In this article I intend to demonstrate why I think paedocommunion is unbiblical. By paedocommunion, I mean the practice of giving the elements of the Lord’s Supper to children simply because they are baptized members of the church. I think this practice is wrong for two reasons.

First, it assumes a wrong view of the membership of our children in the covenant. It confuses membership in the covenant with the right and privilege of coming to the Lord’s table. A child of at least one professing parent is a member of the church and by his baptism is inducted into that membership. As such, he is an heir of the covenant promises: I am your God and you are my children, including the promise of remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When I say he is an heir of the promises, I distinguish him from those who are heirs of salvation. Only those born again by the Holy Spirit are heirs of salvation.  We do not teach that baptism makes a child an heir of salvation. The child might already be born again, but that is not the reason we baptize him.

As members of the church and heirs of the promises, our children are legally part of the administration of the Covenant of Grace. In order to become communicant members of the covenant community, they must take the step of owning the covenant for themselves by consciously entering into the covenant. God speaks in Psalm 50:5, “Gather My godly ones to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice” (NASB). An older person entering the covenant publicly covenants taking Christ for himself by profession of faith. A baptized infant is brought into the covenant but has not by that act personally entered into covenant. He does that by solemnly vowing that he takes God as his God. He must make covenant with God. The covenant meal is for those who have made covenant with God.

Second, paedocommunion assumes a wrong view of the sacrament, namely that there is blessing in the physical eating and drinking. The sacraments are visible preachings of the Word of God. As such, their benefit is derived in exactly the same way as the benefit of preaching. Being physically present under preaching does not guarantee any blessing. Hearing must be joined with faith (Hebrews 4:2). For one to benefit from the Lord’s Supper, one must understand the meaning and promises (thus the necessity of the Word being preached and promises read). Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32. Otherwise, we practice a superstitious observance of the Supper, claiming that there are blessings apart from faith. Such an observance is contrary to Reformed church practice and Scripture.

For these two reasons we ought not to practice paedocommunion. If we are not to practice it, we must not teach it. It ought not to be taught in our denomination’s seminary or in any seminary approved by our denomination. To teach a practice declared by the church to be contrary to Scripture is subversive.

 Joey Pipa is president and professor of historical and systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

12 Responses to Paedocommunion: Wrong View of Membership and Sacrament

  1. mike khandjian says:

    Joey,

    Thanks for this. I appreciate your words & will seriously consider them. Because it wasn’t a ‘hot’ issue when we were ordained, I had simply relegated myself to thinking it a wrong practice.

    Since then, many have embraced paedo-communion and now we have a measured challenge before us. Why let polarization reign when we can actually enter into a conversation? Before we pounce on a teaching as ‘subversive’ (and I understand what you’re saying), instead let’s pounce on an opportunity to wrestle through the issue – together – as friends – and possibly even discover we may need to change our thinking – The idea of doing so peacefully is tremendously appealing to me for our denomination.

    I look forward to Rob’s…

  2. Richard Cooper says:

    Dr. Pipa,
    In reading your article I would like some clarifications on certain statements.
    You state that a child, by baptism, becomes a” member of the church” [small “c”]. Surely this is not the same as in Acts 2. Do they have a vote at meetings? You also state the child is “legally part of the administration of the covenant of grace.” Since communion is a means of grace should not the child be included in this administration of grace?
    Your more understandable statement that they become an” heir to the covenant promises.” The ceremony, I believe, is more about the promises and declarations of the parents and the congregation that this child is our responsibility to teach and nurture and discipline.

  3. Wesley Brice says:

    Excellent. Short but to the point. Thanks

  4. Mark Holler says:

    Food for thought? My paraphrase from my memory of Sinclair Ferguson’s most cogent comment in his lecture (WTS M.Div class of 1983) touching on this debate: “There are two sacraments, but they are two different sacraments.”IMO this is pregnant with helpful meaning and at least for me does not flatten out logically the rich landscape of any Biblical exegesis in the light of the unfolding history of redemption and revelation. I like less logic and more exegesis.

  5. John Hendrickson says:

    Let me get this straight. To be heirs of the promises does not mean heirs of salvation. What are they promises of then? Furthermore, on this basis, they can not be a source of assurance of one’s standing with God because they do not stand for what they say they do, UNLESS one can with absolute certainty know their hearts have been regenerated. But how can we know that if the promises of God do not mean what they say they do: salvation. How are we to be assured if we cannot look at the prima facie meaning of God’s promises as being true?

    I do not see that claiming the promises of God that he will be a God to my children is to be taken as an automatic ticket to the Lord’s Table. Thus, the Cov’t membership argument is unnecessary.

  6. David Gray says:

    I’m not a paedocommunionist but his second point pretty much puts him off the Calvinist reservation. He can still be a Zwinglian. When the elements are received in faith there is blessing. And faith should not, as Dr. Pipa does, be equated with the ability to understand and expound propositional statements.

    • John Hendrickson says:

      Great point, David.

    • Don Partridge says:

      So faith has no relation to understanding? We do not have a rational faith or facts of a gospel or need to know the person of Christ to have faith?
      Could you define this faith without understanding?

    • Richard Bacon says:

      Actually Dr. Pipa did not say that there is no blessing in the reception of the sacrament. Rather what he stated was that there is not a blessing in the “physical eating and drinking.” The sacramental action certainly includes the giving and receiving of physical elements. But the blessing comes only as those actions are applied by faith (understanding and assent).

  7. Dale Dykema says:

    Our Lord instituted the Supper from the Passover meal. Passover did not discriminate with regard to children. Covenant children are included in the promise just as they are in baptism. The level of expertise in self examination should not be the issue. Each must do this to the extent of one’s ability and gift of grace received. In our experience we find little children often more focused and serious than adults are in receiving the bread and wine. The primary point is that the gospel is completed in their eyes when the preached Word has its climax in sitting down with Christ, at His invitation, at His table. Children often grasp this physical lesson more deeply and consistently than many adults.

  8. Andrew Voelkel says:

    Dr P:
    When you come together as a divided church it may not be the Lord’s supper that you are eating. For in eating, only some of you go ahead with the meal while your weakest members are regularly left out and go hungry. Is this not despising the church of God and humiliating those with nothing? I doubt the apostles would commend you in this. For the Lord Jesus instructed his church to proclaim his death by eating and drinking together. If some of you continue eating and drinking without properly discerning the body you may be judged and disciplined by the Lord. So, when you come together to eat, please consider waiting for one another.
    In one Spirit we were baptized into one body; and God has so composed the body to fellowship…

  9. Dan Saxby says:

    Have we defined “child”? Are we talking infants?? Or 8-year-olds?

    Here’s a challenge: Let’s make sure to spend more time on sharing Christ to friends and family than “discussing” theological issues.

    God is good.