WHAT MEAN YE BY THIS SERVICE?: PAEDOCOMMUNION IN LIGHT OF THE PASSOVER, by Richard Bacon; Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989; 42 pp.; $2.75. Available from Presbyterian Heritage Publications, P.O. Box 180922, Dallas, TX 75218. (Reviewed by the Editor)
In recent years, men have introduced into Reformed and Presbyterian worship the novelty of child, and even infant, communion (“paedocommunion”). Three or four year old children of believers, or even infants in arms according to some, are supposed to be worthy partakers of the Lords Supper. Advocates of this practice argue that infant communion is required by infant baptism and that participation in the Passover by little children under the old covenant demands participation by little children in the Lords Supper under the new covenant.
The effects of this notion have been significant in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. It has caused division. It has occasioned study committees and lengthy reports. Also, it has resulted in church decisions that open up the Table to children. Among others, both the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America have taken synodical decisions recently that permit (require?) partaking of the Supper by very young children. At the synod of the RCA in Grand Rapids in June, 1989, delegates spoke of the partaking by children as young as four years.
Proponents of paedocommunion are sharp in their condemnation of the historic (and creedal!) Presbyterian and Reformed policy that catechizing and a confession of faith are required of the children of believers before they come to the Table. One zealot, writing in Journey (November-December 1988, pp. 12ff.), charged that the traditional Reformed position is “spiritual infanticide” and “incipient Arminianism.” He called on “those who forbid covenant children to partake of the Lords Supper” to repent of their sin.
What Mean Ye by This Service? addresses this controversial issue. Carefully following the principle that Scripture must interpret Scripture, Richard Bacon, a ruling elder in a Presbyterian church, demonstrates that infants and young children were not permitted to partake of the Passover. (The title of the book is the question that the children asked at the occasion of the Passover according to Exodus 12:26.) Therefore, the requirement of I Corinthians 11, that all who partake of the Supper examine themselves (which requirement excludes infants and little children), is in harmony with the celebration of the Passover in the Old Testament.
Reformed Churches should continue to fence the table of the Lord as has been done from at least the institution of the Passover. They should continue to encourage their covenant children to inquire into the meaning of the sacrament. And parents and Churches should together continue to catechize their covenant children until such time as they “are of years and ability to examine themselves” p. 42).
This little book of 42 pages, another fine offering from Presbyterian Heritage Publications, is a good study for one who finds himself or herself attracted by the position of paedocommunion, as well as for anyone who is interested in the issue.
JAMES: THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE, by James B. Adamson; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989; xxii + 553 pp., $29.95; (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
Dr. Adamson is the author of a commentary on the epistle of James which is a part of The New International Commentary on the New Testament. This book is not itself a commentary, but is to be considered a companion volume to be read and studied in connection with the commentary. It does not, therefore, treat James’ epistle verse by verse, or even chapter by chapter, but contains material which is intended to serve as the background of the epistle and to help understand the epistle as a whole.
There is no question about it that Dr. Adamson has spent a great deal of time studying this important book of the New Testament. In fact, he did his postgraduate work at Cambridge University, where he was awarded the Ph.D. for a dissertation on this epistle. Undoubtedly, this book is the fruit of such intensive study.
The book has a great deal of background material in it. The author deals not only with questions of authorship, destination, style, etc., but loads the book with information on the history of the early apostolic church; material on the political, economic, social and religious climate of the day in which the book was written; and references to many early Jewish and Christian writings. It lies in the nature of the case, however, that many conclusions in the area of the history of the early church, the specific circumstances under which the epistle was written, and the influence of the cultural setting of the times upon James are speculative and are to be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, much valuable material can be found in it.
The material in the epistle itself is treated in a topical way and the main themes in the epistle are extensively discussed. While this leads to some repetition and overlapping of material, it does help give one an overall picture of James’ epistle.
The major problem with the book is its obvious higher critical approach. Some instances of this we can mention. In my judgment the author is too much given over to what amounts to an almost psychological assessment of James and Paul; and this is done because of his overemphasis on the human element in Scripture—there is no mention of the divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s meaning in the book. Paul was sometimes in his writings in a Phariseeistic mood (p. 210); :Paul was “Hellenized” (p. 226); James had a wrong conception of Christ’s second coming (p. 431); James’ belief in a personal devil is most probably under the influence of current beliefs and is probably not correct.
The theology of the book is not always sound either. The author shows his Arminian bias in different places (pp. 210, 211, 216). He deals inadequately with the problem of evil in the world because he does not approach the problem from the viewpoint of God’s sovereignty. But most serious of all, in dealing with the main theme of the epistle, the relation of justification and works, the author does not understand the relation between faith, justification, and works, which misunderstanding is rooted in a misconception of faith.
While the book is a scholarly and thorough treatment of the epistle, it is not written from the viewpoint of a strong commitment to the truth of infallible inspiration.