We haven’t fully explored yet Venema’s underlying theology of the Sacraments (which I would argue is the historic Reformed position as codified in all the confessions of the Reformed churches).
Page 43 is essential for understanding this. He argues that “the insistence of the confessions that the recipients of the Lord’s Supper be professing believers arises out of their general teaching regardint the nature and power of the sacraments. (paragraph break in original) As noted in the foregoing, the Lord’s Supper, because it is a visible representation and confirmation of the gospel promise in Christ, requires the same response as the gospel on the part of its participants- faith. Neither the gospel Word nor the sacrament work merely by virtue of their administration (ex opere operato). Only by a spiritual eating and drinking by the mouth of faith does the sacrament communicate Christ to His people.” (emphasis original). At this point, it becomes evident that a rational understanding of the Sacrament becomes essential to a proper partaking, although it is not sufficient. We are not necessarily talking about whether a person has to understand the various views of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament. Rather, we are talking about the same reaction to the Sacrament as one should have to the Gospel preached in the Word. Therefore, the self-examination required is similarly limited: is the faith by which I would receive the Sacrament matching up to the faith that I receive by the Holy Spirit working in the Word? This is hardly morbid introspection, by the way.
As an aside, have you noticed how most FV proponents (as well as many non-FV PC advocates) always link the adjective “morbid” to the term “introspection?” You’d think it was a hyphenated word, from the sound of things. You’d think there was absolutely zero possibility of any kind of introspection of a non-morbid nature, if you believed these folks. And yet, if no introspection occurs at all, then how is one supposed to know and confess the sins of the heart? In Psalm 51, although David’s sins had an outward dimension, it is inner cleansing that he knows he needs. Similarly, when Jesus talks about the heart in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 15, for instance), this hardly teaches us to ignore what happens in our hearts. There is an undoubted danger in getting lost in the deepest recesses of our own hearts. This happens in depression, for example. However, the equal and opposite danger of formalized outward religion with nothing happening in the area of the heart is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. We must always connect our heart to the cleansing blood of Christ as problem to solution. It helps not one whit to focus overly much on either problem or solution. Rather, we must have a healthy examination of each and in roughly equal measure.
Back to the subject at hand, Venema concludes that the confessions teach that “all believers who are received at the Lord’s Table come in the same way and with the same obligations” (p. 45). These obligations include active engagement (p. 44). This participation is linked to the preaching of the Gospel, without which the Sacrament does not communicate grace. If this is true, then if a child cannot understand the Gospel, they will not understand the Sacrament either. This also relates to the issue of whether children are being deprived of nourishment. Venema notes that this charge against CC advocates would only be true if the children were being deprived of the Word (p. 48). In the next article, we will begin the real meat of the debate, which will be an examination of the exegetical arguments.