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The 1988 Majority Report to the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

I received this as a text file and understand the the reports to a General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by one of it’s committees are public documents. Rev. Dan Dillard (OPC) informs me that the members of the committee were the Rev. Mssrs. Leonard Coppes, Peter Lillback, Edwin Urban, Roger Wagner, and G.I. Williamson. Minority Report # 1, against paedocommunion, was written by Leonard Coppes. Minority Report # 2, against paedocommunion, was by Peter Lillback. Edwin Urban, Roger Wagner, and G.I. Williamson signed this, the majority report, which argues for the Biblical position that our covenant children should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper by virtue of their baptism. In marking up this document from a text file, I may have made any number of errors; or else the text could be made clearer. If you see anything that needs improving, please let me know.–Mark Horne


Your committee reported to you last year that a great deal has been written in the last few years on the question of the participation of young covenant children m the Lord’s Supper. Many within the Reformed community of North America have addressed the issue from both sides. Several churches are taking a new look at the biblical material and evaluating their own practices in a fresh way in the light of God’s Word.

Last year your committee duplicated and circulated to the ministers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and (through them) the Sessions of the local churches, copies of what we took to be the most insightful and helpful writings on this subject to appear in recent years. In presenting its present report, the majority of your committee has tried to exercise good stewardship of its time (and yours) by not reproducing in its report the extensive argumentation that others have presented in other forums.

The report which follows is in three parts. Part I takes up the case for the admission of young covenant children to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on the sole basis of their baptism and ongoing faithfulness to the covenant in daily living under the oversight and discipline of the local Session. In developing this argument we have tried to address lines of thought which we have not seen extensively dealt with elsewhere. This portion of the report also attempts to answer some of the objections commonly raised against the position we advocate particularly those arising from the common understanding of I Corinthians.

As Part II of our report, we have incorporated (with permission) material from a recent report (dated May, 1986) prepared for the Presbytery of Philadelphia of the Presbyterian Church in America by a committee erected to study the issue of paedocommunion. This report was written by Messrs. Christian L. Keidel, David J. Brewer, and Donald S. Stone. We agree in substance with the findings in this report and believe it is valuable for your consideration, especially in its responses to several further objections (including some raised by previous reports to the General Assembly of the O.P.C.) to the position advocated by the majority of your committee.

Part III of our report presents a practical model for consideration as a means to begin to implement the findings of this committee in the local churches of the O.P.C. Much in this section is suggestive of the direction the majority believes the church should move, and is presented for consideration and refinement with a view to further actions by future General Assemblies.



Much has been written on the covenantal connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Old Testament Passover. There is essential agreement among Reformed theologians and commentators regarding the fact that Passover, and the other sacrificial meals of the old covenant system, find their meaning and fulfillment in the death of Christ and its benefits, sacramentally represented in the new covenant Lord’s Supper.

We will not attempt to reproduce those discussions in this report. We do offer the conclusions of B. B. Warfield as a summary of the findings among covenant theologians on this interrelationship between new and old covenant sacraments, and its significance for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper (cf. B. B. Warfield, “The Fundamental Significance of the Lord’s Supper,’ in Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. I, pp. 332-338):

The most salient fact connected with the institution of the Lord’s Supper is, of course, that this took place at, or, to be more specific, in the midst of, the Passover meal (p. 332).[The Lord’s Supper] is not something entirely different from the Passover – or even wholly separate from it – now put into its place, to be celebrated by Christians instead of it. It is much rather only a new form given to the Passover, for the continuance of its essential substance through all time (p. 333).

Above all, the true Lamb to which all the Paschal lambs had pointed was at length to be offered up; fulfilled in the antitype it would be indecorous to offer up longer the types. Thus the change that was made in the chosen symbols of the great sacrifice needed to have regard at once to the closing of the old dispensation of typical sacrifices, to the opening of the new dispensation of universal spiritual worship, and to the passing away of the type in the antitype. All of this was beautifully provided for when Jesus, even as they ate the last Paschal lamb, took the bread and wine that lay before him, and, with the unmistakable emphasis of contrast, said, “This is my body given for you;” “This is my blood of the covenant poured out for you.” Whatever his disciples missed in their wonder at the new things that were so mysteriously and so rapidly crowding upon them, we may be sure they did not miss this: that in some way the Master was transforming the Passover for them and giving them not indeed a new symbolism for it but new symbols in it (p. 335).

[In the O.T. sacrificial meals] the victim offered was the material of the meal, and the idea of expiation was therefore fundamental to it – it was a feast of death. But, on the other hand, just because it was a festive meal, it in any case also celebrated rather the effects than the fact of this death – it was a feast of life (p. 336).

Assuredly … the sacrificial feast is not a repetition of the sacrifice; and equally certainly it is something more than a mere commemoration of the sacrifice: it is specifically a part of the sacrifice, and more particularly this part – the application of it. Everyone who partook of the sacrificial feast, had “communion in the altar” … those who ate of the sacrificed victim became thereby participants in the benefits attained by the sacrifice (p. 336).

All who partake of this bread and wine, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper (p. 337).

The Lord’s Supper as a sacrificial feast is accordingly not the sacrifice, that is, the act of offering up Christ’s body and blood; it is, however, the sacrifice, that is the body and blood of Christ that were offered, which is eaten in it: and therefore it is presuppositive of the sacrifice as an act of offering and implies that this act has already been performed once for all (p. 337).


Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the covenant of grace. The Lord’s upper is the sacrament of continuance and growth in covenantal grace (cf. Directory for Worship, VI:B,C). The former signifies and seals our union with Christ, the tatter our communion with Him. Both bespeak the benefits that come to the people f God through identification with Christ – in His unique person and work – as the Mediator of the covenant and Guarantor of its benefits.

Both have an objective significance and character which is not determined by :he subjective condition of those participating in them. Thus both can bring either blessing or cursing upon the one receiving the sacrament: blessing upon those who use the sacrament in the context of a life of covenantal faith, love, and loyalty; cursing upon those who participate in the sacraments living as covenant-breakers.

Some have made a point of the relative “passivity” of baptism and the relative ‘activity” of participation in the Lord’s Supper. While there is some obvious truth to this assertion, we must be careful that it not be allowed to distinguish the sacraments on the level of the relative importance of the subjective condition of the participant in each. Baptism is not more objective because the participant is more passive in its administration. Neither is the subjective condition of the participant more vital to the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper because the subject is more active in the celebration of that ordinance.

On the contrary, there is parity between the sacraments as to the central significance of their objective meaning (i.e., their covenantal meaning as prescribed by God). They are, before all else, signs and seals of the covenant of grace, and of covenantal grace. They are equal in that their efficacy depends completely upon he sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the participant. Only secondarily do they tell us something about the participant. The importance of the subjective condition of the participant in each sacrament lies in the fact that blessing or cursing will flow from each according to covenant-keeping or covenant-breaking in the participant.

Some views of the sacraments, which highlight their “memorial” and “proclamation” function (e.g., Zwinglian and Anabaptist views), tend to emphasize the subjective side of the sacraments (particularly the Lord’s Supper). Their significance is understood in terms of the condition and intention of the participant: the sacraments are seen primarily as “acts of faith.”

Calvin, and the other Reformed formulators of our sacramental heritage, ejected this point of view on the grounds that it de-emphasized or undercut the objective character of the sacraments, which they took to be primary. Berkhof points out that Calvin criticizes the position of Zwingli on the Supper because the latter “stresses the activity of the believers rather than the gracious gift of God in he sacrament, and therefore conceives of the Lord’s Supper one-sidedly as an act f profession” (History of Christian Doctrine, p. 255). The same criticism can be brought with some justice against at least some of the reasons given for the current practice of the O.P.C. in failing to admit young covenant children to the Lord’s able.

In recent discussions over the issue of paedocommunion, those who have stressed the active/passive distinction mentioned above have (at least implicitly) laid the same one-sided stress on the subjective significance of the Lord’s Supper as over against Baptism. The Lord’s Supper, they argue, is more “active” than Baptism. Therefore faith in the participant is more vital to the right use of it. Since young children (they allege) cannot demonstrate such faith, they ought to be prevented from participating in the Supper.

The subjective condition of the participant, we answer, is not more (or less) vital to the right use of Baptism than it is to proper participation in communion. To frame a distinction between the two sacraments in this way obscures, at least in practice, the centrality of the objective character of the sacraments: they are both “means of grace” rather than “acts of faith” (though faithful reception of both is necessary to the enjoyment of them as blessings).

We need to address the question of the efficacy of the sacraments, and the role of faith in the proper use of them, within the context of the covenant life of the people of God. The sacraments were given by God to the Church as an integral part of the new covenantal corporate life of the people of God. They cannot be properly described in abstraction from that setting. An understanding of their efficacy cannot be had if they are removed from their covenantal sphere of significance.

In administering the sacraments to the people of God, the question we need to ask is not, “What does the administration of the sacrament do to the subjective condition of the participant in the moment of its administration?” Or, “How does the subjective condition of the participant affect the sacrament in the moment of its administration?” But rather, “What is the content of the declaration God makes in these sacraments?”

Since our practice of Baptism, especially in the case of covenant children in infancy, lays great stress on the objective character of the sacrament, we do not ordinarily become exercised about the question of the efficacy of Baptism in the moment of its administration (cf. WCF, XXVIII:6). We rather draw attention to the promises of God signified and sealed by the sacrament – union with Christ, adoption into God’s covenant family, forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the sanctifying Spirit – which are enjoyed by the baptized person by faith. Further we stress, quite properly, the responsibility of the one baptized (child or adult) to live a life of daily faithfulness and obedience to God in the setting of the corporate life and discipline of the local church. Even when one who has been baptized becomes a covenant-breaker later in life, we do not ask if the sacrament of Baptism in his case was ineffectual. Instead we quite properly discipline the offender, and, if necessary, exclude him from the life of the covenant community, in the hope that he will repent. If such repentance takes place, again we do not address ourselves to the question of the efficacy of his baptism, but we instead proceed to restore such a one to the covenant community and his consequent enjoyment of the privileges of fellowship with God.

All this is as it should be, and results from the fact that the objective character of the sacrament of Baptism controls our understanding and practice of it. But in the case of the Lord’s Supper we are far less willing to look at one’s participation in this sacrament in the context of one’s whole covenantal life. By our calling for self-examination and “discernment” on the part of communicants as part of their preparation for each observance, we direct attention (perhaps unwittingly) away from the objective character of this sacrament. People are making judgments about their subjective condition every time communion is celebrated, and as a result they often “suspend” or “excommunicate” themselves on a week-by-week, or monthly-month basis. And often the criteria for this evaluation are highly emotional and subjective. The effect of the whole is a tendency to obscure Christ, as the object of faith, from our view, and to hinder the very effectiveness of the sacrament in the life of God’s people which we are concerned to promote.

What may be worse, this process of ad hoc excommunication may well get in the way of the elders’ evaluation of the overall spiritual well-being of the flock and their administration of proper church discipline where the need is indicated. A member who continues to sin, but has the integrity to decline to participate in communion, may be allowed to continue in that sin longer than is good for his growth in grace and the glory of Christ. On the other hand, believers who truly need the grace of God which the Supper (as one means) is designed to bring to them may well, through confusion and the application of faulty criteria for “self-examination,” cut themselves off from this encouraging and nurturing ordinance to the detriment of their spiritual growth and maturity.

But finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this study, this sacramental “subjectivism” in the practice of administering the Lord’s Supper can have devastating consequences when applied to the question of the time and means by which covenant children are admitted to the Table. Though we confess otherwise (see above), in practice we act as if the efficacy of the sacrament does depend on subjective conditions at the time of administration. As a result we erect criteria for admission which are at once unbiblical and unattainable for many of Christ’s little ones who are members of his covenant and are entitled to use the means of grace Christ has appointed for their nurture in the faith. We do not judge the faith and faithfulness of covenant children on an ongoing basis by criteria appropriate to the recognition of a growing and deepening life of faith, but rather we seek to erect some standards for examination and “professing faith” which will satisfy us that their use of the Lord’s Supper will not prove ineffectual (i.e., become a curse to them).

On the basis of the parity of the sacraments, and the centrality of their objective meaning, we call upon the church to take more seriously the implications of these considerations for its current practices. The function of Baptism and of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a member of the church should be evaluated in the context of the whole life of a member lived out in daily faithfulness and love. It should not be only, or even primarily, on the basis of subjective conditions at the time of administration. Church discipline should then be used to deal with sin in the lives of God’s people. Our present practice has the effect of creating a kind of “halfway covenant” within the church for noncommuning children and adults.


A. A Powerful Means of Grace

Within the covenant of grace, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a powerful means by which God the Holy Spirit communicates to believers the benefits of the work of Jesus Christ the Mediator. Against magical and memorial interpretations of the Supper, the Reformed have stressed its function as a “means f grace,” an expression of the Spirit’s work in the application of redemption.

The sacraments are given to the Church, the covenant people of God, as n ongoing part of their new corporate life in fellowship with the Spirit, to be a constant reminder and confirmation of the blessings of the covenant until the end

of the age and the return of Christ. When properly used by the Church, these sacraments, and particularly the frequent repetition of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, serve to strengthen and mature the Church’s understanding of the blessings of the covenant of grace. As a result the appreciation of the people for the benefits of their communion with the living God is enriched. For this reason the proper administration of the sacraments is vitally important for all the people of God.

1. A sign of the covenant

The physical elements of the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not merely with regard to the genuineness of his human nature, but specifically with regard to the offering of that flesh and blood in death. The once-for-all atoning sacrifice of Calvary is represented in the elements as explained by the biblical words of institution. In the proper eating and drinking thereof by the people of God, there is an effectual communion in that perfect sacrifice, and a sharing in its saving benefits. That communion is not carnal, but spiritual, in that the efficaciousness of the sacrament depends upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit inwardly in the hearts of God’s people.

2. A seal of the covenant

The physical elements, being visible signs, at the same time confirm and seal the benefits of salvation to the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit. God has graciously determined to confirm the certainty and unchangeableness of his covenant, as he did to Abraham of old, by an “oath” (Heb. 6:17,18). That oath is represented in the sacrament as a “seal” of the covenant, by which use, the faith of believers in the promises of God is confirmed and strengthened.

B. A Vivid Teaching Device

Calvin has rightly pointed out that the sacraments are given by our gracious covenant Lord as a further condescension to our human weakness.

For God’s truth is of itself firm and sure enough, and it cannot receive better confirmation from any other source than from itself. But as our faith is slight and feeble unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters, and at last gives way. Here our merciful Lord, according to his infinite kindness, so tempers himself to our capacity that, since we are creatures who always creep on the ground, cleave to the flesh, and, do not think about or even conceive of anything spiritual, he condescends to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements, and to set before us in the flesh a mirror of spiritual blessings (Institutes, IV, Ch. 14, sect. 3, “Library of Christian Classics” edition, vol. 2, p. 1278).

In the Word made (sacramentally) “visible” our faith is more fully instructed and nurtured. God is the Master Pedagogue who not only speaks in true and clear words, but is also able to give concrete expression to His truth in a vivid use of metaphor, symbol, parable, object lesson, etc. (cf. the teaching method of the Old Testament wisdom literature, etc.).

The sacraments, as visible words, are one means by which God has taught his people throughout their history, and that continues in the case of the new covenant sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of all the features of the teaching ministry of the Church, the sacraments, in their unique visible/action quality are among the best suited to the instruction of covenant children. The abstractions of the faith are made concrete in the elements and action of the sacrament. This is especially true of the Lord’s Supper, where the elements and actions are directly and closely representative of the spiritual realities they exhibit.

Far from being more difficult for the covenant child to understand, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper will likely be the most accessible and helpful key to his grasping the meaning of the atonement of Christ and its importance to the salvation and present standing of the people of God. The doctrinal formulations of federal theology, the nature of atonement, imputation, justification, and communion with Christ are made vivid in the sacrament. Instruction keyed to the sacramental elements and actions will be far more educational to the covenant child than will efforts that distance themselves from participation in the sacrament

Pastoral experience in the teaching of covenant children about the sacraments indicates that the fears of some that “young children cannot understand the sacraments” is not well-grounded. Indeed the very opposite seems to be the case. Covenant children, not being laden with so much of the confusing intellectual baggage which many adult communicants carry, are often able at a very early age to come to a clear and accurate appreciation of the significance of the Lord’s Supper. It was not, after all, young children that invented the dangerous errors of “transubstantiation” or the “sacrifice of the mass.”


A. The Present Ambiguity

What is the paradigm for admission to the church and to the Lord’s Table?

Much confusion in theory and practice has arisen in the Reformed churches because of a failure to appreciate the true paradigm for admission into the sphere of covenant blessing. While Reformed churches universally confess the biblical warrant for, and propriety of, infant baptism, there is often confusion among them which arises in seeking to apply the categories of adult conversion to the case of a covenant child (especially in infancy and early childhood). How do the categories of repentance and faith – recognized criteria for the admission of an adult convert into the church – apply in the case of a covenant child?

While we confess that there is only “one baptism,” yet in practice (if not in principle) we tend to view the meaning of baptism in the case of a covenant child differently from that of an adult convert. The status of covenant children is disputed: Are they believers? Nonbelievers? Are they only “outwardly” in the covenant? Are they “in the church,” but not yet “in Christ?” A two-tiered view of membership develops within the church. Finally, a rite of “public profession of faith” – analogous to that made by the adult convert – is imposed as a requirement on covenant children to insure that they can (at last) be seen and treated in the categories of adult conversion. In practice, the covenant privilege of participation in the Lord’s Supper is accordingly withheld from the covenant child until such an “adult-style” profession of faith (conversion?) takes place. While little or no biblical warrant for such a procedure can be found, the practice is maintained because of the “paradigm problem.” If adult conversion is the norm for admission into the church, then the place and demands made of covenant children must be seen in terms of that pattern.

We propose that this scheme needs to be turned on its head in order for the biblical pattern to be seen, appreciated, and imitated. The norm for entry into the covenant should not be adult conversion, as over against the nurture of children within the covenant. Ever since the inception of the covenant in the days of Abraham, the gracious saving promise of God has been made to the “seed” of the faithful (Gen. 15:4-6;17:5-7; etc.), who in turn receive the promise to their seed after them (Deut. 5:2, 3; cf. Ps. 128:5, 6). God’s covenant is maintained through families from generation to generation.

Accordingly, we would expect children born within the covenant to receive the sign of baptism, which identifies them as the people of God, and fully members of the covenant community. They would be

nurtured by the promises and precepts of God which are the presuppositional norm for covenant living (Deut. 6:7ff.; Pvb. 4:1-9).

Expressions of love and faithfulness to God, as well as loyalty to the people and institutions of the covenant, would be a dawning, growing, maturing experience for the child as a member of the covenant. The privileges of the covenant belong to him as they do to his elders. They provide for his nurture and discipline in the faith, as well as to serve for the expression of his covenant faithfulness to God. As he grows the direct jurisdiction of parents gives way to the oversight of the elders in bearing the responsibility for his discipline within the church. When he finally attains adulthood, and marries and begets children, the process begins again. This is the paradigm for entry into, and growth within the covenant. Covenant children are not an anomaly within the Church. They are not “semimembers” until the day they are examined and approved (like adults), before they can enter into full standing in the church.

When in the fullness of time God sent His Son into the world, to represent His people as the true “son of the covenant,” this is the way He Himself entered into the covenant. He was born, according to the flesh, to a faithful covenant keeping family. He was an heir of the covenant promises, and was therefore circumcised according to the provisions of God’s Law (Gen. 17:7). He was nurtured in the faith of the people of God from infancy, and lived a life of growing, maturing faith and obedience to God (Lk. 2:40, 52). When, according to His humanity, did Jesus make His “profession of faith?” Was the paradigm of an adult proselyte applied to Him? Certainly not. When was his demonstrable faith and loyalty to God credited by the elders so that He could enjoy the full privileges of membership in the covenant community? The answer is: from the first.

With this paradigm in view, the question regarding the adult convert who desires to identify with the people of God, and thus enter the sphere of covenant blessing, becomes, “How can one who ‘was a Gentile by birth … separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise’ become an heir of the promises of salvation?” [See Eph. 2:11,12]. This question receives a new urgency in the history of redemption with the dawning of the present age inaugurated by the death, resurrection, and

ascension of Christ. The answer is found in the certainty of the ancient promise that through Abraham and his descendants “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) – the promise of the ingrafting of the Gentiles. Under the new covenant administration there is even greater assurance that “outsiders” will come (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 28:28), for this is the era of the universal expansion of the Church under the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The answer to this question is given in the Scriptures in the call addressed to Gentile adults to repent, believe, profess faith, and be baptized. The model of adult conversion is almost universally accepted by evangelicals as normative because of the New Testament examples of the redemptive-historical “conversion” of Jews at the moment of transition from the old to the new, and the ingrafting “conversion” of Gentiles, to become one “new man” in Christ, and members of His body, the Church.

The very model which fits so poorly when applied to the situation of children growing within the covenant, perfectly describes the experience of, and the proper requirements placed upon, those who were not covenant children, but wish to become heirs of the promise. In their situation repentance and faith has a much more readily identifiable “beginning.” The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the pagan registers much more decisively in his consciousness s requiring a radical break with his past, and a desire to identify with God and His people. In the case of such a convert, both baptism and the privilege of coming to the Table of the Lord are dependent on some overt act of commitment to the covenant. But, as in the case of the covenant child, there is (or should be) no further qualifying demand for the adult convert, beyond Baptism, which must be satisfied before being admitted to the Lord’s Table.

We are not arguing that faith is more necessary for the right participation of an adult in the Lord’s Supper than in the case of a child. We are rather addressing the question of how that faith should be expected to manifest itself in ach case, and the criteria the church should use in evaluating that faith with respect to the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is inappropriate, more, it is unbiblical, to judge the children of the covenant by the categories which are descriptive of (and normative for) adult converts from paganism.

