Paedobaptism & Paedocommunion
What follows is a discussion on the Reformed Congregationalist List about padeobaptism (infant baptism) and credobaptism (believers’ baptism), which brought up paedocommunion during the month of October, 2003. The following is a reconstruction of that conversation with corrections of spelling, etc.
It began with the moderator’s description of a man whom he invited to join the list.
From: Darrell Todd Maurina
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 2003 20:49:49 -0000
Subject: [Reformed_Congregationalists] Re: The half-way covenant
To clarify… the man is definitely Reformed, and would probably be one of the most pronounced Calvinists here. His views on church government are a bit unclear to me; he seems to advocate very strong elders in the local church but as a member of an independent church, he is a de facto Congregationalist, though he would advocate fairly close voluntary connections between churches.
The main issue for us is going to be his views on admission of young children to the Lord’s Supper and his argument that it is un-Reformed to require a personal profession of faith before admitting people to church membership.
Darrell Todd Maurina
From: Phil Ross
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 21:29:57 -0400
Subject: Re: [Reformed_Congregationalists] Re: The half-way covenant
Over the years I have tried to respond to some of the issues of baptism. See: http://www.pilgrim-platform.org/baptism.htm
In addition, let me suggest that the missing ingredient in baptism and communion pertains to the jurisdiction of the family in relationship to the church. Headship plays a significant and widely ignored role in both of these sacraments. I suspect that this role has been in eclipse since long before the Reformation, and thus is not found in the literature of the Reformation (as far as I know).
In baptism, the head of the household testifies on behalf of the infant because of the jurisdiction of the head of the household. Infant baptism provides the foundational model for representational and covenantal government. The head of the household represents his family in the courts of the church.
That representation, then, extends to Holy Communion in that it is (or should be) the head of the household who catechizes and judges the readiness of his family members to receive Communion. The church defers to his judgment as a way of supporting and honoring the jurisdiction of biblical headship, the most intimate form of representational, covenantal government.
It is, then, not the job of the church to set an “age of accountability,” or whatever. The Deacons simply pass the elements to the head of the household, who serves his family members according to his own judgment. His family is under his jurisdiction.
The job of the church, then, is to disciple the head of the household, who in turn, disciples his own family. Family discipleship by the head of the household is foundational to the biblical model of home and church, and their separate jurisdictions. Thus, the wife and children are directed to quietness in the church meeting, and to ask her husband should she have any questions. (“And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church,” 1 Corinthians 14:35.) This reinforces family headship and representational, covenantal government in the lives and minds of impressionable children, which strengthens the authority of the church and of the state, and provides stability to the social fabric.
This will not be a popular idea, but I believe that it is the biblical model. The problem today (and for the last ____ number of years—fill in the blank) is that just as the state usurps the jurisdiction of the church, the church usurps the jurisdiction of the family.
From: Kirk v d Swaagh
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2003 17:55:00 EDT
In a message dated 10/9/03 4:11:41 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
“I am sorry if I am opening a can of worms or preempting the discussion this gentleman is being invited to participate in. But these are questions I have not found good answers to that are consistent with the reformed position on Baptism.”
I must confess that I have been asking those same questions. If baptism is a covenant sign and we apply to our children as such, should not the other covenant sign given to us by our Lord also be applied to all the members of the covenant community?
I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the message that our children receive when we allow the signs of the covenant to be passed before them without letting them partake. Are we not saying that you are not really part of us?
This does not preclude the necessity for teaching and admonishment of our children as to what these signs mean and the privilege of receiving them. But setting the usual hurdle seems to me an arbitrary undertaking.
It would appear that the only passage which can be cited which would prevent our inclusion of our covenant children to the Table to receive this covenant sign is the 1 Corinthians admonition to self-examination. I believe it is possible to interpret that passage primarily as a corrective to the abuses in the Corinthian church. There is of course a wider application, but at its core it is a call for reverent and sober behavior at the Lord’s Table. I do not see why this cannot be expected of our children. Even if we should insist on self-examination, could we not encourage our children in this regard? They might only be confessing that they were mean to the cat but confessing they are. In the process they are learning what it means to live a life of humility before a holy God.
Just some thoughts.
Grace and peace,
Kirk v d Swaagh
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 10:16:34 -0400
While I agree that the reformed churches have by an large not practiced Paedocommunion, the church as a whole did so prior to the middle ages and as early as at least 250 AD. The change to this accompanied a number of other changes (such as withholding the cup from the laity).
In regards to the OT rites, you state, “It is quite likely that none but males participated in the Jewish feasts, including the Passover (Ex. 34:23). I am not even certain that Jewish boys partook of the supper until passing a rite into manhood.” Does the fact that men are commanded to go up for the feasts exclude them from bringing their families? Or rather is this the typical biblical language that addresses men directly and includes their families implicitly.
Scripture does not speak of excluding children from the Passover or any of the feasts. We know from example that when Samuel’s father went up to Jerusalem for the feasts, he took his family to participate. We also know Joseph took Jesus when he was 12 (before his rights of manhood). We know the children (both sons and daughters) partook of the sacrificial feasts.
Deut 12:7 “There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you…12 And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.”
In regards to the feast of weeks, scripture is explicit in the inclusion of children.
Deut 16:9, “Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name-you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.”
And again in regards to the feat of tabernacles.
Deut 16:13, “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your Feast-you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. 16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”
Notice verse 16 contains the command to the men to appear, but from the previous text it is clear this includes the whole family.
Does the example of OT sacrificial practice have a bearing on participation in the Lord’s Supper? Let us consider Paul’s thoughts.
1 Cor 10:14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Notice the direct comparison between those who participate in the Lord’s supper and those in Israel who ate the sacrifices. Is this conclusive? Probably not. Is it significant? I think so.
For those of you interested in reading some excellent articles in support of paedocommunion and to find out who is practicing it in the reformed community today, check out the site www.paedocommunion.com.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 10:48:54 -0400
There was one more statement I meant to address in your post:
“But if we mean ‘Christian’ in the exact same way for adults with credible professions as we do for infants who cannot so much as exercise faith, much less profess (though they may be regenerate), then we must fall into a trap.”
Infants cannot exercise faith? Is this a reformed position we are to hold to? Is it supported by scripture? Certainly not.
Psalm 8:1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
Psalm 22:9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalm 71:5 For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD , my confidence since my youth. 6 From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. …17 Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Mark 10:13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (We need to exercise our faith like the little children, not they like us.)
1 Cor 7:14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.
Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Do these passages give us a picture of infants and children being unable to exercise faith? No, the reformed faith has long claimed that infants can exercise faith and that is why we baptize them. When we then turn and say that we withhold communion from them because they can’t, then we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths.
