Every Sunday, Redemption Hill Church participates in the Lord’s Table. There are theological convictions for this pattern. One reason is that the Lord’s Table is an ongoing remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:23-26). And a question I often receive from parents is, when should I allow my child to participate in communion? It’s a great question, and I appreciate it when parents take the time to attend to the spiritual development of their children.
In what follows, I attempt to show the relationship between the discipleship of a child/youth and the sacraments of the church – baptism and the Lord’s Table. My desire is for parents to see the opportunities that lie in front of them to attend to the spiritual needs of their children.
Laying the Foundation
Redemption Hill is baptistic and confessional. The combination of baptistic and confessional allows for a biblical and logical way to think about when a child should participate in baptism and the Lord’s Table. However, before getting into the process, I need to explain a few foundational convictions about both sacraments.
There is a difference between paedobaptism and credobaptism. If a church holds to paedobaptism, that means they baptize infants. If a church is credobaptist, only those who profess faith in Christ are baptized. Redemption Hill is a credobaptist church. The theological position on baptism in a local church will inform the approach of communion. The credobaptist will point to various passages in the New Testament to affirm their position. They will also point out that there are no passages in the Bible affirming paedobaptism.
In contrast, the paedobaptist believes that New Testament baptism corresponds with Old Testament circumcision. The link between the two is from how a paedobaptist understands the nature of covenants. If you want to learn more about the rationale of paedobaptism, locate your favorite presbyterian friend.
Redemption Hill Church practices Open Communion. Open Communion means that members and nonmembers may participate in the Lord’s Table. The only qualification for partaking is to be a professing follower of Jesus Christ. I know many pastors who take umbrage with this approach. However, I am hesitant to make a requirement not explicitly stated in Holy Scripture. For example, if my Presbyterian friend attends Redemption Hill and is a professing follower of Jesus Christ, they are welcome to participate in the Lord’s Table. The uniting factor between another Christian and me is not denominational status. It’s not what we believe about eschatology. It is not our view of Covenant Theology. But we are both in Christ. A person’s standing before the Lord Jesus as a justified sinner is preeminent. It says in 29.1 of Redemption Hill’s Confession of Faith,
All saints are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his Spirit, and faith, although they are not made one person with him, but do have fellowship in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. They are united to one another in love. They have communion in each other’s gifts and graces and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way, as to bring about to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.– The Communion of Saints, 29.1
I understand the impulse to guard the Lord’s Table carefully. A pastor wants to ensure only Christians participate in taking the bread and juice/wine. When you allow people not part of the church to participate, you risk enabling nonchristians to partake. Another way to think about it is how can a pastor screen (guard) the table if he does not personally know the person? It’s a fair question. 1 Corinthians 11 should instill some sobriety into the conversation.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.– 1 Corinthians 11:27–29
There is a lot to exegete in this passage, but anyone partaking in communion should not be glib and thoughtless. Communion is a holy moment of examination and remembrance. A person cannot grasp the spiritual depth of this passage without the Holy Spirit regenerating the heart. Guarding the Lord’s Table can prevent people from eating and drinking judgment on himself. Once again, here is our Confession of Faith.
All ungodly persons are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ and cannot partake of these holy mysteries without great sin while they remain in unbelief. Indeed, whoever receives it in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord and eats and drinks judgment on himself.– The Lord’s Table, 32.8
It might seem like I am making a case for closed communion and further restricting who can participate. However, I want to be fair about differing perspectives while arguing that a person’s standing before God is the final authority for taking communion.
There are good arguments on both sides of the debate. I am not scratching the surface on the rationale for each position. But I am persuaded by the former option. Provided that a church practicing Open Communion is clear that the sacrament is only for followers of Jesus Christ, I rejoice at the opportunity to celebrate with all Christians.
Everything I have said is the introduction to answering the question, when should I allow my child to participate in communion? When it comes to the discipleship of children growing up in the church, I take a different approach from allowing my presbyterian friend to partake. I will lay out my recommendation for parents who have children professing faith in Christ. Again, I am hesitant to require a practice when Scripture is not explicit. But I can insert a degree of pastoral wisdom into the discipleship process.
Profession of Faith
Most Protestant and orthodox Christians agree that a profession of faith is required to participate in the Lord’s Table. Therefore, little and unregenerate Johnny, who longingly wants to eat the bread because mom and dad eat the bread, needs to be prohibited from partaking. Even if little and unregenerate Sally is thirsty and likes grape juice, she needs to wait until she gets it from her home fridge. It’s clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 11 that Christians are the only ones allowed to take the bread and juice.
So what happens when little Johnny or Sally make a genuine profession of faith? How should parents respond? The first response for parents is to vet their child’s heart while simultaneously watching their life. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruit” (Matt. 7:15–20). So it seems prudent for parents to dial into the spiritual needs of their children and go headlong into spiritual discussions about faith and practice. Second, a child who makes a genuine profession of faith needs to examine their heart. Parents can take their children to 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 to help them understand the gravity of the Lord’s Table. Last, if a child makes a genuine profession of faith, it is wise for parents to contact their local church pastor and talk about baptism. After professing faith in Christ, baptism is the next logical step of obedience.
Baptism – Initiation
Some Presbyterians say that baptism is an initiation into the church. I agree, but for other reasons. In Matthew 28, Jesus said to his disciples,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.– Matthew 28:19–20
The logic in Matthew 28 is crystal clear. After a person becomes a Christian, baptism is the next step. Baptism is an initiation into the church. Notice that faith precedes baptism, not the other way around. Martin Luther seemed to toy with the idea of credobaptism (or confessional baptism). He said, “Unless faith is present or comes to life in baptism, the ceremony is of no avail.” Luther also asked the question, “Who should receive baptism? The one who believes is the person to whom the blessed, divine water is to be imparted.” I wonder if Luther lived in another generation, he would allow the practice of baptism to follow his theology.
There are two factors at work during baptism. First is a profession of faith. The second is a symbolic demonstration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During a baptism ceremony, a person publically professes their faith in Jesus Christ. A profession can come in the context of the person’s testimony – when they became a Christian.
Baptism is also symbolic of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 6 provides a crystal clear connection.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.– Romans 6:1–4
A picture is on display when a person is immersed in the waters of baptism. The picture is the death (going into the water) and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Coming out of the water). The death and resurrection of Jesus are not only declared by a profession of faith but projected in the act of baptism.
If baptism is an initiation into the local church, the Lord’s Table is about renewal. Baptism by immersion is practiced once, but the Lord’s Table is an ongoing practice of faith. The Lord’s Table is a continual reminder of the love of Jesus through his death. Both sacraments are visible signs of a person’s union with Christ.
The Lord’s Table – Renewal
After a child goes through “initiation,” the next logical step is ongoing renewal. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith strings together the logic of faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Table. It reads,
We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is pre-requisite to the privileges of a church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.– New Hampshire Confession of Faith article XIV
The logic makes sense, and the process helps parents and pastors to disciple children to Jesus Christ. Then, when a child or youth begins to participate in the Lord’s Table, they will hopefully know the depth of the gospel. The gravity of partaking in these holy acts. And able to examine their heart.
Landing the Plane
In summary, I think there is a difference between holding to a position of Open Communion and seeing children in the church being discipled toward Jesus Christ. Parents have a tremendous opportunity to teach their children about the Christian faith while using the sacraments as a point of reference. These moments should not be wasted or taken lightly. And my encouragement is for parents to engage. Do not back down. Do not delegate, but press in because fulfilling the Great Commission begins in your home.