Gerizim and Ebal

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Lane has moved on to discuss Venema’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 11 in chapter 6. Before I follow him there, I wanted to say at least a couple of things about Venema’s introduction of “New Testament evidence” in his chapter 5, and respond briefly to his argument from John 6.

First, it bears repeating that Venema’s rhetoric is not overheated, and he represents and treats his opponents quite fairly, in my view. Although I differ with this book, it is the kind of book that will genuinely advance the discussion. I have appreciated it greatly.

That said, here are the two significant places that I differ with him in this chapter. There are many other quite helpful observations that he makes, but these are the places where the differences stand out. First, he says, “our understanding of [the Lord’s Supper’s] spiritual meaning and proper recipients should be based primarily on New Testament teaching. This is a rule of interpretation that needs to be honored in any evaluation of the arguments for or against the practice of admitting children to the Lord’s Table” (p. 75). This is not a practical question, necessitated by an absence of Old Testament data. Venema calls it a “rule of interpretation,” a hermeneutical issue.

Now if we assembled all the Baptists on Mount Gerizim and all the Presbyterians on Mount Ebal, and we announced this particular “rule of interpretation,” from which mountain would we hear the amen? I agree with Venema that we can rarely draw a straight line from Old Testament particulars to New Testament particulars. It doesn’t work like that. Circumcision is fulfilled in baptism, but we can’t equate the two. Passover is fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper, but we can’t equate the two. It is more like a woven tapestry than it is like a line strung between two poles. But we must start with the Old Testament in all our thinking about such issues. The rule of interpretation we must follow is this: we should come to the New Testament steeped in the thought-forms God gave to His people over millennia. This is because the Old Testament is normative straight up unless the New Testament teaches us that it isn’t. We have to lose the common assumption that the Old Testament is not normative unless the New Testament says that it is. The importance of this can be seen in Venema’s discussion of John 6, which is my second point.

Venema has an extended and quite helpful discussion of the Lord’s teaching in John 6 and the Lord’s Supper. In the end he concludes that the passage is not about the Supper directly, but that what it teaches includes the Supper — a conclusion I agree with, incidentally. Venema makes this point because he wants to emphasize the fact that Jesus insisted on the necessity of faith. Everyone who sees the Son, and believes on Him, may have everlasting life.

But we go astray if we assume connections between the testaments will only be between this festival, for example, and that sacrament. We have to look to the Old Testament for definitions of what faith is. I agree with Venema that all of us, children included, must come to the Table in faith. We must feed upon Christ by faith. We eat and drink in order to have life within us, and this life is not administered to those who are in the grip of unbelief. And those who eat and drink in unbelief are communing with damnation. But where did Venema get his ideas of what this faith looks like? He has already said that he need not get it from the Old Testament, but there is instruction for us there nonetheless. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps. 8:2). “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (Ps. 22:9-10). “For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth” (Ps. 71:5). We move from the very biblical notion that we are to feed upon Christ by faith, to the idea, that Venema pulls from somewhere, that this faith has to be mature faith, certified as such by the elders. I am with him on the faith — but something else was slipped in at the last minute.

“Without becoming sidetracked with questions about the precise age at which such faith may best be attested publicly, it is possible to conclude in a preliminary fashion that the teaching of John 6 lends important support to the historic insistence of the churches that communicants at the Lord’s Table profess their faith before they be admitted” (pp. 98-99, emphasis mine).

But raising such issues is not “sidetracking” anything. The idea that God is pleased with nothing but faith (true) is not grounds for saying that the elders have the authority or competence to set up testing services to stamp the papers of a four-year-old. Even if we go with Venema’s rule of interpretation, we would have trouble coming up with the scriptural grounds for doing anything like this in the New Testament. The problem of “precise age” arises because the duty of “attesting publicly,” with a host of modern cultural assumptions, is just quietly assumed. Why do you have to profess faith to come to the Lord’s Table when coming to the Lord’s Table is a profession of faith?

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