Covenant Signs and Sacraments

This material from the Kuyper Foundation: Post Office Box 2, Taunton, Somerset, England, TA1 4ZD,

The chapter below, “Covenant Signs and Sacraments”, is taken from Common-Law Wives and Concubines, written by Stephen Perks. You can buy the book or download the free PDF at the link given.

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Communion, like baptism, is a sign of the covenant. It is not a sacrament. There are no sacraments in the Bible. Sacrament is a concept foreign to biblical thinking. It is interesting to observe that where sacramental thinking is strong, covenantal thinking is usually very weak, often non-existent. The whole context of Scripture is covenantal, and the so-called “sacraments” are not sacraments at all, but covenant signs and seals.

The term “sacrament” is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which was the sum of money deposited with the magistrates by Roman citizens who went to court; it was also used to denote the military oath of allegiance. From this military use it came to mean more generally an oath or solemn engagement. In later times and in ecclesiastical usage it acquired the meaning of something to be kept secret, a mystery, and the office of the ministry.1 According to Augustine, “Signs, when they relate to divine things, are called sacraments,”2 and “A sacrifice, therefore, is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice.”3 The word was also used by Jerome in his Vulgate version of the Bible in Eph. 5:32 where Paul speaks of marriage as a mystery signifying the relationship between Christ and his Church: “Sacramentum hoc magnum est . . .” (“This is a great mystery . . .”). Oddly, therefore, we can perhaps say that marriage is a sacrament, but then that would not be the biblical concept of a covenant sign or seal. The word acquired the meaning of the mysteries of the Christian faith, the gospel revelation, but of course there is nothing mysterious about baptism and the Lord’s Supper in this sense, since they are not hidden things, but revealed truth, signs and seals of the covenant.

Unfortunately, the biblical signs of the covenant denoted by this Latin term (and certain other rites not to be found in the Bible as covenant signs) eventually came to be understood in a way quite contrary to the biblical meaning attached to covenant signs and acquired the status of magical rituals that confer spiritual blessings regardless of the participant’s attitude of heart and requiring no practical response from him. They are believed to work ex opere operato, by the mere performance of the rite. Their efficacy is perceived to be in the sign itself and in the act of partaking of this sign, much as the efficacy of preaching is seen by romantic Protestants to be in the act or “event” of preaching itself, and in the experience of listening to a great preacher, not in the results this event produces in the lives of those who listen to him by their equipment for the work of service in the Kingdom.4 With regard to the Lord’s Supper (though not baptism) this is so for many evangelicals and Reformed people no less than Roman Catholics, though the rationale may be different. It is true that Protestants require faith in the recipient if the rite is to be effective, and they do not believe in transubstantiation. But the belief in a rite that is efficacious in itself, conferring on the communicant a spiritual blessing that is unrelated to the wider context of his life and requiring no practical response that would constitute a real antithesis between the Christian way of life and that of the non-believer is practically, if not theoretically, on a par with the Roman Catholic belief. The fact is, most evangelical and Reformed people show great zeal when it comes to protecting their communion tables and Reformed Churches show equal zeal in protecting their pulpits (since preaching is a third, and perhaps the primary, sacrament in modern Reformed Churches5), but blithely send their children to be educated in spiritual brothels (secular schools) without batting an eyelid, a scandal that must surely be greater than what is often perceived as the heinous spiritual crime of permitting one’s children to take the Lord’s Supper, and just as surely must be the very denial of the meaning attached to, and the responsibilities entailed in, the baptism of a child. This is as good a case of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel as ever there was.

The history of the doctrine of the Eucharist has been a process of theological algebra in which theologians have attempted to find the value of x, the real presence. This process was not helped by the fact that in part mediaeval theology amounted to what could perhaps be described as a game of Chinese whispers. Theologians relied on compilations of the sayings of the Fathers as their authority. Over time, however, these quotations of the Fathers were increasingly subject to embellishment, reinterpretation, and outright distortion, and before the printing press there were no definitive editions to which appeal could be made for the correct reading. Despite the claim that what the Church taught was an uninterrupted tradition going back to the Church Fathers and ultimately to the apostles and Christ himself, mediaeval theology had travelled a long way from its biblical origins. And the Bible itself, at least in the West, was not immune from this process of distortion, since the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, which was held up as inspired, was subject to the same proliferation of different readings through the many hand-written copies that were made of it that any other document was subject to, a fact that surely invalidated the Papacy’s claim that the Reformers’ reliance on the Greek text of Scripture rather than the Latin Vulgate was vitiated by the vast number of variant readings in the different Greek manuscripts; Roman Catholics had precisely the same problem with their own Latin Vulgate version.

