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Time to reengage with Lane on the question of paedocommunion. First, just a few comments on his post, and then on to Venema’s treatment of the historic Reformed position on all this.

Lane uses the example of citizenship and certain privileges like driving or voting. He wants to say that just because covenant children are not allowed to partake of the Table does not mean that they are being excluded from membership in the covenant, any more than a ten-year-old American kid isn’t American just because he can’t vote yet. The problem with the illustration is that we are dealing with more than physical tasks that require a certain maturity in order to perform. Suppose there were some function of citizenship (like saying the Pledge of Allegiance) that no immature citizen would be allowed to perform unless they had taken a loyalty oath that his elders believed. Driving is a question of whether your feet can reach the pedals. But requiring folks to take a loyalty oath would say (whether you wanted it to say this or not) that they are not really loyal Americans until we have verified that they are in fact true blue. In other words, it does bring the genuineness of a child’s love for Christ into question, and does not permit him to come to the Table until his loyalty is agreed upon.

Despite the disagreement over paedocommunion, Venema’s chapter on the Reformed confessions was really quite outstanding. My respect for him ratcheted up more than a couple notches. His method was really wise. He began by establishing the Reformed understanding of sacraments. He then discussed baptism, moved on to the Lord’s Supper, and applied all of that to the question of paedocommunion. His argument was really tight, and I didn’t have any real difficulty with it until right at the end.

First, some praise. He gives priority to the Word, as I think all Protestants must, but does not make the mistake of turning the sacraments into an optional add-on. The best answer to the question of whether the preaching of the Word is a sufficient means of grace apart from the sacraments “must be that ordinarily the sacraments are necessary and indispensable” (p. 30).

Unlike others in the Federal Vision controversy, Venema knows what the Reformed confessions say about the sacraments, and he is willing to repeat what they say, without any of that Southern Presbyterian funny business. “Though they do genuinely serve, as means of grace, to confer and to communicate the grace of God in Christ, they do so only as the Spirit is working through them and as they confirm the faith required on the part of their recipients” (p. 34, emphasis his).

And get a load of this:

“Though the Reformed confessions do not teach baptismal regeneration, they ascribe a real efficacy to the sacrament in conferring the grace of God in Christ on believers. A cursory reading of the descriptions of the function and effect of baptism in these confessions indicates that they affirm a true connection between the sacramental sign and the spiritual reality signified . . .” (p. 36).

This is something I couldn’t get some anti-FV folks to say for love or money. And of course, Venema qualifies this appropriately by applying it only to worthy receivers (those with true faith), just as Westminster does. And, not to snarky about it, as do I. But it is emphatically not the case that the two sacraments are means of sanctifying grace only. What is exhibited and conferred in baptism (to worthy receivers) is the grace of which that baptism is the sign. I am not saying that Venema would be prepared to admit that I understand and embrace this rightly, but I am happy to say that I am prepared to admit that he certainly does.

Venema also shows clearly that in the Reformed confessions, the recipient of infant baptism is passive, but that the recipient of the Lord’s Table is assumed to be active, a participant. In order to come in true faith, what is necessary? 1. A conscious awareness of the believer’s sin and misery. 2. An understanding of the person and work of Christ. 3. And a Spirit-wrought willingness to live in gratitude before God (p. 45). “All believers who are received at the Lord’s Table come in the same way and with the same obligations” (p. 45). He shows that in the historic Reformed view of this, two things stand in the way of paedocommunion. The first is the priority of the preached Word, mentioned earlier (p. 47), and the second is an insistence on a “prior attestation of the presence of faith” (p. 48). I believe that this is an accurate statement of the historic Reformed view of this subject. But it is also fully consistent with what Venema earlier called a “soft paedocommunion” stand.

And this is why it is curious that in his penultimate paragraph, Venema quietly slides to a summary statement that excludes soft and hard paedocommunion both. “Admittedly, the Reformed confessions do not stipulate a particular age at which such a profession should be made. Nor do they spell out in detail the kind of instruction in the faith that ordinarily ought to precede a mature profession of faith and admission to the Lord’s Table” (p. 48). What is that word mature doing in there?

So if he is right about all this, then what is the response? Aren’t we paedocommunionists radically out of step with the spirit of the confessions at significant places, and wouldn’t accomodation of paedocommunion require an extensive rewrite of our confessions at a number of points? “To state the matter in a different way, the admission of children to the Table of the Lord without a prior attestation of faith would require a substantial change in the historic Reformed understand of the nature and use of the sacraments” (p. 49). I believe that this is a reasonable question to ask. So why are we paedocommunionists still troubling Israel? Why don’t we get the heck out?

Here is why. Because the confessions are not inspired, it is possible for them to contain true tensions, true disparate elements. In the Word of God, everything harmonizes in principle. But in the confessions, the fact that synods “have erred and do err” does not just mean that we might mind a mistake that we might have to drop and that’s all. It also means that we could find ourselves looking at elements that are at odds with one another. Warfield once said that the Reformation was a collision between Augustine’s view of grace and Augustine’s view of the Church. Whether he was right about Augustine or not doesn’t change the value of it as an illustration. Suppose I am looking at the Reformed confessions and catechisms, and I see Element A, which Venema has very ably argued for. It is there, big as life. But suppose I also see Element B, which is in strong tension with Element A. In order to reconcile them, I would have to extensively rework something within the Reformed confessions. That is the situation that paedocomms find themselves in. And recognize the need for an extensive rewrite somewhere doesn’t make you “not Reformed.”

Fer instance? Well, there is more than one, but take what we make little kids say in the Heidelberg. We won’t let them eat or drink it, but we require them to say it. Why do we have grade school kids memorizing and reciting this stuff in the first person, when yet we routinely won’t admit kids to the Table for ten years or more after their ability to confess this in all sincerity?

“What is thy only comfort in life and death?” (Q1) “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.”

Now what we make them say here is either true or false. If we think it is true, then we should bring them to the Table. If we think it is false, then why do we make them confess it? And yet we have a cute little class of Heidelbergers who stand up in front of the congregation. They are asked, “But why art thou called a Christian?” (Q32) And they all chant, “Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.”

And all God’s people said, “We’ll see!” Either that or dead silence.

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