So went the question this past Sunday from my 10-year-old daughter who recently made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour. My initial response was to advise her to let the elements pass her by this time and we would have a talk about it after the service. The problem is that I am not sure what my position is on this subject. We had a similar discussion on baptism recently and, as yet, we have not come to a satisfactory conclusion (I will post more on this in the coming days).
Back to the issue at hand. For some churches this is a non issue because they operate what is known as a “closed communion” table. In other words, only baptised members of the congregation may participate in this act of remembrance. If the child is not a baptised member then case closed.
Other churches (our falls into this category) operate an “open communion” table. This mean that anybody who has confessed Jesus as Lord and Saviour and is in good standing with their local church (how often do we follow this practice?) can take communion with us as a local body of believers. If we take this point at its most liberal, we must then include children in this act of remembrance.
However, there are some issues here. Paul, speaking to the church in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 reminded believers to “examine themselves” before coming to communion. Are they really walking with Christ as they ought? Are they really in a fit state to engage in this act? Are there sins they need to be repenting of? The question then becomes: “are children really able to appreciate the enormity of this responsibility?” If so, at what age? Can we realistically “set” an age? Besides, how definitive an “understanding” do they need? We work in a context where people confess Christ and yet, due to drug related mental health issues, are not really able to give a comprehensive answer to many of these questions. As confessing adults, we allow them to participate in communion. Therefore, should it be any different for our children?
The Westminster Catechism (part 177) follows the line that children should have some form of “spiritual sentience” or, in other words, an ability to examine their own hearts sufficiently before deciding whether to partake. Can a child really understand what it means not to partake in an unworthy manner? If they can, then my advice would be to encourage them to partake with a thankful, reverent spirit. Obviously, some children mature quicker than others. Some parents teach their children better than others. Some children, my children included in this, are very able to explain their faith in a simple, child like manner. However, the difference between understanding and gospel awareness in my 9 year old and my 10-year-old is marked. I believe both are saved but I believe my 10-year-old is far more able to examine herself and explain how God is working in her life and challenging underlying sin issues. The problem is as a parent I am biased. Who amongst us doesn’t think our own child is particularly gifted in some way? Maybe I should be looking for outside counsel. So, in this instance I took the matter to my fellow elders for their opinion.
The general consensus was that I should allow my children to take communion if I feel that they are exhibiting fruit of genuine repentance. That being so, then surely I would want to recommend them for baptism (a discussion for another time as I have indicated). So then, should I not wait for them to be baptised? The problem here is that we allow unbaptised, confessing believers access to the Lord’s table, so why should I make a special case for children? (I find it hard to swallow the line of a strong biblical argument for baptism preceding communion given the fact that communion was shared among the disciples before Christ gave the mandate to baptise. Regardless, there are no direct biblical commands for things to be done in this order).
In large churches with lots of peer pressure I can understand the argument that says that children could just be following the crowd. My girls are pretty much on their own in our church planting context and so the fact that they would ask the question in the first pace shows a degree of thought (I freely admit I may be biased here). So, what will I say? I have come to the following conclusions:
1. Does she understand the significance of the Lord’s supper as an act of remembrance of the life and death of the Lord Jesus on behalf of sinners?
2. Is she able to give a credible profession of faith in Christ? In this is she showing fruit of the Spirit and a growing love for walking with the Lord in obedience? (An example of this yesterday evening for example: I was going out the door to visit a member and I passed my eldest on the stairs. She enquired where I was going and when I replied she said: “tell x that I am praying for them daddy and I hope they get well soon.” In my hurry – and to my shame – I pretty much blanked the conversation until it dawned on me afterward how lovely that was coming from a 10-year-old child).
3. Is she consciously following the Lord in obedience and seeking to deal with ongoing sin issues in her life?
Personally, I think the answer to these questions is a resounding, “yes”. The real issue will come when I have to deal with her younger sister who doesn’t quite exhibit the same fruit in the same way. Will she want to participate out of envy or sibling rivalry? Will she just be following her big sister? Again, the same principles must apply.
Ultimately, I think it boil down to how well we know our children and the state of their souls. If we put the time in during the early years it will be clear to us. So, then, why my hesitation? Well, firstly, I don’t want them to eat and drink judgement upon themselves and, secondly, I want them to have a healthy fear of the Lord and the sacraments. I would rather they enter into these things, cautiously and biblically rather than rush in without due thought and consideration. Lastly, we are an example to a watching and growing Christian community. Others will follow our lead and so we want a clarity of though and practice, particularly in should a heavily influenced Catholic community like ours in which “child communion” is invested with an altogether different meaning.
(John Piper offers his own personal opinion on the issue here).
Pray for us as a family. Any helpful suggestions will be acknowledged.