Advocates of paedocommunion — by which is meant the participation in the Lord’s Supper by baptized, weaned covenant children — fully appreciate why many remain unpersuaded. We have done otherwise for centuries, and none of our authorities favored the practice or, in most cases, ever discussed it. What we ask from those who disagree with us is that they acknowledge the nature of our argument as an effort to be faithful both to Holy Scripture and the principles of Reformed theology. Edmund Clowney, who wrote the report for the PCA’s study committee, admitted that a “substantial” case could be made for paedocommunion. The fact is — and it would advance both the debate and the spirit of our dialogue for the other side to admit this — the Bible never says that only believers of a certain age are to come to the table; it never says that there are two types of members in the church; it never says that covenant children must profess their faith at some point in order to be admitted to the table; it never says any of these things. But it does say on a number of occasions that the family is to eat sacred feasts together and, in particular, that children are to be included. The Bible also never shows us a covenant child being prepared for or introduced to the sacramental meal in his or her adolescence. Our historic practice is invisible in the Bible. The evidence for paedocommunion in early Christianity casts further doubt on the assertion that our practice was that of the apostolic church.

True enough, we only recently noticed this. Much of the rethinking of our practice is the result of our embrace of the Lord’s Supper, as John Calvin had urged, as an integral part of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day. If the Lord’s Supper is a ceremonious ritual of relatively infrequent observance, it is inevitable that we will think of it in one way. It is something quite different as the climax of our worship every Lord’s Day, as regular a part of that worship as hymns, prayers, offerings, and the sermon.

Human life and the life of faith are continuums. Faith is to be taught and practiced from the headwaters of the life of a covenant child. We teach our children the Bible from the time they are weaned (if not before) to sing the praise of the Lord and to pray. We do not regard their doing so as little children as hypocritical or sinful but as tutelage in the life of faith. By what principle then are they excluded from participation in the sacramental life of the church? If you think Exodus 12 requires a child to be 12 to commune, at least admit that no reputable commentary draws that conclusion, nor do commentators think 1 Corinthians 11 is about children at the Supper. Therefore, whether Christ’s children (Ezekiel 16:20; Malachi 2:15) are brought to his table at 2, 5, 8, or 12 is no reason to rend the unity of His church.

Robert S. Rayburn is pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Wash.

 

 

30 Responses to Historic Practice is Invisible in the Bible

  1. William Sofield says:

    This is a helpful article. I notice the attention to scripture here, in contrast to the emphasis on traditional theology in Pipa’s companion article. Pipa articulates well the traditional understanding of church membership and sacrament. But paedocommuninists are asking, “where is that in the Bible?” Personally, I have yet to hear an answer. Which, of course, is the main point of Rayburn here.

    • Jason Van Bemmel says:

      Where is that in the Bible? 1 Cor. 11:27-32.

      • Andrew Voelkel says:

        Don’t forget context Jason!
        But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. …
        So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. …
        In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—…
        … God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together.

    • Philllip Shroyer says:

      William
      May it be suggested that you check out 16th General Assembly, 1988, Appendix T, p. 516.
      for a commission’s report.

  2. Jason Van Bemmel says:

    The real Scriptural argument is I Cor. 11, which I and many other PCA pastors read every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In I Cor 11, Paul’s warning language is very sobering: “Whoever eats of the bread or drinks of the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” We cannot eat or drink in a worthy manner, examining ourselves and discerning the body, without saving faith. We cannot have saving faith without regeneration by the Holy Spirit. To encourage unregerate children who lack daving faith to eat and drink is to out them in spiritual jeopardy. It is neither safe nor wise, given the guidelines of 1 Cor. 11.

    • David Gray says:

      Yet how many do we commune each week who do not discern the body of our Lord in the Supper?

    • SL Hansen says:

      What small minds we must have to think that a young child cannot love Jesus as his or her savior, in the same way as that young child loves his or her parents as mommy and daddy.

      • Andrew Barnes says:

        SL Hansen,
        That is not the issue here. You are not proving Rayburn’s view but the opposite. The issue isn’t whether a young child can believe in and love Jesus or not, the issue of paedo-communion is that you are able to partake of the Supper because you are a covenant child who has been baptized even if there is no faith and love for Jesus. Simply by the fact of being baptized, Rayburn would say an infant can partake in the Supper (now he might have slight qualifications to that: partake once they can eat food, etc.).

        • David Gray says:

          How many adults do we commune who have “no faith and love for Jesus”?

          • Jerry Koerkenmeier says:

            Does it matter? Do we excuse one violation of Scripture because some people get away with another violation?

