Confirmation: When? Early? Later, or not at all?

A Study of Lutheran Practices for Being Admitted to the Lord’s Supper

—by Armand J. Boehme


Abstract: This essay sets forth the Reformation pattern for admission to the Lord’s Supper – baptism, instruction, admission to the Lord’s Table. Age was not a factor in this historic practice. Modern changes have moved toward early communion before full instruction and confirmation. All three major Lutheran hymnals in the US have orders for the rite of first communion before full instruction and confirmation. Early communion was followed by a strong push for infant communion since the Eucharist is the birthright of the baptized. Early communion and infant communion have now led to the Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) movement seen in Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Lutheran circles today. A eucharistic view of John 6 provides a scriptural basis for infant communion and CWOB. As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation looms, Lutherans need to study their current catechetical practices, liturgical rites, and theology in relationship to the admission of the baptized to the Lord’s Table to examine their faithfulness to Reformation theology and practice.


INTRODUCTION: Arthur Repp stated several general ideas which characterized the historic Lutheran practice regarding admission to the Lord’s Supper. The first was that Lutherans rejected the Roman view that confirmation was a sacrament. Second was the requirement of Christian instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper. The third was that confirmation emphasized both sacraments. The baptism of a child placed the parents and the church under the obligation to instruct the child in the faith in preparation for the child’s attendance at the Lord’s Supper. The fourth generalization was that age was not an important criterion for determining admission to the Lord’s Supper. What was important was the instruction given which prepared a person to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar in a worthy manner.[1]

Though there were some variations, over the years, catechetical instruction before receiving the Lord’s Supper was retained. Recent practice has not always followed this historic pattern. This essay will look at how practices have changed and raise the question as to whether the changes are a bane or a blessing for Lutheranism.


I. THE SHIFT TO EARLY COMMUNION:

After WWII Lutherans in Germany began to examine the criteria for admission to the Lord’s Supper. By 1966 there were three different views on admission to the Lord’s Supper. 1) First was the traditional view with slight modifications which retained full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper. 2) The liberal view was brief instruction in the Lord’s Supper leading to early communion followed by more formal instruction leading to full membership in the church. This  three-step process raised questions about the status of those who did not complete the educational process. 3) The radical view desired to abolish confirmation entirely with the baptized children coming to communion with their parents until a year after finishing  elementary school. Then they would be be questioned by the pastor and following that they would be able to commune by themselves. There was no emphasis on catechetical instruction. The instruction that might occur would probably be done by parents in the home. [2]

Due to circumstances in Europe after World War II, changes in catechetical practices in other Christian church bodies, and ecumenical influences, there was greater and greater encouragement to separate full catechetical instruction in the Christian faith and the rite of confirmation from the admission of a baptized Christian to the Sacrament of the Altar. 

Thus many Lutherans began to investigate and to engage in the practice of early communion before confirmation. Often it was said that the Lord’s Supper is the birthright of the baptized.[3] Generally some instruction in the Lord’s Supper was the only criterion for early admission of the 5th or 6th grade baptized child to communion. It was assumed that those admitted without full catechetical instruction would continue their instruction after receiving the Lord’s Supper. This assumption however did not always prove a reality. 

As one Lutheran educator wrote, “Often this [early communion] instruction taught children primarily what taking of the Lord’s Supper entails . . . then, at a later date, came a fuller study of Biblical truths. But so often we do not get those children back for classes at that time.”[4]

Having been admitted to the Lord’s Supper with, at best, minimal instruction, led some children and parents to see no need for beginning or continuing catechism classes leading to confirmation. Their children were already receiving the sacrament, so parents and child would come to the conclusion that instruction was pointless. Paul Bretscher stated that this shift to early communion “radically” departed from the historic Lutheran practice of admission to Holy Communion.[5]

In times past, Lutheran practice stated that insufficiently instructed individuals were to be denied the Lord’s Supper whether they were adults or children.[6] Lutheran teaching and practice would label communing insufficiently instructed people as the opposite of closed communion (i.e., open communion). It could also be described as functionally open communion.[7]

What ideas lay behind the thinking of those who crafted the change to early communion in Lutheran practice? Some history will help supply background for answers to that question. 

After WW II many Christian groups, including the Lutherans, were studying the relationship of baptism, catechetical instruction, chrismation, confirmation, and the reception of first communion. 

A part of this study of the relationship of confirmation and baptism was a response to the work of Karl Barth who denied infant baptism and thus the rite of confirmation.[8]

The study of confirmation and admission to communion in most church bodies concluded that confirmation should be significantly changed or done away with entirely. The idea that baptism is the only qualification for reception of the Lord’s Supper, coupled with other changes in perspective, caused this shift.

These ideas were stated by David Holeton, an advocate for infant communion. “In a number of churches confirmation existed as a rite of admission to the eucharist . . . Over the past decade this rationale for confirmation has lost tremendous ground. The renewal of patterns of community life and the admission of young children to the eucharist by churches of almost all confessional families pose a particular question to this rationale for confirmation. What status does confirmation now confer? In the past it was that of communicant or full membership in the church. This is no longer the case. If baptism confers at least the right to receive the eucharist, as the continuing sign of membership in the body, churches whose rationale for confirmation was that it was, at least in part, a required rite to be received before communion need to examine their continuation of a rite that has lost its principal rationale.”

“The [new] perspective in which incorporation into Christ and the church is seen makes the sharp distinction between the confirmed and the unconfirmed untenable. Again, this is particularly clear when one takes account of the increasingly common practice of admitting unconfirmed children to communion. They already receive all the church has to give, they cannot be fuller members of the body than they already are.”[9]

The push for early communion was ecumenical in nature. A World Council of Churches meeting on the subject of admission to the Lord’s Supper rejected “any age limit as a condition to admission for first communion.”[10]

The joint Lutheran study of the relationship of baptism, catechesis, admission to communion, and confirmation was written by Frank Klos. This 1960s study recommended that a revised definition of confirmation be adopted, that admission to communion “be separated from confirmation,” that children be admitted to communion in the fifth grade, and confirmed in the tenth grade after further instruction.[11] This practice became standard for many American Lutheran congregations having been officially approved by both the ALC and LCA, church bodies that merged to form the ELCA.[12]

Three current Lutheran hymnals or their agendas (LBW, ELW, LSB) contain services for the rite of first communion separated from confirmation.[13] These services and the practice of admitting children to partake of communion before being fully instructed is historically more of a Roman Catholic practice than one of historic Lutheranism. This was admitted by the joint Lutheran study which stated that the move to early communion would have Lutherans “approaching the Roman Catholic practice on the one hand and the Baptist practice on the other.”[14]

The baptismal rite in Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and its relationship to admission to communion reflected  “much new thinking on Christian initiation.” The greatest influence on the initiatory rites in LBW came from the Roman Catholic scholar “Adian Kavanaugh,” and “Geoffrey Wainwright” who was a member of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission and chaired the final redaction of their document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Also influential were the “rites being developed by other North American Christians (sic) denominations.”[15]

The standardization of the practice of early communion in a large part of American Lutheranism is different than Lutheran practice during the Interims. At that time Melanchthon was “ready to have first Communion precede confirmation.” This practice was “strongly opposed” by Johann Aepinus and Matthias Flacius because it was a concession to Rome and seen as “a Romanizing” view of the relationship between confirmation and admission to Holy Communion.[16]


II. THE PUSH FOR INFANT COMMUNION

For some like John Zoppi the encouragement for early communion was movement toward infant communion. 

“In 1970, however, the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation declared, in its infinite wisdom, that it was indeed proper and Evangelical for persons to participate in the Eucharist prior to their Confirmation. ‘Lex orandi!’ To keep pace with this ‘new theology’, our worship book changed too. Confession was no longer a precondition for reception of the Sacrament; the rite of Confirmation was restored to the Baptismal liturgy; Confirmation became ‘Affirmation of Baptism’. The old traditional gap which had existed between Baptism and the Eucharist (and which had been filled by Confession, Confirmation and the age of discretion) had been eradicated. Our new theology and practice seemed to indicate that the Eucharist should be the natural and immediate consequence of Baptism…hence, infant Communion. ‘Lex orandi. . . .Lex credendi!’”[17]

It is to be granted that not all Lutheran advocates of early communion are also advocates of infant communion. However, it is clear from the statements of advocates for early communion, that the push for early communion before full instruction was simply a step towards infant communion. Ralph Quere wrote that Klos’ study and the 1970 report of the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation “set the stage for new debates on infant communion.”[18]

David Pearcy stated that the movement towards early communion and infant communion placed Lutherans in line with the “Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics” who were all “moving toward the recovery of infant communion.”[19]

The ELCA officially sanctioned infant communion when it adopted the document The Use of the Means of Grace at its 1997 Churchwide Assembly.[20]

The push for these changes in admission to the Lord’s Supper was fueled by the modern/ecumenical/Roman Catholic liturgical movement which sought to unify the doctrine and practice of all Christian denominations.

Roman Catholic theologian Charles Davis wrote: “The liturgical, biblical and catechetical revivals are busy, not simply with practical matters, but with a doctrinal renewal.” The liturgical movement was “intimately connected with” biblical and “catechetical” change. What the liturgical movement desired was to change “the fundamentals of doctrine” in the church bodies influenced by the movement.[21] And the desire of the modern ecumenical liturgical movement was to move the church to infant communion.

For Eugene Brand the findings of the ecumenical and liturgical movements were “pressing the question of catholicity” which posed this question for Lutherans, “Are we prepared to be evangelical catholics? Are we prepared to revise our Lutheran story accordingly?”[22]

The stated desire of Lutheran evangelical catholics like Mark Chapman is a return to Rome: “. . . evangelical catholic Lutherans” look forward to a “full reunion of Lutherans with Catholics and the restoration of one Church under the Bishop of Rome.”[23]

Advocates of infant communion describe its lack of practice as “demonic,”[24] as “excommunication,”[25] and as a “mortal sin.”[26] Robert Jenson, one of the people who helped produce LBW, has described the refusal to commune baptized infants as “flat disobedience to Scripture” and “a Pauline impossibility.” He also called the practice of infant communion a “more catholic understanding of the faith.”[27]

In addition to ELCA Lutherans, a growing number of Missouri Synod Lutherans have also accepted the catholicity of infant communion, and that the Eucharist is the birthright of the baptized.[28] This is a view at odds with the position stated by the LCMS. 

A CTCR report (LCMS) on the Lord’s Supper said:  “9. Is it appropriate to commune infants? No. St. Paul says: ‘Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). Since infants cannot examine themselves, it is inappropriate to commune them.”[29] The CTCR document “Response to ‘Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion’” stated that, on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:17–34, “infants” are not able to “consciously reflect on their readiness to receive the Lord’s body and blood,” and because they are “not capable of such reflection” they “must not be given the sacrament.”[30]

Advocates of infant communion invoke the early church practice of combining baptism, chrismation, and reception of the Eucharist because it was the historic practice of the church. However those adults who were baptized, chrismated, confirmed and admitted to the Eucharist had undergone a three year period of rigorous instruction before they could be baptized. Before their baptism, they were not even allowed to remain for the communion service, much less receive the Lord’s Supper.[31]

These historical circumstances raise the question as to whether the practice of intense education before being baptized and allowed to commune truly supports the normalization of the practice of early or infant communion both of which lack the intense instruction before and often after being baptized and admitted to the Lord’s Supper. There is no unanimity on the universality of the practice of infant communion in the Western church. Granted there was a period of time when infants were baptized and then quickly communed, but this practice did not continue in the Western church.[32] Are the arguments advocates of infant communion bring against the lack of infant communion sound theologically and biblically? Continued study of and response to this issue is necessary.

