If We Baptize Infants Why Do We Not Also Commune Them?

This question/objection occurs frequently in the context of the debate over infant baptism and it reveals a widely-held Baptist misunderstanding about the sacraments.

In the Baptist system the sacrament of baptism signifies and confirms that the person professing faith is actually a believer. In the Baptist system, it is not entirely clear exactly how the Lord’s Supper is significant different from baptism since the supper does the same thing.

We Distinguish The Sign Of Admission From The Sign Of Renewal

When Baptists ask why the Reformed churches do not also commune infants, they are assuming the Baptist conflation of the two sacraments. In Reformed theology, piety, and practice, however, baptism and the supper do not perform the same function. In the Reformed churches, baptism is the sign of initiation into and admission to the visible church where the covenant of grace is administered. We baptize on the basis of the divine promise and command to initiate believers and their children into the visible church. This pattern has been in place since Abraham (Gen 17:7) and has never been revoked. It was repeated through the Old Testament and again in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 2:39). As a sign of initiation, baptism plays the same function in the New Covenant that circumcision played under the Old Testament. It is a visible identification with the death of Christ (Col 2:11–12; Rom 6:3–4).

When we admit believers and their children to the visible church, when we recognize their place in the external administration of the covenant of grace, we do not say that baptism necessarily confers upon the baptized new life (i.e., baptismal regeneration). We do not baptize because we believe every professing person and their child is regenerate. We baptize hitherto unbaptized believers on the basis of their profession and we baptize the children of believers on the basis of the divine command to baptize (Matt 28:19) and we instruct them in the faith on the basis of the divine command (Matt 28:19–20). We pray for and with our covenant children. We take them to worship. In time, we expect them to make a public profession of faith before the elders and the church. Upon profession they are admitted to the Lord’s Table.

The Sign of Covenant Renewal

Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant sign and seal of the renewal of the covenant of grace. Just as baptism is analogous to circumcision, so the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant feast. It is true that the Lord’s Supper was instituted in conjunction with the Jewish Passover but the supper does not correlate exactly to any one feast (e.g., Passover). Rather, it correlates generally to all the feasts and to other episodes in the history of salvation. Notice that the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4 anticipated his discussion of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 by correlating Christian baptism to the Red Sea (in which the entire congregation was baptized) and the supper to the “spiritual food” eaten by the Mosaic church in the wilderness. That would include the feasts and the manna.

Because we do not think of the two sacraments as having the same function the Reformed churches have not practiced paedocommunion. We do not admit infants to communion because communion is the sign of covenant renewal not initiation into the visible church. Whereas baptism is for hitherto unbaptized professors of faith (whom we take to be believers) and their children (whom Paul calls “holy” in 1 Cor 7:14), the supper is for who have been baptized, instructed, and have made profession of faith.

In the supper the Lord renews his covenant promise to be a God to believers and to their children. In it he renews the promise of the gospel that whoever believes is saved from the wrath of God and justified before God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. In the supper, the Spirit feeds the believer with the body and blood of Christ. It was in this context, after all, that our Lord Jesus spoke of the “new covenant.”

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:19–20; ESV).

The New Covenant is the renewal of the ancient covenant of grace first revealed in the garden, after the fall (Gen 3:15), and repeated to Noah (Gen 6:18), to Abraham (Gen 15:5–6; 17:7; 22:8), to rest of the Patriarchs and prophets (Heidelberg Catechism 19). The supper is the feast of the New Covenant.

