Paedocommunion (1); Introduction...

Error message

[The sacraments] are no means of grace except through the faith of the recipient, and in consequence of his own spiritual state and act. There is no inherent power in the ordinance itself to confer blessing, apart from the faith of the participator, and except through the channel of that faith. There is no deposit of power—whether, with the Church of Rome, we deem it physical and ex opere operato, or whether, with Tractarians and High Churchmen, we call it spiritual—in the Sacraments themselves to influence the mind of him who receives them. They have no virtue of themselves, apart from the work of Christ through His Spirit on the one side, and the spiritual act of the recipient through his faith on the other side. - James Bannerman, The Church of Christ

This is an introduction to a series of posts on paedocommunion, the practice of communing at the Lord's Table children who have not yet confessed their faith and been examined by their pastor or the elders of their church. This practice is most common today within the broad Evangelical church where parents simply commune their own children. When the bread and wine are passed, the children whisper to their father or mother that they "want some, too," and the parents see no reason to say "no."

What we are going to examine, though, is a much less common version of paedocommunion found in a small number of congregations in the Protestant and Reformed tradition. Their practice differs from that of the broader Evangelical church in three ways: first, those young children in mainstream Evangelical congregations who commune have not yet been baptized while the children communed by their parents in Protestant and Reformed congregations have been baptized. Second, children communing in mainstream Evangelical congregations don't normally do so because their fathers and mothers believe paedocommunion is Biblical and have developed a system of doctrine to defend their practice. It's really only an ad hoc practice which exists because no one's thought about it and parents aren't inclined to tell their children "no" when they want to do something that seems good, spiritually. On the other hand, parents who commune their children in the small group of paedocommunion Protestant and Reformed congregations believe Scripture requires their children...

to eat and drink.1 Third, children communing in mainstream Evangelical congregations do so because they want to, not because their parents require them to, while children communing in Protestant and Reformed congregations do so because their parents require them to do so.

As a pastor, I have preached and administered the Lord's Supper in both types of paedocommunion congregations—the mainstream Evangelical sort and the Protestant and Reformed sort. At first the practice among Protestant and Reformed congregations took me by surprise. I'd cut my teeth on the practice at a mainstream Evangelical church I'd served back in the early nineties and it had been difficult to bring the practice to an end. It helped that no one in the congregation had any Biblical argument in favor of the practice. If questioned, they'd simply respond, "Why shouldn't Suzee come to the Table?" It helped answering them to point out that their child hadn't been baptized, yet.

But, as time went on, the practice grew to the point where it appeared in Protestant and Reformed churches, also. Often, those churches were served by some of the men Clearnote pastors and elders were closest to and communicated with most frequently. Their congregations and ours had enough cross-pollination that the question of paedocommunion reasserted itself in our fellowship, albeit in an entirely different form from that of the early nineties. We could not avoid addressing the issue. The unity, purity, and peace of our own fellowship required our elders to decide whether paedocommunion was required by Scripture, or forbidden.

One of the most distinctive traits of our culture today is its hatred of distinctions. Each man believes he has the right to define himself as he wishes and no one wants to be excluded from any group he wants to be a part of. We pride ourselves on our diversity, inclusivity, and pluralism, and this not just outside the church—but also inside. Even at the Lord's Table. If we have a principle about the Lord's Table any more, it's simply that no one should be turned away. Ever. After all, how would you feel if you were a guest at someone's table and he told you that you could not eat or drink? Jesus ate and drank with real sinners, so why shouldn't we?

What we've forgotten is that our Lord instituted the sacraments to draw hard distinctions between His Own children and the children of the world. Across church history this division has been clear. In the Old Testament this was the purpose of circumcision, and in the New Testament this is the purpose of baptism. Making distinctions is also the purpose of the Lord's Supper. Sadly, though, there are few now who want to allow the Lord's Supper to do what God designed it to do, both outside and inside the sanctuary. So today when the Lord's Supper is served, it almost never makes distinctions within the congregation.

Paedocommunionists would pounce on that statement saying that's precisely their point: assuming everyone in the sanctuary has received Trinitarian baptism, everyone in the sanctuary is a Christian and must eat and drink at the Lord's Table each Lord's Day during worship. Otherwise, as their argument goes, they are not testifying to the unity of the church. They are not discerning the body as the Apostle Paul commands in 1Corinthians 11. They are denying their membership in the Household of Faith. So every single person present who has received Trinitarian baptism must commune. They have no choice about it. They must never absent themselves. They must never abstain—neither themselves nor their children, no matter how young they are.

