Truly Worthy and Well Prepared:
A Reexamination of Infant Communion
in Light of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions
with A Brief Historical Introduction
by The Rev. Scott M. Marincic
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins . . . .
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times [emphasis added].
C. F. W. Walther, Law and Gospel
✠ ✠ ✠
While C. F. W. Walther’s writings are neither Scripture nor confessional, they provide an interesting starting point for a confessional Lutheran who faces the question of admission to the Lord’s Supper and the baptized infant’s place there. To be honest, I have to accuse us of not listening to Walther and the rest of our theology, especially our sacramental and pastoral theology, when it comes to our ban of infants from the Supper of their Father. We say that they are children of God through Baptism, having faith and therefore certainly being repentant. And yet, when it comes to the Sacrament of the Altar, we have no gospel words to speak to them; only words of law. We defend ourselves the way fundamentalists defend their denying infants baptism, with one verse of law and a mountain of rationalization and pseudo-logic. But after all our fluster and bluster, we still end up saying that until they have reached an age of accountability or some level of intellectual achievement, their faith is inferior, and they are to be denied the sweet gospel comfort of the Supper. They are not quite coheirs with us of our Lord’s testament. Their faith is not ‘conscious’ enough for us, even though our Lord warns us that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of God.
But if our baptized infants are truly to be counted among the faithful, then they are also among those “who are already in terror on account of their sins.” They are penitent and believing. They are not to have the law and its accusations preached to them. They are not to be denied the absolution, but rather given its comfort and strength. The Augsburg Confession says,
True repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.
If we believe our theology of Baptism, then we believe that this is the condition of the baptized infant.
And yet we continue to speak law to these terrified but believing hearts, because we hear the words we have spoken for centuries; the words summed up in the explanation of the Catechism, “Who must not be given the Sacrament? Those who are unable to examine themselves, such as infants, . . . 1 Cor. 11:28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” The unspoken syllogism here needs to be challenged. Yes, a man must examine himself. This premise is undeniable, for it is inspired. But the second premise, that the infant cannot examine himself, is neither inspired nor is it based on a thorough study of Scripture and the Confessions. It is an assumption: a legalistic, tradition-shaped assumption, which needs to be reexamined and replaced with the true premise found in the Scriptures and the Confessions. In both Scripture and the Confessions examining oneself is not an act of intellect, but an act of repentance, and therefore an act that God is quite capable of bringing about within the baptized infant. Indeed it is an act He has already brought about and has promised to sustain.
A Historical Introduction
Greater minds than the current author’s have dealt with this issue far longer and far better, especially in regard to the history of communing infants within the Church. Bibliographical information on historical sources are included at the paper’s end, but special note should be made here of the work of David R. Holeton of the Anglican Church in Canada. Not only does he note the Eastern Church’s consistent communing of baptized infants from the beginning until now, but he carries the Western history of infant communion through from the early Church, including Augustine and Cyprian, to the Hussites in Bohemia, and up to the modern revival of the practice in the West.
The following is a brief history of the Western Church’s receiving of infants at the Supper, relying upon Holeton and others. This is to establish that it is not some cock-eyed notion, but a theology with a long history, deserving serious consideration. Further reading of better histories is encouraged.
The Early Church
It would be a lot easier if there were one clear Bible verse, or direct evidence of infant communion among the apostolic Church. This lack of direct evidence is often used as an argument against receiving baptized infants to the Supper of their Lord. Holeton rightly points out that direct evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic times is also lacking. Nevertheless, among confessional Lutherans there is no doubt that infants were baptized. And so the lack of direct evidence for infant communion in apostolic times cannot be used among us as proof of anything.
What can be used is the witness of the Fathers and the ancient liturgies. In these we have testimony regarding the place of the baptized at the Lord’s Supper, age not withstanding. Early baptismal liturgies had a threefold structure: baptism, anointing/confirmation, and the Lord’s Supper. The three were always linked, as seen in examples such as the Didache and the First Apology of Justin Martyr. Likewise Cyprian in his letter to Januarlius and in De Lapsis 9 links the Eucharist to Baptism as well as to little children. Pearcy also notes, “In the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, it is obvious that infants participate in an initiation rite which appears to be addressed to adults. The instructions direct children to answer for themselves if possible, and through a parent or other family member if they cannot.” John the Deacon in his letter to Senarius writes, “all these things [of the rite of initiation] are done even to infants, who by reason of their youth understand nothing.”
Among the early Church Fathers the name which perhaps carries most weight for Lutherans is Augustine, for Luther cherished and frequently quoted his writings. Augustine treats infant baptism and infant communion as essentially one issue in his A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants. To Augustine, to belong to the kingdom of God is to belong to the kingdom of God, and have all its benefits. He says,
Hence also that other statement: ‘The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; while he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him’ [John 3:35,36]. Now in which of these classes must we place infants—amongst those who believe on the Son, or amongst those who believe not the Son? In neither, say some, because, as they are not yet able to believe, so must they not be deemed unbelievers. This, however, the rule of the Church does not indicate, for it joins the baptized infants to the number of the faithful.
On the basis of John 3 Augustine rejects the idea of any third category. There are only two categories: believers and unbelievers.
It is with Augustine’s insistence on only two categories that we also read him saying:
Let us now listen to the Lord, and not to men’s notions and conjectures; let us, I say, hear what the Lord says—not indeed concerning the sacrament of the laver [Baptism], but concerning the sacrament of His own holy table, to which none but a baptized person has a right to approach: “Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye shall have no life in you.” What do we want more? What answer to this can be adduced, unless it be by that obstinacy which ever resists the constancy of manifest truth?
Will, however, any man be so bold as to say that this statement has no relation to infants, and that they can have life in them without partaking of His body and blood—on the ground that He does not say, Except one eat, but “Except ye eat;” as if He were addressing those who were able to hear and to understand, which of course infants cannot do? But he who says this is inattentive; because unless all are embraced in the statement, that without the body and blood of the Son of man men cannot have life, it is to no purpose that even the elder age is solicitous of it. . . . From all this it follows, that even for the life of infants was His flesh given, which He gave for the life of the world; and that even they will not have life if they eat not the flesh of the Son of man.
Augustine argues that the sacramental eating of Christ’s body and blood are necessary for eternal life, no matter who one may be. If the sacrament is not necessary for children, then it isn’t necessary for anybody, and Christ’s words in John 6 are nonsense and untrue. While most Lutherans would argue that John 6 is not sacramental, it is clear that Augustine and the early Church considered them to be as sacramental as the words of John 3, which Lutherans do recognize as sacramental. The line of reasoning is that the sacraments are for the faithful, and no one who is faithful is to deprive himself of, nor be deprived of, the sacraments. Contrary to excluding infants because of deficiencies in their faith, Augustine would include them because of their superiority in faith, as Holeton puts it:
It is here, however that Augustine does what we would not necessarily expect, he makes the infant the model of the perfect subject for the sacraments. This is in part because the infant images the total helplessness of the human condition. The human creature must come to the Father with the same helpless abandon as the sucking infant does to his mother. Yet there is another dimension to Augustine’s use of the infant as the model of the perfect sacramental subject. It is that of the pre-rational, or the non-rational, as the ideal approach to the sacrament. The words with which Jesus reveals the mystery of the eucharist in John 6 are those of infants or the mad. To eat the sacrament is to become a child inwardly. In other words Augustine sees as ideal subjects for the sacraments the two categories of persons we have traditionally excluded: infants and the insane.
In the eastern Church this theology and practice has held sway even to this day, but not so in the West. Due to the love of authority and power, bishops in the West arrogated certain powers to themselves alone, and through a series of thoughtless changes ended up banning infants from communion without ever having that as a goal. Returning to Pearcy we hear:
The dismembering of the three-fold rite of initiation actually had nothing directly to do with the communion of children, but with the meaning and practice of the post-baptismal anointing and laying on of hands. The central issue was the insistence that only the bishop should anoint or confirm the newly baptized. Since it was only within the Western Church that bishops maintained this prerogative, it was only within the West that the rite of initiation broke down into separate elements. Even when anointing was delayed until a bishop arrived, infant communion remained unaffected. If no bishop was available, infants were communed immediately after their baptism and confirmed when a bishop was finally found.
Pearcy goes on to demonstrate that through a series of separate decisions over the years the age of confirmation was changed from a “no later than” to a “no earlier than” requirement, and that confirmation was required before one could be received at the altar. This, along with the withholding of the chalice, which had been the only element given to infants, deprived infants of communion not because they were considered unworthy, but because episcopal power had to be enhanced and protected.
It is very important to note that it was not until the cup was taken from the laity that infants were no longer communed in the West. The doctrine of concomittance, that the whole Christ is in the bread and the whole Christ is in the wine, was used to make infant communion easier. Thus they were given only the wine and not the bread, which was difficult to chew and swallow for the newborn. When the chalice was withheld from the laity, the infants were left without any sacrament, for no one thought to restore the host to them.
Holeton concurs and expands, saying the disappearance of infant communion
can be directly attributed to four factors: first, the separation of baptism from the eucharist; second, the separation of the chalice from the laity; third, the injunction against reservation under two kinds; and finally, the factor that makes all this possible, the loss of any sense among both religious and the laity that communion was a normal part of the mass.
Even still, “baptismal communion of infants remained normative in the Western church until the twelfth century.”
The Hussite Restoration
While the communing of infants disappeared in the West around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it did not remain lost. The Hussites of Bohemia, pre-Luther reformers who followed the teachings of Jan Hus, had a number of eucharistic reforms as a part of their theology and practice. Among these reforms were frequent lay communion, communion under both kinds, and the communing of all the baptized, including infants.
The theology and practice of the Hussites should be especially important to Lutherans, for Luther himself accepted the Roman charge that he was a Hussite, even though he had not known it. Also in his letter to Hausman in the year 1523, Luther wrote, “I cannot side with the Bohemians [Hussites] in distributing the Lord’s Supper to children, even though I would not call them heretics on that account.” So in 1523 Luther would not declare infant communion heresy, even though he felt uncomfortable with the practice. But in 1533 Luther seems to have progressed more along Hussite lines:
For, God be praised, in our churches we can show a Christian a true Christian mass according to the ordinance and institution of Christ, as well as according to the true intention of Christ and the church. There our pastor, bishop or minister in the pastoral office, rightly and honorably and publicly called, having been previously consecrated, anointed, and born in baptism as a priest of Christ, without regard to the private chrism, goes before the altar. Publicly and plainly he sings what Christ has ordained and instituted in the Lord’s Supper. He takes the bread and wine, gives thanks, distributes and gives them to the rest of us who are there and want to receive them, on the strength of the words of Christ: “This is My body, this is My blood. Do this,” etc. Particularly we who want to receive the sacrament kneel beside, behind, and around him, man, woman, young, old, master, servant, wife, maid, parents, and children, even as God brings us together there, all of us true, holy priests, sanctified by Christ’s blood, anointed by the Holy Spirit and consecrated in baptism [emphasis added].
