Quarantine, worship, and the Lord's supper...

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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Thanks for the post.
Question: I know you are friends with Doug Wilson. I am a huge fan of his but disagree on this issue (sacraments for kids). Curious if you’ve had spirited discussions with him on this.

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Dear Steven,

Yes, I’ve spoken to Doug about paedocommunion a number of times and it’s had little to no effect. Ultimately, I believe his promotion of this error will do more harm than his longtime support for Federal Vision. He says it’s all about the children. I say it’s all about the children’s mothers.

Warmly,

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To clarify, it does matter when in the service we partake of Communion? (You observe, “It is the proclamation of God’s Word that prepares the soul for communion around the Lord’s table”). I grew up in a background in which Communion was almost always taken in the service before the preaching of the Word, although we were generally reminded to examine ourselves.

Received a private email from a reader and responded as follows. This is not everything he wrote, but most of it, and gives his main points I thought helpful to respond to.


Dear (brother),

Thank you for your kind response. You write:

First, the ancient church practiced paedocommunion. This is an undeniable fact. Withholding communion to children was in innovation by the western church which would later become Papists.

The ancient church practiced and taught many things which now make our hair stand on end. The standard for our faith today is not the ancient church, however you may define it, but the teaching and practice of the Apostles. They were inspired and gave us the New Testament. The ancient church was not and did not. This is not even to point out your error in declaring paedocommunion to be the “historic church’s” practice. Which historic church are you choosing this particular moment?

The aberrations of the early church fathers ranged far and wide, but were especially clear in their falling into this sacramentalism. Maybe you think their sacramentalism was good? If so, that is where we depart, but make no mistake that there is none of that in the New Testament. Scripture demonstrates the existence of this error from the very beginning of the people of God by opposing it constantly.

Many have attempted to combine historic reformed faith and practice with some sort of restorationist dream based on the historic or ancient church. In time their fruit is clear as the fruit of the federal visionists/paedocommunionist is itself now becoming clear. In my part of the world, it is the Campbellites who have born their terrible fruit for the past 150 years or so. That men today think they can better the Reformers on the sacraments despite having none of their disciplined study of Scripture and church history as well as none of their Roman Catholic background is very sad to watch, especially because of how many sheep have been misled.

Second, the charge to examine oneself was in response to abuses by adults in the Corinthian Church. If you are to be consistent with your interpretation of this applying to young children you should expect to see a higher rate of child mortality and sickness in the Eastern Church.

The Eastern church is sacramentalist through and through. This is why many raised in Federal Vision and paedocommunionist fellowships have done the honest thing and left reformed Protestantism behind, converting to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Peter Gillquist and his fellow Campus Crusaders did a similar thing back in the late seventies, going their own syncretistic way.

As for child mortality comparisons, I don’t get your logic. That I must demonstrate the truth of this or that Scripture by showing this or that morbidity stat seems faithless. What God says is that the abuse of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper by the sinful Corinthians prancing up to the table of communion whilst utterly failing to give themselves to self-examination caused many of them to get sick and others to die. That you believe I must prove the truth of this warning by showing sickness and death today correlated to souls prancing up to the communion table without self-examination is impious. If you think number of children and morbidity stats in your church prove paedocommunion is Biblical, I’ll leave you to your conviction.

You would also expect to see this in the paedocommunion practicing reformed churches. Having been a member of both kinds of churches I can assure you there is no difference in this outcome. If anything, I have found paedocommunion practicing churches to be more likely to have lots of healthy children. Where as reformed churches that hold to the papist practice of denying the meal to their children are more likely to use birth control and miscarriages.

Dear brother, if I were to want to argue the point of the fruit of paedocommunion in the lives of the families practicing it, I would have much to say having much experience observing such families. It is in large part because of my observations of this error in the fruit it produces that I write warning men like you to humble yourselves under your reformed fathers of the past five centuries.

There was a period of about 20 years between the time our Lord instituted communion and when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that correction to the church in Corinth. That means for 20 years that warning was not part of the liturgy of the meal.

Dear brother, when a man’s commitment to paedocommunion leads him to oppose fencing the table as you have done above, even going so far as to claim fencing wasn’t practiced for two decades prior to the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, I simply abandon the the field to him. I could write and write about the body and blood of our Lord and the proper preparation for their reception and the proper method of dealing with sin in a body of believers in that preparation and so on, but it would be useless.

Why?

Because none of that is the mistake. Rather, the mistake is ex opere operata . And this is precisely what I’ve been saying: if you want to know whether your pastor is a sacramentalist, listen to whether he fences the table. Sacramentalists never do, and not because fencing the table was just a weird practice needed by the church of Corinth, but because…

They are sacramentalists.

Also with love,

Tim

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Thanks for the reply, Tim.
That is an interesting take about the mothers. Would you mind explaining it a bit? How do you come to that suspicion?

Not a suspicion, but an observation shared by a number of others. Paedocommunion does two things many mothers rejoice in: first, it gives them a weekly visible reassurance that their child is saved; and second, it removes the proper transfer of authority from the home to the church.\

In the historic orthodox reformed church, the child must be examined by the elders before being welcomed to the Lord’s table. In the paedocommunion church, the mother herself (through the father, yes) welcomes the child to the table and there is a seamless continuation of the mother’s authority over that child into adulthood—and truth be told, often even into marriage and childbearing and rearing. The mother (and father) never are forced formally to cede to the elders and pastor spiritual authority over their individuating child by acknowledging (again, formally) their authority over the Lord’s table. Thus it is that many paedocommunion churches have mothers directing their husbands to distribute the elements to themselves and their children. But of course, no paedocommunionist would ever agree with this judgement. Love,

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Dear Ross, yes, it seems best for the Word to precede the Body and Blood of our Lord in corporate worship, and that’s what churches have done, historically. Still, it seems to me the fencing of the Table can constitute that Word prior to the supper in some circumstances when special care is taken for the fencing to serve that purpose.

