Precisely what is paedocommunion, and why does Calvin condemn it

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:


This is the sort of chop-logic which has prevailed among former Baptists and explains why they comprise the majority of those defending and practicing paedocommunion, today. To them it’s simple: they used to think infants shouldn’t be baptized or communed, yet now they’re convinced infants should be both baptized and communed. Which is to say they used to be mere memorialists, but having become convinced the sacraments confer grace, they demand their children get the sacraments as soon and as often as possible.

It seems to me that the solution is to never become a former Baptist and just stay Baptist. :wink:

Anyway, thanks for this. It’s really interesting that you note the phenomenon seems to prevail among former Baptists, and I guess I can see why that might be. If you’ve spent your whole life toeing the line on the assertion that baptism and the Lord’s supper go inseparably hand-in-hand (which Calvin soundly refutes), I can see how the error would follow. If you couldn’t separate the two as a Baptist, how could you separate them now that you’ve come to embrace paedobaptism? Simplistic arguments lead to simplistic errors.

But I should think that a reasoning Baptist – you know, the ones who haven’t been given over to the irrationality Calvin speaks of (though I doubt Calvin would extend much grace to any modern Anabaptist, regardless of lineage) – could side with Calvin in his refutation of Servetus’ error, while still holding critique to Calvin’s own premises about baptism, itself.

I remember when I learned about Doug Wilson’s church doing paedocommunion a few years ago. It was the first time I’d ever even heard of the practice, and I remain pretty shocked by it. While I haven’t been able to bring myself to embrace the Reformed practice of paedobaptism, I’ve come to understand it enough (by looking beyond Baptist caricatures of it) that I can sympathize with it on certain levels. The fact that Reformed paedobaptists make a distinction between communicant and non-communicant members of the church leaves space for agreement with Baptists on their essential points of concern. Paedocommunion, on the other hand, obscures the gospel to such a level that is beyond rationalization.

I have a hard time bringing myself to condemn Pastor Wilson as heretical on the point, but at the same time, I have asked myself, if it was anyone but him, would I hesitate to make such a pronouncement? Can I simply believe that the dear man simply reads and thinks too much – sometimes to his own detriment? He speaks often about how his discovery of postmillennialism has been such a watershed to his theological molding. This is well and good and interesting, but I wonder if at some point his postmillennialism crossed into the realm of, “when you have a hammer, everything’s a nail.” Perhaps someone ought say to him, as Festus said to Paul, “Douglas, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”


My perception of most Baptist/Pentecostal churches (my background is Baptistic), is that parents who would have no time for infant baptism, still let their children take communion at an age where they would think the child has some idea of what is going on. After following this discussion, I am not sure of the wisdom of that.

Read the “Church Reformed.” It’s written with those parents in mind, and no, it’s contrary to Scripture to allow parents to decide, let alone the unbaptized to approach the table of our Lord. Love,

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I’ve had a few discussions with some brothers recently in the wake of a recent debate that James White and Doug Wilson had on this topic. These conversations got me thinking about this post, and I went back to re-read it again.

Can someone help me understand what Scripture Calvin is appealing to when he says this:

Circumcision, which is known to correspond to our baptism, had been appointed for infants. But the Passover, the place of which has been taken by the Supper, did not admit all guests indiscriminately, but was duly eaten only by those who were old enough to be able to inquire into its meaning. If these men had a particle of sound brain left, would they be blind to a thing so clear and obvious?

I’m afraid to admit it, but maybe I’m in that camp that doesn’t have a particle of sound brain left, and this thing he is stating isn’t as clear and obvious as it should be. :slight_smile:

All I can think of is that he may be alluding to Exodus 12:26, but if that’s the case, I’m not seeing what he’s seeing.

Help a brother out?


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Yes, that’s the verse Calvin is alluding to, and also the ceremonial regulations about the sort of meat and herbs that were eaten at the meal. Small children would have found it difficult to digest.

I’m merely repeating the arguments Ed Clowney in his majority report on paedocommunion for the PCA. I highly recommend reading it.


I’m sorry, but that sounds absurdly speculative, and has no textual basis. Calvin isn’t appealing to the children’s digestive systems. He is appealing to their ability to inquire into spiritual meaning.

