The Wacaster-Sparks Debate took place the week after Thanksgiving on the nights of Monday-Tuesday (November 26th-27th) and Thursday-Friday (November 29th-30th) at the Civic Center in Mount Pleasant, Texas. The proposition which Bobby Sparks (a Missionary Baptist) was supposed to affirm was: "The Bible teaches that water baptism follows salvation and is simply a sign of that salvation already received at the point of faith." He further defined his proposition as saying that "baptism is a pictorial ordinance that pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that this pictorial ordinance is to be observed by penitent believers as a public profession of his faith in Jesus Christ." In other words, Sparks affirmed that "a person is saved at the point of faith, before and without water baptism."

One might have expected that he might begin at this point to offer proof of these assertions, but he did not. He decided to tell the audience what he fancied that Tom believed. Usually, debaters have the courtesy to let their opponents speak for themselves, but Sparks apparently was impatient. Rather than offering proof for his case, he stated his mis-perception of our position and then proceeded to take issue with it. This is the "straw man" fallacy of argumentation. Before Tom's first speech, Sparks claimed the following:

I believe a man works for God because he is saved. Mr. Wacaster will affirm that a man has to have faith and obey all the commands of Christ in order to get saved. Baptists work for God out of a grateful heart that we are saved. Church of Christ work for God with only a hope that they might finally make it to heaven.

Sparks persisted in this charge throughout the debate. As with so much false doctrine, a portion of it is true, but then error is stirred in to invalidate everything (as Satan added one word, not, to God's command to Adam and Eve in the garden). Let us answer this paragraph sentence by sentence. First, we too believe that we work because we are saved (Titus 2:14).

No one teaches that one must obey every command 100% of the time or that, if we omit or neglect one, we risk damnation. Grace and the blood of Christ cover our shortcomings (1 John 1:7). On the other hand, since God gives us commandments, which ones do we have the right to ignore? What does Sparks teach regarding Matthew 7:21? "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." We work because we are saved--also because we are commanded to keep the perfect law of liberty. Does our salvation depend on perfect law-keeping ability? No. But refusing to keep them indicates rebelliousness and lawlessness, the very type of individual God refuses to save.

We do not serve God to earn salvation or with some vague desire that, if we have been good enough, He might save us. If so, where is the proof that we teach this doctrine? We are a very public people. We publish a great deal of material, and many debates are available that we have conducted during the past 200 years. It ought to be easy to prove that we teach what Sparks alleges, but he offered no proof; he just asserted it. We really teach that, if we walk in the light and trust God, we have assurance of salvation (John 10:27-29).

Sparks demonstrated his propensity toward lawlessness during the debate by making fun of obedience throughout. We will use his own words to prove his guilt (rather than just assert things, as he did). In his very first speech he said:

You can't charge us with not believing in baptism. You can't charge us with not believing that baptism is a command of God. And you cannot charge us with not being baptized because we don't believe it being a command of God. We do believe it's a command of God. And we are baptized in obedience to that command of God.

But when he was asked if people had to be baptized for either initial salvation or to go to heaven, he answered, "No." How is that for irony? By his own admission baptism is a command of God, but a person does not need to obey it in order to be saved! One wonders why God bothers to give commands that are entirely unnecessary for us to obey. If even one command may be ignored with impunity, then why should anything God ever tells us be obeyed? Who wants to print up some buttons that say, "God says it. I believe it. But I can get to Heaven without doing it"?

Sparks' Affirmative Argument

At last, Sparks got to the proposition. He chose to "prove" it in the following manner:

A person is saved at the point of faith without further acts of obedience, and that is based on the premise that there has only been one plan of salvation from Adam to the very last soul that'll ever be saved on the face of the earth.

Someone may have argued this position before, but it is indeed a strange case to make. He further explained that mankind has always been saved through the gospel. He cited 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 to find a definition for the gospel: the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection. Then he made the following points.

1. Man has sinned (Rom. 3:23).
2. The penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
3. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind.
4. Old Testament worship proclaimed this fact.
5. People in the Old Testament had faith that Christ would save them.
6. The Bible is full of illustrations of the Gospel.
7. The Gospel was preached to Abraham.

Once again, part of these assertions are true; the first four we do not dispute. Statements five and six must be proved. What verse in the Old Testament specifically says that people understood fully about Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection? When they worshipped God, did they understand how Christ would fulfill these things? When those illustrations were given, did they have complete knowledge of the way to apply this information? He cited Isaiah 53, which relates the suffering of Jesus on the cross. What evidence is there that anyone understood the significance of that passage at the time? The eunuch certainly did not understand it; Philip had to explain it to him (Acts 8:32-35). Even after being with Jesus three years, His disciples still did not understand the particulars of the Gospel. Jesus had to explain it to two men on the road to Emmaus, how that "all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning" Him (Luke 24:44).

Yes, the Gospel was preached to Abraham, as Galatians 3:8 so affirms. He was taught that in His seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. Does that mean he knew all the particulars of it? No, but according to Sparks, he did. Tom pointed out to him the first evening (and several times afterward) 1 Peter 1:10-12 (which he ignored):

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things which angels desire to look into.

