Introduction (This is the manuscript for a sermon I preached @ Grace URC on June 29th)
In this post will be demonstrating that the Bible does not teach paedocommunion, rather the Bible clearly teaches credocommunion. Before we go into the arguments that refute the paedocommunionists position we need to first know what it is. Paedocommunion is the view that very young children can partake of the Lord's supper by virtue of the child being baptized and in the covenant. This view says that a young child at three of years need not examine himself or make a profession of faith before he takes communion, but that a child's covenantal status is a sufficient condition for the children of believers to partake of the Lord's Supper. Conversely, the credocommunionists position is that in order to partake of the Lord's supper a child or any person must be a believer who can 1) understand the significance of the supper, and 2) examine themselves in order to see if they are eating the supper in a worthy manner. This is the opposite of the paedocommunion position because on the credocommunion position just being in the covenant can never be a sufficient condition or qualification to partake of the Lord's supper. Because the church has been given elders who are supposed to enforce biblical doctrine with authority it us up to their biblical wisdom to ensure that both these qualifications are satisfied in any particular individual on the credocommunionists position (Titus 1:9;2:1,7, 15). The structure of this refutation of paedocommunion is that I will first present the strongest proof for the credocommunionists position and then after that I will demonstrate that all other arguments and objections from paedocommunionists position are unsuccessful.
1 Corinthians 11:27-29
My argument for credocommunion is from 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. In these verses we find qualifications for partaking in the Lord's supper. However, these qualifications arise out of a problem in the church of Corinth. The problem in the church of Corinth is that there are people who are eating all the food and getting drunk off of drinking to much wine while partaking in the Lord's supper. They were eating and drinking so much that there was not enough food and drink for other poor believers who wanted to participate in the Lord's Supper. So these are the circumstances in which Paul gives qualifications for partaking in the Lord's supper. These qualifications function in such a way as to prevent these unique historical circumstances that were occurring in the church of Corinth. Yet, these qualifications function to give a general guide for the church to practice communion in a proper way. I will go into this more after I have given my exegesis of verses 27-29 which I believe conclusively establishes credocommunion.
Paul starts out in verse 27 by showing the importance of eating the supper properly Paul puts it like this in verse 27 1 Corinthians 11:27 “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.” Paul is saying here that if we partake of the Lord's supper in a sinful way then we are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this does not mean that one has to be perfect or that one should not partake of the supper if they are struggling with sin, rather this text is teaching us not to partake of the supper in a sinful fashion. However, I would say that this text excludes unbelievers from taking the supper because a unbeliever suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness and he will certainly not take the supper in a worthy fashion if he has that mindset. This therefore, establishes the principle that only believers are to partake in the Lord's supper. Furthermore, if one holds to the principle “better safe than sorry” then this also implicitly teaches against paedocommunion because we are not certain if children are regenerate until they profess faith. So if a child ends up not professing faith and they were partaking of the Lord's supper the whole time then they would have been guilty of profaning and sinning against the body and blood of the Lord and the church would be permitting this. The costs here are much too high so therefore it is reasonable that we adopt the principle that it is better to be cautious about very important spiritual matters rather than not be. These assumptions are wise for carefully applying God's word, however, they also rule out paedocommunion.
Verse 28 makes the case for paedocommunion even more difficult because Paul gives explicit qualifications that would rule out very young children just baptized in the covenant, verse 28 reads: 1 Corinthians 11:28 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Paul is saying that a person in the singular should examine himself before he partakes of the supper. If a person does not examine themselves then they are not following this scripture verse. The reason why people examine themselves is to see if they are going to partake of the supper in a worthy manner. This means they are to see if they are Christians and if they are not going to partake of the supper in a sinful fashion. Clearly, many very young children either do not have the mental capacity or have not shown that they have the mental capacity to fulfill this qualification. Therefore, if a young child cannot meet this criteria then they ought to be excluded from the table and this entails that paedocommunion is false.
But Paul does not just stop there, he goes on to give a further qualification to the supper in verse 29 which reads: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Paul's point here is that if anyone does not recognizing the significance of the body of the Lord then he reaps judgment on himself. What Paul means by body in this verse is the body of the Lord because this Greek “soma” word is used in this way in the immediate preceding context two times in verses 24 and 27 of 1 Corinthians 11. Many paedocommunionist out of desperation argue that this means the church, however, this goes against Paul's use of the word “soma” in the immediate context. What Paul means by recognizing the body of the Lord is probably acknowledging the proper understanding of the Lord's supper and to what the supper points to which is the shed blood and broken body of Jesus for our justification. Clearly, this falsifies paedocommunion because paedocommunion teaches that we should allow children to the table only because they are in the covenant, but this verse gives more qualifications than just covenant membership. Not only does this verse disprove paedocommunion but it shows the danger of paedocommunion position because parents that do not make sure that their children follow these qualifications put their children at risk of the judgment of almighty God. Therefore, this is all the more encouragement to the church that we should carefully to observe these qualifications and this is why I think that biblical wisdom suggests that a closed table is very beneficial to have.
