Friday, April 16, 2010

"Let the Children Come to Me and do not Hinder Them..." A Colloquel on Covenantal Communion

Our oldest daughter Geneva who is approaching the age of 5 recently posed the question to me, "Dada next Lord's Day after church maybe we can have children's Lord's Supper with orange juice and crackers, that would be a good idea right?" This statement of my daughters has come after years of me staying her hand as she reaches for the body and blood of Christ.

My daughter seems more astute than most claiming to be covenantal in their thinking, she knows that she is being excluded from an aspect of being a Christian.

She is being raised in as best we can a Christian home, she sings hymns glorifying Jesus Christ unprompted by us, she is being chatechized and is halfway through the catechism book we are using (Based off the WCF shorter catechism), she sits through the Lord's Day service and participates, she has been baptized and this supposedly brought her at least objectively into the Church, all of that said, why do we deny children like my daughter from receiving Christ?

Why do we treat them like unbelievers?

Now some reading this will say "Ah but that's an emotional argument." Very true, we are emotional beings, it's part of the imago dei. We are not just brains trapped in bodies, and the body is only good for shuttling our brains to the next stop to be filled with information. That is a form of Manichean philosophy. We come to hear the word preached affectionaly, bodily, and intellectually.

So yes, what is said above is an argument from the affections, our argument must be more than that but not less. These affections are to be rooted in my faith in the covenant keeping God who told us that His promise is for my daughter Geneva (Acts 2:39) and my grand children to come. Do we believe this? If we do then why do we treat our children as though the promise is NOT for them by denying them the sign(s) Christ gave us of His promise?

I will lay out a biblical rational for covenant communion as in the end that is what will matter. Firstly, I will discuss the nature of the covenants, secondly the nature of the covenant signs, and lastly the primary argument for restricting children from the table.

I. The nature of the covenant.

1. Covenantal Signs Point to Objective Inclusion In the Covenant People.

We see throughout the Bible that God is a covenant making and keeping God. God set up the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17) and this covenant was for both Abraham and his children. He further gave a sign of the covenant that all members of the covenant were to receive.

Were all who received the sign possessing mature understanding and faith? No, it was to be administered to them at 8 days old. Were all who received the sign faithful? Again, no, Esau is a prime example of someone who had grown up under the blessings of the covenant, yet he cast off all the riches that were set before him. The fact remains that he was part of the people of God objectively.

Later, we see the renewal of the covenant under Moses and the introduction of the covenant sign of passover pointing tangibly to the deliverance God had wrought for his people (Ex 12). This was done in the familial context. Each household would partake of the covenant sign annually. This no doubt included the children of believers (Ex 12:4,). Furthermore, one had to have first been circumcised to partake of the supper (Ex 12:48).

Again were all who partook of this meal faithful? At least outwardly they were, yet we know that many fell in the wilderness having the signs of the covenant and even partaking in Christ Himself (1 Cor 10:1-6). They were objectively part of the covenant but not subjectively.

This is all well and good and at this point most would give a hearty Amen, as this is really the distinction between the visible and invisible church. However, the issue comes when we don't stop here, and we begin to play baptism cops and Lord's table police erecting yellow "Do not cross" police tape around children isolating them from the rest of the body. But more on that in a little bit.

My point thus far is that there are signs God has given that grant objective inclusion in the covenant people of God, we call these sacraments. They in themselves do not save us or make us the people of God, rather they link us to the body of the saved.

2. Children Part of the Covenant.

The inclusion of children in the covenant is explicit throughout the old testament. The promises were for the faithful and their children. We see this replete throughout Biblical history.

"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children--
how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so."
(Deut 4:9-10)

"Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time." (Deut 4:40)

"and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul," (Deut 30:2)

This is but a sampling of the fact that children in the old covenant were to be raised in the faith, this was not an exercise for grownups only. They had the sign of being part of the covenant people, circumcision, they partook of the covenant meal, passover, and their continued faithfulness was expected.

By way of summation the old covenant God instituted was multi generational, all family members were participants in the major sacraments and believing parents were to raise their children in the teachings of God with the expectation that their children would also own this faith passing it on to their children.

3. The New Covenant Also for Children.

"They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore."
(Ezek 37:25-26)

This passage clearly references the new covenant and the reign of Christ (the forever David), and this covenant is again for believer's children's children.

