Infant Communion

a look at Lutheran liturgical practice by James A Frey

 

 

 

To talk about communing infants who have been baptized may seem at first to be a most futile task, or at the very least an attempt to force-feed meat to those that are still having great difficulty digesting milk. After all, so many Lutherans today still seem to be viewing the Holy Sacrament through the eyes of Calvin and stubbornly insist upon teaching it in a legalistic way: “Jesus said, ‘This do,’ so as children of God we are obligated to do it, it may even be good for us to do it, but Jesus never said how often we are to do it. Therefore in Christian freedom we can celebrate the Sacrament as often as we choose to do so.” 1

 

By the way, it comes as no surprise that these same people are often quick to criticize those that choose to “do this” every Sunday and to accuse them of teaching that one has to take it every Sunday. For legalistically is the only way one can think when he views things through Calvin’s eyes.

 

But we dare not pin all the blame for our Communion practice on Calvin, not when we deny the Sacrament altogether to our baptized infants and young children.  And this we do for no other reason than that we have determined they cannot examine themselves properly.  Here the blame goes to the Rationalists, who profess that what we believe is more or less dependant on what we know, thus in effect contradicting our Lord, who said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).

 

What’s so ironic about this, and what I’m sure many do not realize is that up until the 13th Century the Church did commune infants.2 Today there seems to be serious talk among some about reinstating this practice within their own congregations.

 

A Good Mother Feeds her Children

 

Every once in a while we hear about an abused, malnourished child who either has died or is on the verge of death, and it shocks and sickens us.  How could anyone treat a helpless, little child so cruelly?  How could a mother when it is the nature of most mothers to love and nurture their children? 

 

I remember each of the four days my children were born.  I remember them almost as if it were yesterday, and I remember the very first thing their mother, still recovering from labor, did for them after she had given birth to them.  She fed them.  And she continues to feed them.  Indeed, she takes great delight in preparing a meal for them when they are home and no doubt will continue to do so for as long as she can.

 

We are children of God (1 John 3:1) who have been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), and that means the Church through whom our heavenly Father has given us life is our mother.  Now as was just stated, a good mother feeds her children. She feeds her children as soon as they are born. And Christ has provided his beloved with the perfect food by which she can feed and so sustain the life of her children: “Take and eat.  This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  Drink of it, all of you. This Cup is the new testament in my Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

 

 

So tell me, if a good mother feeds her children, and since Holy Mother Church has been given the perfect meal to feed the children that her Lord has given her through Holy Baptism, why do our congregations starve her children and put them on a fast in many cases for the first fourteen years of their life?

 

Is Confirmation Graduation?

 

To many the answer to my question is obvious: “They haven’t been confirmed?” But I respond, “Is confirmation graduation? I remember reading an article in “YouThink”, a publication for the youth of WELS, that flatly denied that it is.  Of course the author was thinking of graduation in the sense of leaving the institution from which one graduates, and the point of his article was to stress to our youth that they are not to leave their church after they have been confirmed. 

 

I agree, but I also think of graduation in light of the Latin word from which it is derived: gradus, which means, “step.” Most Lutherans today also see confirmation as graduation in this sense, that after one is confirmed he can take the steps up the chancel to the Altar and there receive the Holy Sacrament. But is confirmation graduation in that sense? Let’s take a brief look at the history of this rite and see if that does not answer the question for us.

 

Originally, Holy Baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion took place at the same time and were done by the same bishop. After the baptism the baptized were anointed with chrism as a confirmation that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon them, and then they were led out of the Baptistery, or wherever it was that the baptism took place, into the Church to receive the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time.  Understand this was true for people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest.

