Friday, April 24, 2009

Paedocommunion vs. Confirmation

I am afraid that the paedo-communion discussion has been lost by the reformed side of the debate. I don’t wade into this lightly because I have some friends who are adamant about the issue, but I fear they are losing. Why? Because it has already been accepted in principle, now all that is left is to haggle over the age. The serious problems of paedo-communion are too often left out of the discussion, or worse, assumed to be true.

Let me give some examples. Steve Hays at Triablogue asks this question.

I have one question: If a pregnant woman takes communion, is that a form of paedocommunion?

Now I admit Hays is not arguing for either side just looking for some clarification, but you would be really surprised to see how often this argument comes up. Hays does not comment on the incipient sacramentalism in the thought. If the baby in the uterus partakes of communion through the mother then clearly we have the transmission of a spiritual blessing through a physical act: the act of eating. Which by the way is exactly what they say. Wilson calls it "eating grace" (Reformed is Not Enough. Pg. 93).

Rev. Douglas Wilson and Rev. Lane Keister are currently blogging through a book by Rev. Cornelius Venema about the issue of paedocommunion. I have great hopes that this will still end up in a strong rejection of paedocommunion as carrying with it a latent sacramentalism. However, Rev. Keister informs us that the book will make a difference between the "strict" view of anyone capable of eating coming to the table and the “soft” view which accepts young professions of faith. Rev. Wilson rightly called this a major flaw. More to the point Rev. Wilson informs us that the book considers the "soft" view a mere modification of the historic reformed view. Things get worse when we see that Rev. Keister admit he is a soft paedocommunionist. This debate is now between a "Strict Paedocommunist", a "Soft Paedocommunist", and a book that thinks "Soft Paedocommunism" is acceptable.

This is why I fear the debate is lost. The practice of allowing children and people in general to the table has been very lax in America for generations. The entrance to the table for most people is merely a Conversion Narrative (an invention of the New Side Presbyterians in the First Great Awakening). If you can tell people when you were saved or that Jesus is your savior, and the Session/Consistory believes you then you are allowed to the Table. Is that the historic Reformed Practice? More importantly, is that the Biblical practice?

In the next several posts I would like to examine this question as thoroughly as my meager efforts can. You will notice the title of the post involves the issue of Confirmation. I think that Confirmation is left out of the discussion far too often, and perhaps is the reason that all the important ground has already been ceded to the Paedocommunists. Few churches practice this rite of the church that was fully endorsed by the Reformation and a prerequisite to the Table.


Anonymous said...

Lee, you might want to spell my name correctly. It is Keister, not Kiester. So you would disagree with Venema when he states that what he calls the "soft" paedo-communion view is outside the standards of the church?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Venema states that the soft view is NOT outside the standards of the church.

Lee said...

I actually decide to officially change the spelling of your name so that it fits the I before E rule.

Seriously, I am sorry about that. I am not sure how I made that mistake. It is fixed now.

I do disagree with Dr. Venema on this one. Admittedly I am not a scholar like him, but it seems to me that young children would have problem fulfilling HC #81 or WLC #171-175. Not to mention understanding the meaning of the supper as described earlier in both of those documents. These questions use language that goes beyond mere confession of faith in Christ, but speaks of amending life, sorrowing for sin, forgiveness of others, serious meditation, and fervent prayer just to list a few.

I also think it is important that the Larger Catechism speaks of forbidding the "ignorant" as well as the "scandalous" from the table in Q.173. It is not just unbelievers who are forbidden from teh table, but also those who do not yet have enough knowledge to use the Table rightly. The "ignorant" are not to come to the Table of the Lord "not withstanding their profession of faith and desire to come to the Lord's supper". This seems to me to rule out children who make a profession of faith at an early age. It also implies that their knowledge is to be tested prior to coming to the table.

Again, I am not in the Westminster Tradition, but I have trouble seeing "soft paedocommunion" fitting the rubric of the WLC and the HC.

Anonymous said...

I guess we have different definitions of how young a person could be and still fulfill the conditions in the standards. I do not believe any person should be admitted to the Table who cannot fulfill the conditions listed in the 3FU or the WS (depending on which standards are being used). I think some 6-8 year olds would be capable of it while some 18 year olds would not be capable of it. I was capable of it at age 10, which is when I was received into communicant membership. I don't argue for a particular age. I rather argue that there should not be an artificial limitation put on how old a child can be before he can do certain things. Some children are smarter than we think they are, and others are dumber.

Lee said...

I guess we probably do disagree on whether six year olds can fulfill those requirements. But I am not really arguing about picking an age. I think that probably changes with each culture as maturity is expected and comes differenly in different places. I am arguing for a serious time of church instruction and examination before anyone be allowed to the Table. If a six year old thinks he is up to let him start. But if the church says no, then he cannot go even if he professes faith in Jesus Christ. The bar must be higher than that.

Anonymous said...

If that truly is your position, then I fail to see how we even disagree, except on whether a six-year old might ever possibly be capable of fulfilling the requirements. The reason we agree is that I too believe in a period of churchly instruction and examination before a child would be allowed to the table. It seems to me that you have, in your post, inserted too wide a gap between our respective positions.

Lee said...

It is always possible that I have inserted too large a gap. However, the 6-year old thing is a gap. The kind of instruction I envision is more than any first grade instruction I have ever run across. I thought there was a gap because you described the soft paedocommunion view as requiring little more than a public profession of faith.