The Renaissance, which placed an emphasis on the newly discovered original Greek texts of classical authors, brought a much needed reform to mediaeval scholarship. The emphasis on getting as near to the original source material as possible had significant repercussions for the Church. It gave the Western Church the text of the Bible in the original languages. The Reformers, many of whom received a humanist education, brought this emphasis to the study of theology, with startling results. But Rome was not built in a day. And neither could it be demolished in a day. The Reformers were still mediaeval thinkers in many ways. It was as difficult for them to break away completely from the modes of thought that characterised their time as it is for the modern scholar to break away from post-Enlightenment modes of thought. And so it was with their doctrine of the Eucharist. This is quite understandable. The pioneering work of the Reformers led the Church into a new and more biblical emphasis and this in turn eventually led to a reconstruction of the social landscape of Northern Europe. But their work was not a complete break with the mediaeval attitudes of the past, nor could it have been. What Abraham Kuyper said of Calvinism is true of the Reformation as a whole, namely that “the underlying characteristic of Calvinism must be sought, not in what it has adopted from the past, but in what it has newly created.”6 The Magisterial Reformers did retain much from the past in their understanding. With the exception of Zwingli and those who followed him in this matter, this was also true of the Reformers’ understanding of the Eucharist.

Of course the Reformers abandoned transubstantiation, though not all to the same degree; and they rejected the notion of a repeated sacrifice in the Eucharist. But despite their rejection of a local or corporeal presence in the Eucharist, they were unable or unwilling to abandon altogether, or at least were ambivalent about, the notion of a real presence in the Eucharist, however mystically or spiritually they variously interpreted it. Calvin, for example, says, “we must not dream of such a presence of Christ in the Sacrament as the craftsmen of the Roman court have fashioned—as if the body of Christ, by a local presence, were put there to be touched by the hands, to be chewed by the teeth, and to be swallowed by the mouth.”7 But he also states that the flesh of Christ is given in the Lord’s Supper: “That we really feed in the Holy Supper on the flesh of Christ, no otherwise than as bread and wine are aliments of our bodies, I freely confess”8 and “I confess that our souls are truly fed by the substance of Christ’s flesh.”9 The Magisterial Reformers, however, also held to orthodox Christology as this was expounded at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, which maintained that the two natures of Christ are inseparably united but not confused.10 The human nature did not become divine, nor the divine human. Nevertheless, neither could the two natures be separated, since they are united in one person. According to Calvin, therefore, “The Sacraments direct our faith to the whole, not to a part of Christ,”11 and “When, therefore, we speak of the communion which believers have with Christ, we mean that they communicate with His flesh and blood not less than with His Spirit, so as to possess thus the whole Christ.”12

But there is a problem with this. Calvin also understood that Christ’s human nature is limited by the same constraints that limit any human being: “For as we do not doubt that Christ’s body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ returns in judgement, so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere.”13 The ubiquity of Christ’s body is denied. How, then, can the believer communicate with the whole Christ, flesh and blood as well as Spirit, not just a truncated half-Christ, if Christ’s body is not ubiquitous and remains in heaven? Calvin’s answer to this problem was to argue that the believer, when participating in the Lord’s Supper, is raised up to heaven by the Holy Spirit and there communes with Christ’s body: “Christ, then, is absent from us in respect of His body, but dwelling in us by His Spirit, He raises us to heaven to Himself, transfusing into us the vivifying vigour of His flesh . . .”14 Thus, “No extent of space interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit, which transfers life into us from the flesh of Christ.”15 The difference between Calvin and the Magisterial Reformers on the one hand, and the Roman Catholics on the other, was not in what is received in the Eucharist, but rather in the manner of its reception.16 Thus Calvin writes:

