Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Thief on the Cross (Are Sacraments Unnecessary?)

Dave Armstrong (1996)

Many evangelical Protestants like to point out that the thief on the cross next to Jesus wasn't baptised and went to heaven anyway (Lk 23:39-43). From this they then conclude that both baptism, and sacraments in general are unnecessary for salvation.

This is a weak, insubstantial argument from the get-go, because it presupposes a fallacy of wrongly applying the elements of an extraordinary, exceptional situation to ordinary situations (i.e., the routine infant baptism). That's as illegitimate as arguing from the "hard cases" of abortion to unlimited abortion-on-demand. C.S. Lewis said: "the rules of chess are what create chess problems." One doesn't ditch the rules upon discovering a potential or perceived "problem" made possible by the very existence of the rules!

The Catholic Church has always recognized the baptism of desire:
    Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
    {Vatican II: Constitution on the Church, I, 16; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1257-1261}
In other words, the thief was in this situation. He had the desire for salvation (and, one might say, for baptism), but obviously was in no shape to receive it! But generalizing from this case to everyone is clearly illogical. Furthermore, Paradise in this verse (Lk 23:43) about the thief on the cross (if interpreted literally) is not even referring to heaven, and indeed could not, since Jesus was not yet in heaven on that day ("today . . ."). He was crucified on Friday and didn't rise from the dead until Sunday. In fact, He didn't ascend to heaven until forty days after that (Acts 1:3,9-11; cf. Jn 20:17)!

Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, He descended into Sheol, or Hades, the place of the dead (both righteous and unrighteous- see Luke 16:19-31) to preach to the captives (righteous dead). We know this from passages such as 1 Pet 3:19-20, 4:6, and Eph 4:8-10 (cf. Rom 10:7, Acts 2:27). So, then, Paradise in Lk 23:43 is referring to Sheol, not heaven.

The conclusion is inescapable from cross-scriptural exegesis. E.g., Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (an impeccable and standard Protestant linguistic source) holds to this view, which is not just Catholic belief, but that of conservative Protestants as well (see also the reputable Protestant reference New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962 ed., p.935).

When some Protestants claim that baptism isn't necessary at all, they are in clear violation of scriptural injunctions or examples (e.g., Mt 28:19, Col 2:11-12, Jn 4:1-2, Eph 4:5, Acts 10:48, Gal 3:27). All Christians (excepting Quakers and the Salvation Army) have held to the necessity of baptism (if not regenerative baptism). There is no option for the believer on this point, provided he is able to be baptized (which the thief was not). 

Furthermore, baptism is explicitly tied in with salvation in several passages: Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21 (cf. Mk 16:16, Rom 6:3-4), Jn 3:5, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor 6:11, Titus 3:5. These constitute proofs for baptismal regeneration, which is held not only by Catholics, but also by Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. It is certainly as necessary for a Christian to be baptized, as it is to "receive Jesus into your heart" (which cannot be found in the Bible in those terms), whether or not it is considered regenerative.


Steve Finnell said...

What is sin and what makes us guilty of sin? Are we guilty of sin because of our own actions or are we guilty because Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden? Because of Adam's sin all men will die physically. Because men commit sin they die spiritually and need a Savior.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

You are not counted as a law breaker due to that fact you were born. Being born is not a sin. Infants are not sinners.

James 1:14-15 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Adam's sin does not give birth to any one's spiritual death. The individuals own evil desire is responsible for sin and spiritual death. Is the baby in the womb enticed by its own evil lust and then, sins the moment it is born? Of course NOT.

Romans 14:11-12 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue give praise to God." 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

When you bow before Jesus you will not be required to give an account of Adam's sin. It will be every individuals task to give an account of himself.


Infants would have to be law breakers to be guilty of sin.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

How many infants do you know who are guilty of these sins?

Even it infants were guilty of sin, they could not meet the requirements of forgiveness of their sins.

Belief always precedes water baptism. (Mark 16:16)
Belief and repentance precede water baptism. (Acts 2:38)

Belief always precedes water baptism. (Acts 16:31-34 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 .....having believed in God with his whole household.

Belief always precedes water baptism. NOTE: that there were no infants in the jailer's household. Why would that be the case? Because the whole household had come to believe in God. INFANTS CANNOT BELIEVE IN GOD!

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Guilty of sin? YES.

Guilty of Adam's sin? NO.

If sin is inherited, then, why would the inherited sin of forgiven Christians be passed on? THERE WOULD BE NO SIN TO INHERIT!



Dave Armstrong said...

And here is the refutation of this heresy of the denial of original sin: