Paedocommunion Arguments Examined

In our previous post we saw that there are three reasons infant baptism does not logically necessitate infant communion. And moreover, the very principles of infant baptism militate against any such idea of infant communion. Now that the primary sophism of Baptists and Paedocommunionists is out of the way, we can focus on the last few main arguments Paedocommunionists give for their practice. They all seem to distill into the following nine arguments:

Argument 1.

The first paedocommunion argument we will address is as follows. The immediate context of 1 Corinthians 11 is about the Corinthian church’s divisiveness and failure to live together in fellowship and communal participation as one body (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Therefore, the warnings and prerequisites in chapter 11 are about this specific type of error: it should not be understood as a general requirement for all partakers of the Lord’s Supper. [1]

Answer. This argument is not a faithful interpretation and application of the biblical text; and even if it were, it does not prove paedocommunion. First, in dramatically narrowing the offenses and qualities that partakers must examine in themselves, this reductionist argument still does not entirely do away with self-examination as a requirement for partaking in a lawful manner. So even if this truncated and superficial self-examination were true, how can children discern in themselves whether they are violating these specific principles of fellowship?

Secondly, and more importantly, while the context in the Corinthian church was indeed about their divisiveness and failure to live together in communal participation as one body, the Apostle corrects them by appealing to general principles regarding the sacrament and how that applies to their situation. This does not mean, however, that these general principles laid down in chapter 11 cannot be applied outside the specific Corinthian context. The occasion which gave rise to Paul’s teaching is specific, but the teaching itself is general and applicable to any and every administration and partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

This becomes clear when the grammar is attended to. In verses 17-22 the Apostle describes how they were abusing the Lord’s Supper. The repeated use of the second person plural “you” in these verses makes it clear that the Corinthians are being addressed directly and specifically. Then in verses 23-26, he delivers that which he had received of the Lord—the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. And in verses 27-29, the Apostle shifts to the third person singular when laying down the proper way of partaking worthily. Cornelis Venema writes,

“Rather than directly addressing the Corinthian believers who were abusing the Lord’s Supper, Paul now uses the language of ‘whosoever’ (v. 27), ‘a man’ (v. 28), and ‘he’ (v. 29, a third person participle). The apostle also uses third person verb forms and the third person reflexive pronoun ‘himself’ (v. 29). This change to the use of third person singular forms has a significant bearing on how the instructions of this section are to be understood. Though the apostle began his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 with a description of the inappropriate behavior of some members of the Corinthian church, he now moves to a series of general instructions that apply to all members of the covenant community… These instructions, though written in the context of a particular problem in the Corinthian church, provide instruction for anyone who receives the body and blood of Christ.” [2]

John Calvin likewise observes this in his commentary on verse 27:

“Some restrict it to the Corinthians, and the abuse that had crept in among them, but I am of opinion that Paul here, according to his usual manner, passed on from the particular case to a general statement, or from one instance to an entire class. There was one fault that prevailed among the Corinthians. He takes occasion from this to speak of every kind of faulty administration or reception of the Supper.”

Hence, it is clear that proper historical-grammatical exegesis leads us to the conclusion that these requirements for the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper are generally applicable to the universal church and all Christians everywhere. [3] Paedocommunionists cannot evade these general stipulations by restricting them to the specific issues in the context of the first century Corinthian church (or similar repetitions of those issues today). They cannot do so any more than Feminists can do away with the implications of verses 1-16 about male headship, under the pretense of historical peculiarities of the first century Corinthian church. In both cases, the contextual particulars gave rise to the Apostle’s generally applicable teaching on male and female, and the Lord’s Supper, respectively.

Argument 2.

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 should be translated, do this “unto my remembrance” rather than “in remembrance of me.” It refers to an objective remembrance by the act itself and is not a requirement of the participant to partake in remembrance of Christ. Therefore it is not an obstacle to infant communion. As Tim Gallant argues:

“The phrase in question is more literally, “Do this unto My remembrance.” The Greek preposition usually translated “in” in these verses (eis) very rarely takes that meaning (particularly when the meaning rendered is an “in” of manner, rather than an “in” of location). This preposition generally has a directional or purposive function, so that, in varying contexts, it can be rendered with “into,” “unto,” or “as” (such as: “it was reckoned to him as righteousness”).