Objections to 1 Corinthians 11
However, before I move on there are two prominent paedocommunionists objections to the traditional Reformed reading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 that I will deal with. The first objection is that to apply verses 27-29 to paedocommunion is to take it out of context because 1 Corinthians 11 is about unifying the differing factions in the church rather than excluding people from the Lord's table. The first problem with this objection is that the main theme in the immediate context is not so much about unity in general so much as it is about those who were not eating the supper properly because they are not including believers who legitimately have a right to eat the supper. Paul's point to them is that the reason why this sinful event was happening to begin with is because they were not following the proper qualifications for partaking in the supper. As we can see this is perfectly compatible with the context because Paul's general principle does not allow for the Corinthians behavior and as well as other behaviors that we have previously discussed. The paedocommunionists usually means by “it is out of context” is that we should only apply these qualifications to cases when believers eat the supper in a way that does not include all of the church. The problem with this response is that the qualifications themselves do not actually say this, so the paedocommunionists is simply putting something in the text that is not there. Furthermore, to try to limit the application of this text is inconsistent with how we read the Bible and how we apply it to our own unique circumstances. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5 when Paul commands the church to discipline a person for sexual immorality we do not limit the application of this text to only disciplining people who are sexually immoral but to all individual's who are living in unrepentant sin. Therefore, to only limit the qualifications in 1 Corinthians 11 to the situations involving people taking the supper sinfully by not including believers is inconsistent to how we apply the Bible to all areas of life. The second paedocommunionists objection to this passage is that we do not apply other commandments and qualifications to very small children so it is inconsistent to apply these qualifications to very small children. For instance, Tim Gallant uses 2 Thessalonians 3:10 which says that “those who do not work do not eat”, Gallant argues surely we do not apply this to very small children so therefore we do not apply 1 Corinthians 11 to very small children. My response to Gallant is threefold 1) if we were to be consistent with this line of reasoning then we could exclude very small children from the commandments of God and hence very small children could not really sin (which Tim himself rejects). 2) If we were to exclude very small from all sorts of qualification then very small children could function as elders in our churches because the qualifications do not apply to them. 3) Because Tim's principle leads absurdities like 1 and 2 then we should adopt the following principle: a child is only excluded from a commandment and requirement only if it leads to something that is clearly immoral like in the case of Tim's example of starving your children because they are not working. Therefore, we can consistently say on basis of 1 Corinthians 11 that small children that have not professed faith cannot come to the table and that objections offered to the contrary are unsound. In the time remaining I will refute the two most popular positive arguments offered for paedocommunion.
Argument 1: The Passover
One of the most popular arguments in favor of paedocommunion is that the passover celebration included small covenant children without qualification and the passover celebration is connected to the Lord's supper, hence, the Lord's supper should include small covenant children without qualification. The reason why this argument is a failure is because of the fact the Old Testament data never clearly says that small covenant children participated in the passover, this is rather a foggy inference that the paedocommunist's draws. So in order to make this argument work the paedocommunist's makes way too much out of the Old Testaments unclear evidence. And in doing this the paedocommunist's violates two solid hermetical principles that have been around since the Reformation, they are, as follows: 1) Let the clear scripture interpret the unclear scripture, and 2) let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament. The paedocommunist's reasoning violates both these principles at the same time when he lets the unclear Old Testament evidences interpret the clear New Testament evidence of 1 Corinthians 11. The actual passover event was said to include households in Exodus 12 and it does not really say explicitly whether or not covenant children who had not professed faith had participated in it. The passover was a unique event, but what was a repeated event was remembering and celebrating the passover which better fits with the Lord's supper which we repeatedly celebrate to remember the death of Christ. This puts the paedocommunists in a very difficult position because the celebration of the passover was only commanded to individual's and it involved a pilgrimage to Jerusalem which was a command that a very small child could not have even followed. Deuteronomy 16:1-7 is the text that commands how the passover is to be followed: “Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 3 Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste-- so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning. 5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. 7 Roast it and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents.” Not only is doubtful that very small covenant children could even follow this, but it is not even commanded to family units it is commanded to individual's because every single Hebrew verb is in the masculine singular. Therefore, it is not clear that small covenant children that did not profess faith took part in the passover celebration. So the best option for us is to follow the reasonable hermetical principles of the Reformation and let the clear interpret the unclear, let the New Testament interpret Old Testament and when we follow these principles the paedocommunists passover argument is unsuccessful.
Argument 2: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The last argument we will be dealing with comes from 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 which reads: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 “16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The argument made by the paedocommunionist is that Paul says that the one Body of Christ partakes in the Lord's Supper and children are a part of the body of Christ, therefore, children ought to partake of the Lord's supper. The problem with this argument is this: if the paedocommunionists were consistent with this line of reasoning then this would mean that even infants who are too young to have hard foods would be obligated to partake in the supper, but paedocommunionists state that only when a child is old enough to eat solid foods then they can partake in the supper. So even the paedocommunionists see 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 as not the entire body of Christ, but only those who are old enough to eat of it. But then if this true then it is inconsistent with the claim that body of Christ means every single person because it excludes infants that cannot eat solid food, therefore, there is no problem with the credocommunionists adding other biblical qualifications to partake in the Lord's supper that are found in 1 Corinthians 11. As we have seen there are simply no good reasons to think that paedocommunion is true, rather 1 Corinthians 11 gives us sufficient reason to doubt the truth of paedocommunion.