A lessening of the importance of religious instruction is seen in the ILCW’s work in crafting LBW. “Public catechesis” of those who were baptized and then to receive communion was “discouraged” by the crafters of LBW. The ELCA’s Renewing Worship materials also emphasized the fact that baptized individuals (both adults and youth) should be enabled to attend communion through the “affirmation of baptism” rite, even though they had received “little or no Christian nurture/instruction following their baptism.”[33]


III. THE TIE TO JOHN 6

Many advocates of infant communion have a eucharistic understanding of John 6. Such a view is an integral part of the biblical basis of advocates for infant communion.[34]

Luther was aware of the eucharistic view of John 6 held by Rome and the Hussites. Luther and Lutheranism have historically rejected a eucharistic interpretation of John 6.[35]


IV. INCOMPLETE?

Advocates of infant communion believe that the sacrament of Holy Baptism is neither complete nor full initiation into the Christian Church without the subsequent completeness and perfection that comes from the reception of Holy Communion. This is a prominent idea in the modern liturgical movement as is stated by the Roman Catholic theologian Charles Davis: 

“The Eucharist is the event by which the Church is given existence and permanence in different times and places . . . Baptism exists as a first step towards the Eucharist. It unites us to Christ and the Church, but by relating us to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is, as it were, already active in and through baptism. Union with Christ and the Church remains the proper effect of the Eucharist, which alone gives it in full.”[36]

The latest Roman Catholic catechism says that “the Eucharist makes the Church.” It further states that Christians have been called in Baptism to form “one body” and that it is the “Eucharist” which “fulfills this call.”[37] In another section this catechism states that the “holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation,” that is the initiation begun in Baptism.[38] Further it states that the Eucharist “is the source and the summit of the Christian life.”[39] It also says that “the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.”[40]

Another Roman Catholic catechism states that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation and bases this statement on a eucharistic understanding of John 6. “Like Baptism, the Eucharist is necessary for salvation to be received either sacramentally or in desire. Christ's words, ‘if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you’ (John 6:53), means that Holy Communion is necessary to sustain the life of grace in a person who has reached the age of reason.”[41]

Another Roman Catholic site states this in answer to the question as to whether the Eucharist is necessary for salvation: “The necessity for the Eucharist is absolute in that without the grace of the Eucharist, which is union with Christ, no salvation is possible.”[42]

The new Code of Eastern Canon Law states that the traditional practice of the Eastern Churches is “the communion of newly baptized infants as the completion of initiation . . . Sacramental initiation into the Mystery of Salvation is perfected through the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. Therefore let it be administered as soon as possible after baptism and chrismation.”[43]Another author noted that “Christian Initiation” was made up of “three moments” — “baptism, chrismation and Eucharist, and without all three the process is incomplete.”[44]

The Lutheran Book of Worship Manual on the Liturgy states that “the completion of the initiation into the Christian community is the sharing in the Eucharist [which] . . . may be exercised immediately.”[45]

In a paper available on the ELCA website, Bryon Hansen wrote that Lutherans like himself who advocate for infant communion and CWOB also believe that the Eucharist “is the completion of the sacraments of initiation” (baptism and chrismation/confirmation). Having infants receive the Eucharist immediately after baptism and chrismation means that one is “fully initiated” into the Church, and receiving communion is the “fullest expression of unity with Christ” and the Church. This three-fold pattern (Baptism, chrismation, eucharist) has been “restored” in the Church as a result of “Vatican II and subsequent liturgical renewal.”[46]

Some Lutherans also believe that the Eucharist makes the Church.[47] There is also the belief that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (based on John 6), and that one’s church membership is incomplete without being able to receive the Eucharist. These ideas provide the impetus for the normalization of infant communion in the ELCA.[48]

Believing that baptismal regeneration is incomplete without the eucharist, and believing that the eucharist makes the church are ideas which denigrate Baptism as the sacrament which fully unites believers with Christ and the whole Christian church, and gives sinners the fullness of faith, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation.

The LCMS’s CTCR stated: “Arguments for infant/toddler communion bypass the truth that in Baptism, we receive ‘victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ and the Holy Spirit with his gifts’ (LC IV:41–42, Kolb/Wengert, 461) as though the promise of Baptism remained unfulfilled without the Lord’s Supper. By waiting until children have been instructed, examined, and absolved before admitting them to the Lord’s Supper, they are not being deprived of Christ.”[49]

Mark Tranvik, writing about infant communion stated that “the communion of infants also tends to undermine baptism . . . communing infants at the same time they are baptized would raise questions about baptism’s efficacy. People would be led to wonder: Isn’t baptism enough? Why is communion needed to complete it? The sacrament of baptism . . . would be marginalized if infant communion became accepted church practice.”[50]

In response to the WCC’s Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document (1988), some Lutheran church bodies expressed concern about the Eastern Orthodox concept of Christian initiation. The concern over the Eastern Orthodox view of Christian initiation (baptism, chrismation, the laying on of hands, and the immediate reception of the Eucharist which was the completion of initiation) was regarded by Lutherans “as a questioning of the validity and completeness (sacramental integrity) of their baptism.”[51] Thirty years later Lutherans are embracing as orthodox practices that they had formerly rejected because those practices raised questions about the validity, integrity, and completeness of the baptismal grace given in Lutheran churches!  


V. COMMUNION WITHOUT BAPTISM (CWOB)

But the push for the baptized to receive the Lord’s Supper earlier and earlier with little if any instruction in the faith has not stopped with infant communion. The rallying cry, “Communion is the birthright of the baptized” is now being set aside with the advent of the “Communion Without Baptism Movement” (CWOB).This movement is growing in prominence in Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and Methodist circles.[52] The writings of theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Norman Perrin lend credence to CWOB.[53] A eucharistic understanding of John 6 is also part of the biblical foundation for CWOB.[54]

The CWOB movement holds that Christianity should be hospitable to all, thus all people should be welcome at the Lord's Table. Advocates of CWOB (also known as “Open Communion”[55] or “Radical Hospitality”) believe that this is the way of Christ. He was welcoming and affirming to all regardless of their beliefs. Open Communion is also viewed as “a means of evangelism.”[56] So today Christ’s church should welcome all people to her family meal — the baptized and unbaptized, the penitent and impenitent, those who have no knowledge of Christ, the Christian church, the Lord's Supper or Christian teaching as well as those who do, those in the Christian faith and those without faith in Christ. The idea that the Eucharist makes the church also gives encouragement for CWOB. Since CWOB desires to commune everyone it appears that CWOB also shares the perspective that all religious roads lead to the same God.

The CWOB perspective appears to be based on an ex opere operato perspective of the Sacrament of the Altar. Regardless of whether the recipient has faith in Christ, the triune God, and Jesus’ words about the Lord’s Supper, CWOB theology assumes that the sacrament will be a blessing to those receiving it, simply because it is being performed and received. As Paul Ellis, an advocate for CWOB stated: “Denying unbelievers the Lord’s Supper is like denying them the Gospel.”[57]

Another Lutheran author stated the CWOB perspective: “If the Sacrament of the Altar actually does what it proclaims, giving forgiveness and life to people, why would the church want to restrict its use only to the baptized?”[58]

The Lutheran Confessions do not view the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper, as an evangelism tool, nor are the sacraments seen to be operating in an ex opere operato manner. “It is much more necessary to know how to use the sacraments. Here we condemn the whole crowd of scholastic doctors who teach that unless there is some obstacle, the sacraments confer grace ex opere operato, without a good disposition in the one using them . . . that is, without faith.” That the sacraments confer grace without faith in the recipient is described by the Lutheran Confessions as an “ungodly and wicked notion.”[59]

Holsten Fagerberg stated the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions on this matter. “In the emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Supper as promise and faith, we also find a strong polemic against the Catholic opus operatum teaching. The Mass must be Communion: it requires a worshiping congregation which in faith accepts the Word of promise.”[60]

CWOB theology views Baptism, Confirmation, and the Lord's Supper as sacraments of initiation. It also views the catechesis of those baptized, if and when it is done, as being spiritual formation (how to live one's mission or vocation in life, how to live a good ethical life, how to have right feelings about God) rather than an education in Christian doctrinal teachings.[61] This deemphasis on doctrinal content is also seen in the ILCW which crafted the LBW baptism and first communion liturgies to move away from a “Lutheran obsession with theology,” away from doctrine, to actions and “feelings.”[62]

CWOB appears to have had a lengthy history in Lutheran circles. In 1972 Arthur Carl Piepkorn wrote in opposition to communing the unbaptized and attempts to use communing the unbaptized as an evangelism tool.

“In principle, the eucharistic assembly is always the company of those who have been made members of the body of Christ upon earth by Holy Baptism and who are gathered together in this capacity alone to commemorate His triumph in His death and resurrection . . .” 

“. . . it is wrong to admit individuals to the Holy Eucharist indiscriminately . . . with no effort to determine if they have been baptized, with no effort to determine their continuing status as members of the church, and with no assurance that they have the requisite disposition of sorrow for their wrong-doing and faith in the atoning work of our Lord that is made present again in this mystery.”

“I submit that it is misguided . . . to use the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as such as an evangelistic device and to impose on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist a burden that it was never intended to bear, that is, to serve as the means of communicating the basics of the Gospel to people to whom the Gospel has never been communicated. There are other vehicles for this task.”[63]

CWOB was still being practiced among Lutherans in the 1990s as Lyman Lundeen wrote: “I am not very optimistic that the ELCA can do much to stop infant Communion. I suspect that the question of whether the Church should commune infants is becoming a moot issue . . . Similarly, we can expect that some pastors will make it very clear that even Baptism is not necessary for reception of communion. There are those doing that now.”[64]

Further evidence of the progress of CWOB in Lutheranism is seen in the “My Turn” column in the ELCA’s official lay publication, The Lutheran (March 2005). It contains an article written by Pastor Olin K. Sletto who offers communion to everyone “even those, especially those, who are not baptized.” Pastor Sletto believes that communing the unbaptized is to be “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” He concluded his article saying, “Jesus would want it that way.”[65]

The October 2010 issue of Forum Letter reported on a Sierra Pacific Synod (ELCA) service at which “everyone without exception” was invited “to the Table.”[66]

The ELCA officially engaged in a serious denomination-wide discussion about welcoming the unbaptized to their altars since the Episcopalians do. This would remove barriers to intercommunion with unbaptized Episcopalians with whom they are in full pulpit and altar fellowship.[67] This proposal received stiff opposition from some in the ELCA.[68]

For those incorporated into a CWOB church, there often is at best minimal religious education in the doctrines of the church. Congregations practicing CWOB find that “it is notoriously difficult to move people from the table to the commitment of the font.”[69] Why should they commit to anything? They have been admitted to the Lord's Supper without any conditions — even faith in Christ — so why should they submit to a program of instruction/education or baptism? Some “Open Communion” congregations baptize their new members quickly “with little preparation and encourage all to commune.”[70] Some even see Baptism as an “obstacle” to participation in the church.[71] Some advocates of CWOB say that “baptism before eucharist is always a mistake.”[72]

Today the debate over the propriety of CWOB continues. “Increasingly” Christian church denominations are debating the question as to “whether the unbaptized are eligible or welcome to eat at the Lord’s Table.” This debate is a theological “powder keg” for the Christian church. The question remains as to whether or not the Lord’s Supper is “just for the baptized?” If not then all who come should be welcomed to the Table. “On the other hand,” by welcoming the unbaptized and unbelieving to the Lord’s Table, Christian “churches may be abdicating their responsibility to their neighbor by not warning people that without faith, a gift given in baptism, they may be eating poison rather than the gift of life and salvation.”[73]

The concern about people eating poison rather than receiving the gifts of life and salvation is in line with the following words from the Lutheran Confessions: “unworthy guests at the Supper are, namely, those who go to this sacrament without true contrition and sorrow for their sins, without true faith, and without a good intention to improve their life and who by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ burden themselves with judgment (that is temporal and eternal punishments) and profane the body and blood of Christ.”[74]

Thus CWOB raises the following questions. What of God’s judgment on those who commune unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27, 29)? How is is possible for an unbeliever to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes? How is it possible for an unbeliever to discern the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament? How is it possible for an unbeliever to believe Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper? How is it possible for an unbeliever to be penitent in a scriptural way?

The impetus for early and infant communion has been accompanied by a diminishing emphasis on confession before receiving the Eucharist — as John Zoppi noted: “Confession was no longer a precondition for reception of the Sacrament [of the Altar].”[75] This was evident in LBW by its separation of the confession of sins from its Eucharistic liturgies.[76]

As the church wrestles with the above questions, the historical record is clear. The ELCA has moved from full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper, to early communion, to official acceptance of infant communion, to wrestling with official recognition of CWOB. The Missouri Synod has progressed from full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper, to early communion, to increasing advocacy for infant communion. If the LCMS follows the pattern of the ELCA, then it is only a matter of time before advocates of CWOB will begin promoting this practice in the LCMS. Perhaps those proponents are already in the LCMS but silent as of yet until infant communion gains a greater foothold in the LCMS.


VI. THE DOWNTURN IN RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE

The trend in the Christian Church at large, and in Lutheranism as well, has been to provide less and less scriptural education, less teaching of the catechism, less teaching about the church, church history, and the Lutheran Confessions, and to place more emphasis on feelings, actions, emotions, ethics, and inclusiveness.[77] This lessening of the teaching of doctrine has been accompanied by a distinct downturn in religious knowledge among Christians. 

Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, discovered that many lack “the traditional substantive content” of their religious traditions. A “significant part of Christianity” in the US is “only tenuously Christian in any sense” of “the actual historical Christian tradition” to which they belong. They have lost the “language and experience of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, heaven and hell.”[78] These doctrinal truths have been supplanted by feelings and emotions. The level of religious knowledge today has been described by some as “widespread biblical illiteracy.”[79]

Biblical illiteracy afflicts Lutherans as well as others. In a study done in the late 1990s barely 50% of the Lutherans believed the doctrine of justification, 65% believed that most religions lead to the same God, barely 50% believed in original sin, and 33% denied the doctrine of the Trinity.[80]


VII. WHAT DO OUR CONFESSIONS SAY ABOUT RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION AND EDUCATION AND WHY?

What gave rise to the historic Lutheran practice of full Christian catechetical education before admittance to the Lord’s Supper? The Saxon Visitations in 1528 revealed that there was widespread religious illiteracy among the Christians in the churches of Luther’s day. Many of the people communing had “no knowledge of Christian teaching.” Many pastors were “incompetent and unfitted for teaching” for they too lacked basic knowledge of the Christian faith. Luther lamented, “Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments.”[81] One Lutheran theologian described the conditions Luther found as “abysmal ignorance of the faith among both clergy and laypeople.”[82]

The deplorable spiritual conditions observed during the Saxon church visitations moved Luther and Melanchthon to press “the need for a universally acceptable catechism further and suggested that the condition for first communion be an understanding of the five parts of the Catechism: the Decalog, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”[83]

For Luther instruction was to begin with the Ten Commandments and moved through the chief parts of Christian doctrine finishing with instruction in the Lord’s Supper. “Begin by teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, etc.”[84] “When these three parts are understood, we ought also to know what to say about the sacraments which Christ himself instituted.”[85]

This instruction was designed to enable people to come to the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner in accord with 1 Corinthians 11 and other verses of scripture. 

“Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments . . . we do this according to both the Gospel and the ancient canons. But we do not prescribe a set time because not everyone is ready in the same way at the same time. In fact, if everyone rushed in at the same time, the people could not be heard and instructed properly . . . Christ says (1 Cor. 11:29) that those who receive in an unworthy manner receive judgment upon themselves. Therefore our pastors do not force those who are not ready to use the sacraments.”[86] Preparation for a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper was a large part of the reason Luther wrote the catechisms. 

Arthur Repp wrote about Luther’s “emphasis that all Christians, young and old, needed to be instructed so that they could partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.” Luther stated that those desiring to commune should “first be examined” and “in particular, be able to indicate what he believed concerning the Lord’s Supper and what he expected to receive from the Sacrament.” The Instructions to the Saxon visitors said the same thing. Both “catechisms of Luther emphasized the importance of instruction in preparation for the Lord’s Supper.”[87]

Luther also wrote that “If any refuse your instructions . . . they should not be admitted to the sacrament” of the altar,[88]

Other portions of the Lutheran Confessions also speak about the necessity of full Christian education before admission to the Lord’s Table.

Melanchthon wrote: "In our churches the use [of the Sacrament of the Altar] is more frequent and more devout. It is the people who use it, and this only when they have been instructed and examined."[89]

Further he said: "Every Lord's Day many in our circles use the Lord's Supper, but only after they have been instructed, examined, and absolved . . . Among our opponents there is no catechization of the children at all, though even the canons give prescriptions about it. In our circles the pastors and ministers of the churches are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom which produces very good results.”[90]

In addition to these confessional statements there are other writings from Luther noting the need for proper education before attending the Lord’s Supper – “The catechism was the teaching by which one prepared the people for receiving the sacrament [of the altar].“[91]

In a letter to believers in Frankfurt Luther wrote: 

“However, because we are concerned about nurturing Christians who will still be here after we are gone, and because it is Christ’s body and blood that are given out in the Sacrament, we will not and cannot give such a Sacrament to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed . . . all of this we have received from the beginning of Christendom . . . those in need of instruction are to be examined and by their answers show that they know the parts of the Catechism, that they recognize the sin they again have done . . . If they will not do this, they may not come to the Sacrament.”[92]

In the above quotation, Luther stated that the necessity of thorough instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper was a practice received from the beginning of Christendom. There is scholarship which supports Luther’s statement and the perspective of the other reformers on this point. R.T. Beckwith wrote that an “interval between baptism . . . in infancy and first communion at a later age is definitely attested . . . Origen, about A.D. 235 . . . states that children were not given communion . . . Third century Syrian support for Origen is found in Didascalia, 9 . . . where a long period of Christian education intervenes between baptism and admission to communion . . . Now, it may be that the . . . practice . . . in this matter goes back to Judaism . . . the reformers’ belief that they had a precedent for their confirmation practice in the early Church and Judaism can be seen to be far less wide of the mark than is usually stated.”[93]

The interrelationships of the parts of the Small Catechism are important. For people to understand what sin is, and what should be confessed in preparation for coming to Holy Communion, Luther began the catechisms with an exposition of the Ten Commandments. Having been moved to a knowledge of sin and to penitence by the Spirit of God, Christians need to know how the Triune God has dealt with their sin in the justifying work of Christ. Thus the teaching of the Creed. Speaking with God about sin and other matters necessitates teaching about prayer/the Lord’s Prayer. Following that Christians need to understand who they are — baptized, redeemed, and forgiven sinners, God’s sons and daughters, believing saints of God in Christ. Hence the teaching of Baptism. Since baptized Christians remain sinner/saints there is the need for teaching about the Keys and the confession of sins. Luther emphasized that the most important part of the Keys is the absolution — sinners knowing God’s pardon in Christ. All of this is in preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table in a godly and worthy manner, knowing by faith what Christ is giving sinners in His Last Will and Testament — the spiritual inheritance of eternal life by the salvation won for sinners through Christ’s sinless life, death, and resurrection.[94]

The above summary emphasizes the importance of understanding the theme and narrative of Luther’s Catechisms. That theme is the doctrine of justification by grace through faith apart from the deeds of the Law. “’Justified by faith without the deeds of the Law’ — that is the thought that runs through the Catechism like a silken cord.”[95] The explanations of the commandments emphasize the fact that Christians are to “fear, love and trust in God above all things.”[96] The explanations of the creed begin with “I believe.”[97] In the Lord’s Prayer catechists are encouraged “to believe” that God is our dear Father in heaven Who will hear and answer our prayers.[98] In Luther’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism he emphasizes that the 5th petition is “an appeal to God . . . to deal graciously with us” and “to forgive as he has promised.”[99] In Baptism people are to “believe . . . the Word and promise of God” that comes with the water.[100] In Confession and Absolution Christians are encouraged to believe that “our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.”[101] In the Large Catechism Luther emphasized the fact that Christians are to believe that the most important part of Confession and Absolution is not our word of confession but God’s Word of forgiveness or “absolution.”[102] In the Lord’s Supper Christians are worthy and well prepared as they are led by the Spirit to “believe” the words of Christ that “the forgiveness of sins” and Christ’s true body and blood are “for you.”[103]

Luther and the Confessions teach that Spirit-led faith in Christ and His words, and faith in what God is giving in the Lord’s Supper is necessary for a worthy reception. For Luther and the Lutherans in the Reformation era, education in the chief parts of Christian doctrine before reception of the Lord’s Supper was the normative practice.

Arthur Repp credits Luther for emphasizing “instruction, especially in preparation for the Lord’s Supper” and states that this is one of Luther’s major contributions” to this issue. He writes as well of Luther’s emphasis on “private confession and absolution” which also “underscored” his “concern for proper preparation for the Lord’s Supper.”[104] This strong emphasis on examination and confession in preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper is one of the hallmarks of historic Lutheran preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper. Luther, the Confessions, and many Lutheran theologians emphasize this point. Changed practices have greatly lessened this emphasis on preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table.

The above practice of thorough catechetical instruction before receiving the Lord’s Supper has the foundation of a number of passages in Holy Scripture which emphasize the need to teach or catechize the young in the basics of the faith. These Old Testament passages teach about the importance of religious eduction: Exodus 12:21–27; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:1–9; Psalm 78:1–8; 119:9–16; Proverbs 22:6; These New Testament passages speak about the Lord’s Supper and the importance of catechetical training. Matthew 26:26–28; 28:18–20; Luke 1:4; Acts 18:25; 1 Corinthians 11:23–34; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 6:1–4; 2 Timothy 3:14–17.[105]

Today this Reformation pattern for Christian education beginning with the Ten Commandments and finishing with the Lord’s Supper is increasingly being replaced by the pattern of beginning with teaching something about the Sacrament of the Altar and then admission to communion (early communion). Instruction in the rest of the Six Chief Parts may or may not follow. For those practicing infant communion, one is baptized and then receives communion. Some instruction may or may not follow. For the practitioners of CWOB the person is admitted to communion and this is often followed by little else.   


CONCLUSION

As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches the above essay indicates that many current practices for catechesis, admission to communion, and confirmation are quite different from those of our Lutheran forefathers. In the early days of Lutheranism age was not a factor for coming to the Lord’s Table but thorough religious instruction was. This training led to knowledge which helped enable Spirit guided self-examination, confession and repentance, and a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. 

The changes that have occurred raise the following questions. Does the widespread religious and biblical illiteracy of today indicate the need to modify or reject current practices like early communion, infant communion and CWOB? Is there need for a greater emphasis on preparation for communion, and on the need for self-examination and the confession of sins before communion? What practices will better equip today’s Lutheran Christians with a deepened theological foundation for godly living in the world? Do our current cultural circumstances justify the changes that have occurred or do they indicate the opposite? What pathways should Lutherans chart in these areas for the next 500 years to remain truly catholic? What are the theological foundations for the current changes in admission to the Lord’s Supper? Are they in line with the Bible and Reformation theology? Which practices have the better biblical foundation? Which practices for admission to the Lord’s Supper should 21st century Lutherans be following? Are there other practices in line with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions that can or should be discovered and followed? Have the noted changes affected the justification by faith orientation of Luther’s Catechisms? 

Continued study of the reasons for the changes in theology and practice will assist 21st century Lutherans in determining whether these changed practices are faithful to Reformation doctrine and practice or not. This serious and diligent study should be done with the goal of assisting Lutheran Christians 500 years after the Reformation to continue to catechize the baptized in the teachings of God’s Word and the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ so that future generations of God’s people would be biblically and catechetically prepared to know the truth, to live their Christian faith in their daily lives, to confess their sins, to receive the Lord’s Supper in a godly penitential manner, and, by God’s justifying grace in Christ, to enter eternal glory.

This study concludes with a quotation from the LCMS’ CTCR which recently studied infant communion again. Its conclusions touch on many of the changes that have been discussed in this essay.

“We have been unable to find any reason to commune our infants and very young children. No exegetical, systematic, confessional, historical, or pastoral argument was found to either require or encourage such a practice among us. The understanding of the Lord’s Supper—its nature and its benefits—that we have derived from our study has confirmed the reformers’ practice of continuing to require the sort of careful self-examination required by Saint Paul and, more importantly, by the Lord who spoke through Saint Paul and whose Supper this is. For the sake of those being examined, careful, thorough, and life-long instruction was to be provided. The insistence seen on the part of the reformers and of our synodical fathers that such examination conclude with confession and absolution is perfectly in line with the Apostolic and Dominical instructions concerning the worthy and beneficial reception of the sacrament. The pattern for baptized children in Lutheran congregations has been clear and consistent until very recently: instruction was followed by examination leading to confession, absolution, and the reception of the Lord’s body and blood. As more and more groups promote the Eucharist for all the baptized or simply the Eucharist for all, it becomes all the more important that we remain faithful stewards in our own generation of the mysteries entrusted to us. At the same time, ongoing study of our understanding of the sacrament and of the resulting understanding of its worthy reception can only be beneficial, provided it is carried out under the supervision of the supreme norm of our thought and practice, the Holy Scriptures, and informed by their faithful and true exposition, the Lutheran Confessions.”[106]


Armand J. Boehme serves as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Northfield, MN, and as an EIIT mentor. He served on the CTCR for 14 years, and as a missionary in Kazakhstan.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.


[1] Arthur C. Repp, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 55–56.

This statement is from the original constitution of the LCMS: “The constitution of the Missouri Synod says: ‘The district synod is to exercise supervision so that its pastors confirm catechumens only when they can at least recite the text of the Catechism verbatim, without the exposition, and their understanding of it has been brought to a point that they are capable of examining themselves according to 1 Cor. 11:28 . . . they should all first receive confirmation instruction before they are admitted to holy Communion.’” Further, Walther writes that those who “cannot examine themselves according to 1 Cor. 11:28” should not be admitted to “the Lord’s Table.” C.F.W. Walther, Walther’s Pastorale: that is American Lutheran Pastoral Theology, trans. John M. Drickhamer (New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, 1995), 188, 190.

“When children have arrived at an understanding of the catechism that they can examine themselves according to the command of the holy apostle, 1. Cor. 11:28, then they should no longer be constrained from partaking of the Holy Supper.” Wm. Loehe, quoted in Geoffrey R. Boyle, “Confirmation, Catechesis, and Communion: A Historical Survey,” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 79, Nos. 1–2 (January/April 2015), 139.

