Thursday, November 24, 2011

Challenging The Communing/Non-Communing Distinction?

This is an open question to paedocommunionists. The question was actually raised by Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan as I was reading through their book Children and the Lord's Supper (on page 27). In the introductory chapter, they discuss troubling questions which paedocommunion raises. In particular, they bring up the paedocommunionist argument that if one is a baptized member of the church (regardless of age) then one should not be restricted from participating in the life of the church, including - of course - communion.
Paedocommunionists urge that the privilege of partaking of the Lord's Supper belongs to all church members as church members. This raises the question whether there are any privileges that a paedocommunionist believes the Scripture to forbid a child member from exercising. In other words, paedocommunion calls into question the integrity of the communing/non-communing member distinction, and may even call into question the distinction itself. A whole host of pastoral questions surface. Is a six or seven year old member of the church entitled to vote in congregational elections? To stand for church office, if the congregation so desires? What about church discipline? In the Presbyterian Church in America, there are special procedures for discipline of non-communing members. Would a paedocommunionist understand young members of the church to be subject to the same formal judicial process to which communing members are subject?


  1. Off the top of my head:
    1. Is a six or seven year old member entitled to vote in congregational elections?
    *Voting is not biblically prescribed. It might be a legitimate way of carrying out church government, but it isn't mandated, and so it seems to me that if a church is going to use voting, it would be up to Christian prudence to decide when a member can do it. I would suggest vote by family anyway. That would solve the "problem."
    2. To stand for church office, if the congregation so desires?
    *I really doubt that would ever be an issue. Anyway, 1 Timothy says an elder must not be a "recent convert."
    3. What about church discipline?
    *I would say yes, but it would be exceptional circumstances for a young child do something that warrants discipline (a pattern of decided unrepentance), I would think.

    I can't find any "communing/non-communing" distinction in Scripture, unless "non-communing" means being under discipline.

    -Daniel H.

  2. How does a credo-communionist explain Jesus' giving the Supper to Judas?

  3. Before I answer your question, Daniel, I have my own preliminary question. Was Judas incapable of discerning the Lord's body and blood (as credo-communionists understand children to be incapable of)?

  4. I think he was perfectly capable.

    I also think Jesus didn't tell the disciples to "examine themselves" before he gave it to them.

  5. I'm glad we agree on Judas' capacity for discernment. I do not believe that children have the same capacity as Judas did, and so I simply don't see there being a strict parallel between them.

    Now, you're asking - from a credo-communionist perspective - how one understands Judas' admission to the table. I know that your understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 is not the same as mine, but here it is.

    There are hypocrites who come to the Lord's Supper. We know that there are, because Paul warns of the danger of coming hypocritically to the table in 1 Cor. 11. If I were doing a sermon right now, I would go right to Judas and use him as my illustration of hypocrisy at the table. Note that things did not end well for Judas. The Lord's Supper was not a blessing but a curse for him.

    I don't particularly mind that Jesus did not spell out how they were supposed to conduct themselves at the table. We can both agree that Paul had more to say about table fellowship than Jesus did.

    A closing question, Daniel. In your experience, is it fair to say that paedocommunionists would contest the communing/non-communing member distinction which churches such as the PCA use?

  6. Daniel,

    You wrote, "Voting is not biblically prescribed." How do you understand the selection of the first deacons then? The Apostles told all the disciples to pick out from themselves seven men. How did this process happen? Is this not in some sense a "voting" process? Did children get to partake in this selection process?

    You wrote, "I really doubt that would ever be an issue. Anyway, 1 Timothy says an elder must not be a "recent convert." If the child was converted at the age of 4 and was now 10, they are not a "recent convert." Further, and more to the point, to simply say this would not happen is to miss the whole point Adam is raising. Why would it not happen? On what biblical grounds could this be refused? If there is no distinction in the members of the body it seems this must as least be biblically possible, right?

    You wrote, "I can't find any "communing/non-communing" distinction in Scripture." Does this distinction need to be explicitly stated or can it be the good and necessary consequence of the Bible's teaching?

