Confession and the “Plan of Salvation”: Another Texas and Tennessee Difference

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.

9 Responses to “Confession and the “Plan of Salvation”: Another Texas and Tennessee Difference”

  1.   Brian Says:


    I have a question that I would like to preface thusly. I have only recently begun to look into CofC history and have only recently encountered the idea that has been put forth in recent years that much of CofC is heavily influenced by the enlightenment/Age of Reason/rugged individualism, etc.

    You stated that “When the Tennesee Tradition does not agree, it essentially — according to the Texas Tradition — sides with the Baptists…” I am wondering if that is also as much a cultural difference as a theological difference. I don’t know if the data would support this, but I wonder if the TN Tradition was more likely to “side with the Baptists” because there was a larger Baptist population in TN and surrounding areas and smaller Baptist population in and around Texas. If the “culture” around the TN Tradition was more Baptist than that around the Texas Tradition, some of these differences could thus be, at least partially, explained “culturally.” What do you think? Any insight?

  2.   Johnny Melton Says:

    John Mark,
    You write, “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.'” Below are a couple of extreme anecdotes that illustrate this truth. I know the preacher and the church personally in the first and I participated in the second.

    A good friend made the offer of salvation on the basis of faith, repentance and baptism. An elder accused him of being unscriptural because he did not specifically include “confession” as a “step” in his invitation. My friend balked at this legalism, and was eventually forced to out of his pulpit ministry with that church.

    Back in the sixties a professor from Freed-Hardeman led a group of students in a Spring Break campaign with a church in eastern North Carolina. During the course of the week, this professor was hosted by a couple from the church. The wife was a member of the church, but the husband was not. During the week, the professor studied with his host and at the end of the campaign, the professor baptized the man. About seven years later, I was visiting with this professor and told him that I was living in eastern North Carolina. He related the incident above and then told me that over the years as he reflected on it, he could not recall taking the man’s confession of faith before baptizing him. He expressed confidence that during the course of the study the man had indicated that he believed in God, Jesus, the Bible, etc., but he could not recall a specific statement of faith in Jesus as Savior. He also informed me that he had raised this issue with the chairman of the Bible faculty and was told that if it were him, he would want the man to be rebaptized. I was asked to find the man, convey my professor-friend’s concerns, and offer to baptize him. This was thirty-five years ago, and even at that time, I wasn’t convinced that rebaptism was necessary, but I followed through with the request. The sad end of the story is that by the time I met the man and related my professor-friend’s concern the man was no longer attending that church (and I believe that he was divorced). He was somewhat bemused by the notion that he, in fact, might not be a member of “that church.” He sent me on my way with the promise to take my offer of rebaptism “under advisement.”

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Culture is always a factor, I think. David Lipscomb’s family was originally Baptist and there were closer ties to Baptists in the “Tennessee Tradition” on the whole (perhaps). But Baptists were also prominent in Texas. The differences would have some influence, but I think we find in McGary and the Texas frontier a kind of rugged individualism that valued iconoclasm and accentuated differences.

  4.   Terrell Lee Says:

    Many years ago I watched a dad baptize his daughter. I observed that one of the girl’s arm didn’t completely submerge. After the curtains closed I mentioned that to the day, just for his benefit. He responded, “She thinks she did,” which I took to mean that in her heart she completely obeyed God to the best of her ability.

    Sure, there are some things we can’t afford to be wrong about. But is a dot-the-i-cross-the-t approach the answer? I believe strongly in baptism; its theological value is evident in such texts as Rom. 6. But is it God’s intent to punish those who fail to verbally confess Jesus though it is obvious they believe in him or one whose arm doesn’t completely submerge–through no fault of their own!?

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  5.   rich constant Says:

    john mark

    what do the words mean to you
    “we must worship God in spirit and truth”
    god’s judgements are to be upon the thoughts and intents of the faithful one’s hart…and not the period at the end of the words…

    boy oh boy wish i typed well a would amass a lot of verbage

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Johnny, you offer some excellent examples of the kind of “perfectionist” mentality that exalts ritual (sacrifice) over mercy. Thanks.

    Terrell’s comment speaks to the same point though on a different aspect of the perfectionist attitude–immersion means no mistakes, every thing under the water…or else God will judge us, zap us or otherwise let us dangle over the fires of hell for one pinky that did not make it under the water. My, my…what kind of God do we think the Bible offers us? Such precisonism or perfectionism is impossible to live by with any assurance. Thanks.

  7.   rich constant Says:


  8.   clyde s. Says:

    Wow. I had not realized that the Texas tradition held that Lipscomb was more in error than those promoting IM in worship! That sounds like an attempt to prejudice his readership without ever dealing with the truth of Scripture. But when Scripture is not on your side, and you want to be the big man in the brotherhood, what options do you have? I think McGary’s ways got passed on and still linger.

  9.   randall Says:

    When I consider how Thomas and Alexander Campbell and B.W. Stone longed for all Christians everywhere to unite on the common beliefs held by all and then see how some split hairs over who understood precisely what and when they understood it I wonder if they even had a clue as to what our “brotherhood” ancestors envisioned.

    But the study of our history may help us to move to a better place and understanding. I suppose my biggest fear is that “education is not the answer as ignorance is not the problem.”

    Blessings to all or you and especially to John Mark. I do so appreciate your patient endurance and efforts!



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