My first thought of course is
"What about the Thief?"
This simple innocuous statement is served up as a slam dunk argument by our sacramentarian friends. Within their paradigm, this simple statement carries the weight of the entirety of their theology against what the Scriptures clearly state on baptism. Which is of course nothing at all of any substance.
This flawed question is an argument from silence. Let's look at what the Scriptures tell us about the thief on the cross.
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to
death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called
The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his
right and one on his left.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.
From the synoptic gospel, the Lukean narrative is the only one that expands beyond “two robbers” being crucified.
Without a thorough exegesis of the text, what can we take from a simple reading?
There were two robbers.
They were crucified in a place called The Skull (otherwise known as Golgotha)
One of the criminals mocked Christ
This criminal seemed aware that he was called the Christ
The other criminal rebuked the first criminal
Showed knowledge of Christ and some of His works (as being just and innocent)
Showed faith in Christ
Christ gave him a word of assurance and salvation
What we have here is a beautiful example of what salvation is for a penitent and contrite sinner. It is an assurance from our Lord. For the thief, it was a word of God from “The Word of God”. And the word of God never fails. What is that word from Jesus? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This is a word of promise that can and should be believed because God’s word of grace saves sinners. In this situation, it was an unrighteous thief about to die.
Unfortunately, this wonderful example of salvation by grace through faith is used by our more radical friends to attack God’s Word regarding baptism. The very words that come from Christ in His Scripture are twisted and butchered when they say it doesn't mean it clearly says. Instead of believing the clear words of Scripture, our friends respond in the same way that ancient foe the Devil did by stating “Did God actually say.”
Now of course they would never claim God as a liar or His Word is wrong or contradictory. Which it isn't. This is a wonderful thing that Dr. Pieper has called A Felicitous Inconsistency. This is a term used and taught to his students to highlight that an individual's faith might sometimes be at odds with their public confession. For instance, the sacramentarians deny the true body and blood of Christ in the sacrament and they deny that baptism saves. Praise be to God that they are saved in light of this inconsistency.
Some of our Reformed friends will try to find a middle ground using Plato or other forms of human reason to say that it is His body and blood with the bread and wine, or that baptism does save, but when you push the concept, it always ends up meaning something contrary to the plain reading of Scripture. A plain reading that has been believed simply by the masses for the past two thousand years.
So ... what about the Thief?
I would say the same source of evidence that causes some to say the Thief was baptized, is used by others to say he was never baptized. And what is the source? None other than their imagination.
There is no source.
It is an argument from silence.
Not only is it a flawed argument, but it fails to use what we do know about the Thief and his circumstances. Let us look at a few things we know and don’t know.
He was saved by a direct Word of God
He was a sinner who was saved by grace
He was saved before the formal institution of baptism in Matthew 28
We don’t know:
If he was baptized
Anything else about his life other than he was a thief
So looking at these statements – why is this used as an argument so often?
It is not only an argument from silence, but an argument from ignorance of the texts of the gospels, the life of Christ, the sacraments he gave us, and the basic sequential order of events. It is a wonderful example of God’s Word saving a sinner in Scripture. Yet they try and use an exception to make the rule.
Despite everything I have written here, our friends will still continue disbelieving the scriptures because they see these wonderful gifts to us from God as something we do rather than something we receive. Until they begin to believe that God has and does use means for saving His people, they will be left thinking it is something we do to add to salvation. We don’t add to the cross, we only receive by God’s Word, and sometimes with simple elements such as water, wine, and bread. The forgiveness of sins is so freely given to those who believe, and they can trust these elements because they are comprehended with God’s Word. And of course, God never lies.
Hopefully, you will allow the thief to rest in paradise rather than twisting his example of salvation by grace through faith.