A Critical Review of Dr Jack Cottrell’s Note on Baptism

A Critical Review of Dr Jack Cottrell’s Note on Baptism

This is a critical review written in response to a note posted on Facebook by Dr. Jack Cottrell regarding his position on baptism.  As of the time of this writing Dr. Cottrell teaches Theology at Cincinnati Christian University.  I do not know him personally, and am sure that he is a fine Christian man.  From what little I have read of his writings, it appears that he holds to the “traditional” Church of Christ view regarding baptism – of which I disagree. I would like to point out that I am currently attending a “Restoration Movement” Church, and therefore am not commenting as an “outsider.”

    Dr. Cottrell’s note was written as a response to a question posed to him about baptism. In summary, the question was asked about those who “mistakenly followed the false views of baptism, whether in regard to meaning, subjects, or mode.”

    Dr Cottrell’s original note can be read here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/jack-cottrell/what-is-the-spiritual-status-of-those-baptized-unbiblically/10150352656655617

    If I understand correctly, it is Dr. Cottrell’s position that baptism is only for those who are of the age that can make a profession of faith, and that the method must only be by immersion in water. Furthermore, it is my understanding that Dr. Cottrell would likely state that baptism is necessary for salvation; not just necessary in the sense that followers of Jesus are commanded to be baptized, but necessary in that a requirement for salvation is met that would not be met without baptism.  Generally speaking, in Church of Christ circles, the element that is met alone in baptism is the remission of sins.

    First, let me be clear that I agree with Dr. Cottrell on the matter of infant baptism. There is no precedent for infant baptism in Scripture, and therefore no good reason to believe that Christian baptism is properly administered in these cases.  It is also my belief that immersion is the preferred method of baptism.

    Dr. Cottrell initially addresses a theoretical objection raised by one who did not undergo Cottrell’s prescribed method of baptism.  The objector might say that “the ongoing presence of Christian commitment and service, and especially the presence of the fruit of the Spirit described in Gal. 5:22” would suggest that the baptism was proper.

    In other words, someone who has not undergone baptism in the manner prescribed by Dr. Cottrell – and the Church of Christ – might say that because they find fruits of the Spirit in their life the baptism must have been genuine and acceptable to God.

    Dr. Cottrell gives two reasons why this objection cannot be proof of a valid baptism:

  1.     He says that the virtues listed by Paul in Gal 5:22 are “in reality the natural state of human beings made in God’s image.”  He goes on to say that these qualities were given to the whole human race and are “present to every sinner to some extent.”

  2.     His second reason is that even people who do not have the indwelling of the Spirit can manifest the fruits of the Spirit because they “have been convicted of sin … and are making an effort to … lead a virtuous life.”  He states that these “will be able to bear the fruit of the Spirit to some extent.”  His cites Old Testament saints who led virtuous lives yet did not have the indwelling of the Spirit as examples.

    In response to his first answer, I do not believe Dr. Cottrell handled the Scriptures very well.  In Gal 5:22, Paul does not list these virtues (love, joy, peace, etc.) as fruits of the natural man, as Dr. Cottrell suggests.  Rather, Paul specifically lists these as “fruits of the Spirit” (emphasis mine).  Paul is clearly not talking about non-believers in Gal 5:22.  In fact, Paul first cites the “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21), and then contrasts these with the fruits of the Spirit.  To say these are virtues that are naturally in man is to ignore what the text is actually saying.

    Now, I do not dispute the fact that many unsaved people can display virtues that resemble the fruits of the Spirit.  However, Jesus pointed out that the peace that He brings is different than the peace the world gives (John 14:27).  The fruits of the Spirit of Christ are not the same as the natural virtues that humanity sometimes displays.  They are different!  This issue that Dr. Cottrell has missed could not be more plain.  The Spirit produces one thing, the flesh another (John 3:6).

    Therefore, a person who has the “fruits of the Spirit” is a person who has the Spirit (“you are in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” Rom 8:9).  And, if a person has the Spirit, that person belongs to Christ.  It must follow that if someone is evidencing the genuine fruits of the Spirit, based on these passages, then that person has the Spirit!

    Regarding Dr. Cottrell’s second point, note carefully his reasoning, “[it] does not mean that every person who thus bears some of the Spirit’s fruit is saved.”  Now recall the example he gave: the Old Testament saints.  The obvious question is: How can someone be a “saint” and be unsaved?  Isn’t the very definition of a saint a holy one?  Where did anyone in the scripture use the term saint to describe someone who wasn’t saved?  I would suggest to you that the very reason the Old Testament saints evidenced fruits of the Spirit was because they were indeed saints –saved.  We can see that Dr. Cottrell’s example actually disproves his point.

