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by Al Maxey

Issue #710 ------- December 14, 2016
You are not saved by the plan of salvation;
You are saved by the Man of salvation.

Adrian Rogers (1931-2005)

The Five Finger Exercise
Walter Scott's Mnemonic Device

St. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), an Italian Dominican priest and theologian, one of the most influential of all the medieval scholastics, made this observation a year before his death: "Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do" [Two Precepts of Charity]. I provide this quote not for the purpose of promoting as Truth his expressed point of view, but rather to illustrate the human tendency to try and express perceived spiritual truths, tenets and principles in an orderly list of particulars deemed essential to faith and fellowship. The OT poets were fond of this, and such numeric listings can be found time and again. "There are six things which the Lord hates; yes, seven which are an abomination to Him" (Proverbs 6:16) is one of the better known, and in the verses following this declaration the psalmist lists those items of which he spoke. Similarly, Aquinas listed what he believed to be the three necessary steps to salvation. Others have for centuries sought to do the same. The length of these lists varies greatly, as do the salvific "necessities" that are enumerated therein. Even Santa Claus is said to be making a list, checking it twice, to determine who is naughty or nice. Yes, we love making lists, yet the problem is: too often these humanly devised lists take on the nature of divinely inspired law: a legalistic listing of those things to which one must submit if one is to be saved (or even to have fellowship with those making the list).

In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul provides a long list of the characteristics of Love. In Galatians 5 he further lists the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit. We humans like lists. In fact, in my personal library I have a 400 page book by H. L. Willmington titled: "Book of Bible Lists," in which the author provides over 350 lists found in the Bible. Generally, when men make such lists, it doesn't take them long to come up with ways to remember the items on these lists. This is known as mnemonics, which are "memory devices that help learners recall larger pieces of information, especially in the form of lists, like characteristics, steps, stages, parts, phases, etc." For a good discussion of the various types of mnemonics Click Here. One of the best known mnemonic devices within my own faith-heritage is the "Five Finger Exercise" developed by Walter Scott (1796-1861). This was Scott's way of helping children, and later adults, remember the so-called "plan of salvation" by using the five digits of one's hand. Thus, by counting off each finger one could thereby proclaim to others the particulars of how to be saved (as per the understanding of Walter Scott). Over the years, many within "Churches of Christ" have used this "Five Finger Exercise," although its use was not without some degree of controversy, for not all within my heritage (especially in more recent times) have agreed with Scott's list of "essentials." Interestingly, even Walter Scott himself later had concerns about the mnemonic device he had created. More on that later. First, let's take a brief look at just who this leading figure in the Stone-Campbell Movement was, and how this contributed to the devising of this device.

Walter Scott was born on October 31, 1796 in the town of Moffatt, Scotland. He was the sixth child (of ten children: five boys, five girls) of John and Mary (Innes) Scott, who were devout Christians and members of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). Walter's father earned his living as a music teacher. "They harbored hopes that their son Walter would become a Presbyterian minister. To this end, when Walter was 16, his parents supported his journey to the University of Edinburgh" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 673]. Six years later, in 1818, Walter completed his studies and graduated from the university. In July of that same year, at the invitation of his mother's brother, George Innes (who operated a customs house for the government, and was fairly comfortable financially), he left Scotland for New York, where he soon secured a job teaching English, Latin and Greek at a classical academy on Long Island.

