Frequently I am asked by seminary students or pastors about the question of children and the Lord’s Supper. Several years ago, after some members asked questions about the teaching dubbed “paedocommunion” (the practice of allowing baptized children to come to the Lord’s Table without a necessary profession of faith), I sought to find help from others on the subject. I encountered an abundance of materials by those promoting paedocommunion, with titles such as Feed My Lambs or the even more emotively-labeled Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? Often those producing and promoting these books and messages were associated with the aberrant teachings of the Auburn Avenue Conferences and Federal Vision Theology.
At the time, all I found on the historic, Reformed practice of requiring profession of faith before admission to the Lord’s Table were a few passing references in the confessions and theological books, and a helpful though somewhat poorly recorded tape series by Kenneth Gentry. Thankfully, Dr. Cornelius Venema’s scholarly yet accessible work Children at the Lord’s Table? Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion does much to stand in the gap, providing a Biblically-grounded and confession-honoring answer to those who espouse a hyper-covenantal theology that promotes this practice.
In this book Dr. Venema poses and answers this question: “Does membership in the covenant, which is signified and sealed to the children of believing parents through their baptism, constitute a sufficient basis for admitting them to the Table of the Lord?” He demonstrates through quotes from paedocommunists’ materials how they respond affirmatively based on four main arguments:
1) that the historical practice of the church shows a widespread observation of paedocommunion for many centuries;
2) the inclusion of children in the covenant community through baptism should consist of access to all its benefits, especially the Lord’s Supper;
3) the Passover, forming an Old Testament basis for the Lord’s Supper, included children so the church should allow them at the Lord’s Table as well;
4) the traditional understanding of the instructions in I Corinthians 11, where the requirement for self-examination and worthiness implies sufficient maturity, is incorrect and this passage actually promotes paedocommunion.
In counter to these arguments, Dr. Venema fairly yet thoroughly demonstrates why they do not stand up under close scrutiny. To whet your appetite for his discerning answers, he shows such things as:
1) how the historical evidence is misapplied by paedocommunists;
2) that the Reformed confessions certainly do not accommodate the paedocommunist view (“The confessions insist that the route from the baptismal font to the Lord’s Table can only be the way of an active response of faith”) and indeed would have to be revised if this became the practice of the Reformed community;
3) that though the Passover does offer some basis for understanding communion, the fact that it is clear in the Old Testament it was not a requirement for children to participate in the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:16 for instance) and that the Lord’s Supper, representing Christ’s atonement, is a fulfillment of far more than the Passover ritual alone would indicate this is a false basis for insisting upon paedocommunion;
4) the exegesis of such typical communion passages as John 6:47-58 and I Corinthians 11:17-34, masterfully done and carefully applied by Dr. Venema, conclusively require faith in order to participate in the sacrament.
In addition to the clear answers Dr. Venema gives on this topic, his Calvinistic explanation of the Lord’s Supper, his discussion on the “intimate conjunction” but “necessary distinction” between the Word and sacraments, and the appendix on “Covenant Theology and Baptism” all make this book excel in the helpfulness it offers on reformed theology and the proper place of the sacraments in the life of the church.
This review, edited slightly here, first appeared in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness. Used by permission.