Ask Pastor Dave: When Should My Kids Take Communion?

Q&AQuestions involving the dynamic of small children and the life of the church are tough to answer. This is largely because as children of covenanted members of a local Christian community children are in many ways part of the life of that community, yet, if they are not yet members themselves there is still some distinction for them. This is true even if a church does not practice formal membership. A child reaps the benefits of being part of the community their parents are in, and yet a church will still want to communicate to children their need to personalize saving faith for themselves. They cannot be part of the Christian community simply by virtue of their parent’s faith, they must embrace it themselves. So we have a tough dynamic, then, when we consider the relationship of children to the life of the church. That’s true particularly for the practice of Communion.

There are several other factors that make this issue complicated. For example, I want to always encourage a child’s profession of faith and yet there is a tendency for children to profess the faith of their parents without really personally embracing it themselves. So we have another tough dynamic of being forced to help children think through the foundations of their faith, something hard enough for the advanced reasoning abilities of grown-ups. There is nothing simple about answering this question, and yet I must. I must not only for the friend who asked it, but for my own daughter who will soon be old enough to join us in corporate worship. What will I say to her when she asks if she can partake of Lord’s Supper? In an effort to answer this question Biblically and practically I have thought about the relationship of Baptism to the Lord’s Supper – I am thankful to my brother Johnny for drawing out this connection for me in a recent discussion on the subject.

There are two sacraments given to the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It’s significant that these two practices are not given to individuals, but to the church as a whole. That is to say participating in them is not merely about testifying to my personal faith in Jesus Christ, but about testifying to my personal faith in Jesus Christ to and with my local body of believers. It is about being united to them in faith. Baptism is often seen as a means of admission into the community of believers, and rightfully so. It is self-identifying with Christ and his people. Communion functions the same way. So, Paul writes to the church at Corinth about communion, saying:

16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

Communion is a recurring (dare I say weekly) event that promotes the unity of the church in Christ. It is not something we are meant to take alone, but take together as a reminder of our involvement in and commitment to the body of Christ. We are committing before one another to a renewed commitment to follow Jesus.

This relationship is helpful for thinking about communion. Because both sacraments are given to the church it strikes me that those who are willing to identify with a local church are fit to participate in communion. That means, to me, that if you are a baptized member of a local congregation you are welcome to take communion. The two should go together. If I am unwilling to be baptized and identify with the community of believers in that way, why should I partake of communion. Both are sacraments given to the church, to unite the church in Christ. To refuse the one is to make participation in the second suspect. So, then, what does this mean for our children?

If our children are professing believers and baptized members of the community of faith then they should be welcomed and encouraged to partake of communion. If they are not baptized I might discourage them from taking communion until they go through that right. Let the church testify to their profession of faith, affirm it, welcome them into the community, and then let them join with their new family in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Having said all of that, I do have some caution. I would not hold this as a hard-line. After all, we become members of the community of God’s people by virtue of Christ’s work on our behalf and our faith in him. So, at one level baptism or not, membership in a church or not, we are part of God’s family. So communion is for all who profess faith. And since we can’t know the legitimacy of anyone’s salvation, save our own, we welcome all professing brothers and sisters to the table. So, I would hold no one in judgment if they chose to allow their believing children to partake communion without having first been baptized. If I am being asked, however, to think practically about this subject I think the metric of baptism provides us a good marker for gauging when its appropriate to participate in communion. If the Lord’s Supper is a community event then we should do it when we have willing joined and been welcomed into that community.

There are lots of related questions that this answer presents us with: when should children be baptized? Should communion at one church be open to members of a different church? Should credo-Baptists share the table with paedo-Baptists? Etc. But without getting into all those dynamics in this simple question I will leave my answer as is. I might be persuaded to think differently, but at the present moment, trying to think practically and Biblically this is where I land: Communion is open to all baptized believers in good standing with their church.

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