Is Paedocommunion a Step Towards Heresy or Orthodoxy?Sep 25th, 2009 | By J. Andrew Deane | Category: Blog Posts
I was blessed to spend roughly 6 years as a part of the OPC. Love them or leave them, you cannot deny their tenacity for truth and orthodoxy. While the Eastern Orthodox have been called Orthodox for a long time, there is a sense in which this denomination which began in the 1930s has “earned” this title to a greater extent, but I digress. Amongst these Presbyterians (and in other halls, such as the PCA) have blossomed the thoughts and writings of those who are roughly and grossly fit into a group that adheres to what is known as the Federal Vision (or FV, for short). This group has made many arguments that have led to many conclusions that are held by some of their adherents at varying times, and to varying degrees. The one that I’d like to focus on in this little blog post is the notion of paedocommunion.
For full context on this debate as it was carried out in history in the OPC, please read this link. What’s confusing about this particular piece of Presbyterian polity is that the majority report of the General Assembly was actually the minority view; that is to say, a small committee ruled in opposition to the rest of the General Assembly that communion might be best given as soon as an infant is weaned. Now, in Presbyterian circles, a newborn can receive the sacrament of baptism. But these paedocommunion advocates would go much further and say that the partaking of bread and wine would no longer be for those who had been examined for a credible profession of faith. It would extend to the mouths of those children who were too young to explicitly sing God’s praise. It would include the same sort of criteria used for considering baptism in infants, which would amount to a huge change.
To do this would go against the practice of all of Protestant history, but why was such a claim made?
As you can read from the link, a central argument in this debate is the extent to which the Lord’s Supper is paralleled to the Passover. If you consider the nature of the Paschal meal, as outlined in Exodus 12, the household was to slay a lamb and have a meal of lamb and unleavened bread with the blood of the lamb placed on the doorposts of the house.
There is much symbolism in this meal–the bread being made without leaven standing for haste, the lamb foreshadowing the crucifixion of our Lord, et cetera. But what these Presbyterian thinkers saw from this picture of the New Testament in the Old Testament was the familial nature of the meal. They considered the simple fact that at this meal, no parent would withhold the meal from their children. Instead, regardless of one’s understanding of the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, at any age this meal was to be celebrated.
In considering the fact that Paul compares the Eucharist to the Passover (in 1 Corinthians 5, for example), it would seem that the advocate of paedocommunion has made a breakthrough. While Reformed thinkers in the past had considered Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body of our Lord” and refrained from giving out the Lord’s Supper to children who had not yet made a profession of faith, these thinkers would argue that it would stand to reason that being a member of the family is the only true criterion for sharing in the bread and the wine.
Now, there are so many things that could be said about the substance of this debate: Is the Lord’s Supper fully analogous to the Passover meal, is there a precedent of administering this sacrament among infants in writers such as Augustine, do we presume regeneration amongst the baptized (or is there baptismal regeneration?), etc.
But what really matters here is the ultimate question: if Presbyterians moved in a united fashion to embrace paedocommunion, would that demonstrate that there is a move towards heresy or orthodoxy? Well, it all depends on whether one found the original name of Orthodox Presbyterians apt or not. When one considers the way that the PCA wrote about this movement in an official manner, their chief rebuttal hinged upon whether these innovations were confessional or not–that is to say, whether the thoughts of these new Presbyterians matched the thoughts of those Presbyterians who worked to make the Westminster Standards in the 1640s. Of course, that puts the cart before the horse. What if the Westminster Standards were lacking, and these men who advocated paedocommunion saw these lacks in arguments such as the above mentioned Passover parallel? Ultimately, it was of no matter to the PCA’s general assembly because they chose to consider confessionalism and (dare I say) tradition over Scriptural arguments.
Of course, things get even trickier when one considers the Westminster standards themselves. The Westminster “divines” wrote this in the beginning:
6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. (WCF I.6, emphasis added)
Of course, the whole debate over paedocommunion hinges on whether the logic of Passover is truly good and necessary, but again, the self-referential nature of the Westminster Confession was such that the OPC and the PCA brushed the thoughts of some honest Presbyterians aside in favor of Presbyterian tradition. And so even the confession itself does not offer immunity from the tension between tradition and godly innovation. By what standard ought we decide whether we are experiencing growth in truth, or a loss of doctrinal purity? There is a Latin phrase attributed to Reformed thinkers, and it goes as follows:
“Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est“
which amounts to “The Reformed Church should always be Reforming”.
That sounds all well and good on paper, but for the advocates of paedocommunion who were struck down at General Assemblies, they would say that their proposed “reformation” was godly, whereas the majority who voted in opposition viewed this as an ungodly accretion. How can this dispute be resolved?
This tension could perhaps be logically decided, if there really were some sort of Presbyterian Magisterium. But there isn’t and so the tension continues. May God open our eyes to ask the question of whether we are being consistent, or merely convenient.