Over at Canon WIRED, I recently answered a question about child communion, and that answer elicited this response. Since these are reasonable questions on a complex subject, let me add just a few more thoughts (three to be exact) to the matter.
First, we hold the formal requirement for entry to the Supper to be baptism. There are other practical and pastoral barriers (e.g. newborns can’t chew bread, etc.) but these are not to be understood as formal restrictions. Another way of saying this is that such practical restrictions do not amount to an excommunication. A parishioner might miss the Lord’s Supper because his plane was grounded in Detroit — but this is not a formal barrier to the Supper, even though he didn’t get any bread or wine.
So the point is not to admit one-year-olds because now they have cleared the bar of coming to understand what is going on. No, they do not come “because they understand,” they come because we want them to be strengthened, growing up so that they come to understand. They are being included at the point where we have judged that it is practical and edifying to include them. When a child starts physically chewing bread, this is not “a test” he passes that earns him anything. It is simply that he has grown to the point where he can receive what is being offered. We are just doing the same thing with regard to his ability to receive the Word that accompanies the sacrament.
Second, in this post it is stated that I am still “half Baptist.” Actually, I would prefer to state that another way — that I am still entirely evangelical. (I don’t want to veer off into another subject, but this probably relates to my purported misunderstanding or misrepresentation of N.T. Wright.) Let me just grant that there were infidel Israelites saved from the Passover angel because there was blood on their doorposts. But that was not the only hurdle. As a pastor, I want my congregation to know that with many of them God was still not pleased, and their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things were written as examples for us. The issue is not cognitive test-passing. The issue is faith. We want to be calling our children to true and evangelical faith from the moment they first start partaking.
Third, the Lord’s Table, involving as it does all of God’s people, is not a simple affair. The elements are simple, and the rite that accompanies it is simple, but that is where the simplicity ends. I can illustrate the connection that I want us to keep (between Word received in faith and sacrament received by mouth) by postulating a scenario that illustrates the issues. Suppose we had a parishioner who was in a car accident, and was in a coma at the hospital. Would we administer the Lord’s Supper to someone in a coma? I would answer, of course not. Have we thereby become gnostics? Of course not.
If I administer the Supper to him in that condition, I am making claims about the power of the Supper “raw” that I do not wish to make. And if I refrain, I am making no statement that excludes him. And so I would refrain.