Category Archives: paedocommunion

A Scripture Reading and a Brief Exposition, and then a Baptism

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Exodus 10:7-11 Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the LORD your God. But which ones are to go?” Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.” But he said to them, “The LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

 

1 Corinthians 10.1-4 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

1 Corinthians 12.12-26 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

 

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Baptism as God’s moat… not all that workable

It is really easy to think of the Church as God’s palace and, therefore, baptism as God’s moat.

(Especially if you realize that the record of Solomon building God’s “Temple” and then his own “Palace” is a somewhat arbitrary English addition to the text. In the Hebrew, Solomon simply first build’s God’s great house and then his own great house. So all the passages about the Church as Temple of God could just as easily be about the Church as Palace of God, even though the language is Greek rather than Hebrew at that point.)

Crossing a boundary marked by water is labeled a baptism: “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10.1, 2).

And if crossing the Red Sea was a baptism, then so was the crossing of the Jordan, which included memorial signs and circumcisions at the next camp site (Joshua 3-5). And lets not forget the transition at the crossing of Zered. From Deuteronomy 2:

And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.

So as soon as all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, the Lord said to me, ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’

So crossing over/through water seems to be the way one gets into the Kingdom. This is related to baptism and fits into our moat analogy…

But it doesn’t keep enough people out to really qualify as a moat. Frankly, baptism is more like the drawbridge. The whole point of baptism is how many people that it includes.

1 Corinthians 10:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

If someone wants to start a movement, it is easy to see benefits in raising “the cost of admission” to make sure you get committed people and entice coinverts by the prospect of being able to count themselves heroes. But God doesn’t ask us to swim through deadly waters. He just invites us with a bit of Spiritual moisture.

The heroic effort comes later, mainly in the form of the challenge of welcoming and loving one another, even the “least.”

How does anti-paedocommunion comport with the Regulative Principle of Worship

The bottom line here, is that the Bible presents no barrier between initiation in the covenant and participation in the covenant meal. Rev. Bacon needs a text which gives us an age limit or developmental standard for participation in the sacramental food and drink. He has not given us one. His strong assertions of the “specialness” of the Lord’s Supper all beg the question. No one is denying that it is special in that it is a sacrament. We are simply denying that it is too special for children. He has given us no reason to think otherwise.

The Bible says that one cannot participate in Passover unless one is circumcised. Also, one cannot participate in Passover if one is ceremonially unclean. Rev. Bacon asserts, that there is an additional rule involving a level of discernment. But he has not given us any Scriptural support for such an assertion, and it is hardly Reformed to simply make one up.

At one point in the confrontation between the Lord and Pharaoh, the Egyptian king seemed to give in. He was ready the let them go worship the Lord as long as they left their children behind. Moses had a different idea, “We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord” (Exo 10.9). The flocks and herds were for sacrifices (10.25-26). But why were the children needed at a feast to the Lord? Rev. Bacon may insist that they were present for catechizing if he wishes, but I’m looking for a Biblical answer (Deu 16.11, 14).

According to Hebrews 9.10, the various ceremonial cleansings in the Mosaic economy were “baptisms” (literal Greek translation). When one became ceremonially unclean one was barred from the Sanctuary and, therefore, cut off from the Sacraments. The whole point of being baptized was to regain access to the Feast. Our children have been baptized. Our children are not “unclean, but . . . holy” (1 Cor 7.14). They should not be barred from the feast. To invent reasons for barring the little children from the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus, not only nullifies any professed allegiance to the Regulative Principle of Worship, but it brings down upon us the indignation of Christ (Mar 10.14).

To all of this, the warning in 1 Corinthians 10.27-32 is extremely pertinent. The Corinthians were guilty of permitting some to hog the Table and force others to go hungry and thirsty (10.21, 33). Let us demonstrate that we can discern the Lord’s Body by including our children in it.

Our baptized children ought not be barred from the Lord’s Supper.

via Theologia » A Brief Response to Rev Richard Bacons Opposition to Paedocommunion.

Why Not Read the Literature about Paedocommunion?

Why Not Paedocommunion? « Johannes Weslianus.

Don’t have time to fisk this summary of Leonard Coppes’ book, Daddy, May I Take Communion, but I did admire Coppes’ tacit admission that Calvin’s entire OT case against paedocommunion was exegetically baseless, and that a new argument had to be made (up?) to preserve the traditionalist conclusion.

However, Coppes many errors were exposed back in 1992 and, if you are going to repeat Coppes, it might be good to know that Paedocommunionists are familiar with it.

Peter Leithart’s reply, Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated can be purchased here.

But I have also copied and pasted a summary found here.

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 20, April 1992
Copyright (c) 1992 by Biblical Horizons

(Editor’s Note: This essay is an abridged version of Rev. Leithart’s extended and comprehensive critique of Leonard J. Coppes’s book, Daddy, May I Take Communion? The full 56-page critique can be obtained for $7.00 from Biblical Horizons , Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.)

Since the early 1980s, several of the conservative Reformed Churches have debated and wrestled with the issue of paedocommunion (infant communion). The PCA and the OPC assigned study committees to examine the question, both of which produced useful reports both in support of and against the position. Though the debate seems to have subsided in recent years, there are signs that it continues to percolate in the Reformed Churches. Rev. Steve Wilkins, pastor of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Monroe, Louisiana, for example, has recently produced a widely-distributed tape series giving a strong defense of paedocommunion, and in 1988, Dr. Leonard Coppes published his book Daddy, May I Take Communion?, endorsed by Rev. Joseph C. Morecraft as “the first serious response to the `paedocommunion challenge.’” (Rev. Wilkins’s four-tape series can be obtained from Covenant Productions, c/o Erik Stoer, 26 Kathy Lane, Freeport, FL 32439 for $10.00.)

Though one hesitates to raise what has been a divisive issue, it is not an issue that can be ignored. Belief in paedocommunion is not, to be sure, in any sense a test of orthodoxy. But its significance for the system of Reformed doctrine is vast. It is plausible to argue that many of the tensions that have arisen in Reformed theology are crystallized by, if they do not actually arise from, the traditional antipaedocommunion position. I do not believe that paedocommunion implies any discarding of the foundational doctrines of the Reformed faith, but it does certainly imply a recasting and refinement, a further reformation of Reformed theology.

The paedocommunion debate raises questions not only concerning the character of the sacraments and the relationship of the two sacraments, but also touches on such major areas of theology as the doctrine of the Church, the meaning of the covenant, the relationship of the covenant to eternal election, the doctrines of perseverance and assurance, the relationship of faith and the sacraments, the relationship of faith and understanding, the relationship of faith and works, and other questions of great theological significance. Hermeneutical questions, including the meta-issue of relating the OT and NT, are also implicated. For these reasons, in the PCA, where many have a less than Scriptural view of baptism, paedocommunion is rightly seen as a profound challenge to the prevailing thought and practice. If true, paedocommunion requires the contemporary Reformed churches to undergo a far-reaching theological repentance.

Practically, the stakes are, if anything, even greater. Advocates of paedocommunion claim that their opponents are dishonoring Christ’s invitation to let the little children come to Him to dine at His table. Opponents of paedocommunion claim that the table of the Lord is defiled by the admission of “undiscerning” children and infants. Whoever is right, Christ is displeased with a portion of His Church.

In the following, I hope to advance the debate by considering the main arguments of Coppes’s book. For readers interested in a more thorough examination of Coppes’s positions and arguments, I have written a longer, chapter-by-chapter review of Coppes’s book, which is also available from Biblical Horizons .

Presuppositions

At the outset, a few of stylistic comments are in order. Coppes’s book is extremely difficult to read. It is highly repetitive, uses vague and sometimes obscure language, and includes more than its share of incoherent or fallacious arguments and outright false claims. Coppes’s argument includes many twists and turns. Debatable assertions are sometimes qualified dozens of pages later, and the qualifications undermine the original assertions. Coppes has done some good work in the past, particularly in his contributions to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. This book is far from his best effort.