This more Hussite Luther appears also in 1539 when he writes:
Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism. And here too you need not be disturbed if the pope does not say mass for you, does not consecrate, anoint, or vest you with a chasuble. Indeed, you may, like a patient in bed, receive this sacrament without wearing any garb, except that outward decency obliges you to be properly covered. Moreover, you need not ask whether you have a tonsure or are anointed. In addition, the question of whether you are male or female, young or old, need not be argued—just as little as it matters in baptism and the preached word. It is enough that you are consecrated and anointed with the sublime and holy chrism of God, with the word of God, with baptism, and also with this sacrament; then you are highly and gloriously enough and sufficiently vested with priestly garments [emphasis added].
Keeping in mind that Luther as early as 1523 would not declare infant communion heresy, and by 1533 and 1539 would even speak in favor of communing the baptized regardless of age, consider the Hussite history.
The Hussite eucharistic reforms had two stages. First came Jan Milic and Matthias of Janov introducing a practice and theology of frequent lay communion in the late fourteenth century. This laid the foundation for Jakoubek of Stribro and others in the early fifteenth century (1414-1419) to bring things to their natural conclusion with communion under both kinds for all the baptized.
Milic worked extensively in the red light district preaching repentance to prostitutes, and was blessed by God with many converts. Not only did he preach to them daily, but he communed them daily so that they would have in the body of Christ the strength needed to resist this world and its temptations and live the new and eschatological life in Christ. This was quite a deviation from practice at that time, which had most laity communing once a year at best.
Matthias of Janov was a member of the community Milic had formed, known as “Jerusalem”, and later formalized and fleshed out the theological considerations at work there. Matthias’ primary concern was for the “parvuli in Christo: the poor, the simple and the unlettered.” Matthias believed that all the baptized should be communed, but did not stress infant communion itself, just as he did not stress giving the cup to the laity. He seemed more concerned with breaking down the societal barriers and reenfranchising the poor and outcast, than with these other issues. But others would take the notion of the Supper being for all the baptized and bring it to fruition.
This happened in 1414 and the years following when Jakoubek of Stribro and others built on the foundations laid by Milic and Matthias. These men, who became known as Utraquists, insisted that the laity as well as the clergy should receive communion under both (utraque) kinds. Holeton describes Jakoubek’s coming to this position this way:
When, in 1415, Andrew of Brod asked Jakoubek of Stribro to explain what had caused him to restore the lay chalice Jakoubek replied that it was a “revelation”. By “revelation” Jakoubek carefully explains that he does not mean an independent piece of information received through some sort of heavenly intervention but rather a new insight suddenly gained after a long and serious study of Scripture, the Fathers and the Tradition of the Church. Jakoubek’s eyes are suddenly opened so that he can see what has always been there, yet never observed. The revelation, says Jakoubek, is an answer to the Psalmist’s prayer “Open thou mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of thy law” [Ps. 118/119:18].
While at this point Jakoubek does not deal directly with the infant communion issue, he does point out the parallel between John 3:5 (“No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”) and John 6:53,54 (“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”). These two similar phrases found in such close proximity within the same gospel must be understood in the same sense, that is, a sacramental sense. For if John 3 speaks of one sacrament, namely Baptism, then John 6 must be speaking of the other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. Let it be noted that Lutherans would agree whole heartedly with the exegesis of John 3. It is amazing that we hold out on John 6.
The step from frequent communion and the restoring of the chalice to the laity to the communing of all the baptized, including infants, was theologically small.
The key proof texts used to justify frequent communion, re-read and reiterated throughout the debate over the chalice served as the grist for the next ‘revelation’ when, two years later, in 1417, the practice of general communion [including infants and very young children] was restored. The scriptural core of evidence had not substantially grown; instead, the implications of the texts themselves only came to be understood gradually.
This gradual start led to a firm resolve, for by 1418 infant communion was the first of the 23 Hussite Articles and considered non-negotiable. The coupling of John 3 and 6, showing sacramental participation as necessary for kingdom life was applied to the infant and young child’s need for the life of Christ. I Corinthians 10:17 (“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”) demonstrated that to exclude the young baptized from the loaf was to exclude them from the body. Matthew 18:3 (“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”) and Luke 18:16-17 (“Let the little children come to Me . . . anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” See also Mt. 19:15) were used by the Hussites to reverse the argument to side in favor of communing infants and young children even more so than adults. The Hussites also used those texts in which God’s gifts are given to all His people, the young included. Joel 2:14-16, 19 speaks the Word of God, “Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at breast” so that God may bestow “grain offerings and drink offerings” and “grain, new wine and oil” (sacramental elements). Likewise Isaiah 49:22,23 and Jeremiah 16:5-7 were seen as putting infants and adults on equal standing in the eyes of God.
Patristic sources were also invoked by the Hussites, especially Pseudo-Dionysius, Cyprian and Augustine. Noteworthy is Pseudo-Dionysius’ comment that “there is no sacrament celebrated which does not have the reception of the eucharist as its completion.” The Letter to Fidus was also quoted as proof of infants under eight days old being baptized and communed.
Holeton sums up the Hussite theological position well when he writes:
Infants must receive communion at the time of their baptism. It is baptism which makes an infant capable of receiving the eucharist (capax eucharistiae) for in baptism a child is purified from sin and is thus in a state of grace. Just as the newborn need physical nourishment, so too, insists Jakoubek, those who have been born again also must be nourished. If a child can receive the Holy Spirit in baptism why cannot he also receive Jesus Christ in the eucharist? After all Jesus said that those who wished to enter the kingdom must become like little children. How can those who are held up as model citizens of the kingdom be denied access to its banquet?
An important point to be made is that among the Hussites infant communion was not merely an academic debate among those who had too much time on their hands, but was primarily spread among the parish pastors and their flocks. It was very much a “grass roots” movement. If anything the universities had to catch up with the churches and their overseers. Two important names are Jan Zelivsky, and the Taborite Movement.
Zelivsky used the pulpit in the cause of regaining infants their place at the Supper, making at least ten references in three months during his sermons, including the comment that “It is not right to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,” would indicate that the bishops and not infants should be refused the Supper.
The Taborite Movement was a group of over 50,000 peasant men and their families who gathered around the priests who had been expelled for advocating communion in both kinds. They gathered on a mountain which they renamed Tabor to hear the Word of God and commune along with their children. They first met on Easter Day, 1419 and were ready to die rather than stop communing infants. In fact, a parish priest, his peasant followers and their children were all burned in July 1420 for refusing to recant. Even vernacular hymns touted the importance of infant communion:
You gave us his body to eat,
His holy blood to drink,
What more could he have done for us?
Let us not deny it to little children
Nor forbid them
When they eat Jesus’ body.
Of such is the kingdom of heaven
As Christ himself told us,
And holy David says also:
“From the mouths of small children
And of all innocent babes
Has come forth God’s praise
That the adversary may be cast down.”
Praise God, you children
You tiny babes,
For he will not drive you away,
But feed you on his holy body.
Theological Reflection in 17th Century England
While the English have less theological weight among Lutherans than Hussites do, and what started as a historical introduction is getting lengthy, the catholicity of infant communion deserves brief mention of the fact that English theologians also supported communing of all the baptized. Let a few good quotes suffice.
I saw Presbyteriall Brethren keep back half or three quarters of their Churches from the Lords Supper, and that for divers years together, yet did so constantly baptise their children, I thought with myself, where have these men a ground for this practice? . . . To baptize is to give Communion, ‘baptise into one body,’ then there is Communion given with the body, by an excommunicated person: is not this a contradiction? Communion is most properly seen in Baptisme and the Lords Supper.
As Believers’ Baptism agreeth to particular churches, gathered out of the world by the Word, so doth infant baptisme agree to the National Church, and Communion therein, . . . because by Baptisme they are immembered into the Church, and so capable of Church Communion; yea (‘tis their right) if their Baptisme be reckoned valid, because according to Scripture, Acts 2.45, all baptised persons were added to the Church, and continued in the Apostles’ fellowship, breaking bread and prayer: by what rule then can the Parishes be withdrawn from, when they are esteemed duly baptised persons, till legally proceeded against for disorderly walking?
If [children] being capable of the spiritual part, must intitle them to the outward signe, why then doe we not also admit them to the Sacrament of the Lords Supper, which is the seale of the Covenant of Grace, as well as the Sacrament of Baptisme? And this is urged, the rather because the Infants of the Jewes did eat of the Passover, as well as were circumcised, now if our Infants have every way as large a priviledge as the Infants of the Jewes had then we cannot deny them the same privilege which their Infants had.
All that are meet subjects for Baptism, are (after their Baptism, without any further inward qualification, at least without another species of faith) meet subjects for the Lords Supper.
Let an Infant Examine Himself: I Cor. 11:28
It is obvious that throughout her history, there have been many in the Church who both took Scripture seriously and communed infants and other young children. Half of the Church has practiced it for 2000 years now, and the other half practiced it for 1200 years and more in some areas. So about 80% of the Church up to this time has considered it a Scriptural and Christian practice. But we as Lutherans have remained in the minority along with Rome who first banned the infants from the Supper.
Why do we dismiss and even speak against a practice with such long and widespread standing? As mentioned at this paper’s beginning, the chief Lutheran bugaboo about infant communion—beside the fact that “we’ve never done it that way”—is the following syllogism:
• Premise: Communicants must be able to examine themselves. (I Corinthians 11:28,29)
• Premise: Infants cannot examine themselves. (No Scripture reference)
• Conclusion: Infants cannot commune.
