7/25/09

Infant Communion and the LCMS

This is the fifth post in a series looking at the reasons why some Lutheran pastors left the LCMS for Eastern Orthodoxy. The focus is an article written by the Reverend Thomas L. Palke in 1999 entitled “MY JOURNEY TO THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH ESTABLISHED BY JESUS CHRIST: A Son of the Reformation Enters the “Mighty Fortress” of the Orthodox Church.”

As a father of two children, I am responsible for making sure my children are fed. My children were Baptized and are now God’s children. Why does my LCMS church deny my children the Body and Blood of Jesus every other Sunday (we don’t have Communion every week)? Why do my children have to wait until some arbitrary day when they are older to be fed by God?

Rev. Palke addresses this issue when he states:

“I had always wondered why we baptized infants, bringing them to spiritual life in God's Kingdom, but withheld spiritual food from them until they reached some mythical “age of accountability.” It's a lot like watching the birth of a baby with the intention of withholding food from the child until it is able to distinguish between peas and carrots. It had occurred to me that children had participated fully in the life of the Old Covenant, including circumcision and partaking of the Passover meal. And from a liturgical point of view, I knew that the early Church baptized, chrismated, and communed the catechumens in a discernible, inter-connected sequence of sacramental actions.

If John 3:5 indicates the necessity of the new birth by water and the Spirit (baptism and chrismation), then John 6:53 (“unless a man eat my flesh and drink my blood he has no live abiding in him”) is equally clear in asserting the necessity of the Eucharist. And if children belong to the Kingdom, should they be denied the banquet table of the Kingdom? I'm not ignoring Paul's exhortation to examine oneself, which the Orthodox fulfill in sacramental confession. But shall we withhold the Sacrament from those who are not capable of self-examination, such as the retarded or the senile?

I finally came to the realization that we had been turning faith into a rational act of the mind rather than trust. And I then realized that if we were consistent in our interpretation of Scripture, we would end up denying infant baptism for the same reasons that we deny infant communion. There is only one class of Christian in the Church--those who are baptized (the Easter experience), sealed with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost experience), and partake of the Sacrament of the Kingdom. As a Lutheran pastor, I had to keep track of “baptized members” and “communicant members.” Orthodoxy makes no such distinction, recognizing the need of the “medicine of immortality” for all its members."

5 comments:

Adam said...

This, more than any other issue, is where Orthodoxy resonated with me. I remember my first liturgy...tears fell from my eyes as I saw young children and babies receiving the Eucharist. It was at that point I knew I HAD to be Orthodox, for I couldn't justify keeping my children from the sacrament.

Dixie said...

For me this was the fatal theological flaw. When I had come to the point that I was examining Lutheranism and considering going elsewhere I told myself there was absolutely NO reason to leave Lutheranism unless there was something theologically wrong with it. After all...my husband is Lutheran, my children were raised in Lutheran schools, all of my good friends were Lutheran, I had completed about 24 hours of college coursework in Lutheran ministry with the goal of early retirement and doing church work...I wasn't going to reject all of that for superficial reasons, no matter how nice the incense smelled! But infant communion was the chink in the armor. I saw the LCMS position as theological error. Later there were other things but infant communion and in particular the CTCR's response to the South Wisconsin District's proposal on infant communion was sufficient for me to see a very real theological problem.

Now I am certain there are Lutherans who see giving infants the Body and Blood of Christ without the infant's ability to examine himself as theological error as well. But history supports infant communion so I thought the ones who don't believe in it better have some pretty convincing rationale. Suggesting that John 6:53+ doesn't mean the Holy Eucharist was not all that convincing for me.

Jake said...

This question of communing infants has been a big one for my wife and I as we've explored Orthodoxy the last couple months. The fact that the Orthodox Church does not deny the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to their baptized children really got our attention upon visiting an Antiochian Church in July.

Though, I am curious about the history which supports infant communion as mentioned by Dixie.

Dixie,

I'd very much like to read whatever history you have found which supports infant communion in the Church.

Dave said...

You all are right. This is a major inconsistency in the LCMS at least. I've heard that ELCA will commune infants, but I haven't seen it done myself. Since the Lutheran church only recognizes 2 sacraments anyhow: baptism and communion, you'd think they'd play those to the hilt (i.e. commune infants) but they don't. I see tendencies in that direction, such as "early communion", etc, but it all boils down to being of an age of reason (whatever that is), and not a issue of receiving God's grace, which in itself is a big deal in the Lutheran church.

When I told my father, who is an LCMS pastor that I was going to join the Orthodox Church, he told me to be alert for anything that denies God's grace. When I told my priest that, he just about hit the ceiling, saying "EVERYTHING in the OC is about grace".

Dixie said...

Please go HERE to read a couple of papers by LCMS Lutheran pastors on infant communion. (Click on the "Papers" link.) Note when and why Rome discontinued the practice. Lutherans merely inherited their practice from Rome. Also see the CTCR response.

This is a great place to start regarding history. There is one paper online by someone named Beckwith which refutes infant communion--you can find it on Pastor Webber's Anglefire site HERE. Plenty of criticisms can be found about the poor scholarship of this paper. That Rome also practiced infant communion but essentially discontinued it as a result of decisions of the 4th Lateran Council is most compelling.

Let me know what you find in your studies and where you land in this evaluation.