If you are a young, single, seminoid dude who loves theoretical theological debates on blogs, I’d like to share a tidbit of coaching corner sagacity a mentor of mine graciously offered me: It’s ok to have the topic of pedo-communion on your radar screen, just don’t follow it off course. Focus your energy on completing your education, getting a job, staying pure, and finding a godly lady who will consent to marry you. At some point after that God will give you nine months’ warning to sort out your views on which age children can partake in the Lord’s Supper. Til then, get back to work.
But for parents of precocious pre-pubescent Protestants, your church will expect you to have given this some forethought before letting your kid’s appetite near the Lord’s Table.
Footnote: Protestants call it a table, not an altar, we call it the supper, not the Mass, an ordinance, not a sacrament, and the bread, not the eucharist. Why this distinction? Because we are not re-sacrificing anyone. Anyway, I digress.
First, some churches practice “closed communion” which means that only members can take communion. In this case it is simple: according to the church’s membership process and definition, is the child a member or not? Case closed.
Verses used to support this include 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 where Paul adjured each one to examine himself and determine his own worthiness to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Well and good, but when it comes to children, are we really to leave it up to the individual child to determine his/her spiritual fitness?
Godly men differ on the precise way of handling this. Some say we should always encourage our children’s desires to behave as part of God’s family. We tell our children to obey the command to not lie, and the one to honor their parents; so why not the injunction to ‘Do this in memory of me’?
On the other hand, there are commands made to believers exclusively, e.g. the command to support your pastor, feed the poor, appoint elders, and yes, observe communion. These are issued to saints, not mankind in general.
I am not proclaiming a particular view. But I would like to present these guidelines to think through the issue. We need to consider both what children are like, and what communion is about.
1. Kids are odd (pardon…unique).
Children come in non-uniform dimensions, spiritually speaking. Some show emotional or social maturity, others physical or spiritual astuteness, but rarely in any kind of predictable proportion. I don’t think we can enforce a one-size-fits-all-kids rule, like the height requirement on a roller coaster.
One 11-year-old may be prone to peer pressure or have a seared conscience, while their 9-year-old sister shows evidence of conversion, a sensitive conscience, and a conceptual grasp of the symbolism.
At this point we parents need a warning to resist the temptation to think, “My kid is special and has wisdom beyond his years.” Perhaps it would behoove you to get an objective evaluation from a church leader who knows your family.
2. Kids who are young have a tendency to want to please their parents (enjoy it while it lasts!).
A girl sees her mom baking and the next thing she is serving imaginary tea to her infant brother. Then she sees Mom take communion, and she want to be like Mommy. Kids see how happy you are that they show spiritual interest and they crank up the enthusiasm.
This isn’t bad. Your children should want to follow your example in spiritual matters. But you need to tell them there are some aspects that are for grown-ups. Is this a double standard? No. You let your kids play pretend “Wedding-wedding” but never “Honeymoon-honeymoon,” right?
It’s good to mimic some of what mom and dad do in church, like singing, giving, serving, and paying attention. But some access is granted only on the other side of the membership line.
3. Kids want to keep up with the Joneses’ kids.
Peer pressure is a real problem and can play a detrimental part in the issue. From my experience this doesn’t dissipate after childhood. Make sure you, oh grown-up, don’t take communion this week just because everybody else is.
Then there are some factors to consider about the nature of communion itself…
4. Communion is closely related to church discipline.
Is your child ready to face church discipline for their unrepentant sin? If not, teach them to let the elements pass. Why? Because the self-examination of communion is only part of the eligibility of communion. Being in good standing with the church is the other part.
5. Communion is for believers.
If you are not convinced of your child’s conversion, then communion is not for them. More common is the optimistic hope that the child is saved, which breeds leniency for them to take communion.
6. Communion and baptism follow a logical order.
If you are convinced of your child’s conversion, have you shepherded them through the decision to be baptized? This opens a can of eels, doesn’t it? (For a discussion on when to baptize your child, see “Little Splash: When your kid wants to be baptized.”) Indulge me in a syllogism for a moment. If communion is for believers, and baptism is the first step of obedience for believers, then it follows that the latter will precede the former.
I’ve heard it said that communion before baptism is like sex before marriage. As much as I like that, I still take it as hyperbole. The sanctity of sex is explicitly mandated in Scripture, but eligibility for communions is more implicit, and may concede exceptions — like a real case I know of when a person got saved in a Chinese prison where communion was possible, but baptism needed to be delayed. I believe Scripture itself leaves room for such a contingency as communion before baptism which is not a sin, just an inversion of logic.
How about you, what does your church practice?