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 10:48:54 -0400
Thanks for your response. I frequently value your input.
Your quotes from the OT were helpful. I would concede that families certainly did come down to Jerusalem for the Feasts. It did appear to be a family occasion. Maybe I need to refine my position. Certainly, the families partook of common meals at these Festivals. But the “presentation of the males,” the absence of any specific reference to wives and children actually partaking of the Passover Supper proper, and Exod. 12:4, “every man [Heb, ish] according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb” make me uncertain. Then the final NT Passover seems to exclude all but adult Jewish males.
Matt. 26:18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. 20 Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
Mark 14: 15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover 17 And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.
Lu 22: 11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?12 And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready.13 And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
We know that Peter had a wife from other passages in the Gospels. It was likely that she was there in Jerusalem for the whole Feast of Unleavened Bread. But there is a conspicuous absence of other family members.
Now, I admit there is always the possibility. But I am hesitant to embrace paedocommunion on these arguments by themselves. It just doesn’t seem conclusive.
I really think that when the rubber meets the road, the clincher seems to be the command that one must examine himself prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
1 Corinthians 11:28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
Covenant children may have regeneration, or as some have said, the “seed of faith.” I’ll grant you that. But the Reformed churches (and if there has ever been a notable exception, I’d be open to hearing it) have withheld this ordinance unto infants until they come of age to make a credible profession of personal faith. Personal, profession of faith has always been an integral element of Reformed Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
The Reformed tied this to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, precisely because self-examination of true and saving faith was a prerequisite for coming to the Supper.
I am leery of laying aside some 400 years of Reformed ecclesiastical practice, especially when it was the Reformed faith that “rediscovered” and elaborated upon the idea of covenant. That some men in the last 20 years say they found a major blind spot in Reformed covenantal thought and practice makes me more suspicious of their rationale than the standard line found in the confessions, catechisms, and church orders. I do not place men above criticism, but their insight and wisdom into the Scripture and covenant are presently more compelling to me.
Additionally, I very much fear a lapse into sacerdotalism. Not even Roman Catholics believe that toddlers should partake of Holy Eucharist, however external, mechanical, and automatic their conception of the church & its ordinances. We are told by paedocommunion advocates that the Reformed “hog” the table by forbidding 2 and 3 year olds. But the experimental piety of the Reformed has always viewed sacraments in a much less mechanical and automatic way. They are efficacious to those who have the thing signified by a true and living faith. Unworthy partakers of the Supper eat and drink judgment upon themselves. Some may see this as driving off Jesus’ lambs.
But the Reformed churches weren’t being uncharitable to their covenant children. They brought them to the introductory ordinance, and labored with prayer that one day they would come of their own volition to that ordinance which demands a self-conscious (and self-examined) faith. They steered a safe course between the anti-covenantal Baptists on the one hand, and the anti-conversion high churchers on the other hand. Covenant is important, but God can raise children to Abraham from stones if He must.
Well, I’ve gone too long, and I had better not neglect my covenant children in the process! Perhaps I’ll bow out of discussion for awhile. I welcome your response, Phil.
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 10:22:03 -0400
Here is a rather well expressed summary at the end of an article by Rev.Mark Horne (PCA) in support of paedocommunion:
“According to Hebrews 9.10, the various ceremonial cleansings in the Mosaic economy were ‘baptisms’ (literal Greek translation). When one became ceremonially unclean one was barred from the Sanctuary and, therefore, cut off from the Sacraments. The whole point of being baptized was to regain access to the Feast. Our children have been baptized. Our children are not “unclean, but . . . holy” (1 Cor 7.14).
They should not be barred from the feast. To invent reasons for barring the little children from the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus, not only nullifies any professed allegiance to the Regulative Principle of Worship, but it brings down upon us the indignation of Christ (Mar10.14).
To all of this, the warning in 1 Corinthians 10.27-32 is extremely pertinent. The Corinthians were guilty of permitting some to hog the Table and force others to go hungry and thirsty (10.21, 33). Let us demonstrate that we can discern the Lord’s Body by including our children in it.
Our baptized children ought not be barred from the Lord’s Supper.”
If you would like to read the full article, here is the link.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 16:54:43 -0400
Subject: RE: [Reformed_Congregationalists] Paedocommunion
I think the absence of specific reference to wives and children partaking in the Passover supper has the same explanation as to why only males were counted in the feeding of the 5000 and 4000. Women and children literally did not count in Hebrew culture. However, that does not mean that when a man counted himself, he did not include his women and children in factoring how much lamb he needed. Quite frankly I would find it incredible, based on the circumstances of the first Passover and the significance of the Passover for all Hebrews, that the women and children would stand by and watch the men feast. The significance of the meal was in preparation of travel. Were not the women and children traveling also? In fact Moses refused to take just the men out in the dessert to feast before the Lord when Pharaoh tried to compromise. And yet, even if the children did not eat, neither did the women and yet we do not exclude them from communion.
In regards to the Last Supper, it does not seem to me that Jesus excluded women and children but rather selectively included only the inner 12 apostles. It does not appear that this was a restriction based on gender or the demands of the Passover, but on his purpose to pass on information to them that was, at that point, for their ears only. In regards to Peter’s wife and the wife of the other apostles, no conclusion can be reached as to whether they had come up from Galilee or not (or even if she were alive). Scripture is silent so we cannot come to a conclusion.
I too am leery of overturning 400 years of Reformed tradition. But I also do not see the scriptural argument behind that tradition conclusive. I do not think that Paul sets forth self reflection as a prerequisite for those incapable of doing such. Do you believe that the mentally disabled can never receive communion? Do you think that would please God? Scripture is pretty consistent in teaching that the powerless have a special place in God’s heart.
One other point that is telling for me. The history of the church for the first 1000 years seems to have included paedocommunion. The orthodox church has practiced it consistently to this day. Paedocommunion was dropped in the Western church with the rise of the doctrine of transubstantiation. It was part of the process of the concern over spilling the blood of Christ. This concern caused the laity to withdraw from receiving the cup and to refrain from giving the cup to infants. Without the cup, infants could not be given the bread as the practice was to either give the infant just the wine or sop the bread in wine so the infant would not choke on it.
The concern was not that infants and young children were not prepared for communion, but that they were not capable of properly handling the body and blood of Christ.
So, we have a choice, ignore 1000 years of church precedence or 400. Neither choice is particularly attractive. In order to choose, I can only go to scripture and seek out what God’s will is regarding children. On the whole, based on the scriptures I have quoted, it seems to me that he would prefer them to be included, not excluded.