“The truth is, parallel phrases and language can be readily found in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 24:7, for instance, the frankincense is placed upon the bread for a memorial to the Lord. The very same phrase is used as is found in 1 Cor. 11:24-25 (eis anamnesin). Obviously, the text in Leviticus does not mean that the frankincense engages in subjective remembrance of the Lord, or even that the priest does so. Rather, it is the act itself which constitutes a remembrance.

“This is typical of old covenant sacraments. Numbers 10:10 says that the feasts and sacrifices were to be a memorial for Israel before their God. In connection with Passover (particularly relevant due to the connection between Lord’s Supper and Passover), Exodus 12:14 declares that this day is to be for them a memorial.” [4]

Answer. Cornelis Venema makes the case that while the phrase “in remembrance of me” (εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν) can be rendered “my remembrance,” it is most likely an objective genitive, which is why the vast majority of translators render it this way. [5] However, even if one were to understand it as a subjective genitive as Gallant suggests, it remains clear that active remembrance is still a requirement for lawful participation in the sacrament. New Testament scholar David E. Garland accepts this rendering and comments:

“The command to do this εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν (eis tēn emēn anamnēsin, unto my remembrance), as Paul understands it, serves as a reminder to the church of Christ’s atoning sacrifice… The repeated imperative, “do this unto my remembrance,” then, commands ritual remembrance of this foundational saving event (cf. Exod. 12:14; Ps. 77:11-12; 105:5). It is related to Jewish liturgical remembrance that praises and proclaims the mighty acts of God. Psalm 105:5 (“Remember the wonderful deeds God has done”) and Ps. 105:1 (“Tell of the wonderful deeds God has done”) make clear that remembering is part and parcel of proclaiming (Hofius 1993: 105-8). The repetition of the phrase “unto my remembrance” (1 Cor. 11:24-25) stresses the integral connection between the character of what they do at the Supper and Jesus’ death (Barrett 1968: 270).” [6]

What this means theologically is that the inherent goal or instituted end of the partaking of the Lord’s Supper is to be a remembrance of Christ’s death, and it is so unto the partakers of the sacrament. For a communicant to fail to remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and to fail to discern his body and his blood, etc. is to violate the end of the sacrament and therefore to eat and drink condemnation unto oneself. As we have been saying all along, the manner of partaking the sacrament flows seamlessly from the ends for which it was instituted by Christ. This remains true either way the Greek phrase is translated.

Argument 3.

Yes, the Paedocommunion advocate says, Scripture enjoins self-examination, remembrance, discernment, etc. on worthy communicants, however these are only requirements for adult communicants. As many infant baptists have pointed out, it is also written, “…if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). Since infants cannot work, should we therefore deprive them of eating? The logic is the same with the Lord’s Supper. [7]

Answer. This argument is not transferable to infant communion for two reasons. First, in the context of 2 Thes. 3:10, infants can eat, but they cannot work. But in the context of 1 Cor. 11, infants cannot examine themselves and they also cannot spiritually apprehend Christ by active faith. In other words, infants are not only incapable of the proper manner of participation, they are also incapable of the thing signified by the Lord’s Supper, as we have said. The reason this argument is valid for baptism is because covenant children are capable of the manner of participation in baptism, and of receiving the thing signified by baptism. But this is not the case for the Lord’s Supper.

Secondly, food is a necessity of life, therefore it would be absurd to deprive children of their only means of physical nourishment. However, children incapable of partaking of the Lord’s Supper are not without means of spiritual nourishment. Covenant children are baptized, catechized, fervently prayed for, raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord by their parents every day, plead with to bring forth the fruits of repentance, etc. until they are verified to be capable of confirming their personal active faith at the Lord’s Table.

Argument 4.

“And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Glenn Davies attempts to wield this passage in support of paedocommunion like this:

“If Paul had intended to prohibit children from the Lord’s Table then it would have contradicted his inclusion of children in the Old Testament equivalent of communion with Christ (1 Cor. 10:1ff)… If then, the children of the old covenant were able to eat the same spiritual food, and drink the same spiritual drink without condemnation, how much more can the children of the new covenant eat and drink the body and blood of their Lord without condemnation.” [8]

Answer. It is ironic and special pleading when the Paedocommunionist asserts that the requirements to take, eat, remember, examine, etc. are speaking of adults only, but yet they appeal to verses like 1 Cor. 10:3-4 and claim that this is inclusive of infants. The relationship pointed to in this text between the sacraments and the unity of the church is an analogy between the sign (signum) and the thing signified (res significata). It is not an equivocal nor univocal relationship between outward partakers and inward partakers.

