I Corinthians 11:27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and [f]blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks [g]in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the [h]Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many [i]sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
Last time we gathered for the Eucharist we considered the subject of whether or not children should be taking of the Lord’s Table. We dealt then specifically with the issue of whether of whether or not wee children can come to the table and “do this in remembrance of me.”
We saw then that this requirement to “do this in remembrance of me,” was not a barrier for children because remembrance there is not primarily about our subjective remembrance but rather it is primarily a requirement “To do this in observance of me,” or if you prefer, “Do this unto my remembrance.”
We spent 30 minutes examining that theme and if you do not recall the work accomplished there I would encourage you to go to sermon audio and consider anew all that was said there.
This week we continue to look at the issue of children coming to the table. We begin by noting again that this is a volatile issue that can easily get various shorts into sundry knickers as being worn by people on both sides of the debate. As we noted last week the majority report historically among the Reformed and Presbyterian has been that children are banned from the table.
This is for several reasons. As we noted already one reason for that is because children are not able to take the table in remembrance of Christ.
This morning we look at a second reason why Presbyterian children are not typically allowed to come to the table. And that second reason is found in the passage this morning. That second reason given why the children cannot come to the table is because children are not able to do what the text requires here. Children cannot, so the argument goes, examine themselves.
Simply put, the argument goes like this;
1. There’s a command for partakers to self-examine (1 Corinthians 11:28). Infants can’t self-examine, therefore infants can’t partake. A version of this same word δοκιμαζέτω – δοκιμάζετε – appears in 2 Corinthians 13:5, in which we’re told to examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith. This self-examination is beyond an infant. It is also beyond a toddler and beyond a young child also.
This is clear enough. We must ask ourselves if this is a defeater for the position of paedo-communion? Does this argument shut down allowing children to come to the Lord’s table?
Before we get to the details of this passage though, let us consider the theological implication of what is happening if we are going to make this passage mean that only those who can preform some form of introspective act are allowed to come to the table.
So, first we turn to the Theological implications of requiring the ability of introspection before coming to the table;
From a Theological point, if we follow the logic of the classical Presbyterian view, one would wind up with a works salvation. This is because in the traditional Reformed view a communicant coming to the table must demonstrate an intellectual understanding of the Gospel in order to earn the right to come to the Table; they have to examine/prove themselves worthy to take Communion.
This morphs the sacrament from being about God doing the doing in giving grace in the sacrament to being about our effectuating the work by our introspective examination. Just as with baptism, the Eucharist is not about our promises to God, but His promises to us. The Eucharist is a token of God’s Covenant faithfulness, just like the rainbow with Noah and the blood on the doorposts at the first Passover; in both cases God said, “When I see… I will remember my Covenant”.
At the Last Supper Jesus said, literally, “Do this in My remembrance”. The English translations obfuscate the Covenantal language that Christ uses but the literal puts the emphasis on His remembrance, just like with the rainbow and the blood on the doorpost. Neither sacraments are about our efforts, they are tokens of God’s faithfulness to us in remembering His Covenant. To require a litmus test on a Covenant child is to turn the whole grace-based intent of the Eucharist on its ear.
In the OT, a circumcised child of Israel was considered a member of Israel until such a time when they turned away from the promises of the Covenant. In the common Presbyterian view, a child of believers first has to start as one who is excommunicated and then must prove their worth before they are accepted. The beginning presupposition here is that baptized children are outside the covenant and so can’t come to the table until they achieve a certain level of intellectual and cognitive ability. To the contrary our presupposition is that because of God’s faithfulness and promises in Baptism we presuppose that our children that God has given us are Christian until such a time, God forbid, they abandon the covenant and the God of the covenant.
I cannot see how the beginning presupposition that our children are strangers to the covenant is consistent with God’s promises and certainly not consistent with Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology begins with God’s declaration of “who we are and then follows with the imperative of who therefore we should be.” In other words it is the idea that “You are a child of the Covenant, therefore live like one,” This follows the model of the preamble of the Ten Commandments establishes the relationship between God and His people first and then comes the commands. In the classical view that blocks children from coming to the table, this order is turned the other way around.
