Zachary-Henson Debate on Miracles and the Godhead

By Jeff Asher

On the nights of August 9, 10, 12 and 13 brother James L. Zachary met Mr. Russell Henson in Mountain View, Arkansas on four propositions regarding miracles and the number of persons in the Godhead. The debate was well attended by both Christians and Pentecostals. Each of the disputants was well prepared and behavior during the debate by all was exemplary. This debate was conducted on the highest plain all week and made a favorable impression in the community by the Eastside church for truth among denominations other than the Pentecostals.

Monday Evening

The proposition Monday night was:

The Scriptures teach miracles are being performed today in the same way they were performed in the New Testament.

Mr. Henson set out to prove the proposition by affirming that God had performed miracles in ages past and was capable of performing miracles now. Then he undertook to enlist the assistance of the audience by asking that those who had received miraculous healing to stand. He also gave his own personal testimony concerning healing. Brother Zachary was quick to point out that the proposition did not have anything to do with what God had done in the past or with the unsubstantiated subjective testimony of the audience or himself. Rather, Mr. Henson was under obligation to prove that the Scriptures teach that miracles are being done today in the same way as God did them in the past.

The principle argument offered by Mr. Henson regarding miraculous healing today concerned Isaiah 53:4-5,

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our inequities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Henson argued that the atonement of Christ purchased for all Christians the healing of diseases, as well as the forgiveness of sins. He cited Matthew 8:17 as proof that the passage has reference to physical healing.

Zachary first pointed out that Henson’s proof text did not sustain his argument because in Matthew the miracles of healing under consideration were those of Jews under the law before the atonement was offered, not Christians under the gospel after the atonement was made. Thus, Matthew 8:17 could not possibly mean that Isaiah 53:4-5 has anything to do with the physical healing of Christians today.

Brother Zachary went on to give the inspired commentary on Isaiah 53:4-5 and Matthew 8:17 from 1 Peter 2:24,

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

It was shown that the “healing” in Isaiah 53 was the forgiveness of sins and not the removal of physical infirmity. Thus, Matthew 8:17 had in view the personal ministry of Christ which included miracle working as a part of the proof that He was the Son of God and the one who would bear our sins to the cross (see: Matt. 9:2-8). This truth was further demonstrated from New Testament examples of faithful Christians who had sickness (2 Cor. 12:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:20; Phil. 2:25-30; 1 Tim. 5:23).

Tuesday Night

The next proposition discussed was:

The Scriptures teach that miraculous gifts have ceased.

This proposition is a little unusual, since Pentecostals are generally unwilling to sign a proposition framed so closely to biblical language (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8). However, it states precisely the issue that exists between Christians and Pentecostals.

Throughout the first two nights Zachary pressed the issue of “in the same way.” Henson was presented miracles of healings, tongues, resurrections, snakes, poison, curses and nature along with the question: “Are they being performed today in the same way?” He was asked for a demonstration on Monday night; yet, on Tuesday evening the request was rescinded because “the Scriptures teach miraculous gifts have ceased.” Zachary made his case from two passages 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 and Ephesians 4:11-13.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 was shown to teach that miraculous gifts would cease when the revelation of the mystery of the gospel was completed. This was done by making it clear that the thing which is “perfect” in this text is that which brings our knowledge to perfection (cf. 13:12). There is one perfect thing, the completed revelation of Jesus Christ (Jas. 1;25; John 16:13; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Jude 3). Mr. Henson was pressed on whether or not he believed the Bible was perfect.

The emphasis in Ephesians 4:11-13 was upon the proposition “till.” It was shown that the word demanded duration. Thus, the argument was made that all the gifts were to last as long as any of the gifts, and that duration was conditioned upon four things. These were: (1) unity of the faith, (2) knowledge of the Son, (3) perfection of the body, (4) the measure of Christ. Zachary showed quite well that it is the Word of God that satisfies each of these conditions (Jude 3; 2 Pet. 1:2,3; 2 Tim. 3:16).

The best argument that Mr. Henson could make in response to the affirmative material was to say, “If you have been born again, then you have experienced a miracle.” In response to Zachary pointed out that Mr. Henson and his people had not had the same experience that was manifested on Pentecost and Cornelius’ house which he claimed was the new birth, nor did Pentecostals practice what he was preaching relative to the new birth in that some water baptized members of his church had not received the experience of tongues. Zachary went on to point out how the Spirit works in conversion and why this is not a miracle. This was just another of Henson’s many blunders.

Wednesday Night

On Wednesday the debate was recessed. The brethren at Eastside have an assembly in the evening, and it was a very edifying time. The singing was wonderful.

