It is a rather daunting task to argue with John Calvin.
There are so many, many true things that he teaches, but I do definitely disagree with him on the subject of paedocommunion. Calvin believes that the Supper is intended only for those of "riper years, who...are fit to bear solid food." He says that the only ones who should be allowed to come to the Table, are the ones who are able to examine themselves. "How, pray," he asks, "can we require infants to commemorate any event of which they have no understanding?”
He has a point.
But that is not at all the way that I see it. Instead, I think of a family - since we, believers, are a part of God’s family. Even the newest little baby is a central member of our household. We teach him, hold him, nurture him, talk to him - he is one of us. We feed this child from the earliest hour of his birth. Imagine if we said to our baby: “See all of us eating, little one? Only we, fully grown and mature people, can partake of food. Only when you understand where this food comes from, and how we get it, can you join us at our family table. When you’re big and strong, then we will feed you. But not before. Because right now you’re not old enough to appreciate it.” That is, in essence, what we’re telling our children when we forbid them from coming to the Lord’s Table.
We must understand Communion before we receive Communion? What about those who never will understand it, no matter how old they grow? There are people who will always have the minds of children, and they cannot understand. But God loves the least of these, the youngest child, the feeblest mind, just as much as he loves the strongest. I believe that a little child born into a Christian family has a special seal placed on her. She is a covenant child. As such, she is given the privilege to receive God’s special blessings and nourishment. She needs to be fed just as much as we, grown-up people, do. If we want her to grow up a Christian, we must treat her like one of us - like a little Christian. Not like a little pagan.
We are told very potently in scripture that “He that eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Corinthians 11:29). So what is a worthy manner? And what is an unworthy manner? Some people take this verse to mean that those taking communion need to be fully aware what is happening. Babies cannot understand the sacrifice, the redemption, and the blessings, they might argue, therefore babies should never be given communion. But, you can’t just take scripture out of context. Paul was writing this letter to the Corinthians. And these Corinthians were having some very specific and troubling problems involving the Lord’s Supper. They were contentious and had many divisions among themselves. They were coming to the Table without resolving these arguments; they were coming with purposeful anger and bitterness inside of them. And many of them were coming to get drunk on the wine. The people were unrepentant and malicious toward one another. Paul realized what a serious problem this was: These people were coming to the Table of redemption and forgiveness and sacrifice, without enough humility to forgive their neighbor for insulting them. This situation is very different from letting a little child come, even if they have not “examined” him or herself, per se.
Jesus tells us all to have faith like a child. Even the youngest infant is capable of having faith of sorts. When his mother nurses him, he does not understand that he will grow weak without this food, all he knows is that his mother is feeding him and that it is good. And for him, that is enough.
I think our view of baptism goes back to our view of children. If we trust that He has claimed our children as His own and believe that they are a part of the Covenant family, then we cannot help but believe that their Father wants to feed them. When we do not baptize the covenant children, and so prevent them from eating and drinking, we are denying them the blessings that God has promised them.
They need food to become strong, so how can we require strength from them before they are even fed? As C.S. Lewis so rightly put it, “The command, after all, was ‘Take, eat’; not ‘Take, understand.’”