[2] Repp, Confirmation, 144–145.

[3] S. Anita Stauffer, “Baptism: Back to the Future,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 30, No. 5 (October 2003), 377; Berthold von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” Concordia Theological Monthly Vol. 42, No. 6 (June 1971), 357. “The gift of Communion is the birthright of the baptized.” Lutheran Book of Worship Ministers Desk Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 31 – hereinafter LBW:MDE.

[4] Kurt Sylvester, “In My Opinion: When to Commune Our Children?” Lutheran Witness Vol. 103 No. 4 (April 1984), 21. 

In reference to Sylvester’s statement, the author of this essay had Lutheran parents who came to his congregation with children who were told by their former pastor that they could attend communion simply because they appeared mature enough to do so. They were not instructed before being admitted to communion. Several adults who came to this author’s church from another Lutheran synod had simply been asked by their former pastor if they wanted to be baptized, and without any instruction were baptized and admitted to communion.

[5] Paul G. Bretscher, “First Things First: The Question of Infant Communion,” Una Sancta Vol. 20, No. 4 (1963), 40.

[6] “The Lord’s Supper must be denied . . . D. To those who are not able to examine themselves, such as children and adults who have not been sufficiently instructed . . .” A Short Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1943), 204–205. See also Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 241; Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 244.

[7] Fritz’s Pastoral Theology states that catechization in the six chief parts of Christian doctrine “is necessary for one who would partake of the Sacrament of the Altar” so that “he be able to examine himself, 1 Cor. 11,28” and confess his sins. Fritz also writes that the ability to confess one’s sins is the “conditio sine qua non for a worthy reception of the Sacrament.” John H.C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932), 127 & 137. See also Gregory Seltz, “Topic Fourteen: The Lord’s Supper,” in Edward Englebrecht, ed., The Lutheran Difference: An Explanation & Comparison of Christian Beliefs (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014 - 500th Anniversary of the Reformation edition), 444. “Luther assumes that people will have studied the other parts of the catechisms before coming to the Lord’s Supper. That way they will be ready to examine themselves.” Seltz, “Topic Fourteen,” 440. Joel Biermann, “Step Up to the Altar: Thinking About the Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 72, No. 2 (April, 2008), 153.

”The practice of intercommunion reflects the unity of the articles of faith in a single confession (‘doctrine and all its articles,’ SD X, 31). . . Communicants at an orthodox Lutheran altar profess not merely the single article of the real presence, but the whole doctrine of the Small Catechism to which they solemnly pledged themselves in their confirmation vow . . . Conversely, the historic practice of closed communion attests commitment to a whole body of doctrine consisting of interconnected articles. Moreover it calls for resolute and careful catechesis both before and after admission to the altar.” John R. Stephenson The Lord’s Supper: Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume XII (St. Louis: the Luther Academy, 2003), 162–163.

Webber ties together the ELCA’s “open communion” practice which welcomed “adults with no Lutheran catechesis” to commune at Lutheran altars, with the practice of admitting “uncatechized children” and “infants” to communion. David Jay Webber, “Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church?”  8 - http://redeemerscottsdale.org/pdf/InfantCommunionLutheranChurch.pdf.

[8] Repp, Confirmation, 139–144.

[9] David R. Holeton, “Confirmation in the 1980s,” in Max Thurian, ed., Ecumenical Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches Faith and Order Paper 116, 1983), 81–82.

Some Lutheran responses to the WCC document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry stated that “infant baptism and confirmation are becoming increasingly empty of meaning.” Michael Seils, Lutheran Convergence? An Analysis of the Lutheran Responses to the Convergence Document “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission (Geneva, Switzerland: Lutheran World Federation, 1988 – LWF Report 25), 43.

[10] Eric W. Gritsch, “Birthright of the Baptized,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 14, No. 3 (Reformation 1980), 28.

“The ecumenical convergence since Vatican II has resulted from and helped shape a similar convergence in liturgical practice. The various American Protestant denominational hymnals witness within their pages to this liturgical convergence.” Those ecumenical changes in LBW and other hymnals are described as “proper liturgical practice.” Part of that proper practice is the admission of just baptized infants to the Lord’s Supper. Kent J. Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship: A Prod to the Revision of Lutheran Baptismal Rites,” The Bride of Christ Vol. 21, No. 4 (September 1997), 12, 15. And Do Not Hinder Them: An Ecumenical Plea for the Admission of Children to the Eucharist (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982 – Faith and Order Paper – No. 109). This book contains numerous essays encouraging early communion and infant communion.

[11] Frank W. Klos, Confirmation and First Communion: Leader’s Guide (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America/St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 29. See also Frank W. Klos, Confirmation and First Communion: A Study Book (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America/St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 117-139; Carl E. Braaten, “Views & Counter views: Communion Before Confirmation?” dialog Vol. 1, No. 3 (Summer 1962 – Reformation and Rome), 61–62;  Repp, Confirmation, 147–153.

[12] von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 353.

[13] “Affirmation of Baptism,” Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis/Philadelphia: Augsburg Publishing House/Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 198–201; “First Communion,” LBW:MDE, 31-32; “Affirmation of Baptism,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2006), 234–237; “First Communion Prior to Confirmation,” Lutheran Service Book: Agenda (St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 25–27. A proposed order for “Admission to First Communion” is in Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 137–139. Hereinafter Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW); Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW); Lutheran Service Book (LSB); Lutheran Service Book: Agenda (LSB:A).

[14] Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 200.

[15] Jeffrey A. Truscott, The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism (Lanham, Maryland and Oxford – Drew University Studies in Liturgy, No. 11, 2003), 1, 19. See also Peter Hinchliff, “The Modern Period,” in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, SJ, eds., The Study of Liturgy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 133–146; Cyrille Argenti, “Chrismation” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 46–67; Holeton, “Confirmation in the 1980s” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 68–89; William H. Lazareth & Nikos Nissiotis, eds., Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches Faith and Order Paper no. 111, 1982), 4–5; Edward Kersten Perry, What Is Really Going On Here? An Essay on the Rhetoric, Process, and the “Doing of Theology” about the so-called “Infant Communion” issue (np: Upper New York Synod Lutheran Church in America, 1979), 12–21, 32–34.

[16] Repp, Confirmation, 49. Repp discouraged the practice of early communion before confirmation. Repp, Confirmation, 176–177.

[17] John J. Zoppi, “Infants at the Eucharist,” The Bride of Christ Vol. 4, No. 2 (Lent - Easter, 1980), 4.

[18] Ralph W. Quere, In the Context of Unity: A History of the Development of Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2003), 235. Questions about infant communion also arose as a result of the publication of the WCC study entitled Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM). Seils, Lutheran Convergence?, 42.

[19] David L. Pearcy “Infant Communion, Part II, Present Barriers to the Practice,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 7, No. 3 (June, 1980), 170.

[20] “37 Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation from the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized . . . Infants and children may be communed for the first time during the service in which they are baptized.” The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (Minneapolis: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997), 37d.

[21] Charles Davis, Liturgy & Doctrine (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), 23, 123.

What the ecumenical/liturgical movement desired was “a common confession of the apostolic faith” leading to “the goal of visible unity.” To that end agreed upon statements of belief (like Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry) were crafted. To bring about unity of belief there needed to be a “revision of baptism catechesis.” To achieve this a common ecumenical catechetical curriculum needed to be written. Becker provided three examples of common catechetical materials. Ulrich Becker, “Catechetical Implications,” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 175, 180, 176–180. 

See also Johannes Feiner & Lukas Vischer, The Common Catechism: A Book of Christian Faith, trans. David Bourke, et.a., (New York: Seabury Press, 1973). This was a catechism produced jointly by Lutherans and Roman Catholics in the Netherlands. In 2010 the Vatican called for the production of an ecumenical catechism — Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and the Reformed were to join the Roman Catholics in producing such a catechism. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/726/signs/vatican-suggests-ecumenical-catechism.

[22] Eugene L. Brand, “The Lutheran Book of Worship—Quarter Century Reckoning,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vo. 30, No. 5 (October 2003), 331 – Brand was one of the crafters of LBW; Perry described the liturgical changes as “foreign” to “Lutheran piety and worship.“ Perry, What Is Going On? 52, note 2.

[23] Mark E. Chapman, “Fundamental Unity: Evangelical-Catholic Non-Negotiables,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 39, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 2005), 18. 

“To return to our earlier question, does evangelical catholicism lead to Rome? The inevitable answer is yes, it does . . . Properly speaking, Lutherans are Catholics in exile, an exile that must someday end and for which one must offer ardent prayers . . . it is inevitable, there will be a reunion . . . the direction of evangelical catholicism is toward Rome.” Russell E. Saltzman, “Proleptic Reunions,” Forum Letter (Vol. 27, No.5 (May 1998), 5–6.

[24] Larry David McCormick, “Children at Communion: Some Biblical Factors” The Bride of Christ Vol. 4, No. 1 (Advent 1979), 20.

[25] “LCA Seminary Bars Professor from Celebrating Eucharist: The Issue Is 'Infant Communion,'” Missouri In Perspective Vol. 6 (January 15, 1979), 3 – Eric Gritsch was the professor who was barred. See also Truscott, Reform, 231. Lutheran Forum described the responses of the ALC and LCA to the Gritsch situation as the “ill-considered prohibition of infant communion” by both church bodies’ conventions. Wartburg Seminary urged the ALC convention to see “infant communion” as an “open” question. The article referred to the exclusion of infants from communion as “excommunication.” The article also noted Robert Jenson’s refusal to preside “at the Eucharist because of the ban on infant communion.” “Infant Communion: A Battle Nobody Needs,” Forum Letter Vol. 8, No. 1 (January 28, 1979), 1.

[26] von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 354.

[27] Robert W. Jenson, “On Infant Communion Again” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter, 1996), 18. Jenson was an author of the eucharistic prayers in LBW.

[28] Scott M. Marincic, “Truly Worthy and Well Prepared: A Reexamination of Infant Communion in Light of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions with A Brief Historical Introduction;” Richard Futrell, “Does Our Lord Invite Baptized Infants to His Supper?” (presented to the Missouri District’s Springfield Circuit ‘Winkel’ of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod – 8 November 2011); “A Place at the Table: Why We Welcome Infants and Children in Our Church to Commune at the Lord’s Table” (a tract from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church—LCMS, LaGrange, Kentucky); Patrick Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion” The Bride of Christ Vol. 27, No. 3 (June 2003), 3–10; Patrick S. Fodor, “A Case for Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod)” http://www.scribd.com/doc/18759332/A-Case-for-Infant-Communion-in-the-Lutheran-Church-Missouri-Synod, Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship,” 15; von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 357.

The LCMS’s CTCR issued a "Response to 'Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion,'" To the Ends of the Earth: Convention Workbook - Reports and Overtures: 60th Regular Convention The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, July 11-17, 1998, pp. 61–65. Also at the CTCR website – Response to “Concerns of the South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion.”

There are those in the WELS who are advocates of infant communion – James A. Frey, “Infant Communion: A Look at Lutheran Liturgical Practice” at the web site “The Motley Magpie” - http://www.motleymagpie.org/v2n3_a3.htm.

[29] Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper (St. Louis: A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, May 1983), 28. See also Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, Committee trans. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 383, fn. 133.

[30] “Response to ‘Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion,’” 13.

[31] Carl A. Volz, Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1990), 67–68.

In the early church altar fellowship was “possible only on the basis of the confessed faith.” The requirement for attendance at the altar was a “confession of the formulated content of faith.” The content of this confession was a result of “the careful instruction given to catechumens.” The early church “admitted into full membership only those who had personally and clearly made a confession of the specific content of their faith.” Individuals were carefully instructed and tested before they were even admitted to the assembly as a hearer. The hearers and the catechumens “had to leave the assembly” before “the Eucharist began.” Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, trans. N.E. Nagel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 71, 72, 75.

[32] For essays supporting the widespread practice of infant communion see Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion,” 3–10; Gary V. Gehlbach, “The Discontinuance of the Practice of Communing Infants in the Western Church” http://wctc.net/~gehlbach/IC/Papers/infant%20comm%20-%2096%20paper.htm; Tommy Lee, “The History of Paedocommunion: From the Early Church Until 1500” - https://www.revolvy.com/topic/Infant communion&item_type=topic; David L. Pearcy “Infant Communion, Part I, The Historical Practice,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 7, No. 1 (February, 1980), 43–47. See also Mark Dalby, Infant Communion: The New Testament to the Reformation (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010).

For arguments against the widespread practice of infant communion especially in the early years of Christianity see Marc Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 249–250; Mark D. Tranvik, “Should Infants Be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective,” Word & World Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter 1995), 86; R.T. Beckwith, “The Jewish Background to Christian Worship,” in Jones, Wainwright & Yarnold, The Study of Liturgy, 46-47; John T. Pless, “Theses on Intant/Toddler Communion” - https://logia.org/logia-online/617.

