May Children Partake of the Lord's Supper? - Dr. K.Deddens
with permission from Clarion Vol. 35, No. 18, 19, 20, and 21 (1986)
Since the beginning of the seventies many publications have appeared concerning the question whether children may partake of the Lord's Supper or not. In the Netherlands, the general synod of the "synodical churches" decided to allow children at the Lord's Supper, "since God's Word neither commands nor forbids it." Also the Church at Rijsbergen (buiten verband [outside the federation]) decided to allow children at the Lord's Supper. In the circles of these churches the question has been under discussion for many years. Rev. K.C. Smouter and Rev. M.R. van den Berg wrote about this topic in Opbouw, and Rev. G. Visee wrote no fewer than eight articles concerning this matter in 1965 (reprinted in the book Onderwezen in het Koninkrijk der hemelen, Kampen, 1979). Translated into English, they were published in Christian Renewal, Vol. IV, No. 14-17, March-May, 1986, under the title "May - and Must - Our Children Partake of the Lord's Supper?" Especially that last fact is noteworthy in connection with the 1986 synod of the Christian Reformed Church. This synod dealt with a majority and a minority report (even two kinds of minority recommendations) of the "Committee to study the issue of covenant children partaking of the Lord's Supper." In Outlook of June 1986, Rev. Jelle Tuininga also wrote an article about "Children at the Lord's Supper." So we see that the topic is under discussion also in the Western hemisphere.
In the U.S.A. several "denominations" decided to allow the children of the church to partake of the Lord's Supper, and on the mission fields also it was the experience of Reformed missionaries that in the circles of more than one "denomination" the so-called "paedocommunion" had been accepted. Therefore, it was among the topics discussed at the Fifth Conference of Reformed Mission Workers in Latin America in April, 1985 (see my report in Clarion, Vol. 34, No. 11, May 31, 1985). It is also worth noting that the practice of "paedocommunion" is promoted in the liberal World Council of Churches.
So everywhere the topic is under discussion and quite often it has been concluded: we may not deny children the Lord's Supper. The Rev. G. Visee even wrote: "Today there is a wholesale suspension from the Lord's Supper, as far as the children of the covenant are concerned!" That is actually a bitter reproach and if this were true, we would have to be converted in this respect as soon as possible. But the question is: Is it indeed true? Do we deny the children of the church something they have a right to, so that we actually wrong the children of God's covenant?
Not infrequently the discussions about this topic start with God's covenant of grace. They point, for example, to what is said in Lord's Day 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 74: "Infants as well as adults belong to God's covenant and congregation," and also to what follows. "Through Christ's blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults." I am of the opinion that this starting point as such is a good one. Over against all kinds of Anabaptist ideas, the Reformers stressed that the children of the believers belong also to the covenant of the LORD and to Christ's Church.
But I think it is wrong to step over right away from Q.74 to Q.75 of the Heidelberg Catechism, namely, from Holy Baptism, to the Lord's Supper, and to quote then the commandment and the promises concerning the Lord's Supper in this respect. We have to bear in mind that God's covenant is unilateral in its origin but bilateral in its existence, as our Reformed fathers used to say. This is also reflected in the way they viewed the two sacraments, according to the Scriptures.
The one pointed more to that unilateral origin of the covenant, namely, baptism, whereas the other pointed more, to the bilateral existence of the covenant, namely, the Lord's Supper. In the former the child is passive, in the latter the believer is active. That is also the difference in formulation between Q.69 and Q.75 of the Heidelberg Catechism. In Q.69 it is asked: "How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?" (i.e., the children are the object of this benefit), but Q.75 asks: "How does the Lord's Supper signify and seal to you that you share in Christ's one sacrifice on the cross and in all His gifts?" (i.e., it is the deed of the believers). I quoted now the revised edition of the Book of Praise (1984), but I am of the opinion that the difference is to be seen more clearly in the first complete edition of the Book of Praise (1972). In that edition the formulation of Q.69 is: "How is it signified and sealed unto you in holy baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?", while Q.75 in this edition asks: "How is it signified and sealed unto you in the holy supper that you partake of the one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all His benefits?" The difference is clear: in the case of Holy Baptism we have part in the one sacrifice of Christ, and in the case of the Holy Supper we partake of the one sacrifice, namely, as believers. Of course, one can say: Q.69 does not yet speak about the children (that will be done especially in Q.74) but presents only a general view on baptism. But we have to bear in mind that in by far the most cases baptism of infants takes place in the church; that is the common and normal way.
