Eating at Home

I’ve long thought and contended that Peter Leithart is clever. I also think he is too clever for his own good. Rather than identifying with a particular strand of Christianity (like the PCA, the RPCNA, New Light Calvinism, or even Moscowite-Baptist-Presbyterian hybrid) and trying to strengthen it, Leithart indicates that most expressions of Protestantism do not measure up. He recognizes some good in them, but not enough to come to their defense. He seems to want a new kind of Protestantism, but one that is very much in his own conception.

I thought this repeatedly while reading his series on paedocommunion. In his first post he utters a classic Leithartianism:

The question is not what the Reformed tradition has taught on this issue; I concede that very few Reformed theologians have advocated paedocommunion. Nor is the question about Jewish custom, which opponents of paedocommunion often cite. (Why should Christians care what the Talmud says?) The issue is what Scripture teaches, and if we find that our tradition is out of accord with Scripture, then we must simply obey God rather than men, even if they are our honored fathers in the faith.

The problem is, what Scripture teaches is different from a form of argument (inspired by John Frame) that because A is like B and B is like C and C is like D, A is the equivalent of D. In the case of paedocommunion, much of Leithart’s argument rests on Passover:

Though children’s inclusion at Passover is never as explicitly stated, there is a compelling—I would say, conclusive—case for paedo-Passover. Exodus 12:3–4 specifies the size of the lamb needed for the meal: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of souls; according to each man’s eating, you are to compute for the lamb.”

This regulation makes it clear that the Passover lamb had to be at least big enough to feed a household, but what is a “household”? Throughout the Pentateuch, “house” includes children and servants. Noah’s “house” obviously included his sons and daughters-in-law (Genesis 7:1), and Abram circumcised his servants as males in his “house” (Gen. 17:23, 27). The very first verse of Exodus tells us that Jacob’s sons came to Egypt, each with his “house” (1:1). Nowhere in the Bible does a “household” exclude children. If the lamb was to be large enough for a household, it was to be large enough to give the children of the house a portion. If younger members of the household were not going to eat, why was the size of the lamb large enough to feed them? To taunt them? . . .

Israelite children shared in every meal in which their parents participated. Because the church is the new Israel, the entry requirements to the church’s Passover are the same as they were for Israel. Discontinuity with regard to admission to the table, like discontinuity between the subjects of circumcision and baptism, undermines the identification of the church and Israel. What are we saying about the church when we exclude children from the table? We are saying that we are not Israel.

Leithart fails to notice a major form discontinuity between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper. The former happened at home. The latter is part of worship on the Lord’s Day. In fact, both circumcision and the Passover (as I understand) were not observed in the Temple or later the synagogue. They happened at home within the family. In contrast, baptism and the Lord’s Supper happen at church (unless you dunk and don’t have a baptistery).

So the real continuity would be to observe the Lord’s Supper at home. Odd isn’t it how Paul contrasts the Lord’s Supper with dining at home?

What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11:22)

Clever is like convincing except that it isn’t convincing.


14 thoughts on “Eating at Home

  1. Further, what does he do with v. 29, “…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself…”? Isn’t Paul referring to the spiritual association of Christ’s sacrifice and the supper, something a bit too abstract for a child to grasp? Isn’t that why we make them wait until they’ve been catechized, so they’ve had the scriptures explained to them in a manner they can grasp at a more mature age?


  2. To George’s question, as I’ve read from advocates of paedocommunion in the past, a common way they would understand 1 Corinthians 11:29 about “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body” is to understand ‘body’ here as referring to the church as the body of Christ. So they would take this to mean that one must practice and participate in the Lord’s Supper in such a way so as to functionally recognize the whole of the assembled local church, who’s out and who all needs to be brought in. They’d say that Paul would have used the phrase “body and blood” like he did in verse 27 if he meant “discerning the body” to indicate we are supposed to require some sort of confessional theory or test of understanding about the relationship between Christ and the elements in the Lord’s Supper. Instead, Paul is summarizing his whole theme and argument in chapter 11, that the Corinthians Christians are not practicing the Supper (by doing it intentionally as partial, preferential, or schismatic) in a way consistent with the Gospel of being one mystical body, which he then unfolds in chapter 12. So they would say that the admonition in verse 29 is not to get believers to reflect on how the bread relates to the Lord but to reflect on how partaking of the Supper expresses (or denies) the Gospel of all the people being made one body in Christ.

    I’m very sympathetic to that reading of the passage. I think that’s its intention in context. Now, whether or not that translates into an ironclad argument for paedocommunion is another story.


  3. If PL wants to draw a parallel from Passover to the Lord’s Supper, then he could not be PC because the Passover was a means of grace through the explanation of the symbolic nature of the lamb and meal. Word always attends sacrament. If a one year old could not understand the reason for the meal, eating a piece of meat in itself was not a means of grace. Exodus 12:25-27 – “And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”


  4. 11:29 gets interpreted all kinds of different ways in order to justify various views of communion. The RC’s and Lutherans use it as part of their justification for transubstantiation and consubstantiation. The view expressed here, the recognition of the unified local church as the “body” sounds plausible to me. I don’t see how it leads to paedo-communion, though. Unless they (the PC-types) want to say that if an entire household was saved, and therefore baptized, that the entire household would have participated in the Lord’s Supper. But that’s just more of the A must be the equivalent of D that DGH is talking about.


  5. “Unless they (the PC-types) want to say that if an entire household was saved, and therefore baptized, that the entire household would have participated in the Lord’s Supper.”

    Yeah, that’s the basic line of thought they’d put forward. And they’d fortify it by paralleling the logic for paedobaptism as inclusion in the body with paedocommunion as continuing participation and affirmation in the body. Doing that is more succinct than an A-B-C-D chain of equivalence but still takes work. If one started there, one could then go looking for similarities in the Passover after already concluding paedocommunion. Obviously, there are some similarities for all sides in the dispute.


  6. Darryl,

    You’d think communing infants would be a great safeguard against idolatry, as they wouldn’t risk turning the “gracious presence” of Christ into an idol. It’s very interesting that the Reformed and post-Trent Catholicism agree on this matter. And contra Reformed and post-Trent Catholicism (not including Eastern Catholics), Augustine argued for infant communion.


  7. I should add that my previous comments are just unserious observations, not any sort of argument. I think it makes perfect sense why OPC doesn’t allow infants to commune.


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