As also mentioned above, I do not take issue with, but whole-heartedly agree with the first premise, for it is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. (That’s right, I am not a liberal higher critic trying to outmaneuver the Scriptures.) What I do take issue with is the second premise, for it is neither Scriptural nor Lutheran, despite the fact that many Lutherans have used it. Lutheran theology is theology in accord with the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, not any theology done by a Lutheran or a number of Lutherans. Therefore it is the intent of this portion of the paper to prove that infants can and do examine themselves in the Biblical and Confessional sense of the word dokimazein (to examine).
dokimazein in Scripture
Most of the reading I have done and of the conversations I have had on this issue have reflected no serious and thorough attempt on the part of others to develop a Scriptural and confessional meaning for dokimazein as Paul uses it in his injunction, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Those theologians who accept higher critical methods usually look only at the immediate context, or don’t take Paul’s words seriously. My brothers who take Scripture to be inspired and inerrant usually resort to telling me what they think examine must mean based on its usage in modern American English. None of these approaches is acceptable.
Dokimazein occurs 22 times within the New Testament in 20 distinct passages. These passages are listed in their fullness in the appendix. The New King James Version uses the following seven translations for this single word:
• test (9 times),
• approve (5 times),
• prove (2 times),
• examine (2 times),
• discern (2 times),
• like (1 time),
• finding out what is acceptable (1 time).
Needless to say, dokimazein is not a concept which is easily synonymous with any modern American English word. Therefore, spouting “what dokimazein means to me” is to do bad theology.
Going over the passages using dokimazein we see that the examination or testing involved can cover anything, including: the face of the sky and earth; this time; oxen; God; the Law; man’s works; oneself; one chosen for a task; sincerity of love; diligence; one’s faith or lack thereof; gospel preachers; deacons; and the spirits. This wide array of objects for the verb would indicate a general meaning, rather than a narrow, specialized meaning.
When one takes in all the different uses of dokimazein the following definition seems best: “to ascertain the worthiness, suitability or genuineness of a person or thing.” Dokimazein is always a pass/fail, + or – kind of test. It is not an evaluation of something along a scale, but a determination: is it or is it not worthy, suitable or genuine. To conduct a pregnancy test is dokimazein. Either you are or you aren’t. The weather is either good or bad. The time is either right or wrong. Oxen are either fit for plowing or not. God is either good or not. The Law is either right or wrong. My works are either sinful or holy. I am either in the faith or in unbelief. A man is either suitable or unsuitable for a task, or for preaching, or for the office of deacon. There is no middle ground with dokimazein. It never tests how much; only it is, or it is not.
To test the definition of dokimazein as “to ascertain the worthiness, suitability or genuineness of a person or thing” we need simply insert it into the verses where dokimazein occurs and see if we are doing justice to the text. Appendix A has all 22 passages with this definition inserted, and by looking there one can see the validity of this definition. I Corinthians 11:28 now reads, “But let a man ascertain himself worthy, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We have a more specific, biblical idea of what it means to examine oneself. One must test oneself, however that may be done, to see if one is worthy to commune.
It must be noted that dokimazein does not indicate any particular kind of testing. The type of test is determined by the object of the test and the characteristic being looked for. Oxen pass or fail due to a physical test. Men nominated for an office or task pass or fail on a test of intellect, faithfulness and other qualities. Faith is tested by the effect of the Gospel on a person. The range of testing techniques is limited only by the range of objects and characteristics to be tested. Some tests are very deliberate and involved, others are more automatic, even unthinking. When I step into the pool, I do not stop and contemplate the water temperature, reflecting on the sensation. If it is cold, I jump back immediately, as I would if I touched a hot stove. Both of these would qualify as dokimazein for in each case I ascertain the suitability of the object for contact with my skin. One is too cold, the other too hot. Taste is another area where we often ascertain suitability without much thought. “Yuck” comes out before any deep thought processes. What is attractive and what is ugly is also often an automatic test. A man’s head is turned by a pretty woman long before he has had the chance to think it through and remember his wife is with him. He examined the pretty face in an instant and found it acceptable for looking at, and in the next instant his wife examines him, finds his unfaithfulness unacceptable and gives him a smack. To say that someone must examine himself is not necessarily to say that he must conduct a conscious, intellectual, well thought, verbalized assessment of who he is. Dokimazein could be as simple as looking at yourself and saying, “Yuck,” and looking in faith at Christ with satisfaction.
So now we have to ask, What does Paul, and therefore God, mean in I Corinthians 11 where it says, “Let a man examine himself”? What kind of worthiness, suitability or genuineness are we looking for, and how is the test to be conducted?
Using the Scripture’s definition of dokimazein in context, we can begin our answer this way: God is commanding that a person ascertain whether or not he is worthy or suitable for the Sacrament. The word dokimazein in this context is limited by the result expected. When the man in the parable bought five yoke of oxen and went to examine them, we cannot conclude that he asked them 306 questions from the back of the catechism. Likewise in this case, the testing or examining required by God is defined in context as ascertaining fitness or worthiness for the Supper. God indicates here that some are worthy and some are not worthy to receive the Supper, and that one is to be found worthy and well prepared before communing.
Of what does true worthiness consist? “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” These words are repeated and elaborated by Luther in the Large Catechism:
It remains for us to consider who it is that receives this power and benefit. Briefly, as we said above concerning Baptism and in many other places, the answer is: It is he who believes what the words say and what they give, for they are not spoken or preached to stone and wood but to those who hear them, those to whom Christ says, ‘Take and eat,’ etc. . . . Whoever lets these words be addressed to him and believes that they are true has what the words declare.
So, when God says a man is to examine himself, God means a person must ascertain that he has been given faith by God and is kept in that faith. If the person is sure of God and the faith He gives, then that person has examined himself and is worthy. It is as Christ says in II Corinthians 13:5, “Test (peirazete) yourselves if you are in the faith, examine (dokimazete) yourselves.”
Certainly we would not deny that baptized infants have faith, else we would have to deny our whole baptismal theology and Scripture. Our Lord says in Matthew 18 that they believe: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” They have the exact same faith in the crucified and risen Christ that the rest of the Church has been given, for we believe that in the exact same way that the Holy Spirit has called, gathered and enlightened us, He has called, gathered and enlightened the whole Church, infants included, in the one true faith. There are not two Christian faiths—one for infants and one for adults. There is one Christian faith, and this Christian faith is the only Biblical and Confessional prerequisite for the Supper. If one is sure that Christ gives His body and blood for him, that Christ is his Savior, then one has a place at the Lord’s Table. This certainty is what God grants to even the smallest of His children.
If you doubt this, think again and repent of your arrogance. Why do I call you arrogant? Because if you think that somehow you are more capable of pleasing God with your ability to examine yourselves, that you are superior in holiness to these infants, then it is not them, but you who should do a better job of examining. Luther writes,
According to its substance, therefore, the mass is nothing but the aforesaid words of Christ: ‘Take and eat, etc.’ [Matt. 26:26], as if he were saying: ‘Behold, O sinful and condemned man, out of the pure and unmerited love with which I love you, and by the will of the Father of mercies [II Cor. 1:3], apart from any merit or desire of yours, I promise you in these words the forgiveness of all your sins and life everlasting.’
For us to claim that by reason of age and intellect we are somehow more capable of pleasing God is to deny that our only righteousness is that of Christ. It is to indulge in a form of Pelagianism , no matter how sincerely we believe that we are simply being faithful to the Word.
Hence, the only worthy preparation and proper observance is faith, the faith by which we believe in the mass, that is, in the divine promise. Whoever, therefore, desires to approach the altar or receive the sacrament, let him beware lest he appear empty-handed [Exod. 23:15; 34:20; Deut. 16:16] before the face of the Lord God. But he will be empty-handed unless he has faith in the mass, or this new testament. By what godless work could he sin more grievously against the truth of God, than by this unbelief of his? By it, as much as in him lies, he convicts God of being a liar and a maker of empty promises. The safest course, therefore, will be to go to the mass in the same spirit in which you would go to hear any other promise of God, that is, prepared not to do or contribute much yourself, but to believe and accept all that is promised you there [emphasis added].
Luther says that the same faith which hears any other promise of God is what is required for right reception of the Supper. Thus baptismal faith and eucharistic faith are not simply of the same cloth, but one and the same thing. There is no difference. Luther cannot say this enough. “There are but two things in the mass, the divine promise and the human faith, the latter accepting what the former promises.” The same human faith which grasped the promise at Baptism is all that God requires of those who would grasp the promise of the Supper. And even this is not Pelagianism, for this faith God requires is not what He requires man to give, but what He gives to man.
Some would argue that Luther has talked about “desiring” the sacrament and about believing the “words,” and that these require a faith which can desire and which can understand words.
As to the first objection, this is as silly as the Baptists who demand that we prove infant faith. Prove to me that infants do not desire what Christ offers in the sacrament, and then perhaps I will listen to you. As sure as the infant craves his mother’s milk without any comprehension of what it is except that it is from his loving mother, tastes good and satisfies his needs, so also must the baptized infant crave his Father’s table without any comprehension of what it is except that it is from his loving Father, tastes good and satisfies his need. And if there is truly doubt as to whether the infant desires the Supper or not, then err on the side of grace and give it to him. If he does not desire it, or is no longer in the faith God gave him, then he is no more damned than otherwise. We shall not doubly damn him. If, as we have every right to suppose, he is like all the rest of those who are in the faith, and he desires good gifts from his Father, then we should not deprive him.
As to the second objection, that because they cannot understand the words of institution, they cannot believe them, again I cry, “Baptists!” If one cannot believe the promises of God in the sacrament without intellectual capacity, then we baptize infants in vain. But this is not Lutheran, that is, not Christian, no matter how many of us have been fooled by such sophistry. The infant believes the promise of God in Baptism. He believes the word spoken over him, for it is not the water he believes, or the sponsors or the parents or the pastor he believes, and it is not them who believe for him, but it is that infant who believes those words and what they promise. The Supper is the same. To insist upon a different faith, a faith wherein the communicant cooperates in his salvation by examining himself in some way besides repentant faith, is Pelagian nonsense.
That the examination God requires is nothing more than that a person be sure of Christ, that is, be in the faith, is further proved from its opposite, as presented by our Lord within the context of I Corinthians 11. Just as what we believe, teach and confess is defined also by what we reject, so what it means for a man to examine himself is defined by what it means for a man not to examine himself.
