Conversations in Reformed biblical theology

sacraments (6)

Paedocommunion

If the visible Church really is Christ's body in a meaningful sense, and if genuinely biblical covenant theology identifies believers' children as really and truly members of God's people, why do they not participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?

During the early era of the Hussites, there was an attempt to restore participation in communion to children (which had fallen off in the Western Church during the high medieval period). Key to this program was a Pauline text: 1 Corinthians 10.16-17. The Supper is the Church’s communion in the body and blood of Christ, and we are all one bread and one body, because we partake of one bread. The Hussites argued that believers’ children really are members of the body of Christ, and therefore the one bread belongs to them.

This question was not seriously discussed at the time of the Reformation, although Franeker theologian and professor Wolfgang Musculus argued in his Common Places that paedocommunion was the biblical practice. For the past several decades, numerous Presbyterian and Reformed thinkers have been wrestling with the issue.

Bibliography

Disclaimer: inclusion of material in the bibliography implies neither endorsement of all views expressed in the material, nor that the author of the material endorses (or, if deceased, would have endorsed) the views of this web site. The criterion for inclusion of material in this list is genuine helpfulness to the discussion, not uniformity of viewpoint.

Tim Gallant: “Discerning the Body: 1 Corinthians 11:29 and Paedocommunion.” Argues that Paul’s requirements here stand in continuity with old covenant requirements - in connection with rites that admitted children.

Tim Gallant: “Examination and Remembrance: Does 1 Corinthians 11:28 Spell the Death-Knell for Paedocommunion?” Explores the contextual meaning of Paul’s instructions to “examine” oneself in connection with participation in the Lord’s Supper.

Tim Gallant: Feed My Lambs: Why the Lord’s Table Should Be Restored to Covenant Children. The only comprehensive study currently available in English. Argues that the table and the body of Christ are intended to be coextensive (1 Cor 10.16-17).

Tim Gallant, ed.: “Paedocommunion in the Church Fathers: A Catena of Quotations.” Quotations and brief analysis of mention of paedocommunion from the Early Church.

Mark Horne: “You and Your Son and Daughter: Christ’s Communion With Young Children.” Argues for paedocommunion upon the basis of the relationship which Christ sustains with the young children of believers.

Tommy Lee: “The History of Paedocommunion: From the Early Church Until 1500.” A devastating article, showing that paedocommunion is not the novelty it is frequently claimed to be.

Peter J. Leithart: Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? An Examination of Leonard J. Coppes, Daddy, May I Take Communion? (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1998 [1992].) As the title indicates, a response to an anti-paedocommunion book by Leonard Coppes. Leithart’s expertise in the old covenant sacrificial system undergirds a profound critique of the book to which he is responding. If you have read Coppes, you must read this. In fact, read this, even if you haven’t read Coppes!

Peter J. Leithart: “Paedocommunion.” (In Beyond the Basics, David Hagopian, ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, forthcoming.)

Peter J. Leithart: “Paedocommunion, the Gospel, and the Church.”

Peter J. Leithart: “Response to George Knight on Paedocommunion.” (In The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, E. Calvin Beisner, ed. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Seminary Press, 2004.)

Rich Lusk: “For the Children’s Sake: An Alternative Angle on the Paedocommunion Debate.” Moves beyond narrow questions of defensibility to desirability, showing the broader biblical coherence and beauty of the paedocommunion position.

Wolfgang Musculus: “Excerpt on Paedocommunion from The Common Places.” A section drawn from this significant early Reformed theologian’s work, where he defends the notion that paedocommunion is biblical, although he does not advocate a return to the practice.

G. I. Williamson, et al: “Report of the Committee on Paedocommunion.” The OPC 1988 Majority Report which stunned many in advocating paedocommunion. Well-reasoned and important.

Quotations

First, if he which is partaker of the thing that is signified, may be made partaker of the sign, and the children of them that do believe, be partakers of Christ's death, that is to say, of the redemption purchased by him: ergo they may be partakers also of the Lord's Supper.

Secondly, if our little children be parcel of the Church, which is the body of Christ: it followeth that they do pertain also to the communion, whereby according unto the saying of the Apostle, we be one body, which do participate of one bread, and of one cup. Christ is the feeding of his whole body, ergo of our children also. Wherefore like as the little children of the Jews did appertain to the Passover, the Sacrament of their redemption, as well as their parents: So our children also do as well belong unto the sacrament of our new Passover, as we.

Thirdly, if Christ did vouchsafe to have children come unto him to embrace them, to lay hands upon them, and bless them, how shall we judge them unworthy to be admitted unto the Sacrament of his body and blood, seeing that there is no man, I suppose, that will esteem it to be preferred above Christ himself?

- Wolfgang Musculus, Common Places of the Christian Religion (1560)

The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.

- John Owen, “Of Infant Baptism”