Reformed Theology

The Reformed Tradition and the Problem of Infant Communion, Part 2

Read Part 1.

The Problem of Theological Consistency

With this background,13 focus on Reformed churches’ practice on the prohibition of infant communion takes center stage. The problem is really one of ecclesiology. Reformed churches desire an inclusive ecclesiology for the practice of infant baptism but practice an exclusive one for their refusal to permit infant communion. John Calvin was adamant in this regard: “Do we wish anything plainer than the apostle’s teaching when he exhorts each man to prove and search himself, then to eat of this bread and drink of this cup [1 Cor. 11:28]? A self-examination ought, therefore, to come first, and it is vain to expect this of infants.”14 After quoting 1 Corinthians 11:29,15 Calvin continues: “If only those who know how to distinguish rightly the holiness of Christ’s body are able to participate worthily, why should we offer poison instead of life-giving food to our tender children?”16

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The Reformed Tradition and the Problem of Infant Communion, Part 1

From Faith Pulpit, Winter 2018. Used with permission.


The title of this article may seem like I am suggesting that churches who hold to Reformed1 theology should not be practicing infant communion. The fact is, they do not. One might wonder, “Does any denomination allow infants to partake of the Lord’s Supper?” The answer is yes. In Eastern Orthodox churches and a few other denominations, it is not only allowed, but it is a standard practice. Why do these churches accept this practice, and why is it a problem for churches who adhere to Reformed theology?

Churches who practice infant communion do so in large part because they recognize a tension. They consider that practicing infant baptism on church members’ children, but not granting those children all the rights of full church membership, is inconsistent. To churches who practice infant communion, membership includes partaking of the Lord’s Supper. You can search for pictures on the internet showing Orthodox priests spooning a mixture of bread and wine into the mouths of babies and toddlers.

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From the Archives: What Does "Reformed" Mean?

From time to time Baptist (and other) friends ask me, “What does ‘Reformed’ mean, anyway?” They have come across a Baptist or Bible church that now styles itself “Reformed” or have heard someone describe a leader as having “gone Reformed,” and they’re finidng the term a bit confusing. The question doesn’t come to me from seminary graduates or church history majors. So here I offer an answer for the layman—especially the layman who grew up in some variant of independent Baptist.

What it is not

It may be helpful to begin with what “Reformed” is not. It is not one thing. Nowadays, even well informed people mean different things by the term. Still, because the last several decades have witnessed a revival of theological seriousness in parts of American Christianity, and because that revival has had much Reformed influence running through it, many have taken to using the term to mean nothing more than “theologically serious.” Some even seem to be claiming the label just because it’s trendy.

There is a more or less correct definition of “Reformed,” to be sure. But if your goal is to know what people mean, you’ll have to accept the reality that there is no single, clear intent.

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