John Calvin interprets 1 Cor. 10:3-4 to be saying that the manna, quail, and water from the rock (Exodus 16-17) were instituted not only as common food for their bodies, but also as spiritual food for their souls. They were sacraments for the nation of Israel whereby, in confident expectation of the coming Messiah, they ate and drank Christ by faith. Although “the advantage of those gifts… was temporal and earthly” and “though God designed to promote his people’s advantage in respect of the present life, what he had mainly in view was, to declare and manifest himself to be their God, and under that, eternal salvation is comprehended.” He continues,

“The manna and the water that flowed forth from the rock, served not merely for the food of the body, but also for the spiritual nourishment of souls. It is true that both were means of sustenance for the body, but this does not hinder their serving also another purpose. While, therefore, the Lord relieved the necessities of the body, he, at the same time, provided for the everlasting welfare of souls.” [9]

The common (non-sacramental) use of these victuals is confirmed by the fact it was also eaten and drunk by the uncircumcised (Josh. 5:5, cf. Ex. 16:35) and a “mixed multitude” including non-Israelites (Ex. 12:38) who are usually prohibited from the sacrifices and sacraments (Neh. 13:3), and that even their cattle partook of at least the water (Ex. 17:3; Num. 20:4, 8, 11). Further, Nehemiah 9:15 confirms that the bread was “for their hunger” and the water was “for their thirst.” And Christ himself distinguishes between the commonness of that food versus the spiritual eating and drinking of Christ, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead… I am the living bread which came down from heaven…not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” (John 6:47-49, 51, 58).

So while the food and drink in the wilderness served a dual purpose, as common food, and as a sacrament pointing to a greater spiritual reality, the Lord’s Supper does not have this same dual purpose. Its only purpose is as a sacrament (1 Cor. 11:22). These old covenant meals typified and shadowed forth the Lord’s Supper only with regard to their spiritual ends (cf. WCF 27:5). Thus, while there could be lawful partakers of the manna, quail, and water from the rock who only ate and drank carnally—such is emphatically not the case with the Lord’s Supper. We must not stretch the comparison further than Scripture itself does, as if every circumstance has a direct correlation to the Lord’s Supper. As with all types, not every circumstance is transferable to the antitype. The fact that Israelite children ate and drank these things commonly, does not in itself justify assuming that they are capable of eating and drinking their antitypes in a spiritual manner and as confirmation of their spiritual ends. And further, similar conditions for partaking in 1 Cor. 11 are not present in the wilderness meals narratives. In short, this argument by the Paedocommunion advocate proves too much.

Alternatively, see Charles Hodge, commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:3 for an interpretation that does not see these things as sacraments, properly speaking, and likewise leaves no room for this paedocommunion argument.

Argument 5.

Covenant children partook of the Passover, which is the old covenant equivalent to the Lord’s Supper (just like circumcision is the old covenant equivalent of baptism). Therefore, why would the new covenant be more restrictive than the old? If children partook then, the assumption should be that they should partake now as well.

Answer. Infant participation in Passover is inconclusive at best. Yet even if it were absolutely certain that they partook, this would be insufficient proof for paedocommunion.

1. First, the Lord’s Supper is a different sacrament than the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is not merely a new covenant form of an old covenant rite. Plus, the manner of participation in new covenant sacraments is defined by the New Testament. While the old and new covenant sacraments share the same substance, i.e. Christ and all his graces (1 Cor. 10:1-4; cf. WCF 27:5), the specifics about how each are to be administered are defined specifically of each at their institution (Heb. 8-10; cf. WCF 7:5) and are not immediately exchangeable. [10] In acknowledging continuity between the administrations of the Covenant of Grace, we must not disregard discontinuity (WCF 7:5-6).

2. That being so, the New Testament has clear prohibitions against those unable to partake in a worthy manner (1 Cor. 11; Mat. 26:21-22). Baptism has no equivalent passage to 1 Cor. 11, prohibiting children from partaking. And the circumcision of infants is without a doubt (Gen. 17:7-14), whereas the participation of infants in the Passover is inconclusive and there are numerous reasons to question it.

