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Fencing the Table

March 4, 2007
The March podcast of Ordinary Means is up and ready for download. This month, Matt and Shaun talk about what it means to fence the Table of our Lord.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    March 14, 2007 6:41 am

    Obviously you folks reject the idea of paedo-communion (although perhaps not admitting children with a child-like profession of faith to the table at a fairly early age).

    In practical terms, how would you deal with visitors from a denomination like the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) which practice paedo-communion?

    Elders in such churches would admit to the table all who would have been baptized, and from what I’ve heard there’s not much of a formal change in membership as children grow in their faith. (They eventually seem to gain the ability to vote as a member of that congregation, but at the same time that might be a later point than you might want to admit them to the table.) Perhaps this is somewhat similar to a church in which membership is something less formal? I’m curious how in practice you’d suggest dealing with such a matter…

  2. pastorshaun permalink
    March 14, 2007 7:32 pm

    Dave,

    I presume by “you folks” you mean pastors in the PCA. I’ll proceed on that presumption.

    The practice is going to differ slightly from PCA to PCA, but generally a child that has been received into membership by profession of faith is going to be treated as such upon entering a PCA and will be permitted to partake. On the other hand, 3-year olds who has not “confessed with their mouth Jesus as Lord,” but was included from infancy in the CRE, for example, would not be permitted to partake.

    The PCA makes a distinction between communing and non-communing members. Baptized children fall under the latter category. By doing this, we take seriously the biblical injunctions to faith and repentance and self-examination prior to being considered a believer or coming to the table. While we don’t want to treat our children as complete pagans, but as heirs to the promises, we also have no right to presume faith where there is no evidence of it.

    Thanks for your question!

  3. Dave permalink
    March 14, 2007 10:49 pm

    I guess that I probably should have mentioned that I happen to be a member of a PCA (although half my immediately family are members of a CREC), so I wasn’t quite looking for how the denomination at large might address this. I guess I was looking more for pragmatically how you yourselves might deal with the issue.

    Suppose that the first word that a baby learned was Jesus, and that that was the only word that they presently knew. Would you consider that to be a credible profession of faith? Just how intellectually deep need a profession be to be sufficient? (particularly considering that if they’d just be visitors you don’t really have the opportunity to observe their lives to look to for fruits of faith)

  4. pastorshaun permalink
    March 20, 2007 12:30 am

    Some of it is going to come down to conscience. After all, we fence the table based on SELF examination, not elder examination as the Puritans often did.

    When we ask that a partaker be a member in good standing of some evangelical church, that is going to, pragmatically speaking, mean some different things. Sometimes, just the size of the building, whether you use ushers or elders,or whether folks come forward or stay seated is going to make all the difference in the world on the ability to fence.

    Assuming a small church where the elders preside over communion, let me give you three brief scenarios and what would possibly be done.

    1. Elder sees visiting adult shoving cracker down baby’s throat.

    We would seek to speak with this parent afterwards. If they were regular attenders, more so, and explain our standards of communion.

    2. Visitor approaches elder before service and asks if there little one, who is 2 and can say, “Jesus” with aplumb may partake.

    We would ask if there has been an examination by their elders and if there has been a public profession of faith. If neither, we would suggest they refrain while visiting with us.

    3. Visiting 8-year old is seen to take with their family.

    Tough one. We’ve a number of 8-year olds who have professed their faith before the congregation. Would probably not pursue unless this was a regular attender.

    Trust that is some food for thought.

  5. Dave permalink
    March 21, 2007 7:44 am

    Thanks. That helped to lend a little more clarity to things.

  6. pastorshaun permalink
    March 21, 2007 1:14 pm

    You are welcome.

  7. Mike permalink
    March 21, 2007 3:51 pm

    Thanks for your podcasts..they are very encouraging.

    I have a question for you regarding children and communion. I understand your view is that baptized children cannot participate in the Lords Supper until they make a “profession of faith”. I agree with this. However, can you please elaborate on what you perceive a valid “profession of faith” to be.

