Posted by: reformedmusings | September 30, 2007

Federal Vision and Paedocommunion

“It’s for the kids.”

How many times have you heard the worst ideas defended with that line? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that misdirection, I could buy out Athanasius press and turn it into a Reformed publication house.

Dr. Peter Leithart, a PCA teaching elder working in the CREC, in his post For the children, said:

On this point, most of the FV types have challenged the Reformed tradition is a very concrete, practical way. We believe that children should be admitted to the table, and the Reformed churches have typically not admitted them.

The problem is this: We say that our children are covenant children. We baptize infants and say they are members of the church. But then we say they have to wait a decade, sometimes two, before they can participate in the covenant meal. The traditional Reformed practice sends a mixed message to our kids: Baptism tells them they are in; exclusion from the table tells them they are out.

Later in the comments, Jeff Meyers, a PCA TE in Missouri, adds:

The whole point is that children belong to the body of Christ through baptism (1 Cor. 12:12-13) and therefore ought to be eating from the “one loaf” which is “a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). The problem in the Reformed tradition is that children have been asked to jump through additional hoops in order to be “qualified” to sit at the family Table with the rest of the children of God. It doesn’t matter if the church has an age limit or threshold or not.

So, does the PCA have an answer to this? You bet. No point in reinventing the wheel because the Presbyterian Church in America formed a study committee to examine this issue and reported back in 1988 at the 16th General Assembly. You can read the report and General Assembly actions here (pdf file). It’s not that long and is worth reading. The report starts out:

Classical Reformed theology has been virtually unanimous in judging that covenant children ought not be brought to the Lord’s Table before the age of discretion. This judgment was supported by such theologians as Herman Witsius (1636-1708) and Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). They defended this judgment by a number of considerations.

First, they distinguished between the meaning of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the initiatory sacrament, the Supper is “the sacrament of nutrition by means of solid food.”

Second, they saw a close relation between the meaning and form of the sacraments, and found the distinction applicable to the form as well. In baptism the recipient of the sacrament is passive. In the Supper the participant is active. The institution of the Supper by Jesus required the taking and eating of bread as solid food, a command that cannot be fulfilled by infants.

Third, they stressed the requirements for the worthy participation in the Supper. The Supper is to be eaten in memory of Christ’s death, and in hope of his coming. In I Corinthians 11:26-29 the apostle requires that those who partake are to examine themselves so that they may distinguish the Lord’s body and not eat or drink unworthily. Little children cannot fulfill this requirement.

Fourth, these Reformed writers recognized that one motive for the practice of infant communion in the Eastern Orthodox Church was a sacramentalism that viewed the bread and wine as imparting spiritual life. Bavinck replies to this that John 6:53 refers not to a sacramental eating, but to the spiritual and mystical eating of faith. He further argues: “Withholding of the Supper from children deprives them of not one benefit of the covenant of grace. This would indeed be the case if they were denied baptism. One who does this must suppose that the children stand outside the covenant of grace. But it is otherwise with the Lord’s Supper. Whoever administers baptism and not the Lord’s Supper to children acknowledges that they are in the covenant and share all the benefits of it. He merely denies to them a special way in which those same benefits are signified and sealed when that does not suit their age. The Supper does not convey any benefit that is not already given before in the Word and in baptism through faith.”

That gives a general flavor of the argumentation that the vast bulk of the Reformed community has held since the beginning. In relation to the “one loaf” argument that includes small children, the report answers:

Surely we must recognize not only the danger of regarding our children as outside the covenant of promise, but also the danger of minimizing the need for the active personal faith by which they claim for themselves those promises that have been claimed for them by believing parents.

The traditional Reformed practice has honored the active confession of faith that our Lord has made structural for the observance of the Supper. It has sought to prepare the child to show forth, with understanding, the Lord’s death till he come. Admittedly, Reformed practice has at times unduly delayed the time when a child may be prepared to respond in this active way by professing his or her own faith. Yet the need for preparation to participate in the sacrament has stimulated the development of catechetical instruction in the church as well as in the home.

This is all supported by the Standards themselves, of course. The difference between the sacraments is the subject of Question 177 of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 177. Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?

A. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.

So clearly, paedocommunion violates the Scriptures in 1 Cor 11:26-29 and the Westminster Standards, to which all PCA officers swear on their ordination:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

Accordingly, the report to the 16th General Assembly passed the following recommendations:

1. That the PCA continue the practice defined in our standards and administer the Lord’s Supper “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.” Adopted

4. That those ruling and teaching elders who by conscience of conviction are in support of the minority report concerning paedocommunion be notified by this Assembly of their responsibility to make known to their presbyteries and sessions the changes of their views since their ordination vows. Adopted

So we see that the PCA, standing with the virtually unanimous voice of the Reformed community throughout history, settled this question decisively at the 16th General Assembly. The current crop of Federal Visionists have added nothing to the debate that wasn’t covered in 1988, other than maybe creating a mythical “objective covenant” and redefining key theological terms to their liking.

BTW, Didn’t these guys sign a Joint Federal Vision Statement declaring their teachability? When does that part start? I haven’t seen any evidence of that in the “discussion” over at De Regno Christi. All that I read there is self-justification, lack of accountability, and defiance against submission to their brothers in Christ. I guess that’s what Federal Vision is all about in the end. Sad.

Presumably Leithart, Meyers, and other PCA officers holding to Federal Vision have reported this exception to their presbyteries. The times that this has been done of which I’m aware, presbyteries have only approved this exception by forbidding the teaching and practice of paedocommunion. Either that, or the exception was not approved. Federal Visionists have clearly violated the usual restriction by openly teaching and advocating it if they have reported the exception at all.

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