From the perspective of this covenant-nurture paradigm, conversion, repentance, faith, obedience, and admission to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the case of covenant children need rethinking. These need not be tied closely to certain age, nor to an identifiable experience or event. Rather they are seen as existing and growing over years. The kind of “conversion experience” that we often see in the case of an adult convert from paganism need not be (and may not often be) the sort of experience of commitment to God that we will find in our covenant children. We need not expect it, nor ought we to have doubts about a child’s faith where such an experience is lacking. Faith in the covenant child will more likely express itself in a growing understanding of God, his promises, and :he gracious relationship that exists between God and his people. It will feed upon :he training received from the Word of God, and will be confirmed and strengthened by a proper use of all the means of grace. Repentance will be a daily part of :he experience of the covenant child both as a sinner and as a recipient of God’s saving mercy. Obedience to God and loyalty to the people of God and the institutions of the covenant will be manifest in a covenant child’s development toward maturity and service in the church.

Against this background, admitting young covenant children to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper ceases to be problematic. Further, the imposition of :he additional demand (besides Baptism) for a rite of “public profession of faith” appears all the more arbitrary. The parallel between the function of the sacrament of Baptism and that of the Lord’s Supper becomes all the more clear. Both have their meaning and proper function within the context of sustained daily living in covenant with God. And finally, church discipline is restored to its proper place as the instrument given to the elders of the church for dealing with unfaithfulness and covenant-breaking (among covenant children just as with adult converts within the church). We believe this is the biblical pattern, rather than the “nonadmission policy” with respect to participation in the Lord’s Supper for covenant children, to which we so often resort thus creating the aforementioned “two-tiered” view of church membership.

We can thus summarize the qualifications for admission to the church and the Lord’s Supper for adult converts and covenant children as follows:

B. The Biblical Qualifications

1. For adults

a. Baptism

The sacrament of inclusion in the sphere of covenant blessing, is administered to the adult convert upon his profession of faith before, and approval by, the Session. No further qualifying criteria must be satisfied in addition to this baptism for admission to the Lord’s Table. As an alien to the covenant and its gracious promises, the adult convert must commit himself to God and to His covenant people as a deliberate and thoughtful choice (cf. Ruth 1:16; Rom 10:9). This he will freely do as an expression of the regenerating and converting work of the Spirit in his heart. The elders have been entrusted by Christ with the authority and responsibility for judging the credibility of that profession, and extending to the adult convert the right hand of fellowship as a member of the people of God entitled to all its gracious provisions, including the sacraments and the other means of grace.

b. Faithfulness

The adult convert is then obligated to live an ongoing life of faith and obedience, and, should he be found delinquent in doctrine or life, he is subject to the discipline of the Lord, administered within the church (formally) by the elders. Such discipline may include suspension or expulsion from participation in the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 18:15-20;1 Cor. 5:6-8). While Scripture calls the new convert to grow in grace and in an understanding of biblical doctrine, it does not mandate that communicants achieve a particular level of doctrinal knowledge. Lack of spiritual growth, including growth in knowledge, should be of deep concern to the elders of the church (Heb. 5:11-6:3), it does not (in itself) disqualify from participation in the Lord’s Supper, except in the context of the proper exercise of church discipline, as mentioned above.

2. For covenant children

a. Baptism

Since covenant children are entitled to the provisions of God’s covenant mercy for their enjoyment and growth in grace, they are to be baptized. By baptism they are, in the fullest sense, members of the church. This includes a right to the use of the means of grace, including participation in the Lord’s Supper when they are physically able to do so in their own right. No criteria in addition to baptism (i.e., “public profession of faith”) ought to be required of the covenant child in order to qualify them for participation in the Lord’s Supper.

b. Faithfulness.

These covenant children are expected to manifest repentance for sin, faith in Christ, love for God and His commandments, obedience, and loyalty, yet these characteristics must be seen and evaluated by the elders in terms of day-by-day living, and maturation as a child is nurtured in the Word of God by his family and the whole covenant community. If such growth in covenant faithfulness is not forthcoming, then the child is and ought to be subject to the biblical discipline of the church. To withhold the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from covenant children who are not “covenant-breakers,” but who have not satisfied the extrabiblical requirement for a “public profession of faith,” is without warrant from the Word of God, and is detrimental to the spiritual well-being of Christ’s “little ones” (cf. Lk. 18:16,17), who, like all the people of God, depend upon the means of grace (including this sacrament) for their growth in a vital and fruitful life of faith.

C. Answers to Objections Against the Admission of Covenant Children to the Lord’s Supper on the Warrant of their Baptism Alone (urged primarily from I Corinthians 11):

1. Preliminary considerations:


The information given by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11 regarding the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper must not be taken as an exhaustive treatment of the subject. Neither is it necessarily the most basic passage for our understanding of how one – especially a covenant child – ought to participate in the sacrament. Like all of Paul’s writings, the material in I Corinthians 11 is occasional, and his instructions are closely tied to the specifics of the historical and ecclesiastical situation originally addressed. This does not relativize the text in any way, but simply reminds us that it must be contextually interpreted and properly applied.


The interpretation of I Corinthians 11:23-32 has suffered greatly as a result of a liturgical usage of these “words of institution” in the history of the Church. As a result, the warnings and instructions of the apostle have been abstracted from their context in the letter (i.e., vv. 17-34). With the passage of time, the interpretation of these words has developed in isolation from that broader context and the immediate historical setting. Consequently the understanding and application of this passage have become increasingly broad and absolute. A case in point, which is of central concern to this present study, is the way in which the warnings and instructions of this passage have been used as grounds for the exclusion of young covenant children from participation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.


The urgent necessity of an understanding and application of this passage controlled (and limited) by its literary context, and its historical and ecclesiastical setting, cannot be overestimated. This report will attempt to answer several objections to paedocommunion on the basis of such a contextual understanding in application of this passage. In so doing the committee has been helped by many fine studies, but is especially indebted to the recent commentary on the passage by Dr. Gordon D. Fee (New International Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987, pp. 531-569). We will follow Dr. Fee’s exposition in great measure in what follows.


Dr. Fee summarizes the situation in Corinth briefly as follows:

[The Corinthians] are meeting together to eat the Lord’s Supper but in so doing they are “devouring” their own private meals with their privileged portions and thereby humiliating those who have nothing. Because they have treated the Table of the Lord so badly, neither proclaiming the salvation for which this meal is intended nor “discerning the body of Christ, the church,” they are presently experiencing divine judgment. The remedy is simple: “In the gathered assembly, receive one another with full welcome at the Lord’s Table.” Moreover as Paul says in v. 22, “Since you have your own houses to eat and drink in, eat your ‘private’ meals at home.” And the reason is to keep from experiencing any further judgment (pp. 568, 569).

Our understanding of Paul’s use of the “words of institution” (which are, though important, introduced incidentally and supportively in his argument here, rather than for their own sake), and his discussion of the ideas of “unworthy participation,” “examining (or proving) oneself,” “discernment,” and “the body” must be determined by this contextual setting. Further, this setting must guide our determination regarding the relevance of Paul’s statements to the question of the propriety of young covenant children participating in the Lord’s Supper.

2. Some specific objections:

a. Children cannot “examine/prove themselves.”

Paul says that before one participates in the Lord’s Supper (v. 27), he ought to “examine himself” (dokimazeto, v. 28). Many have taken this to refer to an introspective self-evaluation to determine several things about one’s subjective condition in coming to the Table. Paul’s term, however, refers to a very different kind of “examination.” It is a “demonstrative” examination whereby, in the face of testing circumstances, one demonstrates the nature of his godly character by words and deeds that bring approval from God. The cognate adjective is used in v. 19 to refer to those in the Corinthian church who will be “shown to have the divine approval.”

Fee points out that this self-examination “stands in contrast to the ‘divine examination’ to which unworthy participation will lead” (p. 561), and which is already circumstantially evident in the illness and deaths of some of the Corinthian members (v. 30). Paul is therefore calling the Corinthians to realize the immanent danger of divine “examination” and “discipline” (v. 32) that is coming upon them because of their abuse of the Supper.

Specifically, that abuse involved a lack of consideration by the wealthier Corinthian saints for those of poor and humble means. At their “gatherings” for the Lord’s Supper, some of the Corinthians were using the occasion to glut themselves on their own private provisions. In so doing they were “despising” (kataphroneite, a strong word for “showing contempt”) the church of God by “humiliating” (kataischunete, cf. 11:4, 5) those among the brothers who have nothing. This was the cause of the “divisions” among them which led Paul to address this problem in the first place (vv. 17f.).

When Paul calls the Corinthians (especially the well-to-do among them) to “examine themselves,” he is commanding them to cease from their contemptuous behavior of humiliating the poor among them. They are to demonstrate by their behavior – behavior that will follow the specific directives of the apostle outlined in vv. 33, 34 – that they have “passed the test,” and have the approval of God (cf. v. 19). If they do not, then, in their continued sin, they are liable to the providential “examination” of God, to which some have already fallen victim, which will demonstrate that they do not have His approval, but rather have been “disciplined so that they will not be condemned with the world” (v. 32).

Can a covenant child “examine himself” as commanded here in the sense in which Paul uses it? Leaving aside the question of the relevance of this command to the Corinthian children or to our contemporary covenant children (see below), we can answer the question with a qualified “Yes.” It is possible for a covenant child, when tested (cf. I Cor. 10:13), to demonstrate by his words and behavior that he is living a godly life which seeks the approval of God. Such faithfulness can be observed even in a young child by both parents, elders, and other members of the church.

While it is unlikely that a young child would be confronted with a situation precisely like that which Paul addresses in I Corinthians 11:17-34, he may well experience similar occasions where considerate behavior towards others is required, and may well “pass the examination.” Such demonstrable godliness should be part of his growing experience of living in covenant with God, and should receive the approval of God and His people. It is striking that it is just this sort of “examination” which Luke says the young Jesus “passed” over and over

Casting the question and answer in this light clearly illustrates how inadequate the traditional view of “self-examination” is in light of Paul’s teaching in the context of I Corinthians 11. While the periods of pietistic introspection which have become a customary part of our celebrations of the Lord’s Supper may have value to some, they are certainly not what Paul is commanding in this passage. Therefore to keep young covenant children back from the Table because they cannot engage in such “soul-searching,” is simply unbiblical. They are not required by this Scripture to do so, nor is anyone else. What everyone is required to do – demonstrate by godly living that we have God’s approval – can be done by young children as well as adults, and is regularly done by many of our covenant children today.

b. Children cannot “discern the body” (v.29).

The reference in Paul’s instructions to “discern the body” has most often been taken to mean that a communicant must recognize the Lord’s body, symbolized by the bread of the Supper, and, in eating, reflect upon Christ’s death and its significance for the communicant.

Without minimizing the importance of the symbolism of the bread and wine in the Supper, or the central importance of the death of Christ for God’s saving work on behalf of His sinful people, we are still forced to ask if that is indeed what Paul has in mind in this context. When Paul wants to refer to the communion elements, and that which they symbolize, in this passage, he always mentions them both together (cf. vv. 26, 27, 28). So we must look in another direction for the significance of the term “body” in verse 29.