Secondly, we now turn to the textual considerations here in I Corinthians 11
“A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”
George Knight III consistent with many other commentaries claims: that “the only guidance that we can ascertain is the meaning of the verb ‘examine,’ and Knight’s interpretation of this verb is that “Every person individually is to look into his own being to determine if he or she is taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.”
This is the common understanding among the Reformed. It is the understanding of the Westminster Larger Catechism. It is the understanding of John Calvin
“A self-examination, therefore ought to come first, and it is vain to expect this of infants… Why should we offer poison instead of life giving food to our tender children? (Inst. 4.16.30)
But is this kind of examining the kind of examining that the inspired Apostle is calling for here? We think not. Let us consider why this is a misunderstanding.
The Greek verb in this text (dokimazeto) means to “prove, approve, or test.” We find this translation in the English Revised Version;
“But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.”
Elsewhere in St. Paul’s usage of this verb it does not mean to the work of introspection that requires a kind of a self-reflecting glance (see I Cor. 3:13, II Cor. 13:5). Instead the Greek word “prove” carries the meaning of “proving,” or “approving,” such as is found in;
1 Cor. 3:13: ‘The work of each one will become manifest, for the day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test (“dokimasei”) each one’s work, [to prove] what kind it is.
Here Paul uses the verb as the culmination of a series of expressions denoting public and objective revelation. And if one is to consider the verb as used in the wider Greek usage in the wider Greek world one would find that it was always used with this kind of objective aspect.
What we are suggesting here is that the Greek word for “examine/prove” is not based in subjective reflection but in based in objective evaluation.
So, if “prove” here has an objective quality and is not a subjective inward look what is the objective quality that St. Paul is looking for from the Corinthians before they come to the table?
Well, in the immediate context of this section of Scripture (I Cor 10-12) the way that someone is to prove themselves is related to their behavior at the table of the Lord with respect to the unity of the body of Christ. A man proves himself by an eating that does not divide the body of Christ, and not by a subjective analysis completed by a introspective cognitive look.
As we see in the context of chapter 10-12 the Corinthians are having a problem. The problem was their table manners during the Lord’s Supper. This behavior contradicted the unity of one another in Christ.
20 Therefore when you come together it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for when you eat, each one takes his own supper first; and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.
This kind of behavior is why Paul can write earlier;
17 Now in giving this next instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together [m]as a church, I hear that [n]divisions exist among you …
So, when the Holy Spirit calls them to “prove themselves,” in vs. 28 he is calling them to prove that they are not behaving like this in connection with the Lord’s Table. It is an call to an objective assessment.
Luther agrees w/ us here;
“When in 1 Corinthians (11:28) Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar should be given even to children.
Works, vol. 54, p. 58
The test in view in 1 Cor. 11 is whether one is living in love and unity with one’s fellow believers. This would be, again, objectively knowable and so could be examined/proved and would seem to involve no introspection — in short, a requirement that babies do not even have the ability to break yet.
And if children cannot be guilty of this kind of behavior of dividing the boy that some in Corinth were guilty of they therefore cannot have the requirement put to them to prove themselves and therefore the requirement to “prove oneself’ does not forbid children coming from the table.
So, to recap here
In Corinth the congregation were demonstrating a behavior at the table which belied the unity of the church. At the one place where there was to be unity there was instead division. They therefore were eating unworthily. When Paul calls them to “prove themselves” he was calling for them to partake of the Lord’s Table properly. “Let a man prove himself” refers to his manner of participation at the Table, or more broadly, to his relationship with the local body of Christ.
It is not subjective contemplation that is required here, but an objective demonstration of one’s behavior with respect to the body is demanded. This is not to say that there is no need of self-reflection when coming to the table, it is to say that what is required in this text is not self-reflection.
And so since this text is not calling for introspection and is calling for covenantal unity when coming to the table therefore this text is not prohibiting the least of these from coming to the table.
So, I Cor. 11 has nothing to do with Children taking or not taking communion anymore than the requirement to repent and believe has anything to do with covenant children before they are baptized. In point of fact I Cor. 11 ironically enough supports paedocommunion since what happens when we forbid the children to come to the table is to divide the body and create factions between the adults in the covenant and the children in the covenant — the very thing that the Corinthians were doing and the very thing I Cor. 11 warns against.
