The Place of the Sacraments in the Life of the Church

The Rev Nevile Davidson, DD, Minister of Glasgow Cathedral

This article is the author’s Presidential Address to the Society’s Annual Meeting on 26th May 1950. He considers the Sacraments are not valued among us as they should be. The two Gospel Sacraments were of the greatest importance in the earliest Christian Church but their simplicity was almost completely left behind in the medieval period. The Reformers saw and emphasised the essential connection between Sacraments and Scripture; they restored the Sacraments to their proper place in the life of the Church. The value of the Sacraments has been overshadowed by the preaching of the Word and the time is now ripe for a careful reconsideration of their place in the whole life and worship of the Christian community. Baptism is primarily the bestowal of God’s grace. More stress must be laid on the responsibility of the parents. Baptism must be followed by instruction both in doctrine and in worship. The subject of Confirmation urgently calls for scholarly research and theological thought at the present time. Its origin and administration is veiled in obscurity. The rite of initiation in the Early Church comprised Profession of Faith; Baptism; Laying-on of hands and Admission to the Lord’s Table. We have largely forgotten the sacramental character of the Laying-on of hands. In this act we acknowledge our weakness and humbly seek divine grace. Preparation for Confirmation ought to be as careful and thorough as circumstances allow; often it is not. Suggestions as to what form the preparation and Confirmation should take are given. The Lord’s Supper is both a commemoration and a eucharist. In early times it was observed every Lord’s Day; the Reformers wanted to return to this practice but practical difficulties resulted in less frequent administration. Today the practice of infrequent Communion continues, laying a disproportionate stress on preaching. Until recently, the sense of importance was partially safeguarded by ‘fencing’ and tokens, but no longer. The Sacrament has become an extra and our whole devotional life suffers. The author suggests a celebration at least monthly ‘with an atmosphere of thanksgiving and gladness’ and taken to the infirm as often as they wish it. He concludes by advocating the separation of attendance at the Sacrament from regulations about inclusion on the Communicants’ Roll.

Volume 21 1951, p3