied that disciples had been called disciples even before they were believers (Jn. 2:11). So, if disciple meant “saved individual”, then these were saved before belief. Also, Jn. 6:66 says that some of the disciples of Jesus went back and walked Do more with him. If it is true that disciples were saved individuals, then these people had most certainly fallen from grace.

At this, Vanderpool took a slightly different tact, pointing out that in the Bible believers are said to be: born of God (1 Jn. 5:1); possessors of everlasting life (Jn. 6:47); sons of God (Jn. 1:12); saved (Acts 16:31), among other things. Then he exclaimed, “I baptize believers!” In See’s reply he asserted that at these places and at others the Scripture puts a part for the whole. He made reference to a chart which listed the varions things in the Word pf God that are said to save man: God (Rom. 8:33); Grace (Eph, 2:8); Blood iRom. 5:9); Gospel (Rom. 1:16); Faith (Epb. 2:8); Baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); etc. Giving verbal substance to the obvious, he thereupon inquired, “Which one of these excludes the other?” His opponent did not attempt to answer. Pressing his point, See next offered a chart which dernonstrated the fact that no person in the Bible was ever blessed on account of his faith until that faith had expressed itself in obedience (Matt. 7:21; Acts 10:43; Heb. 5:8, 9; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). He concluded this aspect of the discussion with what he called “A Deadly Parallel” from Js. 2:23.

1. Body 1 Spirit = Live Man

Body 1 Spirit = Dead Man

2. Faith 1 Works = Live Faith

Faith 1 Works = Dead Faith

To this he added that Baptists teach salvation by a dead faith which according to the Scriptures cannot save.

Vanderpool’s third argument came in the form of an assertion: that God has had one plan of salvation for all time: for Abraham (Gen. 15:6); the Israelites (1 Cor. 10:4); during the life of Christ (LK. 7:50); after the time of Jesus (Acts 8:37). Brother See answered by referring to Heb. 9:16-17, suggesting that after the new covenant came into force baptism was required for salvation (1 Pet, 1:22-23), and is in evidence in all of the cases of conversion after Pentecost.

An interesting sidelight at this point was the fact that Vanderpool took the position that Cornelius might not have obeyed the command of God through Peter to be immersed. See made hay with his specious reasoning by simply alluding to the remark of Cornelius in Acts 10:33. Who can believe that Cornelius and his house would have assembled to hear “all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord”, only to reject the command of Peter to be baptized (vss. 47-48)?

Pointed questions from the negative speaker are always beneficial in a forensic dual of this sort, And, some that were used bv Brother See may be suggestive to those who may later meet opponents of a like persuasion. They were: 1) Is calling on the name of the Lord essential to being saved? 2) Is confession necessary to salvation, and if so, why? 3) Does an alien sinner have to repent to have remission of sin, and if so, why? 4) Please put the following in their proper order: faith, repentance, confession, love, calling, direct operation of the Holy Spirit, baptism in water, and salvation. 5) Can an alien sinner purify his soul without obeying the truth? 6) Does baptism belong to the righteousness of God or man? 7) Please give one passage that tells us the purpose of baptism. 8) Is baptism a part of the gospel? 9) Were the Jews in Acts 2 saved when they, asked, “What must we do?” 10) Can an alien sinner be saved and go to heaven without being baptized in water? 11) Can a person be a member of the Baptist church without being baptized in water? 12) When does a person arise to walk a new life, before or after baptism?

All of the questions submitted to Vanderpool enlarged upon the scope of the debate in some way. One of the most interesting flurries that grew out of a question centered upon the last one in connection with its Scriptural counterpart, Rom. 6:3-10. The affirmative speaker answered the query by saying that at the point at which one places his trust in Christ he dies to sin; hence, he is baptized, i.e. buried. “We bury those in baptism who have died!” he announced. Mr. See retorted that if One will read the passage he will be made aware that through baptism we are baptized into death, and raised up from this grave to walk in newness of life. One does die to the desire to sin at the point of repentance, but that is not the thing under consideration in these verses. He went on to charge that Vanderpool claims salvation at the point of faith for the sinner as well as the beginning of the new life in Christ, Thus, in reality Vanderpool is burying people who are alive! Said conclusion is abundantly true in light of the force and context of the passage.