These two reasons alone are enough to refute this argument for paedocommunion. Even if infants did partake of the Passover, that does not immediately prove that they must partake of the Lord’s Supper, since the two are not univocally the same sacrament, and since there are clear prohibitions against it in the New Testament. However, there are still more considerations which demonstrate that the participation of infants in the Passover is inconclusive and that there are numerous reasons to question it.

1. The initial Passover event in Egypt is characteristically different from the perpetual Passover later observed in Israel. The former was a one time household observance (Ex. 12:3), the latter an annual ecclesiastical observance (Deut. 16:2, 5-8; 2 Chron. 30:16; 35:11) and a “memorial” of Jehovah’s salvation of Israel from Egypt in the first Passover (Ex. 12:14, 42; Deut. 16:3). Rather than being observed in houses, the perpetual Passover in Israel was to be observed “in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there” (Deut. 16:1). Keil and Delitzsch explain:

“[Moses] fixes the time and place for keeping the Passover (the former according to Ex. 12:6 and Lev. 23:5, etc.), and adds in Deut. 16:7 the express regulation, that not only the slaughtering and sacrificing [vv. 5-6], but the roasting (see at Exodus 12:9) and eating of the paschal lamb were to take place at the sanctuary, and that the next morning they could turn and go back home. This rule contains a new feature, which Moses prescribes with reference to the keeping of the Passover in the land of Canaan, and by which he modifies the instructions for the first Passover in Egypt, to suit the altered circumstances. In Egypt, when Israel was not yet raised into the nation of Jehovah, and had as yet no sanctuary and no common altar, the different houses necessarily served as altars. But when this necessity was at an end, the slaying and eating of the Passover in the different houses were to cease, and they were both to take place at the sanctuary before the Lord, as was the case with the feast of Passover at Sinai (Num. 9:1-5). Thus the smearing of the door-posts with the blood was tacitly abolished, since the blood was to be sprinkled upon the altar as sacrificial blood, as it had already been at Sinai.” [11]

The initial Passover event was not a seven day feast, rather, it was their last meal before they hurriedly left Egypt—Pharaoh was so terrified that he made them leave immediately in the early morning after midnight (Ex. 12:31-34, 42). There is no definitive proof that infants ate of the initial Egyptian Passover, and much less that they ate of the perpetual Passover in Israel. But assuming that there was no other food to eat, and that infants ate of the initial Egyptian Passover, at most it may have had the dual purpose of a common meal and a sacramental meal, whereas the perpetual Passover in Israel was exclusively sacramental. Hence, while children and the uncircumcised “mixed multitude” (v. 38) may have eaten the food of the first Passover in Egypt, they evidently did not partake of the ecclesiastical Passover in Israel (Ex. 12:43, 48; Deut. 16:16). [12] Which leads to the next point.

2. While children and strangers are specifically indicated as participating in the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:11) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:14), God only commands adult men to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deut. 16:16; cf. Ex. 23:17), and children are noticeably absent (Deut. 16:1-8), and strangers specifically debarred (Ex. 12:48). [13]

The Paedocommunionist response to this is that this is simply a command for men but not a prohibition for anyone else; others were freely permitted to observe these feasts even though they were not required to. However, this begs the question and militates against the way God regulates his worship that for God to not command something is tantamount to him forbidding it. This rule has already been laid down in Scripture. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2, cf. Deut. 12:32). This principle is exemplified by Nadab and Abihu being punished by God, not for doing something God explicitly forbade, but rather simply for doing something God did not command them to do (Leviticus 10:1-3). If God did not command someone to partake, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, then that person is forbidden from partaking. Sacraments are not optional for those to whom God has ordained to partake of the sacrament (compare Luke 7:30 with Ex. 4:24-26; cf. WCF 28:5). [14] More fundamentally, the Paedocommunion position would require proof that infants are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper, not merely permitted to. Hence, their rebuttal to Deut. 16:16 does not even serve their own purpose.

3. Calvin astutely observes, “the Passover, for which the Supper is substituted, did not admit all kinds of guests promiscuously, but was duly eaten only by those who were of an age sufficient to ask the meaning of it (Ex. 12:26).” [15] And by application of this text to the Lord’s Supper, Calvin writes, “since, then the Paschal Lamb corresponds with the Holy Supper, we may gather from hence, that none can be duly admitted to receive it, but those who are capable of being taught.” [16] “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.” (Ex. 12:26-27). This is consistent with the example we see in the New Testament of our Lord observing Passover at the age of twelve (Luke 2:42; cf. Isa. 7:16).

