Paedocommunion (2): permission or requirement...

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"Why do we eat as a divided body? [1 Corinthians 11] judges traditional Presbyterianism as a church for 'not discerning the body'! ...traditional Presbyterians have for too long 'despised the church of God and humiliated those who have nothing' (1 Corinthians 11:22)   - PCA paedocommunionist pastor, Jeff Meyers

There are varieties of belief and practice among paedocommunionists. Some bring infants to the Lord’s Table, others wait until the children are sign-language toddlers, and still others wait until the toddlers are capable of some level of verbal communication. Beyond age and maturity, some paedocummunionists reject regeneration, others are sacramentalists, and still others believe in regeneration and deny sacramentalism. 

Paedocommunionists typically used to be credobaptists who changed their view to paedobaptism and don't see why their children shouldn't immediately come to the Lord's Table, also. This is key to understanding their arguments and the strength of their commitment to the practice. As they see it, both paedobaptism and paedocommunion are the logical and necessary steps to leaving their Baptist roots behind and embracing covenantal theology.

Paedocommunionists acknowledge the Reformers and Reformed fathers since the Reformation have practiced paedobaptism while opposing paedocommunion. But paedocommunionists approach the history of the Reformed church's condemnation of paedocommunion the same way credobaptists approach the history of the Reformed church's practice of paedobaptism: both paedocommunionists and credobaptists claim they are the true keepers of what Scripture requires and that the historic Reformed church did not have the courage or faith to...

reform the corrupt Roman Catholic practice in place at the time of the Reformation. 

Paedocommunionists believe they have found a place where the reformers were inconsistent and need to be corrected. As paedocommunionists see it, if they are going to change their view on baptism and begin to baptize their children, they are also going to bring their newly baptized children to the Lord’s Table. They defend their break with Protestant and Reformed doctrine by claiming that the Old Covenant Passover observance required the youngest children to eat and drink at the Old Covenant Passover table, and thus infants and toddlers should be required to eat and drink at the New Covenant table, also. Being convinced that they are the only ones who are logically consistent on this matter, paedocommunionists will even claim that the burden of proof rests on those who prohibit children from partaking of the Lord's Supper.

With that historical background to the recent arrival of paedocommunionists within the Protestant and Reformed church, let us state the question precisely. Should infants and toddlers be required to eat and drink at the Lord's Table while they are yet unable to obey Scripture’s commands to discern the body, examine themselves, and judge themselves? Or oppositely, should infants and toddlers be required to wait to eat and drink at the Lord's Table until they are able to obey Scripture's commands to discern the body, examine themselves, and judge themselves?

Paedocommunionists generally speak of “allowing,” not “requiring,” their infants and toddlers to partake. This is helpful in avoiding the appearance of sacramentalism, but it’s not accurate. Paedocommunionist practice is more accurately described with the language of requirement than the language of permission. All the direction of infants and toddlers by the church, her officers, and children's parents is brought to bear on the little ones to get them eating and drinking. Employing the language of requirement will bring greater clarity to this debate, helping all to a better understanding of the theological and practical consequences of adopting this position.

Let's start with the children. Think about “allowing” as opposed to “requiring” children to partake. On a practical level the distinction is obvious. Using the word 'allow' indicates that the child is making a choice while using the word 'require' clarifies that the choice is made by the pastor, elders, and parents on behalf of the child. Which is it? 

A number of facts militate against the claim that children are merely "allowed" to participate.

First, note that these children begin to partake before they have any knowledge of what partaking means beyond the quite-natural and quite-elementary “I want some, too.” These wee ones are fed by others before they are physically capable of feeding themselves. What choice does the infant who receives wine from his mother's fingertip have in the matter? It is likewise with the child who only drinks with a bottle or sippy-cup. Also, consider the influence and weight of your father putting food in your mouth or hand; how many of these families allow their children to reject food their father or mother puts on their plate during a meal? In fact, a two-year-old will put everything in his hands directly into his mouth. One can no more speak of "allowing" infants or toddlers to come to the Table than one can speak of "allowing" them to be baptized. They are not baptized by their own choice, and likewise they are not communed by their own choice.

Some will object that their own practice of paedocommunion is to wait until the child shows some desire before they "allow" him to partake. In a later piece we will examine the theological inconsistency of such a delay. But in the meantime, note that those who wait for the child to show some desire do not allow the child to decide whether to participate each and every week. Would they "allow" their child to refuse the elements at age three after partaking for the past two years, or even the past two weeks? Of course not. Once a child begins to show some desire and is allowed to begin partaking, he is no longer allowed to refrain from partaking. To do so would be seen by his father, mother, siblings, and the other members of the church as whatever sort of apostasy a child of tender age is capable of.

Paedocommunionists' novel exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 leaves those who adopt their view under the conviction that to abstain from the Lord's Table when the rest of the Covenant community is partaking is a denial of faith. Those who refuse to commune with the rest of the covenant community have failed to discern the body. The theological justification for paedocommunion is that the entirety of the Covenant community gathered together in Lord's Day worship must be united in eating and drinking the Lord's Supper. A three-year-old is not able to reject the faith, and thus he is not allowed to reject the meal of the faith. Again, then, the actual practice of paedocommunion is that the child first comes to the Lord's Table by the decision of the father (maybe in consultation with a pastor or elder), and after this first coming to the Table, the ongoing decision of his child's participation in the meal is not made by the child either, but always by the child's father (or possibly church officers in some extraordinary case).

