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No. 51: Richard Bacon’s “What Mean Ye By This Service? Paedocommunion in Light of the Passover” A Brief Response, Part 1

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 51
Copyright (c) 1997 Mark Horne
May, 1997

Reverend Richard Bacon is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, Texas. He has written a tract entitled “What Mean Ye By This Service? Paedocommunion in Light of Passover,” printed by Presbyterian Heritage Publications (P.O. Box 180922, Dallas, TX 75218). I am writing this brief response to set forth why his argument does not prove its case, or make the anti-paedocommunion position seem even probable. As this debate continues to go on, hopefully setting forth such reasons will give us a chance to address them, so that, if paedocommunion is not the proper practice for the Church of Jesus Christ, that fact might actually be demonstrated from Scripture.

Inexplicable Use of Scripture

The first concern that needs to be dealt with, is the many instances of Rev. Bacon’s confidently declaring that the Bible says something that the Bible does not say. Running into these instances one after another does not encourage a paedocommunionist to think that he is reading a rational argument from Scripture. Thus, they not only make Rev. Bacon’s case more unconvincing, but they also alienate any reader who has not already made up his mind that paedocommunion is wrong.

Exodus 12.21 “The Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them `Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb.’”

Rev. Bacon asserts that “the elders actually drew out the lambs” (p. 9) for the entire people. There is no reason in the world to believe this, however. All this indicates is that Moses could not speak to all 600,000 men at once. Rather, he relayed the message through the elders. Each head of the household selected a lamb for his household. Nothing in verse 21 modifies this. Is there any commentator or Biblical scholar who has come to Rev. Bacon’s conclusion? This sounds like a complete novelty and an unnecessary one, unless one has an axe to grind. To say the least, one needs more evidence here. As it stands, verse three and following seem abundantly clear that each family head was to take a lamb from his flock according to the mouths in his household.

Exodus 12.26-27a “And it will come about when your children say to you, `What is this service to you?’ that you will say, `It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord because He passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but delivered our homes.’”

Rev. Bacon asserts that here we are informed that “the children are to serve a catechal role” (p. 10). Indeed, he emphasizes his contention with rhetorical questions: “What part do the children play in this meal? Does God simply leave it to our imagination? Does the Church have `discretion’ as to what part the children take?” (p. 9) On the contrary, they are “told” to ask, “What do you mean by your eating in this service?” (p. 10)

Now, this seems doubly gratuitous to me, and I would beg Rev. Bacon to add needed argumentation to this interpretation or else drop it from his tract. In the first place, it is simply adding to Scripture to assert that the children are told to ask anything in this passage. All God says is that, when they ask the question, they should be given an answer. It is the answer that the parents are told to give, but no question is commanded. In short, there is nothing about a catechism in this passage. In fact, there is nothing in the passage to mandate that Passover is being celebrated at the time the child asks the question. The point is simple: Whenever he asks about Passover, tell him about the Exodus.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the text about “your eating,” let alone anything with italics! Why is the Authorized Version suddenly replaced by this imaginative paraphrase? Granted, the child asks the parent, “What is this service to you?”, not “to us?”. But that does not prove that the child was not a participant in the rite; it only proves that he does not know the meaning of the rite. That is why he has to ask his parent about the meaning. The fact that Rev. Bacon was tempted to add the second-person possessive pronoun to the “eating” in his paraphrase, indicates that he himself is aware that the text, as originally written, does not give him sufficient grounds to argue that the child was not a participant.

Exodus 12.43b-44 “This is the ordinance of the Passover; no son of a stranger may eat of it; but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it.”

Rev. Bacon asserts that “verse 44 expressly tells us that servants were not to partake of the Passover on the basis of their masters’ inclusion in the covenant. They were not to partake, in fact, until they themselves were confirmed in the covenant by accepting circumcision as adults.”

There is not one word in this passage about “adults.” Slaves were to be circumcised no matter what their age. Rev. Bacon is right, in a sense, to say that his own circumcision, not his master’s was the basis of a servant’s access to Passover; but what was the basis of the servants’ circumcisions, if not “their masters’ inclusion in the covenant”? There is nothing in this text about “accepting” circumcision or anything else.

Exodus 12.48 “But if a stranger sojourns with you, and does the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.”

According to Rev. Bacon, “all of [a stranger's] males must be circumcised, only he (as an adult male covenantal head of the household) draws near and partakes” (pp. 10-11).

Why is “only” inserted into this verse? Rev. Bacon seems once again to be adding to the Word of God. All the verse says is: When a Gentile wishes to partake, he may do so if he circumcises all the males in his household. Nothing is said about forbidding the other males. Quite the contrary, the God-given prohibition is repeated: “No uncircumcised person may eat of it.” Why would any faithful Israelite claim that there is some additional reason to prohibit these circumcised males? Granted, uncleanness will later also prohibit participation, but the fact remains that God is the one who makes such rules. To add a further requirement is simply not permitted, as I’m sure Rev. Bacon will agree. Thus, I think some further explanation is needed, or else the interpretation of this text needs to be altered.

Numbers 9.6-7 “But there were some men who were unclean because of the dead person, so that they could not observe Passover on that day; so they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. And those men said to him, `Though we are unclean because of the dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?’”

Rev. Bacon comments that “certain men had been present at a funeral, so by reason of ceremonial or Levitical uncleanness they were not permitted to keep the Passover (cf. Numbers 5.2-3). Both men and women contracted ceremonial uncleanness (Numbers 5.3), so we must suppose either (1) no women were at the funeral or (2) that women were not required to keep Passover anyway, so being at the funeral made no difference" (p. 13).

