My apologies to Doug and the rest of my readers. It has been a rather difficult time, and I have had to put posting off for a while. Firstly, I will give a couple of thoughts on Doug’s response to the church history question, and then we will dive in to a discussion of the confessions.
There are only a couple of points that I feel need addressing with regard to Doug’s post. The first is that I believe Doug has slightly overstated when he says that Venema “also grants the widespread practice of paedocommunion in the West from at least the time of Augustine down to the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).” I don’t believe that this is quite what Venema said. Venema said that there is evidence that PC was practiced in this time period (p. 20). It is difficult to say how “widespread” the practice was. Venema’s point, however, is that the practice was in decline even before the Fourth Lateran Council (p. 21). The practice was in decline throughout the church, and not just because of the Fourth Lateran Council. Venema allows that it may have been a widespread practice during some of that time. His exact words are: “What is clear from the history of the Roman Catholic Church is that paedocommunion ceased to be a widespread practice by the eleventh century” (p. 20). This statement makes no claim on when the practice was widespread. This is important, for we see PC advocates often saying that it was the norm of the church until the 4LC. This is more often asserted than proven.
Secondly, Doug says this near the end of his post: “The central good that I see coming out of the paedocommunion debate is the central place it gives to the question of ‘who makes up the body of Jesus?’” I would cautiously agree with this. However, there is the equally important question of whether the members of the body of Jesus always have to have access to everything in the church, or else they are in effect excommunicated. I really do like the analogy of citizenship here. A child born in the US is a citizen. Period. No ifs ands or buts. However, we don’t allow them to drive at birth. We don’t allow them to vote at birth. And we don’t allow them to drink alcohol at birth. Does that make them any the less a citizen of the US? Similarly, just because an infant is not allowed to the table has no bearing on whether they actually are part of the body of Christ. We call baptism the initiatory rite, because that is what initiates a person into the visible body of Christ (WCF 28.1). Nothing else is required to mark a person as belonging to the body of Christ. This is not to diminish the importance of the Lord’s Supper. But the importance of the Lord’s Supper lies in a different direction: that of confirmation of faith, and growth in grace. The Lord’s Supper is not the marker of who belongs to the body of Christ: baptism is what does that. Therefore it is a fallacy to argue that unless everyone in the visible church is partaking of the Lord’s Supper, they are in effect excommunicated. If a citizen of the US is not de-citizened just because he is 15 and cannot drive, then neither is a child excommunicated just because he may not be capable of participating in the Lord’s Supper yet.
To move on now to the confessions. Basically put, no major Reformed confession that is in use today allows for the practice of paedocommunion. This is generally acknowledged. However, the implications of that are not generally acknowledged. For instance, it is thought to be a relatively insignificant thing for a person to hold to an “exception” like this and be ordained in a denomination that does not practice PC. Let me put the argument this way: Baptists are our beloved brothers; we may affirm orthodoxy of them at almost every major point. We may have delightful fellowship with them. But they cannot be ordained in the PCA or OPC. Why is that? Because they do not administer the Sacrament of baptism in the same way we do. My question is this: why do many in the PCA and OPC view paedocommunion as somehow less opposed to the Westminster Standards than credo-baptism is? In my opinion, the errors are of a very similar but mirror-image nature. Both PC and CB (credo-baptism) err in the age requirements of one of the sacraments. Both argue that the Sacraments operate the same way with regard to church membership. CB argues that both have to be given to consenting adults (or folks who have achieved the age of responsibility), whereas PC argues that both may be given to passive recipients. I see not one single reason why PC may be more acceptable in a Westminster denomination (or 3FU, for that matter) than CB. To those who argue that PC is more covenantal, I respond that there are plenty of CB’s out there who are firmly covenantal and redemptive-historical (Mark Dever, for one). The above argumentation is why I personally cannot vote for a person who holds to PC in my Presbytery. This is not to say I think they are heretics any more than I would say that CB’s are heretics. And I would never refuse church membership on this basis either, since I believe a credible profession of faith is all that is required (though I do believe that it is helpful for a church to have a new members class in order to instruct the prospective members in what their membership vows entail).
Moving on to what Venema actually says, it is important what he says about the theology of sacraments as a whole:
The confessions’ position on this subject derives from a more comprehensive view of the sacraments’ role as means of grace that accompany the preaching of the gospel…Indeed, the notion that children should be admitted to the Lord’s Table, which is the principal interest of those who advocate paedocommunion, has more far-reaching implications than many paedocommunionists often admit. Whether these implications are consistent with essential features of the Reformed view of the sacraments remains to be seen. Here it need be observed only that the question of paedocommunion cannot be isolated from the broader framework of traditional Reformed teaching regarding the sacraments (p. 28).
I will have to take up further Venema’s comments in a subsequent post. For now, suffice it to say that I believe that believing in PC requires taking exception to a great deal more than WLC 177. The entire concept of worthy participation, which is laid out in WLC 169-175 are plainly meant to be taken as the way in which all worthy participants are to partake. There are many things in that whole series of questions which an infant is incapable of doing. It should also be noted that the interpretation of the Supper as an objective memorial, and not as the subjective remembering of the people, is counter to WLC 169, which says that the Supper is for a “thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.” WCF 29.7-8 is also denied by PC, since section 7 uses the phrase “worthy receivers,” and section 8 says that ignorant men do not receive the thing signified. Section 8 forbids ignorant people from participating in the sacrament. It cannot be argued that an infant who can recognize that everyone around him is eating, and therefore he ought to eat too is not ignorant in the sense in which the confession means it here. A worthy participant is clearly defined as someone who understands section 7. It would furthermore be denying the influence that WLC 177 should have on sections 7-8 of chapter 29 of the WCF to say that a 3-year old can in fact pass muster in this respect. I think when I counted, there were no less than 13 places in the WS that a PC advocate would have to take honest exception to in order for his view to be properly pigeon-holed with regard to the confession.