Note: This is the rest of what was said nearly two years ago. In it, I tried to explain what Larger Catechism, Qs 176-7, mean and especially how to distinguish between the participants in baptism and Supper. I still believe this provides a good explaination of what the catechism and our Book of Church Order teaches.
Since we have these two sacraments together, indeed side-by-side, it is a good time to ask the questions: how are baptism and the Lord's Supper similar? And how are they different?
Our Larger Catechism (Q. 176) teaches us that baptism and the Supper are similar in several ways. First, God is the author of both. The focus of both is Christ and his benefits. Both are seals of the same covenant, the same promises. Each is to be done by ordained ministers of the gospel and by none other. And each is to be continued in the church until the end of the age.
But the next question (Q. 177) spells out how these two are different. Some of the differences are obvious, or at least, should be. Baptism happens, or should happen, only once in a person's life; the Lord's Supper is to be administered often, in our church on the second and last Sundays of the month. Baptism uses water; the Supper uses bread and wine.
But other differences are more important. The Catechism says that baptism is a "sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ," a grace that is conferred in God's appointed time and that evidences itself in a full-hearted turn to Christ as Savior and Lord. The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, is received those who have already begun the journey of faith, "to confirm our continuance and growth" in Jesus Christ.
Or I could put it like this. Remember I said that baptism is like a road sign, a royal seal, and a jersey that marks the baptized on a different team. That last descriptor is important here. Baptism initiates our children into the visible people of God, into the church people, and into the care of the church and all the benefits that brings. But the Lord's Supper has a different focus; it serves to assure our hearts that as surely as we partake of bread and wine, so surely did Christ die for our sins.
As a result, our Larger Catechism teaches us that baptism is rightly administered "even to infants," as we have just done. Because they belong to our households of faith, they should belong in a visible way to THE household of faith; and baptism initiates them into God's visible people. But the Catechism also teaches us that the Supper is to be administered "only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves." The emphasis here is not upon adult-only communion but on professing believers-only communion. Our catechism "presumes" that infants or toddlers cannot examine themselves of "their being in Christ" (LC 172), that is, to recognize their sinfulness and turn to faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, our church does not admit children to the table that have not made a profession of faith; not because they are children, but because faith in Jesus Christ is required for a worthy reception of the Supper.
Does this mean that our children are somehow second-class citizens in the church because they don't receive the Supper? That somehow they are "excommunicated" because they "barred from the table"? By no means. First of all, our children receive wonderful privileges as members of God's visible people, being identified with the baptized team: the weekly preaching of God's Word; the oversight of the elders and the nurture of God's people; and the safety of being in the place where God's promises are regularly fulfilled.
But also, we must recognize that our PCA Book of Church Order instructs us to invite all who are not participating in the Supper to remain. We don't typically do so, simply because we "presume" that no one will leave before the service is over. But the instruction is still important: there is great value in this meal for those who do not partake: the Word, indeed the Gospel of Jesus' body and blood shed for sinners, is proclaimed, both verbally by the minister and in the sign itself, Isn't that what Paul tells us, that in this meal "you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes"?
As parents, we should be telling, we should be catechizing, our children in a whisper as the elements pass, "Little one, what does the broken bread teach us?" "That Jesus in his life in the body gained a perfect righteousness for his people. That Jesus' bodily life was pointed to the cross where he died for sinners like me, Daddy."
"Sweetheart, what does the poured out wine teach us?""That Jesus shed his blood on the cross for sinners like me, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, Daddy."
"My child, what is necessary to gain right standing with God and to have your sins forgiven?""Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, Daddy."
That, my friends, is the proper grounds for your participation in this meal this morning. If you have confessed your faith in Jesus Christ and are a member either of this particular church or another evangelical church, we invite you to come to this meal. This meal is for professing believers who recognize that together we proclaim Christ's death until he comes.