Let us examine a few of the recurring problems in Coppes’s book. First, Coppes tends to employ a rigid, nominalistic hermeneutical and theological method in which things and concepts are sharply distinguished from one another. Thus, for example, he claims that each of the meals and sacrifices of the OT depicted a particular “aspect” of redemption. If this is taken to mean that each particular meal highlighted one aspect or another of the work of Christ, it is unobjectionable. But for Coppes it evidently means something different. It means, quite literally, that each OT sacrifice and meal signified and sealed one and only one part of redemption.

Thus, for example, Coppes argues (pp. 81ff.) that the Passover was “propitiatory,” but did not depict a vicarious substitutionary sacrifice. God was turned from His wrath by the slaughter of the Passover lamb and the presentation of its blood, but “there is nothing in the explanation of the rite to say that the lamb was the vicarious substitutionary sacrifice or atonement for the sins of the people” (p. 82). Again, he suggests that the Passover signified propitiation (the satisfaction of God’s wrath) but not expiation (the removal of sin, p. 113). He hedges his statements by admitting that the Passover was “generally expiatory,” but not “immediately expiatory.” Yet, he concludes that, because it lacked the element of laying on of hands, the Passover “was not, in itself, a vicarious substitutionary sacrifice” (p. 81). (For an extended discussion of the Passover, see J. H. Kurtz, Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament, trans. by James Martin [Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock, (1863) 1980], pp. 355-76.)

This line of argument implies that God’s wrath can be propitiated without the removal of sin. It suggests the possibility that God’s wrath can be satisfied by something less than the death of a substitutionary victim. That, in turn, suggests that God can justify without being Just. Coppes’s response to this criticism would perhaps be that the Passover is but one OT rite among many. Redemption, he urges, was depicted in the whole of the sacrificial system, not in any single rite or sacrifice. Though the Passover did not expiate sin (at least not “immediately”), other OT sacrifices and rites did. But this answer does not meet the objection. If Coppes is correct, the Israelites who participated in the original Passover were delivered from God’s wrath without being delivered from sin.

The sacrificial system of the OT was designed to restore communion between God and man. Sin alienates man from God. God is angry with sinners so long as their sin is not removed. That sin, and therefore God’s anger, are removed by sacrifice. Coppes’s discussion leaves the impression that redemption can be achieved in part, and that communion with God can be restored in part. If Coppes is correct, we are left wondering about the status of a sinner for whom God’s wrath is propitiated, but whose sin is not covered. Does the Passover lamb suffice to restore communion with God, or does it not? If the blood of the Passover lamb did not restore communion with God, why did the people share a communion meal?

Surely, Coppes is on to something important. The important truth in his discussion is that no single OT sacrifice or meal exhaustively typified the fulfillment of that redemption in Christ. The question is how we relate the multiplicity of the OT types to the One Christ and His work of redemption. It seems to me that a more satisfying way to describe the relationship among the various meals and sacrifices is in terms of “perspectives,” as that notion has been developed by John Frame and Vern Poythress. (See Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987], and Poythress, Symphonic Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988].) A perspective is a limited view of a whole. Seeing each element of the sacrificial system as a “perspective” on the coming Redeemer would mean that each sacrifice and meal and rite emphasized one particular dimension of the sacrifice of Christ, without excluding the other dimensions. Indeed, properly understood, each sacrifice and meal would imply all the others. Each depicted the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ from a particular angle. (See Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses [Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991], p. 49.) Employing a “perspectival” approach, we can avoid distinguishing the different sacrifices too sharply and implying that the sacrifices dealt with one and only one “aspect” of sin and redemption.

We run across a similar quagmire when Coppes begins to talk about the application of redemption. Again, the various “aspects” of salvation are neatly separated. He claims that each meal and rite of the OT brought the worshiper closer to God only in respect to the particular aspect of redemptive reality signified and sealed by that particular rite. Coppes is operating along the traditional Reformed lines of the ordo salutis, which has been subjected directly and indirectly to a searching critique by a long line of Reformed scholars from Geerhardus Vos and John Murray to Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., and Herman Ridderbos.

Gaffin’s work especially has laid the foundations for a thorough-going Biblical refinement of the Reformed doctrine of the application of redemption (a refinement that at the same time is a recovery of some of Calvin’s best insights). By emphasizing the centrality of union with Christ and the eschatological character of redemption, Gaffin and others have avoided sterile separations between various stages in redemption. If we are justified, it is because we are united by faith to the One who was justified by His resurrection (Rom. 4:25); if we are sons by adoption, it is because we are united to the Firstborn among many brethren; and so on. Gaffin concludes from a careful study that Paul views justification, sanctification, adoption, etc. “not as distinct acts but as distinct aspects of a single act.” (Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, (1978) 1987], p. 138.) Against Coppes’s tendency to separate neatly between stages of redemption, Gaffin would raise Paul’s rhetorical question to the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?”

Coppes also misconstrues the nature of the institutional transition from Old to New Covenant in some important respects. The NT institutions (sacraments, priesthood, etc.) do not necessarily match one-to-one with the institutions of the OT. It is far too simplistic a view of the NT to suggest, for example, that the Aaronic priesthood is analogous to the New Covenant eldership, and the duties of the Levites exactly correspond to the duties of deacons. The entire OT is fulfilled in Christ, and transformed by His death and resurrection. In theory, Coppes agrees with this. In practice, however, his entire book constitutes a search for a single OT rite that exactly corresponds to the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, Coppes is consistently offering arguments that prove more than he wishes to prove. He argues from Ezekiel 44:5-9, for example, that only people who are circumcised in the heart (that is, who have made a profession of faith) are to be admitted to the Table. But that passage is about restricting access to the sanctuary, not the table per se; the NT sanctuary is the Church. Taken in Coppes’s terms, Ezekiel 44 really proves that only those who have made a profession of faith should be admitted to the Church. Thus, his arguments against paedocommunion continually tend to undermine his own paedobaptist convictions.

The Argument

The basic assumption of Coppes’s book is that the nature of the Lord’s Supper (what it means) determines the design (who should be admitted). He argues that we can make no simple identification of the Lord’s Supper with the Passover; the nature of the two meals is different. This assertion assumes the notion of “aspects” discussed above. The Passover depicted only one aspect of redemption, while the Supper signifies and seals the whole.

Thus, the fact that children were admitted to the Passover does not prove that they should be admitted to the Supper; we cannot determine the design of the Supper from the design of the Passover. Coppes’s argument also implies that no other single OT meal was the consummate antecedent of the Supper. He is also at pains to point out that there were many different meals in the OT, with varying terms of admission.

If no single OT meal determines the design of the Supper, how do we decide whether or not children should be admitted to the Supper? Several lines of thought suggest themselves. First, one could argue that, since no OT feast corresponds exactly with the Supper, we need to decide the question of admission on the basis of more general theological principles, such as the nature of the covenant, the nature of the Church, the nature of baptism, etc. Alternatively, one could look for a general pattern in the OT feasts that could be applied to the Supper. If we discover that all the OT feasts admitted children, then we could conclude that the NT feast should admit children as well. Neither of these lines of argument assumes a simplistic identification of the Supper with Passover or with any other single OT meal.

Coppes, unfortunately, rejects both of these alternatives. Instead, having dismissed the “simplistic” paedocommunion appeal to the Passover, he simplistically identifies the Supper with a different OT rite. Though he never states it in precisely this way, Coppes’s full argument is as follows:

1. The Great Atonement is the heart of the OT sacrificial system;

2. The Lord’s Supper fulfills the entire OT sacrificial system;

3. Since the Atonement is the heart of the sacrificial system, the Supper particularly fulfills the Great Atonement;

4. The rites that “attach” the sacrifices to the Great Atonement are the laying on of hands and approaching the altar;

5. Participation in the Supper thus particularly fulfills the approach to the altar and the laying on of hands;

6. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper should admit only those participants who could approach the altar in the OT (the design of the Supper is determined by its nature);

7. Since only potential federal heads who had made a profession of faith could approach the altar, only federal heads should receive the Supper;

8. Though in the OT, women were not allowed to approach the altar, in the NT women can receive the Supper.

Several criticisms of this argument are in order. First, it seems odd at first that Coppes would choose a fast day (the Day of Atonement) to determine the admissions requirements to the NT feast, or why he would use the rite of “laying on of hands” to determine admission requirements to a meal. The reason becomes clearer on consideration. In the OT, there were two basic kinds of meals: 1) meals in which leaders or priests alone participated and 2) meals in which the whole people of Israel participated. The first type of meal was bound up with the temporary OT holiness boundaries, which have been removed in Christ. To prove from the OT that children should be barred from the Lord’s Table, Coppes has to offer an example of an OT meal that meets two requirements: 1) all the lay Israelites were invited, but 2) their children were excluded.

