An Introduction to the Paedo Communion Debate

As promised, this is the first installment of the debate on paedo-communion. The book that is to be the basis of our debate is now available, for those who wish to read the chapters for themselves. It may be a little while before Doug has a chance to respond. I am not sure where he is in the reading of the book.

First up are a couple of disclaimers and distinctions (which is, of course, the main business of Reformed theologians, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Hey, where are you all going?). First of all, this debate is not a continuation of the Federal Vision debate that I have concluded with Doug. Paedo-communion is a distinct, though related issue. The reason this disclaimer is important is that there are quite a few proponents of paedo-communion who have nothing to do with the Federal Vision, and there is at least one FV advocate (Steve Schlissel) who does not hold to paedo-communion. We must be clear on this point. The reaction of Reformed denominations is also important to remember here. While the Federal Vision has been repudiated by many denominations, paedo-communion still finds advocacy among some in Reformed denominations, though the practice has not been allowed. The impetus to discipline folks for holding to PC (which is hereafter my abbreviation for paedo-communion) is much less than for FV teachings, since it is generally recognized that, while contrary to the confessions, it is a less serious and central challenge to the confessions than the FV is.

On to Venema’s first chapter, which is an introduction to the question. He starts with noticing the way people put things. His example is the rhetorical question that is the title for Leithart’s book, Daddy, why was I excommunicated? He states that this title is “an answer masquerading as a question” (p. 1). Quite so. I am quite sure that Leithart intended the title to function that way. To Venema’s mind, this raises the question of the basis on which anyone should be allowed to the table. He summarizes the traditional position well:

Therefore, the only thing preventing such children, or any others, from coming to the Table is the absence of an appropriate response to the invitation. All believers who properly answer the “R.S.V.P.” that accompanies the overtures of God’s grace in Christ are welcome to come to the Lord’s Table.

At the beginning of any good book, the author defines his terms. Venema notes the importance of distinguishing between what he calls a “soft” view of PC, which holds that younger members of the covenant may participate upon a credible profession of faith, and a “strict” view, which believes that any child who is physically able to participate may do so.

It seems to me that Venema very fairly states the ultimate and summary argument of PC: “that there is only one basis for admission to the Table of the Lord, namely, membership in the covenant community” (p. 3). However, Venema is not willing to concede to PC the language of “covenant Communion.” This is because the historic view says that those who participate are covenant members. Therefore, “to treat these terms (Venema means ‘covenant communion’ and ‘credo-communion’, LK) as incompatible is another form of ‘begging the question'” (p. 4). With regard to the two distinct positions, Venema asserts that his focus will be on the “strict” view, delineated in the previous paragraph.

The rest of the chapter is a summary of the main lines of argumentation that PC advocates use. I assume that there is no particular order of importance to the number of the arguments (except that Venema seems to have intended to answer them in this order as well). Firstly, there is the historical argument, which says that PC only stopped because of the doctrine of transubstantiation (why have children spill the blood of God?). Secondly, that admission to the covenant is the only necessary basis for admission of children to the covenant. Thirdly, that the connection of the Lord’s Supper with the OT Passover (which supposedly admitted children to it) indicates that the recipients of both ordinances should be the same. Fourthly, a particular exegetical argument regarding 1 Cor 11, which argues that the chapter in question does not forbid children from the Table.

Update: Doug has emailed me saying that we can expect his first post on this subject around Tuesday of next week.