30 March 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

"When in 1 Corinthians Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he spoke of those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn't here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to little children." Martin Luther, AE 54:58


Paul T. McCain said...

Not infants, mind you, but little children.

For, as our Confessions indicate:

In the Shorter Preface to his Large Catechism Luther speaks of "the minimum knowledge required of a Christian" and adds, "Whoever does not possess it should not be reckoned among vChristians nor admitted to a sacrament" (Preface, 2)

And the Large Catechism asserts plainly that we do not give the Sacrament to those who do not know what it is, or why they come (par. 3 of Sacrament of the Altar section).

Now, the important question here is not about shoving the Sacrament into the mouths of sucklings, but...did Luther have in view "little children" being seventh and eighth graders? No way.

William Weedon said...

The Latin word employed is "puer." As in PUER *NATUS* EST. To say what Luther "envisioned" is a bit much - especially as this is from Table Talk and we have zero idea how many beers he may have already consumed. What we do know is that he did not see the "examine youself" as something that blocked a child from coming to the Table because it did not apply to them. If not to a child of five or six, are we not to say that it does apply to a child of 2 months? I don't see how. His point is simply that the Apostles' words are addressed to badly behaving adults; they have no implications for children.

Joel said...

Preach it, brother Martin! There are thousands of examples of infant baptism in the chapter preceding 1 Cor. 11. All Israelites, including all the infants and children among them, were baptized into Moses. In addition to receiving baptism, the little ones also received from Christ the same spiritual food and drink as their parents. Paul specifically says a few verses later that these events are examples for the church today. Christ suffered the little ones to come to Him. Where did the church get the authority to run Christ's little ones away from the His Table pending a quiz in their later years?

Anonymous said...

Take note -- Pr. McCain, in applying Luthers words about "minimum knowledge" to infants, doesn't think that infants should be counted as Christians.

Let the reader understand.

The Unknown Lutheran said...

My 4 year old has shown a lot of interest in the Sacrament of the Altar in the last months, so much so that I can't take him up with me anymore - he wants to eat and drink.

If you ask him what the bread and wine are he tells you that it is Christ's body - he has stopped short of saying Christ's blood.

When he says that.... man I don't know...

Anonymous said...

When Christ speaks of the Kingdom of God, He says that it is, "Of such as these", pointing out the little children.

When Pr. McCain speaks of the Body and Blood of Christ, he says that it isn't for infants or very small children, because they aren't even Christian yet.

Does this strike anyone else as wrong?

Anonymous said...

Jesus, in Mark 5 refers to a 12 year old as 'little girl'. How do we know what age children Luther is referring to?

William Weedon said...

Dear Anon,

See the reply to Pastor McCain above. We do not know. But we do not need to know. Luther says that 1 Cor. 11 applies to adults, not children, in the command: "Examine yourself." That is the point.

Paul T. McCain said...

To: Anonymous

Pun intended . . . please stop your infantile behavior. Identify yourself. Anonymous comments are of no account. I'm disappointed that Pr. Weedon even allows anonymous comments on his blog site. He of al people knows the impact of anonymous comments on blog site.

Bill, my friend and brother in Office and in Christ, you are a much, much better student both of Luther and our Confessions seriously to suggest that we can hang our hat on a comment made around Luther's dinner table, recording in the Table Talk. Come now. You know better than this.

The comments Luther makes in the Large Catechism are much more relevant for this issue. These are not private after-dinner remarks, but the Church's voice in her formal confessions. I'll say more about those quotes in a moment.

I'm highly puzzled by the lack of consistency in how you are using the Book of Concord. You take every aside and every even minor reference to liturgy and things like "semper virgo" to be statements of binding doctrine, or "canon law" as you once told me the Confessions are for our Church. Why then do you not take the comments Luther has to make about who is to be admitted to the sacrament and what is to be expected of one who is to receive the Sacrament in the shorter preface of the Large Catechism?

Those who advocate infant communion have failed to demonstrate from the plain words of Scripture that we have a clear example, command or promise for the practice ... the litmus test wisely used in the Lutheran Confessions for establishing binding doctrine in the Church. The arguments made for it are predicated on logical syllogisms and conclusions that require a great deal of packing clear texts with meanings and interpretations that strike me as ex post facto arguments for conclusions already reached. In other words, we have a strong sense that infants should be communed, now let's try to gather reasons for it. I have noticed a consistent disregard for the specific gifts, benefits and purposes of each of the means of grace. There is a sort of “lumping together” of the means of grace that is wrong.

I've read nothing on this subject to convince me that the plain sense of the Sacred Scriptures as Lutheranism has interpreted and applied it is incorrect. I do not regard the practice of infant communion at some times and places in the Church's history before the Reformation to be normative for us. The Early Church often erred and made mistakes in its practice. Eastern Orthodoxy is no teacher for us on this point. We do not accept the Lutheran Confessions "in so far as" they can be shown to be in agreement with the Early Church. This is what I'm sensing behind some of the arguments appealing to the Early Church.