  7. Adam,
    Of course Judas was a hypocrite, but Jesus didn't withhold it from him. How much less should we withhold it from covenant children, just because we think they can't "discern"? I don't think "capacity for discernment" is a lowest common denominator of who's qualified. If it is, don't give young children any food at all, because they aren't willing to work.

    I can probably only speak for myself, but I would draw the communing/non-communing distinction between those who are under discipline and those who aren't; not at a particular level of maturity.

    Acts 6 probably was a kind of voting, but it might have only been men (Peter addresses "brothers"). Or it might have been everyone. We don't know. But it's still quite a jump from "Should we let children vote?" to "Since that is a difficult question, let's just withhold the Supper from them." Like I said, a better solution would be vote by family.

    As far as a child being an elder: I wouldn't say there are "no distinctions in the members of the body" *at all*. Some are weaker, some are stronger, some are elders, some are laypeople, etc. I am only saying there is no distinction when it comes to communion with Christ. That doesn't necessitate that children may be elders. Children are under the authority of their parents for one thing, so it wouldn't work to give them authority in the church (similar to the issue of authority and women). I would say the light of nature plays a role here. Anyway, you have the same problem. The PCA communes children as young as 9 or 10 all the time. Can they be elders?

    Communing and non-communing may be a good and necessary inference. If it was I'd be fine with it. I don't think it is though.

  8. Daniel,

    I am glad to see that you recognize that voting, in some form, is in fact biblical. This is a good Reformed principle that I think we should hold on to.

    You wrote, "But it's still quite a jump from "Should we let children vote?" to "Since that is a difficult question, let's just withhold the Supper from them." I agree with you that this is a huge jump, but I need to ask, who is making this kind of argument? I know of no one in this discussion that makes that jump. The reason Waters and Duncan bring up this point is to show that not all baptized members in the covenant community share the same benefits. That is, after all, the argument for peadocommunion. All Waters and Duncan are doing is showing that the fundamental argument used for peadocommunion does not hold. They do this by counter example. In other words, to say, as those who favor peadocommunion do, that all baptized members should have the same benefits is not the case. I know of no one who say that since children cannot vote therefore they should not take communion.

  9. Josh,
    I didn't say voting was unbiblical, just that it wasn't required, but was more an issue of prudence. I hadn't thought of Acts 6, though, so thanks.

    (As an aside, if it "is in fact biblical," isn't that good enough without saying that it's a "Reformed principle"?)

    Maybe no one makes that jump, but I don't think anyone holds what you're suggesting either. No one thinks all the baptized have the same benefits. An obvious (and applicable) example is that women can't be elders. The argument of paedocommunion is not that "all baptized members share the same benefits," but that all baptized members have access to the table.

  10. Duncan/Waters are making a point in all of this: "In this way, we may honor the Scripture's teaching that the children of believers are members of the church by birthright, but also recognize that there are certain privileges that they may not lawfully exercise until maturation." It seems like you agree that not all members enjoy all benefits of membership. The question becomes, "Do the Scriptures compel the church to withhold certain benefits until they are able to fulfill the requirements of said benefit?"

    Obviously we answer in the positive and believe that communion is one of those benefits. Given our previous discussion, it may not be argued in paedocommunion's defense that it is not right to withhold any rights and privileges from a member of Christ's Church. The charges of Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? also fall by the wayside.

    After all, given our above discussion, we can agree that withholding certain benefits from a church member does not necessarily constitute excommunication.

  11. But again, the question is not whether "all members" have "all benefits." That is not the case, and no one is arguing that position. The question is whether the baptized - without lawful discipline - have access to the table.

    I used the example already of women not being eligible for eldership. But the Lord's Supper is not that same as eldership. Eldership is about leading and governing the body and must by definition only involve a segment of the body. But the Lord's Supper, I would suggest (based on 1 Corinthians 10:17, Luke 22:19, etc), is a foundational way in which the body itself is constituted. In other words, exclusion from the Supper means exclusion from the body. If we keep covenant children from it, what are we saying except that they are incapable of communion with Christ, or that communion with Christ depends on a level of maturity or intelligence that they don't have?