  3. John Musgrave says:

    I agree, William, on Rayburn. When I went to seminary, I was newly Reformed and was wondering about paedocommunion. The Scriptural argument to which I came was from Calvin, who looks at 1 Corinthians 11: 27 “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” He argues from this that one must be able to examine himself and understand/recognize that the bread not just bread, but “is the body of Christ, given for him” (and what that means).

    • Mike Philbeck says:

      The use of the 1 Cor 11, ‘examine’ language to argue against covenant children partaking of the Supper is weak. Reminds me of Baptists using the Acts 2:38 language to argue against baptism of covenant children. In both places the author is speaking to adults. In the case of Peter in Acts they were 1st generation to the New Covenant faith, and thus for the adults the sign followed faith. He was not making reference to their covenant children. Somewhat similarly, in 1 Cor 11 Paul is clearly speaking to adults who were abusing the Supper. To make children the focus is to make the same mistake that Baptists make on baptism. I am not particularly arguing for PC, just the fallacy of 1 Cor 11 argument.

  4. Mike Singenstreu says:

    The problem with Dr. Pipa’s argument always misses the blessing of God aspect of the biblical teachings especially in the Old Testament..to say there is no blessing conferred by the hearing of the Word preached or the reception of the elements of the sacraments is to question “blessing” in the Bible.

    Dr. Rayburn on the other hand has made it clear in this article and the many others he has penned that there is in fact blessing that is mind…when “things” come from God there is blessing attached. To be as consistent with Scripture as we are with peadobaptism we must let them speak and guide. Dr. Rayburn’s article shows us how.

  5. James Hakim says:

    William, judge not by appearances but judge by righteous judgment.

    I won’t put a Bible reference after that sentence, but it’s from the Bible. See how that works?

    1Corinthians 11 is about rightly partaking, whether adult or child. One of the many problems with paedocommunion is that those who hold to it are teaching adults to partake in a wrong way, because they do not teach that children may only partake by exercising their faith in making various kinds of judgments in the sacrament (note the many forms of –krinomai in 1Cor 11).

    Similarly, the child who is not partaking by faith in Passover asks what do YOU (not we) mean by this service. “In the covenant but not covenanting” is a *biblical* category.

    Paedocommunion is…

  6. Dr. T. David Gordon says:

    I cannot reply to Mr. Sofield’s request adequately in 750 characters, but I do have a very brief (2 page) note on my website (www.tdgordon.net) on the Theology tab, then under the section on “Ecclesiology: Worship, Polity, Discipline” section I have uploaded this brief reply as “Paedocommunion.” It may take an hour or so to upload to the ISP; but should be there by 1 p.m. or so on January 17.

  7. Chris Thomas says:

    Why is this pot still being stirred? Just a thought–would we elect United States presidents, senators or representatives who wanted an “allowable exception” to the US Constitution? Standards are set for a reason. Our church standard/constitution is clear on this issue. As officers, we vow to receive and adopt these standards. Either follow the constitution or change it.

    • Luke Smith says:

      Chris,

      (1) Just a quick note–Americans (including Republicans) actually do elect these kinds of people all the time who rarely follow the US Constitution. (2) What Dr. Rayburn is doing is offering a voice for brotherly discussion based on application of covenant theology that he, and countless others, have deemed important enough to keep going that might open discussion for change–he is not parading through the streets sounding the trumpet for revolt from accepted standards. Personally, I favor accepting covenant children to the family meal during worship, yet I am also one who has agreed to be under the governance of the PCA and the standards we hold as a denomination. Let’s not be too eager to dismiss a brother even if we disagree.

    • Tim LeCroy says:

      Chris,

      Our PCA constitution includes the BCO. In BCO 21-4, e-f we find, “our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms,” and it says that each minister shall make known the differences he has with the WS, and the presbytery shall judge whether those differences are out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine (aren’t Reformed) or strike at the vitals of religion (aren’t Christian). Dr. Rayburn has followed this constitutional procedure and his presbytery has judged that he is fit for ministry. All of this is in keeping with our constitution.

      Christ’s peace.

  8. Tim LeCroy says:

    Brothers (and for all others who are interested),

    The crux of Dr. Rayburn’s argument rests on a differing interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 than Calvin’s mentioned above. In context, the command to self-examination is against sinfully dividing the body of Christ (the church) in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The conclusion to Paul’s exhortation seems to be verse 34, and this supports the argument. The reason for Paul’s concern is given in vs. 17-22. If we read those verses, the context of the exhortation to self-examination seems to be about not dividing the body of Christ at the table, and is not about being able to articulate a detailed systematic knowledge of the sacrament.

    Christ’s peace.

  9. Peter Green says:

    Chris Thomas,

    Everyone who takes this as an exception follows the constitution. There are no churches in the PCA practicing paedocommunion. And our church government allows for people to take exceptions to the standards, so your analogy to the US Constitution is inappropriate.