Are benefits denied?
If we bear in mind the difference between Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper, we cannot maintain that some benefits of the covenant of grace are denied to the children of the believers when they are not yet allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper. H. Bavinck showed that very clearly in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Vol. IV, p. 56l):
"To deny the Lord's Supper to the children does not let them miss any benefit of the covenant of grace. That would indeed be the case if Holy Baptism was denied to the children. For that is only to be done by those who are of the opinion that the children stand outside of the covenant of grace. But as far as the Lord's Supper is concerned it is different. He who administers to the children baptism, but not the Lord's Supper, admits that they belong to God's covenant and that they may share all the benefits of it. He only denies to them a particular manner in which the same benefits are signed and sealed, because this does not fit their age. The Lord's Supper does not give any benefit which was not granted before already in God's Word and in Baptism."
And in Magnalia Dei (trans. Our Reasonable Faith, p. 542) Bavinck writes:
"Although Baptism and the Holy Supper have the same covenant of grace as their content, and although both give assurance of the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Supper differs from Baptism in this regard that it is a sign and seal not of incorporation into but of the maturation and strengthening in the fellowship of Christ and all His members."
So the transition may not be made too hastily from Baptism to the Lord's Supper. And that is what for instance the Rev. G. Visee did. I quote (Christian Renewal, Vol. 4, No. 16, April 21, 1986):
"We teach our children after they have received the sign and seal of the covenant: 'How does Baptism remind you and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally? . . . . . In my catechism class I taught Lord's Day 28 as follows:
Question: What has Christ commanded? Don't say it in your own words: tell me what the catechism says.
Answer: To eat the broken bread and to drink the cup.
Question: To whom did Christ give that command?
Answer: To the believers.
Question: Will you read out loud exactly what the catechism says?
Answer: 'Me and all believers.'
Question: What is meant by 'me'?
Question: So. Christ commanded you and all other believers to eat the broken bread and to drink the cup. Why don't you do it then?
Answer: I'm not allowed yet."
So far the quotation from Rev. Visee's article. His conclusion is clear: the church denies to the children something which they have a right to. But there is a mistake here. Although both sacraments deal with the covenant of grace, there is a clear difference. And it is wrong to make a very hasty transition from the one sacrament to the other one. But there is more. There is also a hasty transition from the Old Testament sacrament of Passover and the New Testament sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Passover and the Lord's Supper
One of the arguments that children must be allowed to participate in the Lord's Supper is derived from the Old Testament sacrament of Passover. One argues then simply in this way: just as baptism came in the place of circumcision, the Lord's Supper is a New Testament adaptation of Israel's Passover. The Rev. G. Visee wrote in this respect (see Christian Renewal, Vol. 4, No. 14, March 17, 1986) "There is only this difference: Christ is not merely Israel's Passover Lamb, but the Lamb of God that bears the sins of the world, and, secondly, since His blood was shed, we now have the bloodless feast of the Lord instead of the bloody sacrament of the Passover. And the children partook of that Passover. They were not passive observers, but ate of the meal. The Passover was celebrated by the household, parents and children together. It was not simply a family affair, however, for it the household was too small to eat the whole lamb other Israelites were invited to share. That is also borne out by the fact that Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples. He and His disciples did not constitute a family; that, however, did not detract from the validity of the meal. There simply were no children in this group, nor were there any women. Nevertheless, they did and do participate in this meal." His conclusion is clear: we may not deny the Lord's Supper to the children of God's covenant, because they participated also already in the Old Testament sacrament of Passover.
Relation, but not mere transition
What are we to say about this? Of course, there is a certain relation between Passover and the Lord's Supper.
