The controversy over paedo-communion, and whether a presbytery may ordain a man to be a teaching elder in the PCA who holds this view as an exception to the denomination’s Standards, resurfaced for the third consecutive year.

The controversy was sparked when the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) recommended that the Response of Pacific Northwest Presbytery and the minutes of Central Florida Presbytery be approved by the General Assembly. In both cases, the minutes made reference to a candidate who, contrary to the Standards, believes that paedo-communion is biblical.

After hours of debate, the Assembly approved Pacific Northwest’s Response. In the case of Central Florida, however, the Assembly adopted an amended version of the RPR Minority Report, which took exception to the Nov. 15, 2011 minutes.  There, a candidate found “the position commonly referred to as “paedo-communion” to be a more biblically consistent understanding of the sacrament.”

Pacific Northwest — Dealing With a Response and Further Explanation

In the case of Pacific Northwest, the 39th Assembly (Virginia Beach) held that the presbytery had granted an exception which is out of accord and “that is, hostile to the system or striking at the vitals of religion” (RAO 16-3.e.5.d). The candidate in question disagreed with the statement: “The Lord’s Supper is to be restricted to those who are “of years and ability to examine themselves.””

In granting this exception, Northwest Presbytery acknowledged that the ordinand’s differences were more than semantic, but were not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine. The presbytery went on to state that the ordinand [should] be given “full liberty to preach and teach his views.”

In its revised response to the current Assembly, Pacific Northwest explained that in the case of “non-fundamental” differences, it had routinely recorded that the man was “given full liberty to preach and teach his views.”  It then conceded that “the phrase has been understood by many in the PCA as implying something more than what was intended” and reported it no longer uses the confusing phrase.

The presbytery further explained that it expected elders to speak and act “as befitting a humble minority whenever they find it necessary to reference confessional differences….” The presbytery’s 9-page Revised Response can be found here.

The RPR minority wasn’t satisfied with Northwest Pacific’s response. The minority report states that the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith stands in direct contrast to the candidate’s position. The report further holds that Pacific Northwest — in its original minutes, its response to the 39th Assembly, and its revised response to the 41st Assembly — has not corrected its former action; that the now-ordained elder retains “full liberty to preach and teach” his views.

The minority cited 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Further, the minority said, the BCO requires a credible profession of faith before one is admitted to the table.

Why Now?

When asked why the issue has come up so often in recent years, Skip Gillikin, chairman of RPR committee, said that presbyteries are now asking for a full statement of a candidate’s views. “We have a lot more information now than we’ve had in the past.” Gillikin also believes that concern has been heightened by the Federal Vision controversy. Paedo-communion is a central tenant of the Federal Vision perspective, Gillikin said, and that makes some wary.

Consistent Application

It may seem inconsistent, that Pacific Northwest’s Response was approved while Central Florida’s minutes were not. Howie Donahoe the clerk of Pacific Northwest, pointed out that this year’s Assembly was considering his presbytery’s revised reply to an earlier Assembly.  In the case of Central Florida, this is a first reading of the disputed minutes.

This is why we’re looking for clarity, said Gillikin, why we’re looking for a fuller explanation from Central Florida of this man’s views and how they might affect the peace and purity of the church.

One presbytery’s situation can be very different from another’s, Donahoe said. Men can take an exception to our Standards, but for different reasons, and those reasons can make a difference. In some cases the exception may seem to “appear” to strike at the vitals of religion; in others it doesn’t. The way a man expresses himself may cause RPR and the Assembly to be cautious, or to be more comfortable.

This, said Gillikin, is why RPR is always seeking clarity.


RPR’s Rationale

Below is the rationale adopted by the RPR for recommending the GA consider Pacific NW Presbytery’s Response Satisfactory (GA Commissioner’s Handbook, page 1242)

a)  The nine-page Revised Response from the Pacific NW Presbytery (attached at the end of the RPR Report) satisfactorily addresses the question raised by the 2011 RPR and the exception of substance citation from the 39th GA in VA Beach.

b)  While some RPR members might not be persuaded by all parts of Presbytery’s interpretation of the actions of the 1988 Knoxville GA, we find their analysis, overall, to be cogent.

c)  We trust Presbytery’s assertion that no PNW church practices paedocommunion (defined as admitting a child to the Lord’s Table solely on the basis of his baptism).

d)  And we appreciate Presbytery’s willingness to cease using the potentially confusing phrase, “given full liberty to preach and teach,” with regard to confessional differences.

e)  We trust Presbytery’s assertion that the candidate from the January 2010 ordination exam does not have liberty to “promote” this confessional difference in any church in the Presbytery.  At the same time, we understand the minister is not entirely prohibited from communicating his view to his church, but if does, he would only do so as a humble minority communicating a view that our Church does not hold.  This would include communicating it from the pulpit, assuming the manner, circumstances and frequency were appropriate as long as this is not construed as agitating for or lobbying.

f)  Finally, we concur with Presbytery’s observation that for nearly 25 years the PCA has existed with some Presbyteries allowing the minority paedocommunion view to be held within their fellowship, while clearly disallowing its practice.