Contend Earnestly: Why Paedocommunion is Dumb

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Why Paedocommunion is Dumb

Okay, so I put a title to make you read the post. I figured I needed to do something to get people to read about communion. I actually respect my brothers and sisters who practice paedocommunion, so you can now take pot shots at me and we can be even.

I purposely put this post after I showed my thoughts on what communion is and what our responsibility should be as we partake. The fight for centuries has been, "Who should participate?" Many say that only Christians should participate while others contend that any in the covenant community should also be participating, which would include, not only believers, but also believer's children. As I have stated before, I am not a history expert, so I'll leave that part to those who know more about our traditional thoughts on this matter.

I first want to start with paedocommunion, or communion that involves children of believers. The question really comes, "Why do these believers allow unprofessing Christians to partake of communion?" Besides the fact that they allow the Old Testament to testify more about the New Covenant than the New Testament, here is a succinct quote from

Paedocommunion was the universal practice of the Church until the late medieval period (c. 1200). It is attested at least as far back as Cyprian (c. 250), and is witnessed throughout the centuries following (e.g. in Augustine, Leo the Great, etc.).

Nonetheless, the practice dropped off in the Western Church. This was due to a combination of factors (such as superstition regarding the sacramental elements, and the view of the bishop as the conveyer of the Holy Spirit, so that confirmation could not be conducted by a mere priest at baptism, but had to be accomplished by the bishop). (For more, see Lee's article, linked at right.)

Biblically, paedocommunion is supported by the status of children within the covenant. Even as God counted Abraham's offspring as His own, and therefore required that they be circumcised (Gen. 17), so too Jesus assumes a priestly role in relation to the children of new covenant believers, and calls them the heirs of the kingdom (Matt. 19:13-14).

What is perhaps most surprising is that many (indeed most) who hold to infant baptism nonetheless reject paedocommunion. They suggest a cleavage between the two sacraments. Biblically speaking, however, the two sacraments are tied together very closely. Baptism incorporates one into Christ and His Church (1 Cor. 12:13). Meanwhile, the Lord's Supper is precisely the meal of the Church. The Church is the one body together precisely because it partakes of the one bread together (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Consequently, just as the children of the old covenant were admitted to the sacramental communal meals of the OT (such as Passover), so too the children of the new covenant belong at the table of the Lord. This is the position of a growing number of Presbyterian and Reformed scholars and pastors, who are recognizing the profound biblical foundation that underlay the historic practice of paedocommunion.

Although that sounds like a great reason to believe that the children of believers should partake of the table, and is one reason that those who believe in paedobaptism should be paedocommunionists as well, it leaves out a major part of the call of Paul for those who are to partake of the table. Like I said, historically, anyone will whip me on explaining what has happened, but that is not my argument. My argument is going to come from the New Testament on who should be partaking.

Here is what Paul states about the table:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.
1 Corinthians 11:26-29

It seems as though Paul also makes a point in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8

Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8

So, do the paedocommunion guys have some points concerning the fact of Passover being a shadow of Christ and the fact that covenant children participated within those feasts? Yes, they have a point. The problem with this, as a whole, is that the New Testament always is our guide for the Old Testament (This is why I am progressively leaving my dispensational roots for covenant theology). When we look through the Scriptures we find some things that draw our attention. One of those is a new term that is used, which is "church". This term is used in a historical sense for those we know as the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church are those around us that we believe are saved, the invisible being those that God has elected from eternity past and has put the seal of the Holy Spirit on. One can be part of the visible church, and really not a part of the invisible, but all those who are part of the invisible are part of the visible church. This new term is only used of those who profess Christ. This is the Lord's church. The term literally means the gathering of called out one's. How does one join a church? How does one become a member of local churches? How does one "prove" they are part of the church? Professing Christ is the first prerequisite.

This extension of profession is found in 1 Corinthians 11 when Paul states that when the visible church partakes in communion, they proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. This same idea is shown when Christ is speaking specifically to his disciples when he says,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16

The idea is for the church to be doing the Lord's work so everyone will glorify God. The church is the light, the church is the salt and they are the ones who give God glory. Now, does this excuse the children of the professed church to then give way to do whatever they desire? No. They are a part of their family and should honor their parents. But, for a specific work, like communion, it is not for those who have not professed Christ.