But greatly mistaken are those who conceive no presence of flesh in the Supper unless it lies in the bread. For thus they leave nothing to the secret working of the Spirit, which unites Christ himself to us. To them Christ does not seem present unless he comes down to us. As though, if he should lift us to himself, we should not just as much enjoy his presence! The question is therefore only of the manner, for they place Christ in the bread, while we do not think it lawful for us to drag him from heaven. Let our readers decide which is more correct. Only away with that calumny that Christ is removed from his Supper unless he lies hidden under the covering of bread! For since this mystery is heavenly, there is no need to draw Christ to earth that he may be joined to us.17

Calvin rightly believed the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation to be an unacceptable fable. But he seems not to have realised that the notion of the faithful being transported mystically into heaven, there to partake spiritually of Christ’s flesh, could be perceived as equally absurd. This shows how, despite their break with Rome in so many ways, the Reformers were still to some extent constrained in their understanding by the attitudes and cultural milieu of their age—as indeed all men are, the modern scientist no less than the ancient Greek.

But this is certainly not to deny that the Reformers also broke new ground and provided a new direction and new material with which later generations could build—and this is no less true in the matter of their understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The process of doctrinal development from one generation to the next is part of the Church’s task. And almost always, it should be remembered, this process of development has taken place in the context of the Church’s defence of the faith against heresy. Heresy has always been the catalyst for the further development of Christian orthodoxy, a truth to which the apostle Paul seems to have pointed (I Cor. 11:19). This is why a refusal to engage in debate with heresy is fatal for the Church’s intellectual development, fatal to sound doctrine. Where the faith is not vigorously defended, where the reasons for belief are not articulated and taught against the prevailing heresy, atheism and paganism of the day, the Church finds herself in decline, and compromised with that very heresy, atheism and paganism against which she should stand fast and bear testimony.

This was, of course, the history of the Church in twentieth-century Britain. And the problem remains still. The faith is no longer defended by the Church. Modern scholarship has in the main merely cast aside much of the good building material that the men of faith of former centuries fashioned out of the new opportunities of their day and placed at our disposal. This is understandable in the light of the modern liberal/Arminian ethos in the Church. What is not so understandable is the stagnation that seems to exist among Reformed and conservative evangelical Christians in the matter of the theology of the Eucharist. There has been little real doctrinal development here since the Reformation, though re-inventing the wheel has become popular in some circles. The only real difference between the Romanists and the Protestants on the matter of the Eucharist often boils down to the fact that Protestants have not yet found the value of x. So the game of theological algebra goes on undiminished in Protestant Churches. But whereas the Romanist thinks he has found in transubstantiation the value of x, i.e. the real presence, the Protestant knows that this is the wrong answer but cannot find an adequate replacement. Looking at this rite from a mere covenantal point of view rather than a sacramental (i.e. magical) point of view seems so much less satisfactory to many and requires a response few are inclined to make willingly. Hence the game of theological algebra, with x, the real presence, never being defined nearly enough for us to know what it really is. Of course, all good Protestants know that a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” the definition given in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.18 But this has become a mere jingle for many; the real meaning of the Christian “sacraments” still eludes them. These Protestant sacramentalists know some things for certain though, or so they claim, namely, that x does not mean transubstantiation, nor does it mean covenant sign, since the former would involve them in Popery and the latter would require them to shoulder their covenant responsibilities, i.e. practise the faith rather than just praying about it, a fate worse than being a half-baked Papist no doubt.

Standing at a greater distance from the Reformation than the Reformers themselves stood, and with the benefit of the developments in covenant or federal theology that took shape in the century and a half following the Reformation, we are in a better position; we are able to build on their work and go beyond it. Looked at from a consistently covenantal perspective the theological gymnastics of the Roman, Lutheran and Reformed doctrines of the Eucharist seem unnecessary and unrealistic, even bizarre. The Eucharist can be conceived more consistently and biblically in terms of a covenantal perspective and context, as a rite signifying covenantal unity in and with Christ. And when the Lord’s Supper is so conceived covenantally, rather than sacramentally, the issue of whether covenant children should participate comes much more sharply into focus. The participation of covenant children becomes not only valid, but essential, just as it is essential to the covenantal view of baptism. In many ways it seems something of a mystery as to why the Reformed Churches developed a consistently covenantal doctrine of baptism, over against the Roman doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but continued to adhere to a sacramental view of the Eucharist.

