section from neil cole’s book church 3.0, chapter 9
Unless you are well-read and well-equipped by having previously thought through the deep and decisive differences between Baptism as taught by Jesus and Baptism as taught and practiced by the Reformed Church and all its derivatives, including Baptists, Pentecostals, and Protestants, it will be virtually impossible to detect the sleight of hand Neil Cole uses. Initially, Cole seems to be quite “Lutheran” as he argues that Baptism is “necessary,” as opposed to some parachurch movements that say it is not necessary. When a Lutheran hears this, they think that Neil Cole is saying the same thing Jesus taught and that Luther affirmed. This is not so. He is actually parroting the old Reformed gobbledegook about the necessity of Baptism, not as a regenerative power “from above,” as Jesus told Nicodemus, but as an act performed, after a person makes his own statement of faith, a type of outer expression to what happened spiritually inward.
In chapter 9, on p. 162 of his book, Neil Cole has a subtitle: “Baptism With Salvation, Not For It.” Note his second expression, “not for it.” Cole writes: “One of the questions that have plagued the church through time is whether Baptism is essential for salvation. Part of the problem is that the institutional church, from at least the days of Constantine, used Baptism as a sacrament that empowered the Church and its leadership over the people.” This is also the baseless argument made by the hard-core Calvinist Reformed author Verduin in his book The Reformers and Their Stepchildren.
Cole then concludes, as the Reformed always do: “This has caused confusion for almost all of our history.” Cole then goes on to point out: “But this is not the whole explanation. One reason the institutionalized Church has been able to get away with this is because the New Testament itself connects Baptism and salvation so closely together (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:24; 1 Peter 3:21). We cannot escape the fact that Baptism and salvation are connected.” Now, watch this carefully. Cole now says: “The question is, How?”
Cole continues: “I do not think that the water is magical.” Nor have Lutherans ever said this. “I do not think that Baptism conveys any special grace beyond the grace that one reaps from following Christ in obedience. Nor do I believe that any work we do, even Baptism, merits salvation.” Now, note carefully that what Cole says is what Bob Roberts also say on his website. Cole continues: “Being Baptized is not the way to be saved, but it is an outward action to make the decision more than just a thought—and salvation is deemed more than just a thought. Salvation involves the whole person; thoughts, emotions, and will. It should be considered the first step of a new life, a life of obedience. Baptism and public confession are the will for expression of an inward faith, a public declaration of the decision. It is a step that announces a life of allegiance to the King.
“Paul tells us it is not important just to believe with our hearts. There should be an act of the will, which actually cements the faith with a dose of reality. I think this is something of what Paul meant in Romans 10 when he said: ‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation’ (Romans 10:9-10).”
Cole continues: “Baptism is a clear way for new believers to confess publicly that he or she has an internal belief in salvation. In the New Testament the disciples who made a decision to follow Christ took their first step into the water. Baptism is, in a sense, much the same way walking an aisle for an altar call was a few years back. Once again, we have an example of our substituting a non-Biblical practice for the one first established by Jesus. The ‘Sinners’ Prayer’ is another example of this. Neither the altar call nor the prayer is an adequate substitute.
“Baptism symbolizes so much: a cleansing, but also a tomb (death and resurrection), and a womb (being born again). It is being completely immersed in the name of the Triune Godhead with nothing held back. It is the end of an old life and the birth of a new one.”
On p. 111, Cole also says: “Doctrine is not the best path to unity anyway. In fact, when we use doctrine as the barometer of fellowship, we end up being quite divisive. Humility is the only path to unity.”
If you are seriously interested in what LCMS leaders are now foisting upon its pastors, congregations, and people, you can also read the next section by Cole, where he discusses Holy Communion. It is the explanation that drew so much anger from Luther, and forced Luther so much to defend the Scriptures and the teachings of Christ regarding Communion. What is in here is unbelievable. You must pay the price of the book, which is $16.47 on Amazon; or, you can download it for one read on your computer, as I did from Barnes and Noble.