Infant Communion and Open Communion

Disclaimer: This article is not against the practice of early communion, as it still can reflect faithful instruction, examination, and pastoral care.

I have recently been looking into communion practices.  I have written a lot of things in the past about open communion and cannot understand that absolute lack of pastoral care involved in such practice.  In examining infant communion I find some similarities.  Here are some of the similarities in the practices that I find:

  • Lack of instruction (the unity of confession for communion suffers)
  • Lack of examination (lacking in the sense of pastoral examination of what the person believes but also in the sense of AC XXV).  Even our own LSB has some basics for examination in its early communion rite.  Infant communion seems to snub that uniform rite.
  • Basing decisions to commune upon desires (perceived desires in the case of infant communion)
  • Confusion over the distinctions between our Lord’s chosen means of grace

 

For those who advocate infant communion, what reasons do you have?  I know a good number of pastors that I respect that have advocated or hinted at the practice, I guess I am wondering why.

How do you treat 1 Cor 11:28?

What about Luther’s teaching in the Large Catechism?

What about AC XXV’s teaching and examination and absolution?

Does the practice of infant communion downplay Baptism and the Word?  The best place for each mean of grace is exactly where God’s Word puts it.  Each is different in respect to whom they apply to.  Many people advocating for infant communion seem to not maintain any distinction between the Word, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper.

How can we justify infant communion and yet also condemn open communion?

Does advocating infant communion only make offering early communion harder?

How does infant communion express itself in Synodical relationships?  By this I mean to ask how our bonds of love to our fellow congregations are honored by such a practice.  In our mobile society we should consider this.  Early communion has been accepted by its inclusion into LSB.

 

I am hoping that some honest, open communication can occur in the comments.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Infant Communion and Open Communion — 71 Comments

  1. I suppose it would be very difficult for a pastor who has introduced infant communion into the congregation he serves to withdraw that practice — especially if he went out of his way to catechize the people into going along with this practice.

    If we conclude that infant communion is not appropriate, what would be the most pastoral and evangelical way to encourage a discontinuance of the practice? It could be a real crisis of faith for some people — and perhaps for children who have been partaking of the Lord’s Supper for years. Would a “grandfather clause” approach be the best, i.e., that pastors and congregations would agree not to introduce communion to infants which have not been receiving it, but to continue to serve those who have?

    Another issue akin to this is the practice of communing children (e.g. 12-year-olds) prior to being confirmed. I am aware of at least one synodical official in the current administration who has said that he is not opposed to the practice of first communion preceding confirmation, and that greatly concerns me. Should it? No doubt, one needs to listen to the details of the argument rather than just passing summary judgment.

  2. @Rev. Joel A. Brondos #51
    Certainly there is some care needed for those who have introduced such innovations. Your grandfather clause seems alright, although I would still be concerned about continuing to commune someone not instructed or examined.

    In regards to early communion, it has now become a practice in what I understand 25% of LCMS congregations. I think that number is supported by the inclusion of the rite of first communion before confirmation in the LSB Agenda. That Agenda spells out what requirements should be met before a child is allowed to commune. Confirmation, meant for order in our churches, is no longer providing that order, but in many situations causing disorder. I still think a time of catechesis like the confirmation process is a good idea, but I question some why it would be necessary to tie it to communion.

  3. @Pastor Scheer, #52

    I opine that there is little purpose for confirmation when it is divorced from holy communion. God’s people have no need of rites for rites’ sake.

    There have, indeed, been many abuses of confirmation and it has been virtually “a coat of many colors.” But here again, it seems to me, is another instance of some mavericks (25% you say?) deciding they are going to do something different — and coming up with their own rationale for doing so — and some of these mavericks just happened, in this case, to be on the planning committee for the LSB Agenda.

    By stipulating requirements that should be met before a child is “allowed” to commune, haven’t the preparers of the LSB Agenda effected these two things (among others)? (1) they have in essence described their own version of “confirmation” albeit without a particular name, and (2) they have in essence established a doctrinal norm for practice in congregations which has not been formally recognized by members of our synod — though by virtue of its inclusion in the LSB Agenda (I don’t have a copy at this moment to check the specific details), I suppose it IS now formally recognized. That is to say, am I free as an LCMS pastor, to disagree with the LSB Agenda’s prescriptions for first communion prior to confirmation — or am I now bound to it?