Since communion, like baptism, is a covenant sign, it is reasonable to expect it to be administered on a covenantal basis, not a rationalistic basis, much less a superstitious basis (the “sacramental” viewpoint). It is not drinking wine and eating bread that brings blessing to those who are faithful, nor judgement on those who fail to discern the body, but covenant faithfulness or breaking the covenant, abusing it, as did the Corinthians in their agape feasts, treating each other despicably. They failed to discern the body of Christ—i.e. they ill-treated it, namely, each other, the Church. The damage done to the body of Christ was not through the physical eating and drinking, but through the abuse of each other, members of Christ’s body, the unity of which is symbolised in communion for sure. In this sense, therefore, to refuse to give communion to those who are members of the Church, children included, is to fail to discern the body. Ironically, therefore, refusing to give communion to baptised Christian children is the very abuse that anti-paedocommunionists think they are avoiding by not giving it. Children are excommunicated for a man-made offence—i.e. not being intellectually advanced enough to satisfy man-made theological criteria, a demand that is nowhere to be found in the Bible as a qualification for participation in the covenant signs, though of course profession of faith is required of adults. Nevertheless, saving faith is naive; there is an important sense in which we are saved by who we know, not what we know. In the Passover the whole family was involved, including the children (Ex. 12:24–27); and communion is the Christian Passover. But this is a covenantal argument not a sacramental argument, and sacramentalists do not think in these terms (i.e. biblical terms). Teaching on the covenant is virtually absent from evangelicalism of all brands today—at least in Britain.

Ironically, in many Protestant Churches the criteria for permitting a child to take communion, namely passing an intellectual test, exists side by side with an extreme form of anti-intellectualism when it comes to the issue of how much adults are expected to understand of the faith. This is odd. Children must pass an intellectual test to get communion, but adults are not required to pursue a vigorous understanding of the faith at all, despite the fact that Christ commanded us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). In fact, it is often the case that adults know very little about what the Lord’s Supper means, but they are given it regardless of their grasp of its meaning. There are children with a far better grasp of what communion is about than many adults, but they are still not permitted to participate, because, it is said, they do not understand. Even though they can explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper they are deemed not to have a proper understanding, whereas adults who cannot articulate two sentences on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper are deemed to understand despite their inability to express their understanding. Strange indeed it is, that Churches that are so anti-intellectual and anti-theology should apply such strict intellectual and theological standards for children, while waiving them for adults, who, if they are thought to have a “simple” faith are on that account deemed more spiritual. This is especially odd in the light of the fact that Christ gave us as an example of such simple faith, not the adult ignoramus, but the unaffected trust that characterises the faith of children (Mt. 18:3–6), who, in fact, are often far more zealous to know more about the faith (and most other things) than many adults, since the simplicity of their faith, which is what Christ holds up as an example, is not the product of intellectual laziness, as so often it is with adults, but of their naive trust. Adults are encouraged to have faith in Christ in the same way. This trust does not require a developed intellectual understanding. Neither does it exclude it. If many adult Christians were as eager to know more about the faith as children are to know more about anything, the faith included if they are brought up as Christians, the Church would be in a far better condition today.

Of course, transubstantiation dealt paedocommunion a hard blow. Paedocommunion was practised in the early Church and in the Western Church for the first 1200 years of the Church’s history. It is still practised by the Eastern Churches today.19 According to Christian L. Keidel: “References to infant and child participation in the Lord’s Supper continue in the west throughout the period of Charlemagne and following. But with the emergence of the doctrine of transubstantiation and the doctrine of concomitance (i.e., that Christ is present entirely under either kind), this ancient practice was soon discontinued. The fear that infants and children might spill the wine and thereby profane the actual body and blood of the Lord appears to have been the primary reason for this discontinuance. This gradual abrogation of communion under two kinds led Pope Paschalis the Second, in the 12th century, to emphasize in a letter to Pontius, abbot of Cluny: ‘As Christ communicated bread and wine, each by itself, and it ever had been so observed in the church, it ever should be so done in the future, save in the case of infants and of the sick, who as a general thing, could not eat bread.’ This letter shows that infants were accustomed at that time, in the western church at least, to partake only of wine in the Lord’s Supper, since it was harder for them to eat the bread. Thus when the cup was withdrawn from infants, it ipso facto meant the cessation of any involvement in the Lord’s Supper as well. Additional justification given for this discontinuance was that infants received all that was necessary for salvation in baptism, and that little children, therefore, were not in danger of losing their salvation if they waited until the age of discretion before partaking of the eucharist, at which time they would eat with more respect and understanding.”20 But of course, if children receive all that is necessary for salvation in baptism, or more correctly, if baptism signifies all that is necessary for salvation, on what grounds can they be denied the rite that signifies continuation in that salvation?