 

However, with the increase of congregations in the larger cities and the spread of congregations out into the countryside it became impossible for the bishop to carry out this task.  So he gave the authority to baptize to the parish priest but kept the authority to confirm, that is, to anoint with chrism and to lay on hands, himself.  Thus the rite of confirmation was effectively separated from the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and being so, gradually came to develop its own theology. 3

 

The separation of Holy Communion from Baptism occurred much later in time and was all but sealed by the decisions of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).  Up until this time infants who could not swallow the Host were given the Cup only, as the priest would dip his finger into it, then place it in the infant’s mouth, and let him suck.  However with the adoption of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation at Lateran IV fears over spilling the Blood of Christ moved the members of this council to withhold the Cup from the laity, thus effectively eliminating infants from the Sacrament.  (Interesting, is it not? How a doctrine, which we condemn and reject, has influenced a practice to which we still hold today!)  Now a new ordinance had to be issued.  In place of the one that decreed every baptized child should  be communed at least once before age seven, the new ordinance flip-flopped all this and decreed that every baptized child should commune after age seven (the age of discretion in scholastic times). 

 

Luther himself did not favor the rite of confirmation. He saw no Scriptural backing for it whatsoever.  Nevertheless, the practice was restored in most Lutheran churches by the 17th century for various reasons.  The orthodox saw it as a way of shoring up doctrinal formation through catechetical instruction and the Pietists as an opportunity to elicit a personal renewal of the baptismal covenant.  During the Age of Rationalism, when the age of discretion changed from seven to fourteen, a child received his first communion only after it was determined that he had been instructed enough and could personally confess his faith, the practice that most of our churches observe today.

 

Which brings us back to the question: Is confirmation graduation?  Is it proper for Holy Mother Church to put her baptized children on a fast until they are old enough to be instructed and can personally confess their faith?  One thing’s for certain, the history of the rite of confirmation, especially when one takes into account the influence scholasticism, pietism and rationalism have had on it, does nothing to assure that it is.

 

Remember what the words “for you” require

 

However the definitive answer, I believe, comes in these words of Dr. Luther:

 

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? – Answer.

 

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.  Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

Answer.

 

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.

 

But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.4

 

All this begs yet another question- at least in my mind it does: Why are we Lutherans so inconsistent in how we talk about faith?  We support, and rightly so, the practice of infant baptism, stating that infants too can believe (Matthew 18:6, Luke 18:16-17). We define it as simple, infantile trust in a gracious and merciful God, which he creates in us through the preaching of the Word (Romans 10:17).5

 

This we Lutherans confess when it comes to Holy Baptism, but when it comes to Holy Communion we change and become like Baptists. We deny our young children the Body and Blood of their Lord given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins and instead put them on a fast for fourteen years, until they are properly instructed! So which is the “Lutheran” view of faith? Is it a simple, infantile trust or something determined to some degree by our reason, so that we must be instructed and pass a test before we can truly believe?

 

The Blessed Reformer says, “The words For you require altogether believing hearts.”  If an infant, blessed with faith, trusts in the grace and mercy of his God poured over him at the font, then surely he, blessed with faith, can also trust in the grace and mercy of his God given to him to eat and to drink at the Altar.

 

So why do we put them on a fast?  Why do our pastors and congregations withhold the Meal of life from them for fourteen years? We do not accept the Baptist argument when it comes to Holy Baptism, why do we do so when it comes to Holy Communion?  Why do we not commune ALL our baptized members if we accept as true, and we confess that we do, what Dr. Luther wrote: “The words For you require altogether believing hearts”?

 

No, I did not forget 1 Corinthians 11

 

The Apostle writes: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

 

For one to “examine himself,” say by using the Christian Questions in Luther’s Small Catechism, is a laudable practice, though our Confessions see such an examination as taking place in the Sacrament of Holy Absolution.6 Thus, the devil in me cannot resist asking all those “Lutherans” out there who would deny the Sacrament to infants because they cannot properly examine them-selves: Have you as yet gone to the Confessional and been examined and absolved according to the official practice of your Church?

 

But back to infants, have they been examined?  Of course, “Christ has examined the little children and said, ‘Of such is the kingdom of God’.”7 Not only has he said that they can believe, but he has also said that we are to believe as do they.  And since “the words For you require altogether believing hearts,” that sounds to me to be a ringing endorsement for communing them.

 

Still not convinced that they have been properly examined?  Then think back to their baptism, when they renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways, confessed the Christian Faith in the words of the Apostles Creed, and then confessed a desire to be baptized.8 I ask you, if they are not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord after such a confession, then who is?  If they do not deserve to eat and to drink, then who does?  If their simple, trusting faith cannot gain them entrance to the Lord’s table, then whose faith can?