A year later (May, 1819), Walter decided to move to Pittsburgh, where he soon met George Forrester (also an immigrant from Scotland), who was a minister of a small Haldanian Church and the principal of an academy, at which Walter was quickly employed as a teacher. The two men became close friends very quickly, and they studied the Scriptures together daily to improve their understanding. "Over the course of the next year, Forrester helped to shape Scott's approach to Christian faith, particularly his understandings of the church, the Bible, and baptism" [ibid]. Walter Scott, as a result of this in-depth study, became convinced that immersion in water was the biblical mode of baptism, and thus he was baptized in this manner by Forrester. "From this point on, he advocated baptism by immersion for believers as the only authentic form of baptism" [ibid]. The following year (July 7, 1820) George Forrester drowned in the Allegheny River, and Scott took over leadership of both the school and the congregation which Forrester had led, taking these new responsibilities very seriously. Not long thereafter he came across a pamphlet written by Henry Errett on the topic of baptism that further refined his views on this subject. He became convinced that baptism was for the purpose of "remission of sins," rather than being simply an ordinance of the church. In other words, this act secured something, rather than just symbolizing something. As a result of his teaching and preaching, Walter Scott's popularity grew over the next few years, as did his congregation and his academy (from 15 students to 140). His theology was also becoming transformed, and he increasingly became convinced that some kind of reform was needed in the church to bring disciples into greater compliance with his newly formed understandings.

In the winter of 1821-22, Alexander Campbell paid a visit to the home of Robert Richardson in Pittsburgh, and during that visit it just so happened that Walter Scott was present. "Campbell described for Scott his work with the Redstone Baptist Association and talked of beginning a new journal. When the journal began the next year, Scott regularly contributed articles" [ibid, p. 675]. Indeed, Scott was the one who came up with the name for the journal: "The Christian Baptist" (Campbell had originally wanted to call it simply "The Christian"). That same year (1823), Walter married Sarah Whitsette, and over the next decade they had six children together. Three years after marrying Sarah, the family moved to Ohio where he began working with Campbell's group, who were at that time associated with the Mahoning Baptist Association. He was soon employed by this group as their traveling evangelist among the churches of this association on the Western Reserve, as well as other locations in Ohio. His calling was to encourage them and help them grow. It was "during his term as an evangelist for the Mahoning Baptist Association (1827-30) in Ohio, Scott developed the Five Finger Exercise as a summary of the plan of salvation used for preaching and teaching purposes. Typically, Scott would ride into a village and find a group of children. He would have them hold up their left hands and, beginning with the thumb, point to each finger and repeat the words 'faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.' He often paired 'and eternal life' with the Holy Spirit, on the little finger. The children would repeat the game until they had mastered the 'faith in their fingers.' He would then send them to their homes to tell their parents that a man would preach that same gospel that night at the schoolhouse. They were not to forget to tell their parents the faith of their hands" [ibid, p. 338].

At this point, let us interrupt our examination of the life of Walter Scott and take a closer look at his "Five Finger Exercise," which was to have a tremendous influence upon the developing Stone-Campbell Movement, which would later separate into three distinct denominations: Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and Church of Christ. As Scott considered how best to answer the timeless question of seekers, "What must I do to be saved?," he "concluded that first a person must have faith, repent, and be baptized. In response to these human actions, God would provide remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. Several generations of Disciples learned this formula of salvation under the rubric of the 'five finger exercise,' with the fifth finger, for convenience' sake, standing for both the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life" [ibid, p. 675]. At first, therefore, Scott actually had six points to his "plan of salvation," with three being actions (both inward and outward) required of man and three being responsive actions by God. This certainly did not agree with much of the theology of those who took a more Calvinistic view of salvation, with an emphasis on God's sovereignty. The latter focused on man's response to God; the former focused on God's response to man. Scott's theology, in many ways, had flipped the emphasis in how salvation was understood. Needless to say, in time this would cause a rift between the new movement and its former association with both the Presbyterians and the Baptists. "Though Alexander Campbell questioned the wisdom of the move, Walter Scott convinced him to allow the separation to proceed. From that point on, the Reformers became Disciples, and they began their journey toward new ecclesiastical status, joining with Barton Stone's Christians in 1832" [ibid].