Fee argues that, “the term ‘body,’ even though it comes by way of the words of institution in v. 24, deliberately recalls Paul’s interpretation of the bread in 10:17, thus indicating that the concern is with the problem in Corinth itself, of the rich abusing the poor” (p. 563). That is to say the term “body” here refers not to the symbolism of the bread taken in communion, but rather to the Church. It is the Church which is being affected by the abuse of some of the Corinthian members. It is the Church that is being “despised” by the calloused and humiliating treatment afforded the poorer brethren. And Paul is calling the saints to see and understand this.

Through the explanation of the Supper he has given, and his evaluation of the significance of their inappropriate actions when gathered to celebrate the Supper, he is calling them to “judge” their behavior in a different 1lght, from a different point of view. If they see their situation through his eyes – or more specifically, the eyes of the Holy Spirit speaking through him – they will learn “discernment,” they will evaluate their behavior differently, and make the necessary changes called for by the apostle.

Paul is telling them (to use Fee’s summary, p. 564),

The Lord’s Supper is not just any meal; it is the meal, in which at a common table with one loaf and a common cup they proclaimed that through the death of Christ they were one body the body of Christ; and therefore they are not just any group of sociologically diverse people who could keep those differences intact at this table. Here they must “discern/recognize as distinct” the body of Christ, of which they all are parts and in which they all are gifts to one another. To fail to discern the body this way, by abusing those of lesser sociological status, is to incur God’s judgment.

Can children “discern” (i.e., recognize) the uniqueness of life within the body of the church as over against life in the world? Of course they can, and they are trained to do so in covenant homes and by faithful churches. Covenant children are regularly taught that the distinctions that mean a great deal to the world – racial distinctions, social and economic status, etc. – are not important in the church. What is more, covenant children are often more amenable to such instruction than adult members!

If a situation arose in one of our churches similar to the Corinthian situation, could covenant children be trained to respond appropriately to racial, social, or economic distinctions within the body? They certainly could. We doubt that it was the children in the congregation at Corinth that were creating the problem Paul addresses in this passage, though some may have followed the poor example of their parents. As Paul’s instructions began to have their effect in the Corinthian congregation, and adults began to change their ways in light of their new “discretion,” it is hard to imagine that the children of the congregation would have held back, and stubbornly maintained class-conscious distinctions.

A young child may not be able to grasp all the nuances of sacramental theology with respect to the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper – though they often do better than they are given credit for (adult communicants do not set a very good standard to follow). But is that what Paul is calling them to in the passage? We think not. Further, the very common tendency in our churches to identify this “discernment” (and the “self-examination” that is seen to attend it) with the act of “making a credible (public) profession of faith” is even farther from the context. We have argued elsewhere that such a requirement has no grounds elsewhere in Scripture, and warrant certainly cannot be found here either (without considerable forcing of the passage to say what we want it to say).

c. Children cannot maintain the standards of I Corinthians 11.

This objection raises the basic question of the relevance of Paul’s instructions in this chapter to the issue before us. Can we derive from this passage a comprehensive directory for proper participation in the Lord’s Supper? It is very difficult to say we can when the passage is understood in its proper contextual setting. To be sure the “words of institution” mentioned here by Paul have far-ranging implications. If Paul had introduced them here as a subject of importance apart from any particular historical situation, it might be easier to justify the traditional broad interpretation and application of them, but he does not. They are introduced here precisely because of a particular historical situation and as a reminder that the Supper they gather to eat is the Lord’s. That fact has implications for his later instructions to them. But Paul’s purpose must be allowed to control our understanding and application of his words, and that purpose is very specific.

Taken in context we believe this passage is relevant to covenant children only in an indirect way, and we have also argued that covenant children can conform to the mandates of this passage if they are applied to them properly. More than that we cannot expect, much less require. To build the case against the participation of young covenant children in the Lord’s Supper on the basis of this passage is to force the apostolic instructions to do service for a purpose outside the sphere of Paul’s immediate concerns, and is therefore in error. Rather we should submit our practices of communion – for adults and children – to a proper application of these warnings and instructions for the edification of the whole body young and old alike. It would be ironic indeed, and sad, if we were to use a passage designed by the Holy Spirit to overcome erroneous “distinctions” between groups in the church to establish (or perpetuate) a practice that excludes a large “class” of church members – namely, our covenant children – from the Lord’s Supper.

3. Two further general objections:

a. Communion is of no value to children.

We have already dealt adequately with this issue under the heading of “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper” (C.2 above).

b. Liberals admit children to the Lord’s Table.

This may be true, but it is irrelevant. An argument from the abuse of the practice of admitting young children to the Table is not sufficient argument against the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper to covenant children. One could as justly argue against admitting adults to the Supper on the ground that liberals also admit non-believing and scandalous adults to their celebrations of the sacrament. What does any of this prove except their ignorance and unfaithfulness as administrators of the holy sacraments?




The biblical case for paedocommunion is founded upon a belief in the essential spiritual unity of the old and new covenants. Thus we can argue by analogy with old covenant practice, just as we do in support of paedobaptism.

Since members of the Old Testament visible church were in later infancy and early childhood commanded by God to eat the Passover and other sacrificed meals of the old covenant, and since the Lord’s Supper has taken the place of these sacrificial meals, and is essentially the same in spiritual significance, infant and child members of the New Testament visible church are therefore commanded by God to eat at the Lord’s Supper, if physically capable, for we are not to add to or take away from God’s commandments concerning worship in his church (Deut. 12:32). Thus to exclude covenant children from the new covenant meal would be to deny them, without any biblical warrant, a privilege which they had enjoyed in the old covenant. We will look at the major parts of this biblical case and try to briefly answer some of the objections that have been raised against it.


Opinion among Reformed theologians has been divided over whether children in later infancy and early childhood partook of the Passover and other sacrificial meals: Berkhof – Yes, Murray – No, and Bird – Not clear. We believe there is the following conclusive evidence that they did so:

1. PASSOVER MEALS: In Ex. 12:3, the Lord says a lamb should be taken for each household, verse 4 adding a lamb should be taken “according to the number of persons” in each household. Infants and children physically capable of

eating the meal were counted among these persons because verse 4 becomes even more precise: “each one (or man) according to the mouth of his eating.” Whether the Hebrew means “each person” or “each man” (as a representative head), the phrase appears in the Old Testament in only one other context, in Exodus 16, where it is used three times to refer to the apportioning of the manna to each household (vv. 16,18 and 21). In this context, the phrase certainly included distribution to infants and small children physically capable of eating the manna, for there was nothing else for them to eat. And so why should not the same phrase, used by the same writer, have the same meaning when referring to the same act of apportioning food to households, that is, to mean the mere physical capability of eating? Was some kind of faith expected of infants and children on the basis of the phrase “according to the mouth of his eating,” before they could eat the manna? Obviously not! Why then, on the basis of the same phrase, should we expect faith to have been required of infants and children before eating the Passover lamb? Hence in Exodus 12:3, 4 clear and unambiguous evidence is found for infant participation in the Passover Feast. To say that infants and children did not so participate is tantamount to saying they were not allowed to eat the manna, a patent absurdity.

2. PEACE (FELLOWSHIP) MEALS: These sacrificial meals followed three types of substitutionary sacrifices: the vow, thank and freewill peace offerings (Lev. 3; 7:11-34). They consisted of feedings on the portions of meat which had been sacrificed. Whereas the Passover was eaten only once a year, peace meals were enjoyed more frequently. They were to be eaten only at the place of God’s choosing (Deut. 12:5, 6), and “There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice” (Deut 12:7). The word “families” here refers to children because Deut. 12:18, also speaking of peace meals, specifies “your sons and daughters.” It would be incredible to say this excluded children in later infancy and early childhood, for they must have made the pilgrimage with the rest of the family. Peace meals were also eaten in all the appointed feasts (including the Passover), according to Numbers 29:39. At the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), a freewill offering is to be given, and the “sons and daughters” are also to be present to feed upon it (Deut. 16:10,11). “Sons and daughters” are also to be present at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:14). Also significant is the peace (fellowship) meal for all Israel at the covenant renewal ceremony on Mt. Ebal. In Deut. 27:7, the Lord says, “Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God.” In Joshua’s record of the fulfillment of this event, it states women and children were part of the assembly (Joshua 8:35). This was God’s appointed place, and from Deut. 12:7 we know “sons and daughters” were included in fellowship meals where God chooses for his name to dwell. Thus they ate at this covenant renewal meal. Another passage, in I Samuel 1:3ff., describes a sacrificial meal at God’s appointed place in Shiloh, which Elkanah had yearly with his family. It is uncertain which sacrifice is being referred to here, whether it is one of the appointed feasts, or a peace meal. But portions of the meat which had been sacrificed were given “to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters (v. 4).” These passages show clearly that little children, physically capable of taking and eating, participated in the Passover and other sacrificial meals of the old covenant. Why can they not also eat the Lord’s Supper, the new covenant’s sacrificial meal?


1. The Passover diet of meat, herbs and bread was unsuitable for children in early infancy and even early childhood (E. Clowney, P.C.A. General Assembly Majority Report, 1985 p. 1903).

ANSWER: We do not argue those in early infancy partook, but only those able to eat and drink, “each man according to the mouth of his eating.” Also there is such a thing as a nursing baby on solids. It’s hard to imagine children had nothing to eat but milk their first three years of life before weaning. They could eat unleavened bread while teething and small pieces of meat and herbs when two years and older. The diet of the Lord’s Supper is even easier to consume because bread has replaced the harder-to-digest meat.

2. Wine was instituted by Christ as one of the two mandatory elements of the Lord’s Supper. Since wine is an intoxicant, it is inconceivable that this was intended for little children (R. Beckwith, “The Age of Admission to the Lord’s Supper,” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 38, 1976, pp. 127, 128, 150).

ANSWER: There are certainly many Scriptural warnings against the misuse of wine and drunkenness. But wine, properly used, is often extolled in Scripture as a gift of God which “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15). Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding party in Canal Now there are two clear examples in Scripture of little children drinking wine. First, while they participated in the sacrificial meals of the various peace offerings (Deut. 12:6, 11, 17, etc.), they at the same time ate tithe offerings, which included wine (Deut. 12:17, 18; 14:22-27): “You must not eat in your towns the tithe of grain and new wine …. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose – you, your sons and daughters …” (12:17, 18). “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice” (14:26). If the presence of wine did not bar children from participating in these meals, why should it exclude them from the Lord’s Supper? Obviously very small portions would have been given to children. Only a sip of wine is received in the Lord’s Supper. Where is any danger of intoxication in that? A second illustration in Scripture of children drinking wine is found in Lamentations where we read of Jeremiah’s grief: “Because child and suckling faint in the city’s open places. To their mothers they say ‘Where is corn and wine’; as they faint like those wounded in the city’s open places, as their life is poured out of the bosom of their mothers” (2:11, 12). This passage answers the first objection about nursing infants being unable to eat solids. Here they eat corn, and in Lam. 4:4, they cry out for bread (it is possible for sucklings to call for these things, especially if we remember children were not generally weaned until the age of three). They also drink wine. Beckwith, in a rather arbitrary way, suggests the word translated here as “wine” refers in this context to “bunches of grapes” (p. 128). But the word appears 135 times in the Old Testament and in every context is translated as wine to be used for drinking.

