Thoughts on Infant Communion and Earlier First Communion
I’ve recently been involved in an instructive discussion and debate on the subject of an earlier age for first communion and the subject of infant communion; that is, the practice of giving Holy Communion to infants in arms, i.e. babies. This is distinct from the issue of an earlier age for first communion, which I wholeheartedly support. Here are some of the conclusions I reached in this discussion.
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
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
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.
Connecting first reception of the Lord’s Supper to confirmation was
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.