    There are no churches in the PCA practicing paedocommunion. Everyone who takes this as an exception submits to the WS and the BCO. Those who take PC as an exception are not being divisive, contentious, subversive, rebellious, or revolutionary. They are being submissive in humility, accepting the constraints put on them, even if it means doing something they think is wrong.

  10. Dan Morrow says:

    I am far from dogmatic, but one thing I am sure about is how frustrated I feel when people simply appeal to 1 Cor. 27-29 without seeming to take into consideration verses 17-34 as a whole. It seems clear that the specific problem is set forth in 17-22; the ideal in 23-26; the warning and correction in 27-32; and the conclusion in 33 and 34. Being “unworthy” here seems to be a reference to humiliating those who have nothing by their actions at the community table, etc. In context, it does not seem to be warning against a lack of broad spiritual introspection as some boldly claim. The bookends are clearly verses 20-22 and 33-34 which refer to a specific abuse having to do with eating more than one should among brethren who may have little.

  11. Garrett Craw says:

    It’s interesting that Martin Luther grants Dr. Rayburn’s interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:

    When in I Corinthians [11:28] Paul said that a man should examine himself [and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup], he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to children. (Martin Luther, Table Talk #365; Luther’s Works, Vol. 54 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967], p. 58)

  12. Bob Smith says:

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

  13. Joe Johnson says:

    Why has no one included Matthew 19:14 and Luke 18:16 in this discussion?

  14. Sam Ketcham says:

    I am a seminary student and this is my first exposure to paedocommunion perspectives. Can someone help me understand a few things. First, does an infant receive a “blessing” from partaking in the Lord’s Supper? If “no”, then why give it to them? If yes, then can you please elaborate on what this blessing includes and help me understand how that blessing is distinguished from Roman Catholic sacrementalism?

    Thank you and the Lord bless all of you as you preach salvation in Christ alone to all people.

    Respectfully,
    Sam

  15. Stephen Leonard says:

    Sam,
    Yes we all receive blessing from the sacraments as we partake and receive in obedience to God’s command to do so as a covenant community and as members of Christ’s church. The blessing comes from God as well as the work that the sacraments are intended to do in us. Most of us receive baptism as an infant, and our parents and church take vows to instruct us in the meaning of our baptism as we grow in Christ. All of us should renew our baptism as we observe it’s practice in the church and continually teach our children. So it is with the Lord’s supper. Our covenant children do indeed receive a blessing from participating with the covenant community in a sacred covenant community activity. And they learn more as they and we are…

  16. Stephen Leonard says:

    Continuation response to Sam and others: are nurtured in the faith and instruction in the blessings and meaning of partaking in Christ’s atonement work for us and our sins. Restricting our covenant children from this covenant blessing and seal until the “magical” age of 12 or so because we desire to hear them say the magical words of what we accept as “credible” profession does seveveral deleterious things to the covenant child. One, he or she does not fully belong in the covenant community. Two, there are severe questions in their little mind, “if I love Jesus and trust in Him, why cannot I partake with my family and parents in this meal for the Church and the Kingdom, in which Jesus says I belong?” MT 18.

    • In my interaction with those who hold to paedo-communion, this view of “children feeling excluded” seems to drive the acceptance of the practice. Behind this, in my opinion, is the modern view of individualism that is so pervasive in our day. In former days, children more readily understood that their standing with God was rooted in their family’s standing with God. They were accepted as members of God’s kingdom because they were blessed to be part of a Christian family. The neighbour kids don’t go to church because their parents do not love the Lord. When this is understood, coming to the table has more to do with reaching maturity than becoming a Christian. They are now responsible to maintain their own faith by the grace of God.

  17. I would like to add a bit more (please see my reply to Stephen Leonard above). The children in our congregation have testified, when asked, that they do not feel excluded. They are rather thankful that they have Christian parents who are looking after them and nurturing them in the Lord. They realise that without these parents, they would not be at church, and it warms their hearts to see their parents partaking, and they look forward to when they grow up to independently embrace the covenant… when they come to a place of maturity in their faith in which, if (for example) their parents were to decide to go to the Roman Church, they would no longer follow them as they would have done when they were five years old.

  18. I greatly appreciate Dr. Rayburn’s contribution to the church in his teachings that help restore the Westminster view of that the baptism of infants represents much more than simply that the children are exposed to the gospel; but I disagree with him that they ought to partake of communion. But my objection is not the same as those who say that children are not really in Christ until they profess their faith. My objection is that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is different than baptism in that the question is not whether our covenant children are ingrafted into Christ, but whether they are young adults who are able to take responsibility for their walk with Christ (examine themselves). Yes, they can’t do this as children!