 

Conclusion

 

But, of course, before any of us does reinstate the practice of infant communion in his congregation, much catechesis first needs to be done. So for the meantime these young children of God must remain on their fast, seeking nourishment from the Word that is preached to them. Nevertheless, understanding how this practice came about and the false view of faith on which it is based, I pray that someday we take our young children off this fast that has wrongly been imposed on them so that as a good mother the Church may once again feed those to whom she has given birth in the womb of the font.   §

 

 

The Reverend James A. Frey is pastor of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belleville, Michigan

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1 To be sure, the Holy Supper is to be forced on no one, and even a more frequent, Confessional, celebration of it the minister is to carry out only after much catechesis. But what those who express this “adiaphora argument” seem to forget is the nature of the Sacrament.  It is not an obligation Christ imposed upon Christians, but a gift he graciously gives to them.  My youngest child has a birthday on Christmas Eve.  In the morning she opens up her birthday gifts; that night before Candlelight Mass she opens up her Christmas gifts together with the rest of the family. Not once in her seventeen years has she complained, “Do I have to open up more gifts?  I already did that today.”  Indeed, she is just as excited to open up her Christmas gifts, as she was to open up her birthday gifts. So it is with the child of God, who sees Holy Communion not as something he has to do but as something he gets to do.  He sees no need to “count” the number of times he receives this gift from his Savior, but trusting in its salvific benefits, he simply hungers for it.

2 Cf: “The History of Infant Communion”, The Bride of Christ. Vol. XXVII, no. 3, by Rev. Fr. Patrick Fodor.

3 “This reflects what was becoming the usual practice in the Frankish churches, namely, that children baptized in scattered parishes by the parish priests, and communed at the time of their baptism, were being brought later to the bishop for confirmation.  The lengthening of the interval between baptism and confirmation created a need to appeal to a theological rationale for this modest ceremony as a way of encouraging parents to see that their children were confirmed.  There is no question that confirmation was, from its very beginning, “a practice seeking a theory…”

    The term “confirmation” was used for the first time in a Pentecost sermon attributed to Faustus of Riez (c. 450), where the rite received theological justification.  “we are born anew for life, after baptism we are confirmed for battle; in baptism we are washed, after baptism we are strengthened.”  This interpretation of the rationale for the rite of confirmation was used by medieval canonists, who made it the theological basis of a separate sacrament of confirmation… that came to be related to the disciplinary and educational needs of the church.” Senn, Frank. Christian Liturgy, Fortress Press, 1997, pg.194-195.

4 Luther’s Small Catechism: “3rd and 4th parts on the Sacrament of the Altar, Concordia Triglotta, pf. 557.

5 In support of this I often think of my oldest, who when she was only three months old would not let any of her aunts or uncles hold her, not even her grandparents.  Though all tried, she screamed so hard her face was flush and this vein popped out of her head, yet as soon as mom took her she stopped. Fortunately she got over the shyness very quickly, but this does provide a vivid example of an infant’s faith. That three month old trusted her mother completely, though she had by no means developed her rational capabilities; and our Lord says, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”

6 Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the Body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved. AC, art. XXV,1.

7 Read on Luther Quest on the thread, “Augustana Synod”.

8 From Luther’s 1526 Rite of Holy Baptism. To ask these questions is good reason in itself to restore this rite in our churches and to eliminate the “Reader’s Digest” versions that appear in so many of our newer hymnals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to the Editors

 

 

 

Here are two letters that this article inspired and Fr. Frey’s Response.

 

The Reverend Mark Bartling writes,

 

Thanks again for your stimulating, thought provoking and challenging articles in yet another issue of The Motley Magpie.  It is refreshing to read good theology and not the junk food served up by the official publications with their theologies of glory.  However, the article by James Frey on “Infant Communion” does raise some questions and concerns.  The Church must feed her children!  When a mother sings her Christian lullabies to her children, prays with them and for them, teaches to them symbols like folded hands and the sign of the Holy Cross, and reminds them of their baptisms, she is feeding her children.  By withholding communion, the children are not put on a fast and starved, but fed “with the sincere milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2).

