In an earlier post I quoted a piece from G. C. Brewer’s autobiography where he objected to the emphasis that some placed on the plan of salvation rather than on a personal savior. His comment came in the context of discussing the role of confession in the five-step (or is it four-step or three-step?) plan of salvation. Brewer did not think “confession” was a necessary part of the plan of salvation (1945).
This was quite a divisive topic at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. J. W. Jackson, one of the editors of the Firm Foundation, was even asked if a church should withdraw from a person who “contends that the confession before baptism is not essential to the remission of sins” (1897; he had earlier recommended excluding those who did not believe that baptism was for the remission of sins). To his credit Jackson advised bearing with the brother even though he believed that “faith in Christ includes the confession of that faith, for a faith that does not act is a dead faith and valueless.” But the question indicates the intensity of the discussion which did not abate throughout the next decade. J. R. Lane scolded David Lipscomb for his “denial of the clear teaching of God’s word on the subject” and his “presumption in doing in the name of Jesus Christ something that he says ‘no mention is made of in connection with any baptism in the scriptures!’” (1907).
There were three positions among Churches of Christ in the late 19th century: (1) the confession of faith before baptism was not a necessary condition of salvation (Gospel Advocate, Lipscomb, Sewell and the Tennessee Tradition generally), (2) the confession of faith before baptism was a necessary condition of salvation (Firm Foundation, McGary, Jackson, Savage and the Texas Tradition generally), and (3) the exact form of the confession in Acts 8:37 was a necessary condition of salvation (J. P. Nall, editor of the Word of Truth; cf. McGary, 1900).
The seriousness of the question is indicated by how the question is focused in the question “What must I do to be Saved?” which was a standard homily at the time. While A. J. McCarty complained that he had heard a supposedly “loyal” brother preach on the question “and he did not once mention the confession” (1898), Joe S. Warlick took pride in the fact that he “never” puts “confession in the answer” because neither Jesus nor any “inspired apostle ever included it in answer to the question” (1899). Warlick believed that “more than half” of the “strongest preachers in Texas” agreed with him (1900) though the Firm Foundation opposed him. The Tennessee Tradition (David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, etc.) also agreed with Warlick (though he did not call attention to this fact himself).
McCarty did not believe “any man” had a “scriptural right to be silent on this important item in the gospel plan of salvation” and whoever neglects it is “unfaithful.” He advised that those who do not teach and practice the confession should be marked and avoided as Romans 16 teaches. “Brethren, will we do it?” was his concluding question.
Warlick insisted that there were “only three conditions in the plan of salvation to the alien” and Jesus himself stated them in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; and Luke 24:45-47). “And the apostles in preaching to sinners never hinted at a fourth, but used only three” (1900). Warlick even offered $100 to the person who could “produce chapter, verse or any fractional part thereof” for this fourth step (confession) in the New Testament (1901).
All the editors of the Firm Foundation insisted on a confession of faith prior to baptism as a “necessary condition of salvation” in the plan of salvation. McGary, for example, believed it was “necessarily implied” in the Great Commission (1900). George Savage argued in this manner: “Since ‘the faith’ is the gospel, and since the confession is part of the faith preached everywhere to both Jew and Greek by the apostles of Christ, it follows that the confession is part of the gospel. Since the gospel in all its parts is essential to salvation, it follows with all fidelity to God that the confession is necessary to salvation” (1904). Confession, then, is one of the commands of the gospel just like baptism and therefore it is absolutely necessary to salvation.
Why was this so important for the editors of the Firm Foundation? What was driving the pursuit of this controversy? It is related to the rebaptism controversy. Since Baptists confessed that their sins had already been forgiven, this is not the “good confession” required in the New Testament, according to McGary and others. Referring to Lipscomb and Sewell as “unstable souls,” McGary believed that “were it not for the practice of receiving Baptists on their baptism (who did not make this confession when they were baptized),” it would not be an issue at all (1901). But Lipscomb and Sewell continued to insist that even Baptists were immersed upon a confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—the same confession upon which Alexander Campbell himself was immersed. Consequently, they were forced, in McGary’s opinion, to deny that confession was a necessary condition since the confession Baptists made was not the same as the “good confession” in the New Testament.
According to McGary, the combination of accepting sect baptism and denying the necessity of confession as a condition of salvation far exceeds the seriousness of the “advocacy of instrumental music in worship and human societies in the work of the Lord.” Though the instrument and socities are “great evils,” they “do not begin to compare in their enormity of crime against God, with this most gigantic and presumptuous sin of virtually endorsing Baptist doctrine, which openly contradicts Christ” (1901). Lipscomb and the Gospel Advocate were in error on the plan of salvation and this was more serious than instrumental music!
The confession and rebaptism issues, then, were bound up together for the Texas Tradition. Both commands are part of the gospel itself (the gospel includes facts, commands and promises–the standard mantra that enables “gospel” to include every command in the NT if so construed). Confession is a command by necessary inference and baptism for the explicit purpose to remit sins is based on reading “for the remission of sins” in Acts 2:38 as part of the command. These particular gospel commands distinguished Churches of Christ from the Baptists. Lipscomb believed both “commands” were “ritualism” since they had been made an “essential form” where some “valued the form above the substance” (Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, pp. 97-98).
When the Tennessee Tradition does not agree, it essentially—according to the Texas Tradition—sides with the Baptists and undermines the distinct identity of Churches of Christ. Steps (4) and (5) in the Texas plan of salvation—confession and baptism for the remission of sins (see a previous post on this point)—function to distinguish Churches of Christ from the Baptists. In other words, this peculiar, distinctive and late (1880s forward) understanding of the “gospel plan of salvation” is sectarian in character and functions to exclude obedient believers (e.g., those who were immersed out of a trust in Christ in obedience to God) from the visible church of God, the fellowship of the church.
The debate over the place of “confession” in the plan of salvation, then, was but another part of constructing the 20th century identity of Churches of Christ. Anyone who grew up in the Churches of Christ of the mid-twentieth century can testify to the unquestioned assumption that there were five steps in the plan of salvation and the fourth one was “confession.” But it had not always been so among “us”! Historically, it became so out of largely—though not exclusively—sectarian motives.
For further examples of the Texas-Tennessee difference, see that category under “Stone-Campbell History” in the Serial Index.
G. C. Brewer, “Confession and the Plan of Salvation,” Gospel Advocate 87 (26 April 1945) 233.
J. W. Jackson, “Question,” Firm Foundation 13 (30 Nov 1897) 4.
J. R. Lane, “Brother Lipscomb on the Confession,” Firm Foundation 23 (13 August 1907) 1.
David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, edited by J. W. Shepherd (Cincinnati, Ohio: Rowe Publishers, 1918).
Austin McGary, “Bro. M’Gary’s Good Confession,” Firm Foundation 16 (20 November 1900) 775.
Austin McGary, “Unstable Souls,” Firm Foundation 17 (10 September 1901) 4.
Austin McGary, “[Untitled Editorial],” Firm Foundation 16 (29 May 1900) 344.
George W. Savage, “The Confession—It is a Condition of Salvation—No. 2,” Firm Foundation 20 (20 Dec 1904) 4.
Joe. S. Warlick, “Bro. M’Gary’s Good Confession,” Firm Foundation 16 (20 November 1900) 774.
Joe S. Warlick, “Bro. M’Gary’s Good Confession,” Firm Foundation 16 (5 February 1901) 4.
Joe S. Warlick, “The True Position on the Confession,” Firm Foundation 15 (16 May 1898) 312.