23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, [d]“Take, eat; this is My body which is [e]broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
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.
We are beginning to probe the issue of paedo-communion here. Years ago I preached a series on this but we return to it because this is largely a different church from when I first covered this issue and secondly because I want younger parents with younger children to hear the case for bringing our children to the table.
With that said, I think we will take this piece by piece when coming together monthly for communion. So, it will be up to you to try and keep this pieced together in your mind, though I will give overviews with each sermon.
As we come to this passage in I Cor. we start here because many in the Reformed world contend that this passage authoritatively destroys any notion of weaned children coming to the Lord’s supper because, so the reasoning goes, a toddler cannot engage in “remembrance” and neither can a toddler “examine” themselves. The requirement in the passage is that the taking of the table is done in remembrance of Christ and that before the table is taken those who partake will have examined themselves. This the opponents of paedo-communion insist is not possible for children to do.
We should offer here, before we demonstrate how this is a improper understanding of the text, that this kind of reasoning is the same kind of reasoning that Baptists use to say children should not be Baptized. The Baptist says, “A baby/toddler is not self conscious enough to repent and have faith, therefore a baby/toddler must not be baptized until they are old enough to have this level of self-consciousness.” The point I’m making here is that those among the Reformed who insist that a child should not be given the Eucharist until the age of discretion are reasoning the same way as the Baptist who insists that a child should not be given Baptism until the age of accountability. I, personally, find it very strange that putatively Reformed people argue the same way Baptists do, and I think that is not without significance.
Before we take up the issue of examination and remembrance let us briefly consider a passage in I Cor. 10 that points us in a particular direction on the issue of paedo-communion. Here we may find a case wherein infant communion is supported in the New Testament. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were baptized into Moses. 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. ”
Here we find Paul using Israel’s experience in the OT in passing through the Red Sea as a warning to the NT Church. There is a continuity that St. Paul is giving between Old and New Testaments and in doing so he is connecting the dots between the reality of OT Israel and the NT Church and in the doing of so St. Paul sets forth the experience of Israel in their passing through the Red Sea as both a Baptism and a meal. Now, of course there were infants and toddlers that were with the adults who crossed through the Red Sea and those infants and toddler ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink that all Israel partook of and as Paul says that Rock that those Hebrew infant and children drank was Christ. Now if the OT Hebrews infants and toddlers drank Christ why should NT infant and toddlers likewise not be communed at the Lord’s Table?
We see that Paul assumes the continuity of God’s dealing with children in the Old and New Testaments. They are always treated as members of the covenant community and as members of the covenant community they are not only identified as God’s people through the ratification ceremony that is Baptism but they are also nourished and refreshed with eternal life that is found in Christ as He is received in the Eucharist.
As we reflect on this, must we not conclude that children need God’s pledge and communion as much as adults? Don’t children as they grow need that objective promise of God? We have no idea when faith may be born in a child’s heart, but whenever it is, it needs to be stimulated, strengthened, and assured by the pledge made to him or her in Baptism and confirmed in the Table.
Again, if the children of the Hebrew children in the OT ate and drank Christ then why should the children of God’s people in the NT not be fed with the food and drink of eternal life? (974)
Anyway, Augustine agrees that the children should come to the table;
“Those who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are denying that Christ is Jesus for all believing infants. Those, I repeat, who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are saying nothing else than that for believing infants, infants that is who have been baptized in Christ, Christ the Lord is not Jesus. After all, what is Jesus? Jesus means Savior. Jesus is the Savior. Those whom he doesn’t save, having nothing to save in them, well for them he isn’t Jesus. Well now, if you can tolerate the idea that Christ is not Jesus for some persons who have been baptized, then I’m not sure your faith can be recognized as according with the sound rule. Yes, they’re infants, but they are his members. They’re infants, but they receive his sacraments. They are infants, but they share in his table, in order to have life in themselves.”
St. Augustine, Sermon 174, 7
Anyway, having said that we return to the issue of a weaned child entering into examination and remembrance.
We would first note that there are matters of interpretation here that need to be cleaned up in order to understand that the requirements of examination and remembrance are not defeaters for the position of paedo-communion. We come with certain assumptions about the language that need to be challenged. Likewise we tend to fail to read this NT passage in light of continuity with the OT that we find St. Paul presupposing in I. Cor. 10.
We are told in this passage to “Do this in Remembrance of me,” and being moderns we read this as “Do this while remembering me,” when it is doubtful that is really what the thrust of the meaning is. To read this to mean “Do this while remembering me” posits the efficacy of the table upon our subjective ability to do the doing. If we can’t subjectively remember then the table has no efficacy. But is that what the Holy Spirit is teaching here?
I would say no for the following reasons.