For an extended refutation of the arguments for widespread infant communion in the first five centuries which examines the writings of the church fathers supposedly favoring infant communion and an exposition of the early father’s use of 1 Corinthians 11 to guard the altar see Matthew Winzer, “The True History of Paedo-Commiunion,” The Confessional Presbyterian Vol. 3 (2007), 27–36.

See also the following bibliographies or extended notes on the subject of infant communion.”Paedocommunion Bibliography” at http://www.paedocommunion.com/bibliography/; Tom Richstatter, “Chapter i38 Eucharist: Culmination of Initiation” - http://tomrichstatter.org/iinitiation/i38compl.htm – this is a Roman Catholic urging the practice of infant communion and CWOB – there are many other things on this site relating to infant communion as well; Gary V. Gehlbach, “Infant Communion: Bibliography – Chronological” - http://wctc.net/~gehlbach/IC/Bibliographies/IC-Bibliography_date.pdf; That Lutheran Guy, “Lutherans, Infant Communion & 1 Corinthians 11:28” - https://thatlutheranguy.blogspot.com/2013/09/lutherans-infant-communion-1.html – has some extended quotations from Lutheran sources and the church fathers on this subject. Gary V. Gehlbach, “Infant Communion Bibliography” - http://wctc.net/~gehlbach/IC/.

[33] Truscott, The Reform of Baptism, 163, 230. See also LBW:MDE, 31–32; Renewing Worship: Holy Baptism and Related Rites (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002); Armand J. Boehme, “Review Essay: The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism,” LOGIA Vol. 23, No. 2 (Eastertide 2014), 58–59.

[34] Robert W. Jenson, Visible Words (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 84–85, 163–164; Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Paper No. 111, 5, 10, 15; David Holeton, Infant Communion—Then and Now (Bramcote Notts.: Grove Books, 1981), 4–7, 13–15. 

“The structure of John’s Gospel (with John 3 and 6 showing in precisely the same way the necessity of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar) and the history of the Church’s understanding of Jesus’ Words in John 6 show us that we should understand the Words of our Lord sacramentally.” Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion,” 10, fn. 38 – see also 5. For a refutation of the supposed sacramental connection between John 3 & 6 see Armand J. Boehme, “John 6 and Historic Lutheranism” LOGIA Vol. 25, No. 1 (Epiphany 2015), 10–11.

[35] AE 36, 15–16, 19–20; Thomas A. Fudge, “Hussite Infant Communion,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer 1996), 184–185. Martin Luther, “Letter to Nicholas Hausmann, 1523” in Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 1996), 13; Boehme, “John 6 and Historic Lutheranism,” 7–15; Meredith J.C. Warren, My Flesh Is Meat Indeed: A Nonsacramental Reading of John 6:51–58 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015). One of the best refutations of the Eucharistic nature of John 6 is Kenneth F. Korby, “The Use of John 6 in Lutheran Sacramental Piety,” in Frederic W. Baue, John W. Fenton, Eric C. Forss, Frank J. Pies, and John T. Pless, eds., Shepherd the Church: Essays in Pastoral Theology Honoring Bishop Roger D. Pittelko (Ft. Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2002), 144.

Walther and Pieper wrote against infant communion and the attempts of advocates to justify it by referencing John 6. “Since according to God’s Word everyone who would approach the Lord’s Table should first examine himself and discern the Lord’s body, it will not do to give the Lord’s Supper to children incapable of examining themselves. It was a manifest abuse when this practice . . . was quite general from the third to the fifth century . . . through a misinterpretation of John 6:53 as referring to sacramental eating and drinking. This misuse was prevalent also among the Bohemian Hussites . . . Luther wrote: ‘I cannot side with the Bohemians in distributing the Lord’s Supper to children, even though I would not call them heretics on that account.’” Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, III, 383, fn. 133; Walther, Pastoral Theology, 146–147.

See also Craig R. Koester, “Infant Communion in Light of the New Testament” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 233–239; Todd Nichol, “Infant Communion in Light of the Lutheran Confessions”  Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 241–247; Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives,” 249–257.

[36] Davis, Liturgy & Doctrine, 69–70. See also Louis Bouyer, “The Word of God Lives in the Liturgy,” in The Liturgy and The Word of God (Collegeville, MN: The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1959), 71; Avery Dulles, “Faith and Order at Louvain” Theological Studies Vol. 33, No. 1 (January 1972), 41. “. . . the Eucharist remains the culmination of Holy Baptism.” Stauffer, “Baptism,” 377; Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship,” 15.

[37] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc., 1994), 352 – #1396. Hereinafter CCC.

[38] CCC, 334, #1322.

[39] CCC, 334, #1324.

[40] CCC, 292, #1129.

[41] “Eucharist” in John Hardon, Basic Catholic Catechism Home Study Course - http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/pea/bas_hsc.htm.

[42] Jan Wakelin response to the question “Is receiving the Eucharist necessary for salvation?” http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=338732.

[43] http://liturgy.co.nz/giving-holy-communion-to-infants

[44] “Infant Communion: The Ancient Western Tradition” http://preachersinstitute.com/2012/12/08/infant-communion-the-ancient-western-tradition/ This is an excerpt which defends the practice of infant communion written by a Roman Catholic scholar Robert Taft.

[45] Philip H. Pfatteicher & Carlos R. Messerli, Manual on the Liturgy Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Publishing House, 1979), 187. Hereinafter LBW-ML.

[46] Bryon Hansen, “Font to table or table to font” — a paper presented at the August 3–6, 2009 gathering of the North American Association of the Catechumenate, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1. http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Hansen_Byron.pdf

[47] Michael P. Plekon, “Communion in Holy Things: The Eucharist Makes the Church,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass Winter, 1996), 48; Chapman, “Fundamental Unity: Evangelical-Catholic Non-Negotiables,” 13. “The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church.” CCC, 353 #1396 (italics in original); also #1407.

[48] The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (np: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997), 42; see also its statement on the unbaptized receiving the sacrament, Principle 37G; Truscott, Reform, 232.

[49] “Knowing What We Seek and Why We Come: Questions and Answers concerning the Communing of Infants and Young Children” (An Opinion of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, September 13, 2014), 7. (To access this document go to the LCMS website and click on Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and search “Lutheran Doctrine and Practice” and type in the title of this document into the search box.) See also Boyle, “Confirmation, Catechesis, and Communion,” 133, fn. 49.

[50] Tranvik, “Should Infants Be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective,” 90.

[51] Seils, Lutheran Convergence?, 41.

[52] Sixty-five percent of Southern Baptist churches allow non-baptized people to partake of the Lord’s Supper. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2012/september/on-communion-vast-majority-of-southern-baptist-pastors.html; James A. Patterson, “Participation at the Lord’s Table” SBC Life: Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention (Winter 2016) Vol. 25, No. 2 http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2012/12/SLA12.

“The Wesleyan tradition has always recognized that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace.” [http://www.jimlane.org/A-Response-to--This-Holy-Mystery--A-United-Methodist-Understanding-of-Holy-Communion-_19.html]

James Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of Open Communion,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 86, No. 2 (Spring 2004), 215–238.

In 2010 the PCUSA approved an overture allowing the unbaptized to receive the Lord’s Supper. http://theaquilareport.com/pcusa-general-assembly-committee-oks-overture-allowing-unbaptized-to-receive-lords-supper/

If approved at its 2016 convention the PCUSA Directory of Worship would change the understanding of communion from being a covenant meal to a meal “of radical inclusivity” which “removes any distinction between believers and unbelievers.” Baptism and faith would no longer be required for communion attendance. Walter L. Taylor, “From Covenant Meal to a Fiesta of Inclusivity: Changes in the PCUSA Directory of Worship” https://www.layman.org/covenant-meal-fiesta-inclusivity-changes-pcusa-directory-worship/

The proposed changes in the PCUSA reflect the actual practices of a number of PCUSA congregations and the theological recommendations of study committees which for years encouraged the move to early and infant communion and then to radical hospitality. 

In the UPC the move to early and infant communion is noted in “Special Committee on Baptized Children Participating in the Lord’s Supper Prior to Confirmation” which noted that all baptized children should be admitted to communion. Minutes of the General Assembly of the UPC, 1970, Vol. IV, Pt. 1, 627–633.

In 1977 the “Report of the Special Committee to Study the Theology, Nature, and Practice of the Lord’s Supper” encouraged open communion/radical hospitality stating that “the Lord’s Table is open to all people who would respond.” The Lord’s invitation to His Supper is “an open invitation to all . . . No one is barred from the Lord.” The report regarded the necessity of Baptism before admission to communion “as a reward for Baptism.” Minutes of the General Assembly of the UPC, 1977, Vol. XI, Pt. 1 222, 229. 

The pattern is familiar – the historic requirement was thorough education before admission to the Lord’s Supper, then came the move to early communion, then to infant communion, and then to open communion/radical hospitality/CWOB.

[53] Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 242–246, 258–260. Moltmann’s theology supports CWOB theology by emphasizing the teaching that Christ’s invitation is to all, and this open and inclusive, unconditional invitation overcomes alienation, division and separation. See also Andrew McGowan, “The Meals of Jesus and the Meals of the Church: Eucharistic Origins and Admission to Communion,” in Maxwell Johnson & L. Phillips, eds., Studia Liturgica Diversa (Portland, OR: Pastoral Press, 2004), 101–116.

[54] “Advocates for open communion also point to the eucharistic theology of John as it is laid out for us in chapter six. John does not give us a Last Supper narrative. Instead we have a lengthy discourse on the Bread of Life. What precedes this discourse? The feeding of the multitudes. This presumes something different than the meal being for only those committed. This eucharistic theology arises from . . . inclusive feedings for all people.” Hansen, “Font to table,” 5 – italics in original.

The above essay also notes that the Supper is a “means of leading people to faith,” and that “participation in the Eucharist leads to repentance.” Hansen, “Font to table,” 4, 7.

[55] The term “open communion” in this context is not what many understand to be intercommunion with other Christians. Open communion and radical hospitality mean that every person who desires to commune may do so whether they are Christian or have any faith in God or not.

[56] Hansen, “Font to table,” 3.

[57] Paul Ellis, “Escape to Reality: Can Unbelievers Take Communion?” Posted March 32, 2013 - https://escapetoreality.org/2013/03/31/can-unbelievers-take-communion/.

[58] Gordon A. Jensen, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 14.

[59] AP XIII, 18 – Tappert, 213. “Similarly, why will faith be necessary if sacraments justify ex opere operato, without a good attitude in the one using them?” Ap VII & VIII, 21 – Tappert, 173. The Confessions show that Scripture does not teach that the mass “justifies ex opere operato.” AP XXIV, 31 – Tappert, 255. Also AP XXIV, 5, 9–13, 25–40, 58–67, 78-97 – Tappert, 250–251, 253–257, 260–261, 263–268.

[60] Holsten Fagerberg, A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529–1537), trans. Gene J. Lund (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 199.

[61] Kenan. B. Osborne, The Christian Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Mahwah, NJ: The Paulist Press, 1998); Kathryn Tanner, “In Praise of Open Communion: A Rejoinder to James Farwell,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 86, No. 3 (Summer 2004), 473–485; James Farwell, “A Brief Reflection on Kathryn Tanner's Response to 'Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,'” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 87, No. 2 (Spring 2005), 303–310; James F. Turrell, “Muddying the Waters of Baptism: The Theology Committee's Report on Baptism, Conformation, and Christian Formation,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 88, No. 3 (Summer 2006), 357. Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (New York: Ballantine Books, 2007).

[62] Truscott, Reform, 21. The ILCW desired to make baptism a “joyful event” (23) involving “drama” (25), congregational “experience” (21, 25) and “movement” (27); also Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 92.

[63] Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “The One Eucharist for the One World,” in Michael P. Plekon and William S. Wiecher, eds., The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn (Delhi, NY: ALPB Books, 1993), 164.

[64] Lyman T. Lundeen, “Should Lutherans Commune Infants?” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 1996), 19–20.

[65] Olin K. Sletto, “My View – Christ invites the unbaptized . . . to 'take and eat,'” The Lutheran (March 2005) http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=5025. See also Russell E. Saltzman, “Cheap grace at the table,” Forum Letter Vol. 34, No. 4 (April 2005), 1, 2.

[66] Richard O. Johnson, “Quackery indeed,” Forum Letter Vol. 39, No. 10 (October 2010), 6.

[67] The ELCA’s invitation for congregations to discuss the issue is seen in Scott Weidler, “Table and font: Who is welcome?, An invitation to join the conversation,” Seeds for the Parish: Resource Paper for Leaders of ELCA Congregations (Summer 2014), 4.

