We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
Faith = the Plan of Salvation?
Back in chapter 35, Shank writes,
The Bible definition of faith is belief, repentance, public confession of belief that Christ is God’s Son and baptism for remission of sins into Christ Jesus. This plan is Bible faith.
(Kindle Locations 7171-7173).
The Plan of Salvation = faith? And so faith is believing in the Plan of Salvation? Our faith is in a Plan — not a man? Not Jesus? It’s in the product of our exegesis? It’s in a teaching method? We’re saved by believing that believing saves?
This is nonsense. It’s a logical absurdity and dramatically moves Jesus out of the center of our Christianity and replaces him with a Plan.
It’s not a question of whether the Plan summarizes certain scriptural truths or is a great teaching tool for the unconverted. It’s whether the Bible ever defines “faith” this way — and it does not.
New Testament faith — the faith that saves — is faith in Jesus. The only conceivable motivation to replace Jesus with the Plan as the object of our faith is so that (a) we can claim that the several “everyone with faith will be saved” promises found in scripture include water baptism as a requirement and (b) we can insist on faith in the effectiveness of water baptism to remit sins as a requirement to be saved. And these results conveniently damn most believers in Jesus outside the Churches of Christ (and it’s just so tempting to reach beyond the sacred page when it means beating the Baptists). But there is zero support for this theory in scripture.
And this theory changes the object of faith from Jesus to what we do — we repent, we believe, we confess, we submit to baptism for the right reason. Thus, rather than being all about Jesus, it’s more about the fact that we figured out the Plan.
The Plan was first taught by Walter Scott, a friend of Alexander Campbell and a missionary sent out by the Mahoning Baptist Association — an association of Baptist Churches that allowed Campbell’s church to join despite its non-Baptist views. And under Shank’s theory, no one had been saved before that date — going back, I suppose, to something like the Second or Third Century.
It’s really hard to hold to the theory that the Churches of Christ have continuously existed since Pentecost while also contending that “faith” is the Plan of Salvation as expressed by Walter Scott for the first time in centuries. (Both Campbell and Scott concluded that Scott’s understanding of how one is saved had not been taught for centuries, likely back to nearly apostolic times.)
And yet what Scott taught is subtly but importantly different from Shank’s teaching. Scott’s “Five Finger Exercise” was —
faith, repentance, baptism (the sinner’s response to the gospel); remission of sins, the Holy Spirit (God’s gifts of grace).
In short, Scott taught a more balanced teaching that wasn’t entirely about what the convert was to do. It was also about what God does. But over the years, the Churches of Christ dropped God’s promises and added “hear” and “confess” so that the Plan of Salvation became entirely human centered — and it’s this human-centered version that Shank calls “faith.”
Perhaps the ultimate (but not the only) proof text against Shank’s theory is, ironically enough, Mark 16:16 (the authenticity of which is uncertain, as previously explained, but Shank builds his arguments on this verse) —
(Mar 16:16 ESV) 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
“Believes” is πιστεύσας (pisteusas), that is, a verb form of pistis (faith). “Believes” could be equally well translated “has faith.” English does not have a verb form of “faith” and so we often use “believe” in our translations.
Obviously, if “faith” includes baptism, Jesus was unaware of that fact when he uttered this verse.
(Act 8:12 ESV) 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Under Shank’s definition, the Samaritans were baptized twice! ) Once when they “believed” (pisteuo or “came to faith” — same word), because “faith” includes baptism, and again when the text says “baptized.”
(Act 18:8 ESV) 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
Shank has the same problem with the conversion of the Corinthians.
If Shank would just stop reading his tracts and instead read the Bible, he’d quickly realize that “faith” in the New Testament is always faith in Jesus, and is not a “plan” but a state of the heart. “Faith” includes includes both trust in Jesus to keep his promises and a commitment to be faithful to him. This is what the Greek word pistis means, as shown earlier here and here.
