Friday, 21 March 2008

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 5)

Part one, part two, part three, part four.

"Thank You, Lord, for blessing me and my family with this great feast in Your Presence! Thank You for redeeming all of us from slavery in Egypt. And thank You for the great day that is coming, when Your Spirit will fill all of us, Your people, except for our little children. I thank You, God, that the day is coming when this feast of Pentecost is fullfilled, and our little children will no longer be permitted to feast before you as they do today! Praise the Lord!"
I find it rather astonishing that someone as erudite as David Field found the above paragraph a "nice argument" for automatic infant communion. Why?

For starters, why does our hypothetical Jewish friend simply states a falsehood. Why does he say that his little children would no longer permitted to take part in the feast? On the day itself, Peter said exactly the opposite, making clear that the commands he was giving, and the blessings he was offering, were universal:
"Then Peter said unto them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.'"
Peter said that everyone - including children - who repented and believed would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why, then, does our imaginary Jewish friend object that his little ones are excluded? Only those who don't believe are excluded. The complaint, then, appears to amount to a complaint that unbelievers won't share in the benefits of the New Covenant. What kind of complaint is that? In fact, the teaching that there is no benefit under the New Covenant for those with merely fleshly descendence from Abraham but who lack faith, is one repeatedly made in the New Testament. Do not think that you can say that you are Abraham's children, because God is able to raise up children for Abraham from the stones. You must be born again. It is not the seed of the flesh who inherit the promise, but the children of the promise (Romans 9:8, John 3:7, Luke 3:8).

Maybe our Jewish friend by "little children" means "those too young to be able to make a credible profession of faith". What, though, exactly are such little ones missing out on? According to the words we're looking at, he's missing out on "feasting". What does this mean? This is, after all, supposed to be an argument for paedocommunion. Is our friend trying to say that mere eating of the Lord's Supper, whether or not the person taking part is able to intelligently comprehend the meaning of the supper (in this case because they're too little to understand), is a spiritual benefit? Is this some kind of unrestrained sacramentalism we're face to face with here? Eating without understanding brings benefit which infants, too young to intelligently respond to the gospel, will benefit from even without the gospel? Or is our friend saying that the Lord's Supper is literally a physical feast, just as the Jewish feast days were, and that the little ones are being left out of the fun? Paul seemed to correct that error in 1 Corinthians 11 when he told the church at Corinth to stop confusing the remembrance of the Lord's death for a physical feast. Here's the beauty and also the weakness of a rhetorical argument like the one above - it means everything and nothing.

It seems then that we need to understand exactly what the anti-type of the "feasting" is. What was the actual meaning of Pentecost, considered with New Covenant eyes? The answer has already been given, in the quote from Peter - Pentecost was fulfilled in the giving of the Holy Spirit. Physical eating or being born of the right set of parents (Jewish or Christian) means nothing without this glorious reality.

And that's a reality which little children can share in - and if they do, by the Lord's sovereign grace (not through works, or anything to do with the first birth) share in it, then what loss is it if they don't eat some food at the feast? In due time they will be able to express that reality, and be welcomed to the Lord's table. Our Jewish friend, though, is not complaining specifically that his regenerate, Spirit-filled children can't partake - he's complaining that his children can't qualify simply on the grounds of being children. This brings us full circle, back to the vacuity of the "expanded privileges" point we've been discussing at length already. When rightly understood, the reality of the New Covenant building, now fully constructed, is so glorious that only a dullard who can't see the light of the sun would complain that he no longer enjoys the outward privileges of some of the scaffolding.

To be continued...

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