Coppes never provides any example of such a meal, because the OT knows nothing of such a meal. When lay adults were invited to feasts, their children were invited to eat and drink with them. This was true of the Passover (Ex. 12:3-4), the peace offering (Lev. 7:15-21), the other annual feasts of Israel (Dt. 14:22-29; 16:9-14), and the wilderness meals (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Coppes knows he cannot provide a single example of a common meal that excluded children, so he continually shifts attention from the OT meals to other OT rites. He assumes that the Supper excludes children. To show how this is consistent with the OT types, he must find an OT rite that included lay adults, but excluded children. The rite of “laying on of hands” meets those requirements.

Second, Coppes shifts ground several times in the book. His stated assumption is that the Supper fulfills the entire OT sacrificial system, and therefore no OT rite had precisely the same nature as the Supper. Yet, Coppes also suggests a single OT rite–the laying on of hands–was the main OT antecedent of the Supper. If it is simplistic to identify the Supper solely with the Passover, it is equally simplistic to identify the Supper solely with the “laying on of hands.” Similarly, he often says that the Sinai meal of Exodus 24 was the most direct antecedent of the Supper. But there is no reason to say that the Supper fulfills the Sinai meal more directly than it fulfills any other meal.

Third, Coppes confuses the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ with the continual celebration and application of that sacrifice in the Supper. The NT nowhere compares the Supper to the Great Atonement. Instead, the NT compares Christ’s death to the Great Atonement (Heb. 8-10). The Great Atonement is over and done; we now celebrate the release achieved by the Cross. The Supper is the NT Feast of Booths, the feast that followed the Great Atonement.

Fourth, Coppes’s argument is based on the premise that admission to the OT sacrificial rites became more restrictive the nearer one got to the altar. The meals of the wilderness, Coppes claims, were virtually unrestricted; the feasts of Tabernacles and Pentecost were somewhat more restrictive; the Passover, which required circumcision, was more restrictive still; and the rite of “laying on of hands” is the most restrictive rite of the OT system, since it involves a near approach to the altar.

It is true that there were various meals, with varying terms of admission. Yet, Coppes seriously misrepresents the Biblical data. The most glaring error is his treatment of the status of “sojourners” in ancient Israel. He argues that in general sojourners were not circumcised and not admitted to the altar (pp. 96-97). At the same time, he admits that circumcised strangers could bring votive, freewill, and burnt offerings (citing Lev. 22:18). Uncircumcised sojourners could offer sacrifice only through the priesthood, but could not approach the altar. Coppes summarizes the condition of the uncircumcised stranger as follows:

    • [The stranger] was permitted to present votive and freewill offerings (Lev. 22:18), and even burnt offerings and sacrifices. It should be noted that the uncircumcised sojourner (ger) was not allowed to approach the altar himself since he was not in a state of levitical purity. The first prerequisite of that state was circumcision (p. 98).

In fact, however, circumcision was not a prerequisite for approaching the altar. The uncircumcised sojourner was to follow the same procedures as the Israelite in making his offering (cf. Nu. 15:14-15). (Jacob Milgrom, Numbers [Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 1990], pp. 398-402. Milgrom writes, “the ger [stranger] may participate in the voluntary sacrificial cult if he follows its prescriptions [Num. 15:15-16; Lev. 22:17ff.]” [p. 399].) Thus, the uncircumcised sojourner was able to get as close to the altar as any Israelite! The sojourner was able to lay his hands on the head of the sacrificial animal, in accord with the instructions of Leviticus 1-5. The sojourner was allowed to slaughter sacrificial animals. In other words, an uncircumcised sojourner could participate in those ritual acts that Coppes claims are the most restrictive acts of the OT sacrificial system, the acts that are most directly associated with the Great Atonement.

This error in Coppes’s argument undermines his entire thesis. He claims, rightly, that there were degrees of holiness in the OT system. Some meals and rites were restricted to priests, some to circumcised Israelites, some open to sojourners. But Coppes turns the OT hierarchy of holiness on its head. He claims that approaching the altar and laying hands on the head of the animal required a higher level of holiness than did participation in the Passover meal. Yet, any uncircumcised sojourner could approach the altar, but only the circumcised could eat the Passover meal. A chart will help summarize the contrast between Coppes’s position and that of the Bible:

    • Coppes Bible Passover lower holiness higher holiness (circumcision required) Laying of Hands higher holiness lower holiness (circumcision not required)

The bottom line here is very significant. Coppes admits that children were admitted to the Passover in the OT. Yet, contrary to his conclusions, Passover required a higher degree of holiness than approaching the altar to offer sacrifice. If Coppes’s scheme were accurate, children should have been excluded from Passover (since it required circumcision), and admitted to the altar (since it did not require circumcision). But Coppes’s scheme is at this point precisely the opposite of the Biblical scheme. Coppes’s argument is based on his premise that approaching the altar required a high degree of ritual holiness. But that premise is simply wrong.

Conclusion

Coppes’s book has certain things in its favor. He challenges any simplistic effort to base paedocommunion solely on the example of Passover, and his emphasis on the reality of Christ’s presence in the Supper is welcome. His most central arguments against paedocommunion, however, are frequently fallacious and based on false assumptions. Though I can hardly claim to have offered a definitive defense of paedocommunion here, I hope that I have shown clearly some of the problems with Coppes’s rather idiosyncratic defense of the traditional position, and shown the plausibility of the paedocommunion position.

B. B. Warfield, not stubbornly anti-paedocommunionist

Clearly to Paul and the Corinthians, the Lord’s Supper was just a sacrificial feast. As such – as the Christians’ sacrificial feast – it is put in comparison here with the sacrificial feasts of the Jews and the heathen. The whole pith of the argument is that it is a sacrificial feast. And if we wish to know what the Lord’s Supper is, here is our proper starting point. It is the sacrificial feast of Christians, and bears the same relation to the sacrifice of Christ that the heathen sacrificial feasts did to their sacrifices and that the Jewish sacrificial feasts did to their sacrifices. It is a sacrificial feast, offering the victim, in symbols of bread and wine, to our participation, and signifying that all those who partake of the victim in these symbols, are sharers in the altar, are of those for whom the sacrifice was offered and to whose benefit it inures.

–Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield

via Providence PCA Church Plant- Fayetteville, NC.

But children got to eat of the OT sacrifices at the altar. See what I wrote here:

Quite right. So where do Presbyterians get off treating their children as unholy?

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.

Exactly right. Household membership in the Church.

Hodge writes: “When under the Old Testament, a parent joined the congregation of the Lord, he brought his minor children with him.” Exactly right. Here is proof:

If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it (Exodus 12.48).

How does this circumcised proselyte “keep” the Passover? By sharing it with his family just like Elkanah did.

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.

And also here:

And when they are established in Israel, God makes it clear that children are invited to all the feasts of the LORD. As we read in Deuteronomy 16:

“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

This is the same household principle that goes back to Abraham and circumcision. As we read in Deuteronomy 12,

But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

And again, Deuteronomy 15:

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. You shall eat it, you and your household, before the LORD  your God year by year at the place that the LORD will choose.

Again, Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, establishes that these were sacramental meals that correspond to our own Lord’s Supper:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?

So this household participation cannot be nullifed when we come to God’s feast.

The truth is Warfield wasn’t stubborn about resisting paedocommunion. He just assumed the anti-paedocommunion position was right. No one gets that excuse anymore.

Charles Hodge, Biblical paedosacramentalist, except when human tradition gets in the way

From his systematic theology:

Seventh Proposition, that there is nothing in the New Testamentwhich justifies the Exclusion of the Children of Believers from Membership in the Church.

