What Mean Ye by this Service?

By Dr. Richard Bacon

Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1. Preface

In early 1985 an article titled "Children at the Lord's Supper?" appeared in the magazine New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It related some of the problems in ministering to Ethiopian exiles who had been accustomed to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper being administered to newly-baptized infants. Partially as a result of these "problems" an OPC presbytery overtured the OPC's General Assembly "to study the issue of paedocommunion and provide voluntary guidelines [sic] for determining the age children might be allowed to come to the Lord's Supper."

That same year a majority report and a minority report were presented to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America by a committee appointed for the purpose of studying paedocommunion. The majority report concluded, "The PCA is well advised to continue the classic reformed practice of delaying the admission of children to the Lord's Table — until they reach a level of maturity at which they can profess their faith and partake of the elements with discernment . . . ."

What the report did not say is that not only is anti-paedocommunion "the classic reformed practice;" it has been the orthodox view of the entire western church, including Roman, Lutheran, Reformed and Baptist; it is the view of the Old Testament, of inter-testamental Judaism, of Christ and His apostles, of the patristic church until after 250 AD, and continues to be the view even of Karaite Jews, who broke away from Rabbinic tradition to follow a Jewish version of Sola Scriptura.

If the practice has been so widely spurned, then how has it earned itself such a following now? In a 1975 issue of the Westminster Theological Seminary Journal, Chris Keidel wrote an important article on the subject titled, "Is the Lord's Supper for Children?" In that article, Mr. Keidel made some very attractive arguments in favor of paedocommunion. The arguments were refuted by Roger Beckwith in a subsequent article in the same journal, but the opening salvo in the debate was fired.

However, it should be noted that in that very article Keidel himself admitted, "at a certain age the Jewish male became responsible to God for observing this ordinance of the covenant . . . . Aboth 5:21 makes thirteen the age at which children become subject to commandments of this kind. Thirteen was probably the age at the time of Christ. But if thirteen was the age of accountability, why is Christ mentioned as having gone up at the age of twelve? It may be because Luke wanted to show that Christ's parents were training their Son in observing the fast connected with the Passover (Pesachim 99b) — a kind of training Yoma 82a says should be done a year or two beforehand . . . . The phrase: `according to the custom of the Feast' (Luke 2:42), therefore, could refer . . . to the requirement of going at the age when one becomes an adult . . . . Deuteronomy 16:16." This is quite an admission from one who advocates child communion. Keidel allows that child communion prior to catechizing was unknown in the Passover of Christ's day.

It is a well established belief among Reformed Christians that New Testament baptism has replaced Old Testament circumcision. It is also well established that Old Testament Passover prefigured (and was replaced by) New Testament Communion. Passover was an Old Testament covenantal and sacramental meal. There are both similarities and differences between the former sacrament and the current sacrament.

The supposed point of similarity between the Passover and the Lord's Supper that is disputed in this paper is whether infants or young children should be admitted to either or both. As Keidel himself has admitted, "thirteen was probably the age at the time of Christ." It will therefore be profitable to look at the practice of paedocommunion in light of the Passover.

There are a few technical or specialized terms used throughout this paper. Some definitions may be in order for those not previously familiar with this particular controversy. Paedobaptism is the view that the infant children of Church members are entitled to baptism. The opposite view is commonly called anti-paedobaptism. By the same token, paedocommunion is the view that the infants and young children of Church members are entitled to the elements of the Lord's Supper. Anti-paedocommunion teaches that the Lord's Supper is to be eaten only by those who are "of years and ability to examine themselves."

It is common in controversies of this nature for the language to become heated and even immoderate. I have made a number of re-writes of this booklet for the purpose of removing any such language. It is not my intention to "paint with too wide a brush." I realize that there are a number of men who regard themselves as paedocommunionists solely because they think that this is what the Bible teaches. Many of them are committed to the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura or what is often called the regulative principle. It is to these men that the following pages are addressed. I, too, believe that Scripture alone should regulate all that we do, particularly in the areas of faith and worship. I have attempted throughout this paper to remain true to the teaching of the various passages involved and to interpret all of them in a proper historical-grammatical-theological manner.

  Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8