Mr. Vanderpool found it necessary to make use of the usual number of argumentum ad misericordiam, or “argument to the sympathy”, This is a common type of fallacy which arises when an appeal to passion or prejudice is substituted for logic and Bible proof. First, he claimed that Floyd Collins, a man trapped in a cave in Kentucky many years ago, had begged for salvation but had been told by one of “our” preachers that he could not have it unless he freed himself and was immersed, Collins is said to have perished in the cave. This is an old Baptist myth and is no more true now than it was when N.B. Hardenian met it a half-century ago (see the Hardernan-Bogard Discussion, pp. 117, 130, 140). Brother See simply replied as did Hardeman that Collins was a Christian before he ever went into the cave. Vanderpool said no more about it. Later he raised a similar question with respect to a young girl who had drowned in a stream as she awaited baptism near Livingston, Tennessee. She had already made her confession after having believed on the Lord.” Where is she tonight?” he inquired. See turned the question around by observing, “She is in the same condition as someone at the mourner’s bench if they die prior to convincing God that he ought to save them.” The Baptist disputant had nothing further to say about this case either.

Howard See began his affirmative speeches by arguing that Christ’s blood was shed “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28) and that baptism was to be performed for the same reason (Acts 2:38). Moreover, he argued that without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22), so without repentance and baptism there is no remission. Along this same line he connected Paul’s statement that we have our redemption through Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7), that is, the forgiveness of our sins, with the fact that we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27), wherein we gain the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38). The third step was with regard to the church: The church was purchased with blood (Acts 20:28); we are baptized into the body (1 Cor. 12:13); the body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23), which has been cleansed “by the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26), or baptism.

He continued this thought by asserting that we are reconciled by blood when baptized, and offering as proof of his assertion the following: we are made nigh in Christ by his blood (Eph. 2:13); we are reconciled in one body by the cross (Eph. 2:16); yet, we are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-6), and baptized into the one body (1 Cor. 12:13). Therefore, it is in baptism that we are made nigh in the blood of Christ and reconciled in the one body by the cross.

The relationship of blood and water was explored next by means of a chart which called attention to the fact that water and blood came from the side of the Lord at his crucifixion (Jn. 19:34), whereas t Jn. 5:6 says that Christ came by water and by blood”. The Old Covenant came by water and blood (Heb. 9:18-22), and so did the New (Heb. 9:23-26). Thus, the spirit, water and blood agree in one (1 Jn. 5:8). This takes place at the time of and in the act of baptism, the Corinthians being an apt example (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:7; 5:25-26).

The final two arguments which See offered to prove his proposition touched the relation between Old Testament types and New Testament antitypes. Firstly, he alluded to the deliverance of the firstborn among the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 12:1-13). Here he made three observations: (1) The blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the Israelite houses; (2) The firstborn within the houses covered by blood were delivered from death; (3) Outside of the house so covered there was no deliverance. This was the Old Testament type. The New Testament antitype is characterized by three like features: (1) The church is purchased by blood (Acts 20:28); (2) Deliverance from death is found in the church (Eph. 2:16; 5: 23); (3) Outside of the church there is no deliverance. Yet we are baptized into the church (1 Cor. 12:13).

The second argument of this sort had to do with the priesthood of Christ as opposed to that of the Levites, the Levitical being the shadow and Christ’s being the substance. In the bygone era the High Priest brought the blood into the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies (Heb. 9:6-7; 13:11-12); there he sprinkled the blood upon the mercy seat (Lev. 16:14). Under the New, Christ is our High Priest (Heb. 9:24), who entered into heaven ffleb. 9:24), where he offered the blood (Heb. 9:12). This “blood of sprinkling” is applied only to the church (Heb. 12:22-24), and at the time in which “our bodies are washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22), that is, at the point of baptism.

At this juncture in the discussion Mr. Vanderpool ceased debating and began to drag out some of the old Baptist tricks. He made no attempt whatever to touch the affirmative’s remarks during his last speeches. Quibbles were offered in regard to which comes first, repentance or faith; on eis (“into”, “for”, or “in order to”) in Acts 2:38, making it “with reference to”; and he divided the verse into three parts, connecting the first and last parts so that he could make the part that referred to baptism “parenthetical”. These and several other such quibbles were quickly answered by Brother See. All in all, it was a fine hour for the “faith once delivered” in the Nashville Area.

As we mentioned earlier in this review, the charts and outlines employed by Howard See in this debate are some of the finest that we have ever seen. They were distributed to all those who were present and wanted them. We now have been made aware that these materials will soon be available in a revised and enlarged edition to those who would like them. Simply write to Brother See at the following address: 2725 Western Hills Drive, Nashville, Tenn. 37214. He is not sure at the present what the exact cost will be, but he hopes it will be minimal. He is also revising and enlarging his notes on the Baptismal Formula, Godhead, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they will be available shortly as well. Order them, they are worth having!

Truth Magazine XX: 47, pp. 744-746
November 25, 1976