The ” onus probandi ” rests on those who take the negative on this subject. If children are to be deprived of a birthright which they have enjoyed ever since there was a Church on earth, there must be some positive command for their exclusion, or some clearly revealed change in the conditions of membership, which renders such exclusion necessary. It need hardly be said that Christ did not give any command no longer to consider the children of believers as members of the Church, neither has there been any change in the conditions of church-membership which necessarily works their exclusion. Those conditions are now what they were from the beginning. It was inevitable, therefore, when Christ commanded his Apostles to disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that they should act on the principle to which they had always been accustomed. When under the Old Testament, a parent joined the congregation of the Lord, he brought his minor children with him. When, therefore, the Apostles baptized a head of a family, it was a matter of course, that they should baptize his infant children. We accordingly find several cases of such household baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts xvi. 15, it is said Lydia ” was baptized, and her household,” and of the jailer at Philippi (ver. 33), that ” he and all his ” were baptized ; and in 1 Corinthians i. 16, Paul says that he baptized the household of Stephanas. The Apostles, therefore, acted on the principle which had always been acted on under the old economy. It is to be remembered that the history of the Apostolic period is very brief, and also that Christ sent the Apostles, not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, and, therefore, it is not surprising that so few instances of household baptism are recorded in the New Testament. The same remark applies substantially to the age immediately succeeding that of the Apostles. The Church increased with great rapidity, but its accessions were from without; adult converts from among the Jews and Gentiles, who in becoming Christians, brought, as a matter of course, their children with them into the fold of Christ. Little, therefore, during this period is heard of the baptism of infants. As soon, however, as children born within the Church constituted the chief source of supply, then we hear more of baptisms for the dead; the ranks of the Church, as they were thinned by the decease of believers, being filled by those who were baptized to take their places. In the time of Tertullian and Origen infant baptism is spoken of, not only as the prevailing usage of the Church, but as having been practised from the beginning. When Pelagius was sorely pressed by Augustine with the argument in support of the doctrine of original sin derived from the baptism of infants, he did not venture to evade the argument by denying either the prevalence of such baptisms or the divine warrant for them. He could only say that they were baptized, not on account of what they then needed, but of what they might need hereafter. The fact of infant baptism and its divine sanction were admitted. These facts are here referred to only as a collateral proof that the practice of the New Testament Church did not in this matter differ from that of the Church as constituted before the advent of Christ.

The conduct of our Lord in relation to children, in its bearing on this subject must not be overlooked. So far from excluding them from the Church in whose bosom they had always been cherished, He called them the lambs of his flock, took them into his arms, and blessed them, and said, of such is the kingdom of heaven. If members of his kingdom in heaven, why should they be excluded from his kingdom on earth? Whenever a father or mother seeks admission to the Christian Church, their heart prompts them to say: Here Lord am I and the children whom thou hast given me. And his gracious answer has always been: Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.

Quite right. So where do Presbyterians get off treating their children as unholy?

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.

Exactly right. Household membership in the Church.

Hodge writes: “When under the Old Testament, a parent joined the congregation of the Lord, he brought his minor children with him.” Exactly right. Here is proof:

If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it (Exodus 12.48).

How does this circumcised proselyte “keep” the Passover? By sharing it with his family just like Elkanah did.

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.

So, are we allowed to believe the Bible, or does Charles Hodge supersede God’s authority? To Hodge’s credit, he was never confronted with the issue of Reformed paedocommunion.

Musculus on paedocommunion contra Calvin

Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) was an important figure in the development of the Reformed faith. Richard A. Muller describes him as one of the “important second-generation codifiers of the Reformed faith,” alongside Calvin, Vermigli, and Hyperius (Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 31). He is described by Farmer as a leading Reformer in the cities of Augsburg and Berne. In Berne, he was theology professor, as well as an influential ecclesiastical advisor. His commentaries were very popular in their own day, seeing widespread use throughout Reformed Europe, and going through numerous printings (see Craig S. Farmer, “Wolfgang Musculus’s Commentary on John,” in Richard A. Muller and John L. Thompson, eds., Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation, pp. 216ff.).

Thanks to the kindness of Dr. Matthew Colvin, who invested time, labour, and the use of his library privileges to procure it for us, we are able to present here Musculus’s discussion of paedocommunion, drawn from his 1560 opus, the Loci Communes Sacrae Theologiae (known in English as the Common Places of the Christian Religion). The Loci Communes is essentially a systematic theology, although Farmer notes that the material is “culled from his commentaries and were written in the service of exegesis” (Farmer, p. 216, note 1). The version here is from the English translation of John Man, published in London in 1578. Page numbers refer to this edition. We have left the original cumbersome translation structure intact, despite the awkwardness of some of the phrasing. We have taken the liberty, however, of updating the spelling, and where possible, updating archaic words (original wording is in brackets). Since the original text had very few paragraph breaks, we have also provided these.

It will be duly noted that Musculus himself did not advocate a return to the practice of paedocommunion. This much the reader will discover toward the end of his treatment below. He was apparently hesitant to push the issue, given that he fully agreed with the other Reformers that participation in the sacrament was not necessary to the salvation of believers’ children. At the same time, as will be seen, he is cautionary about censuring the Fathers of the Early Church for their practice. As will become evident, in his view, the early practice was based squarely upon Scripture, and Musculus soundly disagrees with the frequent appeal to 1 Corinthians 11:28 (Paul’s exhortation to “prove” or “examine” oneself prior to participating) as supposedly demonstrating that children were unqualified to participate. One of his strongest contributions to the conversation is his observation that it is not the ability to examine onself that qualifies participants, in any case; self-examination is a means to protect oneself against divine judgment – a judgment which Musculus asserts will not befall believers’ children.

We may thus compare and contrast Musculus to Calvin on several points.

  1. Unlike Calvin, Musculus pays very close attention to Passover in his broader treatment of the sacrament, and also unlike Calvin, Musculus firmly believes that children were admitted to Passover.
  2. Unlike Calvin, Musculus does not assume that believers’ children who are not yet of capacity to examine themselves can thereby subject themselves to judgment.
  3. Related to (2), Musculus denies what Calvin seems to implicitly assume, namely, that self-examination has some sort of constitutive role to play with regard to the Supper. For Musculus, self-examination is preventative medicine, not a means whereby one becomes qualified for participation.
  4. Underlying all of this is Musculus’s stress upon the Supper being “public and common unto the whole church.” This accent can be discerned in Calvin, but is not so explicit and central as it is in the treatment of Musculus. It is this understanding of the Church as the eucharistic community that undergirds the whole of Musculus’s position.

So much for our comments. On to the original source!

Read the rest at: paedocommunion.com – Musculus: comments on paedocommunion in The Common Places.

Paedocommunion & Covenant v. Pharaoh

God promised to be not only Abraham’s god, but also the god of his children:

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God (Genesis 17.7, 8).

While the covenant made (or renewed?) in Genesis 17 had new aspects (like circumcision) it was, in substance, a reiteration of the covenant promise recorded in Genesis 15, a promise that included a stay in Egypt:

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.  As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace (Genesis 15.13-15).

God reiterated this promise to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. And the inspired text gives particular reference to providing for his “little ones.”

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt (Genesis 46.1-7).

The reason for going to Egypt was food. The world was starving and God had provided a new source of bread for the world and especially for his people Israel. God had raised up one of Abraham’s children to feed the rest, even the little ones.

When they came out of Egypt, God made it clear that he wanted to give his people rest, as opposed to the slavery they had suffered under Pharaoh, and that he wanted to include their children.

Before saying more about the Exodus, however, lets remember that this is all standard Reformed theology. It is all extremely relevant to how we understand the church and the Faith, and the children of believers, today. Consider the excellent work by Joel Beeke and Ray B. Lanning of Puritan Reformed Seminary (download the full document here).

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” - Acts 2:39

These words of the apostle Peter were spoken at a critical time in redemptive history. The old dispensation, the time of the “shadow of good things to come” (Heb. 10:1), things promised when “God . . . spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1), was passing away. A new dispensation, “these last days” (Heb. 1:2), the day of the fulfillment of those promises in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, was dawning. Peter himself heralds the new day, saying, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed for this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).