3. Although small children partook of the first three recorded Passovers (Ex. 12; Num. 9; Josh. 5), they were not expected to do so when worship in he central sanctuary was established. Only male adults had to attend (Deut. 16:16). Jesus celebrated the Passover with a company of 12 men, not with his family (Clowney, p.1903). At the time of Christ, women were beginning to attend, and the age at which males were required to do so was lowered to 13. Since Jesus patterned attendance at the Lord’s Supper after the Passover meals of his day, and since little children were not attending at that time, the Lord’s Supper was not intended for little children (Beckwith, pp. 136ff.).

ANSWER: First, it must be noted from the context of Deut. 16:16, that although male adults were commanded to attend annually the three festivals, women and little children were allowed, expected, if not required to attend as well, if physically capable: “Celebrate the Feast of weeks … you, your sons and daughters …” (Deut. 16:10, 11), and “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles … you, your sons and daughters” (Deut. 16:13, 14). The command, therefore, for male adults to attend would apply only to their unique role, as the federal heads of their families, of presenting the offerings to be sacrificed in the place of God’s choosing: “No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed …” (Deut. 16:6). Thus it does not refer at all to the requirement to eat the sacrificial meals, which would apply more broadly as something the whole family was expected to do. In addition, Deut. 12:6ff. makes clear that, since the peace meals were attended by whole families, it cannot be argued that worship at the central sanctuary was intended to make attendance by little children (or women) obsolete (e.g., see I Sam. 1:3ff.). Thus there is no reason to assume that little children would not go on eating the Passover meal, even at the central sanctuary, “each man according to the mouth of his eating”. Second, it is not accurate to say little children were not eating the Passover at the time of Christ. Beckwith admits that “very little children” (though not infants) were able to eat the Passover, if able to eat as much as an olive size of meat, according to Mishnah passages (p. 145). He explains, however, that this would have been later in the first century, not at the time of Christ (pp.149ff.). According to Yoma 82a, he goes on to say, thirteen was the age of accountability for male adults. This would explain why Jesus is recorded to have attended at the age of 12 in Luke 2:41-51, because “Jesus was taken up by Joseph a year in advance, in accordance with the practice of preparing children in that way for the duties which would become obligatory when they were thirteen.” Beckwith does not cite his source for this preparation a year in advance, but one may be found in Pesahim 99b. In this same Mishnah book, however, in Pesahim 88a, it is said: “Our Rabbis taught: ‘a lamb for a household’: this teaches that a man can bring (a lamb) and slaughter (it) on behalf of his sons and daughters, if minors … whether with their consent or without it.” Other passages in Pesahim speak of little children partaking (which are also cited by Beckwith, pp. 145ff.). Now if Beckwith applies Pesahim 99b to the time of Christ (to establish why Christ attended at the age of 12), he should also use the other passages from Pesahim. If this is done, we must conclude little children were eating the Passover at the time of Christ. Thus if Jesus patterned attendance at the Lord’s Supper after attendance at the Passover in his day, it would have included very little children. Third, Jesus’ attendance at the Passover with the twelve apostles was not so much a result of Deut. 16:16, but rather a fulfillment of what was foreshadowed in Exodus 24:9-11. The latter records the formal institution of the Mosaic covenant, which points forward to Christ’s institution of the new covenant with the apostles (more on this later).

4. The Passover was to be eaten only by those old enough to inquire into its meaning (Ex. 12:26).

ANSWER: One should not conclude from the ability to inquire by some the necessity to inquire by all. A child’s inquiry concerning the meaning of the Passover was never meant to be taken as a requirement for participation, but as an opportunity for instruction. As a child entered the age of discretion, he/she was to be instructed in the spiritual meaning of the Passover and peace meals. A similar situation is described in Deut. 6:6, 7, 20, 21, cf. vv. 22-25 in which parents trained their children to obey the law before they understood its spiritual significance. No one would argue they should have been kept from the law until they were old enough to comprehend its connection with redemption.


There are several reasons for believing that the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Passover meal. First, the Passover meal was directly transformed by Christ into a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The very elements of the Lord’s Supper were invested with new meaning by Christ’s words of institution: “Take eat; this is my body” (Mt. 26:26; Mk. 14:22; Lk. 22:19), and “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:27, 28; Mk. 14:24).

Second, Jesus identifies (by fulfillment) both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper with the Messianic banquet. The Bible speaks of a Messianic banquet to be enjoyed by all God’s people when Jesus comes a second time to completely establish his kingdom: Isa. 26:6-8; Mt. 9:11; 22:1ff.; 25:1ff.; Lk. 13:28, and 22:30. Jesus identifies the Passover meal he is eating with his disciples and this messianic banquet in saying, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it, until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:15, 16), and “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk. 22:18). But he also identifies the Lord’s Supper which he is instituting and the messianic banquet in saying: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt. 26:29; cf. vv. 27, 28). If the messianic banquet fulfills both the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, there must be a direct correspondence between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper as well, and the Lord’s Supper may therefore be said to replace the Passover meal.

Third and finally, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the Passover sacrifices, for Paul says, “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (I Cor. 5:7). If the Lord’s Supper is a feeding upon that which signifies the sacrificed Christ, and lf the sacrificed Christ is, among other things, a Passover sacrifice (according to Paul), then the Lord’s Supper is a feeding upon that which signifies a Passover sacrifice and should thus be considered a Passover meal. For these three reasons one must conclude that the Lord’s Supper is a Passover meal.

The Lord’s Supper also replaces peace meals because Hebrews 10:1ff. teaches that the sacrifices of the old covenant are a shadow of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Thus all the sacrificial meals of the old covenant (i.e. the peace meals as well as the Passover meal), which involved feeding upon some of these sacrifices fulfilled the Lord’s Supper, the new covenant sacrificial meal, which is a feeding upon that which signifies Christ’s sacrifice.

The propitiation for sins accomplished through a substitutionary sacrifice of atonement, and the resulting fellowship of peace with God, is the key to understanding the underlying unity of meaning between the Passover and peace meals and the Lord’s Supper. In the old covenant, the propitiation was always accomplished through the sacrifice of animals prior to the meal. They were sacrificial meals, therefore, because that which was eaten had been sacrificed.

Through the one sufficient death of Christ on the cross, propitiation for the sins of God’s people has been fully and truly accomplished. But in eating the bread and drinking the wine, the church does not feed upon the actually sacrificed

body and blood of Christ; it feeds rather upon that which signifies Christ’s sacrificed body and blood. It may therefore be called a sacrificial meal, not because a sacrifice is made during the meal, nor because Christ’s sacrificed body is physically present in some sense, but because participants consume the bread and wine which signify Christ’s body and blood (see H. Ridderbos, “The Coming of the Kingdom,” [pp. 418-443] for further understanding of the Lord’s Supper as this kind of sacrificial meal). The Passover meal is especially close in meaning to the Lord’s Supper. Both are commemorative, perpetual and family-covenant oriented. The peace meals involved the intimate fellowship with God which is ours today in the Lord’s Supper, accomplished not through the blood of continually offered animal sacrifices, but through the once-for-all shed blood of Christ on the cross.


1. The Passover and peace meals were not feedings on sacrifices of atonement (Majority Report of the Special Committee on Paedocommunion to the 52nd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986, pp. 795. concerning the Passover meal, and Beckwith, p. 135 with regard to peace meals).

ANSWER: According to Vos, “It is a mistake to think that in the sin offerings only expiation was afforded. Wherever there is slaying and manipulation of blood there is expiation, and both of these were present in the original Passover” (“Biblical Theology,” p. 135). Hengstenberg says the Passover is “expressly termed ‘a sacrifice,’ [Ex. 12:27; 23:18; 34:25]. It was slaughtered in holy places [Deut.16:5], and after the sanctuary had been erected, its blood was sprinkled and its fat burnt on the altar [2 Chron. 30:16, 17; 35:11]” (“History of the Kingdom of God,” vol. 3, p. 278). It cannot be maintained either that the Passover was a sacrifice of propitiation but not expiation (O.P.C. Majority Report, pp. 7, 8). You cannot have the former without the latter. Again quoting from Vos: “The meal was an exponent of the state of peace and blessedness enjoyed. But precisely because this meal followed the sacrifice proper, there must be recognized in it a reminder of the necessary dependence of such a state of privilege on antecedent expiation” (p. 135). The peace meal, furthermore, was a feeding on a sacrifice of atonement, for in offering the sacrifice, “He is to lay his hand on the head of the offering,’ (Lev. 3:2). This symbolized the transfer of sin to the animal, who is then killed as a substitute and whose blood is sprinkled “against the altar” (vs. 2).

2. Only adult males, as federal heads of their families, were to approach the altar and lay their hands on the sacrifices. This mandated a prior, public profession of faith: “Those who approached the altar in an immature or sinful way were judged – they became guilty of the body and blood of the sacrifice …. We hold that God still judges those who carelessly approach the altar [I Cor. 11:30, compare Num. 17:12-18:7]. Therefore, because the results of approaching the altar and the results of eating the Lord’s Supper are the same so are the prerequisites or terms of admission” (The Main thesis of the O.P.C. General Assembly Majority Report, p.13).

ANSWER: The problem with this line of reasoning is the mistaken comparison between approaching the altar and approaching the Lord’s Table. This is to misconstrue the analogy entirely. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrificial meal – a feeding upon that which symbolizes what has already been sacrificed. It is definitely not the offering of a sacrifice. We agree that only the male, as federal head, was supposed to have offered the sacrifice at the altar – and only in faith. But this says nothing about who could eat what had been offered by the male. As we have seen from Exodus 12:3ff. and Deut. 12:4ff., little children (as well as women) were able to do the latter, and as soon as they were physically capable – not just when they had come to an age of discretion. Hence one draws a confused and false analogy by comparing 1 Cor. 11:30 and Num. 17:12-18:7.

3. The Lord’s supper is a covenant renewal ceremony, since Jesus’ statement concerning the wine, “this is the covenant in my blood” refers back to Exodus 24:8, to the covenant ratification ceremony of Moses with Israel and to the meal described in verse 11. But in Neh. 10:28, 29: “‘wives, sons and daughters’ participate in the renewal oath and self-malediction, along with the men and officers. Verse 28 qualifies that statement with ‘every one having knowledge and understanding”‘ (S[tuart R.] Jones, “Paedocommunion: An Initial Response,” 9/ 25/84 – a paper submitted to the Mid-Atlantic Presbytery of the O.P.C., pp. 9ff.). Jones continues to reason that since this is a renewal of the Mosaic covenant (v.29), and since it required “knowledge and understanding,” those present at the similar covenant ratification in Ex. 24 must have been only adults able to understand exercise faith and make informed commitments. Since little children were incapable of this and thus did not participate in the old covenant renewal ceremony, they ought not partake of the Lord’s Supper, the new covenant renewal ceremony.