In I Corinthians 11 the Corinthians are being chastised for abusing the Lord’s Supper. The abuse is that they have turned it into a self-indulgent and cliquish party and not a holy sacrament. Excluding others and getting drunk and gorged reveals an impenitence that makes them unworthy recipients of the Supper. It is to counter this unrepentance that God’s injunction to examine oneself is given. God does not chastise the Corinthians for their lack of knowledge about the Supper or the rest of the faith. He chastises them for their self-centered impenitence in which each person put himself above his fellows and his Lord’s words. Likewise God does not tell them to learn more, but to turn from sin and back to the grace of God. God encourages the Corinthians to judge themselves, that is accuse themselves of sin and repent, so that they will not face God’s judgment. The penitent are to eat, the impenitent are to repent before eating.
With a Scriptural understanding of dokimazein, a proper context for I Corinthians 11, and logic and grammar in place, we can see that the traditional syllogism must be replaced with the following, Scriptural syllogism:
• Premise: Communicants must ascertain that they are worthy to commune, that is, that they have repentant faith. (I Corinthians 11:28,29)
• Premise: Infants have been given repentant faith by Christ in Baptism and are sure of His salvation. (Matthew 18:6 et al.)
• Conclusion: Infants can commune.
There is no indication from the text that dokimazein must be intellectual or verbal or somehow deeper than the simple awareness that one is indeed a child of God who, though sinful, is declared holy. Faith ascertains itself when present, and faith is what makes one worthy. And in this regard children are not our inferiors (except that their sin is less talented than ours), but actually our superiors. Christ says that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of God; and Luther writes,
But Satan, though he could not quench the power of baptism in little children, nevertheless succeeded in quenching it in all adults, so that now there are scarcely any who call to mind their own baptism, and still fewer who glory in it; so many other ways have been discovered for remitting sins and getting into heaven.
Luther was complaining about all the indulgences and vows and so on that Rome had placed between the penitent and God’s grace in the Supper. But is not turning dokimazein into more than simple repentance doing the same? How can dokimazein be something the baptized infants are incapable of when Luther says,
When we rise from our sins or repent, we are merely returning to the power and the faith of baptism from which we fell, and finding our way back to the promise then made to us, which we deserted when we sinned. For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, always ready to receive us back with open arms when we return. And this, if I mistake not, is what they mean when they say, though obscurely, that baptism is the first sacrament and the foundation of all the others, without which none of the others can be received.
To move past our baptism onto so called examining is folly when our Lord would have us always returning to our Baptism. And to say that we have somehow surpassed the infant and are in a greater capacity to receive the Supper is folly, arrogance, and Pelagianism. If we are to return to our Baptism before eating, then those who have not yet left it should not be pushed aside and banned from the Supper.
The Lutheran Confessions, Examining, and Admission to the Supper
While dokimazein is not used in the Lutheran Confessions, and I Corinthians 11:28 is used only twice , there is much regarding admission to the Supper, and the worthiness or preparation required.
Warning! Many Lutherans will be uncomfortable with what I am about to quote from the Confessions, for—I will say it boldly and plainly—the theology of the Confessions supports the admission of baptized infants to the Supper and rejects the contrary theology.
We Believe, Teach, and Confess Only One Kind of Unworthy Guest
As proof for my bold assertion I bring into evidence the three chief passages from the Confessions which set forth the true Lutheran teaching on this matter, and which speak against the traditional Lutheran practice.
The Formula of Concord, Epitome, speaks these words:
8. We believe, teach, and confess that there is only one kind of unworthy guest, namely, those who do not believe. Of such it is written, “He who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). The unworthy use of the holy sacrament increases, magnifies, and aggravates this condemnation (I Cor. 11:27,29).
9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ has instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in the faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.
10. We believe, teach, and confess that the entire worthiness of the guests at this heavenly feast is and consists solely and alone in the most holy obedience and complete merit of Christ, which we make our own through genuine faith and of which we are assured through the sacrament. Worthiness consists not at all in our own virtues or in our internal and external preparations.
On the other side, we unanimously reject and condemn all the following errors, which are contrary to the doctrine set forth above and to our simple faith and confession about Christ’s Supper: . . .
17. That the worthiness of the guests at this heavenly meal does not consist only in true faith in Christ, but also depends on people’s outward preparation.
18. That genuine believers, who have a genuine and living faith in Christ, can also receive this sacrament to their condemnation because they are still imperfect in their external behavior [emphasis added].
I warned you that this might be painful. Here the Confessions clearly and unequivocally state that the Lutheran teaching on this matter is that there is no preparation or requirement for the Lord’s Supper outside of faith in Christ. To teach otherwise is rejected as Romanist heresy.
The Solid Declaration only asserts this truth all the more boldly:
It is essential to explain with great diligence who the unworthy guests at this 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 of Christ.
True and worthy communicants on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience. This most venerable sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Likewise, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Likewise, “The power of God is made perfect in weakness.” Likewise, “As for a man who is weak in faith, welcome him, for God has welcomed him” (Rom. 14:1,3). For whoever believes on the Son of God, be his faith strong or weak, has eternal life (John 3:16). And worthiness does not consist in the weakness or certainty of faith, be it greater or smaller, but solely in the merits of Christ, of which the distressed father of weak faith (Mark 9:24) partook no less than Abraham, Paul, and others who had cheerful and strong faith. . . .
13. We also reject the doctrine that worthiness does not consist in true faith alone but also in a man’s own preparation.
14. Likewise, the teaching that even true believers who have and retain a true, genuine, living faith, but who fail to meet their own self-devised standard of preparation, may receive this sacrament for judgment, just like unworthy guests [emphasis added].
It is clear that the truly Lutheran position on this matter is that those who have repentant faith are worthy to receive the sacrament without any other preparation, such as the traditional “examination.” It is the biblical examination, the ascertaining of repentant faith, that is required and nothing more. To set forth intellectual or other human works as requirements is contrary not only to the sense of dokimazein but to the Lutheran confession of faith.
Of special interest is the portion of the Epitome which says,
8. We believe, teach, and confess that there is only one kind of unworthy guest, namely, those who do not believe. Of such it is written, ‘He who does not believe is condemned already’ (John 3:18). The unworthy use of the holy sacrament increases, magnifies, and aggravates this condemnation (I Cor. 11:27,29).
This supports what we learned from Scripture, that our Lord’s concern in I Corinthians 11 is nothing more than the presence of repentant faith. The one whom our Lord would exclude is not the uneducated or intellectually inferior, but the unrepentant. The unbeliever, not the believing infant, is the only unworthy guest.
At this point I need to set one thing straight. Despite what I am saying here, I do not accept open communion as Scriptural or confessional. The question of whether or not a person is worthy to commune, and the question of from whom the worthy should receive the sacrament are two entirely different questions. I deal with this in greater length in Appendix B. Suffice it to say at this point that I reject open communion and support as Biblical and confessional the doctrine and practice of closed communion. At the same time, I confess with Scripture and the Formula of Concord, that the unbeliever is the only unworthy guest.
This truth is reinforced in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XXII. There the Lutherans are arguing for communion under both kinds for the laity. They are, admittedly, not dealing directly with whether infants should commune or not, but rather with arguing that the wine should be given to the laity. But the truth that the laity should receive the sacrament in both kinds is only valid if the theological argument is valid. And if the theological argument is valid, then this section also makes infant communion the only Lutheran position. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Hear the Confessions themselves:
There can be no doubt that the use of both kinds in the Lord’s Supper is godly and in accord with the institution of Christ and the words of Paul. For Christ instituted both kinds, and he did not do so only for part of the church, but for all of the church. By divine authority and not by human authority, as we suppose our opponents admit, all of the church uses the sacrament, not only the priests. If Christ instituted it for all of the church, why is one kind taken away from part of the church and its use prohibited? Why is Christ’s ordinance changed, especially since he himself calls it his testament? . . . Later on he says, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” These are the words of him who instituted the sacrament; previously he had said that those who would use the Lord’s Supper should use it jointly. It is evident, therefore, that the entire sacrament was instituted for the whole church.
“For the whole church!” The line of reasoning is clear. The only reason to give the cup to the laity is that Christ, by divine authority, has given the whole sacrament to the whole Church. And so let me ask, If Christ instituted it for all of the church, why are both kinds taken away from the infant part of the church and their use prohibited? Why is Christ’s ordinance changed?
It is important to note here that withholding the cup from the laity took communion from infants in the West in the first place. How appropriate that in arguing for restoring the cup to the laity the Confessions give the very rationale for restoring it to the infant believers as well: that the whole sacrament belongs to the whole Church — all who have faith in Christ. This truth is even deemed “evident” by the Apology.
A True Lutheran Examination
The standard “Lutheran” rebuff will undoubtedly be spoken here: But certainly this pertains only to those who can examine themselves. And I will again say, “I agree! That is why it applies to baptized infants.” I know that it will not be enough to satisfy people to simply show what dokimazein means in Scripture. I must show that the confessions have the same concept in mind as Scripture does. And that is what follows.
The word “examine” occurs frequently in the Confessions, but there are only twelve uses that are pertinent to our discussion. One time it is used for intellectual examination, to see what one has learned. Eleven times it is used in connection with absolution, that is, that a man is to be examined and absolved.
The preface to the Large Catechism is the only use of examine which seems at first to contradict the position taken in this paper, and so I shall deal with it first. It reads as follows:
This sermon has been undertaken for the instruction of children and uneducated people. Hence from ancient times it has been called, in Greek, a “catechism”—that is, instruction for children. Its contents represent the minimum knowledge required of a Christian. Whoever does not possess it should not be reckoned among Christians nor admitted to a sacrament, just as a craftsman who does not know the rules or practices of his craft is rejected and considered incompetent. For this reason young people should be thoroughly instructed in the various parts of the Catechism or children’s sermons and diligently drilled in their practice.
Therefore, it is the duty of every head of a household to examine his children and servants at least once a week and ascertain what they have learned of it, and if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it. . . . As for the common people, however, we should be satisfied if they learn the three parts which have been the heritage of Christendom from ancient times [the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer].
There you have it, Marincic! The confessions insist that those who do not have a set amount of knowledge are not to be admitted to the sacrament. Infants do not know their Catechism, so they are not to be admitted, and that is that. Now, stop troubling the Church.