If he really is appealing to Exodus 12:26, I don’t see anything in that passage which make’s a child’s ability to inquire about the meaning of the Passover out to be a prerequisite to participation in the Passover. Rather, the Passover is laid out as something that all of the people of Israel partake in. The Passover law concerning the eating of unleavened bread is not something that is to be observed only by the adults who understand the thing, but rather by all households. Leaven was not to be found in any of their dwellings.

It is made plain in Exodus 12:3-4 that the Passover lamb was sized not according to the number of understanding adults who would be partaking, but to the number of persons in a household:

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons [or more literally, souls]; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.

So, again, I am not seeing it here.

The only other thing I can think of is that Calvin is pulling something out of Jewish custom, as perhaps evidenced by something behind Luke 2:41-42?

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Excuse me, Jason. Are you saying Calvin is wrong to point out the absence of full participation in the Passover meal of infants? Are you saying infants able to rub their tummies and pat their heads are full participants in the Passover? Are you saying their mothers didn’t nurse their infants during the meal, but fed them lamb? Inquiring minds want to know.

As I’ve said many times, Doug will be remembered for his advocacy of bringing the Trivium back into Christian education, and since schools had left reading, writing, and arithmetic behind, that’s a good thing. Sadly, Doug will also be remembered for a number of idiosyncratic positions rejecting historic reformed doctrine and polity which have muddied the waters of confessional Protestantism among his 10,000 fans. This tendency to idiosyncratic muddying is typical among autodidacts like Doug and Jim Jordan, and must be guarded against.

Apparently, even here. So, dear brother Jason, have at it. Tell us what you find compelling about the arguments Doug has popularized in his quirky deconstruction of reformed sacramentology and I’m sure Ben and son Joseph will work with you on it. But make no mistake that it is my firm opinion Doug’s rejection of his fathers’ uniform condemnation of paedocommunion will come to be understood as the sort of bad karma that tends to dog the post-baptistic brilliant ones. Yes, with love,

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One more thing: it’s telling that White is a Baptist. Back in 1979 or 80, a Baptist friend of mine at Gordon-Conwell said to me, “Well, Tim, if paedobaptism is right, then we’ll have to start giving our kids communion, too.” Baptists can’t imagine why they should stop halfway.

Pastor Tim,

Dear brother, I’m afraid you are misunderstanding me here. I am not defending Doug Wilson at all here. I reject paedocommunion wholeheartedly. I am not objecting to what Calvin is saying. Rather, I am merely striving to make sure I am tracking accurately with Calvin’s statements. His argument is compelling to me, and I am desiring to make it my own argument, but I need to understand it better. I hope this brings clarity.

The distinction between circumcision and the Passover strikes me as exactly the place to look to be able to a) better understand where my Westminsterian brothers are coming from, and b) refute the paedocommunionists who go further than my Westminsterian brothers have historically gone.

As I hope you can sympathize, understand that I swim in the Reformed Baptist camp, where the Servetus-like argumentation against paedobaptism (like you discussed in the article) is the common way of arguing. “Well, if you baptize them, why not commune them?” I find this argument to seem overly simplistic in view of the testimony of faithfulness that I see in the history of Westminster orthodoxy, but I don’t find myself equipped to do better.

To say it another way, I believe the LBCF camp doesn’t give orthodox presbyterianism a fair shake, and I’m trying to cut through the tribalist tendencies to make sure I am hearing the Westminsterian position correctly. The present Wilson controversy seems to provide good grounds for me to hear my presbyterian brothers more clearly. The way I see it, Baptists and orthodox presbyterians currently have a common foe.

So again, I’m asking sincerely, with no pretense, if someone can help me understand the Scriptural appeals that Calvin is making in the aforementioned quote. I’m not inferring that there aren’t any. I’m not being combative. I’m literally asking for help.


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To say I’m testy about this relentless need for cleanup we’ve given ourselves to for a couple decades now (at first, for years, in personal conversations) is obvious, above. I apologize. Now, I’m hopeful more patient men like Joseph, Ben Sulser, Andrew Dionne will step in. Love,


One quibble, Jason: it’s not “Westminsterian.” It’s the uniform witness of Protestant Reformed since Reformation which they shared with the Council of Trent which also condemned paedocommunion. Also, my questions above, although testy, are the right ones through which to see paedocommunionists. You’ll never see and expose their errors until you understand paedocommunion is actually infant communion. Pat the head, rub the belly is Doug’s confession of faith and what he claims is justified by the Passover. So did the babies stop nursing and eat lamb? Seriously. There’s a lot more that can be said, but once anyone grants Doug’s hilarioiusly tendentious misconstrual of “body” and “disern” in 1Corinthians 11, forget even raising any other lesser matter. Love,


Apology accepted, brother. I can sympathize with how this topic, particularly, would make you weary. I only ask that you longsuffer with the impressionable young Reformed Baptists like me.

