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By Earl Kimbrough (submitted by Bryan Matthew Dockens)

In his trial for heresy, held at the Popular Creek Baptist Church in Limestone County, Alabama soon after the War Between the States, R.W. Officer was questioned about his teaching on baptism. He was suspected by his fellow Baptist preachers of advocating what they called "Campbellism". Dr. J.R. Graves, the influential editor of the Tennessee Baptist, had been called in to lead the examination of Officer in an effort to expose the heresy of their unorthodox brother. The part of the trial that involved baptism proceeded as follows:

GRAVES: I have been informed that you make baptism a condition of pardon; in other words, you teach water salvation. When is the sinner pardoned?

OFFICER: Paul says the sinner is freed from sin when he obeys from the heart that form of doctrine delivered him (Romans 6:17, 19). 'Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.' I take it that we rise from the waters of baptism to walk 'in newness of life' (Romans 6:1-5).

GRAVES: But what will you do with what Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: 'Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:26)?

OFFICER: I will do with that just what I have done with the rest of the sentence - viz., believe it. It reads: 'For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.' (Galatians 3:27)."

GRAVES: But what does that mean?

OFFICER: It means just what it says.

GRAVES: What do you believe are the conditions of pardon or remission?

OFFICER: I believe just what the Bible says on the subject.

GRAVES: But what is your interpretation of what the Bible says on the subject?

OFFICER: I suppose I have no interpretation of the Bible on any subject.

GRAVES: But you have; all denominations have their interpretations of the Bible. We, as Baptists, teach that repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ secures pardon. What do you think about that?

OFFICER: The Bible says: 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:5). 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved' (Mark 16:16). To believers, Peter said: 'Repent, and be baptized... for the remission of sins' (Acts 2:38).

GRAVES: We all believe the Bible as strong as you do. Tell us what your interpretation of the texts you have quoted is. That is what we want to get at.

OFFICER: My interpretation is exactly what I have quoted, in other words, I have no interpretation of it. I simply believe it, just as it is written.

GRAVES: Do we understand you to say that all who are not baptized will go to hell, are eternally lost?

OFFICER: I did not say so.

GRAVES: But the quotations you have made lead us to believe that is your opinion.

OFFICER: I have only quoted the Scriptures.

GRAVES: But do you or do you not believe that the un-baptized will all be lost in hell forever? ...Do you believe these pious un-baptized people will all go to hell? Answer yes or no."

OFFICER: Yes or No.

GRAVES: Which do you say? Let us not have any foolishness about it. Do you believe the un-baptized will go to hell?

OFFICER: My faith is not in the direction of hell. I am not well posted on that end of the road.

GRAVES: The brethren want to know where you stand.

OFFICER: Faith, repentance, and baptism are conditions which belong to time and look to the remission of sins of the past. Love that never fails is the eternal condition which looks to the new life and everlasting salvation and happiness.

GRAVES: Then you do not believe that baptism is a condition in order to salvation?

OFFICER: 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved' looks to salvation from sins of the past, doesn't it? If it were salvation in heaven, all would rise form the waters of baptism into heaven and enjoy eternal life.

During the past century it was common for denominational preachers like Officer to study their way out of denominationalism. Their honesty in preaching what they found in the Bible without regard to human creeds brought them into conflict with their orthodox brethren. But a young man of limited education who took the Bible as his only guide as this excerpt from Officer's heresy trial indicates, could hold his own with the most astute advocates of sectarianism.

"Grace and peace be with you. Amen." Bryan Matthew Dockens, evangelist

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