I will admit defeat only if those who would argue this way are willing to declare that all baptized infants who supposedly do not know the Catechism are not Christians. For this is what you must declare if you are going to use this quote against me. Listen carefully to what Luther writes: “Whoever does not possess it should not be reckoned among Christians nor admitted to a sacrament.” You cannot refuse one admission to the sacrament on the basis of these words without also refusing them a part in the Church. And if you do that, then you have moved from justification by grace through faith to a belief in justification by the work of attaining knowledge. For here it is obvious that Luther is talking about those capable of learning. They are to be instructed in the faith, and if they refuse that instruction, if they despise preaching and the Word, then they are to be considered no Christians and refused the Supper. The issue is one of repentance, not knowledge.
Besides, who is to say that infants have not learned the three parts, that is, the commandments, creed and prayer. I would not argue a verbal comprehension here, but rather a theological comprehension through faith. For what is to know the commandments other than to see one’s sins in the law of God? What is it to know the creed other than to see God as Savior? What is prayer other than to put one’s hope in the God of salvation in time of need? And these three things the infant has been given by God in Baptism. He has been made aware of his sin, aware of his saving God and aware of his dependence on that God, for he has been given repentant faith. This would be in agreement with what the Scripture requires of a man before communing, and in accord with the Catechism itself later when it says,
We must make a distinction among men. Those who are shameless and unruly must be told to stay away, for they are not fit to receive the forgiveness of sins since they do not desire it and do not want to be good. The others, who are not so callous and dissolute but would like to be good, should not absent themselves, even though in other respects they are weak and frail.
The weakness and frailty of their intellect should not keep the repentant from the Supper. The baptized infant knows the three chief parts, for he knows the law, the gospel and the communication with his Father that are the birthright of every Christian, and without which it can truly be said one is not a Christian.
This is not simply my thought. In reading I found that Luther shared this thought. He writes:
Now we must continue to make confession as long as we live, always saying: “Lord, before thee I am a knave in the skin.” A distinction must be made, however; for even a knave and un-Christian person can say this, but he is certainly lying. No one but a true Christian says it from his heart, as Ps. 32 [:5-6] says: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to thee at an opportune time.” All the godly, as many as there are of them, have this virtue in them, that they confess their sins to God and therefore pray [emphasis added].
In that all the baptized are godly, they know the Creed. In that they confess, they know the Ten Commandments. In that they pray, they know the Lord’s Prayer.
It is with this in mind that we can hear the other uses of “examine”, that is, those where it is tied not to intellect, but to absolution.
The Augsburg Confession states,
Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. The custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not been previously examined and absolved. At the same time the people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution so that they may esteem absolution as a great and precious thing.
Instead of a routine, meaningless act, as it had become in the Roman Church, the sacrament was a true means of grace among the Lutherans. Thus there was to be confession and absolution, or examination and absolution, before one would partake of the Supper. And what was the purpose of this? To exclude those who did not confess well enough? No, rather so that there might be opportunity to comfort with the gospel. The purpose is not to demand confession or examination from the one who would commune, but to make sure that the gospel nature of the sacrament, the full forgiveness which is theirs, is made as clear as possible to them. This is done not in the interest of the Law, but in the interest of the Gospel.
This point cannot be made too strongly in this day of new Pelagianism and Romanizing of the sacrament. The Roman Church had done a wonderful job of setting up barriers between people and the Supper, and of turning the Supper into a work instead of a gift. The Confessions’ references to the Supper and the need to be examined and absolved are for the most part countering the Romanist view, not any licentiousness. The injunctions in regard to examination, or confession, and absolution must be seen in the light of the Lutherans’ desire to restore the Gospel to the sacrament, not to enforce the Law.
Now, also in the interest of the Gospel, it should be pointed out that all the baptized, infants included, have been examined and absolved, and even instructed—as is included elsewhere—in Baptism itself. The child is examined, that is, led to confess his sinfulness, when asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” The child answers within, “I do renounce them.” If you deny that the infant has confessed his sinfulness, then you deny him repentance, and you declare him an unbeliever. The child is absolved both in being marked by the cross as one redeemed, and in being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The child is instructed by the assembly as they speak the creed, as well as by the pastor in the Scripture readings. Thus within Baptism and the rites accompanying it we satisfy the confessional concern found in the Apology XV, “Every Lord’s Day many in our circles use the Lord’s Supper, but only after they have been instructed, examined, and absolved.” For in the Baptism they have been taught the Law of God and learned their sin, they have been taught the creed and learned God’s grace, and they have been taught to call upon God, “Our Father”, and in the teaching of our Lord they have been brought to confess and been given the absolution.
The rest of the uses of examine are in this same vein: that to examine is to confess one’s sinfulness, that is, to repent. The nature of examination and absolution are beautifully spelled out in the Apology:
If the use of the sacrament were the daily sacrifice, we could lay more claim to observing it than our opponents because in their churches mercenary priests use the sacrament. In our churches the use is more frequent and more devout. It is the people who use it, and this only when they have been instructed and examined. [And what does this mean? It means] They are instructed about the proper uses of the sacrament as a seal and witness to the free forgiveness of sins and as an admonition to timid consciences really to trust and believe that their sins are freely forgiven.
Instruction and examination are not obstacles to be placed before a person which they are required to overcome before receiving the Supper. Rather they are acts required of the pastor so that his people might more readily receive and take heart in the sacrament. The Roman priest cared nothing for the souls of others, but held the Supper by himself and for himself. On the other hand, the Lutheran pastor gave the Supper to his flock, and as much as possible preached on the benefits of that Supper, so that both through the receiving and through the hearing they might be blessed. To turn the Confessions’ concern with absolution and the care for souls into a requirement laid down for those who would receive the Supper is to distort the words of the Confessions.
The Smalcald Articles reinforce the truth that examination and absolution are required of the pastor for the sake of his people and not required of the believer before being granted forgiveness:
Since absolution or the power of the keys, which was instituted by Christ in the Gospel, is a consolation and help against sin and a bad conscience, confession and absolution should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church, especially for the sake of timid consciences and for the sake of untrained young people who need to be examined and instructed in Christian doctrine.
Why must they be examined and instructed? Not so that they are worthy to commune, but rather for the sake of their consciences, so that they may find comfort in the Gospel.
Thus we see that the Confessions use the word examine in essentially the same way Scripture uses it in I Corinthians 11 in regard to repentance. As the Large Catechism puts it when discussing “and forgive us our trespasses,” “This should serve God’s purpose to break our pride and keep us humble. He has reserved to Himself this prerogative, that if anybody boasts of his goodness and despises others, he should examine himself in the light of this petition.” The repentance of which these words speak is a repentance given in Baptism, even to the smallest of infants.
Before leaving the Confessions to look at other Lutheran sources it is good to see what the section of the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper says about examination. For here we are encouraged three times to examine ourselves, but the concern is not in keeping some away from the sacrament, but with getting people to stop staying away from the sacrament. Luther chastises as unchristian any long absence from the sacrament:
Thus you see that we are not granted liberty to despise the sacrament. When a person, with nothing to hinder him, lets a long period of time elapse without ever desiring the sacrament, I call that despising it. If you want such liberty, you may just as well take the further liberty not to be a Christian; then you need not believe or pray, for the one is just as much Christ’s commandment as the other. But if you wish to be a Christian, you must from time to time satisfy and obey this commandment. For this commandment should ever move you to examine your inner life and reflect: “See what sort of Christian I am! If I were one, I would surely have at least a little longing to do what my Lord has commanded me to do.
To keep baptized children of God away from the sacrament for 14 years is to teach them to despise the sacrament. For Luther tells us that any Christian has at least a little longing to eat the Supper, for faith brings about this longing. And faith which longs for the Supper of our Lord is what baptized infants have.
But the Catechism goes on:
It is certainly true, as I have found in my own experience, and as everyone will find in his own case, that if a person stays away from the sacrament, day by day he will become more and more callous and cold, and eventually spurn it altogether. To avoid this, we must examine our heart and conscience and act like a person who really desires to be right with God. The more we do this, the more will our heart be warmed and kindled, and it will not grow entirely cold.
The infants we keep from the sacrament have their hearts grow colder day by day. This is evident in our churches by the fact that within a week or a few weeks of their confirmation the youth are not back for the Lord’s Supper. We spent fourteen years freezing their hearts, teaching them to spurn the Supper as unnecessary. And they learn the lesson well. It is the freshly warmed heart of the baptized which should be given the Supper right away so as to keep it warm in faith. For that heart looks at itself, examines itself, and finds itself sinful, and clings to the merciful God who just adopted and justified it. As the newborn seeks its mother’s milk, so the newly baptized seeks its Father’s Supper.
Lutherans Outside the Confessions
I consider the point at stake won on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions properly and contextually understood. But because tradition is so strong, and so long rooted, in opposition to the communing of infants, I want to take a brief look at some statements made in the past among Lutherans, primarily to point out how the doctrine that true preparation for the Sacrament consists only in repentant faith is extolled even when the wrong view of infant communion was espoused. In other words, even though Lutherans have often held onto their views that infants are not fit for the Supper, it has been a theological inconsistency.
Philip Melanchthon in his Loci Communes deals with I Corinthians 11:27-29 in the following fashion:
And there is another evil against which we must contend with care and sternness, so that the unwary do not partake while in the midst of manifest vices and attend Communion without repentance. . . . Furthermore, it is manifest that in this area we must repeatedly teach that the eating is of no benefit to those who are not repentant and continue in their sins against conscience, as Paul clearly affirms [I Cor. 11:27], “He who eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Also these who do not have the fear of God and faith, or repentance and faith, and knowingly persevere in sins contrary to conscience, are unworthy to eat. . . . This same action indeed speaks of both repentance and faith [emphasis added].
Melanchthon does not bring up any concept of intellectual or verbal examination. It is simply repentant faith versus impenitent unbelief.
For those who are suspect of anything Philippist, we also have Chemnitz, the second Martin. In interpreting I Cor. 11:29 in his The Lord’s Supper Chemnitz writes:
He [Paul] has already explained in the preceding verses what it means to eat unworthily. But why and how can it be that men are not afraid to approach this holy table of the Lord with such security, ignorance, frivolity, temerity, and impurity as to eat this Supper unworthily?