Our Confessions simply preclude infant communion as the plain words of the Confessions make clear. An argument from silence on these matters simply will not suffice. I do not understand how a person who claims to have a "quia" subscription to the Confessions can also hold to the practice of infant communion.

We only administer the Sacrament to those who know what it is and why they desire it. We do not force feed the sacrament to those who do not. For, if we force those to receive it who are unable we may well be giving the Sacrament to those who may "not believe the words or doubt them" and therefore may be "unworthy and unfit." (SC VI).

We Lutherans recognize that the "people who come to the Lord's Supper ought to know more and have a fuller understanding of all Christian doctrine than children and new scholars." (LC Short Preface.5).

Our Confessions clearly indicate that anyone who desires the Sacrament must be able to recite the "three parts" and that "a person must know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted: Baptism and the holy body and blood of Christ. They should know the texts that Mathew and Mark record at the close of their Gospels, when Christ said farewell to His disciples and sent them forth." (LC Short Preface.20).

Force feeding infants the sacrament violates these words from our Confession: "No one should by any means be forced or compelled to go to the Sacrament, lest we institute a new murdering of souls." (LC V.42).

My opinion is that whenever children are capable of reciting the "three parts" (the texts proper of the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer) and the instituting texts for our Sacraments as Christ has given them: Baptism and the Supper, in a simple manner confessing their sin, their Savior, and what the Lord's Supper is and what it gives, then they are ready to receive it. This is what the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions is. See Large Catechism, short preface, par. 20.

Connecting first reception of the Lord’s Supper to confirmation was a mistake made in the Lutheran Church, brought in during the age of Pietism in the 18th century. I believe we need to separate confirmation from first communion, for we have effectively turned the Blessed Sacrament into a "reward" for passing confirmation or as a carrot to make kids "take confirmation." I’m very grateful that the new Lutheran Service Book agenda provides a rite for first communion.

Infant communion? No.
Earlier age for first communion? Yes.

William Weedon said...


I'm not advocating for anything more than a discussion of the topic. You said you've not seen any theological rationale for it, but I've not been trying to give one. Merely noting that Luther in Table Talk (and I indicated that we didn't know how many drinks he had consumed when he said it) regarded 1 Cor. 11 as inapplicable to children in the command "examine yourself." His argument was that Paul wasn't speaking about the topic of whether children can commune, but was addressing quarreling adults.

Now, following the same principle with the Symbols, it becomes clear that they do not prohibit infant communion per se, because they simply never have the question under consideration. Luther's wonderful words that you have quoted from the LC and the Preface to the Catechism have a context, and in that context they speak with utter clarity. He was not addressing himself to those who CANNOT learn the chief parts, but to those who WILL NOT learn them. And indeed, anyone who will not learn them should not be admitted to any sacrament.

It's just not the open and shut case you imagine it to be, but I want nothing in the discussion to derail the central concern that our children be given the Sacrament at an earlier age than 14. I agree with you 100% that that should be the focus of our action and teaching in the next several years. My point is simply that advocating such a practice raises the question of the lower "limit" and how it is determined. I am all for using the Symbols as guide lines here: when they know the first three chief parts and can tell us what the Sacrament is and why they desire it, we should admit them. Frankly, that would be a wondrous thing in our churches.

But the question of the lower limit will not go away and will continue to be with us. The key is to discuss is in an attitude of humility and with complete submission to the Word of God and with prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. That is not saying that I am right and you are wrong about it; it is to say that we need to be able to engage each other on the topic with love and with clarity.


John Hogg said...

Well, I'll re-ask the earlier question and identify myself.

Pr. McCain: Why do you not consider little children, especially infants, to be Christians?

Please, no ad hominem attacks, comments about my person, my father, or any such matter. The question I'm asking is a theological one.

In Christ,
John Hogg

Paul T. McCain said...

John, they are Christians because they are baptized into Christ.

Thanks for identifying yourself.

I need to let you know that I'm not interested in discussing this issue with non-Lutherans on Pastor Weedon's blog site. I know you will not agree with me on that, but thanks for understanding this is why I'm not going to engage in conversation with you about this.

Paul T. McCain said...

Bill...very happy to read this from you:

I want nothing in the discussion to derail the central concern that our children be given the Sacrament at an earlier age than 14.

Then let's stop trying to drag in infant communion and stick with the "central concern."

I am 1000% percent in favor of an earlier age for first communion. I would want this, in an ideal situation, to be handled on a case by case basis. The parents would present their children to the pastor who would in turn examine and absolve them. The examination would also include assuring himself that the child does know the "basics."

At what age? Hard to say. If we are going to go about this on the basis of "rules" then it is easy to just make a rule.

I would rather handle is on a case-by-case basis.

In the case of my own children, they new the basic parts of the Catechism and could recite the institution verses and tell me what baptism and the Lord's Supper are when they were seven or eight. I would have liked for them to have started receiving Holy Communion then.

John Hogg said...

