Friday, April 07, 2006

Answering Paedocommunion, Part I: Forms and Substance

On a much older blog entry about the 'Federal Vision,' I've been asked about the current (special) issue of Credenda on the subject of paedocommunion. Normally, I would leave such a topic to the experts, but since the question has been put to me, and since I will be mostly repeating the nearly unanimous position (singular) of the Reformers, I will dare to tread into these waters.

The sidebar paragraph for this issue of Credenda is, in it's entirety: "They're sitting there. You baptized them. You say Jesus loves them. Give 'em the bread, you lumpy anabaptist." Credenda's incisive (perhaps they would say 'serrated') style makes me smile on occasion, but I cannot give it the degree of credit they do in the advertisement on the inside back cover: "Laughter is War." Satire and ridicule are used as blunt tools by all forms of complainants. Any savage can mock (consult the Democratic Underground forums for proof); there is nothing uniquely Christian about it.

But it's the use of the epithet 'anabaptist' that surprises me, even in the 'literary' context of a Credenda publication. This term, like 'hypercalvinist,' is often used as an insult without much concern for its actual meaning. The anabaptists were separatists who rejected infant baptism. John Calvin, no enemy of paedobaptism, nonetheless claimed "the greatest difference between the two signs" (Institutes 4:16:30) If John Calvin is an anabaptist, then what's left of the Reformation is smaller than Mormonism.

The point I will address in this article is Peter Leithart's claim that "there simply is no covenant where there are no external forms." This is to say that by denying infants the Supper, we are throwing them out of communion with God. Leithart asks a number of questions at the beginning of the article, and by labeling certain possible answers 'antipaedocommunion,' buries within the questions the claim that one must either believe in paedocommunion or reject the covenant. Leaving aside the question of whether this position reduces the sacrament of baptism (which the Reformed do administer to infants) to a trifle, let's consider what the Confession says about the 'forms' and 'substance' of the Lord's Supper:

"Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament: yet they receive not the thing signified thereby, but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto." (WCF 29:8)

It is the teaching of the Reformed tradition that the forms are closely connected to the substance, but sacramentally only, and not to the degree that having the form always guarantees the substance nor that lacking the form denies the substance. John 3:8-"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Concerning the other sacrament, the Confession says:

"The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time." (WFC 28:7)

So, those who would claim we are "starving" infants of the grace of God by delaying their admittance to the Table are shown to have a very time-bound understanding of the operation of the grace of God.

Leithart offers the example of marital relations as the forms that underlie the covenant of marriage, saying, "Just as there continuing marital relationship except through a set of bodily practices, so there simply is no covenant where there are no external forms." Yet, it may be the case, that due to the advanced age of the partners or other factors, a couple may choose not to engage in marital relations, and yet still be very much in covenant one with another. In fact, this example shows how a covenant commonly may continue unabated for an entire period of life without attestation by the usual physical forms. This parallels what the Confession says about the form of baptism sometimes long preceding the attestation of the substance. If the sincerity of marriage is not doubted due to the lack of marital relations near the end of life, why would the reality of one's connection to the church be doubted due to the lack of participation in the Supper at the beginning of life? The tight connection between forms and substance that Leithart wishes to establish is thereby loosened.


Post a Comment

<< Home