    For example, I have a 3 1/2 year old. (I am a member of a PCA Church). She participates in corporate worship every week with me and my family. She prays for Jesus to forgive her of her sins when she sins. She asks for family worship at home. She sings praises to God. She professes her believe in “the blood of Christ” and when I ask her if her good works get her to heaven, she says, NO!! “Nothing but the blood of Jesus!!”.

    Now..to me, it appears that she should be participating in the Lords Supper and growing in her faith. She professes, so she should be getting the means of grace to furter sancify her.

    Some would say..”She is too young” – there must be an “age of accountability”. But I think that is dangerous. Yes her profession of faith may not be valid at this time, but what about an adult that professes faith – How do you know that profession is valid? Just like your example of the thief on the cross, simply by trusting in Christ is “good enough” to get one to the table.

    We believe that the promises are for us and our children so when my child is demonstrating belief, why keep her away from the table because she’s not old enough?? She needs the supper every week just like I do to nurture, and grow her faith.

    Sorry for the long winded question, but I just want to get your feedback on this specific issue.

  8. pastorshaun permalink
    March 21, 2007 5:06 pm

    Mike,

    That’s a great question and a question that has been plaguing the minds of many in Reformed circles of late. It seems that the issue of paedo-communion (what Calvin called an “indiscriminate” position held only by those with “no particle of a sound brain left”) is getting some revised air time.

    What your daughter (or my daughter) has *may* in fact be faith (John the Baptist apparently had faith in the womb), but that is no reason for us to act apart from reason. What we know your daughter (or my daughter) definitely has is faith *in you*. She believes what you tell her and can parrot it back perfectly. This is why Jesus used children as an example of the faith we should emulate. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that childlike faith is identical with Christian faith, but rather that they are similar, specifically in their devotion. When a child has a Christian upbringing, the cross over between the two is unclear and that is what makes this discussion so tricky.

    On the one side, we have the paedo-communionists wanting to indiscriminately give the Supper to those who may or may not be believing. On the other, we have those who wait until adulthood for fear of mistaking the faith of their children. The answer lies in the middle.

    I agree that the age of accountability is a dangerous idea. It seems to suggest that children are not under sin until later. Uhg! The PCA has historically used the phrase “age of discretion” to indicate the age at which a child actually has the power of self examination necessary to externally profess their faith. Contrary to its critics, this phrase means nothing more that what we have in Nehemiah 8:2 when “Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding.”

    A child must have not only the ability to parrot back, but the ability to demonstrate understanding in order to profess faith *before men* (her faith before God is know by Him as is not a matter of your concern–you are only concerned here about her faith before men). In essence, your daughter should be able to pass, in an age appropriate way, the exact same membership interview you took. Until that time, she cannot be a full-communing member in any reasonable way. And that time may, in God’s wisdom, may not be until later in her life when, as the Confession teaches, she is justified in space and time.

    Otherwise, the Supper means nothing. It is mere ritual to the one who cannot discern the body. It would be Roman Catholic to subscribe to a view of the sacrament that makes it a magical pill that can operate apart from understanding. It would be akin to saying a deaf man can benefit from sitting in on a sermon.

    Don’t worry, your daughter’s day will come when she will “profess with her mouth what she believes in her heart”. The promises are absolutely for her! Look at the father God has given her who is teaching her to love Jesus. Is this not a sanctifying blessing in her life? Rest assured that your daughter is not “missing out” on anything as a covenant member of the body of Christ. She might not be able to comprehend the Supper yet, but Christ’s love for her is being expressed to her in ways that a 3.5 year old *can* understand. If he has called her, she will believe and you will see that as she grows. But give her time, be patient, trust in the Lord and not the outward means of grace, and when she comes to a clear personal faith coupled with understanding and demonstrated by the fruit of repentance in her life, you’ll know–but more importantly, she’ll know.

    • Nancy permalink
      July 19, 2010 12:58 am

      So… the promise is for her but feeding her faith through communion is not?

      Sad. Sad, that so many elders in the PCA are willing to diametrically oppose what Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for such is the kingdom of heaven.” *Little* children (small enough to be taken up onto his lap.) Do not hinder them. Children have childlike faith quite naturally. We are called to harken back to that simple faith in Christ. We are told to cry out to Him — Abba — Daddy. Like a child does.

