J.V. Fesko on The Illegitimacy of Paedocommunion
J.V. Fesko on The Illegitimacy of Paedocommunion
Just because infants are baptized and are members of the church does not mean that they are automatically entitled to participate in the Lord’s Supper
Just because infants are baptized and are members of the church does not mean that they are automatically entitled to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Paedocommunion is the teaching that affirms that a profession of faith is not necessary to partake of the Lord’s Supper, but that once a person is initiated into the church through baptism, he is entitled to all of the rights of membership, including participation in the supper. Just as children were admitted to all of Israel’s sacrificial feast-meals, it is argued, children in the New Testament should be admitted to the supper. As with any movement, there are right and left wings. Among those who advocate paedocommunion, some believe that infants should partake of the supper through intinction, that is, parents dipping the bread into wine and placing the elements in the mouths of the infants. On the other side of the spectrum, others believe that children who show an interest in the supper should be allowed to partake of it apart from a profession of faith. Proponents of paedocommunion will undoubtedly find this brief response insufficient, but the following points demonstrate the illegitimacy of the practice.
Paedocommunion is the teaching that affirms that a profession of faith is not necessary to partake of the Lord’s Supper, but that once a person is initiated into the church through baptism, he is entitled to all of the rights of membership, including participation in the supper.
First, proponents of paedocommunion argue that there are parallels between circumcision and baptism and between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. The assumption is that just as children are circumcised in the Old Testament and baptized in the New Testament, the same pattern exists with the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. Such a conclusion does not adequately account for the explicit instructions regarding the administration of the Passover meal. At the institution of the meal, God told the people through Moses: “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households’” (Ex. 12:26–27). This statement shows that children who were capable of inquiry and comprehension partook of the meal. There is a parallel in Paul’s instructions to those who partake of the supper—they are supposed to discern the Lord’s body, the significance of the bread and the cup, and examine themselves (1 Cor. 11:23–29). In this connection, Murray writes: “Children of such age and intelligence are in a different category from infants. Paedobaptists do not refuse to admit to the Lord’s Table children of sufficient age and understanding to know the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.” Advocates of paedocommunion therefore misread the nature of the administration of the Passover.
Advocates of paedocommunion therefore misread the nature of the administration of the Passover.
However, there is a more fundamental question regarding the proper Old Testament backdrop for the Lord’s Supper. Did Christ celebrate the Passover in the Lord’s Supper, or was the Passover the occasion for the inaugural Lord’s Supper? While there is certainly a connection between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, the more specific background passage is Exodus 24 and the ratification of the covenant. The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence. What commends this connection is the appearance of the phrase דם הברית / τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης (the blood of the covenant) (Ex. 24:8). This precise phrase occurs only once in the Old Testament (cf. Zech. 9:11) and four times in the New Testament (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Heb. 9:20; 10:29). In the Exodus covenant ratification, only Moses, Aaron, the priests, and the elders ascended Sinai to eat the covenant ratification meal in the presence of God unharmed—in other words, professing adults alone (Ex. 24:9–11). Similarly, in the covenant ratification meal of the New Testament, only Christ and His disciples participated. This raises the all-important but often missed distinction between baptism as covenant initiation and the Lord’s Supper as covenant ratification. More will be said about this below.
Second, Christ gives the specific instruction that participants in the Lord’s Supper are supposed to partake of it in remembrance of Him: “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24–25). In order to recognize the body of Christ, one must comprehend and grasp by faith the significance of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Such a remembrance demonstrates the difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In baptism, the recipient, either an infant or an adult, passively receives the rite as another baptizes him. In the Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, there is the requirement of active participation—self-examination and recognition of the body of Christ. This self-examination is the aforementioned covenant ratification. As Calvin writes, “By baptism they are admitted into Christ’s flock, and the symbol of their adoption suffices them until as adults they are able to bear solid food. Therefore, we should wait for the time of examination, which God expressly requires in the Sacred Supper.” Advocates of paedocommunion err in thinking that baptism and the Lord’s Supper function in precisely the same manner and therefore have the same participants.