Chemnitz points out that the unworthy eating is defined by the verses previous to I Corinthians 11:27, the verses in which their unrepentant behavior is detailed. He does not yet point us ahead to the statement regarding the discerning of the body. The essence of unworthy eating is unrepentant eating. But how is it that the Corinthians have come to such unrepentant eating? Chemnitz responds:
Paul answers that it happens because they do not distinguish or discern the Lord’s body. . . . He requires this kind of discrimination, so that we might discern the bread of this Supper, distinguish it from other bread, acknowledge His true honor, and in accordance with His Word attribute to Him by our discernment the preeminence which is due Him.
There is a temptation at this point to use Chemnitz as support for the need for intellectual discernment. But the force of Chemnitz’s argument is not intellectual, but penitential. Those who do not discern the body are guilty because they do not honor the Lord. By treating Him as common, even though they have been taught better, they insult Him and reveal their unrepentance. That Chemnitz is speaking to impenitent disregard for the real presence and not to the Christian whose knowledge is simply deficient is brought out when he says:
Surely on the basis of this statement the frivolity, brashness, security, and impudence of the human mind, which plays and cogitates on the various interpretations of these words, ought to be struck down as by a thunderbolt. For it is horrible to fall under the guilt of divine judgment because of not discerning the Lord’s body.
Read entirely within their logical context, Chemnitz’s words reinforce the Scriptural and Confessional doctrine that repentant faith, sealed in Baptism is the only prerequisite for the Supper.
This concern for repentance is echoed by Chemnitz in his Enchiridion. There we have,
What, then, is the true and salutary use of the Lord’s Supper? When the ordinance and command of Christ are observed, namely that we eat His body and drink His blood, and do that in remembrance of Him, that is, with a penitent heart and in true faith” [emphasis added].
In listing the benefits of the Supper Chemnitz writes:
Since nothing good, but only sin, dwells in our flesh, whence extremely many evil fruits continually sprout and come forth, therefore Christ, in His Supper, offers us His most holy body and blood, so that, engrafted by this communion as branches in Him who is the true vine, we might draw thence new, good, and spiritual sap. Thus we are also joined most closely by this communion with other Christians as members of the one body of Christ (I Co 10:17), so that mutual love toward the neighbor is enkindled, increased and preserved in us.
The need for the Supper is just as great for the infant, and his engrafting to the true vine and to his fellow Christians is just as real.
But most convincingly from this work of Chemnitz is where he writes on worthiness and unworthiness:
Who, then, are they that eat and drink unworthily in the Lord’s Supper, so that we might learn to guard the more carefully against that unworthiness?
That unworthiness does not consist in this, that we miserable sinners are unworthy of that heavenly food. For that food is prepared and intended especially for sinners. But the following are they that eat unworthily, as one can very clearly gather from Paul, I Cor 11:
I. They that do not discern the body of the Lord, that is [they] that do not hold that the very sacred food of this Supper is the body and blood of Christ, but handle and use it with no greater reverence and devotion than other common foods.
I want to quote more from Chemnitz in a moment, but first a need for comment. As we interpret Chemnitz here we must either reject what he says as unconfessional, or we must square it with what the Catechisms and the Formula of Concord say regarding worthiness. If Chemnitz is to be accepted, then these statements must concur with the Confessions which state that unworthiness is nothing more than impenitence, and worthiness is nothing more than repentant faith.
With this in mind, either do not quote Chemnitz against me, or admit that the concern here is with the irreverence and lack of devotion of those who deny the real presence, not with the Christian who has never been taught the truth, or whose understanding is faulty. When Chemnitz says that those who do not discern the body are unworthy to commune, either he is wrong, or by those who do not discern he means the unbeliever, for the Formula of Concord binds us to confess, “We believe, teach, and confess that there is only one kind of unworthy guest, namely, those who do not believe.” I choose to accept Chemnitz and interpret his words as elaboration on forms of unbelief.
Chemnitz continues to elaborate on who is unworthy:
II. They that continue in sins without repentance and have and retain not the intent to lead a better life, but rather continue in sin, as Paul rebukes this very thing in some Corinthians. . . .
III. They that come to this Supper without true faith, namely they that either seek the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and eternal salvation elsewhere than alone in the merit of Christ, or who, steeped in Epicurean security, hunger and thirst, with no true desires, after righteousness, that is, the grace of God in Christ, reconciliation, and salvation. For he that does not believe will be condemned, though he uses the Word and the Sacraments.
Here again Chemnitz interprets I Corinthians 11 in terms of unrepentance, and ties the whole issue to that of repentant faith versus impenitent unbelief. This is further enforced when he writes:
But since life itself dwells in the body of Christ, what kind of cause of death can then exist for those that eat unworthily?
That does not result from this, that the Lord’s body per se is a deadly poison, but that they who eat unworthily sin against the body of Christ by Epicurean security and impenitence, and do it wrong by their unworthy eating, and, as it were, tread [it] underfoot.
That Chemnitz considers only the impenitent unworthy is reinforced by whom he considers worthy. This we find in his words on how one should examine himself:
How, then, should a man examine or look into himself, so that he might eat and drink worthily in the holy Supper?
This worthy eating does not consist in a man’s purity, holiness, or perfection. For they who are healthy do not need a doctor, but they who are not healthy (Mt 9:12). But, by way of contrast with the unworthy, one can understand very easily how that examination or exploration is to be undertaken, namely:
First, let the mind consider of what nature the act of this Supper is, who is present there, [and] what kind of food is offered and taken there, so that one might prepare himself with due humility and piety for its reception.
Second, let a man about to approach the Lord’s Table be endowed with the kind of heart that seriously acknowledges his sins and errors, and shudders at the wrath of God, and does not delight in sin, but is troubled and grieved [by it], and has the earnest purpose to amend [his life].
Third, that the mind sincerely give itself to this concern, that it might not perish in sins under the wrath of God, and therefore with ardent desire thirst for and long for the grace of God, so that by true faith in the obedience, passion, and death of Christ, that is, in the offering of [His] body and shedding of His blood it seek, beg, lay hold on and apply to itself the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment, but unto salvation [emphasis added].
What Chemnitz describes here is nothing more than the Catechisms and the Formula of Concord say: That one who knows repentance and faith is worthy to receive the Supper for salvation. For forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are the gifts of God to the baptized, and what God gives in Baptism He will not take away in the Supper.
John H. C. Fritz
The theological inconsistency we Lutherans are capable of in this matter is depicted well by Fritz, who in his Pastoral Theology confesses the right theology of what it means to examine oneself, but denies it to infants and others anyway. Fritz rightly defines self-examination as “knowledge of sin, true repentance, and a hearty desire to receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins.” As shown above, the baptized infant has all these. And yet Fritz incongruently states, “Accordingly the Sacrament shall not be given to children.”
Schuetze and Habeck
This theological aberration has been continued among even more recent confessional Lutherans. Schuetze and Habeck of the Wisconsin Synod are an example of the inconsistency. In defining what self-examination is they insist upon intellectual achievement: “Not all baptized Christians are able to examine themselves. Children do not have the maturity or understanding for such self-examination.” But when it comes to defining the opposite, those who cannot commune, Schuetze and Habeck have this to say,
Not all who are baptized and have the necessary maturity and understanding do in fact examine themselves in the sense of I Corinthians 11:28. Theirs is an unworthy eating and drinking, ‘not discerning the Lord’s body.’ They are ‘guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.’ Such a person ‘eats and drinks judgment on himself’ (I Cor. 11:29). This is impenitence. The impenitent eats and drinks unworthily.
Opposites must be true opposites. If impenitence is unworthy eating, then how can penitent eating by those who simply lack maturity and understanding be unworthy? If impenitence is unworthiness, then, as Scripture and the Confessions state, penitence is worthiness. Maturity and understanding are not mentioned in Scripture or the Confessions.
Always save the best for last.
We heard earlier this quote from Luther, indicating that repentance is simply a return to Baptism:
When we rise from our sins or repent, we are merely returning to the power and the faith of baptism from which we fell, and finding our way back to the promise then made to us, which we deserted when we sinned. For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, always ready to receive us back with open arms when we return. And this, if I mistake not, is what they mean when they say, though obscurely, that baptism is the first sacrament and the foundation of all the others, without which none of the others can be received.
This I would take as Luther’s explanation of what it means for a man to examine himself—to return to his Baptism. In fact later Luther writes:, “Therefore, whether by penance or by any other way, you can only return to the power of your baptism, and do again that which you were baptized to do and which your baptism signified.” Any kind of repentant examination is a remembering and going back to one’s Baptism and to the state one was in at that Baptism. It is not, as the pietists or rationalists would have us believe, a maturity or growth as a Christian; something for which we must strive.
Now, if repentance and repentant self-examination is nothing more than a return to Baptism, then we cannot deny that infants are capable of such repentant examination, for they have also been to Baptism, and keep returning to it throughout their early years—unless, of course, you are accusing them of departing from their Baptism and the faith.
Now, how are we to remember and return to our Baptism? Luther writes, “This can be done most fittingly in the sacrament of bread and wine. Indeed, in former times these three sacraments—penance, baptism, and the bread—were all celebrated at the same service, and each one supplemented the other.”
While it is quite evident that baptized infants are able to return to their Baptism, and therefore should commune as a way of returning to it, there are still Lutherans who want to require more from them. Infants must be capable of the work of examination which we have invented, they claim. To this I would quote Luther, whose words about the Romanist priests are appropriate to Lutheran pastors who would ban infants:
Thirdly, they deny the inheritance [in Christ’s testament], for they are not seeking the forgiveness of sins, as a free gift which Christ procured for us with his body and blood, but they want to earn and attain their own new kind of forgiveness of sins with their sacrifices and works. These holy ones must work so that they will not receive the grace and mercy of God as gifts. Beyond that, each one wants to prepare and make himself worthy of such a sacrament with many prayers, confessions and other works, so that he may be quite pure on arrival, with nothing left over to be forgiven. . . .
Fourthly, they also deny the heirs. For the heirs are only those who believe the testament. But the mass-priests make their own heirs, who rely on their own sacrifices and works, namely, those of restless and frightened conscience who not only do not believe but do not even know what they ought to believe. For they do not know that this is a promise and a testament which demands only faith, but they think that it is a sacrifice brought about by works. So you see that the papists are completely blinded and have no inkling of what the sacrament is, what fruits, benefits, and advantages it brings, or how it should be used [emphasis added].
To make self-examination anything more than repentant faith is to turn it into a work done by us, and to be as guilty as the papists of blindness.