    1 Corinthians 11 was written to correct abuses, not to give an implicit litmus test that inherently hinders children from fellowship with Christ.

  12. Daniel,

    The only way to have fellowship (i.e., communion) with Christ is by faith.

  13. Josh,

    When Jesus laid his hands on the children and blessed them, would you say that those children had fellowship with Christ?

  14. Faris,

    The children you are referring to did not have fellowship with Christ in the way Paul means in 1 Cor. 11, which is the way Daniel used the term.

    Is there some vague, untheological, unprecise sense that they had fellowship with Christ? Maybe, but I would not use that term because the terms fellowship and communion have specific biblical/theological meaning.

  15. Daniel,

    Yes, I think it is possible, but I am not sure i it is normal or all that common.

  16. Why do you think that it is not normal or common?

  17. I should ask "Why?" in light of the fact that the Bible teaches us to sing, "You made me trust when upon my mother's breast; Upon you I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother's womb" (Psalm 22:9-10).

  18. Ok, so children are capable of faith.

    And you say "the only way to have fellowship with Christ is by faith," but I think that needs to be qualified. I agree that without faith it is impossible to please God, and that sacraments without faith can ultimately only seal condemnation. But I would not say that in the absence of faith there is no communion at all going on. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 should be enough for that point, and 10:20 even suggests that communion (koinonos) can be had with demons simply by participating in pagan festivals, even when (I think we can assume) the Corinthian Christians had no intention of exercising "faith" in those demons.

  19. As Venema frames the discussion there are really two arguments that can be made:

    1) children of any age have access to the Lord's Table based on their baptism (or what Venema calls "hard-paedocommunion") and

    2) young children should be allowed to partake of the Lord's Table as long as they can demonstrate an age-appropriate level of faith (or what Venema terms "soft-paedocommunion").

    I personally don't hold to either of these views, but there are some pretty obvious differences between the two. Perhaps if we are going to truly speak to each others concerns we should define which discussion we are having. Would those who have been arguing for paedocommunion here be advocating the "hard" or the "soft" view?

  20. I would go with #1, with the disclaimer that a child who confesses unbelief, or exhibits clear rebellion, etc, should be encouraged to repent and prove themselves, and then eat.

  21. So like, a two year old who goes, "Jesus poo poo!" might need to go under church discipline?

  22. By the way, I'm not being intentionally provocative.

    I'm trying to point out that we're all looking for professions from our children. I'm looking for a credible profession of belief, and you're looking for a credible profession of unbelief.

    I want to be sure a child is believing before they take communion, and you want to be sure they are UN-believing before you will refuse them. We're both looking for two very different kinds of professions.

    The question is, which profession would you rather be wrong about? If the Scriptures really do warn that partaking without discerning (in the way I've already spelled out in our past exchanges) can result in judgment and even sickness, then I'd rather wait for the profession of faith. If you do the reverse and wait for the profession of unbelief, you could be exposing your child to judgment, sickness, and danger all the while.

    Lets assume that your understanding of 1 Cor. 11 is right. Does the child face danger of sickness death or judgment if they don't partake until they are older? No. Granting your position, many children may be missing out on a corporate blessing. Granting our reading of 1 Cor. 11, many children are being exposed to sickness, judgment, and death if they keep being brought to the elements and allowed to partake without discerning the body.

    To me, as a father, this is a very strong line of pastoral argument. I realize that you are very confident of your reading of 1 Cor. 11, but when you consider the Scylla (historical understandings of this text as reflected in our Reformed creeds) and Charybdis (the huge risks if you are wrong) you are leading your covenant children between, it doesn't seem like the benefit outweighs the risk.

  23. I don't think "profession" comes into it very significantly. My point is not that I'm looking for a "profession of unbelief" before I forbid someone. 1 Corinthians 11 itself doesn't forbid anyone. It tells those who have been abusing the Supper to first prove themselves *and then* eat. It does not tell them to abstain. It does not tell those who don't discern the body to abstain. There is no warrant in the whole Bible for abstaining, there are only exhortations to repentance and the *statement* that if you eat wrongly you will be judged; but that need not imply that it's better not to eat. In fact I'd suggest as an ordinance of the church, members don't really even have the option of abstaining.