Scott firmly believed that "baptism was the pivotal step" [ibid, p. 338] in one's salvation: all else led to that one point, and God's grace was only conveyed when that point was reached (and only when this act was performed as an immersion in water). In time, this focus and emphasis would become one of the distinguishing marks of this growing movement, especially within the two denominational segments known as Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Indeed, other groups would begin ridiculing and disparaging this dogmatism by characterizing it as "the five finger formula of the Campbellites," and "the five steps of water salvation," and "the five finger creed of the Church of Christ." Those within this movement were labeled as "five steppers," and they were said to be "bound to a system not a Savior." In generations to come within the Stone-Campbell Movement, especially within that group denominated "Church of Christ," the points of Scott's "Five Finger Exercise" would be radically altered to reflect this change of focus. It would become "Five Steps" to salvation, and they are declared to be: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Dr. Leroy Garrett summed this problem up well, saying, "Our 'five steps' list what man is to do, nothing about what God does. And that may go far in explaining what has happened to us. It is up to us to 'get it right,' step by step! We've got to 'get it right.' This led us into legalism, and legalism led us into factionalism" ["What Happened to Walter Scott's Fifth Finger?", published in his occasional newsletter Once More With Love, April, 2001]. As Dr. Garrett points out in this article, "The old evangelist's hand had undergone some radical surgery!" In essence, the work of God in salvation was removed entirely, and the work of man in salvation was emphasized instead. Law had replaced love; works had replaced grace.

Later in life, even Walter Scott himself, as he witnessed the growing alteration of his "five finger exercise," lamented the direction this movement of disciples was taking. "He felt his plea for the ancient gospel had turned into a simplistic formula (a five finger exercise) that made it too easy for hearers to miss the profound basis upon which the ancient gospel had always rested: the proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God!" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 678]. He further lamented this "rage for creedification" [ibid] that was separating disciples from one another, and leading to factions with the Family of God. Such was/is inevitable when, in our effort to understand salvation, our focus shifts from God to man; from grace to works. G. C. Brewer, who happens to be a cousin of mine, wrote the following in The Gospel Advocate in 1932: "Some have been wont to show that there is a human side and a divine side to salvation, and in doing so they have made the human coordinate with the divine. Worse, in the minds of some, the divine has been completely ruled out and salvation made a matter of human achievement -- except that the 'plan' was divinely given. The gospel was made a system of divine laws for human beings to obey and thus save themselves sans grace, sans mercy, sans everything spiritual and divine -- except that the 'plan' was in mercy given!" In short, God's part in all this was giving us a list of things to DO, and when this was done His gift would be bestowed. However, this turned a free gift into wages earned, and the purity of the gospel message has been tainted by this heresy for generations.

"God provided a Savior -- not a checklist -- to save mankind from sin. God did not provide a staircase for man to ascend; He provided a Savior, who descended to earth to lift mankind up. ... If we give people the impression that we save ourselves by ascending a staircase, then I'm afraid our gospel shortcut has unintentionally perverted the gospel. ... My confidence comes not from my having accomplished five tasks on a list, but from what Jesus accomplished on the cross!" [Wes McAdams, "Why I'm Not Fond of the Phrase: 'The 5 Steps of Salvation'," January 27, 2016; Wes preaches for the Baker Heights Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas; this article appeared on his blog site: Radically Christian]. K. C. Moser (see my tribute to this great proclaimer of God's grace: Reflections #392) took a lot of heat from his fellow disciples when he dared to observe that instead of focusing so much on the plan of salvation, we should instead be focusing more on the Man of salvation: Jesus Christ. Nowhere in our "five steps" (which devolved from the "five fingers") is the name of Jesus ever mentioned. When Jesus is no longer the center of our salvific focus, we have lost our way! Sadly, many in my own faith-heritage have taken this doctrinal detour. Even Walter Scott himself saw it beginning to happen, and he was not pleased. In a letter to another leader in the Movement (P. S. Fall), Scott wrote, "When you express your doubts of the matters connected with the recent Reformation I sympathize with you, for the thing has not been what I thought it would be by a thousand miles. We are indeed 'a sect' differing but little, of anything that is good, from the parties around us. Alas! My soul is grieved every day."

