The Fork in the Road: Dialogue with Cougan: The Plan of Salvation, Part 1 of 4

Cougan,

I quoted from your earlier comment,

As [I] run the race of Christianity realizing that one infraction against the pattern/law of the N.T. is a sin and that it is possible for me to break one of those laws unaware, I run the race not with uncertainty, but I rest my confidence in God and His mercy for those sins I do not know I commit. While I cannot a draw a line in the sand and say that x amount of sin done out of ignorance will keep me out of heaven, I don’t worry about such things because I pray on daily basis asking God to forgive me of things I have committed willfully and for those sins I am not aware of. I also ask that if I am guilty of sin unaware that it by some means it might be made known to me so that I can remove that offense from my life. Overall, I put my trust in God, and continue to press forward to the goal of heaven and I make the necessary changes along the way.

As I stated in a later comment, I largely agree with this statement. I asked you whether this statement applies to those in the independent Christian Churches. You’ve declined to answer.

I have no desire to trap you. If this is not truly your position, then please correct it. If it is truly your position, then it surely applies to all who’ve been added to the church.

It’s a critically important question because it focuses on what determines our continued salvation. You see, I’ve said before that 20th Century Church of Christ teaching has two views of apostasy. There’s the rule that you just stated — and stated much better than most — that we remain continuously saved for sins that we are unaware of or committed out of ignorance. Obviously, you don’t condone willful ignorance. It’s just a fact that we all sometimes make the wrong judgment about what the scriptures say or how to interpret them.

The other rule is that all who are guilty of unrepented sin are damned. And many apply this rule with great vigor to those outside the Churches of Christ and to those outside their segment of the Churches. This is the philosophy of Contending for the Faith. It’s the philosophy of many who are much less legalistic as well.

Now, those who damn the independent Christian Churches generally conclude that because they use the instrument, they are guilty of unrepented sin, even though they pray the same prayers as you. And, to me, this is the greatest error of what I call 20th Century Church of Christ theology. It’s hypocritical because it insists on applying one standard to itself and another to others. And in the Churches of Christ, this is the biggest issue we struggle with — because every single division in the 20th Century Churches has been over this issue. Had the Churches applied the standard you assert to others, not a single division would have occurred.

My goal isn’t to trap you but to demonstrate to you that you are right.

Your follow up question is about the Plan of Salvation — and I agree that the Plan of Salvation is a good place to go from here because the Plan of Salvation, well understood, demonstrates my point (and yours) very well.

For the sake of space, let me just say that I don’t greatly disagree with the Plan of Salvation as traditionally taught in the Churches of Christ, going all the way to Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell. I do have some differences, and I’ll explain those here.

“Pattern.” I object to referring to the Plan of Salvation as a “pattern.” I agree with K. C. Moser that “Plan of Salvation” isn’t that good of a term, but “pattern” is much more problematic to me. You see, the scriptures never refer to the way of salvation as a “pattern,” at least not in any translation I’m familiar with. I’m a fan of Alexander Campbell’s advice that we should call Bible things by Bible names.

But my thinking is more fundamental than that. “Pattern” is too man-centered, as though this is something we do all on our own, and the scriptures are much more Christ-centered. I’ve heard the good news preached with barely a mention of Jesus or what he’s done for us. Sometimes it’s all about what we do — and the 5 Steps approach is entirely focused on our side of our salvation. We hear, we believe, we confess, we repent, we submit to baptism. It’s true, but it omits what God does.

The other problem with “pattern” is the term presumes that the pattern must be perfectly replicated to be effective. The least mistake and we didn’t satisfy the pattern and we remain damned. And this is precisely the kind of thinking that Jesus died to rescue us from (Heb 8 – 9, for example).

Baptism. As you know, my view of baptism doesn’t accord with 20th Century Church of Christ theology. Like Campbell and Lipscomb, I don’t believe it’s essential that the convert know his baptism is for the remission of sins at the time of his baptism. It is for remission of sins, but that’s what God does. The scriptures don’t require us to confess our faith in the effects of baptism — because no such faith is required.

Also, as you know, I believe that God no more requires a perfect baptism than perfect faith or perfect repentance. For those who want to delve more deeply into the question, I’ve explained the scriptural basis for my views in Born of Water.