Now add to what we have said in point I on the theological considerations and point II on the text itself lets us add a little thirdly, some historical consideration.
During the Reformation there were some who called for paedo-communion. For example a little known second generation Reformer with a great name “Wolfgang Musculus” wrote in a theological work;
(1) Those who possess the thing signified also have a right to the sign
(2) Children who can receive the grace of regeneration (as is evident from Baptism) can also be nurtured in their spiritual lives without their knowledge.
(3) Christ is the Savior of the whole church, including the children, and feeds and refreshes all of its members.
(4) The demand for self-examination (I Cor. 11:26-29) is not intended by the apostle as a universal requirement.
W. Musculus — Loci Communes
Second Generation Reformer
Luther considered communing children to be not necessary but also not sin. He offered here;
“[They] pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive [the sacrament]. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of [the sacrament]. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
Going behind the Reformation we find the Apostolic Constitution written not by the Apostles circa 380 AD. In this early church liturgy document we read that the children are included in the faithful that remain and take communion after the readings. Others who are not initiated (baptized) are excluded and excused from the communion. A door-wathcher keeps non-initiated out.
“As to the children that stand [the infant children do not stand, but are among the initiated who are prepared for communion], let their fathers and mothers take them to themselves …. After this, let all rise up with one consent, and, looking towards the east, after the catechumens and the penitents are gone out, pray to God eastward, …. Then let the sacrifice follow, all the people standing, and praying silently; and, when the oblation hath been made, let every rank by itself partake of the Lord’s body and precious blood, in order, and approach with reverence and holy fear, as to the body of their King. Let the women approach with their heads covered, as is becoming the order of women. Moreover, let the door be watched, lest there come in any unbeliever, or one not yet initiated. P 65
Let no one eat of them that is not initiated; but those only who have been baptized into the death of the Lord [all that are baptized, to include infants and children] p.145
[nowhere are baptized children excluded from any part of the Lord’s Day communion.]
Rushdoony pipes in here;
“The children of the covenant, i.e., circumcised male children and daughters of the covenant, partook of it [the Passover]…In the early church, children partook of the sacrament [the Lord’s Supper], according to all the records. The evidence of St. Paul indicates that entire families attended and participated: it was the evening meal (I Cor. 11). Joseph Bingham’s Antiquities of the Christian Church cites the evidence of a long-standing practice of participation by children and infants. This practice was clearly a carry-over from the passover of Israel, and there is no Scriptural evidence for a departure from it…Arguments against this inclusion of children are more rationalistic and Pelagian than Biblical.”~~R.J. Rushdoony, IBL, p. 46
There is one more thing I want to add here in conclusion.
If we dare not bring our children to the table for fear of the danger that the table is to them since they can’t understand it then why would we bring them to the Word preached? I mean is the table more dangerous than the Word preached? We talk about Word and sacrament being means of grace. If we dare not bring our children to one of the means of grace (the Table) why should we run them the danger of bringing them to a different means of grace that similarly they cannot understand?
As a friend as put it;
“Reformed people, in my opinion, have a ludicrously cautionary view of communion and act as though they’re handling plutonium and are about to drink hemlock if they don’t get in the right frame of mind. ”
I agree with this. The implication of this is that the Reformed believe the table is more sacred … more holy than the preaching of God’s Word. If communion is so dangerous to children we shouldn’t allow them to come to the table for fear of dishonoring God and endangering them, then we shouldn’t let those same children to come under the preaching of the Word. There is a reason why we conjoin “Word and Sacrament.”
We bring our children to Baptism as a means of grace.
We bring our children to the Word Preached as a means of grace
But then we say that the 3rd means of grace, the table, is a means of grace they cannot have because they have to bring their ability to introspect before they can have the table.
But I didn’t attend one of them elite Reformed Seminaries so I’m sure I am missing something.
Anyway, I want us to continue to esteem the table and to come to it with reverence and awe but lets be consistent.
The two sacraments are linked at the hip: the sign that brands the covenant people, and the victory meal of the covenant people. If children should be allowed to either (and they should), they should be allowed to both. The Reformed church today admits children to the church, then starves them for several years until they can adequately verbalize a profession of faith.
This ought not to be.