How Old Must A Child Be To Come To The Lord’s Table?

How old must a child be to come to the Lord’s Table? We know from the nature of the two sacraments (covenant signs and seals) instituted by our Lord that infant communion (paedocommunion) is an error. It confuses the sign of renewal (the Supper) with the sign of initiation (baptism) into the visible covenant community. The intent, purpose, and nature of the Supper is to renew frequently the promises of the covenant of grace. In this way the Supper is distinct from baptism. Circumcision happens only once. Baptism, the New Covenant initiation into the visible church, is also a ritual, symbolic identification with Christ’s death. That identification can only happens once. Anything after circumcision is mutilation (Gal 5:12). By contrast, the Lord’s Supper is meant to be repeated. It was instituted to be observed repeatedly, regularly, frequently, and some argue even weekly (see e.g., Acts 2:42). In the institution our Lord said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26; ESV).

There has been pressure from some quarters to commune younger children. Sometimes this pressure comes from families who are emerging from Baptist and more broadly evangelical settings into Reformed congregations. Because they have not grasped clearly the distinction between initiation and renewal they conflate the two signs. They reason that if covenant children are members of the visible church by baptism (they are) that they should also be permitted to the table.

This problem has already been addressed above but it is essential for these parents to see the difference between initiation and renewal in the outward administration of the covenant of grace. Baptism recognizes the rightful place of the children of believers in the visible church. Communion is a privilege reserved for members of the visible church who have made a credible (believable) profession of faith before the elders.

Another source of pressure is social. Parents and children see the children of other Christian parents making profession and there is a sense of being left behind. Parents naturally want the best for their children and when they see other children coming to the table they fear that their children are missing out.

Both newcomers to Reformed and Presbyterian churches and those who feel a pressure to keep up need to appreciate an important biblical teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul writes:

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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor 11:27–32; ESV).

We used to call the Lord’s Supper “Holy Communion.” It might be a good idea to renew our use of that language. That which is holy is not common. It is set apart. It is sacred. It is clean. It is not like everything else. It is not for everyone. It is not for unbelievers. It is not for the unbaptized. It is not for those who are under church discipline, who have been suspended from the table or excommunicated. It is for believers who able to examine themselves, who have sufficient maturity to know themselves, who is able to “discern” the body and blood of the Lord (about which see the essay linked below). The question elders, whose job it is to fence the table, and parents must face is this: are young children (e.g., ages infant to 9) able to examine themselves and discern the body and blood of the Lord? Almost certainly not.

Clearly, according to Paul, there is risk associated with the table. Would elders or parents permit small children to drive a car? Certainly not. Why not? Because they lack the judgment, discretion, experience, wisdom, and even the motor skills to control a 2,000 lb vehicle capable of high speeds. Even on the farm, where children learn to drive earlier than city kids, most kids do not drive even in the pasture until they demonstrate a certain degree of responsibility. Driving a car is a secular matter not a matter of spiritual life and death. The same cannot be said of the Lord’s Supper. It is a sacred meal to which a certain jeopardy is attached and the abuse of which in Corinth led to real consequences. Why would we involve young children, too young to know themselves or to understand what it means to “eat the body and blood of Christ” in such a sacred ritual? Why would we expose them (and the congregation) to potential jeopardy? On reflection most parents and elders would almost certainly see the wisdom of postponing participation until a child can give a reasonably mature account of the faith, including an account of what is taking place in the Supper.

Perhaps the most insidious and dangerous motive for bringing infants and young children to the table is the influence of the self-described, so-called “Federal Vision” theology (see below). This aberrant view, rejected by the United Reformed Churches, the PCA General Assembly and study committee, the OPC study committee, the RCUS, the RPCNA, the RPCGA, and the ARP, teaches that at baptism the child is granted a provisional election, justification, union with Christ, and adoption. Those provisional “baptismal benefits” are said to be retained by grace and our cooperation with grace. Without sufficient cooperation they may be lost. We might fairly call this view a sort of sacerdotal Arminianism or as my pastor Chris Gordon has called it, “covenantal Arminianism.” The Federal Visionists hold that God has made a provisional covenant and grants these provisional benefits in baptism.

This error rejects the biblical, confessional, and historic Reformed distinction between the two ways of existing in the one visible church: internally (spiritually) and externally. All baptized members are outward members of the visible church but only believers receive Christ and his benefits. Only the elect come to faith. There are not two kinds of election, provisional and eternal. There is but one election from all eternity, in Christ. It is an unconditional election and it is an election to new life and to true faith. Christ’s benefits are administered in the visible church but the sacraments are not magic. They do not have the power to confer a provisional new life, election, and salvation. They signify salvation and they seal it to believers but they do not create the reality they signify. Because of this confused and dangerous theology, the Federal Vision churches are known to practice infant communion (paedocommunion) in order to enable infants to begin to fulfill “their part” of the covenant, to maintain what has supposedly been given them in baptism.

We probably cannot say with certainty exactly when every child should be permitted to the table but we can say with certainty, on the basis of the clear teaching of Scripture, what sort of maturity we should expect from covenant children before the come to the table.

More Resources

  1. Fed By Christ or By the Guy Next to Me?
  2. Profession of Faith and Communion
  3. Paedocommunion Answered
  4. For Those Just Tuning In: What Is The Federal Vision?
  5. Resources on Fencing the Table
  6. Who May Come To The Table of The Lord?

from The Heidelblog


Popular posts from this blog

Build and Use a Logos Bible Software Library for Free

State papers celebrate milestones, consider future

Religion Isn’t The Enemy Of Science: It’s Been Inspiring Scientists For Centuries