    One might assume that one of the purposes of having an Agenda would be for the sake of concord (cf. Luther’s letter to the Livonians concerning public worship and concord). But it appears you are saying that in the matter of whether or not confirmation precedes first communion — or whether one might do away with confirmation altogether — the LSB Agenda has left the gate open. And you think this causes fewer problems between congregational members and families than does the issue of infant communion?

    What is confirmation if it is divorced from admittance to the Lord’s Table? A graduation? A completion of studies? The achievement of catechetical enlightenment? I don’t believe that either of us thinks that those notions are compatible with a Christian’s life-long growth and catechesis. The composers of the LSB Agenda would have done far better to dismiss the notion of confirmation altogether, along with its abuses, rather than to dissociate it from admittance to the Lord’s Table.

    It seems to me that the great disservice was done centuries ago if and when confirmation was somehow divorced from or created separately from first communion — though I admit that I need to review history for details here. And now, has the LSB Agenda in effect officially endorsed the disconnect between confirmation and first communion? Then, the jig’s up.

    Ultimately, then, which do you suppose will fare the worst in our synod, subject to further abuses or misunderstandings: confirmation or first communion?

    I guess we shall see in the course of the next two generations (or one in my case) because the cat isn’t going back in that bag.

  4. @Rev. Joel A. Brondos #53
    Joel,
    I would say that Confirmation as we have known it probably needs to be changed greatly. It may be as you said that the LSB Agenda folks have already done that.

    See my comment in #27 for the LSB requirements for first communion.

    Was the LSB Agenda ever commended or adopted by Synod in convention?

    As far as being bound to the agenda, if we only had a synod-wide understanding of uniformity and love for the neighbor.

    I suppose confirmation apart from communion could still serve as a intense period of instruction, and that could still be very useful. I suppose many parents would fail to see the need (but would their child be any better with the carrot of the Lord’s Supper or would they be better already being strengthened in their faith through the Supper?) Either way, I am sure many parents would be happy to get their kids into nice “first communion” clothes, have a big party, and then never be seen in church again. As Dr. Kleinig suggests, the real problem fixer that would help is the Family Altar.

    I am not sure too many more abuses could take over confirmation (it has been abused a lot already), but sinners being who they are, I am sure that first communion has already suffered abuse as well. Satan having no ability to attack Jesus anymore will certainly attack the ways in which Jesus comes to us.

    The ELCA had early communion before us, I wonder if anyone has seen whether that has helped or hurt their church (if that can be discerned).

    I think a lot of the groundwork for early communion was laid back in some report I think from the 60’s on Confirmation and Early Communion in the LCMS. I can’t find my paper copy right now. Maybe someone else could enlighten us.

    According to a study done in the late 80’s, at that point under 20% of the Synod adopted 5th grade communion prior to confirmation.
    http://lcms.hughes-stl.com/pages/internal.asp?NavID=3973

    I had recently heard that the number was closer to 25%, although I cannot find an official stat to back that up (you know how statistics are, 92.7% they are inaccurate…)

  5. @Rev. Joel A. Brondos #53

    Pr. Brandos,

    I would note, that the seperation of Confirmation (in the East, called Chrismation,) was first seperated from Holy Communion, by the western churches. It was originally linked, however, perhaps not as you think.

    Baptism of the newborn infant, was followed directly by Chrismation/Confirmation (annointing with blessed oil, laying on of hands by the pastor,) and the Supper. That was the norm of the western and eastern churches for nearly 800 years, if my memory serves. It is the Roman seperation of the three that is novel in the history of the Church, and our Lutheran practice is a reform of the Roman practice, making ours even yet more novel.