Now, nothing is said about a funeral in this passage, and people did not become unclean simply by attending a funeral. Rather, one becomes unclean from touching a corpse (Numbers 19.11-13, 16), or being in a room where there was a corpse (Numbers 19.14). Unless, Rev. Bacon can show that the Israelites observed indoor funerals (an unlikely custom if people were trying to minimize uncleanness), there is nothing about attending a funeral that would make one unclean. Thus, there is no need whatsoever to assume that no women attended a funeral. One only need assume that they did not handle the body.

2 Chronicles 30.8 “Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the Lord and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the Lord your God, that his burning anger may turn away from you.”

Rev. Bacon asserts that this passage teaches “that it is not merely for ceremonial uncleanness that a person is prohibited from partaking of the sacramental meal. The instruction in verse 8 is “yield yourselves unto the Lord . . . and serve the Lord your God.” This account teaches us that something more than ceremonial uncleanness could keep an ancient Israelite from the feast. An unyielded heart also disqualified the ancient Israelite from partaking in the sacrament of the Passover meal, even though he had been previously circumcised” (p. 14).

But none of this is remotely credible. The message in verse 8 is aimed at Israelites of the Northern Kingdom as opposed to Judahites of the Southern Kingdom. These people, though circumcised, had refused to enter God’s sanctuary, but had worshipped at unauthorized locations in their nation. The command to “yield” is simply a command to give up their unauthorized shrines and celebrate Passover where God has told them to celebrate it. There is no additional requirement being stated in this verse. Rather, the people are being warned not to refuse the privilege to which they have been entitled (cf. Numbers 9.13).

I Corinthians 10.1-4 “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

This passage appears nowhere in Rev. Bacon’s tract, but since he asserts that manna “was not a sacrament” (p. 18), how is he not openly contradiction the Apostle Paul?

Surely Rev. Bacon knows paedocommunionists are going to think of this verse, so why not explain how he can make such a categorical statement while still being faithful to Scripture? This would not only be a better strategy, to answer his opponents, but it would show more respect for those he is attempting to persuade. After all, are we simply supposed to believe whatever Rev. Bacon tells us to believe? Or are we supposed to settle this matter by the study of Scripture?

For the record, the Westminster Confession of Faith, declares that manna was a sacrament: “The sacraments of the old testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new” (27.5). The original prooftext for this assertion is 1 Corinthians 10.1-4. Granted, Rev. Bacon is free to register disagreement with the framers of the Confession on this point. But, for those of us who are advocating paedocommunion due to our allegiance to the Reformed Faith, he owes us some explanation, aside from assertions on nothing more than his own authority in contradiction to the framers of our Standards.

Is Child-Participation in Passover Essential to Paedocommunion?

Paedocommunion does not depend solely on whether or not children participated in the Passover. The Eucharist is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacraments. It is manna and the water from the rock (1 Corinthians 10.3-4). It is all the sacrifices that were eaten by the priests and sometimes the lay people both in their individual peace offerings and at the three yearly festivals (1 Corinthians 10.18; Leviticus 7.15-18; Deuteronomy 12.7, 12, 18; 16.1-15). Thus, there is no doubt that weaned children participated in these sacraments. Therefore, there is no reason to think they should now be barred from the sacramental meal of the New Covenant.

Incidentally, only adult males were required to attend these three feasts (Deuteronomy 16.16). Nevertheless, the point is that women and children were not prohibited from them.

Cain & Abel and “The Process of Time”

Admirably, Rev. Bacon goes back to Genesis to begin his case. He argues that the term “the end of days” (p. 5) at which Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God designates that it was revealed to them that they had to have reached a certain age. He also adds some arguments that Cain and Abel were both of mature years, able to marry and be “rational and discerning.”

I find Rev. Bacon’s argument regarding “the end of days,” rather speculative, but even if it is true it is really irrelevant to his case. He concludes, “There are numerous other sacrifices throughout the book of Genesis (8.20f.; 12.7f.; 13.4f.; etc.). In each case an adult male brought his sacrifices to the Lord, Thus, the principle was established by the time of Exodus that these sacrifices were to be made by those males capable of being heads of households.” A couple of points here, one incidental and one essential:

Incidentally: Women did in fact offer sacrifices under the Mosaic covenant (Leviticus 12.6-8; 15.29). If such counter-examples don’t count, because the Levites in fact did the offering on the altar, then the above considerations don’t count for Passover either. For the Passover Lamb was also slaughtered by the Levitical priest. Granted, this is not the case for the first Passover, but for all we know women were permitted to slaughter the first Passover, if a woman could be the head of a household (I have no idea). After all, when Zipporah displayed the blood of her son’s circumcision by touching the foreskin that she had cut off to his feet, God’s wrath was averted (Exodus 4.124-26). Not only does this correspond rather directly to the original Passover, but the scene occurs right after God tells Moses:

Thus, I don’t think Rev. Bacon has made all that strong a case.

On a more essential matter, I don’t see how the age or gender or household position of the one who offered sacrifices to God is relevant to determining the age or gender or household position of the one who ate from the sacrifices to God. According to Leviticus, the priest’s family was invited to eat from the sacrifices that the adult male priest offered (10.14; Numbers 18.11). Likewise, any Israelite or alien who offered peace offerings was encouraged to invite his children, along with others, to eat them with him (Deuteronomy 12.7, 12, 18; Leviticus 7.15-18; 22.17-25; Numbers 15.14-16). The question in dispute is not who slaughtered the Passover Lamb, but who was permitted to consume the Passover Lamb.

(continued in Rite Reasons No. 52)