    What Dr. Cottrell is attempting to do is explain why someone who has not undergone baptism – as he prescribes – cannot be a true Christian – even if they have fruits of the Spirit in their life.  He does this by attempting to dismiss the fruit they have.  Why?  With all due respect, the most likely reason is because the evidence of fruits of the Spirit in a person’s life would suggest that Dr. Cottrell’s position on baptism is wrong.  Therefore, they must be explained another way.  I am not accusing Dr. Cottrell of knowingly doing this – it could just be a blind spot.

    On a similar note, I have found that many will go to great lengths to prove that Cornelius was not saved – still a child of the devil – when the Holy Spirit fell on him (Acts 10:44), in the very same way that it fell on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15).  They insist on this because Cornelius had not yet been water baptized when the Holy Spirit came upon him.  Yet “as many of you who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14).  Since Cornelius received the Spirit “as” the Apostles did (Acts 11:15), the most natural way to understand it would be that he was a son of God before water baptism – unless one has a tradition that must be defended.

    When Cornelius evidenced fruits of being filled with the Spirit, one must wonder which of Dr. Cottrell’s arguments apply.  Was Cornelius speaking in tongues as a “natural state of human beings,” or had he been leading a virtuous life resulting in the evidences of the Spirit, like the Old Testament saints (who happened to be saved)?

    There is another element in the question posed to Dr. Cottrell that I am compelled to comment on.  This is in reference to those who might have been “mistakenly baptized” in regard to “meaning.”  Dr. Cottrell addresses this by concluding that “only those who have consciously received immersion as a saving work of God can be confident of their present status as Christians…”

    In other words, Dr. Cottrell is suggesting that to be properly baptized one must be conscience of what baptism does.  If one does not have this knowledge, then that one can have no assurance of their salvation.  To be more exact, he likely means that one must understand baptism in the same way that he does.

    This is frightening.

    And it is the reason that many view the Church of Christ as a cult. I believe it is reminiscent of the Gnostics that harassed the early church.  The Gnostics claimed to alone have had the secret knowledge that led to salvation.  In a similar manner, many (but not all) in the Church of Christ claim that to be saved one must have an understanding of baptism (as they view it) to be saved.  Like most cults they then become the repository of this knowledge.  Anyone going elsewhere will not get it and will be lost.

     Nowhere in all of the Scripture are we told that a person must have a particular knowledge or understanding of baptism to be saved.  Nowhere.  Dr. Cottrell is clearly mislead on this point – and probably misleading others.

    To prove me wrong simply find a passage where Jesus or the Apostles stated that to be saved one has to have an accurate understanding of baptism.  If this had been the case, then why were so many baptized so quickly after responding to the Gospel call by the Apostles?  How could they be so sure that each candidate for baptism had sufficient knowledge?  Is it possible that someone believed in Jesus, was baptized, but didn’t fully understand baptism as the Church of Christ does?  Of course.  But, according to Dr. Cottrell, “only those who have consciously received immersion as a saving work of God can be confident of their present status as Christians…”  This is stepping far, far beyond the bounds of the New Testament.

    This is what we Bible teachers call Eisegesis – to insert one’s views into the text where the views are not stated in the text.

    Ironically, historians have pointed out that Alexander Campbell, who was one of the founders of the Restoration Movement, was baptized by a Baptist Minister prior to reaching his conclusions on baptism.  In other words, he was immersed before fully understanding what baptism was about.  According to what Campbell later taught, and the doctrine espoused by Dr. Cottrell, this founder of the movement was unsaved because his baptism was invalid!

    In summary let me provide my brief testimony.  I was raised in a Methodist Church and decided to follow Jesus at an early age.  At around 12 or 13 years of age I was baptized by my pastor.  The only method offered me was by “sprinkling.”  I have been walking with Jesus all of these years.  I have seen both the fruits of the Spirit as well as the gifts of the Spirit in my life, including speaking in tongues.  I have served as a pastor as well as a foreign missionary.  I love the Lord with all of my being and am dedicated to following Him.  Though I wish that I had been immersed, I believe that God recognized my baptism into Christ because He is faithful to save those who call upon His name.  To be re-baptized would be to show God that I don’t trust the work that He already did in my life.

    Those who contend that I am unsaved only prove that they love their traditions more than they know the Spirit of the Living God.

    The reader may also like to view my other notes relating to baptism:




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