To point to new testament references although much more can be said of the old testament references I have already cited Acts 2:39 where Peter in preaching declares that the promise God has established through the work of Jesus Christ is for the children of believers.

"For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."(Acts 2:39)

The children of believers or one believing parent are called "holy" by Paul.

"For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." (1 Cor 7:14)

Fathers in the new covenant like fathers in the old are to bring their children up in the faith, or disciple them:

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4)

And John rejoices over the children of believers being raised in the faith:

"I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father." (2 John 4)

Now, with all of that said, the children of believers have the promise, they are holy, they are being discipled and faith is the expectation of all of these labors. This is what we mean by covenant children, they have blessings being showered upon them that the drunken atheist's children up the street do not have. They are children growing up in the covenant, and I would argue we should treat them as such.

II. The Covenant Signs

1. Baptism

I started with the nature of the covenant and its inclusion of children (even infants) because that is how the logic to covenantal baptism and communion progresses. I don't want to appear to be smuggling infants into the "household" baptisms in Acts, although I see them as consistent with paedobaptism because of my covenant theology presuppositions. The Baptist has his own set of presuppositions that stands in front of passages about household baptisms instructing the reader to, "Move along people, nothing to see here, move along folks."

So what then is the nature of the new covenant signs of baptism and the Lord's table? Well with baptism we see it is commanded in the great commission.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matt 28:19)

Who are the subjects of the baptism which Christ commands? Those being discipled.

I have already cited the fact that a believing Father is disciple his children (Eph 6:4), my question than is shouldn't a disciple be baptised? Furthermore, the promise is clearly said to be for them and the sign of objectively being a member of the covenant people of God is baptism.

Here I return to the baptism cop analogy, the Baptist seeks to bar unregenerate individuals from receiving the sign of Baptism. In the case of adults with rather dubious professions I can cheerfully agree with this approach. Yet, when it comes to children of believers effectively they are seeking to separate the wheat and the chaff and attempting to make the visible and invisible church synonymous. In order to do this they have for all intensive purposes excommunicated the children whom Peter said the promise was for (Acts 2:39).

My hangup with all of this is that such a prohibition on the inclusion of children is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Given the emphasis time and again that children are part of the covenant the onus is on the credo-ist to show where children are barred. Obviously, we are not going to baptize an individual who is a professed unbeliever. He is unclean by profession. However, the children of believers are called clean and holy by virtue of being raised in the faith (1 Cor 7).

Furthermore, Christ Himself rebuked those Baptist disciples of His who would bar parents from bringing their children to Christ:

"And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." (Mark 10:13-16)

In short, the Bible tells me not to treat my children like infidels, so I don't, and they are baptized.
For those demanding where is infant baptism EXPLICIT in the Bible you will not find it. The Reformed have argued on the principle of covenant theology and the inclusion of children within the covenants and that included the signs. Why would the new covenant treat children less welcomingly than the covenant children who walked under types and shadows in the old covenant?

For those for whom this still is not enough and yet require explicit infant baptisms in the Bible before letting the little Children come, I would ask you to be consistent and also bar women from the Lord's table as there is no explicit partaking of the Lord's table by women in the Bible.

2. Covenantal Communion

Covenant children should be treated as such. We Presbyterians would assent to this at least on paper but wind up in the same place as the Baptist in regard to our children This is where I think we have failed in the Presbyterian church sacramentology. Essentially we are baptists with wet dedications of our children. If the Baptist will not baptize their children because they haven't made a "credible profession" we likewise don't treat our children as covenant members and excommunicate them for the same reasons as the Baptist.

Douglas Wilson has this to say on the matter:

"I found myself in a Reformed world that was (but for that bit of water) baptistic. Baptistic in worship, baptistic in ecclesiology, baptistic in its revivalism, and baptistic in its approach to the Table. In some ways, I would even argue that the Reformed churches could be even more baptistic than the baptists. Once I was baptized in my Southern Baptist church, I was admitted to the Table right away. In many cases, kids in baptist churches are admitted to the Table years before their counterparts are admitted to the Table in Reformed churches.