Great changes were in store for the church of God in this new era of redemptive history. Significantly, these words of Peter declare that certain things had not changed and would not change in the new era. The pattern of God’s dealings with believers and their children, as old as creation itself, would continue as a constitutional principle of the visible church. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says:

The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (Chapter XXV, Paragraph II.)

It follows that baptism, as “a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ . . . for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church” (Confession, XXVIII.I), should be duly administered to believers and to their children. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39a).

Beeke and Lansing write that the Bible gives four contexts for understanding the proper way to treat the children of believers. The first one they mention is “Creation, and the Unity of the Human Race.” It is virtually all quotable, but to connect with what I have already written above about Abraham, they point out that this unity is seen in households. They write that:

turning to Christ was not simply the act of individuals but of households. We read of the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:1,2,33,44), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31-33), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and Stephanus (1 Cor. 1:16, 16:15). In each case, the households are received into the visible church together with the heads of those households. Significantly, we are told that the households of Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and Stephanus were baptized. Similarly, children of believing parents are addressed as members of churches at Ephesus (Eph. 6:1-4) and Colossae (Col. 3:20). These children were also baptized, as Paul affirms in Colossians 2:11-12, where he calls baptism “the circumcision of Christ.”

Later they point out the continuity between Abraham’s calling and our own:

So then, why do we baptize children? Because God’s covenant, the framework in which He operates, has not been changed. There has been no explicit instruction which says that God has altered His modus operandi, His way of operating, with regard to the inclusion of infants participating in the covenant sign and seal, as John Murray has pointed out.1 The promise which says, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” given to Abraham to embrace not just Abraham but his family, still stands; and it is still, in the words of Peter, “for you and for your children.” Children would therefore naturally be regarded as subjects of baptism just as they were of circumcision in the Old Testament.2 As Pierre Marcel concludes, “The covenant, together with its promises, constitutes the objective and legal basis of infant baptism. Infant baptism is the sign, seal, and pledge of all that these promises imply.”3

1Christian Baptism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), pp. 52-53.

2 C.G. Kirkby, Signs and Seals of the Covenant (Worcester: n.p., 1988), pp. 66, 78.

3The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism: Sacrament of the Covenant of Grace (London: James Clarke, 1953), p. 198.

So, if God has not changed “the framework in which He operates,” if there “has been no explicit instruction which says that God has altered his modus operandi, His way of operating, with regard to the inclusion of infants participating in the covenant sign and seal,” then let us include them.

God had promised to bring all Abraham’s children from Egypt, and promised Jacob to take care of them in Egypt. The text explicitly shows us that the little ones of the covenant household are included in this promise. Pharaoh, however, at one point agreed to let the Israelites go worship God on the condition that they disrupt this covenantal unity. As we find in Exodus 10:

Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?” Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” But he said to them, “The LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

God was not happy with this offer for an adults-only feast. He plagued Pharaoh some more to get him to agree to let the intact households go, even to the point of ripping apart Egyptian households by killing the firstborn sons. In so doing, the LORD established a covenant meal for households: the Passover. From Exodus 12:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Household circumcision leads to household salvation and a household memorial meal. There is nothing in the text to attenuate the fact that God is dealing with households and with a household meal that would include the young children as well as the adults. Later, God will feed the whole congregation manna, including the young children, and the Apostle Paul makes a point that this was spiritual food like the Lord’s Supper.

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10.1-4).

And when they are established in Israel, God makes it clear that children are invited to all the feasts of the LORD. As we read in Deuteronomy 16:

“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

This is the same household principle that goes back to Abraham and circumcision. As we read in Deuteronomy 12,

But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

And again, Deuteronomy 15:

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. You shall eat it, you and your household, before the LORD  your God year by year at the place that the LORD will choose.

Again, Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, establishes that these were sacramental meals that correspond to our own Lord’s Supper:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?

So this household participation cannot be nullifed when we come to God’s feast. And lets be clear: it is not as if God is shy about telling us when people might not be permitted to eat of his feasts or approach his presence. As one example among many, consider the rules for priests. They had closer privileges to eat from God’s table that other Israelites were not permitted. And yet here again the priest’s household is permitted. Leviticus 22 gives us details:

A lay person shall not eat of a holy thing; no foreign guest of the priest or hired servant shall eat of a holy thing, but if a priest buys a slave as his property for money, the slave may eat of it, and anyone born in his house may eat of his food. If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the contribution of the holy things. But if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced and has no child and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food; yet no lay person shall eat of it.

Nothing is ever said about an age requirement or a developmental requirement. What matters is household. God is a God to us and our children.

When Jesus came to Israel, he found people were being Pharaoh, denying table fellowship and Sabbath rest to his people and daring to do so in the name of God.

He didn’t like it.

Still doesn’t.

Presbyterian, Examine Thyself

Traditional Presbyterian theologians regularly cite 1 Corinthians 11:28 as an argument against the practice of paedocommunion. Children must be able “to examine themselves” before they come to the table. Supposedly this text demands a certain level of intellectual capability as well as the capacity to engage in self-conscious introspection, both of which, we are told, small children do not possess. Anti-paedocommunionists never get tired of reminding us that young children simply are not able to fulfill the requirement of “self-examination” required in 1 Corinthians 11. But does this text really require the kind of self-examination that Presbyterians have traditionally thought? To whom is the admonition to “examine oneself” directed? Does it actually require an ability to perform internal soul-searching and deep personal introspection to determine whether one is worthy to come to the Table? I think not. I think that this text has been overworked by anti-paedocommunionists. In fact, I am convinced that it actually works against the traditional Presbyterian practice of excluding infants from the Table. Traditional Presbyterian theologians need to examine themselves. Let me explain.

Read the rest: Biblical Horizons » No. 47: Presbyterian, Examine Thyself.

Repost from 1997: “You and Your Son and Daughter” (not really paedocommunion, but relevant)

How old must a boy be before he can take communion? What must your daughter do before she may be admitted to the Lord’s Table? These questions are becoming a burning issue in Reformed churches. Indeed, more and more people are beginning to question if there is any legitimate reason that a baptized child should be required to meet some sort of additional criterion before being admitted to the Lord’s Supper.

While that debate still awaits resolution, however, another question is often overlooked: If we assume that only “professing” Christians should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, how old does that professing Christian need to be? What counts as a “profession”?

It is the purpose of this essay to deal with that question. I will argue that a young child whose parents have taught him to love and trust Jesus is a professing Christian and should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. My concern is that we Presbyterians often assume that the statements of love for Jesus made by our young covenant children are somehow insincere and unworthy of consideration. We seem to think that the conversion experience and profession of faith of an adult who repents of self-conscious unbelief is the standard by which our young four- and five-year-old children should be judged. Thus, we insist on something else in addition to a profession of faith before we permit children to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Ultimately, we simply make children wait several more years before we will take their professions seriously.

But what does the Bible say?

Children & the Covenant Feasts

Blow a trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his room
And the bride out of her bridal chamber
(Joel 2.15-16).

Here we find that God considers children, and even infants, members of His congregation. Furthermore, when He declares a fast, God expects the children to take part in some way.

Children were also included in the feasts of Israel, as well as the fasts. The Passover, for instance, was established for all the members of Israelite families without any age limit (Exo 12). Indeed, the inclusion of children at God’s feast was one of the bones of contention between Egypt and Israel. At one point Pharaoh would have let the Israelites go worship God if they had left their “little ones” behind with him (Exo 10.10). Moses had a different idea: “We shall go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord” (Exo 10.9). The flocks and herds were needed for sacrifice (Exo 10.25), but obviously the children are simply considered participants with the adults.

Other examples of little children at sacred meals abound in the Old Testament. Children ate manna with their parents (Exo 16), which the Apostle Paul tells us was a sacrament (1 Cor 10.3). The children of priests partook of the portions from the altar with their parents (Lev 10.14). In addition to Passover, all Israelite children were invited to participate in the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths (Exo 12.3; Deu 16.11, 14; 1 Sam 1.4). They also ate of the family peace offerings (Deu 12.6-7, 11-12, 17-18). God emphasized that all the congregation was invited to participate in such meals at the Tabernacle, including the children.