At the very least, Christ said “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me” (Mt. 19:14) and warned us that it would be better for us to have a nasty accident in some water than hinder the children from coming to him (Mt. 18:6). If it is said that he was referring to harming them, then I can only say that refusing them covenant membership in Christ’s body is the greatest harm that can be done to anyone. And if they are members of the Church, which is after all what is signified by baptism, at least looked at covenantally (rather than sacramentally), what right has anyone to excommunicate them. It seems to me that refusing to give baptised Christian children communion is precisely a case of hindering them from coming to Christ.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when children are forbidden to take part in the life of the Church until they reach a certain age they are then not interested and leave the fold. This is judgement indeed. People keep their children at arms length from the faith until they are old enough to “make a decision for themselves” and when they decide they’ve had enough of this man-made Sunday religion (I am not referring to the Church’s rituals but to lives that deny the meaning of those rituals) their parents are surprised and sad that they have left the faith. The trouble is that often it is the parents who first abandon the faith practically by not bringing their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (i.e. they abandon their covenant responsibilities), preferring mere rituals to God’s ordinances, i.e. denying the practical meaning and reality signified by those rituals, which the children were never allowed to take part in anyway (and children see through shallow superficial rituals, they see when these things are done but do not really mean anything in practical terms to those who do them—again I am not referring to the rituals per se, since ritual is a part of human life, but to the denial of the reality that the ritual is meant to signify).

But this is now a much broader subject, though indeed by no means unrelated to communion. Covenant signs are meaningless in the context of a life that is devoid of covenantal content, i.e. covenant faithfulness (Rom. 2:25–27). But by the same token, they are highly meaningful in the context of a life of covenant faithfulness, and to deny them to those who are seeking to live the Christian life faithfully, but who still fail, as we all do, and who recognise their need to repent and renew their faith in Christ, which is also what communion is about, is to hinder them from coming to Christ. This is as true for children as it is for adults. Children need to know they are sinners and that they need to repent and be forgiven also. Why bring them up as Christians if they are then denied participation in the covenant rituals that signify the very heart of the Christian message and way of life? This is standing the gospel on its head! And if they are being brought up as Christians, believing the truth, they need to come to communion just as much as any adult sinner. It seems totally wrong to me that they should be brought up to live as Christians but denied participation in one of the central covenant rituals. They need to remember that Christ died for their sins, they need to proclaim his death, and they need to renew their faith in Christ; and they need to do all these things at the Lord’s Supper just as adult believers do. If they are not being brought up to understand these things in what sense are they being brought up as Christians? And if they are being brought up to believe and live the faith, who can rightfully deny them the Lord’s Supper?

Communion is about the constant need for sinners to come back to Christ, to repent of their sins and seek his grace continually, to be continually renewed in the faith. This does not exhaust the meaning of communion, but it is at the heart of it. But children are told throughout their youth that they cannot have this, and what’s more, that they do not need it. That is the message they get, notwithstanding that is not what is intended. They are denied the rituals that signify the very thing Christian parents want them to believe, that signify the heart of the Christian gospel. This is undoing with one hand what both Church and Christian parents try to do with the other. No wonder when they reach early adulthood they leave the faith. They have been taught to understand it is not for them, that they do not need it, by their being denied participation in one of the central rituals of the faith. This is refusing to let them come to Christ. We cannot even say that they get a different message from the sermons in most church services because they do not listen to them. They are sent out to Sunday school. And even when they do stay in church, at “family” services, they are fed nothing but mindless pap under the pretence that they cannot understand anything else—though the difference between this and what adults get each week is usually one of degree only. They are treated like people who cannot understand, and in the end they behave like people who cannot understand. This is the message that is drummed into them by their exclusion and in the end they agree, they do not understand, and they leave.

