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.