 

The unborn John the Baptizer, through the Word of God spoken by Mary and Elizabeth, recognized and found faith in his Savior, also yet in the womb of the Virgin.  So also Christian parents, who connect themselves daily with the Word and Sacraments, will feed and nourish their children (Ephesians 6:4) without infant communion.

Is infant communion even referred to in our Lutheran Confessions?  Did Luther ever suggest it?  Is there biblical support or examples for it?  Is infant communion a Lutheran practice or is it a Greek Orthodox practice?

 

Agreed, we should consider earlier communion for our children. Having taught for a number of years 4th graders, I believe that we could better instruct, receive more interest, and have better results from this age group than from 8th graders.  Instruction concerning infant communion is needed, as you rightly suggest, and such study will do much to feed both children and adults.  Through this instruction, leading to a rejection of infant communion, we will be feeding our members a much better food, “strong meat” (1 Corinthians 3:2) than the low fiber, vitamin deficient, and crimpy diets of spiritual renewal, stewardship programs, seminars on the theology of money, church growth methods, and the outreach workshops that are being offered at the synodical cafeterias. Thanks for getting us thinking sacramentally.

 

The Reverend Robert Lawson, Jr. also writes,

 

Father Frey makes a somewhat compelling case for infant communion, though not entirely convincing.  Certainly the church has rationalized faith.  The “Faith = Knowledge: equation is evident in any number of practices in our parishes (e.g., using the 3 year series instead of the historic 1 year series, children’s sermons, question and answer sessions in between the sermon and offering, mini-Bible classes on each of the lessons during the Divine Service, etc.).  This is a destructive equation which erodes the objectivity of the means of grace and goes against Jesus’ own concept of faith.

 

So, yes, the practice of “confirmation at 8th grade” as a prerequisite to first communion is one which needs to go for a number of reasons.  It is an arbitrary tradition which assumes that someone must have memorized the entire Small Catechism with explanations, a certain amount of bible passages, and the Synodical questions and answers, and be able to articulate each doctrine of the faith in order to be a “worthy communicant.”

 

On the other hand, based on 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, faith cannot be completely divorced from the understanding and oral confession of faith when it comes to the Lord’s Supper.  It’s true that in baptism the infant has been examined by Christ and found to have faith.  On that basis (and, more importantly, on the basis of the promise attached to baptism) the child is baptized.  However St. Paul says that for the Supper a man ought to be able to examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  A man ought to be able to discern the Lord’s body and blood for himself.  Failure to discern the body and blood of Christ brings with it some pretty dire consequences (vs. 29-30).  It would seem that such self-examination assumes some kind of rudimentary, intellectual capacity.  How can an infant discern the body and the blood of Christ in the Sacrament?

 

Fr. Frey noted that Dr. Luther defines “worthy and well prepared” as, having faith in these words, ‘given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Luther does not explicitly state in acknowledgement of the real presence as an additional requirement.  How-ever, wouldn’t such understanding be implicit in the definition (especially after he has just finished dealing with the what of the sacrament in an earlier section)?  What is “given for you”?  The body of Christ, truly present in the sacramental bread.  What is “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”?  The blood of Christ, truly present in the wine.  My point is: Luther was not thinking of those who denied the real presence or who were as yet unable to confess faith in the real presence.  Rather, for those who already believe and confess the real presence it is enough to be truly worthy and well-prepared if they have faith in what this body and blood give: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Fasting or other bodily preparations, while useful, are not a requirement. Nor does one have to be educated in and quizzed on the AC and its Apology, the FC, or the Synodical questions and answers. In addition, the Preface to the Small Catechism is instructive as to what Luther considered the absolute basic knowledge that one needs to be admitted to the Sacrament.