For those still not convinced that examination is nothing more than faith, and that faith is insufficient, listen to this:
The saints are so wise through faith that they depend solely upon the mercy of God and regard their works as nothing; indeed, they confess from the bottom of their hearts that they are simply useless works and sins. This confession and humility prevents them from being destroyed in their sins, ignorance, and error; for God cannot abandon such humble persons, much less fail to be merciful to those who recognize their own nature.
Here Luther attributes wisdom not to age, but to faith. It is faith, and not our deeds or achievements, not our preparations, which make us subjects for the mercy of God. And since infants have such faith which makes them wise and humble, God cannot abandon them or fail to be merciful to them in the Supper.
The final and best quote from Luther on this subject, which shows that self-examination is indeed nothing more than the repentant faith of a thirsting soul is the following:
Now anyone who thinks he has this kind of hunger should see to it that he does not deceive himself. He should make sure that it is no mere desire of the human flesh that prompts him. He should examine his faith and determine whether it is genuine, as St. Paul admonishes in I Cor. 11 [:28]: “Let a man examine himself.” This examination, however, covers your whole life. You must find within yourself a smiting conscience which is weighed down with a sense of sin and longs for the grace of God, a conscience that stands in dread of death or hell and longs for strength, a conscience that seeks and takes the sacrament, firmly relying on Christ’s word, in order to receive such grace and strength and help. For as I have said, this sacrament requires a hungry, thirsty, oppressed, and anxious soul, that comes of its own accord, conscious of its own need and thirst, with utter confidence, and without regard to the pope’s laws or lawlessness. That is the proof of faith; it is an inward matter [emphasis added].
For Luther, as it is for Scripture and the Confessions, admission to the Supper is a matter of the conscience and soul, of repentant faith being present. It is not a matter of the mind, the intellect, nor of the capacity of speech, nor of maturity. One who knows his sin and trusts in Christ because of the work of God in Baptism has examined himself and has a place at the Lord’s Table.
In Whom I Am Well Pleased: I Cor. 11:29
Part 2 of the “Lutheran” bugaboo is a misunderstanding and misapplication of I Corinthians 11:29. Fears of encroaching Zwinglianism have led us to overstate and confuse the injunctions found here and fall back upon Romanist mistakes.
The New King James Version renders I Cor. 11:29 this way: “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” The participle “not discerning” has been generally interpreted causally by Lutherans: he eats and drinks judgment to himself because he does not discern the body. This was used to speak the law to the Zwinglians and other anti-Sacramentarians. But as convenient as that might be, it is an unnecessary tool against the Zwinglians and a misinterpretation of the passage.
A better way to interpret the participial phrase is as an attendant circumstance: “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself while also not discerning the worth and purpose of the body.” Rather than being the lack of discerning the body which causes the unworthy eating, it is the unworthy eating which causes the lack of discerning the body, that is, of discerning its value and purpose.
But before I can expect you to accept that, I need to cover some additional territory.
“To discern” or diakrinein is another one of those Greek words without one good English word for it. It appears 19 times in the following 18 passages: Mt. 16:3, 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, 11:2, 11:12, 15:9, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, I Cor. 4:7, 6:5, 11:29, 11:31, 14:29, Jam. 1:6 (2x), 2:4, Jude 9, 22. Diakrinein has a root meaning of “to judge.” This can be a neutral judgment or a judgment for or against. Thus diakrinein can mean to judge negatively, such as to doubt or to condemn or have misgivings about; or it can mean to judge positively, such as to commend or value or deem worthy.
I would argue that in I Corinthians Paul uses it only in a neutral or positive way, mostly in the positive way. He uses krinein for the more neutral uses and katakrinein for more negative uses.
In I Cor. 4:7 we have “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” We could translate it “For who judged you worthier or more important?” The judgment in question is the favorable judgment they had already passed on themselves.
In I Cor. 6:5 we read of the Corinthians going to court against one another, and we read these words: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” This is a more neutral use, but in context has a favorable flavor, for to have a brother settle it is a judgment which does the Church good, while to bring in the unbelievers brings no good judgment.
Skipping ahead to I Cor. 14:29: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” Here a better translation would be, “Let the others consider their preaching valuable.” The context is one where everyone wants to speak. Paul is encouraging them not to sit there and dissect those who preach and hope for an opportunity to shut them up and take the stand, but to listen and discern the value in the word preached to them. Diakrinein in this context means to judge valuable or worthy.
This is basically what dokimazein means. In fact, Mt. 16:3, the first use of diakrinein, is a parallel passage to Lk. 12:56, the first use of dokimazein. Matthew uses the one word, and Luke the other in quoting our Lord. Thus dokimazein and diakrinein, while having different connotations and meanings at times, share a meaning. And it is this meaning that we should take with us into I Cor. 11:29.
Realizing that diakrinein has a more positive meaning in I Corinthians, and one which fits in with dokimazein , we can go back to I Cor. 11:27-32 and get a more consistent translation as follows:
27. Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
28. Let a man ascertain himself worthy and thus let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup;
29. For whoever eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment on himself and does not judge the body worthy.
30. On account of this many among you are weak and a number are sick and asleep.
31. But if we judge (or find) ourselves worthy, then we will not be judged;
32. but if we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined in order that we may not be judged guilty with the world.
This takes away the lack of clarity in v. 29 because it is now seen as a reiteration and elucidation of v. 27. “For whoever eats and drinks unworthily” reiterates “Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily;” and “does not judge the body worthy” reiterates “is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” What is added is that whoever eats and drinks unworthily also “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What becomes clear is that the unworthy eating, the eating without repentant faith, causes the guilt of not discerning the Lord’s body as worthy, that is, of dishonoring it by not receiving it in faith.
Not only is this more accurate in the immediate and larger contexts, but it is a more confessional interpretation which also fits in better with the sum of Lutheran writings. The truth that faith is the only true worthiness is upheld, and the condemnations of the Formula of Concord are avoided. And for those who aren’t happy unless the Zwinglians are thrashed, the real presence is still strongly upheld by this translation and interpretation.
That this is more confessional can be seen from the quotes used previously, but also from the Confessions’ one use of discern in connection with the Lord’s Supper. In the Large Catechism, on the Lord’s Supper, we read:
So far we have treated the sacrament from the standpoint both of its essence and of its effect and benefit. It remains for us to consider who it is that receives this power and benefit. Briefly, as we said above concerning Baptism and in many other places, the answer is: It is he who believes what the words say and what they give, for they are not spoken or preached to stone or wood but to those who hear them, those to whom Christ says, “Take and eat,” etc. And because he offers and promises forgiveness of sins, it cannot be received except by faith This faith he himself demands in the Word when he says, “Given for you” and “poured out for you,” as if he said, “This is why I give it and bid you eat and drink, that you may take it as your own and enjoy it.” Whoever lets these words be addressed to him and believes that they are true has what the words declare. But he who does not believe has nothing, for he lets this gracious blessing be offered to him in vain and refuses to enjoy it. The treasure is opened and placed at everyone’s door, yes, upon everyone’s table, but it is also your responsibility to take it and confidently believe that it is just as the words tell you.
This, now, is the preparation required of a Christian for receiving this sacrament worthily. Since this treasure is fully offered in the words, it can be grasped and appropriated only by the heart. Such a gift and eternal treasure cannot be seized with the hand. Fasting and prayer and the like have their place as an external preparation and children’s exercise so that one’s body may behave properly and reverently toward the body and blood of Christ. But what is given in and with the sacrament cannot be grasped by and appropriated by the body. This is done by the faith of the heart which discerns and desires this treasure [emphasis added].
It is faith which discerns the treasure of the forgiving body and blood in the sacrament, and not intellectual achievement. Not even catechetical accomplishment discerns the body and blood. It is faith and faith alone. “Whoever lets these words be addressed to him and believes that they are true has what the words declare.” The baptized infant who has faith cannot be accused of rejecting these words. He lets them be spoken to him, and so has what they declare, just like in Baptism. Indeed, there is no difference between right and beneficial reception of the Supper and of Baptism, as the Catechism says: “as we said above concerning Baptism and in many other places.” Whoever can receive Baptism to his benefit can receive the Supper to his benefit.
This said, no one can object to infant communion on the grounds that we may be causing them to eat and drink to their judgment. If they are in the faith, then no ill can befall them from the sacrament. Again I repeat our confession in the Formula of Concord,
We unanimously reject and condemn all the following errors, which are contrary to the doctrine set forth above and to our simple faith and confession about Christ’s Supper: . . . That genuine believers, who have a genuine and living faith in Christ, can also receive this sacrament to their condemnation because they are still imperfect in their external behavior.
Knowledge of the real presence is different from, and external to, faith in the Christ really present. Knowledge is external behavior to faith. Therefore, baptized, believing infants cannot receive the Supper to their condemnation.
This is echoed by Luther elsewhere:
But if you say: “Yes, but St. Paul describes it in such frightening terms in I Corinthians 11 [:27] when he says: ‘Whoever, therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.’ With these words he makes us timid and reluctant about going to the sacrament, for who is there who could regard himself as worthy?” The answer is: My dear fellow, do you see whom St. Paul is criticizing? Namely, those who burst in like pigs and made of it physical gluttony and treated it no differently from mere daily bread and wine; besides, they despised one another and everyone has his own meal. But we are talking about those who believe that it is not at all something for a pig but the true body and blood of Christ and who know that Christ has instituted it for his remembrance and for our consolation. Further, they would like to be Christians, and praise, thank, and honor their Lord; also, they would like to possess his grace and love. But they are afraid because of personal unworthiness and stay away from it, hindered and frightened away by such a false fear.
Dear fellow, you must not look at yourself, how worthy or unworthy you are, but at your need—your need of the grace of Christ. If you see and feel your need, you are worthy and sufficiently prepared, for he has not instituted the sacrament to act as a poison and to harm us, but to grant comfort and salvation. Above all, however, you must consider that, unworthy as you are, your Lord Jesus Christ is for all that most worthy, and you should praise, honor and thank him and help to maintain his ordinance and institution, as indicated above, as you owe it to him and have promised to do so in Baptism [emphasis added].
Luther wants no Christian to fear anything from his Father. For the perfect love of God drives out all fear (I John 4:18). To say that there can be a Christian who can expect anger and punishment from God in the Sacrament is to deny our full righteousness in Christ, and to make it once more dependent on our works, even if it is so little a work as to know something. This is Romanist and not Lutheran, as Luther points out:
Judge from this into what great danger the mass-priests have led us with their sacrifice, so that we have turned our treasure that gives us life and salvation into something that gives us death and damnation, the certain into the uncertain, faith into doubt, in short, divine love and grace into anger and hate. We consider the Father to be an enemy, and have confused heaven with hell, the highest with the lowest.
