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 This pattern has been in place since Abraham (Gen 17:7) and has never been revoked.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.
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