    I would also note, that our Confessions do not tie the Rite of Confirmation to the Rite of First Communion. We do impose a necessity of catechesis prior to communing, and that is our Confessional norm, hence the liberty in our Synod for allowing early communion (with appropriate catechesis) to preceed the Rite of Confirmation (ostensibly with greater or more fully fledged catechesis.) In our congregation, early communion is preceeded by study of Luther’s Small Catechism, and the students must be able to articulate their understanding and belief of this fundamental doctrine. Studies continue toward Confirmation, with greater exploration of the Catechism, the Scriptures, and the history of the Church. Whether a student is ready for either early communion or Confirmation, is a decision made between the evaluation of the pastor, the parents, and the child.

    Peace to you.

  6. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #50

    Ah. I am so glad you did not take what I said as jumping on you somehow. My conscience was feeling troubled by that. So thanks for that brotherly absolytion!

    As for the Two Kingdoms, someone that I don’t know took the work I did on a site now that is dead on this and prepared a presentation of it on Wikipedia. Besides having alot of grammatical mistakes (which identify the work as a plagarism of my own! hahaha) this article I think is pretty good. You can find it here…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_two_kingdoms

    I would also strongly encourage you to track down that Luther Sermon on the Two Kingdoms that the basis for Art VI. I had translated it myself from the German and posted it to my now defunct thirduse.com, but now it is no more. But you can find it by googling. Some baptist site has it. The translation is in Germanglish but it is sorta ok.

    And here is what I will present to tease you to find it: How could a sermon on Two Kingdoms have ANYTHING to do with the Lutheran Third use of the Law? That should have you scratching your head. Hint: Two Kingdoms=Law and Gospel.

    So here is the practical application of Law and Gospel that Two Kingdoms brings home to us in this particular issue of early communion:

    Pastors are rulers of their congretation in the same way that governors or mayors are rulers. This is perhaps why the vestments of a pastor are actually the uniform of a 3rd century roman mayor. You men rule over your flock. This is something I know Chemnitz understood. How? He ordered the women in his congregation to wear black and no jewelwry to commune. And he had not problem with ordering that. Further, he insisted, as a superintendent/bishop/DP that his congregations adopt a uniform liturgy and hymnbook. The church is not a democracy. It is a kingdom.

    I often have seen my own pastor make many mistakes as to casuistry, and usually those mistakes have happened because he himself has not looked around for who he could claim as his own superiors, whether they were doing their duties or not, and insist that they step up to the plate and put his practice into order. I am really pleased that you Pr Scheer and also Pr Brondos are showing that proper attitude of deference and a seeking the freedom to be bound administratively . And it is self evident that you seek this binding not as a thoughtless legalism but rather driven by love and the desire for the bond of unity that a common practice, prayer and liturgy can bless us with.

    Bless you both in this! I hope that others here show a similar deference to their Circuit Counselors, DPs and other Synod officials. Where they are not doing their job, the best way to encourage them is to seek them out to order ourselves under their direction. Only faith alone can trust that God will honor that obedience and work in with and under it, even if those DPs seek to be wicked men, or even if we doubt their christian faith at times.

    This is good, right and salutary to do.

    Love,

    frank sonnek

  7. The church is not a democracy. It is a kingdom.
    blockquote>

    WHAT?! You mean, it’s not the doctrine of the Two Constitutional Bi-cameral Democratic Republics?

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Thanks for this wonderful post.

    Blessings to you.

  8. @Brad #57

    You are welcome Brad. Let’s pray that we who feel an afinity to this blog will be led to pray and encourage those God has placed in authority over us and resist the urge to second guess what they do or their motives for doing it.

    Love covers a multitude of sins. This is really true. The love alone of Another is all that could be sufficient to cover my own sins. And I do seek to bow to His Authority and always, as He would have it, in a way that shows love and mercy towards others who , similarly, never deserve it. Mercy is undeserved by definition isnt it?

  9. Pastor Joshua Scheer,

    I think maybe I’m misunderstood in my interaction and if so that’s my fault and I do apologize. I’m not arguing for it but playing “devil’s advocate” because most of the arguments against it are not very good nor is it emotional (desire).
    I DO see the argument for instruction first, catechism, something that is VERY high in my home well before I became a Lutheran. I see it well both for adults and children, we profited mightily from it coming into the Lutheran confessions from the outside. But I see it from the institution of Baptism in Matt. 28 and not so much from 1 Cor. 11. From this perspective the clear distinction between the sacraments is maintained.