In regards to Reformed groups that allow paedocommunion, the following leave the practice to the local congregation:
Reformed Episcopal Church
Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals
Association of Free Reformed Churches
These two small groups practice Paedocommunion:
Federation of Reformed Churches
Reformed Heritage Church
I believe this was a hotly debated issue as part of the reformation. I think Calvin’s strong stance may have squelched debate on the issue. I would be interested to know if the issue was discussed in formulating Westminster and if so, how strongly was it endorsed. One of the issues with standards is all issues tend to get the same weight, whether the delegates were 100% behind them or it was a 51/49 decision.
I will speak to some of my Westminster expert friends and see if they can shed some light.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 19:42:02 -0400
Thank you for your response to Michael. You have provided much good food for thought.
But I think that you have underestimated the place of women and children in ancient Hebrew culture. There is a sense in which women and children did not count, but we need to be careful about projecting our modern gender sensitive assumptions onto that culture.
I believe that the ancient Hebrew church practiced biblical headship, and therefore only “counted” families, that is heads of households-men. But it had nothing to do with gender inequity, and everything to do with according family jurisdiction to the head of the household. In other words, the jurisdiction of the church did not enter the family. Rather, the head of the house represented the family in the courts of the church.
Again, the model is representative government, and it was modeled in the family so that it would be meaningful in the church.
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 23:18:19 EDT
Thanks again. I should repeat that I am by no means vigorously denying that children partook of the Passover. That they were present is likely. That the Passover proper and the rest of feasting were identical, and that both adults and infants participated, is not yet clear to me. Further, the following series of articles give another very plausible argument for the contrary:
Even if 2-3 year olds did participate in the Passover, I think that the command to self-examination would then alter things-perhaps as women were given “NT circumcision.” As for the mentally handicapped, I would probably say that it depends on the degree of the handicap. Some cannot even chew or swallow-but God is sovereign, and can regenerate the heart of his elect, however far their minds are gone. It is not cruel for the church to withhold the sacrament when it would be just like any other meal to the recipient.
I appreciate your interaction. This has certainly stimulated thought.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2003 07:40:43 -0400
I did not mean to trivialize women (or children). I was making a play on words. My point was that whenever the people are counted, it is the men only that are counted. I believe you are correct as to the reason, although I would not totally discount the existence of gender bias in the culture.
From: Kirk v d Swaugh
Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2003 12:29:23 EDT
I believe Phil Tabor is asking all the right questions in regard to this doctrine. These are the same questions I have wrestled with over the past couple of years. In the church which I pastor we spent the Lord’s Days of January to April of this year considering the Sacraments. After this extended look I was left with a growing conviction that our children were to be included at the Table. I, too, acknowledge that this goes against the well-documented Reformed practice and as such I tread cautiously. But the logic seems inescapable.
If, borrowing Augustine’s words, the Sacraments are “visible words” and as such the Table proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26), i.e., the Gospel, why do we not allow the ordinance to do it’s work in our midst? When we withhold the cup from these youngest members of our covenant community are we sending the message that the Gospel is not for them? Do we not expend much energy in teaching our kids the message contained in God’s written words? Indeed, we do not withhold the Gospel when it comes to the Bible. Why would we withhold the Gospel when it comes to the visible words God has given to us? I know there is the objection of the need for self-examination but such soul searching is vitally involved in every encounter with the Gospel. As such, we end up expecting it of our children when we teach them of Jesus from the Scriptures. We can expect it of them when they approach the Table as they learn that in this ordinance the Gospel is likewise proclaimed.
Grace and peace,
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 13:50:23 -0400
Yesterday we discussed Jesus as the manna from heaven. Today I would like to take some time to reflect on some thoughts associated with this.
What is manna? Manna is the daily bread provided by God for his people. Christ is this daily bread and we are to feed on him daily.
Christ taught his disciples to ask for manna when they pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This signifies not only a dependence on God for physical sustenance, but for spiritual sustenance as well. Jesus is our sustenance. It seems to me that the communion bread is a visible reminder of God’s faithfulness in answering that prayer for Him to supply our bread. Certainly we all want to encourage our children to pray the Lord’s prayer and expect God to answer faithfully. Doesn’t it seem strange that we should withhold from the children who are learning this prayer one of the tangible signs of God’s faithful response?
And what happened to the manna of the OT? Moses was instructed to collect some in a golden container and place it in the ark of the covenant as an eternal reminder. Also in this ark were the tablets of the law and the rod of Aaron that symbolized the priesthood. The ark was kept in the Holy of Holies where it was separated from the people. The high priest approached the ark once per year, but the people never could. Until Christ died on the cross.
Then the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom and the access to God was opened to all. Christ is our great high priest. But what about the contents of the ark? The author of Hebrews repeatedly reminds us that because of Christ we are in a new covenant in which the law is not written on stone but is written on our hearts. Peter assures us that we are now all priests, the priesthood is shared among all believers. There is no restrictions surrounding a priestly caste. So if the law is given to all, and the priesthood is given to all, what about the manna, which originally was given to all? Is it not clear that this manna in the new covenant should be available to all?
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Fri, 17 Oct 2003 15:21:34 -0400
One of the questions that must be addressed in considering paedocommunion is, “How does God view the children of covenant parents?” In particular, are they viewed as worthy to take the elements or as unworthy? Clearly, if they are viewed as unworthy, then no parent would dare allow their child to participate as it would be allowing them to bring judgment on themselves.
I want to clarify at this point I am still excluding the issue of the self-examination requirement. That will be addressed soon. I am just considering right now the general status of children in the NT as worthy or unworthy of participation in communion.
First, let us consider what we mean by worthy or unworthy. We are not speaking of merit here, for if we speak of merit, none of us is worthy to partake of Christ. But through his grace we who are in covenant are invited to participate. But there are still times and conditions that might make us unworthy.
In OT terms we would speak of clean or unclean. There were specific rules that defined conditions under which a person could not participate in the rites of faith. There were specific actions necessary to restore oneself to cleanliness or worthiness.
In the NT the primary way a person goes from unclean/unworthy to clean/worthy is via repentance. The initial act is accompanied by, signified by and sealed by baptism. But even after that, there is to be a daily seeking forgiveness and repenting of our sins as exemplified in the Lord’s prayer, taught by Jesus directly and in parables.
It is my contention, and I believe the clear teaching of the NT, that children’s worthiness/cleanness is determined not by their own repentance, of which they may be unable to express, but determined by the status of their parents. While this seems a very peculiar idea to us in our humanistic / individualistic culture, it is not a strange idea in scripture and not a strange idea in the eastern church, and not in the western church up until the advent of humanism during the middle ages.
Let us look at the scriptures.