Going deeper. Let’s consider what happens when we restate the Plan in more Christ-centered terms.

First, “hear,” “believe,” and “confess” are all about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can’t believe the good news until we hear it. We can’t be considered a candidate for baptism until we’ve said that we believe.

Second, “repent” does not mean “repent of each and every sin so that you are no longer engaging in any of those sins.” That would require perfection. Rather, the scriptures usually use “repent” in the sense of a change in direction or loyalties.

(Acts 3:19-20)  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus.

(Acts 20:21)  I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

That doesn’t mean that it’s okay to sin. Rather, it means that we turn away from our former lives toward the kind of life God calls us to. You’ve very appropriately quoted Rom 10:9 —

(Rom 10:9)  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Repentance is submitting to Jesus as Lord. That is, repentance is not a one-time “I’m sorry” for what I’ve done in the past. It’s a commitment to live under the authority of Jesus forever.

Thus, we can fairly state in Christ-centered terms —

Hear/believe/confess = accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God

Repent = accept Jesus as Lord

In both cases, “accept” isn’t mere intellectual acceptance. The demons do that. “Accept” means commit to change your life as those truths require.

Now, there’s a great deal of overlap between “believe” and “repent,” as you can’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah and not also believe that he is Lord. Another way of putting it is that “repent” means to put your faith into action, because the faith that saves requires submission to Jesus as Lord.

Of course, the scriptures sometimes use “faith” in both senses, which is why we very often see it stated that all with faith in Jesus are saved, with no reference to penitence, because “faith” can and often does carry that sense —

(John 3:18)  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

The Spirit

When Walter Scott invented the “five-finger exercise,” he excluded “hear” and included “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” You see, he preached all of Acts 2:38.

The Spirit is critically important because the Spirit helps us to actually turn our faith into action. God works in us through the Spirit to help us be faithful to the end.

(Rom 5:5)  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(2 Cor 3:18)  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(2 Th 2:13)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

One of the great mistakes of 20th Century Church of Christ teaching was to minimize the work of the Spirit, leaving Christians with the impression that they are on their own. But the reality is that the Spirit is given to all Christians to help them become more and more Christ-like.

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8 Responses

  1. One of my issues with the “plan” is that only Baptism is something that could be considered a “been there, done that” step. Hearing, Believing, Repenting and Confessing are lifestyles – permanent marks of the Christian, not items to be checked off the list.

  2. “One of the great mistakes of 20th Century Church of Christ teaching was to minimize the work of the Spirit, leaving Christians with the impression that we are on our own. But the reality is that Spirit of Christ is given to each Christian to help us become more and more Christ-like.” I’ve edited the paragraph slightly, as you see. But how true it is! And the more we learn about Jesus, how He lived, how He taught, and how He loved, the greater will be our confidence that He loves US. And most likely, the greater will be the love we return to Him. We need to read the Bible. It’s the TRUTH that will save us. I have a friend who speaks of all the books he reads. He knows some Bible verses well. But the books he reads are Calvinistic and Preteristic. So is he aiming to become more like Jesus by reading about Jesus? I think not. Some days he claims to be a stalwart defender of “the faith.” Other days he claims to be something else, perhaps based on what he has most recently read. Patternism is not educational. It’s not spiritual. It’s deadly. Reading the Bible (and blogs such as this one) is most apt to result in spiritual growth.

  3. When Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10:2 that Israel was “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” there is no doubt he saw it as an outward separation from their life of slavery.

    However, the entire Exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea was the new beginning…WITH MOSES. The phrase ” Into Moses”, or “Unto Moses” depending on the translation, does NOT meant that Moses was on the other side waiting.