    Most of the arguments, Lutherans that is, argue a Baptistic style argument, circling it all around faith which naturally teeters into “can infants have faith”. This is a very poor argument and arguing on baptistic/reformed grounds. That’s why the issue is not possession of faith , which infants do have (Luther also if they cannot/do not then baptism of them would be pointless). The issue IS instruction and sacrament distinction.
    Can younger children more easily believe in it being the body and blood of Christ truly and really? The answer is yes. And the counter part to that is that as adults develop increasingly via their fallen reason the idea that this is harder to hold on to, there’s warfare of the flesh through reason against this (not to mention already in place false doctrines from the Reformed on this matter only fueling the question). It’s not faith that militates against the sacrament but reason. This is why it has to be understood from the negative side, adults war with the sacrament, as far as faith and reason go, than do very young children or infants. From the view of faith, infants do not actively militate against the sacrament with their reason for the same reason they cannot distinguish it.

    Thus, the argument is not about faith or possession of faith, but reason informed by faith through catechism in order to make the distinction of both the sacrament’s difference from baptism and to recognize the body and blood of Christ.

    The half is “what is it’s benefits”, here to we see the more adult side of human reasoning militating against it. The infant cannot understand its benefits, this is why they shouldn’t receive it but it’s a lacking of their reason informed by faith, NOT faith lacking in and of itself.

    Thus, I’m not seeking to get it instituted but trying to show the poor arguments that are nothing more than baptistic style arguments circling around faith and its possession or not. It is the same basis upon which Baptist argue about repentance and baptism in Acts 2. The argument of “possession of faith” is the wrong argument, catechism, instruction so the distinction is made and seen is the right argument and this comes from the institution of Baptism and instruction first and is secondarily alluded to in 1 Cor. 11.

    I hope that helps clarify and I apologize for confusing my position.

  10. Pastor Joshua Scheer :
    @Joel Gonzaga #17
    Lutherans have typically divided the Ten Commandments according to the two tables. The first Table (consisting of the first three commandments as Lutherans count them) is about our relationship to God, His Name (and Word), and His Worship. To break any commandment means to break the first commandment, often because it reflects an idolatry of the self. When someone misuses Scripture or teaches falsely (and believes falsely) he misuses the name of God (and the revelation of who He is or what He has done).
    For the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism look here:
    http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#tencommandments

    I see, however, I still do not think that changing one’s mind about your understanding of passage of scripture (which is inevitable as someone learns) is equivalent to taking the Lord’s name in vain, idolatry, or the rest of the 10 commandments.

    At one point, I believed that the Olivet discourse referred to events that would happen in the near future. Now, I think that view is rather silly and quite possibly even intellectually indefensible. At one point, I believed that “the word” in Hebrews 4:12 referred to the Bible. Now I understand that it refers to Jesus. I might have even passively accepted the “church age” nonsense of Revelations 2:1 through 3:22, though I no think that they are talking about Churches that existed at that time.

    At no point, in any of these changes, did I feel that I needed to “repent” (except in a very literal sense “change ones mind”) when I repudiated wrong interpretations. It wasn’t quite like losing my temper, mistreating a friend, or failing to tithe etc. Nowhere did I feel like I deliberately misused scripture, since it was ignorance not malice that caused me to hold the former beliefs about those parts of scripture. Now, I could see how if I was minister or preacher I could be accused of a certain amount of intellectual laxity. Or if dogmatic, I could be accused of pride.

    It seems that if holding any number of interpretations is sinful, and only one is not sinful then this is probably going to lead to just that: dogmatism. After all, considering a new or different interpretation of scripture than what one already holds could easily be construed as “letting the devil tempt you” or something like that. Every time you even consider learning something, you risk sin. Conversely, if I were to seriously repent of and REJECT some understanding of scripture, what does not mean if someone else repents and ACCEPTS that same understanding of scripture?