ANSWER: First, we agree that only adults with understanding were able to subjectively bind themselves in covenant renewal commitment. This does not mean, however, that little children were not present at these ceremonies. In other renewal ceremonies “all Israel” was to be present, including children (Deut. 31:11,12; Josh. 8:33, 35). Second, in Ex.24:8, Moses sprinkles the sacrificial blood of burnt and peace offerings on the people. Although little children were unaware of its significance, it still objectively represented their life and death bond with God, their covenant Lord. The little ones were still responsible for repentance and faith as they grew in understanding and discernment, just as Deut.10:16 and Jer. 4:4, 14 speak of all Israel’s responsibility to be what their circumcision signifies they are to be – holy, loving, pure in heart. If little children could eat the Passover and peace meals, with all their objective spiritual significance, while not having subjective understanding, they could be part of a covenant institution ceremony, without subjective understanding. Third, Heb. 9:19 tells us that the blood was sprinkled by Moses on the people with branches of hyssop, a reminder of the Passover sacrifice and how its blood was sprinkled on the doorways of Israelite homes with hyssop. Thus this ceremony in Ex. 24 was the formal ratifying of the covenant already begun by the Passover sacrifice and the blood applied there. Children, as we have seen, participated in this covenant meal, each man according to the mouth of his eating. Fourth, it is certainly true the Lord’s Supper fulfills the covenant renewal ceremonies of the old covenant – especially in Ex. 24. The meal eaten by the Israelite leaders was a peace (fellowship) meal (vv. 5, 11) and was eaten only by the leaders. In Deut. 27:6-8 and Joshua 8:1, at a similar covenant renewal ceremony, all Israel participated in peace meals and rejoiced before the Lord, including little children (as we have already observed). Thus in Ex. 24, the covenant was formally instituted and a covenant meal was eaten by the leaders of Israel. In Josh. 8, this same covenant is renewed by all Israel participating in a peace meal together. In an analogous way, Jesus formally instituted the new covenant by eating the Lord’s Supper (a sacrificial meal as previously defined) with the twelve apostles, the leaders of the new Israel. Subsequently, God’s people have renewed this covenant by the perpetual eating of the new covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper. If little children participated in the old covenant renewal meals, why not the new?


Paedobaptists will recognize the similarity between this argument and their own argument for infant baptism. They argue generally in this way: that since God commanded infant members of the old testament visible church to be circumcised, and since baptism has now taken the place of circumcision and is essentially the same in spiritual meaning as circumcision, infant members of the new testament visible church are commanded by God to be baptized, for we are not to take away from God’s commandments.


1. But in 1 Cor. 11, Paul does provide biblical warrant for excluding children from the Lord’s Table. He requires participants to examine themselves, to commune with God, to discern, remember and proclaim Christ’s sacrificial death. Since little children do not have such repentance and faith, they do not meet Paul’s requirements and should not partake. If they do, they eat unworthily, and are subject to God’s punishment.

ANSWER: First, according to Rayburn: “As the context makes clear and as the commentators confirm, Paul’s remarks are specifically directed against an impious and irreverent participation (a true manductio indignorum). Much more would need to have been said before it could be concluded that Paul was speaking to the general question of who may come to the table, or to the question of children’s participation, or that he intended to exclude them from the supper. We do not understand Acts 2:38 to deny baptism to little children, Rom. 10:13,14 to deny them salvation, or 2 Thess. 3:10 to deny them food” (p. 1910; see also Keidel, pp. 323-325). Second, and again quoting Rayburn: “An appeal to I Cor. 11:28 is rendered all the more dubious an argument against paedocommunion by the incontestable fact the Old Testament contains similar warnings against faithless and hardhearted participation in the sacraments, similar calls to self-examination before participating, even (as in I Cor. 11:30) threats of death for such offenders (Isa. 1:10-20; Amos 5:18-27; Jer. 7:1-29). Yet these warnings can in no way be said to have invalidated the practice or the divine warrant for family participation in the sacral meals as prescribed in the law” (p. 1910; see also Keidel, pp. 325-327). Just as adults participating in the covenant renewal meals were to have repentance and faith, so were they to have the same when eating the other sacrificial meals. In each case, however, little children were allowed to participate. When they entered into an age of discretion, they were expected to eat with increasing understanding and commitment.

2. The form of baptism is passive receiving and is thus appropriate for infants. The form of the Lord’s Supper, however, is active ‘taking and eating,’ something infants cannot do.

ANSWER: Children in later infancy and early childhood are able to physically ‘take and eat.’ From this stage on, infants and children should be allowed to eat at the Lord’s Table. It should not be given at baptism by intinction (as in the Eastern Orthodox Church). It should be every man according to the mouth of his eating, that is, as each is able to eat as much as a small portion.

3. The sacramental form of taking and eating the Lord’s Supper requires of participants active faith and repentance (Clowney, p. 1904).

ANSWER: To assume this contradicts the clear evidence that infants and small children actively took and ate the old covenant sacrificial meals without being required to exercise faith or repentance.

4. Baptism is administered only once to each; whereas the Lord’s Supper is administered repeatedly to each.

ANSWER: Children circumcised but once in the old covenant were expected to participate in the repeated annual sacrificial meals. By analogy, baptized children ought to participate regularly in the Lord’s Supper.

5. “Since the Passover, like circumcision, had an earthly reference namely, Israel’s deliverance as a people from Egypt – Israel ate the Passover. But because this deliverance typified the redemption of the true Israel from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the children of God, therefore in the age of fulfillment all members of the true Israel (believers) partake of the Christian Passover, which is the Eucharist” (P. Jewett, “Infant Baptism & The Covenant of Grace”, 1978, p. 242).

ANSWER: The Bible makes clear that all Israel was held accountable for the spiritual, as well as temporal aspect of the old covenant. Actually, possession and enjoyment of these temporal blessings depended upon the repentance and faith of the Israelite adults (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:16-19; 27:1; 32:52). It is also clear that repentance and faith was expected of all adults attending the Passover and peace meals: Lev. 28:27; Ps. 51:16,17,19; Isa. 1:10-20; 66:2-4; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:1-29;14:12; Hos. 5:6; Mic. 6:6-8;1 Sam. 15:20-23. God’s righteous indignation and punishment of unbelieving Israelites who participated in these sacred meals proves they had objective spiritual meaning in spite of the lack of faith of those attending (as in the Lord’s Supper – 1 Cor. 10 and 11). And so it cannot be argued that only the members of the true Israel participated in the spiritual aspects of the old covenant sacrificial meals. Even so, little children (incapable of such faith) participated in them with impunity, as we have seen. As they reached the age of discretion, however, they were from then on, in keeping God’s ways, to understand, at their various age-level capacities, his graciousness in accepting a substitute. It is true that the Passover had a secondary reference to earthly deliverance from Egypt and that this meaning does not apply to the Lord’s Supper (except in type). But this does not take away the Passover’s objective, spiritual significance (as a sacrificial meal essentially the same in meaning as the Lord’s Supper) and little children’s objective participation in that aspect. We argue by analogy in the same way for paedobaptism. Circumcision was not only a national badge, but was also a seal of the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11). Infants, of course, did not grasp this objective spiritual meaning, but were to do so later. And so we argue for infant participation in baptism, which has essentially the same spiritual significance as circumcision. The peace meals, it should be added, had even less reference to earthly blessings which foreshadowed Christ. Their primary emphasis was peace or fellowship with God which came through the offering of a substitute. We enjoy essentially the same quality of peaceful fellowship with God today in Christ (this is exhibited in the psalms especially).

6. There were two aspects to the old covenant meals: on the one hand, they were ordinary, family meals; on the other, they had spiritual meaning, even sacrificial significance and symbolism pointing to Christ. Children participated in these meals insofar as they were family meals. But only believing adults, true Israelites, participated in their spiritual aspect. Since the Lord’s Supper replaces these old covenant meals, and since the Lord’s Supper is not an ordinary meal but is purely spiritual (wholly sacramental) in meaning, only believing adults should

be allowed to partake of it. “We might expect that the active participation of the one celebrating a sacrament would be radically deepened in the fulfillment of the New Covenant. Certainly the distinction of the sacrament from ordinary meals is increased in the New Testament. Because Jesus has accomplished his atonement, the Supper is not simply a meal that contains elements of symbolism, including sacrificial symbolism. It is purely sacramental, an exercise of active faith. For this reason, not to discern the body of the Lord, but to regard it as a simple meal becomes a blasphemy that God will judge (I Cor. 11:29)” (Clowney, pp. 1903, 1904).

ANSWER: This argument appears similar to that of Jewett. Certainly there is a “heightening of fulfillment by which the new covenant is related to the old” in that Christ has replaced the Old Testament animal sacrifices by his once-for-all, perfect and sufficient sacrifice. But the sacrifices of the old covenant were essentially the same in spiritual significance, being substitutionary, expiatory, and propitiatory. It is true the efficacy of the animal sacrifices rested not in themselves, but in Christ’s sacrifice which they foreshadowed, but they were atoning as a result nonetheless. Thus according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “The sacraments of the old testament in regard to spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.” Thus in the old covenant, small children fed on sacrificial meals which had objective spiritual significance. On a subjective level, of course, they did not see the spiritual meaning. To them it was an ordinary meal. As they grew older, however, they were expected to eat the Lord’s Supper, which replaces these meals and has the same objective spiritual meaning. As they pass into an age of discretion, they will also be expected to eat with increasing discernment (I Cor. 11). Whether children should eat the Lord’s Supper because of their eating the manna is a more difficult issue. Many who support paedocommunion include this as part of their argument based on I Cor. 10:3, 4 and John 6. If this position is valid, it certainly strengthens the case for paedocommunion. We fully believe the manna and water from the rock were miraculously provided by Christ and thus had a spiritual source. We also believe the manna pictured and foreshadowed Christ. Just as manna was miraculously provided by God from heaven to give physical life, so Christ was miraculously sent by God from heaven to give spiritual life. As the true manna (Jn. 6:32, 35), Christ is indeed sacrificial food. In this sense we are to feed on the bread which signifies his sacrificed body (Jn. 6:48-50). And yet, this sacrificial meaning attaches to the manna only in its fulfilled, not original sense. Participation in eating the manna, therefore, has no bearing by analog on who should be participants in eating the new covenant sacrificial meal, and should probably not, therefore, be appealed to in support of paedocommunion.

7. Infants have a right to baptism in the new covenant based on their right to circumcision in the old. But they should not be allowed to eat the Lord’s Supper until their baptism is “completed” and “confirmed” as such, by public and credible confession of faith (Beckwith, p. 130). “Only when they have learned from the oracles of God and have believed in Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15) can their baptism be considered to have been efficacious. It may have been complete without the laying on of hands, but it was not complete without the ministry of the word. The word and the faith it evokes are integral to baptism, so if baptism is a prerequisite of admission to communion, teaching and a profession of faith are prerequisites also. But if this is so, there can be no admission of infants to communion” (Beckwith, “The Age of Admission to Communion,” from “The Churchman” [London], Spring 1971, pp. 13ff. – cited by P. E. Hughes, “Confirmation in the Church Today.” Eerdmans, 1973, p. 45).

