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.”

2 Comments I believe in Jesus today

  1. Brett Edwards

    I look forward to your discussion. I think the crux of the argument for the credocommunionist (which I am not) is that a 6 month old can’t examine himself the way 1 Corinthians 11:28 requires. I would assume that your answer is “wait til I get there…” (I think it’s towards the end of Venema’s book) but I think the credocommunionist won’t want to listen until that Scripture is dealt with. “Use all the logic and children’s stories you want but the Bible forbids it…” is the response I think you would hear.

  2. jwowen

    Thanks Brett. I think you’re right about the crux for the credocommunionist, most of them anyway, being 1 Cor. 11 and I’m looking forward to getting to Venema’s bit on that. However, I do believe that if one understands what baptism means and grasps by faith the promises contained in it, then 1 Cor 11:28 becomes plain. I’m tempted to think that if one misunderstands baptism, then 1 Cor 11:28 will follow that misunderstanding, but I’d love to be wrong. In the Matthew 19 quote above, the credocommunionist, to be consistent, needs to say that little children can’t come to Jesus, at least not satisfactorily in order to take communion. For the Westminsterian paedobaptist–“the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred (!), by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) (!) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time”–this is starving the baby in the bathwater.

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