Further Paul uses terminology such as remembrance, which I showed the significance of in the last post. This term is a very spiritual understanding of being united with Christ through belief and Holy Spirit baptism so that one can remember the great exchange that happened for them. This is also one reason why I believe the ordinance baptism is extended only to believers as well, but I won't go there for this post. Not only do we have the ideas of proclaiming and remembrance, but then we come to the clincher: the understanding of examination.

Again, Paul states this:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

This verse has caused some to think about their works and ask themselves if they have measured up to some sort of self righteous perfection on the day of communion. This isn't what this is speaking about.

But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election...He who believes in him is said to have passed from death unto life (Joh_5:24). In this sense he calls himself the bread of life, of which if a man eat, he shall never die (Joh_6:35). He, I say, was our witness, that all by whom he is received in faith will be regarded by our heavenly Father as sons. If we long for more than to be regarded as sons of God and heirs, we must ascend above Christ. But if this is our final goal, how infatuated is it to seek out of him what we have already obtained in him, and can only find in him?
John Calvin; Institutes 3.24.5

The idea of examination is to understand and see how filthy your sin is, then to look to the great exchange that happened on the cross. This isn't a time for you to look at your works and grade yourself to see if you are in the faith. The examination is to point you to the finished work on the cross and the exchange that happened because of the faith given to you by God. The reason one would be drinking judgment upon themselves is not because you are sinful, but because you believe yourself to be righteous enough to prove your faithfulness. The same thing happens in 2 Cor 13:5,6

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.

Paul says that the Corinthians are to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. Remember who he is speaking to. He is speaking to the Corinthians! Probably the worst church, outwardly speaking, in the New Testament. If the Corinthians were to examine their works, they would have failed miserably, yet Paul states, with confidence, "...that Jesus Christ is in you."

This examination, like the one Paul points to for those during communion, is an examination of the great exchange that was done at the cross, through faith. This can only happen with those who have professed Christ and have been sealed by Holy Spirit through inward baptism.

Although we see the Passover meal shared by the whole of the family, including the children, we find in the New Testament that Paul re-interprets the Old Testament call for the New Passover found in Christ to only be shared and proclaimed through those who have examined themselves and have found themselves a part of the invisible church and bride of Christ. If anyone partakes in the Supper who is not found to be of the faith, who has not received the righteousness of Christ, they drink judgment upon themself.


Arthur Sido said...

Well put. The key is that we interpret the OT through the NT, not the other way around.

Richard said...

Amen! Clear and Christ-centered. Thanks!

Arthur Sido said...

Seriously, only two comments on this? You need a more provocative title...

Michael said...

Good stuff bro!

Seth McBee said...

Thanks guys for the support...

Arthur...I tried to title it correctly :)

TL said...

Just for your reader's clarification: What is a brief definition of "paedo-communion?" Is it toddler/baby communion? Following your formula, profession/confession is very key. What age do you think is appropriate? Can a 7yr old fully understand the work of Christ? For that matter, can a 15yr old...or a 40yr old? What are the necessary beliefs to be articulated in this profession? Is it up to us to gauge sincerity? If so, what are some methods that you employ to test the heart? Is personal articulation of the work of Christ the litmus test? Question: do you think we should keep special-needs persons from the Table their entire lives, especially the ones that cannot articulate confession, yet have been a part of a household of faith for their entire lives? From your post, I gather that you are against stuffing communion crackers into a baby's mouth. I stand with you against this cruel and possibly death-inducing practice. I am also against SIDS. And car crashes.

Good post

Michael said...

@TL LOL! im excited that you didnt use that much anger in this comment!

Seth McBee said...

Tim to the Lien:

Good questions...I will say I am going to be more liberal than some with my children. Because I know my sin and the struggles I have with the flesh, I will closely watch my children and see if they are living a life of repentance and trust in Christ.

