Monday, September 23, 2013

The Sacraments and Profound Intellectual Disabilities

The following is an excerpt from the talk that I'm giving in Cleveland tomorrow for the Values and Faith Alliance event, "Changing Perspectives: Spirituality and Service." 

The gift of God’s love is not based upon ability, but upon the sheer generosity of God, expressed in the Incarnation.

God did not come to us in Christ because of something that we did. God came to us in Christ because that’s the kind of being God is. God reached out to us and personally  invited us to participate in the mutual love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible does not tell us that God was so impressed with humanity that he gave his only Son, or that God thought that human beings had so much potential, or that God found human beings to be so good looking, or that humans were doing such great things that he gave his only Son. Rather, Scripture teaches us that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, an event that took place in the Incarnation. This is sheerly an act of self-giving, an act of pure generosity that is extended to each of us, regardless of ability.

The Incarnation, then, is a great leveler, because Christ is given to each of us without regard for anything we might think, say, or do. It is universal in its scope.

This can become experientially real for us in the sacraments. I sit on my local District Committee on Ordained Ministry and conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and every candidate who comes before us for ordination is asked about the sacraments. This can be a frustrating exercise because so many of our candidates have a decidedly un-Wesleyan view of the sacraments. Too often, they think of them as remembrances or memorials. In fact, the sacraments are first and foremost neither of these. Sacraments are means of grace. They are ports of entry into the life of the Trinity. The primary agent in baptism and holy communion is God--not the pastor, not the laity, but God. Should we then baptize people with profound cognitive disabilities? Absolutely. God’s grace will be poured out on that person as well. Should we give communion to people who lack the cognitive ability to grasp its basic meaning? Absolutely. God’s grace is not dependent upon the ability of the recipient to comprehend what is happening. The full effects of this grace for each of us, regardless of ability, will only be realized in the age to come. God is making all things new, including people with profound cognitive disabilities.


  1. I hope the talk goes well. I'd love to get a copy of the whole talk later.

    1. John, I'll be glad to get you a copy, and I would value your feedback.

  2. I love that the "incarnation, then, is a great leveler, because Christ is given to each of us without regard for anything we might think, say, or do." What a testimony of grace and gift.