Anti-Paedocommunion

Question
I am confused is Paedo-Communion right or wrong?
Answer
In Reformed circles there are different positions on peadocommunion. There is the "pro" (P-PC) and the "anti" (A-PC) positions. Ra McLaughlin, a trusted and scholarly theologian at IIIM, endorses the "Pro" position (see link below) and I personally endorse the "Anti" position (Third Millennium Ministries' official position). Why do I endorse the A-PC position?

1. 1 Corinthians 11:28-29.

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
The first reason I endorse A-PC is Paul's reasoning above. Infants and smaller children, not instructed in the Lord, cannot "examine themselves" or properly "recognize the body of the Lord." In the specific context of 1 Corinthians 11, the "unworthiness" Paul had in mind was participating in the Lord's Supper in a way that failed to exhibit "the unity" of the Church in Christ (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Infants and young children cannot properly discern the Lord's body in the is fashion, and thus are forbidden from taking of the meal itself. Though this qualification was not specifically mentioned by the Lord "verbally" at his institution of the Supper, it was by "example" as the Bible holds that only thirteen adults were present (Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:17). Moreover, though this requirement was not mentioned by Christ himself it is given to us by Paul who was taught by the revelation of Christ (Gal. 1:12).

The P-PC position states in numerous ways that 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 was written "only" to adults and "only" to the Corinthians. However, church history records that the church letters were read from church to church (F.F. Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament, etc.) and the reasoning that 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 was "only" meant for adults does not stand up under the further scrutiny of Paul's letters. Least we forget, infants and children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1) and they are to be raised with the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) - part of this training and instruction would be 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 and thus Paul's argument is for the entire visible church (including infants and children) and not just the Corinthians or only adults.

2. Commands and Infants

While this is related to #1 above, a different argument may be made concerning "understand commands." Infants do not understand and cannot by obey the "command" of Christ to "take eat" (Matt. 26:26) and "drink of it" (Matt. 26:27). While the meal is more than just a memorial, it is yet a memorial (1 Cor. 11:23-26) that the partakers are to recall certain facts; "do this in remembrance of me" (which differentiates it from the command to baptize infants). Infants have no understanding of the significance of the meal and therefore should not partake of it.

The intent of Matthew 26:26-27 is not to force-feed the elements to infants without any understanding; but for the partakers to understand the significance of Christ and his Cross - our Cross "in him." Communion is worship; intimate worship meant for those who discern the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:29). Communion is more than a covenantal sign, it is also an acknowledging sign - conscious remembering of Christ and the discernment of what his sacrifice means individually so one may more completely commune with all.

As Thomas Watson says concerning 1 Corinthians 11:28, "It is not enough that others think we are fit to come, but we must examine ourselves before we come to the Lord's table, we are to make a curious and critical trial of ourselves by the word" (The Lord's Supper, p. 41).

3. Covenant Inclusion, Element Exclusion.

The third reason I endorse the A-PC position is that there would not biblically be any in drunken diapers present at the Meal (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 10:7; 11:21; Gal. 5:21; 1 Thess. 5:7). In other words, drunkenness by infants, young children, and adults would not be tolerated by the Lord or Paul at the Meal (or any other time)!

The Lord's Supper is based upon the Passover Meal. During Passover, each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at specific times during each Seder (i.e. order): the first at the start of the Seder, following Kiddush; the second before the meal, after reciting the Haggadah story; the third following the Grace after the Meal; and the last after completing Psalms of Praise (Hallel). The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God (Ex. 6:6-7), "I will bring out," "I will deliver," "I will redeem," and "I will take." At times a fifth cup was added symbolizing Elijah the Prophet.

How would "infants" and "children" react under such a volume of wine? Historically, The Babylonian Talmud states concerning the Passover Meal,

....Nor shall a person have less than four cups of wine.

....Rabhina, however, said: "At all events, the four cups cannot be conjoined, for each one represents a different duty."
This also corresponds to what happened during Christ's institution of the Meal. In the New Testament synoptics, we find reference to the First Cup, also known as the Cup of Blessing (Luke 22:17); to the breaking of the matzoh (Luke 22:19); to the Third Cup, the Cup of Redemption (Luke 22:20): to reclining (Luke 22:14): to the charoseth or the maror (Matt. 26:23f), and to the Hallel (Matt. 26:30).

Moreover, The Babylonian Talmud makes some more significant statements concerning our understanding of the Meal and children,
R. Jehudah, said: "What benefit would children derive from wine? They should rather be given nuts, parched corn, etc., on the eve of Passover, so as to keep them awake at night, and that may make them inquire into the reason of the festivity."

It was said of R. Aqiba, that he would deal out nuts and parched corn on the eve of Passover to the children, in order to keep them awake and have them ask for reasons.

Boraitha, R. Eliezer said: On the night of the Passover the unleavened bread is snatched out of the children's hand in order to keep them awake and have them ask for the reason.
This is momentous. Above, we see "covenant inclusion," but "element exclusion" (just as we should have today). Since infants and children are part of the covenant they should "participate" in the Meal (by asking questions, etc.), however they should not "partake" of the elements. The children's participation (covenant inclusion) in the Passover Meal was to ask questions [though not the topic of this question, the wife's inclusion could be seen in the prepartion of the meal]. For instance the youngest child would ask, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" After the asking of a specific question, the main portion of the Seder, Magid, would give the answers in the form of a historical review. At different points in the Seder, the leader of the Seder will cover the matzot and lift his cup of wine; then put down the cup of wine and uncover the matzot all to elicit questions from the children. [information gathered from The Shalom Center]. This is also consistent with the teaching in the New Testament that children should be raised with the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

Since drunkenness is a sin at the Meal (1 Cor. 11:21), the children, even according to Jewish Passover custom, would not have "partaken" of the elements, though they would have "participated" in the meal in another way!