 

Fr. Frey also references AC XXV where Melanchthon insists that the custom has been retained of not communing those who have not previously been examined and absolved.  The Confession and Absolution referenced here is not that which takes place in Baptism, but that which takes place in the confessional.  Infant communion was not the practice of the time and hadn’t been for 400 years (BTW – If Fr. Frey says that infant communion was the common practice of the church until the 13th century, I believe him.  But I would still like to see the evidence).  I wonder if it was even on the reformer’s radar screen given AC XXV?  Now it’s true that the vast majority of our people don’t avail themselves of private absolution prior to the sacrament (nor do most of them even know what the Christian Questions and Answers are).  It’s also true that if we only communed those in our parishes who really believed and confessed the Lutheran doctrine of the real presence it would not take very many hymns to get through the distribution, even in a large parish.  (How many of our people are little more than Calvinists?)  These are sad facts which need some serious attention (and are getting it by such publications as the MM, Gottesdienst, and by confessional pastors who intensely catechize on the sacraments and are working to restore Private Absolution).  But the fact that most people don’t examine themselves, or allow the Pastor to examine them prior to communing, is a separate issue which should be dealt with separately.  We shouldn’t go from one end of the extreme to the other.

 

To conclude, I am all for going back to the practice of the Reformation by admitting children who know the Ten Commandments, Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (see Luther’s Preface to the SC) and can at least answer yes when asked if they believe the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ given for them, and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins.  There shouldn’t be an age limit on this.  If a 5 year old can confess they should be communed. But infants? I am not convinced.  How-ever, I’m young and not above instruction from my elders, so feel free to catechize away.

 

8MM Dear brothers. The topic of infant communion certainly evokes many emotions among Lutherans.  People, good people, people whose theology I respect fall on both sides of the issue.  For that reason it was never my intention to condemn anyone who is opposed to infant communion, but rather to spur a discussion on this topic both from those for and against it.  However because certain statements in my paper made assertions that I in no way intended to make, let me begin with a little “housecleaning,” in order that we can be free of such baggage and conduct a discussion in a brotherly manner.

 

I asked, “Why do our congregations starve their children and put them on a fast in many cases for the first fourteen years of their life?”  In regard to that the Reverend Bartling wrote:

 

The Church must feed her children!  When a mother sings her Christian lullabies to her children, prays with them and for them, teaches to them symbols like folded hands and the sign of the holy cross, and reminds them of their baptism, she is feeding her children.  By withholding communion, the children are not on a fast and starved, but fed with the sincere milk of the Word 1 Pt. 2:2.

 

First of all, let me define what I mean by “fast”.  It is not total abstinence, as some understand fasting, but rather a withholding of certain foods. So when the Church withholds communion from infants, she is putting them on a fast, even though she has not withheld the “sincere milk of the Word” from them.

 

But in no way do I want to suggest that to withhold communion from infants is to assign their souls to hell.  In fact, I will go even farther than that and say that all the blessings of the kingdom are given in each of the means of salvation.  Parents can be sure that the infant who dies after he is baptized is in heaven.  To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”   These people were in no way “starved” to death because they did not receive the Holy Sacrament. 

 

Nevertheless, we dare not err on the other side of this either and pit one means against another by saying, this one is more important than that one, or, that one is not as necessary as this one. Christ has commanded his Church, through her ministers, to publicly administer all these means to his people, and he has graciously invited his people to receive them, all of them, in the faith that they are gifts.

 

In the third paragraph I wrote:

 

But we dare not pin all the blame for our Communion practice on Calvin, not when we deny the Sacrament altogether to our baptized infants and young children.  And this we do for no other reason than that we have determined they cannot examine themselves properly.  Here the blame goes to the Rationalists, who profess that what we believe is more or less dependant on what we know, thus in effect contradicting our Lord, who said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.

 

Of course, it is not true that all Lutherans who do not commune infants are “rationalists contradicting Christ.”  Such a statement was much too strong.  Yet it is a historical fact that rationalism did adversely affect many in the Church, and that it contributed to the Lutheran practice of confirming and then communing children at such a late age.  

 

And while on the subject, let me clarify a historical statement I made.  The Scriptures do not tell us that the Apostles communed infants, nor do they say that they didn’t.  This remains an open question.  But in the post-apostolic age there is documented evidence, in the Didache among other writings, that, “Holy Baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion took place at the same time and were done by the same bishop.”  Thus the conclusion can be made from history that the practice of infant communion is ancient and at one time was widespread.  This in turn begs a very important question, “Why did it fall into disuse in the west?”  And as I pointed out in my paper, Lateran IV and transubstantiation in particular all but killed it (perhaps the reason why the Orthodox Churches still follow this practice today for they never had to deal with transubstantiation or the decrees of Lateran IV).  Yet infant communion, though quickly falling into wide-spread disuse, was not officially condemned until the Council of Trent (16th C).  It is also of interest to note that the Pope still allows the Byzantine Catholic Church, which is a western church, to observe the practice despite Trent’s condemnation. 

