Review of the Asher-Stocker Debate on the Necessity of Water Baptism for Salvation

by Ron Halbrook

April 2-3, 1992 Jeff Asher debated Glen Stocker on whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. The first night of the debate was held at the Bible Believers' Baptist Church and the second night at the Dumas Drive Church of Christ in Amarillo. It was my privilege to moderate for Brother Asher, and Mr. Todd Barker moderated for Mr. Stocker. I estimate that about 120 people attended each session, which filled both meetinghouses. Many visitors were included in each audience and the decorum was good both nights. Brother Asher presented the truth in a clear and forceful manner.

Much literature was distributed during this debate. The March/April 1992 Gospel Herald was a special edition containing a six page exchange between Asher and Stocker. Many copies of Luther Blackmon's tract on Unsaved Believers and Grover Stevens' booklet on Why l Left the Baptist Church were taken by visitors. Many other tracts on a wide range of other subjects were also taken. On the first night, Mr. Stocker distributed a list of 123 "Questions for Church of Christ Members." On the second night, we gave out copies of the same list with Bible answers to all 123 questions.

On April 5 brother Billy Davis, evangelist for the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Amarillo, and I reviewed the debate during an hour long radio program sponsored by the Dumas Drive Church. In short, the seed of truth has been scattered and sown far and wide because the Dumas Drive Church has the faith and conviction to proclaim the gospel of Christ through the medium of debate.

The Propositions

On the first night, Brother Asher affirmed and Mr. Stocker denied, "The Scriptures teach that water baptism to the penitent believer is in order to obtain remission of sins." On the second night, Stocker affirmed and Asher denied, "The Scriptures teach that salvation is by grace through faith alone before and without water baptism." Stocker is a dispensational Baptist. He teaches a theory which concedes that passages like Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 mean just exactly what they say, but they applied to the Jews only and they were replaced by the faith only doctrine when the gospel went to the Gentiles in Acts 10.

The opening speech by Asher presented the gospel of Christ in its original purity and simplicity, and set the perimeters for the rest of the debate. Jesus said in giving the Great Commission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16:15-16). Asher showed that the necessity of faith and baptism is as simple as 2 + 2 = 4, but that Baptist doctrine makes it 2-2 by subtracting baptism as necessary for salvation. Next, Asher paralleled Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38 to show that Jesus shed his blood FOR (in order to obtain) "the remission of sins" for the world, and the blood is applied to each one of us when we are baptized FOR (in order to obtain) "the remission of sins." The case of the Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10 was shown to be no different from the conversion of the Jews in Acts 2. The angel told Cornelius that Peter would preach "words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (Acts 11:14). Those saving words included the same conditions of pardon required in Acts 2: faith, repentance, and baptism in water for the remission of sins (Acts 10:43; 11:18; 10:47-48). Asher's last argument in his first affirmative speech pointed out that Paul was baptized to wash away his sins in Acts 9:18 (cf. 22:16), while still under Stocker's so-called Jewish dispensation, but that Paul later wrote to Jews and Gentiles in Rome and said that they had received the same baptism which he received. Asher's chart, one of the most effective of the debate, simply gave the text of Acts 22:16 at the top, followed by the text of Romans 6:3-4 with the pronouns "US" and "WE" highlighted.

Anticipating Stocker's usual practice of prejudicial mockery of the truth, Asher presented a chart showing that "My Opponent Is Weak IF" he resorts to such expressions as, "Repent and be BUP BUP-BUPTIZED" (quotation from Stocker's radio tapes). Tapes of Stocker's preaching show that he thrives on such prejudicial mockery, he is energized by it, and he tries to stir up his audience with it. Such conduct was forbidden by the agreement the two men signed, but it was inevitable that Stocker would fall into his bad habits.

As a result of this chart Stocker's first negative speech was rather tame. It was obvious he was trying to avoid tripping himself up with his habitual prejudicial attacks, but he got wound up in his next speech and sang out "BUPTIZED" three times. On the second night after Asher rebuked Stocker with this chart for this unbecoming conduct, Stocker admitted he had "slipped" and apologized. Are we to understand from this that he will not resort to the language of prejudicial mockery in the future on the radio, in the pulpit, and in his printed articles? We shall see what we shall see.

Stocker Gives Up!

Abandoning his dispensational theory and theology, Stocker resorted to traditional Baptist arguments on Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, denying that they teach the essentiality of baptism at any time for any purpose. This shows how weak, empty, and vain he thought dispensationalism would be in regard to the subject of baptism when put to the test of Scripture in public debate.

He found the traditional arguments fared no better. Asher, knowing the inconsistencies to which false teachers resort and the contradictions into which they fall, was prepared to meet Stocker no matter which way he went. Asher met Stocker with Scripture every way he turned and turned him every way but loose!

On Mark 16:16, Stocker claimed that "AND" ("he that believeth AND is baptized") does not mean "PLUS." When asked whether it might mean "MINUS," he never would say. On Acts 2:38, Stocker said baptism "FOR the remission of sins" means "because of, not in order to." Romans 3:25 was offered in an effort to buttress that claim, but Asher showed how this passage hurts rather than helps Stocker's argument because the text says that the blood of Christ was shed "FOR the remission of sins," this is in order to, not because of.

Stocker avoided like a plague Asher's chart which gave the texts of Acts 22:16 and Romans 6:3-4, proving that Paul was baptized to wash away his sins and that the Romans received the very same baptism. Asher kept showing the chart again and again until finally on the second night Stocker started trying to bail himself out. The more he tried to bail water out of the plan of salvation, the deeper in water he got. He decided Paul was saved on the road to Damascus by faith alone, which contradicts dispensationalism. But then Stocker claimed that Ananias erred when he commanded Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." This proves that Stocker knows that Acts 22:16 contradicts his faith only doctrine and requires water baptism to wash away sins. Then, in an effort to line up Ananias with the faith only doctrine, Stocker said that "be baptized" is a passive verb, "wash away' and "calling" are active verbs, therefore baptism has nothing to do with washing away sins and calling on the name of the Lord. Where he found this rule of grammar is anyone's guess because he did not tell us. If Ananias did not command Paul to be baptized to wash away his sins, and if Ananias believed Stocker's faith only doctrine, why in the world did Stocker accuse Ananias of error? Such are the convolutions and contradictions of Stocker's error!

The Questions

Thirty minutes before the debate each night, the speakers exchanged five written questions, wrote out answers, and returned the answered questions to one another about five minutes before starting time. These questions were then covered during the debate. Asher used his questions masterfully by designing them to outline his major arguments. Both nights, Asher's questions focused on Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 10:47-48 and 22:16 tied to Romans 6:3-4. Therefore, when Stocker attempted to answer the questions, he was required to address the major passages and arguments presented by Asher.

Asher asked, "Is it true that these people here tonight that have been baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins are ‘going to hell like a ball bearing on a greased plank'?" Feeling the sting of this statement which flies into the face of Acts 2:38, Stocker repudiated the quotation. Asher then pointed out that it came from Peter S. Ruckman in The Seven Baptisms, published by the Bible Baptist Bookstore in Pensacola, Florida, and sold in the bookstore where Stocker preaches! Ruckman said on page 13, "This town Is filled with people who have been ‘baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins,' and they are going to Hell like a ball bearing on a greased plank, brother!"

Asher asked, "If Cornelius in Acts 10 and people today choose not to be baptized in water, would they be lost?" Stocker said, "No." He agreed that Peter commanded water baptism in Acts 10:47-48, but belted out, "SO WHAT?" He then asserted as his proof that saved people disobey God every day. In response on the next night Asher presented a chart which pointed out, "OUR REAL DIFFERENCE IS OVER RESPECT FOR THE AUTHORITY OF GOD'S WORD." When passages such as Matthew 7:21 -23; Mark 16:15-16 and Acts 2:38; 10:48 are preached, false teachers like Glen Stocker respond, "SO WHAT?"

Since Stocker claims that I Corinthians 12:13 refers to "Spirit baptism," Asher asked him to clarify whether the Holy Spirit is the element in which one is baptized, or the administrator of the baptism in that passage. Stocker's answer was, "Both!" Asher reflected on the absurdities of error and pointed out that the Spirit caused people to be baptized in water in order to be added to the body of Christ, just as Jesus caused people to be baptized in John 4:1-2 without doing the actual baptizing Himself.

Another question asked Stocker to clarify what Mark 16:16 really means:

a. He that believeth not and is not baptized shall be saved.

b. He that believeth not and is baptized shall be saved.

c. He that believeth and is not baptized shall be saved.

d. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.

Seeing that Baptist doctrine contradicts the text when spelled out so plainly, Stocker checked "d" instead of "c" but he actually preaches "c" instead of "d," as Asher pointed out. No matter how Stocker answered he had to contradict either the Bible or Baptist doctrine.

Since Stocker's proposition asserts that "salvation is by grace through faith alone before and without water baptism," he was asked to clarify exactly when Cornelius was saved from his past sins in Acts 10:

a. 10:1-4 when God saw Cornelius' sincerity and sent the vision of an angel.

b. 10:43 when Cornelius believed In Jesus.

c. 10:44-45 when Cornelius received Holy Spirit baptism.

d. 11:18 when Cornelius repented.

e. 10:47-48 when Cornelius was baptized in water.

This question so bewildered Stocker that he checked no less than three answers: "b," "c," and "d". Asher pointed out that in his utter confusion Stocker had repudiated his proposition of "faith ALONE."

Three of Stocker's ten questions addressed the security of the believer, which was not the issue in this debate. On the second night Asher presented 28 of "Stocker's Stumbles, Fumbles, and Blunders," including the "BLUNDER OF THE DEBATE AWARD: Brings up ‘security' on baptism proposition, but won't debate security!" Asher presented Stocker propositions for a week's debate on security but Stocker ignored them. Since the debate, Stocker has complained on the radio that he did not have enough speeches to cover everything he wanted to say, yet he had turned down Asher's pleas for a full week's debate on baptism.

Another Debate?

If Stocker believes that debates advance the Baptist cause, he will want more debates. If he believes the Baptist cause suffers from debate, he will want no more debates. Asher believes debates advance the cause of truth and is waiting to hear from Stocker. We shall see what we shall see!