Yes, paedocommunionist practices vary, but describing the normal practice of infant and toddler communion in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) as “allowing” children to partake is misleading. Doing so ignores the one thing most obvious in all of this: paedocommunion parents want the practice for their children much more than their children want it for themselves. Children are not clamoring for this. Sure, they might ask for food and drink when it goes in front of their face, but give them a simple “no” and they will cheerfully submit, and then welcome their father’s instruction and guidance.

The Biblical practice of the Lord’s Supper is designed to provide such wonderful teaching moments to our covenant children! When our child asks us, “Daddy, when can I eat the bread and drink the wine?", we have a wonderful opportunity to explain to him his own duty to confess our Most Holy Faith himself. His own duty to repent and believe. His own privilege to obey the covenant God made with his father and father’s father by making that covenant his own. We simply read 1Corinthians 11 to our child, pointing out that God requires those who eat and drink to discern, examine, and judge themselves, and when our son asks, “Daddy, what does it mean to examine myself,” we’re off and running in preaching the Cross of Jesus and the New Covenant in Christ's blood.

It is wonderful how the New Covenant meal and its stipulations are given us by our Heavenly Father to assist us in raising up a godly seed!

Of course, in the eyes of parents who demand their infants and toddlers partake of the Lord’s Supper, this opportunity is to be avoided at all costs. It is for this reason that all historic Reformed churches are unacceptable to paedocommunionist parents. Teaching the Biblical stipulations outlined above to children is destructive. According to paedocommunionists, it fails to discern the body. 

Here it is worth noting that the refusal of paedocommunionist parents to allow church officers to tell their children “not yet” or “no” holds true whether it is the parents of infants and toddlers who formerly worshipped in paedocommunionist PCA and CREC congregations who move to a new area and try out a non-paedocommunionist church, or the parents of adult Covenant children in the Northampton congregation served by Jonathan Edwards during the Halfway Covenant controversy, there. Parents in both cases demand that the church commune their children.The fact that this is actually a requirement can be seen as well in the novel interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 commonly used to defend paedocommunion. Paedocommunionists accuse Protestant and Reformed church officers of causing division in the body by prohibiting baptized infants and toddlers from the meal. They accuse us of bringing spiritual condemnation upon ourselves by wrongly discerning the body. If this is the proper understanding of the text, church officers are not in the position to "allow" infants and toddlers to remain in a state of division from the body by not partaking. Doing so would constitute sin on his part by allowing division to remain in the body. And if this is the case, one struggles to see how any room is left for peaceful disagreement on this issue within any worshipping church body, presbytery, or denomination.

So now, paedocommunionists' two choices become obvious: either paedocommunion is a non-binding, optional benefit that children may be allowed to partake in, or it is a Biblical requirement which the Church requires of its members. In other words, either it is required in the same way that "adult" communion is required, or paedocommunion is a whole different sacrament. Anyone who claims to simply "allow" paedocommunion is trying to have it both ways.

So, as we said earlier, among paedocommunionists the communing of children is not allowed, but required. It is required of any church the paedocommunionist considers attending. It is required of the paedocommunionist’s infants and toddlers. It is required by the scriptural interpretation used to justify the practice. It is required of the church officers. The language used in this debate ought to be changed to acknowledge this fact. It seems evident to us that, despite their protests to the contrary, paedocommunionists hold paedocommunion to be a confessional issue. 

But if paedocommunionists require the practice, is this just the same run-of-the-mill sacramentalism that sought to corrupt the Old Covenant people and has continued to seduce the New Covenant Church from her very beginning? Look how difficult it is to separate the paedocommunionist’s rigid adherence to the administration of the Lord’s Supper to his children from the sacramentalism that has dogged the hearts of Christian parents across salvation history.

No, we are fully convinced that not every father and mother who practices paedocommunion is a sacramentalist. There are many paedocommunionists who have resisted this temptation. Yet no one can deny the ubiquity of this error across church history, as well as the intense motivations fathers and mothers have to succumb to this temptation.

Those of us holding to the historic Protestant and Reformed liturgy and administration of the Lord’s Supper understand 1 Corinthians 11 to prohibit the practice of paedocommunion. We believe the abandonment of the explicit Scriptural commands given with the New Testament words of institution and Table liturgy of this precious sacrament present serious risks to the infants and toddlers whose parents bring them to the Lord’s Table, and thus to the parents themselves, as well as the church officers appointed by God to guard those parents and their children. Thus, the question before us is not whether or not paedocommunion should be allowed. It is whether paedocommunion should be required or prohibited?

In our next piece we will delve into inconsistencies and dangers that accompany the practice of paedocommunion.

(This is the second in a series opposing paedocommunion, a practice started by some Reformed parents a few years ago in which parents require their infants and toddlers to participate in the Lord's Supper. Here are the first and third in this series.)

Joseph and his wife, Heidi, have five children, Tate, Eliza Jane, Moses, Fiona and Annabel. He graduated from Vanderbilt University and Clearnote Pastors College. He is currently planting Christ Church in Cincinnati with several other families.