If, however, you recognize that this sacrament is a promise and not a sacrifice, you are not uncertain and are aware of no anger. You are always certain that God is trustworthy and cannot lie [Num. 23:19], that he keeps his promise. And as he promises and shows himself to be gracious and merciful, so you will find him to be, if you hold and believe him to be thus. And if you notice that he promises you nothing but grace, then you will understand with a light and joyous conscience that he demands nothing from you in the way of gift or sacrifice, but that he lovingly entreats and encourages you to accept his gift.
There is no reason to deny the sacrament to those who have faith, no matter who they be. As Luther argued against withholding the cup from the laity, so I argue against withholding it from the infant laity:
But now I ask, where is the necessity, where is the religious duty, where is the practical use of denying both kinds, that is, the visible sign, to the laity, when everyone concedes them the grace of the sacrament without the sign? If they concede the grace, which is the greater, why not the sign, which is the lesser? For in every sacrament the sign as such is incomparably less than the thing signified. What then, I ask, is to prevent them from conceding the lesser, when they concede the greater? . . . Thus God would show us, by this terrible sign, how we esteem signs more than the things they signify. How preposterous it would be to admit that the faith of baptism is granted to the candidate for baptism, and yet to deny him the sign of this very faith, namely, the water!
This Is What Has Prevented Me
From Condemning the Bohemians
But what carries the most weight with me, however, and is quite decisive for me is that Christ says: “This is my blood, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here you see very clearly that the blood is given for all those for whose sins it was poured out. But who will dare to say that it was not poured out for the laity? And do you not see whom he addresses when he gives the cup? Does he not give it to all? Does he not say that it is poured out for all? “For you” [Luke 22:20], he says—let this refer to the priests. “And for many” [Matt. 26:28], however, cannot possibly refer to the priests. Yet he says: “Drink of it, all of you” [Matt. 26:27]. I too could easily trifle here and with my words make a mockery of Christ’s words, as my dear trifler does. But those who rely on the Scriptures in opposing us must be refuted by the Scriptures.
This is what has prevented me from condemning the Bohemians, who whether they are wicked men or good, certainly have the word and act of Christ on their side, while we have neither, but only that inane remark of men; “The church has so ordained.” It was not the church which ordained these things, but the tyrants of the churches, without consent of the church, which is the people of God.
It is not Lutheran theology which has ordained the ban of infants from the altar, but the same tyrants of the churches who took the cup from the laity. And even though we have kept a toe in papism for nearly 500 years, it is time to stand with Luther and stop condemning the Bohemians and our own infants. There is no poison in the cup of our Lord for His baptized faithful, no matter of what age or intellect they may be. There is no shortcoming in the faith of the infant, for it is the newly baptized whom Christ holds up as the model of faith. And so there is no godly reason for us not to join with Luther even against our own traditions and cry,
Rise up then, you popish flatterers, one and all! Get busy and defend yourselves against the charges of impiety, tyranny, and lèse-majesté against the gospel, and of the crime of slandering your brethren. You decry as heretics those who refuse to contravene such plain and powerful words of Scripture in order to acknowledge the mere dreams of your brains! If any are to be called heretics and schismatics, it is not the Bohemians or the Greeks, for they take their stand upon the Gospels. It is you Romans who are the heretics and godless schismatics, for you presume upon your figments alone against the clear Scriptures of God. Wash yourself of that, men!
While I would not want to call us Lutherans popish flatterers, at least not at this point, I would accuse us of having thoughtlessly clung far too long to what is basically a Romanist doctrine. I would not accuse us, to this point, of impenitence on this matter, but of ignorance. We have failed to see what the Bohemians and Greeks have seen, and have failed to stand upon the Gospels in this regard as they have. I believe it is time to return to our Baptism and wash ourselves of that, and then with the infants, approach the Supper of our Lord for forgiveness and not for judgment. There the Lord of the Church will take the souls which are already in terror on account of sin and preach no law or judgment, but will comfort with the Gospel despite the intellectual and doctrinal weakness we have shown. For what He promises to the infants He promises to us as well.
New Testament Uses of Dokimazein
Below are all twenty-two uses of dokimazein in the New Testament. The New King James Version is first, followed by a rough revision using the following definition of dokimazein: to ascertain the worthiness, suitability, or genuineness of a person or thing. In each case, the word or words translating dokimazein are in bold italic.
Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?
Hypocrites! You can ascertain the suitability of the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not ascertain the suitability of this time?
And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.”
And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to ascertain their worthiness.”
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.
And even as they did not ascertain it worthy to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and ascertain as worthy things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may ascertain as worthy what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Blessed is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Blessed is he who does not condemn himself in what he ascertains worthy.
I Corinthians 3:13
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will ascertain the worthiness of each one’s work, of what sort it is.
I Corinthians 11:28
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
But let a man ascertain himself worthy, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
I Corinthians 16:3
And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
And when I come, whomever you ascertain as worthy by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
II Corinthians 8:8
I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.
I speak not by commandment, but I am ascertaining for genuineness the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.
II Corinthians 8:22
And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you.
And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often ascertained as genuinely diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you.
II Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Ascertain yourselves genuine. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one ascertain the worthiness of his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), ascertaining what is suitable to the Lord.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may ascertain as worthy the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.
I Thessalonians 2:4
But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
But as we have been ascertained worthy by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who ascertains the worthiness of our hearts.
I Thessalonians 5:21-22
Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Ascertain the worthiness of all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
I Timothy 3:10
But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
But let these also first be ascertained worthy; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
I Peter 1:7
That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is ascertained genuine by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but ascertain the genuineness of the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Closed Communion and Catechetical Confusion
Closed communion has long been and will long remain a sore spot within the Church. Part of the problem is that people have a hard time separating the sacramental aspect of the Supper from the confessional aspect. While the Lord’s Supper is, above all else, a means of grace, a gift given by God to His children for their forgiveness, the reception of the Lord’s Supper is an act of confession—confessing the work of Christ and confessing the unity of those gathered. While Christians of various confessions could all receive grace together, that is, enjoy the sacramental aspect of the Supper together, they cannot engage in the confessional aspect together, for they are not together in confession. Therefore, since there is not unity in all aspects of the Supper, the Supper may not be shared by those of differing confessions.
The Missouri Synod catechism does a poor job of distinguishing between these aspects of the Supper and in the process has caused confusion and misunderstanding, and has aided and abetted in the horrible ban of infants from their Father’s Supper. I refer to the section “How to Receive This Sacrament Worthily” and especially question 305 in the explanation to Luther’s Catechism. In this section, the issue of worthiness is examined, and then the closed communion issue is poorly and misleadingly tacked onto the end.
Questions 299 through 304 of the 1991 LCMS catechism deal exclusively with the question of worthiness, and do it quite well. The questions and their answers are as follows:
299. Why is it important to receive the Sacrament worthily? It is very important because St. Paul clearly teaches (so in 1 Cor. 11:27-29).
300. Is it necessary to fast before receiving the Sacrament? Fasting can be good training for the will, but God does not command particular times, places, and forms for this.
301. When do we receive the Sacrament worthily? We receive it worthily when we have faith in Christ and His words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
302. When is a person unworthy and unprepared? A person is unworthy and unprepared when he or she does not believe or doubts Christ’s words, since the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
303. How are we to examine ourselves before receiving the Sacrament? We are to examine ourselves to see whether a) we are sorry for our sins; b) we believe in our Savior Jesus Christ and in His words in the Sacrament; c) we plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change our sinful lives.
304. May those who are weak in the faith come to the Lord’s Table? Yes, for Christ instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith.
Now, had they stopped here, or proceeded with more caution, then things would be fine. In fact, to this point the explanation agrees with the Confessions and this paper, and has been wonderfully laid out. We see that the worthy are those who have faith, no matter how weak, and that the unworthy are the unbelievers. But then comes question 305 which tries to lump together three distinct issues into one.
305. Who must not be given the Sacrament? The Sacrament must not be given to a) those who are openly ungodly and unrepentant...; b) those who are unforgiving, refusing to be reconciled....; c) those of a different confession of faith...; d) those who are unable to examine themselves, such as infants, people who have not received proper instruction, or the unconscious.
The first two categories are really the same category. Those who won’t forgive are unrepentant. This fits in with the other questions well and is true. The unrepentant should not be given the Lord’s Supper.
The next category is those of another confession, the heterodox: those people we call Christians, but accuse of holding to false teachings. But Lutheran theology has never denied them the sacrament. Look at the question carefully: Who must not be given the Sacrament? We do not believe that Christians of another confession should not be given the Sacrament. We believe only that they should not be given the Sacrament by our pastors. They should receive it from their own pastors at their own altars, where they share in the confession of faith.
You may say I am being nit-picky, but I disagree. It is a far different thing to say they should not be given the Sacrament than it is to say they should receive the Sacrament only from their own pastors. One is to lump them with the unrepentant, the other is simply to recognize the confessional nature of the Supper. These are two separate issues. Where one may commune, or more precisely from whom and with whom one may commune, is different from whether or not they may commune. The unrepentant may not commune anywhere. The repentant of different confessions may commune, but each from his own pastor. I believe the linguistic sloppiness has created or at least enforced sloppy thought and the acceptance of the false teaching that there are those who are worthy but may not commune.
What this question is implying is that all four (or three) categories are unworthy of the Sacrament. The whole section is on worthiness, and questions 299 through 304 dealt solely with the question of worthiness. Question 305 deals with closed communion as if it were a matter of worthiness, when it is in fact a matter of confession.
What should be done? Answers A and B to 305 may be left where they are. These deal with the issue of worthiness and are fine, true and in context. Answer C should be separated into a separate question such as, “Should all the worthy be allowed to commune together?” where the answer would be, “Since reception of the Supper is also confession of a common faith and teaching, only those with a common faith and teaching should commune together.” The supporting verses could then follow. Finally, answer D, that those who cannot examine themselves should not be given the Sacrament should be done away with. For there is no Christian who is not capable of examination in the Scriptural or Confessional sense. The place of instruction has been dealt with under the section on Baptism, question 245.