No “Five-step Formula” (?)

By Larry Ray Hafley 

My wife was shocked to find the following statement in a book written by a woman who is a member of the church — “Never in the entire Bible did any prophet, nor Jesus, nor the Apostle Paul present a five-step formula for giving the heart over to God.” 

In the 19th century, gospel preachers often taught the gospel plan of salvation to children and to unlearned and illiterate men and women. One convenient way to ground disciples in the truth was to hold up their hand and, grasp ing each finger one at a time, say, “Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized.” Sectarians began to ridicule it as the “five finger creed of the church of Christ,” the “five finger formula of the Campbellites,” and “five steps of the water gospel.” Christians were mocked and called “five steppers.”

Because truth was taught so simply with the “five finger exercise,” enemies of the cross made fun of the process. It was easier to do that than to show how it contradicted the word of God; so, they railed and reviled.

Omit Which Step?

If the Lord and the apostles never presented “a five-step formula,” which ones did they omit? Which should we leave out? Should we:

  1. Omit Hearing? Since “faith cometh by hearing” the word of God, how can we leave it out (Rom. 10:17)? Je- sus said one must “hear (his) voice,” his word, in order to have spiritual life (John 5:25; 6:63, 68). One cannot trust in Christ until he hears “the word of truth” (Eph. 1:13). If a person never “hears” the gospel, he can never believe; therefore, we cannot omit hearing. 
  2.  Omit Belief? Since “without faith it is impossible to please” God, how can we fail to include faith (Heb. 11:6)? Jesus said, “if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). The Lord said, “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16; John 3:18). Obviously, we must not omit faith as one of the “steps” one must take in order to be saved (Eph. 2:8, 9). 
  3.  Omit Repentance? Since God “commandeth all men every where to repent,” how can we remove repentance (Acts 17:30)? Jesus said, “repent, or perish,” turn or burn (Luke 13:3). Christ connected repentance with the forgive- ness of sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38). Thus, we may not omit repentance as a “step” for the sinner to obey (2 Pet. 3:9). 
  4.  Omit Confession? Since only those who confess that Jesus is Lord can be saved, how can we eliminate confession (Rom. 10:9, 10)? Jesus said, “Whosoever . . . shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father” (Matt. 10:32, 33). “If we deny him, he will also deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). Hence, we cannot omit confession of Christ as a “step” “unto salvation.” 
  5. Omit Baptism? Since baptism is “for the remission of sins,” how can we possibly ignore it (Acts 2:38; 22:16)? Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is one of the conditions with which one must comply in order to be saved in Christ (John 3:3-5; Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:27; 1 Pet. 3:21). So, we dare not omit baptism. 

Jesus and the apostles did indeed present the “five-steps” which some say were “never” given. Again, which “steps” shall we take away from God’s book (Rev. 22:18, 19)? In the conversion accounts in the book of Acts, which ones were omitted? Did the Ethiopian eunuch fail to repent? Did the Philippian jailer not confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord? Was anyone ever converted who did not first hear the gospel? Which of the “five-steps” were omitted? Which ones may we exclude and still be saved? Those who ridicule the “five-step formula” need to tell us!