A commentator on my blog asked:
Does the N.T. assume the the sacraments are just symbols? If sacramentalists assume the reality why can you just assume they are merely symbols?
Here's an opportunity to introduce a point of clarification. In evaluating sacramentalism, it's necessary to unthread two intertwined issues:
i) What are the prooftexts for sacramentalism?
ii) What is the function of sacraments?
Concerning (i), Jn 3:5 and Tit 3:5 are standard prooftexts for baptismal regeneration, Mk 16:16 is a prooftext for the soteric necessity/sufficiency of baptism, while Jn 6 is a prooftext for salvific character of the Eucharist.
However, nonsacramentalists don't think those passages refer to baptism or communion in the first place. Or in the case of Mk 16:16, that's a scribal interpolation.
So one of the dividing lines between sacramentalists and nonsacramentalists is how many verses even refer to baptism and communion. That's before you get around to the question of how to interpret passages that do refer to baptism or communion.
It that event, it's not a case of saying, yes, that refers to baptism or communion, but a sacrament is just a symbol of grace, just a symbol of salvation.
Rather, if you don't think the passage in question even refers to a sacrament, then (ii) is moot. For (ii) presupposes (i). (ii) is irrelevant if the verse isn't even referring to a sacrament.
And this has some interesting consequences. For instance, both Jn 6 and 1 Cor 11:24,28 are traditional prooftexts for the real presence. However, 1 Cor 11:24,28 doesn't suggest that communion is a channel of saving grace. The only prooftext for that distinctive claim is Jn 6, where you have the promise of eternal life.
Therefore, if Jn 6 is removed from the list, sacramentalists no longer have a prooftext for communion as a salvific sacrament. At best, they only have a prooftext for the real presence (1 Cor 11:24,28)–which, of course, is disputed.
Likewise, although sacramentalists have other prooftexts for the soteric necessity/sufficiency of baptism (e.g. Acts 2:38; 22:16; Gal 3:27; Eph 5:26), Jn 3:5 and Tit 3:5 are their only prooftexts for baptismal regeneration, per se.
So, from the standpoint of the nonsacramentalist, it comes down to a very small set of verses that even need to be harmonized with their overall position.