Strict or Soft?

Doug has posted his first response to Venema here. What follows will involve a certain amount of guesswork. I am going to venture to speak for Dr. Venema a bit.

Doug asks whether his practice would fall under Venema’s soft or strict definition of paedo-communion. Doug says that his church would admit a 1-year old that has noticed that he is being passed by. I am fairly certain that Venema would call this a “strict” view for the following reasons. Venema defines the “soft” view as the “admission of children to the Lord’s Supper only at an earlier age than is customary among many Reformed churches (middle to late adolescence)” (pp. 2-3). I am quite certain that a 1-year old does not qualify as an adolescent in any sense of the term. I acknowledge that Doug has an emphasis on teaching the children what the Supper means. In another post of Doug’s on the subject, he says the following:

Young children should have the Supper explained to them by their parents in each observance of the Supper, and they should be able to attend to what is said. Please note that we are not requiring that little children be able to explain the Supper before they may partake. They are recipients; they have the Supper explained to them. We feed them the bread and wine in much the same way we begin speaking English to our children when they first arrive in our homes — not because they understand it, but rather so that they might come to understand it. It is similar here. We are not asking for anything to arise in the child or manifest itself before he is qualified to receive. He is receiving and learning, not giving and teaching.

The difference between Doug’s view and what Venema calls the “soft” view comes down to this: A credible profession of faith is not required in Doug’s view or is considerably modified in such a way that the child need not be able to articulate a clear understanding of what the Gospel is. Indeed, a child need not be able to talk at all (most 1-year olds cannot). What Venema calls the soft view clearly requires “a simple but credible profession of the Christian faith” (p. 3). I should lay my cards on the table, by the way. I would say that a child ought to be taught the catechism and therefore have a clear grasp of what the Gospel is, and he has been saved. That can happen at age 6 for some really bright kids, age 9 for normal kids, and age 12 for somewhat slow kids. It depends on the kid. When they can articulate a clear understanding of the Gospel, and can therefore grasp (and is taught!) what the Supper means, that child may be received into communicant membership.

I agree with Doug, then, that there is a very problematic practice of holding children back unnecessarily because there is some idea that they cannot articulate the Gospel until age 16, or whenever it is. We need (in my opinion) to avoid two extremes. One is in looking for any indication whatsoever and reading into it that the child is saved and should therefore participate; and, on the other hand, doubting a clear articulation of the Gospel simply because of the child’s age.

One should note, here, that Venema’s goal is not to address the problem of keeping legitimate children from the Table. It is rather to guard the Table from those who are not ready yet. One could argue, I suppose, that dealing with that issue in greater depth would give Venema greater credibility. However, it is still not the question that Venema has set out to address. Therefore, I do not believe that it should be an obstacle in being convinced by Venema’s arguments elsewhere.