    To put it into perspective, many of the Pharisees diligently looked to fulfill the second table of the law (being outwardly good to their neighbors and having great morals) but completely ignored the first table. Just using as an example, not for any reason an accusation.

    Ignoring the helpless crime victim by the roadside is being good to one’s neighbor? Stoning the adulteresses -just to make a point- is being good to one’s neighbor?

  11. I do not have all the education to refer to tables of the law, etc. My concern as regards communing by anyone at any age is that it has been used as the carrot at the end of the confirmation stick, which may lead our young & old members alike to think of it as a “work”. The “means” has become the “end”.

    BAPTISM + CONFIRMATION = COMMUNION

    ALL BECOME ONE CAKE, A Sermon on the Lord’s Supper by Martin Luther, Maundy Thursday, 1523, is an excellent free download for those who have struggled with how the Lord’s Supper has been abused. In light of what Luther had to say in this sermon, I do not see him being at odds with the practice of “thought full” infant communion.

    BAPTISM +THOUGHT FULL COMMUNION = A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HEAVENLY FATHER.

    Bottom line is that it’s all in how it is administered.

  12. I don’t see what is so awful about leading confirmands to think of their reception of the Lord’s Supper as the rightful reward at the completion of their catechesis.

    A Christian, in his new nature, desires common worship, reception of the Lord’s Supper and instruction in Christian doctrine. I would say that when a person, child or adult, expresses the desire to receive communion, serious catechetical instruction begins in earnest, and it takes as long as it needs to until the child or adult can effectively confess the Christian faith and reason from catechism and scripture in order to live as a Christian.

    So yes, I think we should have a rigorous examination before first communion, and yes, we should throw a huge party at that time, whether the confirmand is child or adult. And we should hold every member of the church to that standard of knowledge, not just the confirmands.

    I don’t think we should do this in the Eighth grade as a matter of course. That tradition forces some who are ready to wait to long, and (more seriously in my opinion) leads to first communion for a lot of kids who aren’t ready or don’t desire the Supper for the right reasons.

    That said, as a matter of human development, I don’t believe any child is capable of practicing theology (on a lay level) and reasoning from the scriptures until about the age of six. Though some younger kids are whizzes at memorization. Put me down for early communion but not infant communion. And later communion for students who show a lack of interest or motivation as it comes to their Christian education.

  13. Doctor Luther said that any child of seven knows what the church is.
    Those of us who learned our catechisms got them when we were able to read.

    Perhaps we might have been sufficiently taught to take communion then.
    It wasn’t done. [Learning German and the catechism in German was
    a not very distant practice.]

    I believe it depends on the cooperation of the parents. Are they regular
    in attendance at church and Sacrament themselves? Will they continue
    to bring the child to church and Sacrament through high school, when,
    God willing, s/he will take responsibility and bring her/him self?

    Somehow we have got to get over the idea that confirmation is “graduation”!
    Very few think 8th grade or high school is sufficient secular education.
    Why think your spiritual training can end at 13 or 14!?

  14. Could I please add the concept of sorrow for sinful behavior. How often I have heard children, or even adults, told to say, “I’m sorry”. It does not sound heart felt; however, when we tell our Heavenly Father that we are sorry, it comes out differently. The Sacrament of the Alter, when administered properly, is what that child needs to “grow in grace”. It is that growth that leads one to confess to God and apologize to a brother, friend or neighbor and truly mean it from the heart, hopefully before that heart has had time to harden.

    Matthew 19:15 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

  15. @Brad #42
    Amen! Am I wrong here in thinking that we also practice a closed communion as a practice of witnessing our faith in the real presence, and withholding it from those who don’t so that they don’t partake of it to their detriment?

    Isn’t the purpose of Confirmation to publicly confess our faith and hold to the Book Of Concord as a true exposition of the Scriptures? We do not know what is in peoples’ hearts; all we can do is judge them by their confessions to the Word. Let them witness before they join us at the table!