But at the same time we have to be aware of the fact that the Passover did not proceed simply to the Lord's Supper. When the Rev. G. Visee says that the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 5:7, "For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed," "draws an unmistakably direct connection between the Passover and the Lord's Supper," he says too much. This text deals with the fact that the Passover Lamb was a prefiguration of Christ's sacrifice. Furthermore, we have to bear in mind in this respect at least two things.
In the first place: there was a considerable time lapse between the breaking of the bread and the giving of the (third) cup, namely, the whole period of the eating of the Passover. In the second place: Jesus Christ did not join all the moments of the Passover, only two moments of it, but especially not the moment of the eating of the Passover.
Therefore, the Lord's Supper is not to be considered a mere Christian form of the Passover. The Passover did not proceed simply in the Lord's Supper. We may say it in this way: the Lord's Supper is the fulfilment of the Passover. The line of the Passover is not extended in the Lord's Supper, but it is picked up in it.
History of redemption
This has also to do with the history of redemption. The Lord's Supper is a sacrament of another, a new covenant. He who appeals to the Passover, in which children participated, may not simply conclude: here we have the clear proof that children may participate in the Lord's Supper. Then he has to bear in mind that there is a new element in the Lord's Supper over against the Passover. That new element, in which the Lord's Supper does not result automatically from the Passover, is related to the different way of salvation. That does not deal with the nature of salvation, but with the manner of salvation. The selfevidence with which the people of Israel celebrated the Lord's Supper, old and young people together, was connected with the degree of God's revelation. The celebration of the Passover was an obligation to the people of Israel under penalty of excommunication. The new element of the covenant of Christ's blood finds its kernel in the work of God the Holy Spirit, which is a personal matter and which is not simply founded on the tie of blood.
The Old and the New Covenant stand beside each other and one cannot simply draw a parallel between both in every respect. There are some differences.
One of those differences has to do with the emphasis on responsibility in the New Covenant. In the Old Dispensation there was of course responsibility, but that is different from the responsibility of the New Dispensation. We read about that difference in Hebrews 10: "A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (vs. 28 and 29). That has also to do with the responsibility in connection with the Lord's Supper.
In the same chapter of the letter to the Hebrews we read a quotation from the prophecies of Jeremiah concerning the new covenant: "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds" (vs. 16). Also this text shows that increased grace brings along increased personal responsibility in the New Dispensation.
It is, therefore, totally wrong when for instance James B. Jordan in his Theses on Paedocommunion (The Geneva Press, 1982) states: " ' Unconverted' slaves ate the Passover in the Old Covenant - inward circumcision is not the ecclesiastical criterion for participation in the Lord's Supper" (Thesis 15).
Here again a mere parallel is drawn between the Passover and the Lord's Supper. This takes into account neither the increased responsibility in the New Covenant nor the progress in the history of redemption.
Besides, there are the important words of I Corinthians 11:26-29 in connection with the responsibility of the celebration of the Lord's Supper (I hope to come back to that passage in the next article).
The "inward circumcision" is justly stressed in the church as a condition for celebrating the Lord's Supper. I am reminded of the conclusion of article 35 of the Belgic Confession:
"Finally, we receive this holy sacrament in the congregation of the people of God with humility and reverence as we together commemorate the death of Christ our Saviour with thanksgiving and we confess our faith and Christian religion. Therefore no one should come to this table without careful selfexamination, lest by eating this bread and drinking from this cup, he eat and drink judgment upon himself. In short, we are moved by the use of this holy sacrament to a fervent love of God and our neighbours. Therefore we reject as desecrations all additions and damnable inventions which men have mixed with the sacraments. We declare that we should be content with the ordinance taught by Christ and His apostles and should speak about it as they have spoken."
Especially the confession of faith, mentioned in this article, is very important.
And he who confesses his faith declares in this confession that he is a true believer, a living member of the Church of Jesus Christ. He has accepted his responsibility in God's new covenant.
In the meantime, the responsibility of the new covenant does not mean that we are without obligation in respect of the Lord's Supper. There is an obligation to accept the promises of God's covenant. So there is also an obligation to partake of the sacrament of the Holy Supper. The church may not leave that to the good pleasure of the people themselves. So if it would be so that the children are allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, they also had to do it.