You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain, or new wine, or oil, or the first-born of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings (Deu 12.17-18).

Why were children invited to eat along with their parents? Because God promised that the children of believers belong to the Lord just as their parents do. God promised Abraham “to be God to you and to your children after you” (Gen 17.7). The Psalmist reiterates this foundational promise, singing: “the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children” (Psa 103.17).

“And as for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever” (Isa 59.21).

The bottom line here is that the Bible promises believers that God will be their God, that He will give them His righteousness, and that His Spirit will not depart from them. What more could anybody ask for? Our children are clearly promised eternal salvation. They are declared to be Christians, nothing less.

Now, let’s be clear, these promises do not mean that our children will somehow end up in Heaven automatically whether or not they have faith in Christ. No, apart from faith no one will be justified. But they do mean that we ought not dismiss the fact that our small children love God and trust Jesus just as we have taught them to. Our little children are believers. We should take the claim of a child to believe in Jesus at face value. We should expect them to simply grow in the Faith from the time of infancy to adulthood. (For more on the authenticity of the faith of children, see “Children & Confession” below.)

This expectation found its way into the inspired hymns of Israel’s worship: “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou has established strength” (Psa 8.2). And again: “For Thou art my hope; O LORD God, Thou art my confidence from my youth. Upon Thee I have been supported from birth; Thou art He who took me from my mother’s womb; my praise is continually in Thee . . . O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth” (Psa 71.5-6, 17). “Yet Thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou hast been my God from my mother’s womb” (Psa 22.9-10).

It is important to realize that these inspired Psalms are not simply the personal testimony of the psalmist. They are not some sort of extraordinary event which we can regard as exceptional compared to how the children of believers ordinarily come to faith in Christ. No, these Psalms were the corporate hymns of Israel’s public worship. The whole congregation of Israel (including the children!-see Joel 2.15-16 above) sang these Psalms in the presence of the Lord. It would be entirely illegitimate to say that faith from the womb was only meant for some exceptional cases. The regular use of these Psalms on the part of the whole congregation of Israel shows that the salvation of children from the womb was the general expectation.

There are many hymns today about adult conversion from unbelief, yet there is not one Psalm which speaks of that subject. On the other hand, have you ever sung a modern Christian hymn that called for you to put yourself in the place of one who was regenerated in the womb? Our hymns show that we generally expect only adults to be converted. That general expectation is incompatible with God’s hymn book, the Psalter.

There is no evidence that any of this was changed by the coming of Christ in the New Testament. Jesus amply confirmed the Old Testament testimony regarding children:

And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands upon them (Mark 10.13-16).

Now, how do we justify measuring the profession of a young child according to the standards of older converts? According to Jesus, our thinking, like the thinking of the disciples, is precisely backwards! Children are the standard by which adults are to be judged. Little children raised from birth to love and trust Jesus must not be treated as if they don’t know God or are incapable of true faith.

Children & Conversion

The truth is clear: God wants us to regard our children as Christians. He does not want us to regard them as little unbelievers who need to be converted at some later age. There is nothing anywhere in Scripture about an “age of accountability” after which their profession of faith may be believed but before which is to be considered insincere hypocrisy.

However, there is a widespread notion among Christians, that our children need to be “converted”-experience a self-conscious time in which one “became” a Christian. Besides all the promises and statements of Scripture that I mentioned above (and more could be cited), we need to ask ourselves if we really know what we are saying when we demand a conversion experience from our children. What is it that our children need to be converted from?

Do they need to repent of refusing to believe the Gospel? I have never heard anywhere of a three-year-old or four-year-old child who tells his mommy or daddy that they are wrong when they say that God exists, or that Jesus died for their sins, or that the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. To tell children that they need to “believe,” is a rather strange use of the word. By the grace of God our young children never know a time when they did not believe the Gospel! They need to be encouraged to persevere in their belief and grow up to be mature Godly men and women; they do not need their faith undermined by a parent who claims that they are actually unbelievers who have yet to demonstrate true faith!

Do they need to repent of denying the gospel by living in unrepentant sin? Of course, children are sinners, and need to be taught to continually repent and pray for forgiveness when they commit sins. But how can anyone accuse children of living in unrepentant sin? If you accused a professing Christian adult of such a thing, you would need to have evidence or else you would be guilty of gross slander. What did our children ever do to be lumped into the category of “hypocrite,” without any evidence whatsoever? Why should they be considered guilty until proven innocent?

Do they need to repent of trying to save themselves by their own good works? If we teach our children that they are sinners, and that God loves them anyway and sent His Son Jesus to die in their place, why would any child ever think that he can get to Heaven by being good enough? On the other hand, if we teach our children that, though they believe and trust in Jesus, they still need to do something more in order to go to Heaven, aren’t we actually teaching them that faith is not enough, but must be supplemented by some sort of additional work? (For other objections regarding children and salvation by works, see “Children & Confession” below.)

What Christian parents often seem to forget is that, if we say our children are not yet converted, then we are claiming that they are God-haters on their way to Hell. There is no other option. Some people have tried to invent a third possibility by claiming that children are not sinners in God’s sight until they reach some unknown “age of accountability.” This lets them consider their children out of danger until about the time they make a profession of faith.

But this idea simply proves that necessity is the mother of invention. The “age of accountability” is believed simply because it is unthinkable to consider one’s children enemies of Christ and the Gospel for the first decade of their lives. There is no evidence for any such “age” in Scripture, before which they are not guilty of sin. On the contrary, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psa 51.5). Again: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from the womb (Psa 58.3).

This inborn wickedness is simply the consequence of Original Sin. Adam and Eve did not fall for themselves alone. Just as their children would have enjoyed the benefits and blessings of Adam’s obedience, so they suffered the corruption and guilt of Adam’s sin. Adam’s children are born in his image as sinners (Gen 5.3). By Adam’s sin, death and sin have spread to all people because we all sinned in him (Rom 5.1214). There is no point in anyone’s existence, no age no matter how young, when that person is not ethically accountable to God. Either he is a Hell-bound sinner, or he is saved by grace. He is either in the Old Adam, or in the New Adam. If our children have not been incorporated into Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit then they are without God and without hope in the world. There are no other options.

And do we not believe that our children are incorporated into Christ? When a child is born to us, do we not rejoice? Do we not see with our own eyes our babies admitted into the Church by baptism? Do we not teach them to pray the Lord’s Prayer? To call God by the name of “Father”? Do we not smile when they learn to sing “Jesus Loves Me”? If our children are unconverted then all of this is totally wrong. We are simply giving them false confidence. It is blasphemy for an unbeliever to say the Lord’s Prayer and call God his “Father.” It is presumption for an unregenerate hypocrite to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

When unthinkable tragedy strikes Christians, and a mother miscarries or a toddler dies, do we think that the child is now in Hell? Or do we trust in God’s promise that He is the God not only of ourselves but of our children as well? I once heard a caller to the “Bible Answer Man,” under an obvious weight of emotional stress, ask about his two-and-half-year-old. He was calling on the anniversary of her death in an automobile accident. His daughter, he said, prayed to Jesus and joyfully sang about Him, but he didn’t think she had ever knowingly “asked Jesus into her heart.” Because of this, the man was unsure that his child was in Heaven.

Thank God He has given us firm covenant promises which we can trust! We don’t have to suffer the sort of torment which other Christian parents put themselves through because they don’t understand the covenant. But let’s not undermine these precious promises with any false and shallow ideas about conversion which would deny Christ’s blessings to our young children.

Children & Confession

Of course, sometimes children raised as Christians don’t give us the answers that we expect of them. If we ask a four-year-old girl why she would be admitted into Heaven, she might say, “Because I go to Church,” or “Because I obey my parents.”