 

On page 9, second paragraph of the second column I wrote, “This we Lutherans confess when it comes to Holy Baptism, but when it comes to Holy Communion we change and become like Baptists.”  Ok, let me say it as plainly as I can.  Not every Lutheran minister who refuses to commune infants is a Baptist.  Still we cannot deny that Arminianism does put conditions on faith, which our Lord does not.  So it is important that we Lutherans do not fall into the same error, that we do not, for whatever reasons, give the impression that the faith of an adult is superior to the faith of an infant. The words of Dr. Walther serve us well here:

 

The Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times (Thesis XVII, Law and Gospel).

 

Two paragraphs later I wrote, “Why do we not commune ALL our baptized members?” By this I did not mean to imply those baptized members that are under discipline.  Here I made an assumption, which can be a dangerous thing to do, that you would know I meant only those baptized members in good standing.

 

And the last of my corrections comes in the very last paragraph.  To have a good discussion of the matter with the readers of our humble publication, one cannot make the assertion, as I did, when I said:

 

Nevertheless, understanding how this practice came about and the false view of faith on which it is based, I pray that someday we take our young children off this fast that has wrongly been imposed on them…

 

I do pray, however, that God the Holy Spirit will lead his Church to carry out his good and gracious will in this respect. And to that end, I now finish the “house-cleaning” that was needed and focus directly on the responses I received.

 

Let’s start with something on which all confessional Lutherans agree, on what makes a worthy communicant.  The Blessed Reformer states it so simply, yet so clearly for us: 

 

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily? 

 

Answer.

 

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.

 

But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.  (Small Catechism)

 

Faith is what makes a communicant worthy to receive the Sacrament, and not just faith in God nor even faith in the truth that God came down to us in our flesh in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin, death and from the power of the devil, by his holy, precious Blood and his innocent sufferings and death, but as Dr. Luther correctly explained, faith which believes that in this Sacrament our incarnate Lord gives his Body to eat and his Blood to drink for the forgiveness of sins, and even more, that he does this “for you”.

 

Thus the question we must ask ourselves in regard to infant communion is this: Can infants believe?  Is it possible for them to meet this criterion that Dr. Luther so clearly sets before us in the Small Catechism?  Our Lord gives us the answer, “Of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

 

Indeed, those are powerful words, through which everyone, whether he be for or against the communing of infants, must go before he goes any where else.  Jesus says not just that infants should have a place in the kingdom or even are part of the kingdom, but rather, “of such is the kingdom of God.”  And just in case you miss the full impact of that he goes on, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).

 

What else does that mean than that infants are the paradigm in the kingdom of God, the ones whom we are to emulate in regard to faith?  Or let me put it this way, all the members of the kingdom of God are to be like infants in this sense that they do not question or doubt the promises of their heavenly Father, but believe them and unconditionally put their trust in what they say.

 

I must admit that I get very nervous when I hear statements such as this, “Faith includes assentia, fiducia, and scientia.”  Why the scholasticism?  Indeed, so many silly and false sophistries e.g. transubstantiation, representation, and Calvin’s spiritual presence have come into existence from men trying to over-explain the unexplainable. Jesus simply says, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”  So more important than to define faith in a scholastic way is to believe that Infants have faith, however defined.

 

A two-year-old at the Altar with the parent replied, “The Body of Christ,” when the pastor came by to give the Host to the parent.  Now granted, the child is not an infant, though is certainly closer to infancy than even to confirmation age, yet this confession indicates that this two-year-old is able to discern the Body and the Blood of the Lord by faith.

