Volume 18, Issue 1: Presbyterion
Bread Should Get Bread
As the body of Christ gathers together in worship, the members are, as St. Paul claims, "one loaf." The loaf that is broken
and distributed is an emblem of our unity as the people of God.
In this our baptistic brothers are consistent. They deny that our children are part of the visible church, and therefore
deny that such outsiders have access to the one loaf. They are not part of the one loaf, and so they have no right to partake of the
one loaf. But what are we to make of the disparity between our doctrinal confession and our liturgical confession in many
Reformed churches? Our doctrinal confession says that our children are partakers with us; our liturgical confession says they are not.
But even this must be modified. Our liturgical confession at baptism says that our children are partakers. But our liturgical
confession at communion says (and very loudly) that they are not.
We have confessed that baptism signifies and seals "our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of
the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's" (WSC 94). My interest here is the confession that our
covenant children are, among other things, baptized into
"partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace." Now is the Lord's
Supper one of the benefits of the covenant of grace? Absolutely. According to the Westminster theologians, the sacrifices and rituals
of the old covenant were administrations of the covenant of grace (WCF VII.vi). There is no sense that the benefits of
the covenant of grace are thought of as mysterious or ethereal blessings, received in an invisible way. Not at all. "Under the
gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the word,
and the administrations of Baptism and the Lord's Supper" (WCF VII.vi). The covenant of grace is dispensed by means
of sacraments (among other things), and baptism, as we saw earlier, is an act which baptizes an individual into
"partaking of the benefits." Now Reformed folks baptize their infants. Many object to this, but there it is. And I don't see any way to
reconcile the tension between what the Confession teaches that baptism is and does, and the common practice of withholding
communion from baptized children. I acknowledge that the tension is there, but also want to argue that the tension is so marked
and striking that we must either go in a baptistic direction or a paedocommunionist direction.
This partaking is fundamentally a partaking of
totus Christus, the entire body of Christ, head and body together. And
this means that all who are bread should get bread. All who are included in the new covenant should get the cup of the
The apostle requires us to discern the body. But by this he does not mean that we are to be looking at the
communion table, trying to analyze and figure out the theology or metaphysics of the thing. A requirement to be able to do this
would exclude just about everybody.
The Corinthians by their squabbling and jealousies were not discerning that they were one body. The fact that they
were bringing their selfish interests into the practice of communion meant that their observance of the Supper was doing more
harm than good. But the problem was not that some of the Corinthians believed in consubstantiation while others held to the
memorialist position. The problem was that they were divided from one another, whatever the cause.
Now, suppose we have a young child who sees the communion tray going past, and that child wants to partake. This is
his church, he grew up here, he worships the same God everyone else is worshipping, and he feels himself to be, in every way,
a part of the congregation, a partaker in the body. In this frame of mind, why does he want to partake of the bread and wine?
He does so because he discerns the body.
Let us also suppose that he is prevented from coming to the Table because the elders do not believe in
paedocommunion. They don't think the boy understands enough yet. They believe he is in the covenantthe minister baptized him himself.
They believe that he is a good boy, and that he does love the Lord. The hang-up is that he seems a little young. And so they deny
him. And why do they do this? Because they are not discerning the
body. He is in the body, and ought to be partaking together with
the body. But one group in the church does not see this, and so excludes him.
Ironically, the very thing that they are dubious about is the thing where the young boy excels. And the standard they
are applying strictly to him is the standard they as a session are failing to meet. On the apostolic requirement, he discerns the
unity of the entire body (which is why he wants to partake), and they grant he is part of the body (but refuse to allow him to
partake). He discerns the body, but those who are holding him back do not.