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