Now this may sound like the treason of works-righteous, but are we really understanding the child’s meaning when we interpret her words in such a way? After all, the only reason we can expect to inherit eternal life is because God, in His great mercy, has promised to give eternal life. But He has not promised to give eternal life to everyone. Only those who belong to Christ will benefit from what He has done. I often suspect that the child is simply explaining why she thinks she belongs to Christ. She is not explaining the meritorious ground of her justification (the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ), or the instrument of her justification (faith), but rather by giving reasons for believing that she is one of God’s people to whom the promise of eternal life has been given. And those reasons involve one’s membership in God’s covenant, the Church, and all the fruits which count as evidence that one is truly God’s child-including one’s obedience to the authorities God has appointed.

In other words, if Jesus asked the five-year-old girl, “Why should I let you into my Heaven?” her answer is, “Because you promised to let me in.” The mention of obedience and church attendance is evidence that the child is among those to whom Christ has made that promise. Our Confession of Faith recognizes this sort of answer because assurance of eternal life is based in part on the presence “of those graces to which the promises are made” (18.2).

How should we deal with such confusion? How should we make sure that our children know the difference between a reason for assurance of eternal life and a reason for the meriting of eternal life? Very simply, we should try to explain it in an age-appropriate fashion. If the child says that she gets to go to Heaven because she goes to Church, we should not be shocked, but simply explain to her that people who go to Church get to go to Heaven because Jesus died for them. As the child grows and matures a more elaborate explanation can (and should) be given (one that explains why not all people who go to Church will get to Heaven, etc.).

It is a certainly true that a three-year-old believer will confess his faith differently than a thirteen-year-old. And a thirteen-year-old will confess his faith differently than a thirty-three-year-old. As the believer gets older his confession should become more comprehensive. But where in the Bible does it give us an age at which one’s confession is comprehensive enough to count as genuine, and before which it is regarded simply as rote and insincere? We have no more warrant for discounting the confession of a three-year-old than that of a thirteen-year-old, or even a thirty-three-year-old. All three of them could always mature further in the Faith and give a more comprehensive confession. If God says that He has prepared praise “from the mouth of infants and nursing babes” (Matt 21.16; Psa 8.2), then we are on rather dangerous ground claiming that the immature confession of faith of a child is not good enough to count as a genuine Christian confession. If we patiently get to know these little ones, we will find that they are believers, even if they can’t explain doctrines as well as we would expect from older children.

Another common objection to taking the confession of children as an evidence of genuine Christian faith is that young children will believe or do anything that their parents teach them, and that therefore their profession of faith is not to be regarded as sincere or authentic. But does such an objection make any sense? The reason why children believe whatever their parents teach them is precisely because they are quite capable of sincere faith! Furthermore, the Bible promises that the Holy Spirit is at work in our children (Isa 59.21). When parents train and discipline their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, there is more going on than a purely natural work. We are not simply conditioning our children by rewards and punishments. The Holy Spirit is also at work in the child’s heart. This expectation of the Spirit’s work in our children should affect how we view our children’s faith. When the Bible says that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4.2), no exception is given for children under the age of five-years-old.

Finally, the fact that some children grow up and apostatize from the Faith is viewed as a reason for us to not take a four-year-old’s confession of faith seriously. But this also happens with adults who profess faith. The Bible tells us that Simon the Sorcerer “believed” (Act 8.13), but then fell away. Jesus told us that some in the Church will “believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luk 8.13). The Bible does not give us some age after which we no longer need to worry about the possibility of apostasy. If we can take the profession of faith of an adult at face value, despite the possibility of apostasy, then there is no reason we should not also take the profession of faith of a child at face value.

How do we deal with the possibility that a child might apostatize in the future? The same way we deal with that possibility for adults. We exhort them to continue in the faith (Col 1.23), to grow and mature as Christians through the means of grace. We exhort them not to receive the grace of God in vain by turning away from the Gospel (2 Cor 6.1), but to hold fast to the Word by which they are saved (1 Cor 15.2). In other words, we exhort all professing Christians to persevere. But we do not treat people as virtual nonchristians until they achieve some level of commitment which makes them “real” Christians who no longer need to worry about persevering.

What is the Significance of Admission to the Lord’s Supper?

The Apostle Paul writes:

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? (1 Cor 10.16-18).

Here we see a couple of things. First of all, the Apostle Paul ties the Lord’s Supper to all the peace offerings, the Priest’s portions, and the three festivals of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths-for all of these involved eating from the altar. As we have seen above, in all of these situations, the children were participants in the sacraments.

Secondly, and more importantly, we see that permitting someone to participate in the Lord’s Supper simply signifies that the participant is recognized to be a Christian-to be part of the body of Christ. That is why we invite visitors from other denominations to participate in Communion with us. If they are members of Christian churches then they have a right to eat and drink with us. For us to only allow Presbyterians to have access to the Lord’s Supper would be to declare that we think all non-Presbyterians are unbelievers. Because it is the Lord’s Supper and not our supper, we know it would be highly offensive to Christ for us to cut off other Christians from the sacrament.

Now, according to the Bible, our children who have been raised to believe in Jesus are (at least!) as much Christians as adults are who believe in Jesus. They are members of Christ’s body, the Church. Thus, they certainly ought to be permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Reformed “Regulative Principle of Worship”

At what age should a child be admitted to the Lord’s Supper? One of the most notable facts in this debate is that the Bible does not tell us! From the time that an eight-day-old boy is circumcised, to the age of twenty when a man could go to war (Num 14.29), there is no age at which a child reaches some sort of stage of maturity which admits him to the feasts. It simply is not an issue in Scripture for the simple reason that young children were never denied access to the feasts to begin with!

Thus, different Reformed Churches have admitted children to the Lord’s Supper at vastly different ages. Some have waited for a profession of faith at the age of seven, and some have waited for the seventeenth year. Since there is no Biblical standard to which anyone can appeal, there is no common practice among Christians. Lacking an age at which one is to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, we have been forced to make one up out of the imaginations of our hearts.

Some have begun saying that the age of thirteen, the time of the Jewish bar mitzvah, is the age when a child should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. But there is no instruction about bar-mitzvah’s in the Bible. That is merely a Jewish tradition of men. And, in fact, in Judaism children have always partaken of Passover at young ages, long before they ever reach their bar-mitzvah. So not only is there no reason to resort to non-christian Jewish traditions, but those traditions do not support making children wait until the age of thirteen before they’re allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Why do some people feel the need to grasp at such straws in order to find a standard by which to know when a child can be admitted to the Lord’s Supper? The answer, I think, lies in the Regulative Principle of Worship. According to the Reformed understanding, we must worship God in the way that He commands in Scripture by precept, principle, or example. But there is no precept, principle, or example for us in this matter. If we are determined to hold back children from the Lord’s Supper until they reach a certain age, we then must be arbitrary in what age we decide upon. Scripture is deafeningly silent on the question, because Scripture is unaware of any such age.

Is A Double Standard Justifiable?

Throughout cultures influenced by Christianity, it became a slogan in times of hardship or emergency to abide by the rule, “Women and children first.” In a Christian society those who are weaker and more vulnerable are given special help to compensate.

Now, sometimes this rule does not apply. For example, a woman and a man who commit the same crime should receive the same punishment. Furthermore, physical requirements for fire fighters should not be relaxed for the sake of women, because that would endanger the lives both of the women and those needing rescue from fire. Thus, sometimes a good standard applied evenly will discriminate against weaker members of society. However, it is always the case that a weaker member of society should not be held to some higher or more strict standard than others. On Christian principles, such a practice would be positively perverse.

Now consider how we apply the traditional understanding of 1 Corinthians 11.27-31. We say we interpret this verse to mean that anyone who partakes of the Lord’s Supper must be able to “examine himself”–search his conscience–and “judge the body rightly”–understand what the bread represents. Now there is currently a debate going on as to whether the passage has been properly interpreted, and whether it was ever meant to apply to children. That is an interesting debate, but it is rather irrelevant to the way we Presbyterians actually apply the passage. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the traditional interpretation of the passage is correct: What actually happens in real life is that the passage is almost always applied only to children. Adults are permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper whereas children put under additional requirements which hold them back from sacramental fellowship. These requirements would also hold back many adults from the Lord’s Supper if we ever bothered to apply them to grown-ups.

