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.
Most of this chapter is a general discussion of the two sacraments, their nature and relation. Less than quarter of it addresses proper recipients of communion. Given all that he tried to cover, this is understandable. It’s really not feasible to give a summary of all the reformed confessions on the sacraments and PC in such a short space. Venema makes much of the idea that sacraments only signify and seal; he fails to mention, in the language of Westminster, they also really exhibit and confer. “Faith is produced by the Spirit’s ministry through the Word; it is only confirmed by the proper use of the sacraments” [emphases his]. He also takes pains to say the water of baptism ought not be confused with the spiritual reality of the washing of the Holy Spirit. It’s true that we must not think that bread, wine and water are actually the blood or body of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. But Westminster says the “grace offered is not only offered [for some we might add “not only signified”], but really exhibited and conferred, by the Holy Ghost…whether of age or infants…in His appointed time” (Chapter 29.6). Faith or salvation isn’t automatically produced–that’s the Roman Catholic position. But it is conferred by faith. That is one confessional but unacknowledged Reformed view.
Venema emphasizes that the Lord’s Supper requires the same response as the gospel (and the same response as baptism)–faith. “In the Reformed confessions, moreover, the kind of faith that is competent to remember, proclaim, and receive Christ through the Lord’s Supper is carefully defined.” But it’s not carefully defined. The only thing mentioned is that one must be of sufficient years to examine themselves. And of course the issue of examination comes from one passage, 1 Corinthians 11:28. The Corinthians had divisions, and their fellowship meals were marked by people cutting in line and getting drunk (11:21). Anyone getting drunk or pushing in line for the Supper ought to repent before taking it. Venema doesn’t spell this out or make any argument for the inability of children to make this distinction. He simply says they must be “professing” believers, apparently some sort of profession outside of baptism, but again, he doesn’t spell out what a credible profession looks like either historically in reference to Reformed Confessions or otherwise.
Asserting that one must be an active professor of faith (though never stating why children cannot be), Venema argues that in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper, one must give the response of faith. This is true of baptism as well and Westminster speaks of “improving” upon our baptisms. Faith is supposed to follow the sacrament. Why should faith be required before communion, but not before baptism? This is exactly the baptist’s question. This is the arbitrary distinction the anti PCist must make. We baptize because our children are God’s; we don’t feed them the Supper because we’re not sure yet–they need to prove it.
Venema acknowledges that “those who are joined in communion with Christ through the sacrament are likewise joined with all who are His members. … Failure to live in communion with Christ or to love those who share this communion with Him is a manifest denial of the nature and significance of this sacred meal.” This is good stuff, and a wonderful argument for paedocommunion. The Corinthians were not charged with a failure of ability, but rather with a failure of obedience. The anti PCist makes this huge mistake. Where Jesus says not to keep little children from him and tells us to imitate their faith, he notes that even though they are immature in some ways, their faith ought to be recognized, valued, and reproduced in us. Venema says “those who are joined in communion with Christ through the sacrament are likewise joined with all who are his members.” Yes, and those who are shut out from the Supper are declared unbelievers or rebels: either non-Christians or those who are acting enough like them that we ought to withhold fellowship.
Venema concludes insisting what he must prove, that “the route from the baptismal font to the Lord’s Table can only be the way of an active response of faith”–and children cannot be on it. It also must be added that retarded or otherwise less capacitated people cannot possess this undefined active faith either. The Supper, in this view, is only for those of privileged IQ.