Most Christians today don’t think anything of the worldwide church’s majority practice regarding the Lord’s Supper. Namely that baptized people who profess the faith may come to the Eucharist to participate. Other churches add that such people ought to be united to a local, visible body of believers as a public testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ. But there has been a minority opinion and practice throughout church history. Some churches have practiced what is called paedocommunion, which is the practice of permitting baptized people (including very small children—even infants!) to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper solely on the basis of their baptism. The frequency of this practice has waxed and waned throughout the centuries. And in the conservative reformed and Presbyterian world, it appears to be in a period of waxing.
Whenever doctrinal controversy arises within the church, there is always a silver lining in the cloud. For controversy is often the occasion for the church to revisit the Bible and confess again what she believes and why she believes it. Thus the last few years have seen the publication of several studies challenging the vocal minority proponents of paedocommunion. One of these books, edited by Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan, is Children and the Lord’s Table. It contains biblical (OT & NT), theological, historical, and confessional essays exploring the question of paedocommunion, concluding that the practice ought not be adopted by the church.
The introduction, authored by Waters and Duncan, is essentially a summary of the book’s conclusions. In it they examine four types of arguments commonly put forth to defend paedocommunion:
- The Argument from Passover. Traditional adherents note that paedocommunionist tend to emphasize the continuities between the OT Passover and the NT Lord’s Supper, but downplay the discontinuities between the two. These discontinuities suggest that the argument from Passover is overstated.
- The Argument from 1 Corinthians 11. Paedocommunion advocates accuse traditionalists of ironically committing the very sin of which Paul warns the church, arguing for a closer contextual reading of the passage. Traditional interpretation counters that paedocommunion exegesis seeks to be contextual, but it doesn’t get close enough to the context, for “discerning the Lord’s body” most likely refers, in the immediate context, to Christ’s body and blood, not his metaphorical body the church.
- The Argument from Church Membership. Using the analogy of national citizenship, traditionalists show that children are not being deprived of rights to the Lord’s Supper they possess as baptized members of the covenant, but are nurtured and instructed to step up to the table by faith through a profession of their faith, to enter into the rights of “mature citizens” of God’s kingdom.
- The Argument from Church History. The witness of church history is often interpreted to support both sides, precisely because the evidence is scant. Thus both sides must necessarily extrapolate to claim evidence for widespread practice, either for or against the practice of paedocommunion. So Nick Needham, a British Reformed Baptist with no “skin in the game,” address the question as a neutral observer, concluding that neither side can make a compelling argument from church history.
The introduction section ends with some pastoral reflections on the implications of paedocommunion. It is clear that its practice brings major revisions to the following domains:
- The Church and membership in the Church
- The Nature and purpose of the Lord’s Supper
- Regeneration and conversion
As is the case with most books with multiple authors, there is quite a bit of repetition. A more thorough job of edits could have reduced the book by 20-30 pages. Furthermore, some of the authors write in a more accessible manner. Bryan Estelle and George Knight III, writing on Passover and 1 Corinthians respectively, argue in a tedious and technical manner that may confuse or bore the average reader. But the rest of the book is engaging. I found the last chapter that expands the pastoral implications that arise regarding children and the Lord’s Table very helpful.
For an introduction to the controversy currently simmering regarding the practice of paedocommunion, Children and the Lord’s Supper is a useful study.