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No. 52: Richard Bacon’s “What Mean Ye By This Service? Paedocommunion in Light of the Passover” A Brief Response, Part 2

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 52
Copyright (c) 1997 Mark Horne
July, 1997

(continued from Rite Reasons No. 51)

If only adult males might offer sacrifices, that would prove nothing regarding Passover. If anything, the nature of other sacrifices points to the participation of children in the meal, for then the two cases would be precisely parallel to one another. In both cases there is an adult male who slaughtered the animal, and then his family is permitted to eat the animal.

Women, Uncleanness, & Passover

I’ve already responded to Rev. Bacon’s use of Numbers 9.6-7 above. But he also makes the following case from the rest of the passage: “If women had partaken of the passover, we should expect roughly twenty-five percent of the women of Israel to be approaching Moses with the same kind of question that these men had, for twenty-five percent of the women of Israel in each of the four weeks of every month would have been unqualified to partake (if for no other reason) due to their menstrual period (Leviticus 15:19-30)” (p. 13).

This is an interesting argument, but it proves too much. Except for circumcision, one had to meet the same requirements to attend Passover as one did for the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. All three yearly feasts required ceremonial cleanliness of participants. Now, it is beyond question that women and children were permitted to attend the other two feasts (Deuteronomy 16.11, 14). Thus, twenty-five percent of the women were barred from these other feasts. Yet we read of no complaints on the part of these women.

If we permit Rev. Bacon’s argument from silence in the case of Passover, then it will prove that women were not allowed to attend the other two feasts as well. Thus, his speculation cannot count as evidence that women were not permitted to take part in Passover.

The reason we don’t find a complaint from women is clear: The women were not required to attend. The men were. Thus, the men found themselves facing two contradictory commands: You must attend, and you may not attend. In Numbers 9, Moses resolved the problem for them.

Furthermore, the fact that cleanness was required of participation in the other feasts, as well as the peace offerings and the priests’ portions, means that such requirements simply cannot be used to prove that children did not have the discernment or maturity to participate in Passover. All such arguments prove that Moses was wrong to allow children to participate in other sacraments requiring cleanliness (Leviticus 7.15-21; cf. Deuteronomy 12.7, 12, 18; Leviticus 10.14; Numbers 18.11).

Conclusion: Whatever Happened to the

Regulative Principle of Worship?

I suppose I could respond to other things � the assertion that some sort of “counting” of adult males was involved in Passover, that Jesus only fed five thousand men and no women or children, that Jesus was involved in a catechism at the age of twelve when he spent three days in Jerusalem, etc. All I can say is that Rev. Bacon strings together what seem to me nothing more than speculations as if they made a case.

The bottom line is that the Bible presents no barrier between initiation in the covenant and participation in the covenant meal. Rev. Bacon needs a text that gives us an age limit or developmental standard for participation in the sacramental food and drink. He has not given us one. His strong assertions of the “specialness” of the Lord’s Supper all beg the question. No one is denying that it is special in that it is a sacrament. We are simply denying that it is too special for children. He has given us no reason to think otherwise. Indeed, since we are to become like little children in our faith in order to enter the Kingdom, it would seem that the specialness of the communion meal is precisely for children and those who become like them!

The Bible says that one cannot participate in Passover unless one is circumcised. Also, one cannot participate in Passover if one is ceremonially unclean. Rev. Bacon asserts, that there is an additional rule involving a level of discernment. But he has not given us any Scriptural support for such an assertion, and it is hardly Reformed to simply make one up.

At one point in the confrontation between the Lord and Pharaoh, the Egyptian king seemed to give in. He was ready the let them go worship the Lord as long as they left their children behind. Moses had a different idea, “We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 10.9). The flocks and herds were for sacrifices (10.25-26), but why were the children needed at a feast to the Lord. Rev. Bacon may insist that it was catechizing if he wishes, but I’m looking for a Biblical answer (Deuteronomy 16.11, 14).

A Response to Rev. Bacon’s Argument

that Manna was not a Sacrament

The preceding response to Rev. Richard Bacon’s tract, “What Mean Ye by This Service,” was made to the published version, a copy of which I borrowed from the library at Covenant Theological Seminary. I recently discovered that a new appendix has been added to the version available on the Blue Banner’s web page. This new appendix is entitled “Manna & Manducation.” Here, Rev. Bacon, addresses one of the flaws (at least, I think it was a flaw) in the body of his tract his bald statement that manna was not a sacrament.

