The Achilles’ heel of the argument for paedocommunion, however, is the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34. In this passage, the Apostle addresses a particular problem in the Corinthian church and offers general guidelines regarding what is required of those who receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. After describing the divisive and unholy conduct of some of the Corinthians (vv. 17–22), the Apostle recalls the Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper (vv. 23–26) and thereafter provides instructions regarding a proper preparation for and partaking of Christ by faith in the sacrament (vv. 27–29).
Since the sixteenth century, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have not permitted baptized children of believing parents to partake of the Lord’s Supper without previously professing their faith (see Heidelberg Catechism 81; Belgic Confession, Art. 35; Westminster Larger Catechism 177). However, in recent decades, many Reformed denominations have had to respond to advocates of paedocommunion (“child communion”) who have vigorously challenged this consensus.
According to advocates of paedocommunion, the traditional practice of Reformed churches represents a departure from the historic practice of the Christian church. More importantly, paedocommunionists insist that the historic position of the Reformed churches is inconsistent with their doctrine of the covenant. Since the children of believers are members of the covenant community or visible church, they should be admitted to the Lord’s Table to be nourished in the faith and in fellowship with Jesus Christ.
The historical argument for paedocommunion is at best inconclusive. Unlike the significant evidence for the practice of infant baptism in the early church, there is no compelling evidence for the practice of paedocommunion. Though the Eastern church practices paedocommunion to the present day, there is no mention of this practice in the voluminous writings of the early church fathers. In the early third century, Origen expressly stated that children were not given holy communion.1
Whatever the historical evidence for paedocommunion suggests, the more fundamental question is, What do the Scriptures teach about the proper recipients of the Lord’s Supper?
Advocates of paedocommunion often appeal to the Old Testament Passover Feast as a precedent for the admission of covenant children to the Lord’s Supper. Just as covenant children participated in this annual feast and in other covenant meals under the Old Testament economy, so they should be welcomed to participate in the new covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper.
Although the appeal to the analogy of the Passover is a key component of the argument for paedocommunion, it has several significant problems. First, the Deuteronomic instructions regarding the Passover require only males to celebrate this feast annually in the place where the Lord has chosen to place His name (Deut. 16:1–8, 16).