A gracEmail subscriber from the Churches of Christ asks the origin of the teaching she has heard concerning “five steps” of salvation.
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Walter Scott (1796-1861), a pioneer preacher in the Restoration Movement which produced the Churches of Christ, independent Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ, is credited with inventing what he called “the five-finger exercise,” a mnemonic device using the digits of his own hand. Scott earlier taught that man does three things (believe, repent, be baptized) and that God does three things (forgives sin, gives the Spirit, gives eternal life). Later he combined the final two blessings, creating five steps.
Scott’s emphasis differed radically from the biblical pattern in both Old and New Testaments. In Scripture, God always takes the initiative by performing a mighty saving work. He then tells his people what he has done, and calls on them to respond to his gracious deeds by their own obedience and trust (Ex. 20:1-3; Isa. 43:11-12; 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-12; 3:3-7).
Scott’s arrangement instead had God responding to man’s actions — a confusion that has continued to plague many in the Restoration Movement until the present day. Later preachers replaced Scott’s five steps with “hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.” With that, the shift from the biblical emphasis changed even more, for now God’s work was not mentioned at all, at least not in the “five finger exercise.” I am happy to report that today a great move of the Holy Spirit is sweeping over Churches of Christ and Jesus is being restored to the place of prominence as Savior and Lord which he consistently occupies in the New Testament.