Part 3 in a series.
Paedocommunion (the act of giving baptized children and infants communion) is an outcropping of the Federal Vision . Since baptism places the individual in the covenant, unites them to Christ and makes them full members of the church, what reasons are there to not give them communion infant or not? Or so they reason (roughly).
In order to explain why I am saddened by paedocommunion, I need to explain my view of communion. The central text on the rite of the Lord’s Table is 1Co 11:23-31. Here Paul gives us the most detailed discussion of the ceremony and even then it isn’t as much as we might have hoped for. The phrase I feel is most important here is not “who eats and drinks without discerning the body” (v. 29) though it is important and will come in later. The phrase that I think says the most about the meal is “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26).
There are then two time elements in the Lord’s Supper. There is the backward look in faith to Jesus’ death and a forward look to his return which also speaks of his resurrection. Communion is a gospel pronunciation.
One of the things the Reformed have said about Communion is that it is a “means of grace”. This means that God gives us grace when we take part in the sacrament. The 1689 London Baptist Confession speaks of it like this “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls…by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened” (BCF 14.1, similar to WFC 14.1). The grace that is communicated in the sacrament is not a “new grace” it simply feeds the grace we received that enabled us to believe to begin with.
There are, I suppose, a number of ways of formulating how this strengthening takes place. The way I understand it is that since the Lord’s Supper is a gospel proclamation in physical form, it communicates grace through the gospel. It isn’t subjective where the pastor has to do a really good devotional in order to get you emotional enough to receive the grace, the act of eating broken bread and poured out wine communicates beyond the devotion. It reaches your soul whether you’re paying attention or not.
The reason this won’t work with infants is that the saving faith that is to be fed is not necessarily present in them. Furthermore, for the meal to be the gospel communicated, the recipient must be aware of what the gospel is. I agree with Jonathan Edwards, this sacrament is not a converting sacrament. Conversion ordinarily takes place through the preached word.
At this point, the dire warning of verse 27 comes into play. Hebrews 10:29 pronounces a more severe punishment on those who trample under foot Christ’s blood and that is what would be happening. A person who does not believe the gospel eats judgement upon himself. Non-believers must not participate in the Lord’s Table but should use the time to reflect on what keeps them from closing with Christ, asking God to remove that impediment and to look forward to participating the next time.
So that is briefly my take on Communion. Notice that gospel is central to the rite and faith to apprehend this gospel pronouncement is essential.
There are a number of ways paedocommunionists respond. Passover was the precursor to the Lord’s Table and Passover was intended to include the children (Ex 12:26). They point to 1Co 10 and notice that all ate the same spiritual food which would necessarily include the children. Why then would be deny our covenant children this means of grace? Their response to 1Co 11:28, where self-examination prior to the meal is required, is likely to be that strictures such as these are not intended for children. For example, in 2Th 3:10 Paul commands “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Clearly this did not apply to the infants.
These objections seem reasonable, as far as they go. But they are lacking. While Passover was a precursor to the Lord’s Table, it is significantly modulated in Christ. Jesus didn’t simply change Passover, he fulfilled it (1Co 5:7, 1Pt 1:19). Passover was the shadow and while we can look back at it for the significance of the Lord’s Table we shouldn’t look to it as regulative for the Table. How do we determine which elements come forward? Instead we are best to stick with what we are taught about the Lord’s Supper in its fullness rather than in its shadow.
First Corinthians 10:1-6 is an important text for understanding redemptive history and I think it helpful in the discussion of the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New. There baptism is not linked with circumcision but with a passage through water. The “spiritual food” in that passage is not Passover but the manna. Jesus is not eaten or drunk, he is a Rock that follows them and provides. It seems to me that what the water may signify is the Holy Spirit (see John 7:38-39) that Jesus gives to his church.
Finally, while it is clear that 2Th 3:10 cannot apply to children, it is not equally as clear that 1Co 11:28 does not. One must presuppose that children are supposed to be given Communion in order to read the 1Co 11 passage the same way as the 2Th 3 command. Otherwise, there are no commandments that apply to children! Furthermore, there are explicit commands for a man to provide for his family (1Ti 5:8) and so children are provided for in the commandment via their father.
So why is paedocommunion sad to me? First of all, because it seems to lessen the impact of what communion is. In other Christian traditions that place a high value on communion (Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic) there is a process of confirmation and First Communion. In other words, they have a similarly high view of the sacraments and yet recognize that there is something about communion that bears waiting. When children who haven’t a clue what communion is about partake simply because they are “covenant children” any distinction between those who have examined themselves and who discern the body and those who have not is lost. Even among the adult members of the covenant community there is supposed to be this difference, an adult who is “unworthy” or who does not “discern the body” (however we define those terms) is not to partake. Yet the children are ushered to the table without this distinction. Some of the exegetical gymnastics paedocommunionists do to get around 1Co 11:28 make me dizzy.
Next, and more crucial in my mind, is that the fulfillment of “covenant seed” is diminished and confused. Consider this quote from Tim Gallant’s book Feed My Sheep:
[Discussing Matthew 19.13-14] Covenant children are the epitome of the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God must be understood in new covenant terms. Children of believers are received by Christ as His, notwithstanding all the language elsewhere about the necessity of faith. Covenant children, to the very youngest, are partakers in what the new covenant is all about. If it is correct to say that conversion is necessary for salvation, it is also correct to say that conversion is precisely becoming like a covenant child (Mt. 18:3). (pp. 25-26)
There is a lot I could comment on in that paragraph that I am going to let it slide and instead make my point about covenant seed. I have a lot to say about it but in summary let me point to this:
1. All of the promise of the Davidic Covenant, especially his seed, was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:23).
2. It is generally agreed that the Seed of Eve promised in Genesis 3:15 was a promise of the coming Christ.
3. Paul is explicit on this in Galatians 3:16, in at least one aspect, the seed of the Abrahamic is fulfilled in Christ.
The above observations show that the concept of covenant see can be fulfilled. It is my contention that the concept of “covenant seed” or “covenant children” was pointing toward and was therefore fulfilled in Christ. Yes, in God’s covenants there was a promise of and to covenant children but those covenants were all looking forward to a promised One who would come from amongst the covenant people of God. Now that Jesus has come, what other seed are we looking forward to?
Calling our children members of the covenant just because they are our children is to read the New Covenant as if it contained the unfulfilled promises of older covenants in their same unfulfilled form. Baptizing them makes the issue hazy but most Reformed paedobaptists don’t consider baptized children to be full participating members of all that the New Covenant (and therefore the Covenant of Grace) offers. They still look forward to a time when their children will offer signs of a genuine faith of their own. Admitting them to the Lord’s Table blurs the lines even worse.
Okay, this post is quite long enough.