I understand that you don't want to discuss this. I also think that you were very clear earlier that infants are not Christians.

You said that the quote applied to infants, and then stated that whoever did not have a minimum instruction in the Christian faith could not be considered a Christian, and should not be allowed to receive a sacrament.

This was a major issue for me when I was a Lutheran.

Joel said...

"Those who advocate infant communion have failed to demonstrate from the plain words of Scripture that we have a clear example, command or promise for the practice ... the litmus test wisely used in the Lutheran Confessions for establishing binding doctrine in the Church."

Rev. McCain,

This strikes me as a Baptist canon of persuasion, for Baptists deny infant baptism on this same basis.

Do you believe 1 Cor. 10:1-4 has absolutely nothing to teach the church regarding baptism and holy communion? Do you regard arguments by way of Scriptural analogy as misapplications of Scripture? It seems to me that nothing is more Scriptural than arguing from analogy. Remember how Paul applied the Mosaic law about muzzling the ox?

How do you understand the fact that Samson's mother was prohibited from eating grapes and drinking wine? If one wishes to deny infants holy communion, then in light of this ancient prohibition, it seems to me, one must likewise refuse pregnant mothers holy communion, for the babes in their wombs receive what the mothers consume.

Paul T. McCain said...

Joel, why would you think it important to baptize an infant who is born if he/she has already been partaking of the Lord's Supper in the womb?

Joel said...

Rev. McCain,

I'm sorry to say but your reply again has a Baptist flavor to me, for Baptists likewise wonder why Lutherans think it important for a believer's salvation to be baptized with water when a believer already possesses salvation through faith alone. But Lutherans tend to be more maximalistic than that, and rightly so. We affirm, e.g., that a believer possesses all of Christ through faith, yet water baptism is not thereby rendered irrelevant. Similarly, Lutherans affirm the reality of spiritually partaking of Christ through faith apart from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (cf. Luther's explanation of John 6), but just because we can partake of Christ spiritually in no wise justifies absenting ourselves from partaking of Christ sacramentally. Believers gladly partake of Christ in all the ways that He offers Himself to us. The same holds true for the infants of believers. Can anyone get so much of Christ that further use of the means of grace is unnecessary?

Why do Lutherans see in Christ's invitation for the little ones to come unto Him an invitation (or command) to baptize them but not an invitation to bring them to His Table? "Suffer the little children" is capable of wider application than just to baptism, wouldn't you agree? Besides, children are exemplary members of God's kingdom according to our Lord's own express teaching. We must all become as little children to be baptized, so all baptism is infant baptism. Should our faith be any less exemplary when we approach the Lord's Table?

Where is the Lord's plain command to leave our children with the babysitter when we approach His Table to eat and drink His precious Body and Blood? If you believe that baptized children of believers are partakers of Christ already, can any man forbid them the sacrament who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

First Corinthians 11 is all about divisions among Christians rendering their participation at the Lord's Table unworthy. Why should we create a division among believers on the basis of age, especially when the Lord has not so advised us. I realize many say that before coming to the Lord's Table the ability to examine oneself is a prerequite and therefore no children should be allowed at the Lord's Table. But before baptism as much self-examination, if not more, is required (Luke 14:25-35), yet we still see fit to baptize our little ones at Christ's gracious invitation.

Finally, were the children of the Israelites forbidden to eat the Passover? Is there any Biblical example WHATSOEVER for a meal where there are only adults and children are specifically excluded simply because they are too young? If not, then on what Biblical basis does one justify excluding children from their Lord's gracious invitation and Table?

Paul T. McCain said...


My question was trying to get you to see the fallacy of your position on "in utero" communion. You are taking things to a "logical" conclusion, but a false one.

Why not commune little babies?

1 Cor. 11:

Let a man examine himself.

And...the necessity for each communicant actually to discern the body and blood of Christ.

Little infants and those with severe mental impairment due to disease are unable to do either, therefore they are not communed.

The Passover is not the Lord's Supper. And there were standards even there for who could receive and partake of it. They had to know what it meant and what it was for.

Your position is false because it is contrary to the plain text of Sacred Scripture and also contrary to our Lutheran Confessions. [I don't know if you are Lutheran or not, but for Lutherans the Confessions are norming standards of doctrine and practice].

Joel said...

Rev. McCain,

One final question: Do you believe in light of the Luke 14 verses cited above (other, similar passages could be adduced) that baptism requires no self-examination on the part of adults? Yet if self-examination is required for adults before baptism and this does not disallow the practice of infant baptism, how is it that the self-examination requirement before holy communion disallows the practice of paedocommunion?

I think it's a shame to drive away any baptized Christian from the Lord's Table, whatever their age or mental capacity. Are they not accepted in the Beloved? Where did Jesus command the Church to excommunicate them? Where is there Biblical precedent to do that? Doesn't the Lord accept His children according to what they have rather than refuse them according to what they do not have? The Lord is extravagantly generous, not parsimonious, right?

For the record, I'm a "quatenus" Confessionalist and member of an LCMS church.