Anyone who doesn't come to the Table is denying the faith. So, think about it: you wouldn't want anyone to misunderstand your abstaining from the Table, would you? You wouldn't want someone to think you were denying the faith, right? Or worse, that you were allowing your four-year-old to deny the faith?

As we said, all the cultural pressure is in the direction of blurring the line of demarcation between the church and the world, between God's people and worldlings. Concerning mainstream Evangelicals, it's only natural their children who aren't yet baptized would be welcomed to the Lord's Table. Who wants to say "no" to their son and daughter if he or she reaches out for the bread and the grape juice?

Today's pressure never to say "no" to anyone who wants to come to the Lord's Supper is far bigger than simply the practice of the communing of little children. In our congregation, we have had a number of visitors not return and we have lost regular attenders because we require those who partake to be under the authority of some church that is Bible-believing. It's fine if the church is not our own, but it's not fine if the souls demanding to come to the Lord's Table refuse to submit to anyone who is over them in the Lord and keeps watch over their souls as men who must give an account to God (Hebrews 13:17). This command of Scripture is so clear we cannot simply overlook it, so every other week as we serve the Lord's Supper this requirement of submission to some church authority is part of our fencing the Table.

What is "fencing the Table?" The fact that you don't know is another proof of the abandonment of Scripture's commands concerning the right liturgy and administration of this Holy Supper of our Lord. Thus part of our argument is that paedocommunion contributes to the abandonment of Scripture's commands at the point of the the historic Reformed church's Biblical commitments in fencing the Lord's Table.

But now, over the course of the past two decades this new practice of the communing of infants and toddlers has been adopted by a group of Protestant and Reformed congregations and we have had such close associations with these churches that we have had to decide what we believed concerning this practice. So the elders and pastors of Clearnote appointed a task force to study the matter and bring back a report and recommendations for our consideration and adoption.

As I said earlier, the elders of our Clearnote Fellowship churches could not avoid addressing the issue of paedocommunion. The unity, purity, and peace of our congregations required that we decide if paedocommunion was required by Scripture, or forbidden.

Clearnote pastors and elders are in close fellowship with pastors and elders from two denominations, the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches and the Presbyterian Church in America, in which paedocommunion is practiced. The CREC embraces the practice while, officially, the PCA forbids it. But because “paedocommunion” merely means “infant or child communion,” PCA pastors and elders are free to define the participation of their covenant children in a way they believe falls outside of what the PCA forbids. How young does the child need to be before his communing is “infant or child communing?” If the denomination requires a believable profession of faith, what is “believable” and what rises to the level of a “profession of faith?”

Some paedocommunionists bring babes-in-arms to the Lord’s Table. Some bring toddlers who are only capable of rudimentary communication, including sign language. Still others bring children who are old enough to have a verbal profession of faith the elders listen to and weigh for sincerity and substance, although that profession of faith would not be accepted in any historic Reformed church because it only consists of “daddy and mommy eat and I want to eat and I love Jesus.” Generally speaking, “paedocommunion” refers to the practice of children of the congregation being welcomed to the Lord’s Table sometime between infancy and toddlerhood, and certainly prior to their being catechized and examined by the pastors and elders for a believable profession of faith based upon that catechizing.

The universal witness of the historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches has been against paedocommunion. We here in Clearnote Fellowship stand one with that witness, not believing that paedocommunion is allowed, Biblically. It is clear to us, as it has been to previous generations of Reformed church officers, that the New Testament requirements and warnings concerning participation in the Lord’s Supper spelled out in 1Corinthians 11:17-34 are binding on all who commune. Just as the sacrament of baptism is discontinuous from the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision in being given both to boys and girls, so the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is discontinuous from the Old Testament sacrament of the Passover meal in the command to participants to examine themselves lest they eat and drink judgment upon themselves.

(This is the first in a series opposing paedocommunion, a practice started by some Reformed parents a few years ago in which parents require their infants and toddlers to participate in the Lord's Supper. Here are the second and third in this series.)


  • 1. We realize paedocommunionists don't make a habit of speaking about their practice as what Scripture "requires." Similarly, most paedocommunionists would be uncomfortable using the language of "requirement" to speak of parents who bring their children to the Table. Paedocommunionist parents and their elders and pastors would prefer to speak of their practice with the language of "permission"—that Scripture "permits" paedocommunion and that fathers and mothers "permit" their infants and toddlers to join them at the Table. As we have examined this issue, though, we have concluded that the language of requirement more accurately describes the belief and practice of paedocommunion, so that's the language we will use. In coming posts, we will make an argument for this language.
Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!