Many brethren had come from all over the state and from out of state. Thus, the house was full of visitors. Among these was brother Ed Dye from Pine Bluff, Zachary’s moderator, and brother Keith Sharp who joined us at the table. These brethren were indispensable during the week in the study sessions. Brother Dye did a magnificent job in keeping order. This is one of the few debates with Pentecostals where there have been no points of order called. I attribute this in large part to brother Dye.

I had the pleasure and honor of addressing the assembly that evening on the subject “Divine Encouragement for Holy Living” taken from 1 Peter 1:13-2:5. This was my first time to preach at Mountain View though I have known several in the church for many years. It was certainly good to be with such a fine church who showed not only love for the brethren by their hospitality, but for the truth as well by their stedfast support of Jim during the debate.

Thursday Night

The subject changed on Thursday evening to the Godhead, and so did the order of speakers, Zachary moved to the affirmative with this proposition 

The Scriptures teach the Godhead is three persons, namely the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Zachary made it clear that he was not affirming that there were three Gods, but only that the one God exists in three persons. Frankly, this is a difficult concept even for our own brethren to grasp at times. However, Zachary got to the real issue at stake when the pointed out that the Pentecostal position denies the Son and brings the condemnation of 1 John 2:22-24,

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

The Bible teaches one must believe in the Father and the Son, not the Father who is the Son. This is why this issue merits being debated. Souls are at stake (John 8:24).

Zachary made several arguments that were very effective in showing the truth of the nature of the Godhead. First, he introduced John 8:16-18, which reads,

And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.

Mr. Henson was asked, “Do you believe Jesus when he said that he was not alone and that there was a second witness?” The response was, “The flesh of Jesus was one witness and the Spirit of Jesus was the other witness.” Now, this left Mr. Henson with quite a dilemma for he was called upon to explain whether or not Jesus had two spirits, one human and the other divine. And, if having two spirits, that is, the Holy Spirit indwelling the man Jesus, why Henson himself was not “God” since he claimed to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in himself. Zachary then answered the question for the audience showing that Luke 23:46 teaches that Jesus had only one spirit, and necessarily, Mr. Henson’s problem was not resolved.

When Zachary introduced Ephesians 4:1-5 into the discussion to show that there was one Spirit, one Lord and one Father which necessarily indicates three persons, Mr. Henson replied that the text did not say “and” which would indicate addition would be proper. Brother Zachary thanked Mr. Henson for that and produced the following passages which had the “and” as required:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19).

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).

And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me (John 8:16).

Friday Night

The last night of the debate had Mr. Henson affirming:

The Scriptures teach that the Godhead is Jesus only, and the words “in Jesus’ name” must be recited at baptism.

This night was the best attended, I thank that the Pentecostals may have outnumbered the brethren this night. However, we had heard that they regarded this to be the proposition with which Mr.. Henson would do his best.

However, Mr. Henson did not escape the careful examination of his position in the negative. Brother Zachary was well prepared introducing again in every speech as he had done the night before, and that several times, a chart in which the “facts are overwhelming” in support of three persons in the Godhead. There were 43 passages which clearly distinguish between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These passages can only be understood when one accepts that there is one God who exists in three Persons.

Mr. Henson introduced twelve “one God” passages as he called them from the Old Testament. Zachary showed that in each case the text referred to one Deity and in eleven instances the context dealt with the worship of the true God over pagan deities.

Henson also had the obligation to show that a certain baptismal formula was to be used. He cited the various cases of conversion in Acts where men were said to be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g. Acts 19:5). Brother Zachary pointed out that no one can produce a passage that tells what the baptizer said at baptism. The passages produced by Mr. Henson only tell what was done, they were baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17). Furthermore, only one time are we told what was said at a baptism by the baptized in Acts 8:37,38 

And Philip said, if thou believest with all thing heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

The person being baptized confessed the name of Jesus Christ and not the person doing the baptizing. This is exactly what Christians practice. Mr. Henson’s proposition failed.

Brother Zachary did a wonderful work the week of the debate. His success was directly attributable to the fact that the was obviously well prepared by careful study of the Word. I commend brother Zachary for his work and heartily recommend that the churches use him in future discussions with the Pentecostals or in meeting work. He is certainly doing the work of an evangelist in Mountain View. I also commend the good Eastside church for their faithful sup-port of God’s servants during the debate. It is encouraging to see brethren rally to the defense of the Lord, his church and the Word in an effort to save souls.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 2, p. 6-8
January 20, 1994