"In time, it became evident that the ideal envisioned by Stone and Campbell had been lost, especially when that Movement which had been launched 'to unite the Christians in all the sects" itself fractured into two churches, then three, then numerous splinter groups" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, p. 16]. Although the Movement had noble intentions from it's inception, it nevertheless, like most human endeavors, got sidetracked. The same was true of Walter Scott's efforts to simplify what he perceived to be God's "plan of salvation" (a phrase he coined). He sought a balance between God's part and man's part, yet it too was soon taken over by others and reframed to show only man's part, leaving the divine out of the equation entirely. This, sadly, reflected a similar and greater departure throughout the Movement, and we today, in my own faith-heritage, are suffering the consequences of this shift. A dear brother and friend, Bobby Valentine, observed, "As others adopted Scott's method, the Ancient Gospel markedly shifted emphasis. As my friend Jeremy Folding once said, what we have now is the Five Finger Discount (hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized for the remission of sins). Even a cursory glance shows this is a radical departure from the original formulation by Scott. It is a human centered formula. In Scott, the emphasis is on what God does in response to faith in the Messiah. The Holy Spirit and Eternal Life simply disappear altogether. Remission of sins has been converted from a divine gift to being part of a command to be obeyed. ... Baptism became the Golden Oracle rather than Jesus the Messiah. An incipient legalism was creeping in and clouding the vision, or so Scott believed. The 'Ancient Gospel' had been 'watered' down. ... Scott pointed us first to the WHO of our faith and never let his hearers forget what God had done, is doing, and will do for us. Remission is the gift of God, not some command we can humanly fulfill. ... Perhaps we should think afresh what is the creed of Christianity! Christ is the Golden Oracle, not baptism" [Bobby Valentine, Walter Scott and the Origins of the Five Finger Gospel, an article posted on March 19, 2009 to his blog site "Stoned Campbell Disciple"].

"For Scott, the fundamental principle upon which all other propositions rested was the one declared by Peter in Matthew 16:16 -- Christ is 'the Messiah, Son of the living God.' Scott called this fundamental principle the 'Golden Oracle.' He described it as a 'first principle' within Christianity, 'the fundamental proposition of the whole religion' ... the one self-evident proposition that served as the foundation for both salvation and the construction of the church" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 677]. Although Walter Scott certainly had the best of intentions with his "Five Finger Exercise," it nevertheless had within its formulation a flaw that would in time lead to the religious mess we find ourselves in today. It displayed God's grace as something acquired as the direct result of human attitudes and actions. Although Scott sought to show a balance, those enamored by law quickly removed the "God parts" of the exercise and reduced it to five steps in which mankind was the sole focus. Prior to his own death, Walter Scott saw where this was heading, and how such a theology had sidetracked a Movement and was sending it down a path far from the one he had hoped it would take. We had lost sight of the true Golden Oracle, and were instead preaching and teaching a "plan" above the "Man." It became all about what WE do, not about what HE did.

Returning to the life of Walter Scott, we find that in the latter half of his life he began to experience numerous losses and hardships. Not only was he witnessing the devolution of a Movement into feuding factions, and the diminished theological focus upon Christ and God's grace, but he was experiencing personal loss as well. "When Walter Scott died on April 23, 1861 in Mayslick, Kentucky, he was a broken man. ... Opposition mushroomed, and Scott became the storm center. Along with the joys of hundreds of converts were the hurts of scores of detractors. Scott's health wavered; the 'burnout' (as we call it now) had taken its toll. He also had buried two wives: Sarah Whitsette (who died in April, 1849), wife of his young adulthood and mother of six of his children; and Nannie Allen (who died of consumption in November, 1854, less than four years after their marriage), mother of his daughter Carrie Allen. Depression seized him. ... looking for consolation, he married a wealthy widow, Eliza Sandridge. Though this marriage brought Scott into comfortable financial circumstances, it was otherwise a disastrous alliance" [Dr. Charles R. Gresham, a retired professor at Kentucky Christian College, "Bicentennials & What They Teach: Reviewing the Influence of Walter Scott," Leaven magazine, vol. 5, issue 2, p. 3-4].

