The Time-Point of Faith

Doug’s response to me is here. It seems to me that the main point of Doug’s argument is that my statement regarding the nature of the Sacraments actually works better in the PC camp than in the non-PC camp. In other words, if the point of the Sacrament is that it accompanies the Word (and we both seem to agree that it does), then we should be giving children the Sacrament, thus allowing them to grow into the proper understanding, rather than waiting until they can demonstrate such an understanding. More of an answer below.

We are bringing the logic of courtroom verification into the rearing of children. Nothing against courtroom verification in its place, but that’s not what we should be doing here. Christian nurture is more like breastfeeding than it is like grilling a hostile witness.

I’m not entirely sure where this comes from, however. The language of grilling a hostile witness is certainly not commensurate with any examination of prospective membership that I have ever seen. We certainly do not take the stance “non-Christian until proven otherwise.” This language would assume that which needs to be proven: it assumes that refusing the ignorant from the table is the same (practically speaking) as excommunication. As I argued from my own experience (which Doug did not seem to contest), I felt absolutely zero sense of excommunication. I wonder if this argument about excommunication comes from Doug’s Baptist background, which. Baptists tend to talk about their children as if they were pagans before profession of faith. This view of children is not prominent in covenantal Presbyterian churches. As I grew up, I learned that the Supper was a special thing, something to be taking very seriously, that solemn kind of gladness that C.S. Lewis talks about in the Chronicles of Narnia. But there is a fence around the table that children need to climb. And the church elders need to see them able to do that. I think where Doug and I differ is how high that fence is, what the nature of that fence is, and how athletic the children have to be in order to do that.

There is an important difference between the Word and the Sacrament that comes into play at precisely this point. That difference is that the immediate consequence of not understanding the Word is less serious than a non-understanding participation in the Sacrament. The warnings for not heeding the Scripture are just as dire, but more long-term. There is a sense in which the Word has the leisure to work long-term on people. It can take years before the Word really starts to penetrate people. And the Bible seems to allow for that. The Word can have a “wearing down” effect. It gradually wears down our defenses, and gradually penetrates bit by bit over time. However, the effect of the Sacrament is slightly different. Faith is necessary for the Sacrament to have its effect. If faith is not present, the negative effect is more immediate than with the Word. To a certain extent, these questions cannot be resolved until the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 takes place. For it is there that we find the consequences of incorrect participation in the Sacrament. The question becomes this: does ignorance of the Sacrament constitute illegitimate participation, and what exactly constitutes ignorant participation? These two questions are at the heart of the debate, I believe. In differing answers to these questions, we find the various positions ranged across the spectrum.