4. Lastly, while the Lord’s Supper is related to Passover, it is also related to other old covenant sacrifices and sacraments. For instance, Christ calls the cup his blood of the new covenant, which refers, not to the Passover, but to the sacrifice in Exodus 24, “And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.” (Ex. 24:8). Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ate this sacramental meal by themselves (Ex. 24:9-10). So, despite this meaningful connection, there is clearly no direct parallel between the partakers of these old covenant types and their new covenant antitype in the Lord’s Supper. [17]

In sum, the administration of the Lord’s Supper is defined by the administration of the Covenant of Grace of which it is a sacrament for, that is, the new covenant. It is not merely a new covenant form of an old covenant rite. While the new covenant sacrament of the Lord’s Supper does have the same spiritual significance as old covenant sacraments (1 Cor 10:1-4; cf. WCF 27:5), it is none-the-less a new covenant sacrament with its own manner of administration (Heb. 8-10; cf. WCF 7:5). The New Testament passages defining the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper have clear prohibitions against those unable to partake in a worthy manner (1 Cor. 11). This consideration alone is enough to refute the argument for paedocommunion from the Passover. But further, infant participation in Passover is inconclusive, and as such it is insufficient warrant on which to base infant communion. Good and necessary consequence is a far more robust standard than this tenuous argument from the Passover.

Argument 6.

“We allow our children to eat in our homes at the family table even when they have not yet matured to ‘full knowledge of, attention to, and interaction with’ the meaning of the ritual at the family supper table.” [18]

Answer. This is an appeal to emotion and a false analogy—both very common fallacies among Paedocommunionists. Objections like these absurdly compare secular meals for physical nourishment with that great sacrament of spiritual nourishment, even though the Apostle warns that the sacrament is not to be treated as a common meal (1 Cor. 11:22). 

Secondly, analogies are not arguments. They may serve to illustrate, but logical conclusions cannot be drawn from them. But, if one wants to compare the sacrament with a common dinner table then one must be consistent in the elements of the analogy. If the dinner table represents the Lord’s Table, then nursing infants (who have no teeth, cannot even hold up their own heads, and still have the tongue thrust reflex) represent non-communicant covenant children. Without active faith (notitia, assensus, fiducia) nursing infants do not have the spiritual teeth and the spiritual hands to sit at the dinner table and feed themselves—but they are comfortably asleep at their mother’s breast. The milk of baptism, the Word preached, and the Word taught to them by their parents, are sufficient for them until they are capable of coming to the Table according to the biblical requirements. So it is illustrative from this analogy that even weaned children physically capable of eating may not be spiritually capable of partaking in the sacrament (Isa. 28:9; 1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14). After all, this is an analogy, not a univocal predication of nursing infants.

Argument 7.

Keeping covenant children from the Lord’s Supper is to essentially excommunicate them! [19]

Answer. This is another appeal to emotion and a strawman. It is possible to be a true member of a community and yet not be capable of participating in all of the privileges and obligations of that community. For instance, not all citizens of a society are able to vote; are they then not members with rights in the civil community? This is true of civil society as well as the ecclesiastical society. If children cannot understand what it means to vote for a candidate of political or ecclesiastical office, then it makes sense that they should not do so. Likewise, in the old covenant only male children were circumcised, and females were unable to be circumcised, yet they were no less members of the covenant community. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ate a sacramental meal by themselves (Ex. 24:9-10), yet the congregation of Israel was still not excommunicated from the covenant. The meat of many animal sacrifices were eaten exclusively by the priests or by their families, rather than eaten by all of the worshippers (cf. Lev. 2:3, 10; 5:13; 6:16-18, 26, 29; 7:6-10; 10:12ff; 14:13; Num. 18:9ff; Lev. 10:14ff; 22:11-13; Num. 18:11-19). Examples could be multiplied, but this is sufficient to show the vapidity of such an objection.

Argument 8.

