I was really interested in this video by Alastair Roberts on paedocommunion.
Now, cards on the table, I am a Baptist by conviction. Not only a Baptist, but I live in a particularly working class area. So, paedo-anything troubles me. The prefix is problematic to me whenever it is positively applied theologically and even more so when it isn’t.
What struck me about this video, however, was the common ground between advocates of paedocommunion and credobaptists (or, at least, the view that Alastair puts here). Here are some of the points that are common:
- The covenant signs hold together. Baptism and communion testify to the same reality.
- Baptism and communion are for those who are members of the body of Christ reflected in their membership of the local church.
- Baptism (and, by extension, communion) should only be applied to those who will participate fully in the life of the church.
- There are good reasons to withhold baptism and communion.
- Communion is a communal meal for the body not principally a place for introspection and individualism.
- Communion is not ‘magic’ – it is a public event in which we are joined together in his body. It is not a private, individualistic matter.
The list is not exhaustive. There are lots of parts of the video that the Baptist could affirm.
The point of difference between the Baptist and the paedocommunion advocate is simply this: who rightly belongs to the church? Are children members of the church by mere happenstance of birth? Can they fully participate in the life of the church even before they have themselves come to faith in Christ? The Baptist says no (or, at least, no in the cases in which it doesn’t baptise children) while the paedocommunion advocate says yes. But both agree, whoever is in the church should have access to all that belongs to the members of the church. There are not two classes of church member.
What has always interested me, however, is the fact that paedocommunion is not the majority view amongst paedobaptists. Paedobaptists who reject paedocommunion want to suggest that children are members of the church and ought to be baptised into it whilst simultaneously arguing that they do not have the right of access to the table. They (on a Baptist view) have a two-tier membership system: members with full access to the privileges and responsibilities of membership and members with limited access to those things. This is pointedly lived out in the admittance of some church members to the table and the refusal of others despite both apparently being in membership and neither being in open, unrepentant sin that would – in any church – bar them from participation.
The only argument I have heard from paedobaptists for denying access to the table is this view of examining oneself. But I think Alastair makes a good case in his video for what those instructions mean and how they are to be applied. I can see how paedocommunion is a consistent application of the basic beliefs surrounding paedobaptism and the ground for granting it to children. I agree with his view that – on a paedobaptist view – the greater danger is for those who would exclude children. If they are members, it is surely right to let them participate fully in the life of the church?
It seems to me that if paedobaptism is scripturally right, then paedocommunion naturally follows. If credobaptism is right, then the practice of a closed table for members follows (as all mainline denominations hold). The sole question at issue is, who are the members? The question for paedobaptists who reject paedocommunion is, in what way are you allowing all your members to participate fully in the life of the church and how are you avoiding a two-tier membership system?