    And if you think it's therefore "dangerous" for young children, I would say two things: 1) It's no more dangerous than baptism, because baptism apart from faith will also bring judgment. 2) If the manna in the wilderness is any parallel (and it is, John 6, 1 Cor. 10) it was precisely the young children who were NOT judged, the children who "had no knowledge of good and evil."

    My fear is not so much that children are "missing out on a corporate blessing," but that we'd act like the disciples who were rebuked by Jesus for not letting the little children come to him, as well as that we'd implicitly teach our children that the grace of God has to been earned by either becoming "discerning" enough, or by making a show in front of the elders, or by simply being old enough, or whatever else.

    If the credo-communion principle is that elders are only to allow access to the table when they have determined that an appropriate profession has been made, the implication would seem to be that it's their duty also to forbid visitors and guests from partaking until they have been individually examined. But no PCA church does that, to my knowledge.

  24. Wow. So even if someone is not going to eat "rightly" (even in the sense you understand 1 Cor 11 to be speaking) you think they should still eat?

  25. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says, "But let a man prove himself, and thus from the bread eat, and from the cup drink."

    If someone has been abusing the Supper - that is, abusing the body of Christ by his manner of partaking, despising the weak (weak young children, maybe), etc - then he should repent and seek reconciliation before partaking yes, but then he is still to partake. But I also think communion should be weakly, and should be more of a festive meal (as opposed to a silent meditation time) where such reconciliation could take place then and there, before eating. Then this whole, "Well I'll just abstain, then talk to so-and-so after the service, and partake next month when we do this again" wouldn't really be an issue.

  26. Adam,

    I'd be interested in why you don't apply the risk analysis argument to Baptism of children as Hoff mentioned.

  27. Faris,

    The simple answer is because 1 Cor. 11 specifically provides the grounds for the concern. They specifically warn that those who partake wrongly can become sick and perhaps even die. There are certainly risks involved in a child one day renouncing their baptism, but the risk of wrongly partaking of communion is not parallel.

  28. For those who are advocating paedocommunion here: could you help me to understand what you see as being the differences between the two sacraments?

  29. Differences b/w the two:

    1. Baptism signifies cleansing, Communion signifies fellowship.
    2. Baptism is a washing of regeneration, Communion is partaking in the body and blood of Christ.
    3. Baptism signifies being washed to draw near, Communion is drawing near.
    4. Baptism is unrepeatable, Communion is to be repeated often.
    5. Baptism involves water, Communion involves bread and wine.
    6. Baptism is basically passive, Communion is basically active.
    7. Etc.

  30. That is helpful, but it leaves me wondering how an infant can "fellowship" "partake" "draw near" and participate "actively" without shifting from a Reformed view and falling into a mystical view of the sacraments.

  31. Well first, "infant" is a bit misleading. I don't believe in force-feeding. They can eat when they are naturally able to. And that would probably be around 2 at the earliest - even later maybe if we're using wine, which of course we should be.

    But can a young child fellowship with God's people? Then why not with Christ? Do young children by definition have no part in the body and blood? Are they unable to draw near to Christ? And I'd say eating and learning about what it means is "active."

    How is this "mystical"? What do you even mean by that?

  32. The reason I included infants is because you said that you held to: "1) children of any age have access to the Lord's Table based on their baptism (or what Venema calls "hard-paedocommunion""

    My point is that by your own definition, one of the key differences between baptism and the Lord's Supper is that the first is (largely) passive, while the second is active (and therefore requires conscious intentionality on the part of those who partake.)

    I would encourage you to carefully read questions 168-177 of the Westminster Larger Catechism and take time to work through the proof-texts. Do you believe that an infant (or even a two year old) can really do what the Scripture's require?

    It seems that there are only two options for the paedo-communionist:

    1) He can argue that the Westminster Standards are unbiblical here and have raised the bar higher than the Scriptures themselves do. or:

    2) He can argue that the Westminster Standards are biblical here and therefore paedocommunion does not do full justice to the biblical text.


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!