Infants can, in fact, have active faith in Christ (Psalm 22:9-10; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:15). Therefore, they are capable of confirming that faith through the use of the Lord’s Supper. As Robert Rayburn wrote,

“mental and spiritual life is a continuum and has very early beginnings, as the Bible artlessly acknowledges when it speaks of a person “rejoicing” in his mother’s womb [Luke 1:15], or trusting in the Lord at his mother’s breasts [Psalm 22:9-10; 71:5], or knowing the Scripture from his infancy [2 Tim. 3:15]…The fact is, as very little children can take and eat, so very little children can believe and can begin to grow in the faith of Christ their savior. Therefore, even if one were to accept that the text requires self-examination by every participant, it would still not exclude weaned covenant children from the Lord’s Supper. Quite the contrary. It would seem to require their faithful participation, suitable to their age and spiritual maturity, as it requires the faithful participation of all members of the church.” [20]

Answer. We must distinguish between the “grace of faith” and the “principle acts of faith” (WCF 14:1-2), also called the seed or habit of faith (semen/habitus fidei) versus the actualizing operation of faith (actus fidei). This seed of faith is a disposition of the soul after regeneration and the capacity to have faith; it is an irresistible gift of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of the elect. Petrus Van Mastricht defines this seed of faith as “the power of believing, which God, without our zeal, confers immediately by virtue of regeneration, by making us alive, taking away our stony heart, etc.”. Seminal faith is contrasted with actual faith, “by which once made alive in regeneration and having obtained the ability to believe, we strive that in actuality we may take hold of God as our highest end and Christ as the one and only Mediator.” [21] The Westminster Confession likewise states, “By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word…But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life…” (14:2). [22]

While regeneration and actual faith in response to the hearing of the gospel are ordinarily simultaneous in adults, it is not so in elect infants regenerated in infancy, [23] who Mastricht says, “believe at the proper time, once all things needed are supplied,” such as the gospel message in the outward call. [24] Turretin further explains, “Although age contributes nothing to faith as the efficient cause per se, still it is required for it as a receptive subject (because a thing is received after the manner of the recipient).” [25] And this is assumed by Scripture which says that there is a time before children (even Christ according to his human nature) are able to “know to refuse the evil, and choose the good” (Isa. 7:16), that “faith cometh by hearing” and of course understanding (Rom. 10:17), and that the whole of religion is the Christian’s “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

Coming to the prooftexts, in answering the question “Do infants have faith?”, Francis Turretin anticipates the objection that Luke 1:15 and Jeremiah 1:5 prove that infants are capable of active faith. He writes,

“The examples of Jeremiah and John the Baptist indeed teach that infants are capable of the Holy Spirit and that he is also given at this age, but it cannot be inferred that they actually believed. Jeremiah is indeed said to have been sanctified from the womb as a prophet of God, and John is said to have leaped in his mother’s womb at the presence of Christ, but neither is said to have actually believed. Besides, even if any such thing were ascribed to them, the consequence would not hold good; for this would be singular and extraordinary from which a universal rule ought not to be drawn.” [26]

Psalm 22:9-10, “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.”

The Psalmist states hyperbolically, that he was made to trust in God as a nursing infant, just like Job had taken care of the poor and widows from his mother’s womb, “I have guided her from my mother’s womb” (Job 31:18). Matthew Poole comments on Psalm 22:9,

Thou didst make me hope, or trust, i.e. thou didst give me sufficient ground for hope and trust, if I had then been capable of acting that grace, because of thy wonderful and watchful care over me in that weak and helpless state… It is not strange that hope is figuratively ascribed to infants, seeing even the brute creatures are said to hope (Rom. 8:19), and to wait and cry to God (Ps. 145:15; 147:9).”

David is essentially saying that he has trusted in God as long as he can remember, and that is a basis for his continuing to trust in him during times of trial. This is a very common and wonderful experience for those raised in Christian households, as David Dickson comments, “Children born within the covenant have God for their God, from their nativity, and may lay their reckoning so; and whensoever they would draw near to God, to make use of the covenant, they may say, ‘Thou art my God from my mother’s belly’” [27] Many Christians cannot remember when they were first born again, and as far as they can remember they have always had a disposition towards the things of God, even if mixed with sin. However, this does not mean that infants, even regenerate ones, can have active faith apart from the use of reason and the understanding of propositional language.