The last two years of his life (1860-1861) he basically retreated to his house, even refusing Communion, because of his concern over the country, which was on the verge of a deadly war between the states, and the church, which was departing from the Golden Oracle of Christ and dividing with one another over personal dogmas. He wrote, "What could Communion mean when Christian brothers are refusing to be bound into one body within the nation?!" His depression led him to a physically weakened state; he became ill with pneumonia, and soon thereafter passed from this life. "Perhaps the greatest contribution that Walter Scott made to a beginning movement was an emphasis, not upon 'five finger exercises' ... but upon the centrality of Jesus as the Messiah in God's great scheme of redemption. ... One did not preach 'baptism for the remission of sins,' but Jesus as the Messiah. The 'golden oracle,' which occupied the central focus of Scott's thought, was 'Jesus is the Messiah'" [ibid, p. 5].

"Though I am sure Walter Scott felt that his contribution went unrecognized in his own declining years, the verdict of history has proved him wrong. It is to Walter Scott that a grateful movement owes its inception" [ibid, p. 4]. "The Church of Christ in the United States originated in the upper reaches of the Ohio valley at the beginning of the nineteenth century in conjunction with the tide of frontiersmen, moving ever westward to possess the seemingly limitless expanse of virgin land. It evolved from the cooperative labors of reform preachers Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott" [Dr. Stephen Eckstein, History of the Churches of Christ in Texas, p. 328; Steve is a good friend, and was one of my professors at the university I attended, and the chairman of the graduate committee for my MA degree]. "The Stone-Campbell Movement actually began with Barton W. Stone. If but one person is named, then it was he who was the founder of the Movement. If two persons are named, then Stone and Alexander Campbell were the founders. If multiple persons are named, then Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, along with James O'Kelly and Rice Haggard would be listed" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, p. 71]. Let me close this study with the words of Alexander Campbell, which he penned upon hearing of Walter Scott's death: "Next to my father, he was the most cordial and indefatigable co-laborer in the origin and progress of the present Reformation. ... I knew him well, I knew him long. I loved him much. By the eye of faith and hope, methinks I see him in Abraham's bosom."

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Unknown:

Brother Maxey, I just want to take a few minutes to thank you for your web site, and also for taking time to respond to my emails. I've recently stumbled upon some of the "legalistic patternist" folk in the Churches of Christ. I had never been called an "apostate" before by people who appear, at least on the surface, to hold fairly orthodox views. But these people were quick to do so. This is really troubling to me, for all I'm seeking to do is follow Jesus and love God and others as best I can. Again, I know you're busy, so Thank You for your work.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

That was a great article by your friend Don Givens (Reflections #709). It certainly seems he had something to say before he passed away. I was thinking, as I read it, that no one can write an article like that unless they have a lot of love in their heart. I also really loved his illustration of the fish in the aquarium. Thanks for sharing his final article with us! May God bless his family.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend Don Givens. It seems this wonderful article he wrote, and which you shared in your last Reflections, was almost, in some way, the best possible thing he could have left as an encouragement for his family at his departure from this life. Odd how things seem to fall into place like that! Blessings, Al.

From a Reader in Washington:

Thank you, Al, for sharing Don Givens' article and your own memories of your friendship with our departed brother in Christ. May we all eagerly await the day we go to be with our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe if we have a close bond with our Lord and His Word, then He will remove the fear of death from us and give our loved ones the peace, comfort and joy of knowing we are in His presence! I enjoy all of your articles very much, by the way. Where do you live in New Mexico? Although I live in Washington now, I was born in Las Cruces, NM and still order my green chili from back home!

