Since Wilson and I were debating whether faith is a faculty you can do things with, it might be helpful to point out that the main Reformed theologian who talks this way is Abraham Kuyper, who uses “The Faculty of Faith” as a chapter title in his book on The Work of the Holy Spirit.
If you have read Kuyper, you will probably remember that he is a major advocate of the superiority of formless, invisible, unmediated religion. For Kuyper, that religion is superior which is most denuded and deracinated. The Old Testament, with its ornate and symbol-filled sacrificial system, its plentiful rituals, and its poetic imagery, represents a “lower stage” in the development of man’s religious impulse.
Kuyper is pretty much the quintessential Reformed sacramental Marcionite.
One of my friends pointed out in a private message that it is fairly common for Reformed people to talk as though the reception of Christ or His benefits that happens in the Supper is a parallel event to the act of eating bread and wine. Thus, according to Wilson, you eat bread with your mouth, but your faith eats Christ. I am very skeptical of this way of thinking about the sacraments. I prefer Peter Leithart’s statements from Against Christianity: “Baptism is not a symbol of a man’s becoming a disciple. It is his becoming a disciple. “The Supper is not a symbol of a meal with Jesus. It is a meal with Jesus.”
For me, the biggest disproof of the “faith as a faculty” model of the sacraments is the test of experience. Not only have I never “used my faith” to partake of Jesus’ body and blood in any other way than by using my mouth to eat the bread and drink the wine, I don’t even know anyone else who can credibly describe to me how it happens, or what it feels like to do so. We are asked to believe that the observable actions of participants in the Supper are parallel to a bunch of invisible actions, and that the invisible actions are the ones that really make the Supper beneficial.
It is especially telling that when ritual meals in the Bible become occasions of judgment, it is never because of a failure of the participants to perform an invisible action with their faculty of faith at the time of eating. No, it is always failure to perform visible, outward actions. In Isaiah 1, Israel’s sacrificial meals are an abomination to God because of the people’s injustice. In 1 Corinthians 11, the problem is class divisions and the humiliation of the poor by the rich.
All this is sufficient reason for me to doubt the “faith as a faculty” model. To be honest, I threw it out when I became a paedocommunionist 11 years ago. It never occurred to me that anyone might claim to be a paedocommunionist and yet think the sacraments work this way.