It is therefore also wrong when James B. Jordan in his Theses on Paedocommunion defends the following idea: "if a child or infant will not eat the food given him, he is not to be 'force-fed.' If a child won't eat, then he won't eat. There is nothing superstitious about it" (Thesis 24). Of course, we reject the Roman Catholic idea of ex opere operato, as if the sacrament works automatically, exclusively by the act itself. But, precisely overagainst this idea, we point to the responsibility involved, and we say to the people: you are not free to partake of the Lord's Supper, but it is a matter of obligation in God's covenant.
It is only one of the two: the children are not allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, unless they have made profession of faith, or the children are indeed allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, but then that is not without consequences. Then they are obliged to partake of it. If they may go this means at the same time that they must go.
Next time we hope to see that there are very clear conditions for the participation of the Lord's Supper, especially stated in the already mentioned passage in I Corinthians 11.
Especially I Cor. 11:26-29 is important in connection with the question whether children are allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper. This passage is placed in the framework of the whole pericope of the verses 17-34, in which the Apostle Paul points to the misuses in the Church at Corinth with respect to the Lord's Supper. Overagainst these misuses Paul shows the great importance of the Lord's Supper. What is actually the celebration of the Lord's Supper?
In verse 26 Paul says that it is a proclamation: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." The apostle does not use in this sentence an imperative, in the sense of "you have to proclaim the Lord's death," but he gives a description of the celebration of the Lord's Supper: "You are proclaiming the Lord's death." But that means also that one must be aware of what he is actually doing when he celebrates the Lord's Supper.
Then, faith is supposed in the one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ! I quote here the majority report of the Christian Reformed Church (Agenda for Synod 1986, p. 355): ". . . that sacramental eating and drinking will be a proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26) ... without such proclamation no true celebration of the sacrament can take place at all. That is what made the Corinthian celebration so horrifying. In Corinth what should have been a holy meal had turned into a common (literally, a profane) meal. The solution of that horror in Corinth lay in restoring the essence of the meal, a proclamation of the Lord of the covenant and his glory. The covenant is fulfilled in Christ not only by His death and resurrection but also by his 'proclaiming light to His own people and to the Gentiles' (Acts 26:23). The Lord's Supper continues that covenant celebration and declaration of Christ's light and so makes any meaningful partaking in itself a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ."
That proclamation of the Lord's death has to do with the public profession of faith, which is not yet made by the children of God's covenant!
There is another important word in I Cor. 11:26-29, namely, what is said in verse 28: "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." That selfexamination means actually that the people ("a man" - but that means here: everyone who wants to partake of the Lord's Supper) have to test themselves. A similar expression is already used by the Apostle Paul in the same chapter, namely, in verse 19: "in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." But also this term has to do with faith. I quote Calvin's commentary on this text. Calvin rejects the Roman Catholic idea that this self-examination has to do with auricular confession. He explains the word as follows:
But now it is asked, what sort of exami nation that ought to be to which Paul exhorts us. It is an examination of such a kind as may accord with the legitimate use of the sacred Supper.
You see here a method that is most easily apprehended. If you would wish to use aright the benefit afforded by Christ, bring faith and repentance. As to these two things, therefore, the trial must be made, if you would come duly prepared. Under repentance I include love, for the man who has learned to renounce himself, that he may give himself up wholly to Christ and His service, will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has enjoined. At the same time, it is not a perfect faith or repentance that is required, as some, by urging beyond due bounds, a perfection that can nowhere be found, would shut out for ever from the Supper every individual of mankind. lf, however, thou aspirest after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of thy mind, and, humbled under a view of thy misery, dost wholly lean upon Christ's grace, and rest upon it, know that thou art a worthy guest to approach that table - worthy I mean in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude thee, though in another point of view there is something in thee that is not as it ought to be. For faith, when it is but begun, makes those worthy who were unworthy.
Already in the Didachè ("The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles"), dated from the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, it is said that the people have to partake of the Lord's Supper after having examined whether they are reconciled with God and with their brothers, so that the celebration of the Lord's Supper may be pure and not be defiled (ch. 14).
Our fathers understood the meaning of this self-examination very well when they stated in the Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper..
In order that we may now celebrate this holy supper of the Lord to our comfort, we must first rightly examine ourselves.
