Bring Them to the Table

Cornelis Venema’s last chapter Concluding Observations and Evaluation sums up his arguments and allows me an opportunity to address a few things in conclusion on the topic of paedocommunion.

Venema states rightly that any answer regarding admitting, or rather suspending, children to the Lord’s Supper must ultimately rest on the Scriptures. Historically, paedocommunion was commonly practiced in the church until the later Middle Ages when the superstition of transubstantiation forbade children from the elements and eventually all lay people from the cup. Still, this doesn’t prove the correctness of paedocommunion any more than the the restrictions of the Reformed confessions disprove it. Continue reading

Discern the Body, Even the Small Parts

For those just tuning in, I’m reviewing Cornelis Venema’s book Children at the Lord’s Table? which is against serving communion to baptized, (pre-adolescent) children, and have now come to his penultimate and climactic chapter A Key Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Venema emphasizes this passage because in his view it is the only passage in the New Testament that has clear implications for determining who may be admitted to the Lord’s Table. Continue reading

How Much More

My review of Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table continues. Here in chapter 5, he states the “New Testament does not speak directly to the issue of children’s participation in the Lord’s Supper as we might prefer. … Our consideration of this evidence, therefore, will have to begin with an identification of some basic themes of New Testament teaching.” So far so good. For example, the NT shows no woman taking communion or baby being baptized, but both are biblical. Continue reading

Paedo Participation in the Old Covenant

Early in chapter four, The Old Testament Evidence Regarding the Participation of Children in Covenant Observances, Venema claims the Lord’s Supper is a sacrificial means of nourishing the “kind of faith that can properly remember, discern, and proclaim the death of Christ.” This is the clearest declaration of what nourishment-worthy faith is so far. Still, no real means of testing this have been given. Most nights my kids, beginning before they’re a year old, answer some catechism questions. Continue reading

For those of privileged IQ

My review of Venema’s second chapter on PC in church history wasn’t nearly as favorable as this one which dubbed it “judicious and fair.” Maybe I’m getting surly in my young age. I thought Venema acknowledged PC where he absolutely had to but denied it and came to hard and fast conclusions and obligations where nonesuch existed. I’ll try to lighten up.

Chapter three is Paedocommunion and the Reformed Confessions. Venema confesses that although the confessions don’t expressly reject PC, their general understanding of the nature and purposes of the sacrament opposes it. I would agree the first part and object to the second. While it’s true that some parts of some of the confessions say things like the Westminster Larger Catechism does, granting communion “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves” (Q. & A. 177), others leave any hint of the case against PC out. In fact, their understanding of the covenant and paedobaptism implicitly supports PC. Continue reading

Paedocommuion in Church History

Venema’s second chapter, of this title, tries to demonstrate in 14 pages that paedocommunion (PC) didn’t occur very early (before the third century) and wasn’t widespread. All of this is aimed to answer the argument made by paedocommunionists (PCs) that it was the widespread practice of the church until trends culminating in the Fourth Lateran Council (AD1215) embraced transubstantiation and other errors.

One wonders if Venema’s treatment is so brief because his case is so thin. This is odd because lots of historical practices of the church are weird and don’t require us to deem them biblical. For example, Venema cites Justin Martyr:

Speaking of the sacrament, Justin notes in his First Apology that “this food is called among us the eucharitsia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these. Continue reading

I believe in Jesus today

I received my copy of Cornelius Venema’s new book about paedocommunion, Children at the Lord’s Table, last week and am hoping to work through it and make comments here. As a pastor in the CREC, I have the pleasure of ministering to those of both paedo and credo convictions, (those who believe in baptizing babies and not babies for anyone new to the discussion). While we welcome both stripes, the one thing that we insist on is that parents agree, whatever their conviction about when the water goes on, that their children are God’s: “the promise is for you and for your children…everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). So this doctrine is not part of the debate (at least not at this juncture), but I would point out that the theology of the second sacrament follows the first one. If baptism says something about the baptized, communion has to be consistent with that declaration. I don’t take issue with my baptist friends for not giving their kids communion, since the Supper is for the baptized. But I will be taking issue with this chap who says baptism means something (or at least his creed says it does), but then treats the baptized as if it doesn’t. So for you baptist friends reading along, please know that my issue is with those who apply the sign and then treat those who receive it as though they didn’t. Of course, you are welcome to make your own objections. To Christians with small children, the issue of when to bring them to communion is a pressing one, especially considering Christ’s words about preferring swimming with anchors around your ankles to stumbling little ones. This book’s introduction is provocative, but I’m going to try to be brief, thinking that Venema will work through some of his assertions more thoroughly later on