  16. @Another John #65

    1) Too many have been a witness (to darkness) and still join us at the table! This can prove to be a “detriment” to both the communicant as well as our (too young to commune ie infants) youth, who focus in on the hypocrisy far more often than we realize.

    2) “We do not know what is in peoples’ hearts; all we can do is judge them by their confessions to the Word.” Training must begin at a young tender age to be honest in judging our own hearts. God does not even sit in judgment over us. John 5:22 “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father”; and if a clean heart is subjective or relative, “communion as a practice of witnessing our faith” (to others) can be a stumbling block.

    3) How many confirmands have given real thought to “holding to the Book Of Concord as a true exposition of the Scriptures?” It might be interesting to see the response you get when trying to open that dialogue.

    My question: If we can agree on infant baptism, which is to be renewed daily, how can one say that a child cannot grow and mature “through” the Sacrament of the Alter? This may be the push needed to “get growing and get going” for both parent and child. I have seen children held by their mothers while big enough for their feet to dangle down to her knees. Perhaps we should be more concerned with the undue prolonging of infancy. How quickly the years go by, and too soon those infants are out in the world, away from family and church. Will something we planted in them bring them back, or are we guilty of putting God to the test?

  17. On his blog Todd Wilken recently stated:

    “Some of these little children commune; some do not. Some know what the Eucharist is and why they need it; some are still learning. Age is not an issue at the communion rail. In fact, age is irrelevant. As soon as someone knows “what they seek” and “why they come” they may commune.”

    and then added at the end, in a vaguish gray font

    NOTE: This is not an endorsement of so-called “infant communion,” a practice contrary to the Lutheran Confessions.

    If a person defines“early communion” as communing a person who has been instructed sufficiently to be able to discern the Lord’s body and be able to examine himself, and who has made a public confession similar to that given by confirmands, then there is no problem, even if such early communion occurs some years before the typical confirmation age of 11 to 14.

    If a person defines “early communion” as communing a person lacking such sufficient instruction and/or without a public confession, or having a differing or unknown confession, then, despite any “Note” of denial, that person is actually advocating paedocommunion.

    It’s just another blog thread with the “Oh, no. I not-in-favor/won’t-say-I’m-not in-favor of paedocommunion” tapdancing that has plagued BJS and other Lutheran blogs. Wading in the Bosporus seems to becoming popular in the Missouri Synod lately. Maybe the Concordia seminaries should include water wings with their MDiv diplomas.

  18. @Carl Vehse #17
    Of course a simple clarification would do wonders. Yet I think this is the reason there never is a real definition, just the vague term, “early communion”. If someone were forced to give a definition of “early communion” that would take away all plausible deniability. 🙂
    Instead of trying to be so clever why don’t we just subscribe to the explanation given in the Small Catechism?:
    “328. ‘Whom do we admit to the Lord’s Table?’
    We admit to the Lord’s Table those who have received sufficient instruction and have given an account of their faith.
    329. ‘What custom do we, therefore, observe?’
    We observe the custom of confirmation.
    330. ‘What is confirmation?’
    Confirmation is the rite by which a baptized person renews his baptismal vow, publicly confesses his faith, and is received into communicant membership by the congregation.”
    -Luther’s Small Small Catechism, 1943

  19. @Rev. McCall #18 : If someone were forced to give a definition of “early communion” that would take away all plausible deniability.🙂

    Because plausible deniability must be maintained, the sophistic use of ambiguity would probably move from the discussion of “early communion” to the discussion of the definition of “early communion.” 😉

  20. It seems that one of the “hot buttons” in the Missouri Synod is pressed when someone posts on their blog an article about “infant communion” (paedocommunion). Sometime it is preceded with a warm-up article discussing “early communion” in a positive but nebulous way.

    Typically the writer caveats at the end that he does not actually conduct or advocate paedocommunion, or else a more equivocal “Oh, no. I not-in-favor/I-won’t-say-I’m-not in-favor of paedocommunion” tapdancing.

    Curiously, neither the Koinonia Project documents, nor the ACELC’s documents, have included the practice of paedocommunion, or at least the practice of talking favorably about paedocommunion in a List of Errors and Admonitions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.