Monday, October 26, 2009

Venema's Children at the Lord's Table

I have been reading Dr. Venema’s book entitled Children at the Lord’s Table, and I have to say I am quite disappointed. Venema is against them, but I do think he gives away too much, argues for the wrong thing, and therefore loses the debate. I have made no secret that I argue for Confirmation based Communion. Or in other words, communion based on instruction in the faith, understanding of the faith as well as a profession of faith. Venema merely argues for the last part: profession of faith. And in so doing he gives away too much. His opening chapter states that a soft padeocommunion (young children professing faith) is just a slight historic deviation, not something that is wrong. Rev. Wilson actually shows the silliness of this position, in effect it becomes merely an argument over age rather than principle. Thus, he is merely arguing about age with the padeocommunists, and I think Venema stands outside the Reformed tradition and biblical teaching on the point. What makes it worse is that Venema agrees, he just does not seem to notice that he does.

Let me illustrate. His third chapter on the Reformed Confessions states that “they [Reformed Confessions] also insist that such children, prior to their reception to the Table of the Lord, require instruction in the Christian faith in order that they might be prepared to receive properly the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament” (pg.27-28). Terrific! I agree. Admission to the table requires more than a profession of faith, it requires instruction (implied understanding) as well. This must be done before kids can partake. Venema then does a nice job of proving the confessions teach just that. Yet, Venema takes it all back when he states at the end of the chapter. “The purpose of catechetical instruction instruction of children of believing parents is to prepare them to make a credible confession of faith, which, in the traditional practice of Reformed churches, is effected by means of a “public profession of faith”.”(pg.48). No, that is not correct. People can make a credible profession of faith, and still be admitted to the table. Catechism was traditionally done prior to first communion. Calvin did it and Bucer did it (although Venema leaves both of those facts out of his history). Lutherans still do it, as do the churches of the RCUS. Even in history the Roman Catholics required Confirmation before First Communion. Traditionally catechism is not to get a public profession of faith, but to instruct them into a fuller understanding of the faith. Public Profession may have been done, or confirmations may have been done (which might be considered the same thing), but we cannot confuse a profession of faith with an instructed understanding of the faith.

Just in case you think I am misrepresenting Venema he states up front what his position is: “the traditional view, which emphasizes the necessity of a public profession of faith prior to the believer’s admission to the Table” (pg.2). All Venema is arguing for in the book is a public profession. It appears as the book goes on that he might want some instruction, but he consistently fails to make it a requirement. Yet, his historical research shows that it was always a central part. The Reformed Confessions argue for instruction prior to the admission to the table. Even the Scriptures argue for the admission being based on a knowledge that is deeper than just a profession of faith. I think I will comment further on this book as I have some theories as to why Venema fails to put the addition of the instruction in his requirements. But let us save that for another post.


Matt Powell said...

I agree. It seems that if one accepts profession of faith as the standard for admittance to the table, then paedocommunion is the natural outcome. My kids would profess faith in God as soon as they could talk, and who am I to judge their sincerity? Then those who oppose child communion end up erecting artificial barriers to what is and is not a credible profession of faith.

But what's the standard of Scripture? Not just that someone professes faith, but that they are able to function as a full participant in the church, responsible for their own actions. This requires not simply sincerity, but instruction. Thus the practice of confirmation.

Lee said...

I agree. I could not believe it when Venema came out and said that early profession of faith is acceptable and the historic position. He did that in the first chapter. What did he bother writing the rest of the book for? It is understating it say that I was more than a little disappointed.

At least I got the book through interlibrary loan and did not spend my own money.