From an Elder/Author in Texas:

Thank you, Al, for this nice tribute to a mutual friend. Don and I overlapped at Florida Christian College, and during the 50+ years since we were both there I have heard many appreciative comments from people about Don's work. May God bless you and yours, Al.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Thank you for sharing your "Tribute to Dr. Don Givens." I had read a few things Don had written when I was a slave to Facebook a few years back, and I have missed reading his thoughts, and those of several others who have managed to get through the maze of ignorance with clean water. December 1st is also a day I remember, for my son died (also of a massive heart attack) on that date four years ago. It's never easy losing those we love. The comforting thought, however, is that we will all meet again! I so appreciate your words of wisdom, Al, and your touching words about those who have touched your life through the years and what they have meant to you. God bless you, Al, and God bless your ministry. You are a dear brother.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, I am glad that you and Don Givens shared in the love Jesus lived and died to give us. I read more of the readers' letters this time than I usually do, and I was blessed by what I read. Your Reflections have brought out insights and praise for God from many around the world. Once again I am reminded of how much I want to visit with you face-to-face!

From a Reader in Texas:

I just read your lovely tribute to your friend whom you obviously loved very much, and I appreciate what you wrote very much. I always appreciate your prompt replies to my emails. I am almost 88 years old (next month), and I love corresponding with family and friends. Al, you rate right up there with my dear friends Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett in your attention to correspondence! Pretty good company in which to travel, brother! I love you, Al, and pray you will "keep on keeping on!"

From a Reader in Unknown:

Dear Brother Al, Grace and tender comfort to you in your time of yet another great loss. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute to your friend Don Givens, and also for sharing his last written study. I passed Don's article on to my friends on Facebook. It is a perfect example of how even though we may die, our legacy can continue to win others to the faith, for God's Word is powerful and eternal. The Gospel is such Good News, and we know that Don knows that fact best of all now! Hugs to you in Christ.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I am so sorry that you lost one of your close friends in Christ. The message Don Givens wrote, though, and which you shared with us, will no doubt touch many Christians, and probably many who are not, with that freedom we are given in Christ. Al, I am so blessed to have had the chance on this planet to get to know you and learn from you the true freedom we have by knowing our sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus, and that our Father sees our hearts and opens His arms to each of us. I pray the Lord will return soon, for this world is so full of corruption. May God richly bless you and your family. I love you, brother!

From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:

Al, I read your article "Regulating the Redeemed" (Reflections #708), and it prompted me to share with you the following quote from Dr. F. F. Bruce: "If the law of the Spirit is the law of love, then it is identical with what Paul elsewhere calls 'the law of Christ' -- 'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians 6:2). By 'the law of Christ' he may mean 'the law which Christ exemplified' or 'the law which Christ laid down' when He said that the whole law and the prophets depended on the twin commandments of love to God and love to one's neighbor (Matthew 22:40). This reinterpretation of the law is echoed by Paul when he says that 'the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"' (Galatians 4:14), and that 'love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law' (Romans 13:10)." Dr. Bruce then goes on to say, "Love is generated by an inner spontaneity and cannot be enforced by penal sanctions!" Thanks again, Al, for a great Reflections. Would that all those involved in ministry in the called out assemblies of God take heed to what you have written! Your insights are always so timely!

From a Reader in Australia:

My wife and I hope and pray that you will have a very blessed and safe Christmas with all the family, and may 2017 be a year full of love and happiness as well as good health. We pray that you will have now fully recovered from your radiation treatments for your prostate cancer, and that it was fully successful. We have been greatly blessed by your teaching through your Reflections. Even if we don't email you as consistently as we should, we do pray for you and the family daily, and we really love you guys. I hope the 2017 calendar with scenes from Australia arrived safely, and that it whets your appetite to come on down here! We'd love to host you if you can make it!

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