A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 3.5 (Walter Scott)

scott.jpgOne of my readers prevailed on me to add a section on Walter Scott (not the Sir Walter Scott famous for being included in the Authors card game). Scott is of near-equal importance to the founding of the Movement as either of the Campbells.

Scott introduced to Alexander Campbell the idea that baptism is by immersion for the remission of sins. Scott came to this realization from a tract written by Henry Errett, father of Isaac Errett, in 1821, and immediately passed the tract along to Campbell. Campbell began teaching from it, helping define the Movement’s baptismal doctrine.

Scott was also the great sloganeer of the Movement–and its first great evangelist. Interestingly, he was sent out as a missionary by the Mahoning Baptist Association. Campbell’s church, of which he was the sole elder, was a member of this group of Baptist churches until they later expelled them over a doctrinal dispute. Campbell, of course, disagreed with the Baptists on several points, but he could not imagine his congregation having no fellowship with other Christians–and Campbell undeniably considered the Baptists saved. And so Campbell’s congregation joined this fellowship of churches.

At one of their quarterly meetings, the Association voted to send Scott to Ohio as a missionary. Ohio was very much part of the American frontier at the time. Soon word returned that Scott was having great success. This concerned the Association, and so they asked him to return and report on how he was doing so well. (We haven’t changed that much, you know!)

Scott reported that he taught the gospel using a five-finger exercise: faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that he taught this in contrast to the 5 points of Calvinism. As a result, people were thrilled with the simplicity of the gospel message and readily accepted salvation.

Now, we’ve added “hear” at the beginning and dropped the Holy Spirit from the end, due to our discomfort with our understanding of the Spirit.

Scott further coined the term “plan of salvation” with respect to five-finger exercise. And he adopted the practice of extending “the invitation” at the end of his lesson. He didn’t invent the invitation, which goes back to other Second Great Awakening evangelists, but unlike Charles Finney, for example, Scott did not invite those in attendance to the “mourning bench” to tearfully contemplate their lost state. Rather, he simply asked them to confess their faith and submit to baptism.

Scott, like the Campbells, saw the solution to Christian division in uniting on faith in Jesus and in refusing to divide on questions of “opinion,” which he considered to be anything else. Nearly all the statements made in the Protestant creeds he declared “opinion.”

Now, if any of us were to pick up any of the Lutheran, Calvinist, or other European church creeds, we’d agree with most of what’s written in them. We’d recognize that most of what’s there is taken straight from the Bible. The creeds only differ from each other and from what we believe on a few salient points. And yet Scott considered nearly all said in the creeds “opinion” because they dealt with matters–some true, some not–other than faith.

Unlike Campbell, Scott taught the effectual indwelling of the Spirit–

Has the Spirit which was sent down from heaven on the day of Pentecost ever left this body? No; never. A human body without the Spirit is dead; and Christ’s body (the church) without the Spirit in her would be dead also. He shall abide with you forever.

Scott converted thousands, and without his early efforts, the Campbell movement would likely have been stillborn. And his impact on the Movement remains today. We still use five fingers to teach our children how to be saved, and yet we rarely know who first used this exercise.

Now, the “plan of salvation” has been rightly criticized by many as being too focused on the work of man and only indirectly referring to the work of Jesus. Other complaints have been lodged. But compared to the 5-points of Calvinism, as taught in the early 19th Century, the plan of salvation was brilliant theology and served to show that the Bible can be taught and understood simply. Even a child can grasp it. And I write as one who, as a child, did so and so became a Christian.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 3.5 (Walter Scott)

  1. Jeff B. says:

    Well done! Although, I’m not sure that Scott’s ecumenism was quite as definitive as you make it sound until late in his life. During his most well-known work as an evangelist for the Mahong Baptist Association, he was often quite hard on unbaptized believers, his language regarding them often bordering on the pejorative. While he never denied their salvation or their status as Christians, he DID claim that the unbaptized had no assurance/guarantee of their salvation. In other words, they may, indeed, be saved, but theyLate in his life, however, his editorship of a publication called “The Protestant Unionist” displays a shockingly ecumenical attitude, even in the context of the unity-focused Restoration movement.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    In Restoration thought, there are always at least two variables in considering how broadly one views the Kingdom.

    The first question is what you consider a valid baptism. The second is what doctrinal positions (other than the gospel/baptism) must be held to be considered still saved.

    I would take Scott to be quite broad in the second category. I base this on Powell’s book on Restoration History “The Cause We Plead,” which seems very well researched. However, as to baptism, I expect that you are quite right. As close as Scott and A. Campbell were, it would make sense that Scott’s views became more generous over time, as did Campbell’s.

    Campbell was a polemicist, and early on wrote about baptism in terms that seemed to exclude those not baptized as believers by immersion (Campbell never insisted on being baptized intentionally for remission of sins). However, he later stated that he’d always held the position stated in the Lunenburg correspondence.

    As the quote from Scott re the Spirit indicates, Scott and Campbell did not always agree, and yet they considered one another brothers, indeed, they were extremely close despite their differences–which was characteristic of the Movement pre-Civil War.

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