[68] Paul R. Hinlicky, “The Truth About ‘Radical Hospitality,’” Lutheran Forum Vol. 48, No. 3 (Reformation/Fall 2014), inside front cover & 37–39; Wesley C. Telyea, “The Ecclesiological Implications of an Open Table,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 2014), 42–45.

[69] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 236.

[70] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 238.

[71] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 237.

[72] Tanner, “In Praise of Open Communion,” 485.

[73] Jensen, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” 13, 14.

[74] FC SD, VII, 69 – Tappert, 582.

[75] Zoppi, “Infants at the Eucharist,” 4.

[76] LBW’s “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” is separated from each of LBW’s eucharistic liturgies. LBW, “Brief Order,” 56, 77, 98. “Holy Communion Setting One” begins on page 57 with a note that the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness may be used. But the liturgical service really beings with the entrance hymn and goes to the Kyrie. The same liturgical pattern is found in Setting Two (78), and Three (99). LBW’s Manual on the Liturgy says that the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” is “not theologically or liturgically necessary” before “every celebration of the Holy Communion” (LBW-ML, 196).

Though there are orders for corporate and private confession and absolution, the removal of confession and absolution from the structure of LBW’s eucharistic liturgies illustrates a de-emphasis of the need for penitence/confession before coming to the Lord’s Table. This lessening of the importance or necessity of confession before communing is tied with the movement to early and infant communion as Zoppi noted (see footnote 17). 

This pattern was slightly modified in ELW by the inclusion of either a confession of sins or “Thanksgiving for Baptism” at the beginning of the first two of its communion liturgies. ELW, 94–97, 116–119. Settings Three through Ten however follow the lead of LBW and omit both the confession of sins and the “Thanksgiving for Baptism” from these communion liturgies stating that either the confession or baptismal thanksgiving “may” be used. ELW 138, 147, 156, 165, 175, 184, 193, 203.

[77] William E. Thompson, “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis,” Concordia theological Quarterly Vol. 56, Nos. 2–3 (April–July 1992), 99–121; Virgil Thompson, “The Promise of Catechesis,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 3 (Autumn 1990), 259–270.

See also Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2008) who notes that the majority of American Christians are either “experientialists” or or “moralists” rather than “confessionalists.” Moralists have a values based, moralistic and ethical theology (I’m for/against abortion). Experientialists have a theology of feeling and emotions (didn’t that service make you feel good!), rather than into doctrinal theology. There is also an emphasis on experience and doing rather than any content of what might be believed (43–47, 124–152).   

This downturn in catechesis has been accompanied by a corresponding downturn in theological substance in youth ministry: Christopher Richmann, “Restoring Proclamation to the Center of Youth Ministry,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 44, No. 3 (Fall 2010), 20–25; Brian H. Crosby, Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2012); Cathy Mickels & Audrey McKeever, Spiritual Junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth (Mukilteo, WA: Winepress Publishing, 1999).

[78] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 171. See also Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 29–64; Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

"Poll: Teen beliefs not consistent with Bible's truths," Lutheran Witness Reporter (December 2000), 7; http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/260-most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exist; Bob Unruh, “Testing the Faith:1 in 3 'Christians' says 'Jesus sinned' – Barna poll shows adults develop their own beliefs,” (Jan. 16, 2009 post) - http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=86312.

[79] Mary Jane Haemig, “Recovery Not Rejection: Luther’s Appropriation of the Catechism,” Concordia Journal Vol. 43, Nos. 1 & 2 (Winter/Spring 2017), 51; also 44, 53. See also the Prothero, Religious Literacy references in footnote 78.

[80] Lutheran Brotherhood’s Survey of Lutheran Beliefs & Practices – Summer 1998 (np: Lutheran Brotherhood, 1998), 3–5.

This survey concluded: “In short, it appears that for many Lutherans, little or no worship, little or no Bible study, and little or no faith discussion all contribute to a rudderless Lutheran faith.” LB Survey, 4.

“Many Lutherans are no longer anchored to a core set of beliefs. On topics ranging from original sin, to the Trinity, to justification, to the Gospel, to the place of Scripture in one's life, many Lutherans tend to either misunderstand or disagree with the historic teachings of the Lutheran Church . . . The research suggests that more time and attention be given to addressing what it means to be Lutheran not only among those on the periphery of the church, but also among those who regularly participate in Lutheran worship services.” LB Survey, 19.

A Barna survey found that 54% of Lutherans answered "Yes" to this question, "Can a good person earn his way into heaven?" Andrew Simcak, “How Do We Get to Heaven?” Lutheran Witness Vol. 119, No. 7 (July 2000), 26.

In another poll, 73% of the Lutherans surveyed agreed "that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others, he or she will earn a place in Heaven.” Bruce Kueck, "Poll: Most Christians' beliefs out of sync with Bible," Lutheran Witness Reporter (July 2001), 11.

At the St. Olaf “A Call to Faithfulness” gathering in 1990, a group of predominantly ELCA Lutherans said that there "is a crisis of the gospel in our church as we face the modern secularized world. There is no agreement among us, nor in the ELCA, as to the specific gospel content of the church's proclamation." “’A Call to Faithfulness’: Working Group Reports – Ministry – Walter Carlson and Andrew Weyermann,” dialog Vol. 30, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), 163. 

An earlier poll indicated that only 39% of ELCA Lutherans believed that sinners were justified by God’s grace without the deeds of the Law. Martha Sayer Allen, “Churches reflect on members’ views,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (Sunday, April 1, 1990), 7B.

[81] SC, Preface, 2–3 – Tappert, 338.

In the Shorter Preface to the Large Catechism, Luther stated the fact that many people were “ignorant” of the basics of Christian doctrine, and yet they still came to “the Sacrament of the Altar,” LC, Shorter Preface, 5 – Tappert, 362.

[82] Haemig, “Recovery Not Rejection,” 45. See also Louis H. Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Theodore Laetsch, ed., The Abiding Word: An Anthology of Doctrinal Essays for the Year 1946, Vol. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1947), 611–613; F. Bente, Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Concordia Triglotta (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), 66–72.

[83] N.S. Tjernagel, “Forerunners of the Catechism: A View of Catechetical Instruction at the Dawn of the Reformation,” in David P. Scaer & Robert D. Preus, ed., Luther’s Catechisms – 450 Years: Essays Commemorating the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Martin Luther  Ft. Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1979), 54. Also F.V.N. Painter, Luther on Education (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1889), 121–122, 149–155.

[84] SC, Preface, 10 – Tappert, 339.

[85] LC, Short Preface, 20 – Tappert, 364. Also LC, IV, 1 - Tappert, 436.

[86] AP XI, 3-5 – Tappert, 180–181. Also AP XIII, 19–23 – Tappert, 213–214; AP XXIV, 71–73, 91 – Tappert, 262–263, 266; FC SD VII, 60 – Tappert, 580.

The Christian Questions with Their Answers were written “for those who intend to go to the Sacrament [of the Altar], and were to be used after “instruction in the” chief parts of the Catechism. LSB, 329.

[87] Repp, Confirmation, 18–19. 

“The sacrament should not be administered to children until they are able to discern the Lord’s body. To this end they must be instructed in the chief articles of Christian belief.” A.E. Krause, “The Proper Use of the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” in The Abiding Word: An Anthology of Doctrinal Essays for the Years 1954–1955, Volume 3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), 506.

[88] SC, Preface, 6, 10–11 – Tappert, 338–339. Also LC Short Preface, 2, 26–27 – Tappert, 362, 364; LC V, 2, 33–38, 85–87 – Tappert, 447, 450–451, 456–457. The denial of communion to the uninstructed is also noted in the Saxon Visitation Articles AE 40, 288–293.

[89] Ap XXIV, 49 – Tappert, 258. Also AP XXIV, 1 - Tappert, 249; AP Xil, 5 – Tappert, 181.

[90] Ap XV, 41-42 – Tappert, 220. Also FC SD VII, 60–72 – Tappert, 580–582; LC Short Preface, 1-3 – Tappert, 362; SA Part III, Article VIII, 1–2 – Tappert, 312.

[91] LW 51, 182; also 137, 188–189; LW 53, 32–37; 64–69.

After the Saxon Visitations, part of the purpose of catechetical instruction was admission to Holy Communion. J. Michael Reu, Luther’s Small Catechism (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1929), 16, 157, 165, 167, 188, 227–228; Repp, Confirmation, 17–20.

[92] Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main, 1533,” trans. Jon D. Vieker, Concordia Journal Vol. 16, No. 4 (October 1990), 343.

[93] R.T. Beckwith, “The Jewish Background to Christian Worship,” in Jones, Wainwright & Yarnold, The Study of Liturgy, 47.

[94] Martin Luther, “A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (1520),” trans. C.M. Jacobs, Works of Martin Luther, Vol. II (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman & The Castle Press, 1915), 354–355; Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther’s Catechisms (St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 2000), 123–146; Robert Kolb, Teaching God’s Children His Teaching: A Guide for the Study of Luther’s Catechism (Hutchinson, MN: Crown Publishing, Inc., 1992), 1-7 to 1-9; Krause, “The Proper Use of the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” in Abiding Word, 506. Reu, Small Catechism, 371–394.

[95] Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Laetsch, The Abiding Word 2, 619. Also Arand, That I May Be His Own, 149–154. Luther’s Catechisms emphasize “individual faith.” For Luther, the catechism was a “tool” for teaching “the gospel of salvation by faith through grace.” Marilyn  J. Harran, Martin Luther: Learning for Life (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 204.

[96] SC I, 2 – Tappert, 342.

[97] SC II, 2, 4, 6 – Tappert, 345.

[98] SC III, 2 – Tappert, 346.

[99] LC III, 92 – Tappert, 432.

[100] SC IV, 6, also 10 – Tappert, 348–349.

[101] SC V, 16, also 26-29 – Tappert, 349-350, 351.

[102] LC V, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” 22 – Tappert, 459.

[103] SC VI, 8-9 – Tappert, 352.

[104] Repp, Confirmation, 19–20. 

“In particular, the two Catechisms were to serve the purpose of properly preparing the children and the unlearned for the Holy Eucharist . . . The Sacrament of the Altar, in Luther’s estimation, is the goal of all catechetical instruction.” Bente, Historical Introductions, in Triglotta, 80.

[105] Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Laetsch, Abiding Word 2, 609–611.

[106] “What We Seek, and Why We Come, ” 8.

The 1970 pan-Lutheran Report of the Joint Committee on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation advocated the separation of confirmation and communion, and advocated for early communion. However, it referenced 1 Corinthians 11:28 and stated that it was “incumbent” for the Lutheran churches to “prepare” baptized members “for a meaningful participation in the Lord’s Supper” which meant there must be “a basic understanding of the nature of Holy Communion” so that one is able “to participate in its benefits.” 

This understanding of and desire for communion meant “(1) understanding Christ’s redemptive work, (2) accepting the presence and promise of Christ, (3/5) understanding sin and recognizing/anticipating God’s forgiveness in Sacrament and Word, (4) awareness and appreciation of life in Christ, and (6) expectation of seeing and banqueting with Christ.” This understanding was to include the “comprehension of certain basic facts of salvation history and certain formulations of faith.” The final statement of this section said: “To receive Holy Communion without understanding would be to perform a meaningless act.” Quoted from Quere, In the Context of Unity, 235–236. 

The writers of this 1970 report would look at a large portion of Lutheranism and its catechetical practices today and conclude that there is meaningless activity occurring in the church today.

Theses on Infant/Toddler Communion

—by John T. Pless

1. The question of admission to the Lord’s Supper is addressed from the instituting words of the Lord, which also disclose the purpose and beneficial use of the sacrament.

Jesus’ words tell us what the sacrament is, his body and blood given Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of their sins. As Luther puts it: “We know, however, that it is the Lord’s Supper, and is called thus, not the Christians’ supper. For the Lord not only instituted it, but also prepares and administers it himself, and is himself cook, waiter, food and drink.”1 The sacrament is to be received in “remembrance” of the One who instituted it, that is, in faith trusting in his gracious words, “given and shed for you.” The sacrament itself is the preaching of the Gospel. It is misused when it turned into an enactment of inclusiveness or thought of as the impartation of a mystical energy through the act of eating and drinking. Arguments for the communion of infants and toddlers tend to drive a wedge between “take eat, take drink” and trust in “these words, given and shed for you.” It is not simply eating and drinking that constitute the salutary use of the sacrament but eating and drinking accompanied by trust in Christ’s words, that is, the explicit promise of his Supper.

2. The apostolic teaching that a man examine himself (I Corinthians 11:28) cannot reasonably be interpreted as to exclude the noetic dimension of which infants/toddlers are not capable.