I believe all who have studied reformed theology are familiar with 1 Cor 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
Here we have Paul explicitly stating that the infant child of a single believing parent is holy, that is set apart for God’s service, i.e. clean, because of their believing parent. This verse is used to justify infant baptism against those who claim that people cannot be holy/clean prior to an act of repentance and a confession of faith. The issue at hand here is whether this child of mixed parents should be considered a member of the covenant community, Paul’s answer is a clear yes.
But Paul’s statement does not stand alone. Jesus addressed this as well, though perhaps a bit more indirectly. For example, in Mark 10 we have this well known story:
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
These were little children, infants most likely, being brought to Jesus by their believing parents. Does Jesus rebuke them and say, “Until they can make a credible confession of faith they cannot come to me?” No, he rebukes the disciples for keeping them away and then says that we all must receive the kingdom of God as these little ones do. These children have an implicit faith in whomever their parents have faith in. If the parents have faith in Jesus, the infant will have faith in Jesus. We can see the implication for us in some other teachings of Jesus.
Jesus says in John 8: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to
carry out your father’s desire.”
The love of God is implicit in those who have God as their father. Lies and hatred are implicit in those who have the devil as their father.
The offspring are as their parents.
It is this concept that is in mind when Jesus claims, “I and the Father are one”. This statement in and of itself was not shocking. The shock came because Jesus was claiming that God was his Father and that he, therefore was God.
We see this concept also in Peter’s sermon. In Acts chapter 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Again this is a verse that we are familiar with in discussing baptism. We hold that this shows that when parents are baptized their children are to be baptized as well. The worthiness of the parents for baptism implies the worthiness of the children. It is especially interesting to note what follows immediately after Peter concludes this speech:
“42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”
Who are the “they” that Luke refers to here? Those who believed Peter’s sermon, repented and were baptized. Is it reasonable to assume that this included their children? If I limit myself to the baptism, most Reformed folk would say, “Of course.” But the passage also speaks of teaching, fellowship and prayer. Do we exclude our children from that? No. But the passage also includes the breaking of bread. Is this just communal meals or is it the Lord’s Supper? I suggest it is both. It appears from the content of 1 Corinthians that in the early church the Lord’s supper was a communal meal. It is only after Paul’s instruction to eat a meal at home to deal with hunger prior to joining for communion that we see it become what it is today, a snack. It seems arbitrary to suppose that the children were included in everything but the Lord’s supper. Especially since they have not been given Paul’s instruction yet regarding self examination.
Ancient culture and the biblical language recognize a unity between parent and child that modern culture does not grasp. We must ask ourselves, is it modern culture or the Bible that is wrong in this? As Reformed believers we have only one choice in answering this question.
There is a unity between parent and child that permeates scriptural teaching, and which informs our understanding of household baptisms as well. When the head of the household believes in the NT it is assumed that all the household believes because of this implicit unity.
Now, it is not a unity that cannot be broken. Clearly the Bible speaks of rebellious children and prodigal sons. But these are the shocking exceptions to the norm.
It is the Biblical approach to assume the faith of the child until such a time as the child is old enough to express rebellion against the faith. And only in the face of open rebellion are we to excommunicate the children of believers.
The anti-paedocommunion position takes the opposite approach, just as the anti-paedobaptist position does. It assumes that children are unworthy until they prove themselves worthy of communion. Likewise anti-paedobaptists assume the child unworthy of baptism until they can prove they are worthy. But this is not the method of scripture. From OT through NT, children of believing parents are deemed to be believers themselves unless and until they prove otherwise.
The process of self-examination that Paul brings up in 1 Cor 11 is a matter of judging oneself worthy or unworthy. Scripture declares the young children of worthy parents to be worthy. Is it necessary that the child be able to affirm scriptures claim for scriptures claim to be true? Of course not.
Now on Monday I will address the issue of self-examination, but I suspect you may see where I am heading already.
Have a great weekend and a blessed Lord’s day.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Fri, 17 Oct 2003 16:32:40 -0400
You are essentially correct. However, while family unity surely existed in times past, the principle that applies here is the authority and jurisdiction of family, not family unity. The family is a separate sphere of biblical authority, like the church and the state. The children fall under the jurisdiction of the head of the household. The children of covenant families are baptized on the authority and jurisdiction of the head of the household.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2003 13:46:18 -0400
Let me start with a brief recap of what I have covered so far:
1) We have seen that the Lord’s Supper is not just a revision of the Passover but is a new sacrament that is tied by the teaching of Christ to the giving of manna in the dessert and the feeding of the 5000, both of which events children were included in the eating. Previously we had discussed that it is at least possible that children participated in the Passover feast as well.
2) We discussed that in general, scripture, and thereby God Himself considers children worthy of inclusion in the life and rites of the church. Both Jesus and Paul speak and act as if children are holy/clean and representative of the faithful condition we all should be in when we come before God.
Today we will look at the requirement set forth by Paul that believers must examine themselves so as not to come to communion unworthily and consider whether this specific command applies to young children at all and if, assuming it does, there is a way for this command to be fulfilled.
Let us turn our attention to what Paul actually says:
1 Cor 11:17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes 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 praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions. There it is, unmistakable in verse 28, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”
But we must first ask, examine himself in regards to what? This is not, as some have supposed, a command for general self examination to uncover any hidden sins that may be lurking in our conscience. It is an examination with a specific purpose as given in the following verse. The purpose is “recognizing the body of the Lord”.
Now is Paul speaking of recognizing the elements as the body and blood of Christ? In context, I think not. He is speaking of recognizing the congregation as the body of Christ. We know this because his criticism of their behavior leading up to these verses is very specific. He is criticizing them for not sharing the meal in a loving and compassionate manner. People are bringing their own food and gorging themselves while others go hungry. Some start early before others arrive. This is made clear in verses 33-34, “33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.”
The judgment results from these specific issues he has been addressing in regard to the manner of their eating.
Now, I ask, does a young child in church with their family have control over these issues? Does the young child decide when to start eating, what food to eat or not eat and how to share with the congregation? Obviously not. These matters are the concern of and under the control of their parents. These instructions by Paul are not given to children, but to the adults of the congregation, because it is the adults that are misbehaving and the adults that need correction. If children are participating in a problematic manner, it is only because their parents are controlling them.
And it is proper that their parents control their participation, therefore it is the parents that must do the examination of themselves and their household. And of course this role of the parents is a thoroughly biblical role. Joshua proclaims, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” He polls the adults of Israel about what they shall do, but when it comes to his household, he makes the determination for them.
This is the biblical role of the head of the household. And we Reformed have always acknowledged this. This is why it is the parents that determine that the child shall be baptized, shall come to church, shall be instructed in the ways of the Lord. Scripture is clear that the church is in charge of discipling adults, but parents are responsible for discipling children, though the church should assist in this.