Of course, to change this requires much more than merely permitting baptised children to receive communion. It requires a teaching programme, a constant drip, drip, teaching programme that will orient the Church towards understanding the faith and covenant faithfulness, i.e. practice of the faith. And if people do not understand the faith, what it means, how it should change their lives, they cannot practise it. But perhaps permitting baptised children to receive communion accompanied by a teaching programme aimed at explaining both the ritual and the reality it signifies is a good starting point (and baptism should always precede communion, since baptism is the rite of initiation and communion the rite of continuation, i.e. covenant renewal). Perhaps the two could be linked together initially. In other words, perhaps baptised children of Christians could be given communion where parents are prepared to attend explanatory teaching sessions and thereby show themselves willing to understand and shoulder the responsibilities this entails for the parents of covenant children. Such would help to stem the flow of the youth from the Church far better than youth clubs and Sunday school, things that, no matter how well-intentioned, still do not have the virtue of being rites, covenant signs of our participation in Christ, instituted by the word of God, such as are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

1 C. T. Lewis and C. S. Short, A Latin Dictionary (The Clarendon Press, 1879).

2 “Signa, cum ad res divinas pertinent, sacramenta appelantur” (Epistulae, 138, cited in Lewis and Short, op. cit., p. 1612).

3 The City of God, (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1872, translated by Marcus Dods), X.6 (Vol. I, p. 388).

4 On the biblical concept of preaching and the office of teacher in the New Testament see Chapter Thirteen, “The Implications of the Information Revolution for the Christian Church”; see also, Stephen C. Perks The Nature, Government and Function of the Church: A Reassessment (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 1997), Appendix B, pp. 92-99.

5 On preaching as a sacrament see Colin Wright, “Restoring the Idea of the Throne to Christian Preaching,” Christianity & Society, Vol. V, No. 5 (April, 1995), p. 18ff.

6 Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Eerdmans, [1931] 1976), p. 102.

7 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), IV.xvii.12 (p. 1372).

8 Corpus Reformatorum, 20:73, cited in R. S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1953), p. 199.

9 C.R. 9:70, cited in Wallace, op. cit., p. 199.

10 There was, however, a significant difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed on this point. The Lutherans sat much more loosely to the orthodoxy of Chalcedon, maintaining a genus maiestaticum (majestatic genus) in which there is a real rather than a mere nominal communication of attributes, i.e. the human nature partakes of the divine attributes. Hence the Lutheran insistence on the ubiquity of Christ’s body, which was essential to the Lutheran concept of consubstantiation.

11 Institutes, III.xxi.9, as cited in Wallace, op. cit., p. 200.

12 Opera Selecta, ed. P. Barth and W. Niesel (Münich, 1926-36), 1:435, cited in Wallace, op. cit., p. 199.

13 Institutes, IV.xvii.12 (p. 1373).

14 C.R. 9:33, cited in Wallace, op. cit., p. 206.

15 C.R. 27:48, cited in Wallace, op. cit., p. 206.

16 Wallace, op. cit., p. 199.

17 Institutes, IV.xvii.31 (p. 1403).

18 The Prayer Book definition continues with the words “given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same [i.e. an inward and spiritual grace—SCP], and a pledge to assure us thereof.” The inward and spiritual graces signified by these visible signs, the Prayer Book tells us, are “death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” This is largely the same definition as that given by the Council of Trent: “A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification” (Catech. Trident. II.i.4, cited in John H. Blunt, ed., Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology [London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1871], p. 669a). These definitions are derived from that given by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century: “A sacrament is the visible form of an invisible grace, bearing the likeness and existing for the sake of that same grace” (“Sacramentum est invisibilis gratiae visibilis forma, ejusdem gratiae imaginem gerens, et causa existens”—Sentences, lib. iv. dist. i, cited in J. H. Blunt, op. cit., p. 669a). This definition was, in turn, derived from Augustine: “On the subject of the sacrament, indeed, which he receives, it is first to be well impressed upon his notice that the signs of divine things are, it is true, visible, but that the invisible things themselves are also honored in them, and that the species, which is then sanctified by the blessing, is therefore not to be regarded merely in the way in which it is regarded in any common use” (On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, Chap. 26:50: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark], First Series, Vol. III, p. 312a]; see also the quotation at note 3 above).

19 Christian L. Keidel, “Is the Lord’s Supper for Children?” in The Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3 (Spring 1975), pp. 301-341.

20 Ibid., p. 302f.

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