He begins by saying that title of Peter Leithart’s essay Daddy, why was I excommunicated? begs the question because it “was an answer masquerading as a question”. A true begging of the question, assuming what one ought to be proving, takes place in the midst of an argument, not in the title. Leithart’s article might have been a beggar, but this sort of thing isn’t the proof. I’m hoping the rest is more cogent. He goes on to say that the real question is “On what basis should anyone be admitted to the Lord’s Table?”, to which the “traditional” (read “correct” for Venema) answer is “a public profession of faith prior to a believer’s admission to the Table.” You see “if their baptism means anything, it means that they are invited to respond in fiath to the Lord’s gracious promise, which would qualify them to receive the sacrament that nourishes faith.”

Venema distinguishes soft and hard paedocommunionists, the former favoring “admission of children to the Lord’s Supper only at at an earlier age than is customary among many Reformed churches (middle to late adolescence). … Other advocates of paedocommunion take a “strict” position, favoring the admission of any baptized child of believing parents who is physically able to receive the Communion elements” (2-3). How old do you need to be in order to make a worthy, credible profession of faith that would entitle you to the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper? Apparently, middle to late adolescence since it’s only the “strict” view that Venema is objecting to. I would certainly be a strict paedocommunionist not because I believe “the only basis for admission to the Table of the Lord [is] membership in the covenant community,” but rather because I believe that what Venema calls for is an abitrary and baptistic (there, I said it) view of profession of faith. Baptism is a profession of faith and the baptists know it. But it takes a bapterian to apply the sign and then miss the meaning. Venema misses this completely when describing paedocommunionists: “When [they] apply this language to their view, they assume what needs to be proven: that the covenant demands the admission of all its members to the Table of the Lord, whether they have professed faith of not” (4). I’m sure this will come up again, so to suffice for now, when God established his covenant with Abraham “to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you” (Gen. 17:8), he gave him the sign and seal of circumcision. Circumcision was one means of keeping covenant covenant and expressing faith in the promise of God not just for the parents but also for their children. This is the whole point of the promise–the gospel is for your children, so believe it and circumcise/baptize them. And once you have done so, nurture them as if what God has said and you have believed (as evidenced by the baptism) is true. It will still be their baptism, every bit as much as your last name is theirs though it was given to them without their request or permission.

In this discussion, I can’t help but relate some personal experience. I have a four year old who has been coming to the Table since he was a little over a year. He loves the Bible (demands it be read to him), knows more hymns and Psalms than most of us, and looks forward to communion every week. One time last summer we were worshiping at a church while on vacation, and when the minister came around to give us the elements, he patted my son George on the head and said a “a special blessing you” but withheld the sacrament. Immediately my son looked at me as he fought back the tears. Now some might say this is sentimental, but to a worshiping then-three-year-old, that exclusion was a big deal. According to opponents of paedocommunion, he couldn’t examine himself to see whether he loved Jesus, and was effectively told that he didn’t. Now, how does anyone see this happening and not hear the echo of Matthew 19:14–“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”–ringing in his ears? To be fair, I did not contact that minister before hand (not expecting communion that week!), and so he was not prepared for the question, and it might have been necessary for him to submit to his church even if he personally wanted to give George communion, but the point stands. I had to explain to my son that he had done nothing wrong, and despite the fact that he believes in Christ and confesses his sins, some mistaken brothers and sisters don’t believe he is old enough to be nourished at the Lord’s Table.

Last night at dinner we were discussing these issues and I asked George whether we ought to have waited a few years before giving him communion. He responded matter of factly: “No. I believe in Jesus today.”