Even Rich Lusk, although speaking ambiguously on this subject, seems to admit that Psalm 22:9-10 is describing a habit of faith, rather than active faith, “What is the nature of this faith that David exercised even as an infant? Clearly, it was not a matter of cognitive reflection. Instead, it seems to be a matter of relational disposition.” [28] In large part, Rich Lusk’s argument for “paedofaith” depends upon an indiscriminate use of the term “faith” and a failure to properly distinguish between seminal faith and actual faith. [29] That being so, it is clearly not a valid justification for paedocommunion.

Lastly, regarding texts which seem to speak of children believing in Christ or knowing the Bible at an early age, Turretin responds,

“The little children spoken of in Mt. 18:6 (who are said to believe in Christ) are not infants in tender age, but children who already enjoy some use of reason. For the passage refers to those who can be “called” and “offended,” which cannot apply to infants endowed with no knowledge of good or evil. Nor is there any disproof either in the name paidiōn (given to them) because it is general, signifying children of more advanced age as well as infants. Or in the word brephous, which we have in Lk. 18:15, because (aside from the fact that it is not found in Mt. 18 where children believing is treated), it can also be extended to the age capable of instruction—as Timothy is said “to have known the holy scriptures from a child” (apo brephous, 2 Tim. 3:15). Again, Christ by paidia who believe in him, can mean adults who are equal to infants in humility, innocence and modesty. Nor can it be concluded that infants and children are equal in spiritual intelligence, since age contributes nothing to faith. Although age contributes nothing to faith as the efficient cause per se, still it is required for it as a receptive subject (because a thing is received after the manner of the recipient).” [30]

In conclusion, a seed of faith is insufficient for partaking of the Lord’s Supper, rather active faith is needed. The very reason Calvin gives for infants having an interest in baptism is the same reason they do not yet have an interest in the Lord’s Supper. He writes,

“If we attend to the peculiar nature of baptism, it is a kind of entrance, and as it were initiation into the Church, by which we are ranked among the people of God, a sign of our spiritual regeneration, by which we are again born to be children of God; whereas, on the contrary, the Supper is intended for those of riper years, who, having passed the tender period of infancy, are fit to bear solid food. This distinction is very clearly pointed out in Scripture.” [31]

Zacharias Ursinus, more poignantly,

“Infants are not capable of coming to the Lord’s Supper, because they do not possess faith actually, but only potentially and by inclination [i.e. a seed of faith]. But here actual faith is required, which includes a certain knowledge of what God has revealed, and an assured confidence in Christ; it also requires the commencement of a new obedience, and purpose to live godly; and also an examination of ourselves, with a commemoration of the Lord’s death.” [32]

Argument 9.

Paedocommunion was the universal practice of the early church.

Answer. While there are early examples of paedocommunion in the early church, there is no proof it was widespread or universal, and the practice quickly died out. Please read a thorough refutation of this argument here: The True History of Paedo-Communion by Matthew Winzer (Confessional Presbyterian Journal no. 3, 2007)


Footnotes:

[1] cf. Jeffrey J. Meyers in The Case for Covenant Communion edited by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 2.

[2] Cornelis Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?, p. 117.

[3] Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians [New Testament Commentary] [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], p. 401. Cited in Cornelis Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?, p. 118, n. 7.

[4] Tim Gallant, Examination and Remembrance.

[5] Venema, ibid., pp. 115-116.

[6] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

[7] cf. Robert S. Rayburn in The Case for Covenant Communion edited by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 1, n. 7; ibid., James B. Jordan, ch. 4, n. 2.

[8] Glenn Davies, The Lord’s Supper for the Lord’s Children, The Reformed Theological Review 50.1 (1991): 12-20; cited in The Case for Covenant Communion edited by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 2.

[9] John Calvin, com. 1 Corinthians 10:2-3.

[10] Cornelis Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?, sect. 4.2.1, pp. 59-60.

[11] Keil & Delitzsch, com. Deut. 16:1-17; cf. Venema, ibid., p. 68.

[12] Cf. Arguments 4-5, Why Not Paedocommunion? by Wes White.

[13] Cf. Argument 6, Why Not Paedocommunion? by Wes White.

[14] Even if whole families traveled to Jerusalem with the adult men (e.g. Mary in Luke 2:41), it does not mean that they all partook of the sacrament.

[15] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.xvi.30.

[16] John Calvin, com. Exodus 12:26.