The Apostle Paul’s description of the supper shows why it is has a different function than baptism. He warned the Corinthian church to stop abusing the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:17–22). He warned them that it is necessary for the professing Christian to “examine himself” (1 Cor 11:28) before coming to the table. He says that it is necessary to discern the body (1 Cor 11:29). The reason that some in the congregation had become ill and died is that, in their abuse of the table, some were eating and drinking unworthily. They were not realizing that the supper is the body and blood of Christ. Please note well that I did not say “the supper becomes,” which is the Romanist view nor did I say “that the body is in, with and under.” That is the Lutheran view. I did not write, “merely reminds us of Christ’s death.” That is the American evangelical view. Rather, I wrote that the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body and blood. This is our sacramental language. The bread and wine are, sacramentally, the true body and blood of Christ. Jesus said, “this is my body.” He did not say, “becomes,” “in, with, and under,” or even “reminds.” He said is. The bread and the wine are the divinely instituted elements through which God the Spirit feeds believers, through faith, on the body and blood of Christ. It is not possible for infants to discern the presence of the true body and blood of Christ. It is not possible for infants to examine themselves. Infants were never intended to receive Holy Communion but God has always intended that the infant children of believers should be initiated into the visible church: the Abrahamic church, the Mosaic, church, the Davidic church, the church in exile, and in the New Covenant church.

In the supper, however, the Christian takes up for himself the promises of the covenant of grace. He says, “Christ is for me. His promises are for me. I believe all that was promised us in the types and shadows and finally fulfilled by the well-beloved Son.” Upon profession of faith and admission to the Lord’s Table, a believer also takes upon himself the consequent obligations of the Christian faith to seek to die to sin and to live to Christ—not as a condition of obtaining grace but because he has received grace already.

So, the Reformed churches do not commune infants because baptism is not communion and communion is not baptism. They are two distinct sacraments with two distinct functions in the church and in the life of the Christian.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

Resources

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


14 comments

  1. Thank you for this insightful post, Dr. Clark. I am new to the Reformed tradition and your resources (A Curriculum for Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism) have been extremely helpful in putting to words what I have been able to intuit but not explain previously. You have opened my eyes to Scripture in a new (very old) way! Thank you!

    My question here is in regards to feasts and food in the OT. I understand that you said that they don’t correspond in the same way as baptism does to circumcision, but I’m struggling to make the connection. I don’t see an OT example where a child would not have been admitted to the table (Passover, manna, other feasts). In fact, it’s my understanding that those feasts place emphasis on children’s participation with questions to be asked by adults and answered by children. Could you not say that Paul’s admonition is to believers but not at the exclusion of children? What am I missing?

    Thank you again for all of these excellent resources.

    • Hi AJ,

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      There are a couple resources listed below the post that speak directly to your question. Cornel Venema has addressed it at length in his book on infant communion, which I summarized and reviewed.

      My short answer:

      1. It is true that children came to the Passover but even those children were old enough to ask questions and to hear and understand the answer. Thus, we don’t see porto-infant communion, as it were, in the Old Testament.

      2. Venema makes the very interesting point that the institution of the Passover is only the beginning of the story. He traces the Old Testament description of and teaching about the Passover beyond the institution and shows that the story is more complicated than we assume.

      3. Adult males were required to attend the Old Testament feasts. We don’t see the whole family “coming to communion,” as it were.

      4. Even if, for the sake of discussion, we grant that children participated in the feasts we should not use our inferences from narratives to norm Paul’s clear, explicit teaching in the New Testament. Go back through 1 Corinthians 11 and tell me where an infant can meet the tests that Paul clearly established? Can an infant discern the presence of the body and blood of Christ by the mysterious operation of the Spirit? Can an infant examine himself? To ask these questions is to answer them.

      5. Finally, every case for infant communion is essentially a Baptist case: it conflates the sign of admission with the sign of renewal.

      The short

  2. It raises an interesting question as to how and to what extent women and children participated in the whole system of types and shadows of tabernacle worship. Did a child or a woman line up with their own sin, or guilt offerings, or was it all filtered through the male head of the family? Do you know a resource that speaks to child and female participation?

    • Hi Mike,

      I agree. I think there are some significant differences between infant baptism and baby dedication but the latter does signal a recognition that we need to include our children into the visible covenant community.

    • You’re right, Mike.