When Paul writes to Timothy and Titus about the requirements of elders, he makes a point that the church should see how they manage their families. This is not just because a good manager is a good manager in any context, but because the management task given to the father within the household has virtually the exact same responsibilities of the task given to elders within the church. If they cannot perform the tasks of teaching, disciplining and yes, fencing the table, within their own family, how can they be expected to perform these exact same functions in the church?
But what if we spiritualize this passage and expand it to require the individual to identify whether they have unrepentant sin to deal with first? Well, I personally think that is adding to scripture, but even here we have an answer from scripture.
In 1 Cor 10:18, Paul compares the participation in the Lord’s Supper with the participation in the food given at the alter in the OT. (Also note here Paul expresses concern for unity in the Lord’s Supper).
15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?
So let us consider the people of Israel. Who is it that ate of the sacrifices and therefore participated in the alter?
Let us take a look at a specific offering brought to the alter, the fellowship offering. My reason for selecting this is because the fellowship offering is the offering given to express the unity of the people, which we have seen is much the focus of Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper.
Leviticus 7:28 The LORD said to Moses, 29 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who brings a fellowship offering to the LORD is to bring part of it as his sacrifice to the LORD . 30 With his own hands he is to bring the offering made to the LORD by fire; he is to bring the fat, together with the breast, and wave the breast before the LORD as a wave offering. 31 The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast belongs to Aaron and his sons. 32 You are to give the right thigh of your fellowship offerings to the priest as a contribution. 33 The son of Aaron who offers the blood and the fat of the fellowship offering shall have the right thigh as his share. 34 From the fellowship offerings of the Israelites, I have taken the breast that is waved and the thigh that is presented and have given them to Aaron the priest and his sons as their regular share from the Israelites.'”
Now the portion that was not given to the priest was shared by the person bringing the offering and his family, but for now I want to look specifically at the portion given as a wave offering to the priest. In Numbers 18 we learn specifically how the priest is to deal with this wave offering.
11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.”
Notice that this portion of the food from the alter is to be consumed by the priest families, their sons and daughters. But there is a catch, they must be ceremonially clean! They must be worthy. If they eat this unworthily, they will bring judgment upon themselves.
Clearly the priests determine if they are ceremonially clean by self-examination. But does Moses or the Lord expect their children to self examine? Certainly not, the priest will determine if anyone in his family is ceremonially clean or not before allowing them to eat of food from the alter. If he were unable to do this, then his children would starve, because all (or at least most) of the priest’s food for his family came from the alter. They had no land of their own to grow it on.
So if we consider the people of Israel, as Paul suggests, and see that their familial heads were responsible for examining their children and determining if they were worthy to receive the sacrifices representing their fellowship with Israel, should not that same principle apply to the familial heads examining their families to determine worthiness to receive the Lord’s Supper?
There is much more I could say and perhaps should say, but I fear I have gone on too long already. I will now ask for responses and deal with issues.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2003 20:06:23 -0400
You wrote: “Scripture is clear that the church is in charge of discipling adults, but parents are responsible for discipling children, though the church should assist in this.”
Only the last clause trouble me. While this is not germane to your argument about paedocommunion, it is related to the authority of the head of the household. How is the church to help discipline children? Please provide scriptural warrant.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 14:12:35 -0400
This thought came up in another discussion on this topic and I thought it was too good not to share:
Matthew 18:1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Now, when we come to the communion service we should pray, “Lord, I want to do great things for your kingdom so humble me and make me like this little child whom I will not welcome to your table because he is not like me and able to examine himself.” Hmm.
This is not meant to sound sarcastic, and I am not suggesting anyone here would pray this prayer. It is just meant to engender thought and reflection.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 20:18:04 -0400
You wrote: “What I struggle with is that I see precious little in scripture that supports the presupposition that children are to be excluded in any way shape or form. And quite a bit that suggests they are and always have been included.”
Perhaps the issue is not whether or not children are included in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but HOW they are included.
If we may assume a separate sphere of authority and jurisdiction for families or headship, then we can propose that a child who does not actively receive communion is still included in the covenant by virtue of his or her father’s jurisdiction. The father’s children are covenant children by virtue of the jurisdiction of covenant headship, whether or not he allows them to actively receive communion. Also, they are not brought into this condition by baptism, but through the jurisdiction of headship. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s grace and of covenantal headship jurisdiction, not its cause.
Since the next level of jurisdiction above the family is the church, where the head of the house submits himself to the jurisdiction of the elders, perhaps the sacraments (infant baptism and communion) should be understood as marking various boundaries of covenantal jurisdiction. Consider: Acts 16:15 And when she was baptized, and her household…, 1 Corinthians 1:16 And I baptized also the household of StephanasÉ, etc. To what extent was baptism considered to be a household or family ordinance by virtue of headship jurisdiction? To what extent have we bought into the individualism of the Baptists? And brought that individualism into Reformed theology by way of unexamined presuppositions?
Again, one of the primary biblical themes is representative government, modeled in the family through headship, in the church through eldership and in the state through kingship. All of which sets up and provides meaning for Christ’s representative reign through the family, through the church and through the state.
Thus, the sacraments may not be so much about the condition of the individuals who participate in them, as about the structures of authority and jurisdiction of a covenantal society. In other words, perhaps we should interpret the sacraments corporately, rather than merely individually.
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 07:50:53 EDT
Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion, Phil (Tabor). I am especially encouraged that you are averse from strident presumptivism. And again, I appreciated the mild spirit. How much we lose in a right cause when we mix it with our unholy flame!
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 08:41:31 -0400
I think you may be on to something. Would you care to develop the thought expressed in this statement, “In other words, perhaps we should interpret the sacraments corporately, rather than merely individually.” further?
From: Phil Ross
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 09:44:36 -0400
Certainly, but to do it properly we must develop it together-corporately. My thought is that the sacraments are not directed at individuals, but at groups. And not just any old groups, but those groups that have biblical warrant–family, church and state. In this case the state does not appear to have a role in the sacraments, but the church and family do.We need to discuss sacramental jurisdiction. Baptism and communion are related to church membership. Baptism formally initiates it, and communion formally maintains it. But what is church membership? Is it not willing submission to the jurisdiction of the church. However, such submission to church jurisdiction does not eliminate the authority and jurisdiction of the family or head of household. Rather, Paul emphasizes the fact that church membership strengthens or enhances headship authority. It seems to me that the reason for this is that headship models the representational government established by Scripture-eldership and kingship.
