If it’s true that Baptism doesn’t work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, or give eternal life to all who believe, then why do the apostles say the exact opposite of that every time they talk about baptism?Watch this super true story to find out.
In case you can’t watch it, or hate those computer-generated voices, I transcribed it. The clip starts out by quoting some of those who deny baptismal regeneration, namely, Evangelicals and Mormons:
- “Water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and a testimony to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Lakewood Church
- “You’re not saved through baptism … It’s not getting wet that makes you a Christian. If so, baptism is nothing more than superstition.” – Mark Driscoll
- “He that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity… wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.” – Moroni 8:14, The Book of Mormon.
To show the absurdity of this view, which Hans notes is (1) contrary to the universal teaching of the Church for 75% of Her history (1500 years), and (2) contrary to the way the Bible describes Baptism, the clip imagines what it would have been like if the Apostles had meant the Evangelical view. At this point, we’re introduced two characters, playing the Apostle Paul and Mark the Evangelist, in which they discover that while they supposedly meant to say Baptism does nothing, they accidentally said the exact opposite, repeatedly:
St. Mark: Hello, Paul.St. Paul: Hello, Mark.Mark: So, I was just about to send out the letter to the Romans, but I wanted to double-check something with you first.Paul: Okay.Mark: So, you know how Baptism is something the believer does for God?Paul: Yes.Mark: And how it’s just a symbol?Paul: Yes.Mark: And how nothing actually happens in Baptism?Paul: Yes.Mark: And how Baptism doesn’t actually do anything?Paul: Yes.Mark: Okay, yeah. You totally said the opposite in Chapter 6.Paul: What? What did I write, again?Mark: “We were buried with Him, by Baptism, into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.” [Romans 6:4]Paul: I don’t get it. What’s the problem?Mark: The problem is that you don’t say that Baptism represents dying to sin and rising to new life. You say that Baptism accomplishes those things.Paul: So instead of Baptism doesn’t do anything, I said it does everything?Mark: Yes.Paul: Oops!Mark: So maybe you should rewrite that before I send it out, so people don’t get confused.Paul: I don’t know, that’s a lot of work. Maybe they’ll figure out what I meant by the other stuff I say about Baptism. Do you remember what I wrote to Titus?Mark: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us not because of works down by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit Who He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” [Titus 3:4-7]Paul: Saved us “by the washing of regeneration”? So, I …Mark: … said the exact opposite of “Baptism doesn’t do anything’ again? Yes. Also, I’m worried that what you said in Colossians might make people think they should baptize babies.Paul: What?! Why would anyone do a crazy thing like that?Mark: Because in Chapter 2, v. 11-12, you refer to Baptism as the “circumcision made without hands.” And, of course, Israelite baby boys were circumcised at eight days old.Paul: Dang it. I really need to stop writing these letters after four glasses of wine. [Pauses, looks at the screen] … I mean “grape juice.” Okay, maybe people will figure out what I meant by what the other Apostles wrote. Did Peter say anything about Baptism in his letter?Mark: “Baptism now saves you.”Paul: [long pause] Well, poo. So as it stands, the situation is that everyone has accidentally said exactly the opposite of what we’ve meant every single time we’ve talked about Baptism?Mark: Pretty much, yeah. Should we call for a Council in Jerusalem to fix this?Paul: I’m not sure. What’s the worst that could happen if we just let it go?Mark: People will baptize babies for the next 1500 years, before a bunch of Reformation-piggybacking whack-a-doodle Germans magically figure out what we really meant the whole time.Paul: [Pause] I can live with that.
After the end credits run, there’s a funny post-script:
Paul: Also, what did I write about that other symbol that doesn’t actually do anything? What’s it’s called… the Lord’s Supper.
Mark: Yeah. You don’t even want to know.
The point is clear. If the Apostles thought that Baptism and the Eucharist were merely symbolic, their writings would have sounded dramatically different. They would have sounded like the way the Mormon Book of Moroni sounds, for example. As it stands, not a single writing of the Apostles suggests that Baptism or the Eucharist is merely symbolic.
Of course, since Hans is a Lutheran, he omits the other example that you could use here: forensic justification. Even the Calvinist scholar and historian Alister McGrath concedes that the Protestant notion of forensic justification (that is, that being saved consists in a change of our legal standing before God, from “damned” to “saved,” but not a spiritual change in which we cease acting like damned sinners) is a “theological novum” invented by the Reformers. In other words, just as the Radical Reformers ‘magically figured out’ what the Apostles really meant the whole time on Baptism and the Eucharist, Luther and Calvin magically figured out what the Apostles really meant the whole time on forensic justification. It’s equally absurd in each case.