Reflections On Truth, December 1990

Debate On Water Baptism

by David Padfield

On the evenings of November 8 and 9, 1990 we engaged in a public debate on Bible Baptism with Don Phillips at Terre Haute, Indiana. Phillips is the preacher for the First Baptist Church in Terre Haute. Several of our readers have inquired about the discussion, so we are printing this review.

Over 200 people attended the discussion each evening. We had brethren from 10 states present, including some from as far away as Texas and Florida. Brethren from several institutional congregations were also present.

Unfortunately, the church where Phillips preaches did not support him during the discussion. Ivan Webster, moderator for Phillips, told me the First Baptist Church had 1,057 members. During the debate we picked up a copy of The Indiana Baptist Observer, a newspaper sponsored by The American Baptist Churches of Indiana. The November 1990 issue of this paper lists First Baptist as having 783 members. As we walked around their meetinghouse on Thursday evening, we noticed that their Sunday morning attendance was under 400, and their Wednesday evening assembly consists of about 150 people. Out of the 1,057 alleged members of this congregation, only a handful were present, though we held the debate in their meetinghouse. More Baptists from out of town made it to the debate than those who lived in Terre Haute.

Phillips was unlike the Baptist preachers we have debated in the past. He is associated with the American Baptist Church, which is the liberal wing of that denomination. During the discussion, he made it plain he had very little respect for the Bible. He informed us on Friday night the apostle Peter was a "legalist," and therefore could not be trusted when discussing salvation! He also implied that many of the verses we used in our presentation were not really a part of the Bible, but declined to specify which ones.

Without being too unkind, we must state that Phillips was the poorest debater we have ever heard. Even some of the Baptists remarked about his ability (or lack thereof). We are not talking about his ability as a speaker, but rather his unwillingness to even attempt to refute the arguments we advanced. Greg Gwin commented that Baptist debaters of the past generation were probably turning over in their graves after the discussion. Maybe Phillips is the best debater left in the Baptist church; he is one of the few with enough conviction to debate at all.

We started the debate by affirming men are saved by faith, but not by faith alone. John 1:12 tells us believers have the right to become the children of God. The question before us was "How do believers exercise that right?" The examples of the Ethiopian Eunuch and Saul of Tarsus were used to answer the question. We discussed Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 and John 3:5 in our second speech. Phillips had very little to say about any of these verses.

On Friday, Phillips spent ten minutes talking about the difference between the left and right sides of the brain. We are not sure what this had to do with our proposition which started with the words "The Scriptures teach..."

The discussion was conducted in an orderly fashion, with no outbursts from the audience. We are also happy to report that one soul obeyed Christ in baptism after the discussion.

Our thanks go out to John Welch for moderating. Greg Gwin did a fantastic job of managing the overhead charts. Gene Taylor drove up from Florida to take notes for us. Gene also preached for us here at Eastside the Sunday after the debate.

For further study

remission of sinsSee related articles on this Debate on Baptism or download Charts from the Padfield-Phillips Debate. Over 120 overhead charts used by Padfield in this debate (PDF file size: 251k). You will need Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe Systems, in order to view the charts.

"For The Remission Of Sins." A few years ago David Padfield wrote to several prominent Greek scholars and posed this question: "Is it grammatically possible that the phrase 'eis aphesin hamartion,' 'for the remission of sins,' as used in Acts 2:38, expresses the force of both verbs, 'repent ye and be baptized each one of you,' even though these verbs differ in both person and number?" This booklet contains photocopies of their responses and explains the phrase "for the remission of sins" in a very detailed manner (PDF File size: 640k).