And what is representational government? Does it mean that I, as the head of a household, have to or get to do everything that elders, as heads of churches, do. No, elders have a different jurisdiction than heads of households. Submission to authority is involved at every level. Similarly, wives have a different jurisdiction than husbands-not worse, nor better, only different. Christ’s sacrifice was essentially representational. He represents us before God. The analogies are legion.
The overriding biblical concern is authority. God’s authority is established through the authority of Scripture and Scripture establishes the authority of headship, eldership and kingship. The common factor of each jurisdiction is its representational nature. Man does not govern himself in any sphere, but is governed through family headship, church eldership and state kingship.
Thus, the essential character of a biblical society is corporate adherence to God’s covenant in the family, in the church and in the state. That adherence is expressed differently in each jurisdiction, according to Scripture. And the sacraments of the church, the essential exercise of biblical authority and jurisdiction, reflect the corporate nature of the covenant.
Help me out.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 12:28:57 -0400
I think we will have to agree to disagree and I assure you I recognize that mine is the minority report and hold nothing but good will to you and your faithful approach to the scriptures.
I think there are basic presuppositions that affect out understanding and without those presuppositions changing, there can be no agreement on this issue.
I see scripture as holding out the child as the model of covenant membership (i.e. referring to Israel as the children of Israel throughout the OT and Jesus specifically telling us our faith must be as that of a young child) and therefore to be fully included in covenant life and to be assumed faithful until proven otherwise.
I will not presume to summarize your presupposition but will just state that it seems to be contrary to this in significant ways.
Thus we read Paul differently. You read his statement about self-examination as a prerequisite to all entry to the table, I read it as an admonition to those in need of and able to do so.
An example of how I see it would be if I were to close a meeting by commanding those present to, “Drive carefully lest you get in an accident.”
If you assume that everyone who attends the meeting must drive their own car, then you are right in assuming the command applies to all.
If, however, you assume that some people are too young to drive or for other reasons rode with others to the meeting, then you would apply the command only to those who were driving.
You assume that everyone must bring themselves to the communion table, and therefore your reading of Paul is necessary.
I assume that young children can be brought to the table by their parents and therefore my reading is appropriate.
It seems to me that children’s participation in Passover is much the same. If you presume they should be excluded, the passages can be viewed to support that, if you assume they should be included the passages allow that.
What I struggle with is that I see precious little in scripture that supports the presupposition that children are to be excluded in any way shape or form. And quite a bit that suggests they are and always have been included.
And finally, let me agree with you that we are not to presume our children’s salvation based on their being born to us and baptized into the covenant. I also agree that the means is the same for child and adult conversion.
However, I would strongly disagree with any suggestion that the date of their rebirth can be presumed to be after a certain age. The Psalms make it clear that David had faith from infancy. There are countless people raised in the church that have known nothing but faith all their lives. I see no scripture to suggest there is a magic age of accountability.
But there are some raised in Christian homes who eventually turn from the faith, never to return.
The same can be said for those who are converted and baptized as adults. Some stay and some do not. We cannot presume the salvation of those who come into the church as adults either. So I am not sure how that affects the discussion regarding children.
In any case, thank you all for your patience with me as I have laid out my case, and especially you Michael, for your charity in dealing with me.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 21:33:44 -0400
Good questions. You realize, of course, that you are talking about a thesis to answer them correctly. But because such a thesis is not in my future, I will poke and stab at your questions.
Ideally, family, church and state share a common purpose-the glory of God, where glory is understood as jurisdiction.
Of course there is some overlap of authority between family, church and state. And at the same time, there are lines of demarcation, but probably not clear enough to suit our modern proclivities. I suspect that these blurred lines of authority/jurisdiction are by design, for our sanctification. So, I don’t expect that we will understand Scripture like an engineer understands blueprints. God is more tolerant than that. I suspect that God’s plan is more tolerant that we can abide.
I believe that in the New Testament era the head of the house was baptized into the church, and because of his headship jurisdiction, his household was graciously folded into God’s covenant, even baptized at times. Sometimes families were baptized, sometimes individuals were baptized. But baptism always signified the engagement of God’s covenant, His representative government in family, church and state.
Nonetheless, the church membership of his household was not a matter of fiat, but was considered to be the ongoing responsibility of the head. His first job as a new Christian was the education/sanctification of his household in the doctrines of the faith. His household was his responsibility under his family jurisdiction.
They didn’t watch TV in the evenings, but more than likely engaged in Christian education as a household. The church membership of his household was an ongoing responsibility, not a sign-on-the-dotted-line-and-you’re-done kind of thing. The church membership of his family would unfold over decades, but the church considered them members until evidence suggested otherwise.
Could the elders bring sanctions against a family member. Yes, but they went through the head, not around him.
This responsibility fell to women whose husbands were not Christian. The church graciously considered her children to be sanctified by her authority (over them) and her work to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
At what point does the son come out from under the jurisdiction of his father? That question is still with us. I have three teenage sons, and they are so different that their “coming of age” will take place at different times and ages. They do not mature at the same rate. So, there is no definitive answer in Scripture or in life. The joy is in the journey.
Do people join the church as families today? Or as individuals? Well, families usually join together (at the same time) and individuals join as individuals, but only because their families are broken or they are separated from them. Church is a family affair, but in our day families are very broken. So it is harder for us to see that.
What is the basic unit of the biblical covenant? The individual or the family? What was it in Jesus’ day? Let me suggest that the basic biblical covenant unit is the covenanted individual, which requires him to be related to others, if not his natural family, his church family. A covenanted individual is a person under authority. The unity of such people requires willing mutual submission to a common authority.
Personal profession plays a key role in sanctification. Normally such profession would first be made within the family. The head of the household would then discuss such a profession with the elders of the church, who would then get involved in the examination because wisdom is found in a plurality of counselors (Proverbs). Making a profession before the gathered church, then, is a part of sanctification. The individual grows through such a public confession, as does the church body.
At the same time personal profession is not some magic talisman that brings people into the church. No, grace alone brings God’s people into the covenant body. Personal profession is a both a tool and a measure of sanctification.
We have made church membership something that it was not in the First Century. The church was fluid and dynamic in the Early Days. They did not have the luxury of the kinds of considerations we have. But we cannot go back to their time, nor could they have anticipated ours.
What does this have to do with paedocommunion? Everything. The decision to allow a child to receive communion originates with the child. It must be desired. The child asks the father because the family jurisdiction belongs to him. He consults with the elders because church jurisdiction belongs to them. And the elders then work with the father, not usurping his jurisdiction, but honoring it. When the elders honor headship jurisdiction, they strengthen the head and the family and the church and their own authority. The elders are charged with the sanctification of covenant families. It’s not so much a matter of making the rules, but of growing a kingdom-trying to keep up with the amazing toleration of God.