Obviously, the knowledge of even the ones who prophesied of these matters was imperfect; even they did not comprehend the fulfillment, though they were told that it concerned later events. Even angels, whom we have regarded to be more privy to God's plans than mortals, did not know all the details. So the Gospel was preached in a very limited sense. Thus Sparks failed to establish his one and only argument.

Wacaster's First Negative

Tom began by showing four ways he could disprove Sparks' proposition: by showing that his doctrine implies a false doctrine, by showing that salvation is in Christ and that baptism is the only way into Christ, by demonstrating that salvation by "faith" is a synecdoche (the first part of the process stands for the whole process of salvation), and by showing that there is one 'believer' who is not saved.

Concerning what had been presented, Tom pointed out that citing passages that declare salvation by faith are not sufficient; Sparks should produce a passage that teaches salvation first and baptism afterward. Third, Sparks needed to show that salvation was by faith apart from any other requirement. If even one other act is required, such as repentance or confession, then salvation is not at the point of faith.

One of the questions Tom had been asked the opening night of the debate was: "Was there a difference in the plan of salvation before Christ died on the cross and after He died on the cross?" He replied: "Yes, there is a difference in commands to acquire the blessings God would bestow upon us. But by faith and obedience has always been God's design."

Thus we come to the fundamental difference: Sparks believes that through all ages God's plan of salvation has been by "faith only." Tom (and the rest of us) know that God's overall plan of salvation has always been faith plus obedience. God has required different things of men in the various dispensations, but faith and obedience have always been necessary.

Sparks' Second Affirmative

Tom had asked for a more clear-cut definition of the word salvation: Was he referring to salvation from alien sins or to salvation in Heaven? Sparks answered, "What's the difference?" He knew the difference, but this was his way of upholding the false doctrine of "once saved, always saved." Because he was so insistent on this point throughout the debate (that if one is saved, he is saved, period), Tom finally challenged him to debate that issue next year and presented him the propositions on the closing night of the debate.

In answer to Tom's question on the order of elements in salvation, Sparks came up with the following order: preaching, repentance, faith, love and salvation (simultaneously), confession, and baptism. In other words, (1) one repents before he believes. Tom repeatedly alluded to 2 Corinthians 7:10, which shows that godly sorrow (based on what one has been taught) produces repentance, but Sparks ignored the passage; and 2) confession and baptism follow salvation.

This order created two dilemmas for Sparks from which he could not extricate himself. First, Romans 10:9-10 teaches that "with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." If there is only one salvation-- period--and confession obviously precedes it, then how can Sparks place it after salvation? He would not acknowledge the contradiction. On the second night he was asked if confession was necessary for either initial or final salvation, and he answered that it was necessary for both. Then how can something which is necessary for salvation be placed after salvation has already occurred? Sparks did not try to explain.

Besides continuing his "one gospel" theory, Sparks rattled off rapidly a spate of Scriptures which allegedly proved his point of faith only (Rom. 1:16; 5:1; Gal. 3:27; John 3:18, 36; 5:24; 20:31; Rom. 5:1 [for a second time]; Rom. 10:9-10; Phil. 3:9; 1 John 5:1). Although these all emphasize the importance of faith, not one of them teaches "faith only."

Wacaster's Second Negative

Tom commented on the problem that Sparks had with confession, his argument that the gospel preached unto Abraham included every detail, and how faith operates. Then he unveiled his example of unsaved believers from John 12:42, which reads:

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43).

They believed, but they did not confess. These are unsaved believers. Furthermore, Tom quoted an important insight about this verse from Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament:

These actually "believed on him" (episteusan eis auton) in their convictions... (5:232). They did not confess (ouch komologoun). Negative imperfect in contrast to the punctiliar aorist episteusan. "They kept on not confessing" (5:233).

In other words, this cowardice on their part was not a one-time act; it was continual. Sparks ignored this point entirely, and in his final speech on Monday evening he asked, "Can you show a believer condemned?" After citing John 3:18, he asserted, "You can't condemn a believer unless you contradict the book." We can only wish that his Baptist supporters noticed that he ignored completely Tom's example of condemned believers.

The next evening he said that because of persecution people might not confess Christ vocally, but they could be saved if they confessed Jesus in their hearts. Tom pointed out that confession is with the mouth (Rom. 10:9-10, Matt. 10:32-33), but Sparks was strangely silent concerning those passages.

Monday's Final Speeches

Sparks cited some instances of salvation without baptism, such as the thief on the cross. He ignored Tom's reference to the New Testament not yet being in effect (Heb. 9:16-17). He did declare, however, that Noah was saved before building the ark and Abraham was already saved in Ur of the Chaldees. On the second night, he affirmed that Noah would have been drowned if he had not built the ark, but such disobedience would not have kept him from personally being saved. Who can believe it? A man refuses to build an ark to save the world, thus making the Bible a very short book of seven chapters (with no one left alive to read it), and yet Sparks affirms that he would have been saved spiritually. This kind of thinking does not even make for good nonsense. But claims such as these must be made in order to uphold the false doctrine which Baptists believe. Once they admit that OBEDIENCE is necessary for salvation, they have lost their "faith only" doctrine.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "WACASTER-SPARKS DEBATE (PART 1) (12/16/01)."

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