Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rethinking the 5-Finger Exercise

Last week was intense for me. 5 days of solid class and a 6th day with a big nasty test. I learned a lot about the American Restoration Movement, but I think I learned a lot more about how American history helped to shape our thinking and approach to religion. Not just in the Restoration Movement, but most of the denominations that sprang up in America all have some similar philosophies at their roots. I may blog some on that later, but for now: the 5 Finger Exercise.

In churches of Christ, we are very adamant about having "No Creed But the Bible". In general, I think this is a good thing. No matter how well-written a creed might be, because it is written by men and is meant to summarize key concepts in the Bible, it's always going to be lacking something somewhere. It doesn't bother me that in churches of Christ we don't recite creeds.

At the same time, even if we resist the term "creed", at some point it becomes necessary for Christians to state what they believe in clear, presentable ways. When someone asks you who you think Jesus was, you can't just quote Scripture at them. At some point you have to say, "I believe..."

Even though we don't have a "Creed", the one thing that seems to be repeated more than anything is our "Plan of Salvation"; a.k.a. the Five-Finger Exercise:
1. Hear (Rom. 10:14-17)
2. Believe (Mark 16:16)
3. Repent (Acts 2:38)
4. Confess (Matt. 10:32-33)
5. Be Baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21)
And some like to throw in...
6. Live faithfully until death (take THAT, Calvinism!)

Certainly, the plan has come under attack from time to time. Just like anything that is summarized by man, there will be things that are under emphasized. K.C. Moser caught a lot of flack when he pointed out that instead of focusing so much on the "plan" of salvation, we should focus more on the "Man" of salvation.

And it's true, Jesus' name is not mentioned in our 5 steps. I think we would probably contend that Jesus is meant to be at the center, because he is the one to whom we listen, in whom we believe, whom we confess, in whom we are baptized, and for whom we live. Even so, if this plan is the depth of our Christian knowledge, then Jesus is significant only as the one who got this plan of salvation in place. Unless we follow up with good Bible study, we miss out on the role that Christ should have in our lives, not to mention the Holy Spirit.

I have no problem with any of the "plan" that we typically use, but it is vital that we continue to teach our people after they have been baptized into Christ. These 5 Steps alone might work in getting us into Christ, but they alone do not provide the nourishment that our souls need to grow.

I learned some interesting stuff this week, though, about the 5 steps. For one, they originate with Walter Scott, someone who was Alexander Campbell's right-hand man. But what I find more interesting is that they were not originally the same 5 steps that we typically refer to.

Walter Scott's original 5 Finger Exercise went like this:
1. Faith
2. Repentance
3. Baptism
4. Remission of Sins
5. Holy Spirit & Eternal Life

(And yes, I see that he really put in 2 on step five. I guess we're trying to keep it all on one hand)

There are some things I really like about Scott's original plan. My teacher, Dr. Edward Robinson, pointed out that in the 5 Steps we use now, the emphasis is more on what WE do. I can see how some people would conclude that our view promotes a works-based salvation, if all they've seen of our teaching is the 5 Steps.

But look at these original ones. Faith is something we do. Repentance is something that we do. But three of the steps here are actions of God!

Baptism is an act of submission where in truth, God is acting. It is not a work that you do...you can't baptize yourself! Also, Scott emphasizes the remission of sins, which is what God does when we're baptized. And then there is his Holy Spirit & Eternal life step. Again, nothing that we do here.

I like the fact that Scott's 5 "Steps" doesn't even lend itself well to speaking in terms of "steps" because so much of it involves the actions of God. Rather than it being "Here's 5 things that you have to do to be saved", it is "Here are 5 things you should understand about how a person is saved."

At least, that's how I perceive it.

I'm not really advocating that we should revert to his original 5 Finger Exercise. I'm also not arguing that the present one is better than the former. To me, this is all a reminder that when we try to reduce the Word of God to formulas or creeds, there is always going to be room to improve what we've summarized because something will get left out. In churches today, I'm convinced we've got to strive for more Biblical literacy among our members. When people are only taught part of the Word of God, it only leads to more division; often with both of the disagreeing parties having huge gaps in their theological understanding.


  1. Mark-appreciate your thoughts. While I would not disagree with the necessity of each step, the formulation unfortunately reinforces the concept of some that the law of Christ is not a law of faith but a law of works, making obediencece the primary Christian quality. I suggest God saves by grace through faith which obeys in love, not by works.
    Arland Pafford

  2. Arland,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words.

    I agree, there is definitely potential to think about salvation in terms of it being some sort of work we do when we use words like "plan" and "steps" to talk about it.

    In the end, despite some shortcomings in the terminology, I hope we are teaching that it is Christ who saves us, and who extends to us the opportunity to be saved. I don't believe we earn or achieve this opportunity, though I do believe we have the option of accepting or rejecting Christ's offer.

    Thanks for the comment. You're welcome here any time.