Forgive me if my semantics are off. Again, I ask for your sympathy. To those who grew out of the presbyterian paradigm, “Reformed” has a more specific meaning than it does for those of us who grew up in broad evangelicalism and discovered Reformed soteriology later in life – but within a Baptist paradigm. To presbyterians, I find that even the term “Reformed Baptist” invokes a certain eye roll.

With the advent of Moscowism (if you’ll approve of that term), I now find the spectrum of “Reformed” widening all the more, to where I am seeing at least three distinct camps. We have the Reformed Baptists (1689’ers), the "classically Reformed? (what I meant to convey with Westminsterian), and now the “we’re more Reformed than the Westminsterians” crowd (Moscowism).

I’m trying. :slight_smile:


I want to try to state my inquiry this way.

If it is true, as Calvin posited, that under the Old Covenant, men were barred from partaking of the Passover meal until they were old enough to inquire of its meaning, then I think I will have gained a decisive argument whereby to refute those who say, “If you baptize them, you may as well commune them.” I will be equipped to explain to such men that, “No, in fact, when you say that, you are misrepresenting historical Reformed orthodoxy. Our presbyterian brothers do see a continuity between the Old and the New Covenants, and their respective signs, but you overlook the fact that circumcision – which they equate to baptism – was a sign involving no profession of faith or maturity of understanding, whereas observance of the Passover – which they equate to the Lord’s Supper – was a sign that did involve a profession of faith and a maturity of understanding.”

So what I am looking for now is the biblical proof that undergirds Calvin’s assertion. It may be because there is a fault in my hermeneutics, but I’ve always read the Old Testament and understood the Passover to have been something observed (or at least open to be observed) by all of Israel, open to every man, woman, child, and any willing sojourner (who would have his males circumcised), etc. I find no command that erects a minimum age, or a profession of faith or understanding to have been required. Circumcision of the males was required, and certain people were barred from the assembly by reason of some uncleanliness, of course. But I am not finding anything to make Calvin’s point.

It makes sense to me that a Jew who had become a “son of the law” (Luke 2:41-42) was now required to act the man and come to the Passover feast, but that doesn’t seem to be the same as saying he would have been barred prior.

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Perhaps I need some clarity myself since I’m about to disagree with Calvin. But I simply I take it that the Passover was not restricted by a command to discern the Lord’s body—full stop. It was a meal that looked ahead to the Lord’s Supper, but not the same meal. It was more open and less restrictive than the Lord’s Supper. Which we know because there was no command that restricted it. The question of what the differences are is interesting, but not central—for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we have definite commands that restrict the meal. For the Passover, we don’t.


It’s important to distinguish between the initial Passover in Exodus and the sacramental (Levitical) Passover which had a typological sacrifice at its center.

Even if children partook in Egypt, we have no evidence they continued to do so as per the ceremonial law.


We have no evidence they didn’t. This seems speculative to me.


Yes, thank you for this. This is one avenue I’ve been studying. I do grant that the initial Passover was observed differently than the ongoing feast. However, when I survey all the subsequent texts concerning the rite of the Passover in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I don’t find any subsequent commands.

Furthermore, when I survey texts in which specific Passovers were observed later in Israel’s history (e.g. Hezekiah, Josiah), I still find no indication that it was restricted only to some. If anything, those Passover celebrations are more open than ever – especially Hezekiah’s, where God forgave the priests and the people who were not consecrated, and allowed them to partake.

In addition, I consider the example of Elkanah going to Shiloh. We are told that he "would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. (1 Samuel 1:4). EDIT: I understand this example may not be specifically referring to the Passover, but just citing it as something I’ve considered as I’ve looked into this.

So I grant your distinction, but I am not finding anything new beyond Exodus in the way of regulations.

The sacramental Passover, of which the Lord’s Supper is a continuation, was observed at the Temple.

Only adult males were allowed in the Temple at this time. Deuteronomy 16:16-17.

See MW’s comment on this thread for a more detailed explanation: some thoughts on paedocommunion? | The Puritan Board

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Thank you, I’ll take a look.

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