Is Confession a “Step of Salvation”?

Of all the so called Steps of Salvation, the Step of CONFESSION is the most tenuous.  According to Boring (p395-400), Walter Scott first presented the “Steps of Salvation” or “Five Finger Exercise” in 1827.  The earliest presentations did not include the step of Confession.  Although, by 1848 some lists of “Steps” did include confession.

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Confession of Faith became well established as part of the Plan of Salvation.  So I was surprised in my reading to find a couple of respected voices dissenting from the generally accepted view.

Boring (396) states that,

In the 1860s David Lipscomb acknowledged “faith, repentance, confession, baptism” as standard undisputed doctrine. (Queries and Answers 6-7) Making the confession that Jesus is the Christ was already becoming an “essential” part of the initiation ritual, so that Lipscomb could even question this understanding as too rigid. (Queries and Answers 96-97)

Apparently over time Lipscomb’s view of confession changed considerably, so by the time his commentary on Romans was published he challenged the idea that confession should be listed as a step of salvation at all.  Or at least to the extent that it was understood as a formal statement prior to baptism.  Here are David Lipscomb‘s reflections on Romans 10:9:

I do not understand this as referring to a formal confession of faith before baptism, for the following reasons : In the commission, in its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost, and in the examples of conversion recorded in Acts of Apostles, there is no example of a formal confession being required as a precedent to baptism, unless the case of the eunuch be regarded as such.  In reference to this, it is claimed by the textuary critics generally that the confession there recorded is an interpolation… But if this [the Eunuch] does not require the confession, the singular fact is presented that in the Scriptures a condition of salvation is left out of all the precepts and examples concerning remission, and is to be found only in a reference in a letter to Christians as to what had been required.  Then it is necessary that at every step of the religious life, even after one has grown old in the service of the Lord, with the mouth confession must be made unto salvation, and with the heart he must believe unto righteousness.  He must live by and walk through faith unto the end.  It is just as necessary that confession of Christ should be made at all times or Christ will not own us.  But that any formal confession was required before baptism, more than at any other step of his religious life, is not clear.  Confession of Christ in our words is necessary.  It is necessary in coming to Christ and in all the Christian life.  I am sure that the questions and obedience on the day of Pentecost were an acceptable confession.  So at the house of Cornelius and in all other instances.

David Lipscomb & JW Shepherd, Romans (2nd ed, 1943), 190-191.

He expresses my understanding of the issue well.

The following paragraph from Jimmy Allen also surprised me.

The Bible nowhere teaches that a formal confession of faith before baptism is essential to salvation.  If it does, why is it left out as a condition in the great commission? Why is it not found in any of the conversions recorded in Acts? The Eunuch’s statement of faith in Acts 8:37 (scholars feel this is an interpolation because of a lack of textual evidence to support it) was no a formal confession made to satisfy on of the “steps” in the plan of salvation.  Philip questioned him to learn if he truly believed in Jesus.  One must acknowledge Jesus as Lord prior to baptism and during the whole of his Christian life, but, as far as formal confession is concerned, God’s word does not command such.

Jimmy Allen, “Survey of Romans” (1992), p92.

Allen gives credit to Lipscomb and also references G.C. Brewer’s Autobiography.

I don’t really have any more to add.  You can read more of my thoughts on the topic here.  I didn’t want to extend my original post, so I included these quotes as a separate article.  I hope you find it interesting too.  There probably are others out there asking these questions.  Fell free to post a link by adding a comment if you know of other relevant articles.

I also discuss this topic a little more and provide some links here.

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2 comments

  1. K. Rex Butts

    Interesting. I’ve never asked anyone being baptized to recite some formal confession. I’ve only asked them if they believe in Jesus as the Son of God, Lord and Savior. Having said that, baptism is itself a confession acted out (at least, that is how the Anabaptist movement understood baptism).

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  2. ozziepete

    In my upbringing the person being baptised was asked, “Who do you believe Jesus Christ is?” They’d then been coached to say “I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour.” But sometimes they would forget the formula and we would hear the most wonderful statements of faith! 🙂

    In my experience in US Churches of Christ it’s been dumbed down so they only have to say, “Yes”. It’s probably more efficient to just say “yes” if it’s after a worship service and 500 people have stuck around to witness it, or there’s a 2nd service in 30 minutes, BUT, I think we lose something important.

    I don’t think I could argue with anyone who practiced “baptism as confession”, regardless of whether or not that’s what I practice.

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