  4. Jay, thanks for your response.

    I wish you would email me when you decide to abandon the thread we were in and open up a new one. I just happened to check your main page and discovered you started a new thread. For those who are just now reading this thread, if you are interested in learning the background behind things being discussed, you will need to go to the original thread and then to the 2nd thread as listed here:

    1. http://oneinjesus.info/2010/03/03/the-fork-in-the-road-the-perfectibility-of-the-intellect/#comment-23771
    2. http://oneinjesus.info/2010/03/07/dialogue-with-cougan-answers-to-questions/#comment-23979

    Jay, those who are reading this for the first time or have forgotten what was said in the other threads, might conclude that I am refusing to answer your question about the independent Christian Churches, when in fact I have not refused to answer the question. Here is what I said from the previous thread:

    I am the kind of person that answers EVERY SINGLE question that is asked of me, but experience has taught me that others are mot willing to do the same, so I have had to change the way I do things in discussions like this. I have no problem answering your question and I can give you even more details of section of my text you quoted, but before I will answer (and yes I know where you are going with the question) you need to deal with the argument at hand. I have dealt with what you have said and as far as I know I have left no stone unturned.

    I will go into more depth and explain in more detail of what I mean and how it would apply to the independent Christian Church at a later point. Right now, our focus is finding a common ground from which we can work from. Our first layer we are focusing on is what it takes to become a Christian, yet you spent most of your response off topic talking about what happens after one becomes a Christians. While we will get to the other things, again I ask you to stay focused on our first layer.

    One thing we have agreed on so far is that the “plan of salvation” is a good place to start from. However, you have problem with terms “Plan of salvation” and more so with “Pattern.”

    I am not for sure why you have a problem with either one of these terms because both give us the same idea.

    Plan: A series of steps to be carried out or goals to be accomplished

    Pattern: Plan or create according to a model or models
    If God’s Word tells us what we must do to accept His saving grace, how could we not call it God’s plan or salvation or say that if we follow the pattern of God’s plan we will have salvation?

    Jay I could really care less what these other men from the past have said. I am more interested in what the Bible says. You say the term pattern is too manmade, yet this term is used to describe following God’s commands:

    Numbers 8:4 Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was hammered work. According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

    Hebrews 8:5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

    God had a specific way He wanted the tabernacle built, and He had a specific way He wanted things laid out. He even had specific ways He wanted things done by certain people. To follow God’s commands on this was to follow the pattern.

    To give one N.T. example:

    2 Timothy 1:13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

    The N.T. teachings as taught by Paul can be Scriptural called a “pattern of sound words.” Whether you like or not the term “pattern” is a Biblical name that can be used to describe the commandments given to us in the N.T., which tells us how to be saved. Many more examples could be given, but I am doing my best to keep things as concise as possible.
    You said:

    The other problem with “pattern” is the term presumes that the pattern must be perfectly replicated to be effective. The least mistake and we didn’t satisfy the pattern and we remain damned. And this is precisely the kind of thinking that Jesus died to rescue us from (Heb 8 – 9, for example).

    Jay what happens if you do not follow the pattern of putting a law mower together and you leave out the spark plug. Will that lawn mower ever run? Of course not! The principle of following God’s pattern or I could say commandments have always been necessary. The steps He gives must ALL be carried out. If we take the thought you are trying teach and say that God is not going to care that much if we do not obey all His commands is like saying do not worry about salvation with God because as long as you do some of thing He asks you, you will be fine and make your way into heaven. Then the question would have to be, if I kept one command would that be enough or perhaps two. Jay this kind of logic states that a person can do just about anything they want to, and I know you do not believe that, but that is exactly where this kind of argument leads.

    To use an O.T. example do you think Joshua and his men had to follow the pattern/commands that God gave them to be able to receive the gift of Jericho?
    To use a N.T. example, do you think the blind man that was told to go wash in the pool of Siloam could have went to some other pool or chose not to go to a pool at all and still had his sight restored (Jn. 9)? Do you think the Jews could have become saved on the day of Pentecost if they had only repented and chose not to be baptized (Acts 2:38)?

    We cannot turn God’s commands into a nonpattern theology, otherwise we can justify anything we want to. Instead we should take the advice God gave Joshua a long time ago:
    Joshua 1:7 “Only be s
    trong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
    Yes this is O.T. example, but the principle is the same in the N.T. (Mt. 7:21ff).

    Baptism. As you know, my view of baptism doesn’t accord with 20th Century Church of Christ theology. Like Campbell and Lipscomb, I don’t believe it’s essential that the convert know his baptism is for the remission of sins at the time of his baptism. It is for remission of sins, but that’s what God does. The scriptures don’t require us to confess our faith in the effects of baptism — because no such faith is required.