We will have to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 16:59:58 -0400
Several questions come to mind here. It seems to me that the familial head and the elders share a common purpose, which is making disciples of the people under their care. I am wondering to what extent you see overlap in this. Do the elders have direct authority over the members of a household or only through the head?
Do members of a household joint he church individually, or en masse?
If en masse, then how do we deal with situations such as Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7 where you may have an unbelieving husband as head of the household, but a believing wife who wants to participate in the church with her children. Paul seems to suggest that she can as long as she is not forbidden by her husband. From the churches perspective, is she the head of the household in matters pertaining to the church, i.e. over the children?
At what point does a son come out from under his Father in the household? When he leaves home to marry (that would seem to be the answer from Genesis)? What about a man called to celibate service like Paul? Is a household literally those living in one house, or is it relationally defined?
And when the church performs a sacrament, who is responsible for fencing? The head of the household, the elder or both? Does the answer change for adult males within the household?
What role, if any, does personal profession of faith play in all of this?
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 07:56:18 -0400
Thanks for the encouragement.
The process of making disciples of Jesus Christ is more than discipline (teaching and correcting), which is why I used the term discipling (making one a disciple). In the great commission Jesus tells us to make disciples, baptizing and teaching. From this we conclude that the administration of the sacraments is part of the discipling process. I think you would agree that the church must administer the sacraments to the child, although the parents bring the child to the sacrament.
In addition, the children sit under the preaching of the church and, in many cases the church provides teaching for children. While I agree that the responsibility for the teaching of the children rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents, it would be poor stewardship not to take advantage of those members of the body who are gifted in working with young ones. See Paul’s instruction for older men to work with young men, older women to work with young women outside familial structures.
And finally, it is helpful if the church provides guidance and supporting materials for the parents to use in training up their children. This is part of the churches role in discipling the parents. Again refer to Paul’s instruction regarding the experienced and mature helping the inexperienced and/or immature.
Now, which of these issues do you feel needs additional biblical warrant?
From: Phil Ross
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 10:31:59 -0500
It seems that you continue to view the sacraments from an individualistic, rather than a covenantal perspective. A covenantal view of communion, for instance, is that the church administers the sacrament to the family, not merely the individual. Thus, communion is to be given to the head of the household, who then gives it to the members of his household as he or she sees fit (in consultation and through the instruction of the elders, to be sure). In fact, I believe that sacramental administration is a primary symbol of biblical authority and jurisdiction, not necessarily personal commitment and/or belief (though it does not preclude these).
The point is that the church honors the jurisdiction of the family through the administration of the sacraments. Just as an Ohio sheriff will honor the jurisdiction of Iowa by not simply arresting an Ohio fugitive who has fled to Iowa, but by soliciting the permission and help of Iowa law enforcement. He does not go directly to the fugitive. Legal jurisdiction must (and is) always honored by going through the appropriate jurisdiction, otherwise the case can be dismissed on technical grounds.
So, yes, the elders can administer sacraments and teach children, but must honor the jurisdiction of the family-the head of the household, who has authority over the family.
One way that family jurisdiction is violated in the contemporary church is through evangelism efforts that are aimed specifically at children, prior to the conversion of the parents (or in the hope of reaching the parents through the children). This is not a biblical practice.
Admittedly, contemporary families are so broken and jurisdictionally dysfunctional that it is difficult for the church to honor a family jurisdiction that families themselves are ignorant of. Nonetheless, the best way to re-institute biblical categories of thought and behavior is to honor them in spite of popular ignorance. Discipling the ethnos involves teaching them biblical authority-the authority of the Bible, the state, the church, the family and the conscience.
Note that Jesus commands us to make disciples of the “nations.”
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost – Mt. 28:19
As you know, nations (gr. ethnos) means:
1) a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together
1a) a company, troop, swarm
2) a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus
2a) the human family
3) a tribe, nation, people group
4) in the OT, foreign nations not worshiping the true God, pagans, Gentiles
5) Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians
While the term sometimes suggests a multitude of individuals, those individuals were almost always associated with families and extended families. The family structure was not as broken and deteriorate then as it is now. So, we must not project our contemporary experience of decrepit family structure upon Scripture. Rather, we should make every effort to understand family structure as it was in the OT and in the Early Church-and it was not like it is now.
Sure there were individuals not associated with families that constituted special cases. But the norm involved discipling men-heads of households, who would then disciple their own children until they were of an age to be discipled by another, perhaps at a Synagogue school. But that took place for young men not less than about twelve years old, and even then many such lads would not have attended such a school for a variety of reasons.
Nonetheless, it was understood to be young men or men who were entering adulthood. Children younger than that were the responsibility of the family.
We’ve been Sunday Schooled for so long that we don’t know any better. But we must realize that Sunday School is a modern invention that mimics secular education, not Scripture. Sunday School is a New Measure, as are Youth Ministry, Nursery, VBS, etc. (Boy, I’ll bet that’s a can of worms. But nonetheless true!)
Thus, the church administers the sacraments to the family as a symbol of its jurisdiction. The head of the household, then, yields to the authority of the church by allowing his family to participate.
In fact (to take it a step further), I would argue that the unity Christ prayed for in John 17:21, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” is more about biblical jurisdiction than our understanding of abstract doctrine or theology. Sure, it’s about theology and doctrine, but the foundation of right theology and doctrine is not taking systematic theology from the right seminary, but about biblical authority and jurisdiction-Bible, state, church, family, and conscience.
In other words, church sacraments and church unity are functions of biblical jurisdiction. And the reason that Scripture applies to every aspect of life pertains to the ubiquity of its jurisdiction.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 11:33:03 -0500
I agree with most, if not all of what you say here. As such, I am a little surprised by your first sentence, “It seems that you continue to view the sacraments from an individualistic, rather than a covenantal perspective.” How so?
I suspect you are reacting to my statement, “I think you would agree that the church must administer the sacraments to the child, although the parents bring the child to the sacrament.”
Do you disagree with this statement? I think perhaps we are dealing with interpretation of process. Do you hold that when parents bring a child to be baptized, the father actually does the baptism? I do not think so, though the father’s role is crucial, it is the ordained elder that does the baptism.
Likewise with communion, as the elements are distributed are you suggesting the elders must give the elements to the head of the household who then must pass them out to his family? I would suggest that as a communal covenant meal that it matters little who passes to whom as long as all who are present receive. The head of the household has the authority to withhold the sacrament from members of his household if he deems that necessary.
Likewise the elders may withhold it from individuals or households whom they deem necessary to excommunicate. I see overlapping authority here as in the matter of the sacraments the children are under the authority of both the head of the household and the elders of the church.