Consider a new adult convert who has just been baptized. That person would be permitted and even encouraged to partake of the Lord’s Supper that very day, even though he might only have the most rudimentary understanding of the Law of God or the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. One of our children could easily possess a better understanding of the Law of God and thus a better ability to examine his conscience; yet that child would not be allowed to partake. One of our children could easily possess a better understanding of the sacrament than a recent adult convert; yet the adult is admitted to the Table while the child is barred.

Consider visitors to our congregation from other denominations. We don’t bar visitors from the Lord’s Table do we? No, we tell them that the Lord’s Table is for all Christians. If they are members in good standing of an Evangelical Church, they are invited to join us in Communion. Thus, Baptists, who believe that the bread and wine are nothing more than symbols, or Missouri Synod Lutherans, who perhaps go to the other extreme, are permitted and encouraged to eat and drink with us. Meanwhile, our own children who have probably never even imagined such doctrinal errors are made to be nothing more than observers.

Consider elderly Christians. When was the last time someone was barred from the Lord’s Supper because he was senile and no longer possessed the mental capacity to “examine himself” or “judge the body rightly”? I think we all recoil from the idea that a great-grandmother should be kept from sacramental fellowship with the Church and Christ just because she has lost some of her mental abilities near the end of her life. We don’t excommunicate people for getting senile! But a child with even greater mental ability is made to wait until he meets some other greater requirement.

The point here is that, when it comes to adults, we all know what participation in the Lord’s Supper means: It means that the participants are Christians. Nothing more! It does not require a great deal of ethical or doctrinal understanding and never has. All an adult has to do to take the Lord’s Supper is not be engaging in unrepentant, scandalous sin. Thus, only children are actually made to submit to the rules which we tell ourselves are for everybody. Children, and only children, actually have to worry about some vaguely defined “level of understanding.” Only children actually have to reach some precise level of knowledge about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

We all know that we fence the Lord’s Table from unbelievers. But now we do more. What we virtually end up doing is fencing the Lord’s Table from unbelievers and children–as if they both belonged in the same category. Everything we profess to believe about God’s covenant promises to our children is severely undermined by this practice.

Are We “Judging the Body Rightly” When We Exclude Children?

As mentioned above, the “classic text” used in Reformed circles for keeping young children away from the Lord’s Supper is 1 Corinthians 11.27-29. According to the traditional view, children should not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper because a child cannot “examine himself” or “judge the body.” The problem here is that there is simply no evidence anywhere in Scripture that children are incapable of doing these things.

What I wrote above about the confession of a young child also applies to the self-examination of a young child. A four-year-old girl is capable of examining her conscience according to the capacity of her age. Yes, there is a difference between what a four-year-old can do and a fourteen-year-old can, just as there is a difference between the sort of self-examination a fourteen-year-old is able to do and what a forty-year-old is able to do. But there is no Biblical warrant for claiming that the four-year-old’s self-examination is insufficient. We could, with as much Biblical warrant (i.e. none) claim that only people twenty-five years old and up are “mature enough” or have reached the correct “level of understanding” to take the Lord’s Supper.

Likewise, there is no Biblical reason to claim that a five-year-old boy is incapable of understanding that the bread represents Christ’s body and the wine His blood. Of course, if some sort of exhaustive understanding is required of the nature of the sacrament, then we should all stop partaking. Even the great theologian John Calvin admitted that he could not completely fathom the mystery of the Supper.

Of course, 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 is still an extremely relevant passage for deciding whether or not young children should be permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul is warning the Corinthians that they are “sham[ing] those who have nothing” (1 Cor 11.22) because some people are gorging themselves at the Lord’s Supper while others are not being given anything. Thus, he concludes “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor 11.33). The Apostle Paul is telling the Corinthians that all members of the Church must participate in the Lord’s Supper!

If we deny the sacrament to some members of the Body of Christ then we are not judging the body rightly. Each one of us needs to examine himself to see if we are harboring in our hearts the idea that access to the Lord’s Supper is some sort of achievement on our part–something to which we have won the right while others have not. According to the Apostle Paul, this sort of thinking has no place in the Lord’s Supper. If we partake, without “waiting for one another,” then we are in danger of eating and drinking judgment against ourselves.

Conclusion: How should we then raise our children?

And it will come about when your children will say to you, “What is this service to you?” that you shall say, “It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD because He passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but delivered our homes (Exo 12.26-27).

When your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; and He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers. So the LORD commanded us to observe these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today (Deu 6.20-25).

Here we have two different questions which young children are expected to ask their parents: What does Passover mean? and What does this way of life mean? The answers which the parents are to give in response to these two questions are quite similar to one another: We do this because God saved us. That God had delivered Israel from Egypt was an objective historical fact. It was the object of faith for the Israelites and the surety of the promises God had made for the future.

God’s deliverance of Israel was a token of His great love for Israel, which in turn was the basis for Israel’s obedience. Moses explains it quite clearly:

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His special treasure out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them (Deu 7.7-11).

Here again we see the faith of Israel: God loves us. God saved us. We must be loyal to Him; if we are ultimately unfaithful we will be cut off from His covenant. This motive is summarized in the beginning of the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt our of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before Me” (Exo 20.2-3). Again: God saved us. We must be loyal to Him.

The Israelites were told to teach their children what God had done for them, and how they should respond in loving trust and grateful obedience. Every Israelite knew that God loved him because God loved Israel and he was a part of Israel. In the case of male children, they were made members of Israel by circumcision. Nevertheless, they knew they would not inherit the promises if they did not persevere in faith.

We see this same pattern in the teaching of Jesus, when He told the Eleven disciples:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does no bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love (John 15.1-9).

Jesus gives His disciples a similar motivation to that which He gave to Old Testament Israel through Moses: Jesus loves us. Jesus saved us. We must be loyal to Him. Jesus gave Himself for His Bride, the Church (Eph 5.25). Just like the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, Christ’s victory over Satan and Death through His crucifixion and resurrection is an objective historical fact. It is the object of faith for all Christians and the surety of the promises Christ has made for the future.

Now, we are told to teach our children what God had done for them, and how they should respond in loving trust and grateful obedience. Every Christian should know that God loves him because God loves His Bride the Church and he is a part of the Church. We have all been made members of the Church through baptism. Nevertheless, we know we will not inherit the promises if we do not persevere in faith.

Thus, a Christian philosophy of child-raising should be based on our objective standing in Christ’s Kingdom, conferred on us and our children through baptism. According to Deuteronomy 6. 20-25, when our children ask us about why we do certain things or don’t do certain things we should tell them about what Jesus has done for us: How He died for us and rose again and sent His Spirit to give His Church union and communion with Himself. How He providentially arranged for us to be made members of His Church through baptism and how He weekly renews His covenant with us–meets with us, forgives our sins, and feeds us with Himself. How we must respond to His great love and wonderful promises by believing them with a trusting heart, and by responding in grateful obedience all our lives.

According to Exodus 12.26-27, when our children ask us about the Lord’s Supper (the fulfillment of Passover) we are to tell them about how Jesus gave His body and shed His blood for us so that we might have His life. Notice that the answer given about Passover is extremely simple and brief. It could easily be heard and understood by a very young child. As our children mature in the faith we can give them more detailed answers to their questions. But the main point is that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper because He gave Himself for us and nourishes us with Himself. We love Him because He first loved us. Our little children need to hear that message over and over again from their parents.

The only way we can expect any child to have a firm faith is by giving him a firm foundation on which that faith may rest. If we make our children think that God’s favor in Christ is something which they need to attain, then we will greatly confuse them. Instead, we must teach them that they have been engrafted into Christ (Rom 11.17) by His great mercy to them. We must raise them to respond to God’s love and mercy in Christ by a life of faith and obedience, so that they remain in Him and He in them (John 15.4).

Our children need their faith confirmed by the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, just as much as we do. Indeed, if their faith is relatively weak, that is all the more reason we must reconsider our practice of barring these professing Christians-these our little brothers and sisters in Christ-from communion with our Lord. Even apart from God’s command that we admit all His followers to the Lord’s Table, our duty to raise our children in the nurture and admonition in the Lord requires us to admit them.