Rev. Bacon makes it quite clear he believes not only that manna was not a sacrament, but that paedocommunionists are desperately grasping at straws to claim that manna was a sacrament. He says, “the paedocommunionist has an uphill battle to prove that eating manna and drinking water (not wine) points to the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. . . .” Indeed, he asks rhetorically of manna and water from the Rock: “Why then do paedocommunionists want to bring it into the debate?” Furthermore, he claims the argument from manna is evidence of paedocommunionist desperation: “The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic.”

That last claim is made near the end of the essay and I repeat it because I want readers to remember it as they read my response: “The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic.”

Rev. Bacon claims that 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 does not correspond to Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. He claims that the baptism in this passage and in 1 Corinthians 12.13 corresponds to Pentecost. Furthermore, he asserts that John 6.49, 54 prove that manna was not a sacrament. My plan is simply to show that Rev. Bacon is making up things that are at odds with the entire history of Reformed Theology, while pretending that paedocommunionists are the ones breaking with the tradition.

John Calvin, in book 2 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion devotes a chapter (10) to the similarity of the Old and New Testaments. He sees a need to discuss this “because writers often argue at length about the difference between the Old and the New Testament, thus arousing some misgiving in the simple readers mind” (2.10.1; Ford Lewis Battles, tr.).

According to Calvin one of the many similarities between the covenants, is that the Old Testament was given similar signs and seals to those we have been given. The reformer appeals to 1 Corinthians 10.1ff. to prove his point:

Elsewhere he reiterates his point, appealing to the same passage, against the Roman Catholic schoolmen:

Calvin quotes Augustine to substantiate his point from the same passage in 1 Corinthians:

Thus, Calvin relies on 1 Corinthians 10.1ff. to formulate doctrines regarding the sacraments:

Calvin knows, however, that some of the anabaptists and followers of Servetus will attempt to disprove that manna was a true sacrament by appealing to John 6.49, 54. He replies that Jesus “passed over the principal feature of manna and noted only its lowest use” (2.10.6). He thus returns to 1 Corinthians 10.1-5:

Thus, we see that not only does John Calvin hold to what Rev. Bacon claims is a view unique to paedocommunionists, but he actually rejects his counter-argument from John 6.

I don’t know if Calvin ever considered Rev. Bacon’s novel idea that 1 Corinthians 12.13 refers to Pentecost. I would guess that he didn’t consider Pentecost a possibility for the rather common-sensical reason that the Holy Spirit did not fall on the Corinthians at Pentecost. Thus, to appeal to the Pentecost as something that happened to the Corinthians would be a useless appeal. Calvin uses the passage to explain of the rite of Baptism:

According to Charles Hodge, Calvin, along with Luther and Beza, believed that being made to drink one spirit was a reference to the cup in the Lord’s Supper. (A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974], p. 255. Hodge disagrees with them.)

Next, we consider the Westminster Divines. I have already mentioned in my initial response to Rev. Bacon how the framers of the Confession of Faith used 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 to prove that the sacraments of the Old Testament are the same in substance with those of the New Testament (27.5). There is an additional citation in the Larger Catechism. Question 174 asks “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it?” The answer includes a direction to “stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces.” The prooftexts include 1 Corinthians 10.3-5. The Divines also considered manna and the water from the rock to be sacramental.

Furthermore, the Westminster Standards appeal to 1 Corinthian 12.13 to prove that baptism admits the baptized into the institutional Church (28.1), “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2). Likewise, the answer to question 165 of the Larger Catechism uses the text to prove that baptism is the sacrament “whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible Church.”

Let us now consider Charles Hodge. Hodge comments on 1 Corinthians 10.3, “As they had their baptism, so they had their eucharist; and they all had it” (ibid., p. 172).