Paul speaks of self-examination in verse 28 in conjunction with “discerning” (diakrino) the body in verse 29. Both BAGD and Kittel demonstrate that this term means to separate, arrange, make a distinction, differentiate, evaluate, judge.2 This text cannot be dismissed by limiting its application to the original context of the Corinthian congregation as Wolfhart Pannenberg does when he asserts, “The self-examination that I Corinthians 11:28 demands does not relate primarily to the individual moral state but to the breaches of fellowship that ought not exist between members of the body of Christ.”3 While the apostle is certainly addressing and correcting these breaches of fellowship enacted in the way the rich assert their priority over the poor, he does so on the basis that this is no ordinary meal but a communion in the body and blood of the Lord. Communicants are not to eat and drink without the discernment of this reality.4

3. Baptism is an absolute prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Supper, but it does not follow that all the baptized are categorically to be admitted to the altar.

The slogan “Communion is the birthright of the baptized,” sometimes used to assert that all the baptized are entitled to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper, is not only problematic in making admission to the Lord’s Supper a “right” rather than a gift, but it also misses the point that for numerous reasons baptized Christians are excluded from the Lord’s Table. Those under church discipline are barred from the altar as are those do not share in the confession of a particular altar. Infants and toddlers who have not yet been taught the faith and examined on the basis of this teaching are not admitted to the Supper. As Werner Elert notes, “Even though a man must first be baptized before he may partake of the Holy Communion, this does not mean that all the baptized may without distinction partake of the Eucharist together.”5 The baptized are to be taught according to the Lord’s bidding (see Matt. 28:19–20). This teaching leads to the sacrament not vice versa.

4. Arguments for infant/toddler communion bypass the truth that in Baptism, we receive “victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts” (LC IV:41–42, Kolb/Wengert, 461) as though the promise of Baptism remained unfulfilled without the Lord’s Supper. By waiting until children have been instructed, examined, and absolved before admitting them to the Lord’s Supper, they are not being deprived of Christ.

In the New Testament and the Lutheran Confessions, Baptism is not an event in a series of “rites of initiation” that is left incomplete without participation in the sacrament. Instead Baptism bestows the “entire Christ” and encompasses the whole life of the believer. Not only is it foundational, but it is also enduring in the life of Christian. The teaching that our Lord attaches to Baptism (see Matt. 28:16–20) surely leads the baptized to eat and drink his body and blood as the Lord bestows his gifts in more than one way, but infants and young children are not deprived of Christ before this teaching has been accomplished. Here note Craig Koester: “The Lord’s Supper was instituted for ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ to be received with a discerning faith. Adults and children who recognize their sin and seek forgiveness should be encouraged to partake of the meal. Since infants are not capable of recognizing sin or desiring forgiveness, they should not participate in the Supper. The grace given in Baptism is sufficient for them at this early stage of their lives. It is when they reach the point where they recognize the need for forgiveness for their sins that they should be instructed and encouraged to take, eat, and drink of Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s table.”6

Maxwell E. Johnson, himself an advocate of infant communion, notes that through a coupling of John 3:5 (unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom) and John 6:53 (Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man) into a single logion in the traditio fidei, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are made necessary for membership in the Christian community.7 Unlike Cyprian (and Augustine for that matter), the Lutheran Confessions do not operate with what might be called a “unitive” understanding of the sacraments. Baptism is the rebirth into the body of Christ as in it sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit bestowed. The Lord’s Supper is not an additive to Baptism but serves instead to strengthen the Christian in the forgiveness of sins according to the word and promise of Christ to which faith clings.

5. Faith does not make the sacrament, but it is only by faith that the benefits of the sacrament are received. Faith is precisely trust in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (SC). In the Small Catechism, eating and drinking are joined together with trust in the spoken word, “given and shed for you.” The Lord’s Supper is given precisely to strengthen the faith of those who through the accusation of the Law recognize their sin and whose terrorized consciences acknowledge their need and desire the forgiveness of their sins. “For people are admitted only if they have first had an opportunity to be examined (explorati) and heard. The people are also reminded about the dignity and use of the sacrament—how it offers great consolation to anxious consciences—so that they may learn to believe in God and expect all that is good from God” (AC XXIV:6–7, Latin, K/W, 68).8

Eating and drinking the Lord’s body and blood worthily requires instruction. Admitting the uninstructed and therefore unexamined, whether they are adults or infants was out of the question for Luther. Already in 1522, Luther provides descriptive template for the structure of the Catechism: "Thus the commandments teach man to recognize his sickness, enabling him to perceive what he must do or refrain from doing, consent to or refuse, and so he will recognize himself a sinful and wicked person. The Creed will teach and show him where to find the medicine—grace—which will help him to become devout and keep the commandments. The Creed points him to God and his mercy, given and made plain to him in Christ. Finally, the Lord's Prayer teaches all this, namely, through the fulfillment of God's commandments everything will be given him. In these three are the essentials of the entire Bible.”9 Instruction in and confession of these essentials of the Christian faith are a prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Supper. Four years after writing the Catechisms in 1533 in his “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main” Luther writes, “It is quite true that wherever the preacher administers only bread and wine for the sacrament, he is not very concerned about to whom he gives it, what they know or believe, or what they receive. . . . However, because we are concerned about nurturing Christians who will still be here after we are gone, and because it is Christ’s body and blood that are given out in the sacrament, we will not and cannot give such a sacrament to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed. For we do not want to make Christ’s church into a pig pen [Matthew 7:6], letting each one come unexamined to the sacrament as a pig to its trough. Such a church we leave to the Enthusiasts!”10

Often left out of the discussion of infant/toddler communion is the aspect of the terrorized conscience, which Luther includes as a dimension of the examination of communicants. Examination includes exploration of why it is that the body and blood are needed. Lutheran practice should be both catechetical (the communicant should have knowledge of the basic texts and how to use them) and diagnostic (the communicant should have an awareness of his/her sin). The communicant should know what the sacrament is and how the body and blood of the Lord are to be used against the conscience which is afflicted by sin.

6. The Lutheran Confessions assert that none are to be admitted to the sacrament who have not been instructed, examined, and absolved. See LC V:1–3, K/W, 467; AC XXV:1–3, K/W, 73.

Arthur Carl Piepkorn summarizes the position of the Lutheran Confessions: “Communicants are to know from memory at least the Decalog, the Creed, the Our Father, and the words of institution of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.”11 Evidence for Piepkorn’s assertion may be seen in the Large Catechism where Luther writes, “All this is established from the words Christ used to institute it [the Lord’s Supper]. So everyone who wishes to be a Christian and to go to the sacrament should know them. For we do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come” (LC V:1–2, K/W, 467). Near the end of this section of the Large Catechism, Luther does speak of children (not infants!) being instructed in the Catechism so that they may come to the Supper: “Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is there duty, by God’s injunction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things that they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament so that they may serve us and be useful” (LC V:87, K/W, 87). Article XXV of the Augsburg Confession coheres with the Large Catechism: “For it is not our custom to administer the body of Christ except to those who have been previously examined and absolved” (AC XXV:1, K/W, 73).

7. Lutheran theology does not begin with a generic category of sacraments but works instead from the Lord’s mandates for Baptism and the Supper. Each has its own distinctive features. They are not interchangeable. It does not follow that arguments for the baptism of infants are to be applied for the communion of infants/toddlers.

Neither the New Testament nor the Lutheran Confessions operate with a generic definition of “sacrament” but instead begin with the Lord’s instituting words for Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution. What might qualify under the heading of “sacrament” is rather elastic, but it is clear that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not interchangeable. What applies to one does not necessarily apply to the other. Baptism is administered once for incorporation into the one body of Christ, while the Lord provides his Supper to be administered time after time to strengthen believers in the forgiveness of sins.

8. The Lord’s Supper is the new testament of the Lord, not the new Passover. Hence it does it does not follow that because infants/toddlers were included in the Passover meal that they are to be communed.

Paul G. Bretscher sees the inclusion of infants in the Passover seder as a grounds for their admission to the Lord’s Supper. In a paper first presented at the Institute of Liturgical Studies at Valparaiso University in 1963 and subsequently published in Una Sancta, Bretscher writes, “Little children, even infants, were never excluded from the history itself which worship is designed to relive and recover! In the case of Ancient Israel it is ridiculous even to imagine such a possibility. When that first Passover was celebrated in Egypt, and God commanded all Israel to keep it, did they leave the babies out of the house? Or, when they ate of the roasted lamb and unleavened bread, did they deny this food to their children? When they left the land and crossed the Red Sea and made their way through the wilderness, were the children left behind? It is interesting to note that Pharaoh at one point during the plagues offered to let the men go but not the children (Exodus 10:7–11, 24). The children must be participants in the saving history.”12 Bretscher’s desire for inclusivity presses the argument without regard to the obvious, namely, that an infant would choke on such food. On a deeper level, Bretscher operates with a faulty theology of worship as “reliving” a past event.

Following in the wake of Odo Casel, Louis Bouyer asserts in a discussion of Luke 22:19, “Far from needing or not needing to create a new rite for future use, Our Lord was only performing again a very ancient rite which, even without him, his disciples would have certainly gone on performing so long as they lived together. What our Lord intended by these words was to give new meaning to this old rite.”13 However, this approach fails to acknowledge the newness of the New Testament in what Christ bestows—his body and blood for disciples to eat and to drink. Norman Nagel would often point out that when we line up the Passover as described in Exodus with the narratives of the Lord’s Supper’s institution in the synoptics and I Corinthians, the first and crucial question is not how are they similar, but how are they different? This is also Luther’s approach in the Large Catechism. To paraphrase Sasse, the Lord’s Supper renders the old Passover obsolete.14 Likewise Mark Throntveit writes, “Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament Passover, but not by instituting the Lord’s Supper in ritual continuity with the Old Testament seder. By dying on the cross, Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament Passover in the sense of bringing it to an end, thereby becoming the last paschal lamb, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ ”15

The nature of the Passover does not establish a basis for communing infants and toddlers any more than it provides a basis for a yearly celebration of the Lord’s Supper or making the appropriate setting of the sacrament the family dining room rather than the church. Here also see Luther in the Large Catechism where he argues that the Sacrament of the Altar is not like the old Passover bound to a special time but frequently where there is “opportunity and need” and not like “the pope (who) perverted it and turned it back into a Jewish feast” (LC V:47–48, K/W, 471–472).

9. Evidence for the communion of infants/toddlers in the early and medieval church is there in some places, but it is not clear that the practice was universal or when it was first practiced. Lutheran liturgical practice is not based on historical precedent but on the Lord’s mandates. Not all practices of the early church are to be emulated. Infant/toddler communion is one of those practices.

That infants were communed in some places in ancient Christianity is not disputed, but to assert that it was a universal practice or that it is normative for historical reasons exceeds the evidence. Marc Kolden writes, “Infant communion was not widely practiced in the early church. Indeed, this practice only became more common later and then for questionable historical reasons. The first mention of it is by Cyprian in about AD 250, but it does not appear to have been well established. Origen, for example, notes that infants were not communed in his church.”16 Likewise, Justin and Cyril of Jerusalem cast doubt on the communing of infants.17

The Lutheran Confessions honor the church fathers. When their testimony is in agreement with Holy Scripture, they are gratefully cited as confessing the apostolic faith. However the Confessions also realize that the teachings of the patristic writers are fallible. They can and do disagree with one another. They certainly do not represent an unbroken continuity with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, which alone are the rule and norm for church teaching and practice. The fact that one or another or even the majority of patristic writers support the communion of infants does not establish the practice for Evangelical Lutherans. Unlike the Lutheran Confessions, which are received because they are in agreement with sacred Scriptures, the church fathers are received in so far as they concur with the biblical Word.

10. Arguments for infant/toddler reveal a problematic hermeneutic of the Lutheran Confessions, which undercut a quia understanding of confessional subscription.

Given the numerous references in the Book of Concord to the nature and benefit of the Lord’s Supper as well as the need for catechetical and diagnostic examination prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, one cannot endorse the communion of infants/toddlers while maintaining an unqualified subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. To claim otherwise yields a completely ahistorical reading of the Confessions. Such a reading avoids both the meaning of the confessional texts and the actual practices of those who wrote them.

11. Luther may not be cited in support of infant/toddler communion. He knew of the practice among the Hussites and while he would not condemn them as heretics (those who deny the fundamental Christological and Trinitarian dogma), he did not accept their practice as correct.

On occasion, Luther’s comments recorded in a “table talk” in 1532 are cited in support of infant communion. Apart from the fact that these comments were made in rather “off the cuff” fashion and that it that they were recorded by auditors at the table, Luther’s words as we have them do not speak of the communing of infants but of children. In response to the question, whether the Lord’s Supper should be given to children, the Reformer replies that “there is no urgency about the sacrament of the altar” and then refers to I Corinthians 11: “When in I Corinthians [11:28] Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to children.”18 Luther notes that contextually, the I Corinthians 11 pericope is not addressing children but adults. However, given the range of Luther’s other statements regarding the need for examination undergirded by teaching, it is quite a jump to conclude from this statement that he endorses the communion of infants. Children are capable of instruction and examination in a way that infants are not.