Is there some sort of equation or rules to gauge in this? Not exactly, but I will follow what Peter and the apostles said throughout Acts with my own children:

Repent and Believe and you shall be saved.

Once they have done this, I will allow them to be baptized and partake in communion.

Same with everyone else. I don't care how old they are. This is a decision that should be based in regards to the parents with the aid of the elders.

My kid will not have to know the ins and outs of every doctrine of the faith, because as you started to point to, who would ever be able to take from the table if that were the case?

With children or adults that are retarded, etc. that is something I leave to the parents and the elders of that certain church. Although, I do believe we should be very open handed to have them partake instead of being closed off to them, unless their are clear signs of rebellion and hatred of the gospel. Again...every situation and depth of degree is going to be different.

I am also against car crashes, especially if I am on my way to work and it makes traffic terrible.

Darlene said...

Greetings in the name of Christ!

First-time blogger here. Your title caught my eye immediately.

As one who has been a Protestant Evangelical but is now on the way to becoming an Orthodox Christian, I can say that I fully trust the faith, beliefs, and practices of the early church that practiced paedocommunion. That Church which still holds to the councils, creeds, and Apostolic faith can be found in the Holy Orthodox Church. They do not hold beliefs that doctrines and dogmas need to be continually reforming or that the Church needs to re-examine what she has always held to since her conception.

I know you will disagree. I was once a member of a Reformed Church. However, what I have discovered in the Orthodox faith, through worship in the Divine Liturgy, through discovering the lives of the holy saints and martyrs, through the writings of the eastern fathers, through the teaching of theosis, through learning of the Holy Mysteries, through all that has been given to Christ's precious Church in her worship, practices, prayer, belief, far exceeds all that I ever understood, knew, or possessed as a Protestant Evangelical.

I desire that other Protestants, such as my family and friends, and those I have come to know on blogs such as yours, could experience just a glimmer of Holy Orthodoxy. Truly, you will never be the same! Glory to God in the highest.
May Christ bless you this day and always.

In His Immeasurable Love,


cybeRanger said...

Your blog has been awarded @

Chris Cole said...

Let me say first that I am not a paedocommunionist. Not to say that I oppose them, either, but rather, I am ambivalent, since I can see the weight of the arguments on both sides. However, I want to play a little devil's advocate here.

You are mistaken when you say that the children of believers aren't members of the visible church. There are three relevant texts. The first is Acts 2:39, "For the promise is for you and your children..." The second is the case of the Philippian jailer, Acts 16:33, where he is baptized, "he and all his family (or household)." And most importantly, I Corinthians 7:12-16, especially 14b, "Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Children of believers are within the covenant, but not necessarily savingly. Note also Genesis 17:15-21, in which Abraham pleads that "Ishmael might live before you," v. 18, which God denies. But then God promises in verse 20 yet to bless Ishmael, though reprobate. That is, Ishmael receives some blessings of the covenant while sovereignly excluded from others. It is passages like these that provide the basis for the Presbyterian belief that children of believers are properly members of the visible church, and thereby have a RIGHT to baptism.

Now the question becomes, do covenant children also have a right to communion. In favor of the affirmative is the nature of the sacrament, according to which Christ, by means of the Holy Spirit, spiritually feeds the worthy partaker on His flesh and blood. That "worthy" is the bone of contention. Many take the same position that you do, that it requires knowledgeable self-examination. Others correctly point out that our worthiness is by grace, not by self-effort, which then leads some to the conclusion that it is self-examination "as enabled by the Holy Spirit," i.e., that a five-year-old, for example, is accountable for examining himself on a five-year-old level, as God gives grace, not according to the standard expected from an adult.

Here's a question which arises from the position you have advocated here, but is no objection under paedocommunionism: what about others, even adults, who are incapable of self-examination of the kind you and I are. Are the mentally-handicapped to be excluded from the Lord's Table? If you say no, I think the same allowance must be made for covenant children.

I have no children, so I don't have to resolve this issue in my own life. I will say that one concern I have about paedocommunionists is that many of them seem to be drawn to the Federal Vision heresy, but that doesn't directly refute their position here. I also recall the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 19:14, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

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