The Lord's Supper: A question for paeadobaptists

I’ve just read the section on the Lord’s Supper in Louis Berkhof’s A Summary of Christian Doctrine and I have a question for those who practice infant baptism. Berkhof was a paedobaptist, a professor of theology and is probably best known for his Systematic Theology.

Berkhof addresses the question of who can take the Lord’s Supper and writes,

“The Lord’s Supper was not instituted for all indiscriminately, but only for believers, who understand its spiritual significance. Children, who have not yet come to years of discretion, are not fit to partake of it.” (p147)

I don’t think there’s anything too surprising here, but here’s my question. Why is it OK to baptise those who have no idea of its spiritual significance but then deny them communion because they don’t know what that signifies? That doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?

Is communion a more important sacrament that requires understanding and faith on the part of the partaker, whereas baptism of an infant requires neither?

Berkhof continued,

“The grace that is received in the sacrament does not differ in kind from that which is received through the instrumentality of the Word. The sacrament merely adds to the effectiveness of the Word and to the measure of the grace received. The enjoyment of its spiritual benefits depends on the faith of the participant.”

A few more questions here, I assume that Berkhof would have to argue that the enjoyment of the spiritual benefits of baptism obviously doesn’t depend on the faith of the participant. The grace of baptism, then, works in two quite different ways, one effects those who are baptised because they have repented and believed and one for those who haven’t but one day might.

Berkhof however links the receiving of the Lord’s Supper to the hearing of the Word, but surely that should also apply to baptism? I hear the word to ‘repent and believe’ on the Lord Jesus Christ and my response to the Word is baptism. So why is the Lord’s Supper linked to the hearing and faith response to the Word but baptism can’t be, or at least not in the case of infants?

Any thoughts, because I’m not sure I can see it.

8 thoughts on “The Lord's Supper: A question for paeadobaptists”

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting topic Phil. I think I disagree with the first quote from Berkhof and therefore the logic breaks down. The children of Israel where present at Passover partaking of the meal prior to fully understanding it (Exodus 12:26-27) and I think the Lord’s Supper should work in a similar way. That is seeing and partaking in the sacrament they are caused to ask why, which leads to the Word being explained. Note this is only for the children of believers who have been baptised (Exodus 12: 43-45).

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Thanks Mike, good points. I guess I’m interested in finding out how Berkhof, and those who hold views like him would answer the questions. I like your point how participation leads to understanding and hopefully faith.

      1. Mike says:

        Thanks Phil, I agree that there does seem a problem with Berkhof’s position. Hopefully someone who holds the same position as him will comment here!

  2. Mark Heath says:

    Douglas Wilson has just preached an interesting two part sermon on this over at http://www.canonwired.com/ which he argues for giving communion to children (they are paedobaptists), but not in a “superstitious” way. His emphasis is more on children of believers being “in” the covenant.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Thanks Mark, I think that would be the more consistent position. Even if I don’t agree with the fundamental premise (baptising infants) allowing them to communion because they are ‘in’ the covenant makes sense.

  3. Jake Belder says:

    I grew up in Dutch Reformed circles, and so Berkhof’s position was pretty much the norm. But I’ve moved towards an understanding that is more in line with what Mike says. That seems to be more in line with the pattern of children within the covenant framework.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Thanks Jake, so even though it might not be your position now – have you any insights into they would have tried to square the circle I mentioned?

      1. Jake Belder says:

        I was quite young when I left those circles, so I never heard much of the theology behind it. But Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 was always read and heavily emphasised, so I suspect that was the primary motivation behind prohibiting children from partaking.

        What’s interesting is that in terms of the theology of baptism, a progression is observed in the application of covenant sign, such that all infants, male and female, are baptised, as opposed to just the boys being circumcised in the Old Testament. But yet, as Mike points out, if the children of Israel participated in the Passover (assuming links between Passover and the Lord’s Supper, of course), it would be a regression to forbid children from partaking of Communion.

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