ANSWER: But in an analogy similar to baptism and circumcision infants and little children have a right to the Lord’s Supper based on their right to the old covenant sacrificial meals. There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that circumcision had to be “completed” or that understanding of its spiritual meaning had to be “confirmed” by little children before they partook of the sacrificial meals. The only requirement was the physical capacity to “take” and “eat”. Thus the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper, as in baptism, is not tied to the moment of its administration. Nor should its subjective aspect take precedence over its objective spiritual significance.


We believe it is appropriate, therefore, to see the Lord’s Supper as a means by which all Christians confirm their faith on a regular basis – as the new covenant renewal ceremony. Rather than postponing confirmation and communion to early teens or later, parents and churches can have their children participate in communion at very early ages. They will gradually grow in understanding of that which is objectively signified and sealed in the Lord’s meal: “Covenant children should be treated as brothers and sisters in the Lord because they are covenant children, not because of what they say or do. Covenant children, as well as adults are to be nourished by the means of grace which the Lord has provided. Thus the Word nourishes them at their parents’ knee, in divine worship services, in Sunday school, and wherever else the Word is taught. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper, another means of grace, should nourish both children and adults. Very small children can begin to discern the body; the degree of discernment should increase as the years pass. If, however, a person who began to partake of the Lord’s Supper becomes a covenant-breaker, then the approach should be the same as it is now: those who break the covenant should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer …. In deciding when children may partake of the Lord’s Supper, we should not watch them to see when the tiniest ability to discern appears. Rather, children should receive nourishment from the different means of grace, including the Lord’s Supper. Then the covenant community will rejoice as these means of grace help children to discern the body better as the years pass.” (R. Maatman, Minority Report to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church on “Children at the Lord’s Table; -1986, pp. 52, 56).

Similar remarks are made by Rayburn: “Christian parents begin to teach their little ones at a very early age, indeed at the dawn of consciousness, that the promises of God are theirs to hold and the law of God is theirs to keep. If the Word can be given to them at such a tender age, the sign and seal of it not less so. The nurture of covenant children is a continuum, having its beginning before a child is in full possession of reason why it too should not make its contribution over the whole course of the spiritual upbringing of a covenant child … the celebration of the supper with their children, as well as preparation for it, would provide parents with a regular and most important opportunity for instruction and examination, as the Passover provided in ancient times” (p. 1911).


[Suggested Modifications in Present Practices and Forms]


If covenant children are to be admitted to the Lord’s Table, it follows that certain changes will have to be made in our Subordinate Standards. In our present practice covenant children are usually baptized in infancy, and then – ordinarily much later on – admitted to the Lord’s Table only after a public profession of faith. It should be obvious that if this traditional practice of requiring public profession of faith as a thing distinct from – and often separate from – baptism is retained, it could not possibly retain the same significance it has at present if all covenant children are admitted to the Lord’s table. What we propose, therefore, is a different model in which baptism itself – without the addition of a rite of public profession is seen as the only, and entire, biblical ordinance of admission to the Christian Church and to the privileges of the Lord’s table. It should be understood, however, that we do not make this proposal merely because it is a logical necessity, if we accept the premise that covenant children are to be admitted to the Lord’s Table. To the contrary, we make this proposal because we are convinced it is scriptural.

It is certainly the clear teaching of scripture that verbal profession of faith is to be expected of the Lord’s people [Rom. 10:8-10]. It is also true that some of the ancient manuscripts indicate that the Ethiopian eunuch gave verbal expression of his faith just before Philip baptized him [Acts 8:37]. But can this be called a public profession of faith? The only one there to hear it was Philip, an officer of the church. Furthermore, it does not appear that a public profession of faith was always required, or (and this is of equal importance) that it was looked upon as a rite or ceremony distinct from, and additional to, baptism [Acts 2:41;16:14,15, 3134]. In any event, it is self-evident that no such requirement could have been made with respect to the infant members of households before they were baptized. In the Old Testament period covenant children were identified as Israelites, not by circumcision plus something else, but by circumcision alone. And we see no evidence that this regulation was changed under the new covenant. Under the old covenant administration when a stranger reached the point of desire to participate in the Passover, he had to submit to circumcision himself, and had to present all the males of his household for circumcision as well [Ex. 12:48]. It is obvious that, in order to reach this point, it was necessary for such a person to come to those in authority to make request. They, in turn, would undoubtedly enter into discussion with such a person in order to explain the meaning of circumcision, and to elicit some response indicating that person’s understanding and motives. We think that this is exactly what happened when Paul and Silas spoke the word to the Philippian jailer and those who were with him [Acts 16:33]. But it was baptism, and not baptism plus something else, which constituted the rite of admission to the body of Christ (and the privileges of that membership). Therefore, since there is no indication in either the old or New Testament that those who received this sign in infancy were later required to submit to an additional rite – namely, public profession of faith – we do not lose, but gain, in dispensing with it altogether. By this we do not mean to suggest any diminution of the duty, incumbent upon all believers, to confess Christ before men [Matt. 10:32], in fact the very opposite is intended. It is the duty of all of us to “improve” our baptism “all our life long” [Larger Catechism Q. 167]. The traditional use of a ceremony of public profession of faith, because it is loaded with so much significance, tends to undermine appreciation for this duty. By relinquishing this ceremony, we may begin to regain appreciation for the rich and powerful content of the one divinely authorized sign and seal of admission to the church, which is baptism.

Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It does not stand in need of any unauthorized addition to augment it. In Reformed theology we have always understood that the sacraments are not inaccurately spoken of as “the word made visible.” We have also understood that the sacraments are always, in a sense, subordinate to and dependent upon the word of the gospel. The sacraments like the gospel itself – are, in a word, God’s faithful testimony to us concerning His covenant. They are not our statement to God about ourselves. And it is just here that the traditional “rite” of public profession of faith – as a thing needed for the completion of baptism – tends to obscure the truth. For this reason your committee would suggest that the solution is to be found in making the word that goes along with the sacrament appropriate to what the sacrament is – and this means that it should take a declarative form. It should declare what God says in this sacrament and what its meaning is for us. The following guide is therefore offered for consideration, not as a “finished product,” but as a suggested beginning of the process of perfecting a section in The Directory for Worship that will serve our churches in the future. To facilitate comparison we give the relevant section of The Directory for Worship as we now have it in column one, below, with the suggested replacement in column two.

I . [Before the administration of the sacrament of baptism, the minister shall give instruction as to the institution and nature of the sacrament.]

Baptism is a sacrament ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sign and seal of the inclusion of the person who is baptized in the covenant of grace. Teaching that we and our children are conceived in sin, it witnesses and seals unto us the remission of sins and the bestowal of all the gifts of salvation through union with Christ. Baptism with water signifies and seals cleansing from sin by the blood and Spirit of Christ, together with our death unto sin and our resurrection unto newness of life by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ. Since these gifts of salvation are the gracious provision of the triune God, who is pleased to claim us as his very own, we are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And since baptized persons are called upon to assume the obligations of the covenant, baptism summons us to renounce the devil, the world and the flesh and to walk humbly with our God in devotion to his commandments.

2. [When an infant is to be baptized, the minister shall proceed to give instruction as to the ground of infant baptism].

Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized. For the promise of the covenant is made to believers and to their seed, as God declared unto Abraham: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” In the new dispensation no less than in the old, the seed of the faithful, born within the church, have, by virtue of their birth, interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church. For the covenant of grace is the same in substance under both dispensations, and the grace of God for the consolation of believers is even more fully manifested in the new dispensation. Moreover, our Savior admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, and saying, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” So, the children of the covenant are by baptism distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.1. [Before the administration of the sacrament of baptism, the minister shall give instruction as to the institution and nature of the sacrament.]

Baptism is a sacrament ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sign and seal of the inclusion of the person who is baptized in the covenant of grace. Teaching that we and our children are conceived in sin, it witnesses and seals unto us the remission of sins and the bestowal of all the gifts of salvation through union with Christ. Baptism with water signifies and seals cleansing from sin by the blood and Spirit of Christ, together with our death unto sin and our resurrection unto newness of life by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ. Since these gifts of salvation are the gracious provision of the triune God, who is pleased to claim us as his very own, we are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And since baptized persons are called upon to assume the obligations of the covenant, baptism summons us to renounce the devil, the world and the flesh and to walk humbly with our God in devotion to his commandments.

Abraham, the father of the faithful, was given the sign and seal of circumcision when God said “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” [Gen. 17:7]. Circumcision spoke of the removal of defilement by the shedding of blood. It confirmed the covenant promise, pointing to the deliverance that was yet to be made. Now, under the new covenant, baptism – a new and bloodless sign – has replaced circumcision. It reminds us that the blood which atones for our sins has now been shed, once for all. The children of the faithful, born within the church, must receive the sign and seal of the covenant because the covenant is the same in substance under both dispensations, and the grace of God is even more fully manifested in the new dispensation. This is confirmed by the fact that our Lord himself said “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” [Mark 10:14]. It was for this reason, also, that the Apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, said “The promise is for you and your children …” [Acts 2:39].3. [When an adult is to be baptized, the minister shall follow the opening statement on the institution and nature of the sacrament of baptism with instruction as to the distinctive basis of the baptism of adults.]

Although the children of believers are to be baptized as members of the covenant, the baptism of adults must await their own profession of faith in Christ. Having come to years of discretion, they become the heirs of salvation and members of the visible church only by way of personal belief in and acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord. So our Lord Jesus Christ commanded his church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Before the baptism of an infant, the minister shall require that the parents acknowledge the duty of believers to present their children for holy baptism, that they assume publicly their responsibility for the Christian nurture their children.

5. Prior to the baptism of an adult, the person to be baptized, having previously made profession of faith before the session, shall be required to confess his faith publicly before the congregation in accordance with the provisions of Chapter V of this Directory

6. After prayer for the presence and blessing of the triune God that the grace signed and sealed by holy baptism may be abundantly realized, the minister calling the person by name shall say:

I baptize thee into the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

[As he pronounces these words, he is to baptize with water, without adding any other ceremony, and the whole service shall be concluded with prayer.]God commands the proclamation of the gospel to every creature including covenant children, and parents who bring their children for baptism, in obedience to God’s command, are bound to instruct them – and cause them to be instructed – in the truths and duties of the covenant, believing that God uses this means to save his people. Thus our baptism not only reminds us of our glorious privileges, but also of our solemn responsibilities as the people claimed by God.

That we may administer this holy ordinance of God to his glory, and to our own comfort – and to the edification of the Church – let us call upon his holy name.

[The minister, or an elder, will at this point offer prayer.]

[After this the minister will make the following (or a similar) declaration concerning those who are to be baptized:]

1 – By this baptism God testifies that even though we – and our children – are conceived and born in sin, and therefore subject to all manner of misery, yes, even to condemnation itself; we are nevertheless sanctified in Christ and therefore – as members of his church – ought to be baptized.

2 – By this baptism the Lord confirms the doctrine taught in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments – which are summarized in the Confession and Catechisms, and taught in this Christian Church – as the only true doctrine of salvation.

3 – And finally, by this baptism God places his claim upon us, whereby we are obligated to receive instruction in these truths, and to see to it that our children are so instructed to the utmost of our power.

I baptize you into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

baptize with water, without adding any other ceremony, and the whole service shall be concluded with prayer.]