Luther was aware that the Bohemian Brethren (Hussites) admitted infants to the Holy Communion.19 While Luther did not condemn them as heretics for this practice, he clearly did not approve of the practice as in the same letter he speaks of communicants being examined and responding concerning their faith.

12. Infant/toddler communion is a novel practice in the Lutheran Church. In American Lutheranism, it gained traction only in the 1970’s as it was fueled by particular aspects of the liturgical and ecumenical movements.

Frank Senn has chronicled the move toward infant communion in the predecessor bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America noting the influence of these movements.20 In regard to the liturgical movement, the work of Eugene Brand, an architect of the Lutheran Book of Worship and chief drafter of its baptismal rite indicates the connection as can be seen in his essay, “Baptism and the Communion of Infants: A Lutheran View.”21 Ecumenically, the World Council of Churches consultation at Bad Segeberg in Germany concluded, “If children are incorporated into the body of Christ through baptism, then they belong to the whole body of Christ. As there is no partial belonging to the body of Christ, children must also have a part in the eucharist.”22 The dual trajectories of ritual participation derived from early church practices (liturgical movement) and inclusiveness in the one body of Christ (ecumenical movement) converged in providing a platform for a change in Lutheran practice.

13. The fact that children who have been instructed, examined, and absolved may be admitted to the sacrament at a younger age than has been the general custom in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is not to be confused with the admitting of infants/toddlers to the Altar. Churchly and pastoral concerns for unity in practice are important considerations. But the communion of infants/toddlers is not an adiaphoron to be left up to individual parents, pastors, or congregations.

The Lutheran Service Book Agenda makes provision for the admission of children to the Lord’s Supper prior to Confirmation with this stipulation: “Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others,” and “Baptized Christians are admitted to the sacrament when they have been examined and absolved by their pastor in accordance with the practice outlined in the Augsburg Confession (Article XXV)” (LSBA, 25). Younger children who have learned these texts, know what the sacrament is and why they need it and have been examined by the pastor may be communed prior to the rite of confirmation. Concern for unity of practice especially as families move from one place to another would dictate that a common form of instruction and examination be used by pastors within our fellowship. The material in the Pastoral Care Companion under “Guidelines for Pastoral Examination of Catechumens—Before the Rite of First Communion” (PPC, 664–70) provides such an instrument. In congregations where children are admitted to the Lord’s Supper prior to Confirmation, it is the responsibility of the pastor to see to it that such instruction is given and candidates are examined accordingly.

Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on Blogia are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA's editorial board or the Luther Academy.

 

  1. LW 37:129–30.
  2. See Walter Bauer, William Arndt, Fredrick Danker, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 231 and Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume III, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 946–49.
  3. Wolfhart Pannbenberg, Systematic Theology-Volume 3, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 327.
  4. For more here, see Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary: I Corinthians (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000), 405–8. Also see Jeffrey Gibbs, “An Exegetical Case for Close(d) Communion: I Corinthians 10:14–22, 11:17–34” Concordia Journal (April 1995), 148–63.
  5. Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, translated by Norman E. Nagel (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 80.
  6. Craig Koester, “Infant Communion in Light of the New Testament” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 238.
  7. Maxwell Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: The Evolution and Interpretation (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 68–69.
  8. The Augsburg Confession continues the same trajectory set by Luther in 1523 in his “An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg” where he outlines how those who would commune are to be examined: “But I think it enough for the applicants for communion to be examined or explored once a year. Indeed a man may be so understanding that he needs to be questioned only once in his lifetime or not at all. For, by this practice, we want to guard lest the worthy and unworthy alike rush to the Lord’s Supper, as we have hitherto seen done in the Roman church. There they seek only to communicate; but the faith, the comfort, the use and benefit of the Supper are not even mentioned or considered. Nay, they have taken pains to hide the Words of Institution, which are the bread of life itself, and have furiously tried to make the communicants perform a work, supposedly good in itself, instead of letting their faith be nourished and strengthened by the goodness of Christ. Those, therefore, who are not able to answer in the manner described above should be completely excluded and banished from the communion of the Supper, since they are without the wedding garment [Matt. 22:11–12]” LW 53:33. Just a bit later in the same work, Luther continues, “They should request in person to receive the Lord’s Supper so that he may be able to know both their names and manner of life. And let him not admit the applicants unless they can give a reason for their faith and can answer questions about what the Lord’s Supper is, what its benefits are, and what they expect to derive from it. In other words, they should be able to repeat the Words of Institution from memory and to explain that they are coming because they are troubled by the consciousness of their sin, the fear of death, or some other evil, such as temptation of the flesh, the world, or the devil, and now hunger and thirst to receive the word and sign of grace and salvation from the Lord himself through the ministry of the bishop, so that they may be consoled and comforted; this was Christ’s purpose, when he in priceless love gave and instituted this Supper, and said, ‘Take and eat,’ etc.” (34).
  9. Martin Luther, “Personal Prayer Book” LW 43:14.
  10. Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main” Concordia Journal (October 1990), 343.
  11. Arthur Carl Piepkorn, What the Symbolic Books of the Lutheran Church Have to Say about Worship and the Sacraments (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1952), 37.
  12. Paul G. Bretscher, “First Things First: The Question of Infant Communion” Una Sancta (Advent 1963), 37.
  13. Bouyer, The Christian Mystery from Pagan Myth to Christian Mystery, translated by Illtyrd Trethowan, (Edinburgh; T & T Clark 1990), 122–23.
  14. Here see, Hermann Sasse, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament” in We Confess the Sacraments, translated by Norman E. Nagel (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985), 49–97. Sasse observes that “all the details of the traditional Passover ritual, which Jesus doubtless observed, was irrelevant for the Lord’s Supper itself” (64). And again since Jesus himself is the Passover Lamb who gives his body and blood to be eaten and drunk, Sasse argues that “there is no analogy to this fellowship, just as there are no parallels to this celebration. The Lord’s Supper received this character as something unique, something remarkable from the Words of Institution” (66). Also see Otto Procksch, “Passa und Abenmahl” in Vom Sakrament des Altars, (Leipzig: Dörffling and Franke, 1941), 11–25.
  15. Mark Throntveit, “The Lord’s Super as New Testament, Not New Passover” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1997), 284.
  16. Marc Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 249–50.
  17. Mark Tranvik, “Should Infants be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective” Word & World (Winter 1995), 86.
  18. LW 54:58.
  19. Here see, Thomas A. Fudge, “Hussite Infant Communion” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 176–94.
  20. See Frank Senn, “Issues in ‘Infant Communion’ ” in A Stewardship of the Mysteries (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 155–70.
  21. Here see Eugene Brand, “Baptism and the Communion of Infants: A Lutheran View” in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation, edited by Maxwell Johnson (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 350–64.
  22. Senn, 164.

Infant Communion Makes Strange Bedfellows

— James A. Lee II

I have witnessed arguments in favor of infant communion coming from camps that simultaneously practice open communion. While I formerly thought that a causal connection between these practices was illusionary, I'm not so convinced anymore.

It seems to me that a robust ecclesiology prevents the connection of infant communion and open communion. Take for example the Eastern Orthodox churches. These churches practice infant communion but reject open communion. How so? The reason for this is also identified in the fact that many Eastern Orthodox parishes require rebaptism of converts to the East: sacraments can only be administered by and within the Church.1 Therefore, why would the churches of the East-the church-engage in fellowship with those outside of the church? Infants are communed because they are baptized: it is all part of initiation into the church.

But we also see the practice of infant communion by the Episcopal church and voices within the ELCA. In church bodies that welcome all baptized Christians to the altar-even the non-baptized-infant communion is not an issue. Why? Again, the answer is connected to ecclesiology. The church has no confessional borders, the church is open, the church is not defined by propositional truths. Why then would the celebration of the sacrament not be administered to infants?2

The similarity of these two sides is in the immediacy between the administration of baptism and the reception of the Lord's Supper. All that is required of an individual for the reception of the sacrament of the altar is his or her individual participation in the church. The difference is that the Eastern churches do not operate with such a broad and open understanding of the church. The churches of the East are the church; those outside of this communion do not participate in the fullness of the church catholic and orthodox. Our Episcopal and ELCA examples operate with less rigid and defined boundaries. While the churches of the East do not practice open communion, in both instances initiation into the church entails and demands reception of the Supper.

How does a confessional Lutheran who favors infant communion fit into this landscape? It appears that there are three possible options: (1) Infants receive communion because they are baptized. That is to say, confession of faith doesn't matter. Faith is seen primarily in categories of relationship and participation rather than articles of faith and propositional truth. (2) Infants receive communion because they share in the faith of the communities to which they belong, familial and ecclesial; they are communed on account of this faith and in anticipation of their future confession. (3) Infants receive communion because they already have a perfect knowledge of the faith and all of its articles.

While there are issues with all three options, particularly problematic to (1) and (3) is the practice of open communion. Why would a Lutheran parish that practices infant communion not commune all baptized infants, regardless of church confession? While a position against open communion may still be tenable, I fail to see a means of avoiding open infant communion. How could one admit a Lutheran infant to the altar and not a Baptist or Pentecostal infant? It cannot be on account of an infant's confession of faith, for no such confession has been articulated. It appears the tenable options are to conclude (a) that there is something lacking, missing, or irregular in baptism practiced by other denominations, or (b) that while baptism brings an infant into the church, the particular community to which the infant belongs imparts something additional to the infant that is not given in the waters of baptism. Otherwise, how could one not admit to the altar any infant that has received Christian baptism?

 

James A. Lee II is a Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University and Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden, Illinois and Zion Lutheran Church in Carpenter, Illinois.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on Blogia are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

 

  1. See John Klentos, “Rebaptizing Converts into the Orthodox Church: Old Perspectives on a New Problem,” Studia Liturgica 29 (1999): 216–34.
  2. This seems to follow the logic found in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which then, in 1988, receives official support by the House of Bishops. See World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), 12.9; Ruth A. Meyers, "Rites of Initiation," in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, eds. Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 484–99.

Toddler Communion

— Mark Mattes Increasingly, Lutheran congregations are administering the Lord's Supper to children at ever earlier ages. The ELCA's "A Statement on Communion Practices" (II.A.2) had precluded infant communion. But the later "The Use of the Means of Grace," adopted by the Fifth Biennial Churchwide Assembly in 1997, opened a Pandora's box. It said that "mutual conversation" between the pastor, the child in question, and parents or sponsors should be involved to determine whether or not the child should be admitted to the Lord's Table. In Application 37c, it noted that "Ordinarily this beginning will occur only when children can eat and drink, and can start to respond to the gift of Christ in the Supper." The phraseology of "start to respond" is vague. What is meant by response?

St. Paul made it clear that a person must "examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). Self-examination entails that one can test to see if one's belief squares with what Paul taught about the Lord's Supper. Given the wondrous gift that is offered in the Lord's Supper, every Christian before going to the sacrament does well to ask himself: (1) have I confessed and repented of my sins?, (2) do I believe God's absolution?, (3) do I believe that I am receiving Christ's precious body and blood, under the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of my sins, (4) do I share in the same confession and unity as had all the saints before me and alongside me?, and finally, (5) will I seek to amend my sinful life?

Those questions would be a tall order for a toddler. But increasingly congregations are admitting toddlers to the Lord's Table. In one congregation a five-year-old went to the table twice because the supply pastor had only blessed him but had not given him the elements.

Several questions need to be asked: If we don't use St. Paul's standard for admission to the Sacrament of the Altar, then where do we get our standard? If as a parent it is my intuition that my four-year-old should receive the Lord's Supper, then how can I defend my intuition except by claiming that it is based on the guidance of the "spirit." But if one should trust such an intuition and not rely instead on God's firm word, then is not my standard nothing other than that of the Schwämerei? Would guidance of the Holy Spirit contradict those words of Paul that he inspired in the Scripture? There need be no debate about this. God's Spirit will never falsify what he has already written in the word.

Even worse, many congregations with an "open communion" policy unquestioningly and encouragingly admit the unbaptized to Lord's Table. How does that square with St. Paul's position as well as apostolic practice? Many congregations replicate the situation in the Book of Judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In light of toddler communion, it is ironic that many in our culture tend to make their toddlers older than what they actually are but their young adults younger than what they actually are.

While it is true that no one can fully comprehend the mystery of Christ's real presence in the Supper, that is no reason to dumb down those admitted. If anything, it is a basis to be far more cautious about admission to the Lord's Table.

 

Mark Mattes is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

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