Paedocommunion (4): a house divided...

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...the division among those who say they believe in "paedocommunion" is far deeper than most imagine. Those who require discernment on the part of the child before he can partake in the Supper have already rejected the reasoning of a large part of the paedocommunionist camp.

(This is the fourth 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 firstsecond, and third in this series. For more on this subject, see the "Paedocommunion" tag.) 

We showed in our previous post that those who demand they be permitted to feed their infants and toddlers at the Lord's Table (denying their children need to obey Scripture's command to discern the body) have lost any reasonable, biblical grounds for delaying the participation of their baptized children in the Lord's Supper even a single day. By their own logic, immediately following their newborn's sacramental initiation into the Church of Jesus Christ through baptism, they must commune their child.

We now turn to the paedocommunionists who reject this no-discernment position and require some form of discerning the body on the part of their child...

Within this some-discernment group, it's typical for the discernment they require to be a simple recognition of group membership with the people in the sanctuary expressed through a desire to eat with everybody else. Within this group, children normally begin to be fed the Lord's Supper around two years of age.

Again, we pause to emphasize the diversity of so-called "paedocommunionists." There are those within the some-discernment group who speak of requiring discernment of children who come to the Lord's Table while others would object to their practice being called “some-discernment.” I refer this latter group to my previous piece, asking them why they prevent their children from coming to the Lord's Table immediately following baptism?

Now, in this piece, I wish to address the paedocommunion camp that requires some discernment, even if that discernment is only of the most fundamental sort.

To this group I say, “Welcome! You have embraced the historic reformed Protestant understanding of the Lord’s Supper. You are far closer to the doctrine and practice of the Protestant and Reformed church than you are to the various paedocommunionists of the no-discernment school. So now, let's discuss together the nature of the discernment we should require of our children."

In other words, again, the division among those who say they believe in "paedocommunion" is far deeper than most imagine. Those who require discernment on the part of the child before he can partake in the Supper have already rejected the reasoning of a large part of the paedocommunionist camp.

Many of their arguments hinge on their claim that the commands of 1 Corinthians 11 do not apply at all to children because children cannot keep them. Refusing to acknowledge the Biblical distinctions between the two sacraments, these paedocommunionists assert that the Scriptural commands to repent and believe associated with the sacrament of baptism don't apply to children, and therefore Scripture's explicit commands to those who come to the Lord's Supper should not apply to these children, either.

They pronounce their judgment on the historic Reformed church, accusing infant-baptizing Protestants of being inconsistent. They ask why we baptize babies but do not commune them? They declare we must choose one or the other: we must stop baptizing babies or we must start communing babies. Otherwise, the historic Protestant and Reformed church is slipping back into the individualistic, baptistic thinking they themselves just left behind. This is their own idiosyncratic take on federal, covenantal doctrine.

Albeit unwittingly, many paedocommunionists judge Jeff Meyers's brand of paedocommunion as inconsistent and baptistic. From the beginning, Meyers has claimed that very young children are perfectly capable of discerning the body and examining themselves, so these commands must apply to children. (There is another option I have heard defended—namely, that the father is responsible for examining himself, with no obligation on the rest of his household, including his wife, to undertake obedience to the commands of 1 Corinthians 11. I dismiss this with prejudice as the sort of anti-Christian federal vision I hope most are still unwilling to embrace.)

Those who adhere to Meyers's position that children are capable of discerning the body and must do so, also correctly view baptism as the initiation rite to the covenant and understand the distinctions between the two sacraments and covenants. So if this is the same position held by historic Reformed Protestants, where do we disagree?

Our only disagreement concerns what "do this in remembrance of Me," "unworthy manner," "examine himself," "judge the body rightly" and "judged ourselves rightly" look like, pastorally speaking?(The no-discernment paedocommunionists have rejected the application of those commands to anyone who can't obey them).

The reader sees why the label “paedocommunionist” is so often counterproductive, today. It encompasses people who have no meaningful similarity to one another in their understanding of the sacraments. Those that require any sort of discernment on the part of children prior to their participation at the Lord’s Table actually occupy a position that is quite close to the historic Protestant and Reformed position. Although most of them don't recognize it, they hold the same position as all the rest of the reformed elders and pastors of the past five centuries, and they too are being accused by no-discernment paedocommunionists of failing to discern the body of Christ, of keeping the little children from coming to Jesus; and, worst of all, of being Baptists!

Truth is, they are neither Baptists nor sons-of-Baptists (paedocommunionists). They are merely—if you don't mind my channeling the historic Reformed church—confused about how the commands of 1 Corinthians 11 should be obeyed. And really, aren't we all?

More specifically, for many, embracing Rob Rayburn's paper on presumptive regeneration has led to a precipitous lowering of the bar concerning these Biblical commands in a way that is neither pastorally nor biblically wise. Thus we must now turn our focus to our presumptive-regeneration brothers.

Likely, at this point some readers are breathing a sigh of relief while others are becoming increasingly irritated. To this second group, let me do you the honor of showing my hand.

In this series of posts, I am attempting to move a large part of the paedocommunionist camp away from the "paedocommunionist" banner. This is partly strategic, of course. But, more importantly, it is my conviction such a movement necessarily follows a growth in understanding of the fault lines among those who formerly have identified themselves with "paedocommunion."

After years of study, combined with discussion and debate with a variety of paedocommunionist men, I have come to realize this purportedly united group is no such thing.

In the end, similar practice has very little to do, per se, with whether or not two men can live together in harmony and unity. Presbyterian Christians and Roman Catholics both baptize infants in the Name of the Triune God, yet Presbyterian Christians and Roman Catholics understand Trinitarian baptism in entirely different ways because Roman Catholicism is a fundamentally sacramental path of salvation, whereas Presbyterian Christianity is not. Thus the mere fact that both Presbyterian Christians and Roman Catholics practice Trinitarian baptism of infants is no unity between the two groups whatsoever, as Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, and endless other Protestant fathers were so zealous to declare on every possible occasion.

On the other hand, though a reformed Baptist and a reformed Presbyterian differ in their baptismal practice, the first refusing baptism to infants and the second commanding it, much harmony and peace can characterize our common work for the Kingdom of God. And we see and rejoice in that harmony and unity all around us in worship (PCA General Assembly), conferences, seminaries (Westminster Escondido officially making common cause with Reformed Baptists), publishing, missions, etc.

It is the same with the Lord’s Supper. Two men who both practice paedocommunion may assume they understand this sacrament in the same way. On closer examination, though, they come to realize that one school of paedocommunionists properly belongs in the Eastern Orthodox communion while the other is, after all is said and done, merely Presbyterian. The two groups have very little in common theologically and sacramentally, so despite their similar practice, they cannot be united.

My next pieces will turn to these presumptive-regeneration brothers. I will attempt to show why their practice of allowing very young children to the table is not consistent with Scripture, causes false steps in the pastoral care of covenant children, and is contrary to the proper meaning of the text of Scripture.

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.