Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Paedocommunion Debate Between Rob Rayburn and Ken Gentry Brief Review

I recently listened to the Paedocommunion debate hosted at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary between Rob Rayburn and Ken Gentry and figured I would throw out my thoughts on the matter. Firstly, to be upfront I am biased, I have been a supporter of paedocommunion for years now and am able to now practice it with my family in the CREC church we are members of. That being said I tried to be as sympathetic to the con side (Gentry) as I could but in the end it seemed to me that Rayburn had the unquestionably better argument.

Gentry's entire contra argument rested on 1 Cor 11 and the supposed requirements for worthy partaking of the table, and how kids can't do them and are therefore excluded from partaking even though they have been baptized. Rayburn explained that 1 Cor 11 applies to kids, just as much as "He who doesn't work doesn't eat." applies, or even the "Repent, and be baptized" passages. Further Rayburn pointed out the inclusion of children in the covenant meals of the OT, which is particularly clear with the Passover (Ex 12) the kids obviously ate this, to say otherwise is to choose to not see what is clear.

Furthermore, Rayburn pointed out that nowhere in scripture do we see children forbidden access to the covenant meals, they are always welcome. Nowhere do we see a right of passage demanded of children in the Bible where they come into a fuller expression of the covenant, it simply isn't there, it is foreign to the idea of covenant inclusion of children.

Gentry made some very statements and raised a number of questions that I found to be mildly shocking, he asked why give the kids the sacrament when they don't even understand it? Rayburn replied to this Baptistic sentiment by pointing out that it frankly infringes on the wisdom of God who chose to give kids the sign of circumcision, baptism, and Christ's taking up of children and blessing them even though they had no idea what He was doing for them. The point is that their understanding is irrelevant.

Another comment from Gentry that caused me to recoil was his question that given Rayburn's support of paedocommunion would he be comfortable giving the table to the mentally retarded, the senile, or the comatose. Rayburn replied that he would have no problem doing any of those. This question from Gentry betrays a very odd understanding that we need to do something to earn the table and obviously kids, the retarded, and senile can't do those things and are therefore excluded.

There were also silly attempts to point out the inconsistency of PC practice on the part of Gentry, for example, and I have heard it repeated by others trying to argue against PC, that PC advocates don't really practice PC, since they give the elements to weaned children and not infants. Again, the Bible is not silent here, and if the PC opponents would take the time to look at the matter objectively they would see references in the OT regarding the meals saying "each according to his eating."

By way of summary, Rayburn did a fine job explaining the doctrine and refuting the arguments presented by Gentry opposing paedocommunion. In the end all that the opponents of PC have is one text that they try to absolutize, just like the Baptists do with the descriptive texts regarding baptisms in Acts. Rayburn made the point that if we look at this matter without being entangled with trying to defend what has become the Reformed tradition we will see that PC is a thoroughly Biblical expression of the covenant inclusion of children.

Further, Rayburn compared the reluctance to embrace PC with the reluctance of many in the Reformed world to embrace weekly communion simply out of adherence to a tradition handed down from Geneva where Calvin could only get quarterly communion from the city. I think Rayburn is absolutely right, while I love our confessions and tradition it is not the Bible, we are to be always reforming. That's not just a slogan for a coffee mug.

By way of concluding, on a personal note I came to hold to PC simply by reading the PCA and OPC reports on the matter. The pro-PC side clearly had the better arguments, and I haven't seen anything to the contrary yet. It continues to disappoint me to read shabby arguments against PC from fellow Presbyterians, for example people keep touting Brian Schwertly's awful material on the matter, and even in the most recent PCA General Assembly there is a vocal group very upset that PC is gaining more and more ground in the Presbyterian world though its practice is still forbidden in the PCA.

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