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Posts Tagged ‘paedocommunion’


Much has been said on the internet about the PCA GA, as usual. I have found misrepresentations, distortions and knee jerk reactions galore. I hope to avoid all that. I hope to be as objective as I can.

For me the General Assembly began around 5 pm on Tuesday afternoon. My friend Eddie and I attended the Ligonier Panel on Christology. The panel featured R.C. Sproul (obviously), Ligon Duncan, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson and Richard Pratt. They each brought a different emphasis in how they viewed Christology under attack in the church and world. I was exhausted from not enough sleep the night before, so I can’t recall all that was said. Ferguson talked quite a bit about the influence of Schleiermacher on the church of Scotland. Many of the same things can be said about the church in the States. Pratt talked about issues of Christology on the mission field. People need to know who this Christ really is, and how He saves. Apart from solid Christology there really is no gospel message. It was good to see Sproul in public. He seemed sharp and on track. This was a moderated discussion. I’d recommend you watch it.

As I noted, I was exhausted. There were many good things about the opening worship service, but I thought the sermon went on too long. And there was a second, shorter sermon before the Lord’s Table. The focus for the 3 services would come from Revelation 21-22, all things new. The first message was about the new creation we will one day inhabit.

We then began business with the election of the Moderator. Two men were presented to us as nominees. Most of us knew neither of them. This is one of my great frustrations with General Assembly- being asked to vote for people I do not know. The choice of a Moderator is very important. A good moderator keeps the business flowing. A not so good one gets the assembly bogged down in procedural matters which actually interfere with the business. Let’s just say we didn’t choose wisely. I am sure he is a great guy, but this is an honor but not honorary. It is a great responsibility. Perhaps we need to do a better job preparing nominees for the task of leading General Assembly.

The next morning I went to 2 seminars. Okay, 1 and 1/2. I was a bit late for the seminar on repentance. Ed Eubanks was helping us think through how the Bible uses repentance in distinction to how we use the term. There was a fair amount of give and take in a constructive manner as some of his thoughts were challenged. I think the bottom line is that we need to have a fuller understanding of the various ways in which Scripture urges us to respond when we as Christians sin. Sometimes our theological and homoletical shorthand is neither sufficient nor clear.

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You can’t take all this too seriously.

A decent night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. I was tired through part of the day, and not as quick on my feet as I’d like but I was not exhausted like the previous few days. This was good because the business of the Assembly would continue until nearly 11 pm.

I woke up earlier than I’d hoped when some stranger knocked on my door. I decided to pass on the morning seminar and relaxed in the breakfast area of the hotel. Eddie popped by and we enjoyed some time together before heading over to the Convention Center. This is the day that most of the real work gets done as we handled Minutes of Presbytery and Overtures. In the ARP, the review of minutes, Session and Presbytery, focuses on form and not substance. In the PCA attention is paid to substance, particularly the granting of exceptions. There was a biggie regarding the practice of paedocommunion, or infant communion.

Paedocommunion is not permitted in the PCA. Elders are permitted to believe in the practice, but not to teach or practice it. There is a tension over it. I am in the group that prefers the status quo in this matter. Some people want it ruled as permissible to practice. Another group wants it completely gone, and no longer permissible as an exception. Frankly, the way at which it was expressed in the report confused me. I’m still getting oriented to how things are done. But, the discussion overlooked the fact that he was permitted to teach and practice it. If this had been clearly stated, the discussion would ¬†have been much shorter. So it was was referred back to the committee.

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In his book, Children at the Lord’s Table?, the next thing to be examined is the Reformed Confessions of Faith.¬† Is the practice of infant communion consistent with or inconsistent with the doctrine (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) of Reformed Confessions?

Why Confessions? Scripture is our ultimate standard. But people disagree as to the meaning of Scripture. Confessions of faith are summaries of the teaching of Scripture. As such, they define allowable interpretations of Scripture for a community of believers. We are concerned with Reformed Confessions in this discussion because we are talking about the practice in the Reformed community, not other communities.

The charge is made by credo baptists and paedocommunionists that advocating infant baptism and believer’s communion is inconsistent. But this ultimately means that the sacramental theology of the Confessions must be wrong. Covenantal credo baptists argue from a different sacramental theology than Reformed Theology has traditionally held. The presuppositions they hold make our position seem inconsistent. Is the same true for Reformed paedocommunionists? Do they have presuppositions that result in a sacramental theology that is different from that found in the Reformed Confessions?

“In the opinion of proponents of paedocommunion, the insistance that covenant children profess their faith before they are received at the Table of the Lord denies to them a privilege that ought to be extended to every covenant member.”

There are 3 main ways to look at the sacraments. First is the view of the Roman, Eastern and possibly Lutheran churches toward salvation, or grace, being communicated by the sacraments. This means that the sacrament actually accomplishes that which it signifies. As a result, baptism always regenerates sinners and cleanses from sin. Communion would be understood to always strengthen faith (presuming the previous regeneration of the celebrant).

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While I was in seminary the topic of paedocommunion (infants receiving communion) was largely unaddressed. I may have overheard a conversation or two, but it was very much under the radar. During my time in the ARP, the subject was not even on the map. While candidating for a position in a PCA church in New Jersey, the retired minister who was their stated supply encouraged me to study this subject (and I thought “why?!”).

Now that I am in the PCA it is time. There are pastors who hold to this view, though they are not permitted to practice it. One of my elders read Children at the Lord’s Table? by Cornelius Venema so I decided to read it for myself.

“Though it is true that the church’s practice ought to be formed by the teaching of the Scriptures, which are the supreme standard for faith and practice, the Reformed churches read the Scriptures in the company of the whole church and may not ignore the lessons of history.”

The first argument for paedocommunion that Venema examines is the argument from church history. As noted above, sola scriptura is about our final authority regarding practice. Properly applied we also examine church history and historical theology to see how the church has thought and acted in the past. We recognize that the Spirit has been instructing the church in the meaning of the Scriptures for 2,000 years. We don’t start from scratch. But not all the church has thought or done has been in accord with the Scriptures.

Those arguing for infant communion assert an early and widespread practice of infant communion. They claim that the western church has departed from this practice and should return to the practice. Venema examines this claim first. He notes the ample early evidence for infant baptism (he depends upon Jeremias’ work). The evidence for infant communion is note nearly as strong or as early. The first clear statement affirming the practice of infant communion is from Cyprian in the middle of the 3rd century. Prior to this we find statements indicating the church did not practice infant communion. For instance, Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century) says that “no one is allowed to partake but the man (person) who believes that the things which we teach are true…” (First Apology). So the practice he was familiar with was communion after a period of instruction in the faith. Clement of Alexandria (150-219) also teaches that those who receive it have been instructed and receive it “by faith” in Instructor and The Stromata. In the east, Origen, also says that children were not given communion in his Homilies on the Book of Judges.

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