Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nailing our sins to the cross

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).
Sacramentalists (e.g. the real presence, baptismal regeneration, baptismal justification) have a simple argument. The NT attributes certain properties or effects to baptism and communion. Therefore, the sacraments are the source or cause of these effects. 
There are three basic problems with this argument:
i) To begin with, whether some of their prooftexts (e.g. Jn 3:5; Jn 6; Tit 3:5) really refer to the sacraments is highly contestable.
ii) However, it's undoubtedly true that some verses of Scripture link baptism with the remission of sin. What about that? 
One problem is that Scripture often promises the remission of sin by faith alone. It doesn't make forgiveness contingent on baptism. Moreover, that would be at odds with promising remission of sin by faith alone. 
iii) But here's another problem: sacramentalists never get the nature of symbolism. Because a symbol stands for something else, whatever is really true of the thing it stands for can be said of the symbol. At that emblematic level, the symbol takes the place of what it stands for.
Consider the passage from Colossians. Paul makes the physical details of crucifixion a graphic metaphor for the remission of sin. The iron nails and the wooden cross stand for the redemptive work of Christ.
That, however, doesn't mean we are actually forgiven by driving nails into wood. Paul figuratively ascribes to the physical details of crucifixion what is literally true of Christ's redemptive death. He doesn't think hammering nails into the cross remits our sin. That's a picture of redemption. 
Baptism and communion are enacted parables which illustrate certain spiritual truths. Don't confuse the concrete metaphor with the reality it signifies. The connection is symbolic, just like Paul's vivid imagery in Col 2:24. 


  1. Similarly, the disciples and Apostles often used oil in order to bring about healing both before and after the cross (Mark 6:13; James 5:14), but apparently they didn't feel constrained to always have to use oil since there are healing miracles recorded in Acts without any mention of oil. Also, in James 5:16 the Apostle James seems to suggest that laymen Christians can pray for one another's healing without the need for the use of oil as prescribed two verses earlier when the elders are praying for healing.

    i) To begin with, whether some of their prooftexts (e.g. Jn 3:5; Jn 6; Tit 3:5) really refer to the sacraments is highly contestable.

    Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." It's interesting that in the very context of a passage allegedly alluding to the sacrament of communion that Jesus explains that eating His flesh and drinking His blood can be reduced to a minimum of "coming to Him" and "believing in Him." That's EVEN IF John 6 does allude to communion (which it might). Regardless, Jesus' statement makes it clear that the mere coming to Him and believing in/on Him is sufficient to gain eternal life. Hence, John's inclusion of Peter's statement "..."Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the WORDS of eternal life..." Peter DID NOT say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? With You are the sacraments of eternal life."

    Finally, the forgiveness of sins clearly doesn't hinge on baptism since Paul preached the Gospel of reconciliation and forgiveness without requiring baptism. He made it of secondary importance when he wrote:

    14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.- 1 Cor. 1:14-17

    Apparently, baptism is not absolutely essential to the preaching and reception of the Gospel since Paul says, "Christ DID NOT SEND ME TO BAPTIZE BUT TO PREACH THE GOSPEL."

    1. If baptism and the Gospel of forgiveness/justification/reconciliation were intricately and inseparably connected, then Paul would have said that Christ sent him to BOTH preach the Gospel AND baptize.