    Are you serious Jay? Do you realize what you are saying and where it will lead? A simply question would be, “how can a person be baptized for the forgiveness of sin, if they do not know that is for the forgiveness of sin?

    I do agree with you that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin and that God is this one that makes this happen at our baptism. The way we know this is happening is by our faith in the working of God (Col. 2:12). This means that we understand that God is uniting us with Christ in baptism, that are sins are being washed away by the blood of Jesus, and that we are being raised up a new creature in Christ that has been added to the church of by God who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    If we take your example to its bitter end that a person does not need to know that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin then we can trick our denominational friends into be being saved from their sins. Most of the denominations would teach that one must believe, repent, and confess Jesus as Lord so that fulfills what you say is necessary before one can baptized. So, let us invite our denominational friends to go swimming with us and let us dunk them under the water with the idea of them baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Then we can tell them, “I know you don’t know this, but I just baptized you for the forgiveness of your sins. Welcome to the family of God.” This may sound ridiculous to you, but this is one possibility that could be done with the principle you have laid down.

    I hope you are willing to see the ends of your argument on this one and will change your views because I cannot see how one can be baptized without knowing that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin. How could they put their faith in the working of God that there sins are being removed, if they do not know that is happening?

    As far as I can tell, you and I are in agreement on hearing, believing, repenting, and confessing. I have not had a chance to read much of what have said about the Spirit in other places, but I have read enough to know that we have different ideas on that topic. Without getting into deep about the working of the Spirit, I will simply say this; we are not given the gift of the Holy Spirit until we are baptized into Christ for the remission of Sins (Acts 2:38-39). At that point, we are marked as being saved by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit uses His sword, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) to transform us into Christ-centered disciples.

    Correct me if I am wrong Jay. You agree with everything I have said about being saved with the exception of a person needing to know that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin, yet a the same time you do believe that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

    Of course you also had problems with using the word plan or pattern, but I would like to see if you have problem with them in the way I have defined them from Scripture. Perhaps you could provide a better term that would describe obeying God’s commands that He gives in His Word that are necessary to following in order to be saved.

    Whatever term you use (pattern/plan) it shows that there are commandments that we must follow in order to become a Christians. Hence the N.T. does contain commandments/patterns that we must follow in order to be saved. Since that is the case, it should also tell us that the N.T. is full of commands of how we must live our lives as faithful Christians, but we will discuss that part of the foundation later once we iron out this first layer of the foundation.

    I look forward to your response.

  5. If one does not know why they are being baptized, they aren’t really being baptized. They are being made wet. I have never seen a preacher of the CoC who baptized anyone without asking if they believed, and knew why they must be baptized.
    I remember one baptism in particular , a twelve year old that seemed to me to be not ready, and therefore not accountable. The preacher took an extra long time talking to him, and after being satisfied baptized the kid.
    Our eldest Elder said one time he was baptized twice, once for his mother, and once for himself. he was about to go off to war and his mother wanted him to be baptized before he went, so to satisfy his mom he did, years later he learned why he needed to be baptized, and he did. Baptism is a required act of obedience, for remission of sin. If we don’t need to know why we are baptized,it would have to be special water, or a covenant between the preacher and the maker, of course it is neither, the power is in the command, and promise.

  6. “If we don’t need to know why we are baptized,it would have to be special water.” If we don’t need to know why we are baptized, let’s just baptize everyone as babies and let God sort them out.

  7. I do agree with you that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin and that God is this one that makes this happen at our baptism. The way we know this is happening is by our faith in the working of God (Col. 2:12).

    As the scriptures say, we are raised with him through our faith in the operation of God.

    This means that we understand that God is uniting us with Christ in baptism, that are sins are being washed away by the blood of Jesus, and that we are being raised up a new creature in Christ that has been added to the church of by God who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    The scripture doesn’t say that. I can have faith in the working of God without understanding the connection between forgiveness and baptism.

    Romans 6 was written to Christians, instructing them about what happened at their baptism. But those Christians, who hadn’t understood what God did at baptism, were not instructed to be rebaptized.

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