True self-examination consists of the following three parts:
First, let everyone consider his sins and accursedness, so that he, detesting himself, may humble himself before God. For the wrath of God against sin is so great that He could not leave it unpunished, but has punished it in His beloved Son Jesus Christ by the bitter' and shameful death on the cross.
Second, let everyone search his heart whether he also believes the sure promise of God that all his sins are forgiven him only for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and that the perfect righteousness of Christ is freely given him as his own, as if he himself had fulfilled at; righteousness.
Third, let everyone examine his conscience whether it is his sincere desire to show true thankfulness to God with his entire life and, laying aside all enmity, hatred and envy, to live with his neighbour in true love and unity. That is a good description and elaboration of what was already said in the days right after the apostles. It is to be summarized in one sentence: true self-examination means to know and to profess your sin and misery, your deliverance in Christ, and your thankfulness.
It is not remarkable that these three words are exactly the three parts of the Heidelberg Catechism? So, to be able to examine ourselves we must know the Heidelberg Catechism, we have to be instructed in the doctrine of the church, just as had been promised by the parents of the children of the covenant at the baptismal font.
If we compare the explanation of our self - examination with the contents of the Heidelberg Catechism, we can understand the better the answer to Q. 81: "Who are to come to the table of the Lord?" (in the old Latin version of the Heidelberg Catechism the formulation is: "Who are allowed to go to the Lord's table?"): "Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life." What else is this than: those who know and profess their sin and misery, their deliverance and their thankfulness?
That means very clearly: instruction in true faith has to precede the access to the Lord's Supper!
So the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning proclamation and examination in connection with the Lord's Supper and both words have to do with faith. But that is also the case with the third word used by the apostle in this respect, in the same passage; he writes in verse 29: "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."
There are commentaries which say that "the body" is just the body of the church. For instance, James B. Jordan writes in his Theses on Paedocommunion (1982, No. 17): "Discerning the body for the child may be translated as 'obey your parents.' " But that is wrong. The apostle uses here a strong word that actually means "to make a decisive distinction." The word is often used in connection with "to be able to discern good and evil," and that is to be applied to mature people.
I quote again the majority report for the Christian Reformed Synod 1986:
This means, first of all, that those who come to the table will need to discern that this meal is not just a Sunday morning snack but is, in fact, a participation in the body and blood of Christ given for the life of his people (I Cor. 11:2526). Anything other than a recognition of the giver of the heavenly food and drink will bring destruction rather than life through the eating (I Cor. 11:30), the same destruction that fell on the Israelites who failed to discern God's gift in the heaven-sent quail (Num. 11:33; Ps. 78:30).
As indicated earlier, this discernment of the body will include recognizing that being part of the body of Christ means being part of the body of believers. Participants in the supper will receive true nourishment when they recognize the unity they share with others in the covenant community as a result of partaking of the one loaf (I Cor. 10:17), the one Lord Jesus Christ. Partaking meaningfully will require a true discernment by each participant that in holy communion Christ himself is feeding his people - and that of those fed people, I am one (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 54).
So also the third word used by the Apostle Paul has to do with faith, and also with instruction in faith.
Now some reason that a child can believe in a childlike manner and that this must be enough to admit it to the Lord's Supper. That is not the way of thinking of the Apostle Paul, for he used strong expressions which are only to be applied to what is promised by the parents of the children of God's covenant: "to instruct their child in the doctrine of the church, as soon as he or she is able to understand, and to have him or her instructed to the utmost of their power!"
In the previous articles we saw the connection but also the distinction between the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper, also the connection (and distinction) between the sacraments in the Old and the New Dispensations, and after that we paid attention to I Cor. 11:26-29 in this respect.
In this final article I would like to show something from history, especially from Calvin and I will end with some conclusions. Defending the admittance of children, one often reasons: during many ages children were allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, but then, suddenly, it stopped. What are we to say about that?
Indeed, infants and small children participated in the Lord's Supper, especially in the Eastern church, but also in the Western church, and especially with the growth of a superstitious view of the sacrament, people feared to spill so much as a single drop of the transubstantiated blood of Christ.