On 12.13, Hodge departs from the Westminster Standards because he had a rather lower view of the visible Church and her relation to water baptism, as his numerous essays bear out. He states that the sacrament of baptism is not in view here, but rather regeneration. (Ibid., p. 254. To his credit, Hodge does not hesitate to claim that “the baptism of the Spirit often attends the baptism of water.” This is a bolder admission than I commonly hear today in Presbyterian circles.) Hodge uses Pentecost as an example of the use of the term “baptize” which does not involve water. But it never seems to enter Hodge’s mind that the event of Pentecost is here being referred to by Paul. Again, it would be nonsense for Paul to refer to the outpouring of Pentecost because the Corinthians weren’t there at the time. They were made partakers in that outpouring through their own baptisms, just as were the first converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.38; 1 Corinthians 1.10-17). Just as Gentile proselytes who were circumcised could then celebrate their deliverance from Egypt, despite their physical ancestry, so those of us who are baptized into Christ’s body, the Church, are made participants in the Holy Spirit Who moved into the Church on the Day of Pentecost.

I have not the energy to type up quotations from Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. I simply invite you to investigate the Scriptural index at your leisure.

The conclusion of all this, is that Rev. Bacon’s appendix is even more insulting to paedocommunionists than the body of his tract. He acts as if we were all a bunch of bizzarities simply because we have taken our own tradition seriously. All we have done by mentioning manna and water from the Rock is reproduce the Reformed consensus of the past four and a half centuries! Yet Rev. Bacon shamelessly “opines”: “The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic.”

The fact that Rev. Bacon is willing to simply re-write the Reformation Tradition in sacramental hermeneutics, without admitting it to his readers, gives the impression that he is more interested in winning an argument with the ignorant in favor of an unbiblical human tradition than dealing honestly and openly with the issues involved.

Since we’re supposed to be “always being reformed,” I suppose I should explain why I am not addressing Rev. Bacon’s actual arguments for denying the sacramental nature of manna and the water from the Rock. The main reason is I find them entirely implausible. Had Rev. Bacon admitted that he was dealing with errors he had found in Reformed notables from Bucer to Berkhof, then perhaps I would feel a need to let him know why I am not persuaded by his exegesis. But, as it is, I am content with an expos� of his revisionism. What reason do I have to think he is truly interested in whether or not paedocommunion is the covenantal position? (On Bucer, see Common Places of Martin Bucer. The Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics 4, D.F. Wright, trans. [Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972], p. 287.)

A second reason is that Dr. Ken Gentry, in his sermon series “Paedocommunion: Faith or Fad?” gives some excellent reasons for closely associating manna with Passover. Though strenuously (and fallaciously, in my opinion) opposing paedocommunion, Dr. Gentry points out that the directions are identical for both choosing the Passover lamb and gathering manna (“according to the mouth of eating”). Furthermore, the Israelites were forbidden in the case of both the Passover lamb and the manna to save any for the next day. If Rev. Bacon has a reply for Dr. Gentry, I would like to hear it. (You can order Dr. Gentry’s 4 cassettes from Covenant Media Foundation for $18. Call 1 (800) 553-3938; or see their website at cmnfnow.com. My critique of Dr. Gentry, “God’s Uncovered Pit: Kenneth Gentry on Paedocommunion,” is available for $2.50 from Biblical Horizons , P.O. Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.)

As it stands, Rev. Bacon is the innovator; and thus he reveals that paedocommunionists are the conservatives who are simply trying to be consistent with Reformational hermeneutics. The fact is that, according to Rev. Bacon, John Calvin, the Westminster Divines, and Charles Hodge all ought to have been paedocommunionists. They all believed that manna and water from the rock were sacraments. In the final analysis, then, Rev. Bacon is actually arguing that paedocommunion is the more truly Reformed practice. I’m glad to be able to conclude that we agree on something!

[There is one other alternative, which I would consider too ridiculous to mention except that Rev. Bacon mentions it as if he realizes he might need to resort to it: He claims that we are not “forced to conclude that children, much less infants, must have been partakers of manna. I would be unable to prove that exegetically (the paedocommunionists are equally unable to prove it, but I am willing to concede the point).” First of all, paedocommunionism is concerned with partially weaned children, not suckling infants. Secondly, to claim that such weaned children might not have eaten the manna, or that such a thing cannot be proven (or even needs to be proven) exegetically, is simply a ludicrous claim which merits no counter-argument. That Rev. Bacon would attempt to raise a shadow of a doubt on this point is rather amazing.]