      Baptism, according to a Reformed understanding, looks very much like what a self-described Reformed Baptist would say is the point of a baby dedication.

      It’s not fair to claim that most Baptists believe that children are innocent until they reach the so-called “age of accountability” and therefore have no sin and no need for baptism until later years. If that were true, it would cut the heart out of the pro-life movement since abortion would be a merciful action to kill babies before they have the opportunity to sin.

      It’s not fair to claim that most Baptists believe parents are not responsible for the Christian training of their children. They may not use covenantal language, but very few Baptists say it’s fine for children and teenagers to “sow their wild oats” and then come to the faith as believers in their late teenage years.

      Many Baptists look at infant baptism and think those baptizing infants follow a Lutheran or Roman Catholic view of what baptism is.

      When Baptists look at Reformed reasons for infant baptism, and work through the conclusions of denying a so-called “age of accountability” and the conclusions of raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, much more makes sense about why Reformed people baptize infants.

      A huge amount of the Baptist rejection of infant baptism is due either to a semi-Pelagian (or even fully Pelagian) view of childhood innocence, or due to a failure to understand Christian nurture of children, or due to unawareness by many (perhaps most) Baptists that the Lutherans and Roman Catholics are not the only people to advocate infant baptism.

      I’ve personally seen Baptists attend a baptismal service and walk away shocked that Reformed people use almost the same arguments to baptize babies that self-described Reformed Baptists use for dedicating babies.

      Granted, I live in the Ozarks where infant baptism is almost unknown among evangelicals. But I don’t think I’m wrong that most Baptists have never seriously considered the Reformed argument for infant baptism because there aren’t a lot of Reformed churches in the types of places where most Baptists live — i.e., the American South and parts of the North where evangelical Christianity is almost dead apart from Baptists who have been sending missionaries to those places in more recent decades.

  3. As a lifelong Baptist by conviction, I have never heard or read any Baptist conflate the ordinances. Do you have any documentation for that claim that I could take a look at?

    • LT,

      I’m not claiming that Baptists do this explicitly. My claim is that they do it implicitly or functionally. In the Baptist system, the sacraments do essentially the same thing.

    • Thanks for the response. All I can say is that as a lifelong Baptist, a graduate twice of a Baptist seminary, and a Baptist pastor for over 25 years, I have never conflated them either implicitly or functionally. They are two entirely different ordinances with different meanings and purposes.

      I wonder, very cautiously, if you are making a fair argument here. I don’t know any Baptist that would agree with your assessment and that is problemmatic. If your opponent doesn’t recognize himself in your argument, might it be that you have not made his argument? Or perhaps have not understood it? Again, I say that cautiously and respectfully. In all matters of debate, I take the viewthat if my opponent can’t agree with my formulation of his argument, then I probably should not use it because I am responding to a straw man. Which is to say in this case, I think you are making a straw man here. No one that I know of believes what you are basing your argument on. You are responding to no one.

      Again, brother, I say that cautiously. I am a Baptist and you are Reformed and I am fine with that. Let us each live by our conscience and our faith in Christ alone. I mean no disrespect, but if your opponent doesn’t agree with your premise, it is hard to argue against it.

      • LT,

        As I say, it’s an inference. As I read Baptist theology and confessions I don’t see a clear distinction. I would not expect a Baptist seminary prof to say, “by the way, the Reformed are right about us. We don’t really distinguish clearly between the two sacraments.”

        E.g., Keach’s Catechism (1693) says, regarding the function of Baptism:

        …signifies our ingrafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

        The function of the supper:

        The Lord’s Supper is a holy ordinance, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, His death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporeal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace (107).

        There is some distinction in that Keach mentions nourishment under the supper, but insofar as they are both de facto recognitions that the person receiving the sign is a believer they have (from a Reformed point of view) the same confirming function.

        In your understanding, what is the function of baptism as distinct from the supper?

Comments are closed.