But we have to bear in mind two things.
In the first place: not all the texts to which one appeals show indeed that very young children partook of the Lord's Supper. For instance in the Constitutiones Apostolicae (a writing from the end of the fourth century) it is said after the dismissal of the non-baptized: "Mothers, take your little children with you." But it is absolutely not sure that these little children (sometimes even babies) did indeed receive the elements of the Lord's Supper. I am of the opinion that here is only said that the mothers were not to leave the children alone in the back of the church when they came forward to receive for themselves the bread and wine.
There is also an indication that in the early church children were instructed by their parents and were led to the minister in order to show their faith. Both lines are mentioned by Calvin.
In his Institutes he writes first that some people say (I give here the whole quotation of Inst. IV, 16, 30).
... that there is not greater reason for admitting infants to baptism than to the Lord's Supper, to which, however, they are never admitted: as if Scripture did not in every way draw a wide distinction between them. In the early Church, indeed, the Lord's Supper was frequently given to infants, as appears from Cyprian and Augustine (August, ad Bonif. Lib. i.); but the practice justly became obsolete. For if we attend to the peculiar nature of baptism, it is a kind of entrance, and as it were initiation into the Church, by which we are ranked among the people of God, a sign of our spiritual regeneration, by which we are again born to be children of God; whereas, on the contrary, the Supper is intended for those of riper years, who, having passed the tender period of infancy, are fit to bear solid food. This distinction is very clearly pointed out in Scripture. For there, as far as regards baptism, the Lord makes no selection of age, whereas he does not admit all to partake of the Supper, but confines it to those who are fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord, to examine their own conscience, to show forth the Lord's death, and understand its power. Can we wish anything clearer than what the apostle says, when he thus exhorts, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup?" (I Cor. xi. 28.) Examination, therefore, must precede, and this it were vain to expect from infants. Again, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." If they cannot partake worthily without being able duly to discern the sanctity of the Lord's body, why should we stretch out poison to our young children instead of vivifying food? Then what is our Lord's injunction? "Do this in remembrance of me." And what the inference which the apostle draws from this? "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." How, pray, can we require infants to commemorate any event of which they have no understanding; how require them "to show forth the Lord's death," of the nature and benefit of which they have no idea? Nothing of the kind is prescribed by baptism. Wherefore, there is the greatest difference between the two signs.
So far the quotation of Calvin's Institutes. Calvin never denied that there is a strong connection between Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but he stressed also very much that there is a strong connection between Baptism and Profession of Faith.
In this respect Calvin often uses the expression "delayed response."
At the time of our baptism the LORD God, by means of His servant, sealed His promise to us. At the time we were not yet able to see or hear this, for we were not yet conscious of things. But nevertheless, God did speak to us at that time. Before we could utter one word the LORD had already spoken to us. And He kept on speaking to us, He kept impressing that baptism on our hearts. At one time the LORD said: "You are Mine, my child!" He told us so in baptism. And He kept calling us like that, as we grew up and matured. That is the reason why there is such a close connection between baptism and confession. At our baptism we were unable to answer for ourselves. Our parents had to do that for us. Otherwise we would have to respond to God's address then already.
Saying that confession is really a delayed response to baptism is not claiming too much. Calvin taught this already in one of his early writings, not long after the first edition of his Institutes. The reformer was only twentyseven years old at that time. He writes: "Covenant children must be instructed so that they may give a testimony of their faith in the end, which they were unable to do when they were baptized."
In his Institutes he relates that in the early church it was also customary for the children of Christians, after they were grown up, to be brought before the minister "in order that they might fulfill the duty required of adults; presenting themselves for baptism." For, according to Calvin, when they were baptized as small children, they could not yet make their profession.
The reformer put it like this: a small child cannot speak yet, and has not yet come to his/her senses. Therefore, for covenant children, making profession of faith is the discharge of an obligation, required of them at their baptism, but temporarily delayed.
Calvin wrote: Only one valid reason can be given to the Lord as to why covenant children would not yet be able to make confession of faith. And that one reason is that the children of the covenant lack sufficient knowledge as yet to partake in the Lord's Supper. You must be able to examine yourself, says Paul to the Corinthians, before being able to celebrate the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 11:28). This requires knowledge, also self-knowledge which toddlers and very young children do not have yet.