1.) The translation of the Greek here is dubious. Literally it reads, “Do this unto my Remembrance.” This preposition in (eis) generally has a directional or purposive function, so that, in varying contexts, it can be rendered with “into,” “unto,” or “as” (such as: “it was reckoned to him as righteousness” ).
This language is used in the decalogue when we are told to “Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy.” The idea here is obviously not that we are to subjectively recall this or that about the sabbath. The idea in “Remembering the Sabbath,” is better formulated by saying “Observe the sabbath to keep it Holy.” In the same way I would submit that when the Corinthians are called to “To do this in remembrance of me” are being told “To do this in observance of me,” or if you prefer, “Do this unto my remembrance.”
This way of reading the text is supported by other examples in the OT. We find in the Greek Septuagint of Lev. 24:7 that the frankincense is placed “upon the bread for a memorial to the Lord.” Here it is the same prepositional phrase that St. Paul uses in I Cor. 11. Instead of “in” we get “upon” here. It goes without saying that the text in Lev. does not mean that the frankincense or the Priest enters into a subjective remembrance of the Lord. Instead, it is the act by itself which constitutes the remembrance. Just so with the Eucharist, the center is not a subjective remembrance but rather the center is the observance of the act itself which is constituting the remembrance.
Besides, we have to be careful here. If we camp to much on the subjective remembrance being the center pivot of the Eucharist then we are in danger of suggesting that the effectiveness of the Sacrament lies in our ability to recall and by doing that it is hard for me to see how we have not horizontalized and Anabaptistified the sacrament wherein the sacraments are about our doing. The Reformed understanding has always been that the Sacraments are Gods and that God is doing all the doing in the Sacraments. If and when we completely subjectivize the table as a Sacrament so that its efficacy is bound to our ability to remember then it strikes me that we should forbid our gaffers and gammers who no longer have the ability to remember due to dementia or the onset of Alzheimer disease from coming to the table?
Pushed too hard we might find ourselves saying as I read last week from the fingertips of a Baptist;
“Point being is Baptism & Lord’s supper are for Professing Christian adults & not Children & severely handicapped.”
Communion is not the response of the converted man to the call of God. It is the sign and seal of the covenant. It is God who is the agent who does the acting in communion and not any human person. As God is sovereign He is free to act in Communion to convey grace upon infants as well as adults. As God never repudiated being a God who works inter-generationally, through His promises as symbolized by the sign and seal of the covenant in Communion, God has sovereignty designated that all the children of His people be brought to the Grace offered in Holy Communion.
Respectfully, given the I Cor. 10 passage I have to say that whoever repudiates paedocommunion cuts Jesus loose from the OT and introduces an unwarranted division between the community of Christ and God’s people of the covenant. By abandoning the unity of Scripture, the door is opened to subjectivism. But the repudiation of the sign of the covenant for children also cuts deeply into the fabric of practical Christian living. It affects the relationship between parents and children forcing parents to treat God’s covenant seed as strangers to the covenant, and between teacher and student forcing teachers of Catechism to treat their covenant children students as dead in their sins and trespasses. It touches the working of the Holy Spirit, by whom the name of the Lord is transmitted from generation to generation.
So, turning again to the idea of the macro-context that informs I Cor. 11 on the issue of “remembrance” we would note that we are saying is typical of OT sacraments. Numbers 10:10 teaches that;
10 … you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God.”
Here the feasts and sacrifices were to be a memorial for Israel before God.
Likewise Ex. 12:14 teaches in reference to the passover (which was the sacrament that the Eucharist replaced);
14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.
The connection here is that the remembrance that we read of in I Cor. 11 is not that something that jumps out of Zeus’ head brand new. The remembrance called for in I Cor. 11 is consistent w/ how remembrance/memorial worked in the OT for the whole people of God — babies, toddlers, strong men and women and gaffers and gammers and when you combine this with the express statement of I Cor. 10 that they all drank Christ we can only conclude that the emphasis in I Cor. 11 is not primarily a call for subjective remembrance as if the God cannot convey grace without our remembering and because of that our children are not to be barred from the table. Remembrance, whatever more precise meaning we put upon it, is not an exclusionary requirement for covenant children to come.
Now in future weeks we will consider the call for self-examination and ask ourselves if that requirement is a defeater for paedo-communion. We will also consider the connection between pass-over and the Lord’s Supper. We will spend some time considering Church history on the matter.
We should say that here that we are in the minority on this subject in today’s Reformed Church. We should say that there are many who disagree us who are smarter than I am. Calvin for example while admitting that this had been the practice of the early Church wanted nothing to do with paedo-communion. I hate disagreeing with Calvin, but I do on this score.
All that being said let us rejoice that Christ has invited us to His table to do this in observance of Him.