In light of the conversionist requirements that are often placed on covenantal kids, it sometimes appears that they might as well be unbaptized. But please note I wrote “conversionist,” which is not the same thing as disparaging the need for true conversion. True conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, and not the work of his ecclesiastical handlers." (Credenda Agenda vol 18)

For myself I have seen children 10 years old and well into their teens not taking the table, many of these I know would make a profession of faith. Yet, for whatever reason either the eldership or parental neglect to bring them to the table they are not participants. I find this to be simply scandalous.

As for making a profession before the elders prior to partaking of the table, sure that makes sense in the case of a recent adult convert as does profession prior to baptism, it however does not with a covenant child. The Papists have 1st communion for children at age 6 after they have answered some questions. Not only are we imitating them in this but we are doing a poor job as I have seen teenagers I know were believers let the elements pass.

Again, lets stop treating our children like unbelievers. Let us honor their baptism and treat them like covenant members, let us bring them to Christ.

III. Some Objections I Have Heard Addressed

So children are part of the covenant, again this is all well and good in the Reformed circles, the issue arises than over the Lord's table. It has been insisted upon that the Lord's Table is different than baptism. One needs to understand what is going on in order to partake, after all 1 Corinthians 11. I have found this sort of response to covenant communion to be similar to how people will just start saying "Romans 13...Romans 13" when I start talking about the state as if the mere referring to Romans 13 tells us to sit down shut up and take it...hard.

Well to understand how to apply a text the context is vital so lets review the context in 1 Cor 11 on the table of the Lord:

"But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.

For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not."
(1 Cor 11:17-22)

What are the problems we see here? Well 1. Divisive behaviour 2. Selfish gluttony at the expense of others. 3. Drunkenness.

This is the context and it is this that Paul is rebuking. Are they remembering the Lord's death when some are gorging themselves and getting drunk while others go without any food? Absolutely not. This context must be remembered in light of Paul's further exhortations to reverence in the partaking of the table. It is difficult to imagine this scenario arising today given the advent of the little thimbles of grape juice most churches have.

(For the record I think this is a leftover from the Methodist holiness movement needing to be rejected, we need to return to wine. Read Keith Mathison's "Protestant Transubstantiation" for more on this.)

Furthermore, were children at these love feasts? I would think so, it is hard to imagine believing parents going to the meeting hall for dinner and shuttling the kids to Joyce the pagan's house for babysitting/dinner because they "Weren't ready to be brought to Jesus". Furthermore, in all that Paul lays out about the table in the following verses he nowhere prohibits children partaking.

This talk of feasting brings up the connection of the Lord's table with passover. In the passover feast the whole family participated, it indeed was "Safe for the whole family". It was during the passover feast that Christ instituted the Lord's table.

I have received a few responses to this, 1. The children didn't participate in the passover feast by eating it, they were just allowed to ask questions. Again, this is as difficult to believe as the barring of children from the love feast. So the kids are in the corner eating Spaghetti O's asking what mom and dad are doing with the lamb the herbs and the cups. Something tells me this is an ad hoc rescue.

2. Jesus instituted the supper AFTER the passover was completed, the table was different from the Passover. This is based on the "and when they had finished eating" aspect of the table. Again, this fails to understand the nature of the passover Seder. The Seder did not stop at the consumption of the food, there were cups to be passed still. Regardless, the Lord's supper was instituted the night of passover and the continuity of the 2 covenants was made clear.

But some will insist that children do not understand what is going on and therefore should not participate. My question to the one saying this is, "Do YOU understand what is going on?" Furthermore, how much did the disciples understand that night Christ instituted the table? Hours later ALL forsook Him.

Christ knew how tottering their faith was, yet He said, "Take and eat."

IV. Conclusion

I have not reached these conclusion about paedocommunion without some time of reflection. I was first introduced to these ideas about 4 years ago and I eventually settled for some rather Baptistic thinking about 1 Cor 11 barring Children. In studying covenant theology paedocommunion has continued to rear its head blowing raspberries at me.

Lastly, in a recent discussion over Baptism with a Baptist friend he pushed me in my covenant theology asking, "So why don't you give your children the Lord's Table?" My only response was well, that's a good question.

Given the covenantal nature of Reformed Baptism it doesn't make sense to bar covenant members from participating in one the signs of the New Covenant, namely, union and trusting in Christ's substitutionary death.

So by way of closing, I want to come full circle and say to Geneva, Caleb, Magdalena and any other covenant child we shall one day raise I say to you that the promise is for you, Christ calls you to, "Take and eat this is my body given for you."

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