Children and the Lord's Supper

The following article is from a letter by Kerry Ptacek responding to an inquiry from a supporter of the Covenant Family Fellowship

You asked about children and the Lord's Supper, in particular whether excluding your children from the Lord's Supper is consistent with our view of the covenant family. My own three children began to partake of the Lord's Supper, at the ages of 5 and 6 years old, prior to my call to plant the Covenant Family Fellowship. The issue of children and the Lord's Supper always is before our congregation since a majority of our members are children and we observe the sacrament every Sunday.

Based on the participation of the entire family in the annual feasts of Israel some Presbyterians have assumed that all children of believing parents should partake of the Lord's Supper. Extra-Biblical sources, the Talmud, indicate that infants did not eat the lamb, nor did young children drink the wine in the Passover meal. However, that could be a mere tradition, without a genuine basis in Scripture. Instead, I would point to this passage on the proper observance of Passover: "And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households'" (Ex 12:26-27a). These words imply that the children at least needed to be able to pose this question in order to participate to that extent in the Passover. Of course, this Scripture by itself cannot settle the question. However, it provides us with a context for that passage which does, as far as I am concerned, instruct us.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote "I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" (1 Cor 10:15-18). Bearing this passage in mind, let us now go to the next chapter following Paul's account of the words instituting the Lord's Supper, and the need to observe it in remembrance of Jesus Christ: "Therefore whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27). The context for partaking in an unworthy manner is the description, before the words of institution, of divisions when the church came together, so that some would eat and drink to excess and others go without. This selfishness reflected a failure to recognize the body of Christ as present in the congregation. "Communion," koinonia, refers to sharing something. Paul's remedy for this problem followed: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup" (1 Cor 11:28).

What does it means for him to examine himself? It surely is not examining himself to see if he has unconfessed sin. That proto-Catholic view is held by too many evangelicals today. No, I would say that examining one's self refers back to Paul's words in verse 16 and 17 of chapter 10, as cited above. That is, the one examining himself remembers the significance of the wine and the bread, and especially that the believers are therefore one body and one bread in Christ. I believe that this understanding is confirmed by the next verse: "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (1 Cor 11:29).

Based on these verses I would conclude that the basis for anyone partaking of the Lord's Supper is an ability to discern the significance of the bread and wine, the signs of the incarnation and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Remember, the cup is a sign of blessing but also of judgment in the Scriptures. Jesus took the cup of judgment for us, leaving the blessing. However, those who are not in Christ, are still, like everyone else, drinking the cup of judgment. Therefore, a child should be able to understand the significance of the Lord's Supper before partaking. This includes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior because this is assumed in the statement "we... are one bread." It would not be enough to say that the bread indicates that they (those in Christ) are one bread.

Having said this, I want to add that in my experience, parents wait too long before encouraging their children to become communicant members. There is no basis for excluding a child that can make a profession of faith and also is able to discern the significance of the elements. I believe that many parents withhold their children from partaking because they want them to be less sinful, again reflecting the Catholic idea of needing confession before the Mass. Other parents do not accept a profession of faith from their children but look for some confirmation that the children "really" believe, usually based on some extra-Scriptural standard.

Biblically speaking, the only "experience" which provides evidence of regeneration, the new heart, is an obedient response to God's Word. In children who are properly disciplined in love it may be difficult to separate ordinary obedience to parents from obedience to God's Word since children are commanded to "obey your parents in the Lord" (Eph 6:1). Moreover, believing children, like adult Christians, may and will fall short of perfect obedience in this life. Therefore, a profession of faith should be sufficient for admitting children to communicant membership unless the profession is not credible, as in the case of adults. For example, if the child believes that his or her good works earn salvation, instead of trusting in Christ's sacrifice for His own people, sovereignly elected by God, the child should not be admitted. Also, if the child persists in sin without repentance, the child, like an adult should be removed from communicant member status. Indeed, I believe that the parents may order a child to not partake for one or two Sundays if the child has been disobedient to God's Word. However, if this disobedience persists the child should be brought before the elders and excommunicated if necessary. Of course, the child should continue to attend congregational worship and instruction with the believing parents. The child's father also would be disqualified from serving as elder on the session (Titus 1:6).

Some parents may be concerned about a child making a false profession of faith. Such a concern may arise especially in Godly families in which the children are being raised in the training and admonition of the Lord and faith is shown to be important to the parents. Indeed, all of the men in our congregation lead their families in some form of family worship or Bible study. All children want to please their parents and to be loved by them, even in non-Christian homes. This desire is natural and is often frustrated by wicked parents. Therefore, it is especially likely that if a Christian father gives his children the care and attention commanded by Scripture, that they will want to please their father in all matters, including faith. This is one of the reasons that we must insist that a man have believing children, when they are of age, in order to be qualified to serve as an overseer, an elder of the congregation.

We cannot know anyone's heart. We can however observe a person's response to the Word of God and exercise church discipline based on this observation. Certainly the parents should be in the best position to observe a child's response to the Word of God. If they hear a profession of faith but see only rebellion and disobedience to God's Word, yet the child persists in wanting to become a communicant member, such information, however embarrassing, should be given to the elders. How could such a child be admitted to the Lord's Supper?

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