Yesterday, I received a very good question from a member of Renovation Church in regards to young children and communion. If you have attended our church recently, you will know that during the communion time I tell parents that it is up to them to decide whether or not their children are ready to partake of communion. Below is the question I received (I removed any identifying information) and below is my response.
If you currently attend Renovation Church, please never be afraid to ask questions (and disagree with me). I am not the “standard” of truth – the Scriptures are. If you ever think I am doing something outside of Scripture, PLEASE reach out to me so we can discuss it together. I received this person’s permission to share their question and my answer while removing identifying information.
We have been wanting to ask you this question but with everything going on we just haven’t gotten around to it and on Sundays you are so busy we didn’t want to bother you so we decided just to email you. We are wondering why children are being invited to partake of communion. We could not find any examples in Acts of unbaptized people taking communion. Every where we have read in the Bible, communion follows baptism.
In Acts 2 it was those who were baptized and added to the church who then participated in communion. We believe baptism points to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and after baptism we participate in the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of what he did. In 1 Corinthians, Paul warns against eating and drinking unworthily. so we are supposed to examine ourselves before taking communion. We don’t see a child having the ability to examine their life in such a manner so we wanted to know your thoughts on this matter.
Hey (Name Removed),
This is an excellent question.
First, there is oddly not that much teaching in the New Testament on communion. The place where Jesus first institutes communion does not have specific teaching on how it is to be done – other than that it is to be a reminder of Jesus’ body being broken and his blood being poured out for our sins. It is the fulfillment of the Passover Festival – with Jesus being the Passover Lamb. The original Passover Lamb was instituted in the Old Testament to be eaten by the entire family with the parents instructing the children on the significance of what is taking place (Exodus 12:24-28). Keeping in mind that Jesus was a first century Jew and knew that he was providing his Jewish followers with the reality that the Passover Lamb pointed to (since he instituted the meal on the eve of the Passover), it’s likely that many in the early church and the first few centuries of the church used the Lord’s Supper as a means of teaching their children in a physical means of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Jewish Christians would have viewed the Lord’s Supper as the fulfillment of the Passover Meal and as a natural extension, used it as a means of teaching their children about the true Passover.
The only place that communion is explicitly taught is by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians (correct me if I am wrong – I am going off memory). There are many passages that seem to refer to it – but none do so explicitly. There are a few mentions of the “breaking of bread” in the Book of Acts but these are also equated with what was known as the “love feasts.” The “breaking of bread” was also used routinely to refer to meals in the homes of Christians which would of course been attended by children as well. From what we know, these “love feasts” were very similar to our modern-day potluck meals where members of the community would bring food together to share. It was in the context of these love feasts that the early church would take communion. This is clear in Paul’s description of communion in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22: “When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!“
It is clear from Paul’s description of the “Lord’s Supper” that it was originally much more than a wafer and wine. Instead, it encompassed the entire “love feast” that the church gathered together to celebrate. I think it’s very likely (if not certain) that these love feasts were attended by the children of the worshippers to also partake of the meal in keeping with Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to allow children to come to him and not keep them away (Matt. 19:14).
Paul goes on in this teaching on communion to rightly explain what you mentioned above – the need to, “Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” The “examining” Paul is encouraging of course included unconfessed sin but in the immediate context it is to examine one’s self to see if there is a spirit of division that is destroying the church. This is evident because just a few verses earlier, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for having “divisions” among them. This is also why many of them were sick and dying – not just because they were taking communion with some type of sin in their life but they had the absolute worst sin – they were destroying the church through divisive attitudes and following false leaders. I believe to “examine” one’s self differs and grows as a person grows. For example, it is a different level of “examination” when I examine myself for my sin as opposed to when a 13 year old (or 4 year old – under parental direction) examines themselves before partaking communion. With this same definition in mind, I believe it is right for those with mental handicaps who are physical adults but may function with the cognitive ability of a 5 year old or 6 year old to take communion as the Spirit will help them “examine” themselves in a way that is keeping with their cognitive ability. If a person is able to articulate the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus – and is able to ask for forgiveness and thank Jesus for what He has done for us, I believe it is right and good for them to join the church in the celebration of Communion.
Third, there is nowhere in Scripture that says a person must be baptized in order to take communion (once again, correct me if I am wrong – I am going off of memory as I think through the Scriptures in my mind). This IS the stance that many churches take – especially those that practice “closed communion.” If we are to apply this across the board, we would need to monitor the communion table and only allow those who have been baptized to participate which would exclude many adults who have a sincere and active faith in Jesus but have a different conviction on baptism.
Fourth, and this part of my reasoning holds less weight because it is not based on Scripture but instead based on church history, I can say with confidence that children were partaking of communion by at least A.D. 150 (so about 60 years after the death of the Apostle John). This is evident when reading the church Fathers and considering the teachings of Clement of Alexandria (the earliest), Cyprian, the “Apostolic Constitutions”, and the writings of St. Augustine.
Finally, and this hold the least amount of weight for it is my personal experience, I began allowing Ava to partake of Communion after spending a few months going through the “Jesus Storybook Bible” with her which goes through all of the stories in Scripture and explains how they all point to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Near the end, there is a story that explains what communion is and how Jesus instituted it – including the need to examine one’s self. Each Sunday, when Ava joins me in taking communion, I first ask her the question, “What does this stand for?” She replies something along the lines of, “Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so I could be forgiven of sin.” Then, I ask her to pray for both of us and to thank Jesus for doing this. Then she prays along the lines of, “Dear Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross and rising from the dead to show us your love. Amen.” After that, I give her the wafer and tell her, “This is Jesus’ body, broken for you. As often as you do this, do it to remember Him.” Then I take the grape juice and I give it to her and say, “This is the blood of Jesus poured out for you, as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of him.” Then, I have her give me my elements for communion and explain what they are as I partake of them. From my time with Ava, I fully believe she understands God more than most of the adults I know. I think there’s a reason Jesus called a child in the midst of the disciples and told them they cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless they become like a little children (Matthew 18:3). Another Scripture that comes to mind is in Matthew 11 when Jesus prays, “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him.“
In summary, there are people much smarter than me, who love Jesus more than me, and who know the Scriptures deeper than me who would disagree with my conclusion. I view this as an “open-handed” issue that good Christians who love Jesus can disagree on. Each person should be “fully convinced in his own mind” in the words of the Apostle Paul. I am “fully convinced” in my mind that communion for children, when rightly understood and taught by parents, is a good and beneficial practice to teach children the fundamental elements of the Gospel.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share my thoughts! What are your thoughts on all of this? (Sorry that it’s long and reads more like a seminary paper!)