Honestly, the liturgies Calvin and Knox used would be more of a sermon than many sermons preached in Reformed churches today and I would think any observance of the Lord’s Supper following their liturgy would provide a perfect context for the Lord’s supper even without a sermon, but I’d likely be a minority voice on that and I’m sure Calvin and Knox themselves would be horrified at my suggestion. Love,

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The part of your answer that makes the most sense to me is the weekly assurance of salvation. I could certainly see that being part of it. My only question, as a non-paedobaptist, is how is that any different from the motives behind baptizing a baby? I know paedobaptists will deny it, but like your observation of the paedocommunion mothers, to me paedobaptism looks like an attempt to assure oneself that your baby has a better shot at going to heaven if they die.

One counter you may have is what you said in the post, that biblically communion requires self-inspection while baptism does not. My reply would be Acts 8:36-37 where the eunuch self inspects and says “See, here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?”

I believe that baptism itself is the oath that puts one under church authority, not an interview with the elders before being given the clear to start taking communion. This is why I think both sacraments must be reserved for those who choose to “leave their father and mother” and follow Jesus.

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So, I am not a paeodobaptist, but I am compelled to comment on this only because I don’t think you’re giving the paedobaptist position a fair portrayal. I am sure that there are many parishioners of reformed churches – mothers and fathers alike – who baptize their babies from a position of sub-conscious, sentimental, sacramentalist ignorance. But that doesn’t mean that they fairly represent paedobaptist theology. We could erect a similar strawman of credobaptism by pointing to the ignorance of countless teenagers being baptized at summer camp after having an emotional experience around a bonfire. And for every ignorant paedobaptist parent, there are just as many baptist parents who rush to get their children baptized upon the first faint glimmer of hope that their child is a theist. So let’s just make sure if we’re going to attack paedobaptism that we target it on its theological grounds, not just on the grounds of its abuses.

I believe your appeal to the Ethiopian eunuch actually dispels your argument rather than affirming it. You assert that through baptism the eunuch was placed under church authority. But exactly which visible church was he joining himself to after he was baptized? What elders was he placing himself under? What congregation was he being joined to as a member? None. He believed, was baptized, and then drove back to Ethiopia. Baptism, then, depicts a person’s birth into Christ. It does not constitute entry into a visible, local church.

Communion, by contrast, is explicitly relational in the Scriptures among the assembled body of believers. It is something we do with one another, as part of one another. When we partake of the Lord’s table, we partake together. And it is in this communion that our togetherness is represented. Moreover, it is the exclusion from this communion that God has instructed us to use as the vehicle of church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:11). Therefore, “church authority,” as you’ve called it, is bound in communion, not in baptism.

Perhaps your response to me would be to appeal to the authority of the “universal church.” But if that’s the case, my appeal to you would be to go back to the Scriptures and see that all ecclesiastical authority flows from the framework of local, visible churches. The universal church is not a coherent, visible entity. It is a reality that will only be realized on that great day when all the saints appear together in glory. Until then, I’m afraid the “universal church” is just a scapegoat for rebellion against God’s good order.

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For starters, once-and-done vs. weekly? One baptism vs. hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of communings. Then too, orthodox reformed liturgies of baptism on top of pastors meeting with parents prior to the baptism warning the parents that the baptism of our covenant children doesn’t assure their salvation. No such warnings are given by paedocommunionists.

I could go on to open up the credo-baptist’s sacramental approach to the baptism of all the church’s children on the same Sunday after they complete the pastor’s class… Credos should note how similar their practice of baptism is to sacramentalist paedos, and how similar the ratio of fruit is between their subjects in coming years.

Main point, though, is not that parents shouldn’t take comfort from this or that practice as they pray for the salvation of the souls of their precious children. The mother or father who didn’t do so would be almost inhuman. God Himself gives us these promises because they’re true.

Main point is that paedocommunion is a violation of Scripture and we know this not because mothers or fathers take comfort from the weekly communing of their child. That’s merely the explanation of why paedocommunionists are so intense in continuing a practice universally condemned by the historic Reformed church and contrary to the explicit command for the subjects of this sacrament to examine themselves prior to communing.

What is critical for me, though, is the pastoral issue of children not coming to the table through the elders, but through their mother and father. I’ve talked to paedocommunionists about this and they always deny it, saying something like “our elders are the ones who exercise authority over the Lord’s table, not the parents,” but the actual practice speaks louder than the words. In the paedocommunionist church, there is nothing remotely approaching the proper interview of a covenant child by the pastors and elders of an orthodox reformed church prior to first communion, and their regular saying of “no” to such children, and not just “yes,” when they request welcome to the Lord’s table.

Like the gap between reformed who are credo and paedobaptist, this gap between non-paedo and paedocommunionist is bridged by love, but that love ought never to cause us to go wobbly in our convictions about why the historic and orthodox reformed church has baptized converts and their infants, together, and why we have communed only those able to examine themselves. Love,

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Agreed. As someone whose own convictions on this matter are, well, Baptistic, growing up I saw far too many children and sometimes young adults baptised because it was the done thing to do. I really don’t think believers should be rushed into baptism; my understanding is that the post-apostolic church did not rush its (adult) converts into baptism either.

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20 posts were split to a new topic: Paedobaptism. A debate