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Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Salvation

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SalvationIn the churches of Christ, we have nearly always followed a set of steps called the “Plan of Salvation”. These are five things that we say a person has to do to be saved. We generally state these steps as hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.

This system was developed by an early Restoration Movement leader named Walter Scott (his steps were believe, repent, confess, be baptized, receive the gift of the Spirit) as a simple method to use with new converts and we still use it today.

A number of questions have come up about the exact meaning of the Plan and whether it should even be used today.

1.Do the five things have to be done in the stated order or does it matter?

2.Do all of the things have to be done for a person to be saved or would you be saved with one or a combination of some?

3.Do the five things have to be done with a certain level of understanding by the convert to be effective?

4.Does the status of the evangelist contribute to the effectiveness of the Plan?

5.Should the Plan be used since it is not specifically mentioned in Scripture.

I hope to answer all of these questions in the new light of being led by the Spirit instead of the Bible and being led by love instead of Law.

ORDER

There has been much debate on whether the order of the Plan of Salvation makes any difference and I think we can answer this question. The Plan of Salvation represents the normal order that an adult convert was saved and accepted into the Church but isn’t necessarily the order that all conversions must take place.

That being said, most converts should come to Christ in this way because there is no reason a person could believe without hearing, repent without believing, truly confess without repenting, or be baptized without confessing. I would not baptize someone who didn’t confess to me that they believed in Jesus and I don’t think that any of you would either.

As far as the legalities go, there is no reason that the order might not be slightly different in some cases. If we were to use Walter Scott’s list, there is a specific Scriptural case in which the Holy Spirit fell on a group of converts before baptism as in the case of the house of Cornelius. This may have been a rare instance, but it proves that such a thing is possible. God can change things if He wants to but I do think that most conversions are of the normal type.

MUST ALL THE STEPS BE DONE TO BE SAVED?

The next question is about how many steps must be done for salvation. This question isn’t asked to excuse the absence of a step but is brought out by the Scriptures themselves. The five steps are never stated completely in any verse. Some verses say that belief alone saves, some say repentance alone, some baptism alone, and some the Holy Spirit alone. Some also combine faith and confession and some combine repentance and baptism. The five are never all stated together, combinations are said to save, and some of the things are said to save all by themselves. What should we make of this?

K.C. Moser answered this question in his book “The Way Of Salvation” but very few in the churches of Christ listened to him. He realized that hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized were actually all faith. Let me explain by breaking down the five steps to show their unity.

Hear – This one is obvious. How can you believe what you haven’t heard? We can say that a person must hear the Gospel to be saved because you can’t have faith without hearing.

Believe – Believe and faith are actually the same word in the Greek and have the same meaning in Scripture. Some people today use “believe” to refer to believing in the mere existence of God and use “faith” to refer to saving believe in Jesus for the remission of sins. This use isn’t what the authors of the Bible intended. Belief is faith and faith is belief.

Repent – A person cannot and will not truly repent without faith. It is also a misconception that “repent” means “to turn away from your sins”. It can have this meaning but in conversion it means to turn from faith in one thing to faith in another. The “repent” part of the Plan of Salvation is specifically about turning to Jesus in faith Really, faith and repentance are the same thing in this case. Repent (like in Acts 2:38) means to turn to faith in Jesus.

Confess – Many things can be confessed and we must be clear about what is being confessed in the Plan of Salvation. Some people think “confess” means that we confess our sins but this isn’t really true. It is fine and appropriate to confess your sins; but this isn’t part of the Plan of Salvation. In the Plan of Salvation we make “The Great Confession” that Jesus is the Son of God. The Plan of Salvation doesn’t include the confession of sin but the confession of faith. In this way the confession is actually faith in that the confessor is saved by the faith that they are confessing.

Baptism – This is where the idea gets a little harder to understand. How can baptism be faith? Well, it really isn’t (this is where I deviate from Moser). Baptism is a gift that God gives us to symbolically experience our salvation. This is how we experience the forgiveness of sins. But here’s the thing; we don’t do baptism, it is done to us. This is also true of the indwelling of the Spirit and is the reason that it doesn’t really belong on the list (although the reason it was taken from the list is quite different).

Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are gifts that God gives us and not things that we do in order to get salvation but things that are done to us. The other 4 steps are really just different ways and parts of talking about being justified by faith. They are really the same thing.

A person would be saved with a combination of the things because they are really all the same thing: faith. A person should not use this fact to neglect any of the steps. If anything, this fact should make us want to to the steps and especially to receive the gifts of God. To reject a gift of God is utter foolishness and I can think of no good reason that anyone would reject it.

LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING

The churches of Christ have struggled with exactly how much understanding a person must have for the steps and gifts to be effective. This is true of baptism especially. How much understanding does a person need in order to be saved?

I think that we would all admit that there is some understanding that needs to take place in salvation. What if someone were to hear the Gospel so incorrectly that it wasn’t even the Gospel at all? Many religions have theories and stories about Jesus but we don’t consider them to be the Gospel, do we?

Yes, there is a point in which the Gospel someone hears would be so inaccurate that they would have to be retaught in order to be considered a Christian but I think that we all have enough sense to know whether this is true. If a person cannot explain the Gospel to you and at very least tell you that Jesus died for their sins and was raised; it is highly unlikely that this person is a Christian.

When it comes to repentance and confession we must remember that the person turned and confessed faith in Jesus Christ and this must still be true in order for this person to be a Christian. Struggling with sin does not stop a person from being a Christian. Actually it is probably a sure fire sign that the person is a Christian. A non-Christian will not struggle with sin because they will not care about it. They won’t be trying to change. A true Christian will have a sin problem that they are trying to change (but there initial confession was only faith in Jesus).

Baptism has been the tough one for us. With such a technical view of correct baptism we have often wondered whether much of the religious world (who we consider to be practicing baptism incorrectly) is actually saved.

If we remember what we discussed about baptism being a gift, we will be able to answer this question in a completely new way. The baptism of a person might be performed in a way that totally misses the point of it and that person would still be saved. Why? Because we are saved by faith and baptism is a gift from God that helps us to experience it.

It is hardly a new converts fault that they are improperly baptized. Isn’t it the evangelist’s responsibility to know how to properly baptize someone? How could the new convert know the meaning of Greek words, Church history, and Scripture well enough to know that their baptism is being improperly administered? Nowhere in Scripture does it say that a person who is improperly baptized has to go back and repeat the process again. When Paul met some people that had been baptized improperly (not knowing about the Holy Spirit), he took the responsibility on himself for rebaptizing them. He did not condemn them for being baptized incorrectly.

We need to stop condemning other Christians for being improperly baptized and start believing that they are accepted based on God’s grace through faith just like we were accepted. We should try to share the gift of proper baptism with any that are willing to accept it but should never question someone’s salvation based on the absence of a gift that they had no control over. An improperly educated evangelist is not going to send you to hell. It is your faith that matters in the end.

EVANGELISTS

I hinted at this during the last section but wanted to specifically answer the question about the evangelist’s Spiritual status and the effectiveness of the baptism he administers.

Since we have already said that baptism is a gift of God it should be apparent that the gift in no way is tainted by the human that administers it. There is no need for any type of ordination in order to administer a baptism. I could baptize you and you could baptize me (although I’ve already been baptized so I wouldn’t ask you to). My Spiritual status would not change the outcome of your baptism. You would still get to experience what God wanted you to experience in the act regardless of what my relationship with Him was like. The Scriptures say nothing of what the evangelist must believe in order to administer valid baptism.

This means that baptisms that are administered at non-church of Christ churches are just as valid as those performed in the church of Christ.

SHOULD THE PLAN BE USED?

I don’t think there is really any harm in using the five step exercise if we realize the following:

1.The steps are all faith and thus we do not deny the idea of justification by grace through faith.

2.We have faith in the historic Christian Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins.

3.We turn toward Jesus and confess our faith in Him.

4.Baptism is a gift that God gives us to experience our salvation and not a work that we do to earn it.

5.Christians who disagree with us about baptism are saved in the same way that we are: by grace through faith.

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