In Ephesians 4:5 the Apostle says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In the model we propose it is precisely this that we seek: one baptism, to take the place of two. Under our present form of administration we have adult baptism, and we have infant baptism, each with a different set of rules. Why is it so? Is it not because the traditional requirement of a public profession of faith – additional to, and distinct from baptism – is within the realm of possibility for adults, but not for infants? Hence the form for the baptism of adults requires, in addition to the profession of faith previously made before the Session, another more public profession just before baptism (which is not required of infants). But baptism is not what we say about ourselves, but what God says about us. Since there is only one baptism, God is saying the same thing about infants baptized at his command that he is saying about adults baptized at his command. There is every reason to expect an adult convert to give an expression of his faith when he seeks approval by the Session to become a part of the church of God [Ex. 12:48, Acts 16:30-32]. But there is no propriety in requiring an additional rite of public profession. Baptism itself, without adding any other ceremony” (as our present Directory inconsistently says, at this point) is sufficient.


The model outlined above will, of course, require some important changes in our subordinate standards if it is adopted. In this section of our report we will attempt to briefly itemize these, and suggest the changes that would be appropriate.

A. The Westminster Confession of Faith

No changes would be required in chapters XXVII or XXVIII.

Changes in Chapter XXIX will depend on the interpretation of section viii. If, in this section, we take the descriptive terms “ignorant and wicked” and “ignorant and ungodly” as coordinate, then no change will be necessary. Under this interpretation only those who are both ignorant and ungodly are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Table. But those who are baptized, despite limited knowledge – or even limited intelligence – are not to be barred unless they manifest ungodly, or wicked behavior. In the body of this report we have tried to show why we do not believe the view to be scriptural, which would refuse to admit covenant children on the grounds of ignorance. If the Confession of faith is, nevertheless, interpreted to mean two classes – the ignorant as one, and the wicked as another – then this section would need amendment.

B. The Larger Catechism

If it is determined that a change is necessary in Chapter XXIX, viii of the Westminster Confession, it will also be necessary to make the same change, substantially, in the answer to Larger Catechism Q. 173.

We do not think questions and answers 171-175 will require alteration because both sacraments involve duties, or responsibilities. All who are baptized have the “duty of improving” their baptism “all” their “life long,” [L.C. 167] and yet this does not disqualify infants. So the fact that infants cannot, in the beginning fulfill the responsibilities incumbent upon all who receive the Lord’s Supper does not disqualify them from participation in that sacrament.

If the church does decide to admit infants to the Lord’s Table, however, the answer to question 177 will certainly have to be changed. We here reproduce this with our suggestion, which is simply to delete the two italicized phrases (as shown below).

Q. 177 – Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ?

A. – The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.

C. The Form of Government

In Chapter XIII, section 8, the following phrase would be deleted: “both of communicant members and of their baptized children.”

D. The Directory for Worship

In the model proposed, above, we have already provided a new formulation which would replace Chapter IV, section B.

Chapter V will also require extensive revision. The model we propose places the emphasis on baptism as the divinely authorized rite of admission to the privileges and responsibilities of church membership. In this model a verbal declaration by the pastor (or an elder) is, of course, made in connection with this sacrament. In this section again, we offer suggested changes by way of a parallel presentation [presented in this html document as successive presentation—M. H.].

Chapter V – Of Public Profession of Faith in Christ

1. In order to aid those who contemplate making public profession of faith in Christ to understand the implication of this significant act and to perform it intelligently, the pastor shall conduct classes in Christian doctrine both for the covenant youth and for any others who may manifest an interest in the way of salvation.

2. Before permitting any one to make profession of his faith in the presence of the congregation, the session shall examine him in order to assure Itself so far as possible that he possesses the doctrinal knowledge requisite for active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, rel1es for salvation on the merits of Christ alone, and is determined by the grace of God to lead a Christian life.

3. When the session is satisfied that anyone is qualified to make public profession of faith in Christ, his name shall be publicly announced to the church at least one week before the day chosen for this solemn event, in order that the members of the church may have opportunity to acquaint the session with such facts concerning him as may appear to be irreconcilable with a sincere profession. The session shall weigh such evidence and determine its validity.

4. No one shall be allowed to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper who has not first made public profession of faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

5. On the occasion of public profession of faith in Christ, the minister shall address the candidate in these or like words, using the form which the circumstances require:

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, we thank our God for the grace which was given you, in that, having come to years of discretion, you have accepted God’s covenant promise which was signified and sealed unto you in your infancy by holy baptism.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, we thank our God for the grace which was given you, in that, although you have not been privileged to receive the sacrament of baptism in your infancy, nevertheless, through faith you have now become a partaker of the covenant.

Chapter V – Of Public Baptism into Union with Christ

1. In order to aid adults wishing to receive baptism (together with their children) to understand the implication of this significant act, the pastor or a ruling elder shall conduct classes in Christian doctrine. Similar classes should also be provided for any others who manifest an interest in the way of salvation. Catechism classes shall also be provided for covenant youth.

2. Before baptizing any adult in the presence of the congregation, the session shall examine him in order to assure itself so far as possible that he possess the doctrinal knowledge requisite for active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, relies for salvation on the merits of Christ alone, and is determined by the grace of God to lead a Christian life.

3. When the session is satisfied that an adult has the requisite understanding and faith, his name shall be publicly announced to the church at least one week before the day chosen for his baptism, in order that the members of the church may have opportunity to acquaint the session with such facts concerning him as may appear to be irreconcilable with a sincere profession. The session shall weigh such evidence and determine its validity.

4. No one shall be allowed to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper who has not received baptism.

[The rest of the material quoted below is replaced by the material we have proposed, above, wherein a declarative statement is used, instead of questions and answers, at the time of baptism.]

The minister shall ask these, or equivalent questions:

  1. Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation.
  2. Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but inJesusChrist alone?
  3. Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?
  4. Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church, and in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?

When anyone has publicly professed his faith by answering these questions in the affirmative, the minister shall address him in the following or like words:

Beloved, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I welcome you to all the privileges of full communion with God’s people, and in particular to participation in the sacrament of the holy supper. I charge you that by the faithful use of the means of grace – the Word of God, the sacraments and prayer – and in humble reliance upon the grace of God, you continue steadfastly in the confession which you have made. Rest assured that if you confess Christ before men, he will confess you before his Father who is in heaven. May the God of all grace, who called you into his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

[Note: There may be other places in the Subordinate Standards that we have overlooked. However, the recommendations made at the end of this report will provide ample means for refinement. The remainder of this report is therefore devoted to a consideration of ways in which Sessional oversight of the Lord’s Supper will be affected.]


A. If the model proposed above is accepted, it is clear that present practice with respect to sessional oversight of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper will have to be modified. It is clear, for one thing, that there will have to be diligent supervision so that families that come to the table will be in order. The immediate responsibility for the behavior of their children will, of course, rest with fathers and mothers. It will be their duty to see to it that their covenant children are in due submission to them, and that they manifest this in their behavior at the table. For this reason it is our view that it would be unwise to suddenly open the table to all family members in the church without careful preparation. Rather, let the elders visit the families and instruct them in this matter. Then let the elders decide when parental control is satisfactory. It is to be expected, of course, that cases will arise in which parents seriously fail in their discipline. It will then be the responsibility of the elders to deal with them. The elders, of course, have ultimate responsibility to see to it that things are done decently and in order. In our judgment the adoption of this model (or something close to it) would put a certain salutary pressure on Sessions to begin the kind of personal involvement with the members which has too often been neglected. Sessions will need to begin regular visitation of the various families to give instruction, exhortation, and – wherever possible – praise and encouragement. If, in a particular family, there is seriously unruly behavior on the part of a certain covenant child, it is altogether proper for the elders to go so far as suspending the whole family from the privileges of the Lord’s Table for a time, if necessary, until there is godly amendment. It will be the ongoing task of the elders to instruct the parents until they manifest a proper recognition of the weight of their responsibility in constantly instructing their children as to the meaning and solemnity of these things. We recognize that the level of elder supervision current at present, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, falls far short of what would be needed should this model be adopted. Indeed, it could be said that it will require something of a quantum leap in the level of diligence and effort. But far from being an argument against this model, we are convinced that it weighs in its favor.

B. If the model we propose is adopted, in principle, it will also be necessary to move to a more restricted administration of the Lord’s Supper than that which is now common in our denomination. It would certainly be improper for a Reformed Baptist to come to the Lord’s Table with his unbaptized children, and it would also be a denial of the covenant to invite such a person to come without his children [Ex. 12:48f.]. Our Confession of Faith says it is “a great sin to contemn [to treat as of small value, or view with contempt] or neglect” the ordinance of baptism [XXVIII,V.]. Here, again, we see the inconsistency in our present practice. Present practice allows those who persist in this great sin to come to the Lord’s Table with us. The model proposed above, in contrast, would require us to take this section of the Confession seriously in our practice. Sessions would have to see to it that only those in compliance with God’s covenant requirements be allowed to come to the Table. We do not think it would be sufficient – using this model – to rely solely on the spoken word to fence the table. To the contrary, we believe Sessions should first ascertain that the requisite covenant family qualifications [as suggested above] are satisfactorily met, before they admit families to the Table.

C. One of the standing problems that Sessions have faced with respect to our present tradition is this: what do we do with baptized members who fail to respond to their privileges and responsibilities in obedience and faith. Or, to put it in more traditional terms, what do we do with those who are “baptized” members, but who never become “communicant” members of the Church? The traditional answer is that they are, finally – when all efforts to bring that response fail – removed from the roll of baptized members. We do not call this “excommunication” because they are not communicant members. This problem is one that every Session has had to struggle with, and the sad fact is that the disciplinary “clout” of a Session is not very great in dealing with these “incomplete” members. The reason is obvious, is it not? Baptized members do not feel that they are losing anything because they have never “joined the church” to begin with, nor do they see themselves as subject to the disciplinary authority of the Session. We are not saying that this is the intended effect of our present practice. But who can deny that this is the effect? If, as our model proposes, all baptized members are given communicant membership privileges (so long as their behavior does not warrant the withdrawal of same) we believe the result will be quite different. It is one thing to be deprived of church membership when only the title, without the privileges, has been granted. But it is another thing to lose a privilege of great value already possessed, and long enjoyed. No one can face this without feeling something! This model certainly clarifies the responsibility of every [baptized] member to heed the discipline of the Church. It would put all members of the church on essentially the same basis, where Church discipline is concerned. It has been noted above, that our present practice – to all intents and purposes – results in our covenant children learning to think of themselves as “outsiders.” They may look forward to the day when they can “join the church too.” But they certainly do not regard themselves [being “non-communicant” members! as full participants in the communion of the saints. If the model we recommend is accepted, we may at last begin to overcome this distressing mind-set.


1. That this report be approved for circulation among the Sessions of the church.

2. That the Sessions communicate their responses to this report to this committee by Dec. 31,1988.

3. That the committee be continued.

4. That the committee evaluate these responses, make further refinements, and bring further recommendations to the 55th General Assembly.


  1. This report is truncated! Please fix!



    Comment by Joe Ruiter — May 25, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  2. Where is the minority report?

    Comment by John — July 11, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

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