And the object of faith is Jesus —
(Rom 3:21-22a ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
What is “faith”? Faith in Jesus Christ.
(Rom 3:26 ESV) 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
What is faith? Faith in Jesus.
(Gal 2:15-16 ESV) 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
I’m still looking for the verse that promises salvation to those with faith in a Plan.
Here he says something else that disturbs me greatly. In going through the Plan of Salvation — hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized — he teaches “believe” this
Believing. God’s Word must be believed with the entirety of the heart and mind.
(Kindle Locations 7817-7818).
No! “Believing” is the verb form of “faith” — and faith is always in Jesus. I’m all about accepting the Bible as true and authoritative, but the Bible is not my Savior. The Bible was not crucified for me. And faith in the Bible does not save. (And this is from the second edition of his book — meaning that it had been proofread after readers had pointed out needed corrections.)
I’d far rather that a friend err as to the Sinner’s Prayer than the object of his faith.
Now, I’m not for a second arguing against the witness of scripture! Heaven forbid! But we do not confess our faith in scripture or in baptism. We confess our faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah — and we seriously distort our understanding of the scriptures when we center our Christianity on anything else.
(Joh 5:39-40 ESV) 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
It’s not good enough to seek salvation through faith in the Bible or baptism. Moreover, it’s utterly contrary to the scriptures to seek any confession other than a confession of faith in Jesus. The scriptures point plainly and repeatedly to Jesus. And Jesus says that the path to eternal life is to “come to me” — not to the Bible and not to baptism and not to anything else.
You see, this over-emphasis on baptism ultimately leads to replacing Jesus with the Bible as the object of our faith. Because we believe the Bible, we believe that baptism remits sins, and upon our confession that baptism remits sin, we’re saved. No need for Jesus except to mention his magic name to qualify for baptism. After all, it’s not as though we might have a personal relationship with Jesus, who was willing to die on a cross for us.
Thus, when we ask what must be believed, instead of simple faith in Jesus, there’s this tendency for the answer to be “the Bible” or “that baptism remits sin” — but not “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9) or “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). We confess that when we get up in front of everybody, ready to be baptized, but if we’re not careful, we’ll think the power of that confession is found in baptism or the veracity of scripture, not the sacrifice of Jesus.
 This misunderstanding is hardly unique to Shank. In 1952, K. C. Moser famously challenged the tendency of many within the Churches of Christ to prefer the “plan” to the “man.” He’s been widely criticized for his views, even declared “apostate,” but he has proved to have foreseen an increasingly explicit turn toward redefining “faith” to suit conservative Church of Christ debating points against the Baptists in preference to the scriptural teaching regarding the nature and object of our faith.
Moser wrote in Christ vs. a “Plan,”
Instead of a “plan” Christ is preached. Jesus is set forth as the Son of God who became man’s Savior, not because he was given authority to name certain acts as conditions of salvation, but because he “bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This type of preaching, therefore, puts the emphasis upon the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus. A real Savior is one who furnishes the cause of man’s salvation, not merely one who determines, by virtue of his authority, the conditions of salvation. The Messiah is not only a teacher and king, but he is preeminently the sin offering. And it is his death on behalf of sinners that makes him the Savior.
The law of Moses placed man under the obligation of perfect obedience. Hence by the law none is justified. But Christ brought, not another code, but his “precious blood.” And by it sinners are redeemed. Our iniquities were laid upon him, and “with his stripes we are healed.” Nothing like this ever happened before, nor will it ever happen again. Sin left man condemned. Christ bore his sins and offers him mercy. Salvation from sin is the direct result of what Christ did on the cross for sinners. He did not die in order to do something else that would make him the Savior. The Father proposed to redeem the world by means of the death of his Son, and the Son willingly laid down his life for us. Both the Father and the Son, therefore, regard the death of the Son as the ground of salvation. Christ crucified for sinners is the divine “plan” of salvation. Sinners must look to Christ to save them, not to their own human achievement.
(emphasis in original).