 

How disturbing it was to me, then, when I was told of a seminary professor, who when asked if infants can commune, replied that infants cannot remember, and Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  So infants cannot commune. First of all, infants can and do re-member many things. They certainly recognize their parents, which requires remembering.  And secondly, if “of such is the kingdom of God,” then they have the faith to remember and to trust the promises of God.  Now how this can be I do not know, nor do I have to know.  This is a mystery to be proclaimed not explained.

 

But what of the fact that infants for a very brief time can receive only the Cup and not the Host?  To be sure, the norm is to receive the Sacrament as our Lord instituted it, and that is in both kinds.  But can there be exceptions to this norm? Dr. Luther made one. He celebrated the Sacrament with only the Host for quite some time, until the Lutherans, who were instructed never to receive the Cup lest they spill the Blood of Christ, were ready to receive both kinds in accordance with the Lord’s institution. Admittedly, such exceptions are rare and should remain exceptions rather than the rule.  But this example does show us that there can be proper exceptions. Could that include infants? After all, it would only be a matter of a few months. So would it be possible to commune them with only the Cup, as was the historical practice, until such time as they can also receive the Host?  The minister who makes his judgment with the words of his Lord in mind, “Of such is the kingdom of God,” understanding that though it is not the norm exceptions have been made in love, is in no way to be equated with the papists of the Middle Ages, who refused the Cup to the laity altogether.

 

What of closed communion I was asked another letter writer asked? We commune our members.  Does not the infant by baptism become a member of the church?  (If not, then we should stop including baptized members in our statistics.) So if the infant by Holy Baptism is a member of the congregation or of one in fellowship with ours, then to commune him will in no way compromise our fellowship principles, any more than they are when we commune our adults or an adult visitor from another congregation in fellowship with ours.  Pastor Rob Lawson writes:

 

St. Paul says that for the Supper a man ought to be able to examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the Cup.  A man ought to be able to discern the Lord’s Body and Blood for himself. Failure to discern the Body and Blood of Christ brings with it some pretty dire consequences. It would seem that such self-examination assumes some kind of rudimentary, intellectual capacity.  How can an infant discern the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament?

 

That seems to be the chief objection of most who oppose the communing of infants. In a word, an infant cannot examine himself, as St. Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 11.

 

First of all, the blessed Apostle Paul cannot be saying by this that infants cannot believe, or even that their faith is somehow inferior to that of a more mature person.  And he’s certainly not implying that the blessings of the kingdom are to be withheld from them.  If he were, and again he is not, then he would be contradicting the words of our Lord, who said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”  All confessional Lutherans know and believe that the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves.  Rather they are in full agreement and in perfect harmony, as if they were written by only one author.  And, in fact, they were.

 

Now the word “to examine” includes a conscious process, and its tense implies continual action.  I also know how important it is for one to keep the words of Scripture in their context.  I’m sure we have all had people take our words out of context one time or another and in so doing have caused us to say things we never really said.  So let’s consider the context of Paul’s words.

 

The Apostle writes, “When you come together as a church” (v. 18), so he is clearly speaking of God’s Ser-vice, specifically of the Corinthians behavior in God’s Service.  “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper (v.20).” No doubt the Corinthians thought it was, but they were wrong.  Why?  The Apostle explains, (v/ 21) “For in eating each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.”

 

There’s the context. Because of their gluttony and drunkenness many of the Corinthians were eating and drinking to their judgment, “not discerning the Lord’s Body.” For would they have done such vulgar and blasphemous things had they believed that they were eating Christ’s very Body and drinking his very Blood?  So St. Paul gave this exhortation, (28) “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  In other words, you who are receiving the Sacrament as gluttons and drunkards and who are receiving it to your judgment because of this, you ought to examine your actions, and repent, before you eat and drink.

 

 

 

Does this suggest that Paul’s words really do not apply to Christians today?  By no means!  The Holy Spirit never wastes his breath.  He put them into the Scriptures for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16).  Say, for instance, you have a member living in adultery, and you refuse him the Sacrament, and rightly so for if he eats and drinks in unrepentant sin, he eats and drinks judgment on himself.  Are you not by your refusal in effect saying to him, even as Paul did to these blaspheming Corinthians, “Let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup”?  Look at your actions and what they are confessing about your faith, or lack thereof.  Judge yourself by them, for I am judging you by refusing you the Sacrament.  Repent, so that you can be forgiven and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord once again.

