One of my early tutor/mentors was John L. Wheeler. I attended evening classes during the winter months, one or two times a week at the Gloster Street church of Christ in Tupelo, Mississippi. This was in the late 1960s. John was full of stories/tales concerning religious news, events of a past era.
John related the story below that happened in the 1800s. In days past, rural people of the Southern States, we now call in the USA, the Bible Belt, were used to hard work and plain living; most of them were Bible believers. It did not matter if they were Baptist or Methodists or whatever; they believed the Bible over their church creed. Most did not know what their church creed taught. Honesty was part of their embedded character. Religious debates were very common; people desired hear and know the truth. They would ask: what does the Bible teach?
A debate was to be held at a certain time and place. As folks started to arrive on horseback and wagons, the building filled quickly. The proposition for discussion was, Is Baptism necessary for one to be saved? The Baptist debater was present; however, the debater from the church of Christ did not show up. What happened, an accident, bad weather, did he get sick? What should they do?
Finally, the elders of the local church asked the oldest elder present to take the place of the evangelist that was absent. I am not a debater the elder explained, but with pressure he agreed to debate the Baptist champion and to do the best he could.
With great eloquence the Baptist debater pressed that baptism had nothing to do with salvation; it was faith only. When the old elder got up for his speech he turned the pages of his New Testament to Mark 16:16 and read, He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be dammed. With this said, he sat down. With huge frustration at the shortness of the old elder's remarks the Baptist champion took his allotted time and again preached faith only. When it was the old elder's turn again for his speech, he slowly turned the pages of his New Testament and found Mark 16:16. With his thin old finger pointing to Mark 16:16, he looked up at the packed house and stated, Yup, it's still there. With this affirmation, enormous good humored laughter filled the meeting house. The debate was over. With open Bibles the crowd of plain, honest people went their own ways.
The Bible does not change. The Word of God, however, will change the hearts of honest men. We must remember and heed: He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the words that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day (John 12:48).
- Donald R. Fox, edited