While I believe that many churches should reconsider how to structure their communion meal to include instruction for children I do not believe they should be restructured to the point of allowing children to partake of the meal. Covenant participation in the meal does not absolutely mean partaking of the elements.

4. Census of Men and Lambs.

Yet another reason I prefer the A-PC position is seen in the way Israelites prepared for the Passover Meal as a nation. Though Passover began as a family celebration it developed into a national celebration. In this national celebration adult males went to Jerusalem, children were what we call catechized, (Deut. 16:2), and the numbering of Israel was taking place (Ex. 12:26-27, 21).

Only the Israelite males were commanded to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The census included males 20 years of age (Num. 20:1) and those that had been properly catechized (Prov. 22:6) and were at least 12 years of age (Luke 2:40-41). Though there is not an actual record of Jesus' participation at twelve years of age in the Passover Meal (Luke 2:40 ff) the text does say that he, "waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40) and thus he was eligible for the Passover and thus the reason he would have accompanied his parents on this particular pilgrimage (please note the text says that his parents went to the feast "every year," but only records Christ coming in his 12th year). Please also note the detail John goes into in John 6 in Jews traveling for the Passover (John 6:4) and the fact he specifically mentioned a "lad"(John 6:9) that by definition (paidarion Friberg, Thayer, and BDAG, etc.) would have been eligible for the Passover as well.

Did Israelite woman and children participate in the Passover? Exodus 12, the original Passover narrative, does not openly spell out that women, underage girls, underage males, and infants participated in the meal. Morton Smith states the PCA report on the matter of children partaking of the elements saying,

Children participating in the first Passover would need further maturation beyond the nursing stage. The Passover meal consisted not simply of liquids and semiliquids, but of roast meat, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. It is highly unlikely that an Israelite father would feel constrained to force such a diet on an infant that was newly weaned. The same would apply to the meat of the sacrificial meals such as the peaceofferings.

The point is simple enough. The Passover differed from circumcision in that children had to be older to participate in it. The nursing child, drinking milk rather than eating meat, could not at that state participate in the Passover. The point of the distinction is clearly expressed by the author of Hebrews: '[you] are become such as have need of milk, not of solid food. Everyone that partaketh of milk is inexperienced in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil' (Heb. 5:1214).

Morton H. Smith, Systematic Theology, Volume One: Prolegomena, Theology, Anthropology, Christology, Index created by Christian Classics Foundation.; Published in electronic form by Christian Classics Foundation, 1996., electronic ed., 525 (Greenville SC: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, 1996, c1994).
The Paedocommunion view has been implied from the term "household" (Ex. 12:4) that this included "infants and children" and simply "assumed" this to be a fact. But, did they partake of the Passover? If the children didn't this would explain the catechism, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' (Ex. 12:26) immediately following the command for the Passover (Ex. 12:1ff). Again, as Morton Smith states,

Exodus 12:26 does not give evidence that the child himself partook of the Passover. The question, "What mean ye by this service?" would seem to indicate that the child was not one of the partakers. He does not know what the service was intended for, and so the father is to instruct the child. (Page 687).
The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible parallels Joshua 4:6 and Exodus 12:26-27 (including, Deut. 6:20-25) supporting this view. Compare,

Exodus 12:26 And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?'

Joshua 4:6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?'
Above we observe nearly the identical language to describe children inquiring about an act in which they did not participate!

Thus, according to Jewish history only Jewish boys normally thought to be 12 yoa, or older and adult men partook of Passover meal [in feminist Judaic circles today Miriam's Cup has been added so the women may participate. They even have woman Seders today!]. Moreover, we might add that if wives and children normally partook of the Passover meal where were Peter's (Matt. 8:14-15) in Luke 22:1f?

(It should be noted that adult women today should be included in the Lord's Table as the John the Baptist baptized women as well as men (Luke 3:21), the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20 includes men and women, Acts 8:12 states men and woman were baptized (cf. Acts 16:33), and of course Paul's inclusion that "all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27-28). Please note that Paul's inclusion did not go as far as saying, "there is neither child nor adult").

Lastly, I will end with a quote which I believe sums up the A-PC position nicely. Calvin stated,

At length they object, that there is not greater reason for admitting infants to baptism than to the Lord's Supper, to which, however, they are never admitted: as if Scripture did not in every way draw a wide distinction between them. In the early Church indeed, the Lord's Supper was frequently given to infants, as appears from Cyprian and Augustine (August. ad Bonif. Lib. 1); but the practice justly became obsolete. For 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. For there, as far as regards baptism, the Lord makes no selection of age, whereas he does not admit all to partake of the Supper, but confines it to those who are fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord, to examine their own conscience, to show forth the Lord's death, and understand its power. Can we wish anything clearer than what the apostle says, when he thus exhorts, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup"? (1 Cor. 11:28.) Examination, therefore, must precede, and this it were vain to expect from infants. Again, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." If they cannot partake worthily without being able duly to discern the sanctity of the Lord's body, why should we stretch out poison to our young children instead of vivifying food? Then what is our Lord's injunction? "Do this in remembrance of me." And what the inference which the apostle draws from this? "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." How, pray, can we require infants to commemorate any event of which they have no understanding; how require them "to show forth the Lord's death," of the nature and benefit of which they have no idea? Nothing of the kind is prescribed by baptism. Wherefore, there is the greatest difference between the two signs. This also we observe in similar signs under the old dispensation. Circumcision, which, as is well known, corresponds to our baptism, was intended for infants, but 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 (Exod. 12:26). Had these men the least particle of soundness in their brain, would they be thus blind as to a matter so very clear and obvious? (Institutes IV: xvi: 30).

Reference:

Richard Pratt, General Editor. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).