In regards to Sunday School, you have a very valid point that there has been historically an attempt to follow the secular models of education and this is wrong. However, there is a biblical model of identifying giftedness within individuals and making use of that giftedness to achieve the goals of the church and it’s families. Thus, while I have real problems with much of the methods and curriculum which I see in many Sunday Schools, especially the lack of any consistent catechetical criteria, I do not have an objection to the church identifying people who work well with young children and setting aside time and materials for them to spend with the children teaching them, augmenting and supporting the goal/responsibility of the parents to teach their children.
Let me be more specific. I have asked at several churches what the goal of their Sunday School program is and have gotten very lame responses. When asked what my child would know at a minimum upon completion of the program, most of them looked at me with a bewildered expression. Now, as a parent I find this very frustrating because I have no idea how to work with such a program. What are it’s strengths and weaknesses? Where do I need to augment or how can I reinforce? Now, I have encountered some churches where they have a well thought out program that a parent can work with. But far too many churches view this as really caretaking time so that parents can either attend worship without being bothered by kids (frightening) or attend their own Bible Study without being bothered by the kids. The giftedness of the teacher is usually judged by a willingness to volunteer to spend an hour with the children without beating them or allowing them to run amok (although in some churches, even this last criteria has been dropped). The idea is that if the kids learn anything it is a bonus. The most important thing is to keep them occupied with “Christian stuff”, so the kids do little crafts around a bible story and when asked what they learned they usually have no answer.
Now, there are some churches that really do identify people gifted in communicating Biblical truth to young children and giving them the resources to do it. And sometimes these people have a real plan and program that they can explain to parents and can be worked with. But my experience is that this is few and far between. But I have seen it enough to know that it can be done, so let us not dismiss the idea just because it is not being done well. Let us refocus the goals and define the better process.
I think the catechisms developed by the various reformed bodies are a great idea. I just wish more churches used them as the basis of their Sunday School program in a way that parents could understand and take advantage in their own efforts to train up their children.
From: Phil Ross
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 12:52:50 -0500
I think that we are in essential agreement. But where I would cancel Sunday School and give a catechism curriculum to the parents and have the children in worship, I suspect that you would provide Sunday School with catechism curriculum.
Of course there are specially gifted teachers who can benefit children. But, unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule. Thus, I would lobby to not set policy based upon the exceptional cases. Too often we establish policy on the basis of exceptional cases. Policy should be based upon biblical norms, not experiential exceptions.
I was right with you until your last paragraph, where you said, “I think the catechisms developed by the various reformed bodies are a great idea. I just wish more churches used them as the basis of their Sunday School program in a way that parents could understand and take advantage in their own efforts to train up their children.”
My concern is not so much with the curriculum of Sunday School programs, but with the existence of Sunday School programs. A good curriculum does not justify an unbiblical program. Those specially gifted teachers do not require Sunday School programs in order to teach.
Would such a church be ignoring the needs of the children? Not at all, not if they concentrated their efforts on meeting the real needs of the head of the household by placing his biblical authority responsibility squarely upon his shoulders, and offering to help. Not to do it with his help, but to have him do it with the church’s help. Big difference.
Regarding who administers baptism and/or who serves communion to a minor, we must not ignore the context. Yes, of course, a non-family elder could hold the baby and pour the water. But again, in ancient biblical cultures that elder would likely be related to the baptizee. But, related or not, the elder would be supervised by the head of the household at the baptism of a family member. The elder would be a guest within the jurisdiction of the head of the household. The head of the household might even hold the infant (not give up control and support), while the elder pours.
While there is much overlap of biblical jurisdictions, there are also boundaries that must be respected. Going out of our way to respect those jurisdictional boundaries used to be called politeness and/or manners. Well, it still is called that. But manners and politeness have been in rapid decline for centuries.
And at communion, the elders should (in my opinion) hand the elements to the head of the household, who would then serve his own family. Is this worse than being served by whoever happens to be sitting next to you? Maintaining the symbolism of the structures of biblical authority, especially during the sacraments, is important. It is the symbolic point of the sacraments themselves. It helps to teach that authority is not promiscuous, to borrow one of Calvin’s expressions.
When the elders hand the tray to whoever happens to be at the end of the pew, they fail to symbolize the jurisdiction of the family. This practice does not teach, honor or symbolize the authority of headship. So, I would lobby that on communion day, the head of the household position him- or herself to receive the tray directly from the elder and serve his or her own family. In this way, the hierarchical structure of biblical authority is honored and symbolized at every level. It is often done this way today, particularly with the younger communicants who are prone to spillage. But that’s the wrong reason!
It’s a little thing. But in love the little things turn out to be quite important.
From: Phil Tabor
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 13:42:21 -0500
I am not sure that people gifted in working with children are so very rare. I think the bigger problem is that they are not given proper direction from church leadership in what to present. The reason I support the catechisms as a basis is because it then becomes easy to coordinate what is going on in Sunday School with what is going on at home. What I favor is kids attending Sunday School and worship. One of the chief values to me for Sunday School is the value of kids hearing the same message from church authority that they hear from home authority. I think it is very beneficial when the kids have to deal with the culture at large to know that these beliefs are not just something Mom and Dad cook up while the kids are in bed, but are the true teachings of the true Church. Yes, they should get some of that from the pulpit, but to be quite honest, most preachers talk right over the top of the heads of the kids and that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as they are getting the message through to the adults. We could get into another discussion about the sad state of preaching these days, but let’s not go there right now.
In regards to serving the sacraments, we really have very little to go on in regards to communion, but the NT example on baptism is pretty clear that it was John and his disciples, then the disciples of Jesus that did the baptisms directly. Oh, how many debates in the church would be resolved if Luke had just given us the details of one household baptism. But I find no suggestion that the parents did the baptizing, but rather the apostles did it. I think it is good for the parent to hold the child if the baptism is by pouring or sprinkling. If it is by immersion, then the elder should be holding the child.
In regards to communion, I think one of the overriding purposes of communion is to identify the Body of Christ as one Body, one family. I find your call to reinforce boundaries within the Body at this time of unity a bit troubling. Is not the person on my left and my right my brother or sister in Christ, regardless of my age and theirs?
I suggest that the place for discernment is before the serving at which point the elders and heads of households should deal with anyone who should not participate. Once that decision has been made, then I think all should participate as one family, united in Christ and recognizing His authority equally over all. I think that is the message of 1 Cor 11, and in fact a majority of 1 Cor as a whole. I do not think this negates elder or headship authority, but puts it in the perspective that that authority is in Christ and under Christ.
Monergism – Many articles about Credobaptism and Paedobaptism.