Friday, September 7, 2007

Paedocommunion -- A Modest Proposal

No, it isn't what you readers of Jonathan Swift are thinking.

It's just this: as I've been thinking about the issue of paedocommunion in regard to Federal Vision and whatnot, I've been struck by the case of my own three-year-old daughter.

One of her recent questions: "Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for me?"

Now it strikes me that at a developmentally appropriate level of understanding, she's a believer. I honestly feel uncomfortable with the fact that she doesn't receive communion when it is served (when I help distribute it, no less!).

First question: what do the standards have to say about it?

BCO 12-5:

The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual
government of the church, for which purpose it has power:
a. To inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of
the church members under its care; to censure those found
delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children
for Baptism; to receive members into the communion of the Church;
to remove them for just cause; to grant letters of dismissal to other
churches, which when given to parents, shall always include the
names of their non-communing, baptized children;

BCO 57:

57-1. Believers’ children within the Visible Church, and especially those
dedicated to God in Baptism, are non-communing members under the care of
the Church. They are to be taught to love God, and to obey and serve the
Lord Jesus Christ. When they are able to understand the Gospel, they should
be earnestly reminded that they are members of the Church by birthright, and
that it is their duty and privilege personally to accept Christ, to confess Him
before men, and to seek admission to the Lord’s Supper.
57-2. The time when young persons come to understand the Gospel cannot
be precisely fixed. This must be left to the prudence of the Session, whose
office it is to judge, after careful examination, the qualifications of those who
apply for admission to sealing ordinances...

57-4. It is recommended, as edifying and proper, that baptized persons,
when admitted by the Session to the Lord’s Supper, make a public profession
of their faith in the presence of the congregation. But in all cases, there
should be a clear recognition of their previous relation to the church as
baptized members.

BCO 58:
58-2. The ignorant and scandalous are not to be admitted to the Lord's

Larger Catechism:
Q. 177. Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper differ? A. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord's supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.

So what are the underlying Scriptural arguments here? The PCA position paper outlines the primary lines of thought. On the one hand, as per the majority position, the Reformed theologians have traditionally insisted that children be capable of fulfilling Paul's command to examine oneself:

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

And when I come I will give further directions.
1 Cor 11.17-33 NIV

The majority felt simply that young children are incapable of examining themselves.

The minority responded unsuccessfully that the parallel between Passover and Communion is strong enough to require parallel practices also. Since children were admitted to Passover, they should be admitted to Communion also. (Aside: Murray denies that children were admitted to Passover in a footnote in Christian Baptism that I don't have in front of me, stressing the 'you' in Ex. 12.26, "why do you do this?" That argument seems thin to me.)

The second majority argument, developing out of Calvin's theology of communion, was that communion is not effective ex operato, but only through faith. Thus, communion (unlike baptism) requires an active response of faith.

(It is this argument that no doubt led to Wilson's rude title of one of the articles in Credenda, "Give 'em the bread, you lumpy anabaptists!")

What to make of this in light of 1 Cor 11?

First, it will not do to argue that all kids, regardless of expressed faith or otherwise, should have communion. To so argue makes light of Paul's warning, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." If this warning has any force as a warning, it must mean that we make some effort to fence the table from the "ignorant and scandalous"; else, we are like the man in Proverbs who sees danger and fails to warn of it. Children unable to express faith of any sort should probably not receive communion.

But second, it will not do to deny believing children access to communion for up to 10 years of their lives just so that we can verify that they really are Jacobs instead of Esaus. That's an unacceptably long time of "covenantal probation."

So here's the proposal: allow sessions, as per BCO 12-5, to develop developmentally appropriate examination questions for kids, to be asked prior to admitting them to communion. And then keeping examining them every two years, again with developmentally appropriate questions, so that they can continue to see that they are in the faith. Or not, which is a kindness as well.

As I read it, this proposal is in line with the standards, fulfills the requirements of 1 Cor 11, and also fulfills Jesus' command to let the little children come to Him in Mark 10.13-16.



Jeff Meyers said...

Jeff: my argument (and others) is that 1 Cor. 11:28 does not mean or imply what our tradition thinks it means. You need to research that a bit more.

Read my chapter in the book A Case for Covenant Communion:

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Or if you're too cheap to buy the book (but I recommend you do), you might start with a couple articles here.

And here's another issue to consider: What about covenant children with severe cognitive disabilities? Low-bar credocommunion such as you propose (and there are congregations that practice such) still leave no room for the possibility of admitting to the table anyone whose mental faculties preclude any evaluation of their understanding.

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Valerie!

I've actually purchased the book, along with The Federal Vision.

In my proposal, as I envision it, "developmentally appropriate" would cover those cases.

We had a young lad in our congregation who is severely disabled. Ben has fragile-X syndrome, and his retardation is profound. Yet according to his father, he has some understanding of faith.

Under my plan, we would have allowed him to commune on the basis of his developmentally appropriate expression of faith.


Travis said...

I appreciate your fatherly heart, Jeff. Give her the elements and tell her that Jesus loves her so much. Here is a snippit from another blog where I describe:
When my oldest son (then 6) sat before the session of our 2nd to last church (no we don’t church hop), he was taken to task in this regard (I had brought him for approval for communion). An elder said to him, “Now, Harry, you know that it is nothing that you do that earns your love from God. You can’t work for heaven.” And I sat there aghast!! Who in his right mind would talk to a child about works salvation? Why even bring it up? I did not teach my child that anything he does affects his relationship with God and he certainly is too young to be Arminian. My son had no clue what to say probably b/c he had no clue what was just said to him. He looked at me as if to say, “These aren’t the catechism questions we’ve gone over, Dad. Get me outta here!”

Travis said...

Here is a partial response...
This begs the question: Is Calvin consistent? Calvin along with Luther assume a nascent faith, else the recipient is an unworthy receiver of baptism. In the case of paedocommunion, mightn’t it be argued that upon and age of discretion (what I mean by that is an age where even minimal comprehension is evidenced; i.e. a child recognises by his participation in the rite that he is in fact doing what others are and that therefore, he belongs) that child’s faith...
For the rest:

Travis said...

*an age of discretion