 

Now because sin still clings to us even after Baptism, it is a laudable practice for every communicant to examine himself before he receives the Holy Supper.  But let us not turn Paul’s words into a legalistic absurdity.  What of the member in the hospital for example?  He is not always aware of when his minister will visit.  Why, his minister is not always sure of when he will get there.  Does this mean he shouldn’t be given the Sacrament, because you showed up at a time he did not expect and so was not able to examine himself?  And what of the visitor who comes to church and discovers that the Holy Sacrament will be celebrated that day?  Should he refrain from it, though he is in fellowship with the members of that church, simply because he was not able to examine himself on that day, as a minister once actually suggested?

 

The answer to both those questions is found in a proper definition of examination and of what it consists.  It is for one to look closely at himself in the light of God’s law.  Then repent and believe.  And this is done very well through preaching, that is, when the pastor holds the mirror of the law before the hearers so that they can examine themselves, as well as the Gospel so that they hear Christ’s absolution. Then when they come to the Sacrament, the pastor can assume - for he cannot look into the heart - that they have done just that.

 

Now back to infants, is it possible that preaching can have the same affect on them?  Consider St. John the Baptizer.  Even taking into account that he was a special child, his reaction to preaching as recorded for us in the Gospel according to St. Luke is quite astounding.  His mother declared, “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).

 

“Of such is the kingdom of God,” St. John shows us, as well as that, “Faith comes (even to infants) from hearing.”  So why can’t other infants through the preaching of the law come to a conviction of their sin?  And why can’t they also be strengthened in their faith to embrace Christ as their Savior?  Indeed, this is why we baptize them, and this is why our Lord says, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”

 

Addendum One

 

Perhaps here is as good a place as any to make a brief comment about Dr. Luther.  He says little on the subject of communing infants. It was simply not the practice in the western church of his day.  Who knows if he was even aware that this was practiced in the post-apostolic church?  Many of the documents we have were not available to him. So it is not surprising to hear the Reformer encourage fathers to instruct their children, “For since they are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this Communion of the Sacrament” (Triglotta, LC, Sacrament of the Altar, pg. 778).  However before you conclude from this that the Blessed Reformer stood squarely against the practice, consider also that he never spoke against the Bohemians (Hussites) for communing their infants. An argument from silence, I grant you, but basically no different from the one made a couple of times to me that neither Luther nor the Confessions say anything about infant communion. Then there is this interesting quote:

 

Do we not read of St. Cyprian, the holy martyr, that in Carthage where he was bishop he even had both elements given to the children, although - for reasons of its own - that has now ceased? Christ had the children come to him and would not allow anyone to hinder them (Mark 10:14). In like manner he withheld his blessings neither from the dumb nor the blind nor the lame.  Why, then, should not this sacrament also be for those who heartily and in a Christian spirit desire it? (AE 35 pg. 110, 6)

 

My point is this.  Let us not be too quick to put words into Luther’s mouth on the subject whether pro or con, unless we have something more substantial than just his silence.

 

Addendum Two

 

 

Though I can in no way predict the future, from a purely practical perspective I do not foresee the practice of infant communion being observed in our churches during my lifetime.  Admittedly, the members are not ready for this, not even close, and this would only result in great offense.

 

Yet I do not agree with those who think that to discuss the topic of infant communion has little or no value.  First of all, it gets us to focus on faith in a practical way, and after all, that is the subject of the chief article (AC IV), is it not? Secondly, it gets us to review our Baptismal confession and practice: why do we baptize infants and why is it good to include in our rite the infant’s confession of faith.  Thirdly, it does get pastors who are concerned about the influence pietism and rationalism have had on the church, especially as it pertains to faith and the Sacrament, to think these things through more clearly and carefully.  Fourthly, it gets pastors to at the very least consider lowering the age when they commune their members for the first time, something of which a number of responders spoke favorably and which I think we would do well to consider.  And finally, if the practice of infant communion is ever to be restored to the Church- note that I said “if”, then it seems to me best if it can begin with a theological discussion among the pastors.   (JAF) §