Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Answering Paedocommunion, Part II: Unmerging the Sacraments

When God instituted two Christian sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper, did He indeed create two sacraments, or did He create two forms of administering what is essentially the same sacrament? The difference between the classical Reformed position on the sacraments and the positions of other traditions can be distinguished by this question. For the anabaptists, the rules of administration and significance of the Supper have come to be taken as the rules and significance of baptism; baptism becomes a rite restricted to adult believers only, like Communion. A new and man-made "sacrament," infant dedication, has to be added to give believers something to mark their children's place in the covenant. As baptism shifts from a landmark of covenant inclusion to a sustaining grace similar to Communion, a fourth "sacrament," the repetition of the "Sinner's Prayer" moves in to provide a conversion landmark for adult believers. Baptism, then, becomes a sort of "confirmation" of the "born again" experience and increases its depth, like Communion. Where the Presbyterian has the date of his baptismal certificate to mark his becoming part of the body of Christ, the Baptist has the date of his "born again" experience penciled somewhere in his Bible.

For the paedocommunion/Federal Vision side, the collapse of two sacraments into one goes in the opposite direction. For the Baptist, Communion eats up Baptism, but for the paedocommunionist, Baptism eats up Communion. The rules and form of administration of baptism come to be taken for the rules and form of the Lord's Supper, despite the extra distinctions the Bible makes concerning the second sacrament.

Peter Leithart wants the church to believe that refusing Communion to infants kicks them out of the covenant. Since, according to the Reformed faith, it is baptism that uniquely symbolizes inclusion in the covenant (WCF 28:1-"Baptism...for the solemn admission...into the visible Church...[is] a sign and seal...of his ingrafting into Christ"), it appears that Leithart is redefining the Table in the image of a continuing baptismal rite, taking away the distinctiveness of ths sacrament in the process. Compare what the Confession says about the Lord's Supper being distinctly for believers' "spiritual nourishment and growth in [Jesus and] their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him" (WCF 29:1) One also wonders how infants may be engaged in duties owed to God.

There are many things of a theological nature which rightly may be said about "the sacraments" on the whole: they symbolize the graces they represent (they "point to" grace), they give us an image of a spiritual reality (they "look like" grace), and they guarantee a benefit to those who are worthy to receive them (they "promise" grace) (WCF 27:1-3). But, there are many distinctions between the two sacraments: one is an image of washing away pollution, the other is an image of nourishment; one is administered only once, one is administered regularly; one uses water, one uses bread and wine; one is applied externally, one is taken internally; one is rooted in ancient Jewish water rituals (Num. 19; Eze. 36), one is rooted in the person of Christ; one is given to individuals, one is given to congregations.

If the Lord's Supper becomes a kind of continuing baptism, one can see how the questions Leithart asks could arise: "Does baptism merely express a hope that the baptized one day will enter the covenant in some other fashion?" If one's inclusion in the covenant is not completely settled in baptism, and needs to be completed or continued in Communion, then exclusion from Communion could be seen to negate baptism. But, the Reformed have never thought this way. Even in one suspended from the Table, there is no expectation that one's baptism has been canceled, nor is one expected to repeat their baptism if they are later restored from suspension or excommunication. A disfellowshipped brother is still a part of the covenant, even as they violate that covenant. The covenant continues to be in force regardless of whether Communion is kept. There is therefore no reason to believe that paedobaptism only joins one to the covenant where it is immediately followed by participation is the Lord's Supper.


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