Who is allowed to partake at the Lord’s Supper? This is not just a distinction between denominations as far removed from each other as Baptist and Reformed. This is also an intramural debate among those of the Reformed stripe, the majority being credocommunion and the minority being paedocommunion.
What follows is both an overview of the book as well as some concluding reflections from a Baptist perspective looking from the outside into a debate within the Reformed tradition.
Children and the Lord’s Supper is a compilation of chapters which weave in and out of critiquing the paedocommunion view of the Lord’s Supper and defending the credocommunion view. The book argues both angels alone biblical, theological, exegetical and historical lines while reflecting on the practical and pastoral considerations of both. Editors Ligon Duncan and Gut Waters did a good job to make sure there is great continuity among the chapters. At some points there seems to be too much repetition but overall there is a clear line from beginning to end that does not run too big.
From the Reformed perspective, the essential argument against paedocommunion is that partakers of communion who have not made a public profession of faith cannot fulfill the requirements of I Cor. 11:17-34, namely the requirement to ‘discern the body’, ‘examine oneself’ and partake in the Lord’s Supper in a ‘worthy manner.’ Further, in regards to Matt. 26:26-29, how can one who has not made a profession of faith be able to ‘show the Lord’s death until He returns?’ From the credocommunionist position, partaking in the Lord’s Supper and failing to fulfill these requirements would result in ‘eating and drinking judgment on themselves.’
Along biblical lines Bryan Estelle argues that though the OT Passover and NT Lord’s Supper are analogous this does not mean the analogy necessitates a one-for-one interpretation between the two. Thus, though paedocommunionists may argue that children were present and participants in the Passover meal (though they argue it is not clear that they were) this does not mean it is the same case for the Lord’s Supper.
Along exegetical lines George W. Knight III presents a very readable exegesis of I Cor. 11:17-34. There are no outstanding or unique remarks made but rather a clear explanation of the passage. Knight concludes that “the table is only open to those children who have made such a public profession of faith and who are able to understand and act upon Paul’s instruction (p. 95).”
Chapters five, six and seven deal with historical considerations. Cornelius Venema addresses the content and history of the Reformed Confessions in the WCF, Heidelberg Confession and the Belgic Confession. There is unanimous agreement that the confessions do not support paedocommunion. In chapter six Nick Needham looks at the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the Patristic church. At the outset Needham states that
We can hardly disentangle the two dominical sacraments from each other. Belief and practice about baptism and about the Lord’s Supper are bound up with each other, both theologically and historically. Those who reject infant baptism are unlikely (to put it mildly) to endorse infant communion (p. 146).
Needham essentially argues that there was not enough of a distinguishment within this period between the belief and practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in order to be able to clearly say the Patristic church practiced paedocommunion.
Concluding the historical element for the book, Joel R. Beeke summarizes the teaching of the Reformed Liturgies starting with Calvin’s catechism and liturgy in 1541 to the Westminster Directory in 1644. Beeke concludes his overview of these documents by stating, “These liturgies and directories show that ‘paedocommunion’ had no place in the beliefs or practice of the Reformers or the Westminster Divines (p. 178).”
In the final chapter Waters and Duncan present some pastoral reflections on the issue of children and the Lord’s Supper. After reiterating many of the arguments made throughout the book they conclude with some very helpful pointers for parents to help them consider as they bring their children to the point of a confession of faith and the following admittance to the Lord ’s Table. There is much in here that even a Baptist like myself can readily agree with.
I am a Baptist. And I have to admit it has been nothing but interesting and sometimes frustrating reading this book as a Baptist. When I posted that I had finished reading this book one of my Reformed paedocommunion friends asked me how I felt about the book as a Baptist. He asked because he felt the same frustration at one point that I do now about the Reformed position of pro paedobaptism and anti paedocommunion. In time this caused him to make a full commitment to paedocommunion.
So why am I frustrated and conflicted? On the one hand I readily agree with most if not all of the points made in the book against paedocommunion. In fact there are probably some more points I would make as a Baptist that a Reformed position might not. As mentioned earlier, Children and the Lord’s Supper is a Reformed response to paedocommunion. As such the authors are paedobaptists. It is here that I find myself teetering between agreement and frustration. As a Baptist I can get behind the arguments against paedocommunion. But as a Baptist trying as best I can to just enjoy my agreement with my Reformed brothers I found myself at the end of every chapter frustrated by the thought that I wanted to argue against their paedobaptists position with the same arguments they were using against the Reformed position of paedocommunion. Again and again I wanted to say yes! But then I followed it up with ‘but wait!’ From someone on the outside looking in I felt like saying its either all or nothing. Its either both paedobaptism and paedocommunion or neither. I just cannot wrap my mind around one and not the other for the very same reasons I would endorse the one. Aside from the historical chapters of the book it felt like it was a fight against saying we agree with paedobaptism because we see the correlation/analogy between circumcision and baptism as 60/40 (more yes than no so we do it) but the reverse for Communion (40/60 – more less than no so we don’t). At some points I felt like the arguments were betraying the writers. Ironically, this is something the writers admittedly bump up against in many of the chapters.
So in the end I am conflicted about this book. I love it as a Baptist but I feel I would be confused as a Reformed brother. This is not to say reformed theology is confusing or nonsensical. I know my Reformed brothers feel the same way about some of my Baptist beliefs. Aside from my personal struggles at this point I commend Children and the Lord’s Supper as an able defense of the credocommunion position.
NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.