Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1953
NUMBER 13, PAGE 2-3b

Holt - Kirkland Debate -- No. 2

Charles A. Holt, Jr., Mt. Pleasant, Texas

The first two nights of this debate, Mr. A. J. Kirkland, president of the Texas Baptist Institute, was in the affirmative. His proposition read as follows: "The scriptures teach that all true believers are saved regardless of church membership." This is Kirkland's own wording — he framed the propositions and insisted that they be accepted. They could be much better worded, but I accepted them anyway.

In all of his affirmative speeches, Kirkland presented no argument touching the issue. We were to discuss the church of the Lord and whether or not membership therein is essential to one's salvation. That was the issue involved. Kirkland made his usual arguments that the believer is saved at the point of faith, before and without any further acts of obedience, hence, without baptism and church membership. He introduced such passages as Proverbs 29:25; 1 John 5:1; John 3:18; and John 17:3. Not one of the passages even mention the church — the subject under consideration. They do not touch the issue. How can one set forth the truth about the place and purpose of the church from passages that say nothing about it? Can one prove that one is saved out of the Lord's church by proving that faith is essential to salvation? Can it be done by showing that believers are saved, unless it is positively shown that these believers are unbaptized believers, and that they were not members of the church? This Kirkland did not prove nor even attempt to prove. In this way only could the passages have any bearing on the matter.

This same sort of fallacious reasoning is used by many in their study of the Bible. Sectarian preachers use this "method" of argument to establish (?) all of their practices. For example, they think that they can prove that baptism is non-essential and that one can be saved without it, by proving that faith is necessary — that one must believe to be saved. Hence, they read all the passages showing the necessity of faith and assert that these passages prove baptism to be useless. Then they read the passages showing that certain believers are saved and they falsely conclude that these believers are unbaptized. This they cannot prove, yet such must be established for the passages to prove their point. There is absolutely no example in the New Testament of any saved, unbaptized believers after the New Testament went into force. The saved believers are the baptized believers. (Mark 16:16) To us this sort of reasoning leads to error. To establish the necessity of repentance does not prove that faith is not essential. One cannot prove that baptism is excluded as a condition of pardon by passages that do not even mention it.

In studying the Bible by subjects, one must find the passages dealing with the subject under consideration. From them he gathers what God wants him to know about the subject. Hence, the only way to study the subject of baptism is by studying those passages dealing with it. If one wants to know what it is, who is the proper subject, and why performed, he cannot learn this from passages that do not mention baptism — that speak only of faith, repentance or love! Is there anyone who cannot see this? Surely not. One may as well try to prove what baptism is — whether sprinkling, pouring or immersion — by passages that do not mention it, as to try to prove its design, whether essential' or non-essential, by such passages. Even Kirkland knows enough to go to the passages mentioning baptism to prove that it is immersion. By establishing the necessity of faith, one can never prove that baptism is immersion. Neither can one learn of its design from such passages.

In like manner, one must learn about the church of the Lord; its place, purpose, and essentiality from passages that tell us about the church. The Bible says much about the church. How can one ignore and repudiate these passages and even expect to arrive at the truth on this subject? Mr. Kirkland utterly failed in this respect. He never brought forth a passage that dealt with the church to prove that one can be saved "regardless of church membership." The reason is simple! There is no such passage! He stayed away from all passages dealing with the church. Why? Because every one of them is against his position and he knew it. If one desires the truth about the church, let him study the passages that touch the subject.

If Kirkland's proposition had simply read, "The scriptures teach that all true believers are saved," I would not have denied it. I believe and teach that "all true believers are saved," if one understands who "true believers" are. It is not "all believers," for that would be incorrect and would mean that the "demons" would be saved for they believe. (James 2:19) The "true believers" are those who have perfected their faith by obedience to the Lord's commands (James 2:21); and those whose faith has "availed" working by love. (Galatians 5:6) "True believers" are those who have obeyed Christ in baptism. (Acts 2:37-38, 41,47; Cf. Acts 5:14) It was not the fact that all true believers are saved, that I was denying. It was the last part of the proposition, that they are saved "regardless of church membership."

If all true believers are saved "regardless of church membership," this means that they can be saved out of all churches, including the Lord's church; or, in any church under heaven. That throws the gate open — stay out of the Lord's church and join any or all man-made churches one cares to, all "true believers" are saved regardless! A proposition could not be framed that would make the "church of the Lord, which He purchased with His own blood," any more useless and place it any more on a par with human churches of all kinds. Would it not be strange and would it not be the height of folly for the Lord to build a church, purchase it with His blood, die for it, save it, be the head of it, if one and all can be saved now and eternally without it, and not obtain a single blessing therein essential to salvation? Mr. Kirkland's proposition makes the Lord's work along this line wholly non-essential and useless. What a doctrine! It is a "damnable heresy" designed to deceive the masses. It needs to be exposed and set forth in its true light. It is no wonder that Kirkland is not going to publish the debate as he promised to do. It is no wonder that he is not willing to have other discussion on these issues.

Read the New Testament. Mark every passage touching the church, its place, importance and purpose. Where is the passage that in the least indicates that the Lord's church is non-essential, that it is no way connected with the salvation of man? Kirkland did not produce it.

Neither did Mr. R. R. Stracener, of Gilmer, Texas, another Baptist whom I met on the same issue. Every passage sets forth the value of the church; its relationship to Christ; its place in the eternal plan of God to redeem a fallen race; and its connection with man's salvation. The evidence is abundant to establish the fact that "salvation to all responsible people is in the church of Christ," as we shall see in future articles.