      If this is your stance on barring small children — who are admittedly, intellectual Lilliputians, how do you handle severely mentally retarded individuals who desire to be baptized though their faith is small. (The size of a mustard seed.) Their intellectual understanding of justification, sanctification, regeneration and any other 4+ syllable church word is likely quite low. Their ability to memorize and understand catechisms is probably nil. Is their faith then not legitimate? Would their profession of faith not be enough to grant them admission to the table?

      My children have all professed their faith in church. The youngest was just barely four when he did this. Who am I to marginalize my children, withhold from them the feast of Christ’s love and sacrifice for them, leaving them to get the crumbs of the means of grace until I find that their faith is more of a recognizable plant rather than the tiny seed that it is. CHILDHOOD FAITH **IS** FAITH. It is tiny, immature faith that needs watering, nurturing, feeding (at the table!). It is like the faith we all have when we become a disciple of Christ. As covenental believers we believe that we are to disciple our children because the promises ARE for them…. not *may* be, not for them when they can prove they are intellectual enough to express it in grown up theological terminology.

      We are doing the church of the future no favor whatsoever when we tell our children that their faith is not enough to grant to them the means of grace. We should white-out the verses where Jesus said, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them” if we really don’t believe it, as the unfortunate (and hopefully unintentional) untruth you have stated above, “Jesus wasn’t suggesting that childlike faith is identical with Christian faith, but rather that they are similar” so succinctly does.

      Discerning “the body” is clearly a reference to the church as Paul had just come off asking if there are divisions among the body. Covenant children who are raised in the church will have no problem discerning that the body is their extended family, that we are to love one another, etc.

      If a child professes faith — A small child — (or an adult with the intellectual and communication abilities of a preschooler) If they profess faith that Jesus died for them. That he gave his life on the cross — bled and died for them — they understand it, as a child should. Jesus died for me and I love him!! Any elder who looks askance at this and calls it anything other than faith simply because it is immature — as a tiny mustard seed — will certainly be held to account before God for their actions towards His little ones.

      I have attended a church a few times that has a sweet ministry to some of societies outcasts, the mentally disabled. They give carpools to church for those physically/mentally handicapped who cannot get there on their own. Some of these individuals have limbs curled up and they drool and can’t actually have an adult conversation but Oh, do they love Jesus and does it ooze out of them when they are in worship. They screech awkwardly, not unlike a small child, when they hear God’s word. When they are passionate about something they have heard they let out sounds that would embarrass you if you were out in public with them. They can’t say the word justification let alone define it. But look at them and tell them that their faith is not legitimate enough to grant them admittance to the table. How deplorable would such a church be.

      By withholding communion from small children who demonstrate tiny childlike faith the size of a mustard seed, faith that has lots of room for maturing (not unlike the rest of us) — by essentially “protecting” the table from covenant children we are actually making communion more mystical than it is meant to be. We are not withholding it, I hope, because our children are scandalous. Is childhood scandalous? In fact, I perceive you will find more men who have a secret addiction to pornography at a communion table than children who happen to be wiggly during church, showing the sinfulness of their hearts on the outside because they have not yet created the barrier between an inner and an outer life. They have no secret sins… they are all out on the table, so to speak. But we will withhold communion from them because their faith is just not convincing enough. Rubbish. I pray that God will continue to convict ministers on the danger of protecting the table from the likes of covenant children.

      Communion is a tangible, edible means of grace. Have you ever taught preschool? You know what a lot of teachers know about children? If you want them to remember the lesson, make it tangible — but better still? Make it edible. Jesus did that for us. He knew we are all like children and need a regular weekly tangible, edible reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. He knew we are keenly in tune with our tummies. When I sit in the pews with my children and I whisper with them about the feast we are partaking of, I am reminding them that whenever we take communion we are saying, “I take Jesus instead of my sin. I grab hold of him and take Him in and let Him fill me, rather than my selfishness, anger, foolishness, etc.” And you know what? When there is no communion… they miss it. They cry. And it isn’t because of the ample portions. It’s because they know what we know in all its simple glory… Jesus is mine!

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