According to Calvin, there is no other possible reason that can stand up before the LORD. Certainly not this one: "I am not quite ready, I am not sure that I really believe in Christ." God has sealed His promise in baptism. Then what right does anyone have to doubt? Who may disregard these promises? Then Calvin addresses the young people and says: "You should have made profession of your faith at the hour of your baptism. Then already the LORD gave you this obligation. Only because of your weakness has this confession been postponed!"
Baptism may not be postponed, for the LORD has a claim on the child that is born into His covenant. Baptism should be administered as soon as feasible to the children of believers. "The consistory should ensure that the covenant of God is sealed by baptism to the children of believers as soon as feasible" (Article 17 of the Church Order of the Canadian Reformed Churches). We should not keep the LORD waiting! But this is also the way it is with confession. That too should take place as soon as possible for the children of the covenant. Calvin then refers to a custom in the old church, and says: this took place at the end of childhood, or at the beginning of adolescence. He writes somewhere that to him it seems best if "a child at the age of ten years would present himself to the congregation to make profession of faith." In the Dutch refugee Church of London, the cradle of the church of the reformation in the Netherlands, the age was set at fourteen - still very young by our standard. We should keep in mind that instruction in the doctrine of the church was started at an earlier age than now.
But one thing is certain: from the hour of baptism the demand for confessions calls to be fulfilled. Therefore any unnecessary delay is wrong.
Not a part of us
Once we have discovered the close connection between baptism and confession, we are more and more brought to worship God's good pleasure. It is not just "normal" that we are born covenant children. It is not just a matter of course that the LORD gave us parents who presented us for baptism. Behind this is God's gracious election, His good pleasure. It is written about the Saviour Himself that His Father in heaven spoke at His baptism:
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," (Matthew 3:17). The LORD addressed us likewise in baptism. He has called us by name and joined us to His Name. In doing so God has shown His good pleasure in our lives. His good pleasure goes out to us; His goodwill. The LORD honours Himself in this way. And what an honour this is for us!
This too is what we are about to discover when we make profession of faith. Then we look back to our baptism and worship God's good pleasure in our life. So this confession is not a part of us, a kind of diploma we present ourselves with. No, it is a certificate of God's grace in our lives. This is included in that address "Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ."
When Peter made his good confession before the Lord: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" he was not complimented for having done something good. No, rather, Christ said: "Peter, this did not come from yourself." He was blessed, but not because of his own merit. The reaction of the Saviour was: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven," (Matthew 16:17). Others hadn't talked Peter into this. It was not his own idea either. The Father revealed this to him. It is God's good pleasure in his life. The LORD made him able to make this confession. It is indeed Peter who expresses himself, and he also speaks from the heart. But he expresses what God Himself has put into that heart: the worship of God's good pleasure.
There is much more to say about this topic, but I do not wish to make this series of articles too long.
I have two main conclusions.
In the first place: children may not partake of the Lord's Supper, but according to the promise of their parents at the baptismal font, they have to be instructed in the doctrine of the church and they have to make profession of faith, in order to be able to proclaim Christ's death, to examine themselves and to discern the body.
In the second place: this profession of faith is actually a delayed response to their baptism and it must be given as soon as possible; that means: when a child has grown up and when he or she is able to make important decisions in life. That time will vary for the one matures sooner than the other. If a child of the covenant is instructed for several years, and he or she wants to make profession of faith at the age of - let us say - sixteen or seventeen, there is nothing against it. But it is wrong to postpone profession of faith one year after another. Under the influence of pietism, young people were taught that they had to tell their "story of conversion," and that this was not possible when they were young. Thus many young people waited then until they were twenty-five or even thirty years old, and also many of them never dared to make profession of faith, because they could not say that they were really born again.
Let us stress to our children that it is a great privilege to be born as a child of God's covenant, to be baptized, and also to be instructed in the doctrine of the church, in order to be and to remain a living member of Christ's Church! So that they seek to pass through the door of the public profession of their faith in order to proclaim Christ's death and resurrection at His table as part of His congregation.