[17] Cornelis Venema, Children At The Lord’s Table?, pp. 64-65, 87.

[18] Jeffrey J. Meyers in The Case for Covenant Communion edited by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 2, n. 2.

[19] Peter J. Leithart, Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated?: An Examination of Leonard J.
Coppes’ Daddy, May I Take Communion?
(Niceville, Fla.: Transfiguration Press, 1992).

[20] Robert Rayburn in The Case for Covenant Communion edited by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 1, n. 7. Similarly, “Psalm 58:3 is important to our discussion, even if only by way of contrast. We are told the wicked are alienated from God from birth. Indeed, they are actively, not just potentially, wicked. As soon they are born, they speak lies. Obviously, this forms a sharp contrast with the babies of the righteous who speak truth and praise God even in their youth (cf. Ps. 8:2). But if the sons of the wicked are practicing idolatry even from infancy, it only makes sense (in terms of the text’s implied contrast) that the children of the righteous are in some way practicing righteousness. Their faith is not just latent; it is every bit as concrete and “actual” as the wickedness of covenant-breaking children. Of course, both sin and faith will be more fully actualized later on life, but the Bible does not draw a hard and fast line between infants and adults in their exercise of the will for or against God. There is no religious neutrality, even in the womb.” (Rich Lusk in The Case for Covenant Communion by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 6).

[21] Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 35; similarly Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology XV.xiv, vol. 2, pp. 583-587.

[22] Similarly, Edward Reynolds (1599-1676), “Faith may be in the heart either habitually as an actus primus, a form, or seed, or principle of working; or else actually as an actus secundus, a particular operation; and that, in the former sense, it doth but remotely dispose and order the soul to these properties: but, in the latter, it doth more visibly and distinctly produce them.” (Three Treatises of the Vanity of the Creature, pp. 507-8; cited in William Young, Reformed Thought, p. 123).]

[23] The question of how ordinary it is that elect infants are regenerated in infancy has been a matter of debate. Most Reformed theologians tend to say, from the promises of Scripture and the Covenant of Grace, that covenant infants dying in infancy are undoubtedly saved (Dort 1:17), others prefer the more cautious language of “elect infants dying in infancy” (WCF 10:3). But with regard to covenant infants surviving to adulthood, some believe they are ordinarily regenerated from birth, others say that they are ordinarily regenerated later in life when they hear and understand the gospel, and others prefer to not say one way or the other since it can happen at any time and it is not clear from Scripture. However, all are agreed that the ground of infant baptism is the command and promise of God, not because of any presumed regeneration. For an in depth discussion of these positions see Herman Witsius, The Efficacy & Utility of Baptism in the Case of Elect Infants Whose Parents are Under the Covenant, MJT 17 (2006), 121-190.

[24] Later Mastricht writes, “Regeneration conveys that power into the soul, by which the person who is to be saved is enabled to receive the offer.  Conversion puts forth the power received into actual exercise, so that the soul does actually receive the offered benefits.” (A Treatise on Regeneration, p. 17; cf. WCF 10:2).

[25] Francis Turretin, ibid., XV.xiv.6, vol. 2, pp. 584-5.

[26] Francis Turretin, ibid., XV.xiv.11, vol. 2, p. 585.

[27] David Dickson, A Brief Explication of the First Fifty Psalms, p. 122.

[28] Rich Lusk in The Case for Covenant Communion, ch. 6.

[29] Similarly, “Calvin’s brilliant exposition of the “seed” of faith and repentance in the infants of the covenant, part of his argument for infant baptism, seems to me a powerful justification of paedocommunion (Institutes, 4.16.16-20). His insistence that covenant children are to grow into a fuller understanding of their baptism as they get older is a perfect way of describing their developing relationship to the Lord’s Supper (4.16.21). The primary ground of infant baptism in Reformed theology is that the children of believers are subjects of the covenant of grace and members of the covenant community. However, it is also widely asserted, following Calvin, that covenant children are to be baptized as believers, if not in the same sense as an adult may be a believer, but as possessing the seed of faith. Indeed, this may be said to be the most common position of Reformed theology.” (Robert S. Rayburn in The Case for Covenant Communion by Gregg Strawbridge, ch. 1, n. 5)

[30] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology XV.xiv.6, vol. 2, p. 584-5.

[31] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.30.

[32] Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 425.

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