Posted by: mattcolvin | August 17, 2011

No Sermon, No Supper?

I have seen some pastors object to the idea that children who sleep through the sermon should be awakened by their parents in time for the Lord’s Supper. “Why aren’t their parents worried about them missing the Word? Why do they only wake them up for the sacrament?”

But there’s a very good reason, and it’s explicit in the text of Scripture. When Nehemiah read the Law, note to whom he read it:

2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. 3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3 NKJV)

But when the Lord tells Moses how to celebrate the Passover, he says:

And if the household be too few for a lamb, then shall he take, he and his neighbour who is near unto his house, for the number of persons, each according to his eating ye do count for the lamb… (Exodus 12:4)

And if we think about this, the reason is obvious: Passover made a distinction between all who were Israel, and those who were not. The Israelites were saved by the blood of the Passover lambs because of their relationship with YHWH, i.e. because the Lord was their God. His angel saw the blood, and made a distinction between Israel and the Egyptians. Note well: the Israelites were not saved because of their knowledge of this fact, or their awareness of what was going on. There is nothing superstitious about this at all: it is a covenantal relationship at work via rituals that operate in a sociological way. Nor does it in any way undermine the gospel, which is the declaration that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is only found in Him. It only undermines gnosticism, the doctrine that we are saved by what we think.

(One of the main burdens of Leithart’s dissertation, The Priesthood of the Plebs is that sacraments work as rituals, not as containers for grace, or medicine, or magic, or transsubstantiated miracles. No one who agrees with him ought to suppose that it would promote superstition if we administered the Supper to babies who are oblivious to what is going on, as though a performative ritual could not possibly work on an oblivious person.)

By contrast, the reading of Scripture is not, or not primarily, a ritual. This is why we reject bibliomancy, Bible codes, and other methods that attempt to make an end run around our minds’ comprehension of the meaning of the text of Scripture. “I speak as to wise men (ὡς φρονίμοις — i.e. people who can think). Judge for yourselves the things I say,” declares Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15.

That’s the difference between the mechanics of the sacraments and the mechanics of the Word preached. It’s a very good reason to wake babies up for a part of the service that they can benefit from.



  1. In as much as parents can manipulate their infant’s schedule (e.g., adjust the time, duration and intensity of activities resulting in naps), they should help their infant be awake for Supper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s