Advocates of paedocommunion err in thinking that baptism and the Lord’s Supper function in precisely the same manner and therefore have the same participants.
Third, and lastly, is the relationship between the supper and redemptive history. Baptism is a sacrament of initiation, of entry to the visible covenant community. By contrast, the supper is a sacrament that looks to covenant ratification and to the consummation. In the types of the Old Testament, Israel was baptized in the Red Sea, and then Moses, Aaron, his sons, and the seventy elders climbed Sinai and ate a covenant ratification meal in the presence of God unharmed (Ex. 24:1–11). In the broader narrative, the exodus baptism gave way to dwelling in the presence of God and consuming the covenant meal in His presence at the tabernacle and later the temple in the Land of Promise. Christ institutes the supper in anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). The sacramental presence of Christ in the supper focuses the church’s attention on the last day and the consummation.
However, the supper not only focuses the attention of the church on the last day, but serves as an anticipation of the final judgment. In remembering Christ and rightly recognizing His body in the supper, the recipient’s self-examination is not merely an introspective gaze at the soul to see whether he has committed sin that he has not yet repented of. Rather, the Lord’s Supper is an anticipatory parousia of Christ, and the self-examination is a form of judgment by which the communicant asks whether he looks by faith to Christ, the One who has borne his condemnation on his behalf. Baptism represents an anticipation of the final judgment, as those who receive the rite are sacramentally united to the representative man, the last Adam, in His death and resurrection. The divine condemnation on sin has fallen on Christ, who bore the wrath of God on behalf of His bride. But between baptism and the final judgment there is the lamentable but unavoidable fact that professing baptized Christians sin. Hence, the Lord’s Supper is the anticipatory final judgment and parousia that strengthens the promise of judgment and justification that is sacramentally proclaimed in baptism.
Given this emphasis on initiation and consummation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper respectively, the supper therefore requires self-examination. First Corinthians 11:27–34 instructs the church regarding the imminent parousia of Christ, when He will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride. However, in light of the relationship between initiation and consummation, the supper is celebrated in the interval between baptism and the final judgment. The Christian is therefore supposed to test himself (1 Cor. 11:28) and show enough discrimination about himself (v. 31) to know that he is a sinner saved by Christ. The participant confesses his sin and looks to Christ by faith in the present, so that he will not eat and drink judgment upon himself. The verb κρίμα usually indicates a guilty verdict (v. 29; cf. v. 34). The believer performs this self-judgment so that he is not finally pronounced guilty of the Lord’s death and thus does not share in the world’s condemnation (v. 32). At every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Christian is supposed to ratify and renew his baptismal acceptance of the divine condemnation on sin. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is a proleptic final judgment and marriage supper of the Lamb—a miniature anticipation of the return of Christ and the great wedding feast.
This is why Paul explains that the supper calls for self-examination: it preaches the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the consummation of all things. The supper beckons the church to seek shelter in the ark of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension by faith in anticipation of the ever-rising flood-judgment of the Spirit on the earth—the baptism of fire. The supper proclaims that not all those who are visibly covenanted with Christ will sup with Him at the eschatological marriage feast of the Lamb. The invitation goes out and many are invited. But those who come can stay only if they wear proper wedding attire—the robe of the righteousness of the last Adam. Paedocommunion does not account for the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and eschatology.
Paedocommunion does not account for the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and eschatology.
Advocates of paedocommunion therefore fail to deal adequately with these three points: the nature of the Passover and the more likely background of the exodus covenant ratification meal; the differences between baptism and the supper (covenant initiation vs. ratification); and the coordination of the supper with eschatology. Some may cry foul and claim that these points negate what has been argued concerning infant baptism. This is not the case. Baptism is a means of grace only by the work of the Spirit through faith. The Bible clearly shows that the administration of the initiatory rite, whether circumcision or baptism, can precede a profession of faith. However, the Bible is equally clear that a profession of faith is necessary for the Lord’s Supper. The difference between the two sacraments ultimately lies in the distinction between the passive initiation into the covenant and the active participation in the consummation and purification of the covenant community.
J.V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, 361-365
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