Communion

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord’s Supper, or Communion, is one of just two sacraments observed by most protestant denominations. The other is, of course, baptism. By sacrament, we mean a “means of grace.” The concept is that God’s grace is bestowed upon believers through the taking of the bread and wine which represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. While all Christian denominations observe at least these two sacraments (Catholics observe more than these two), there are some differences in understanding regarding them. Besides the question about the nature of the elements themselves (literal body/blood, symbolic body/blood, etc.) the concerns revolve around the following two questions:

  • Who are the sacraments for? For anyone who wants to partake? Or for Christians only?
  • Are children invited to partake of the elements? And if so, at what age?

 

Who are the sacraments for?
Jesus offered the bread and wine to his disciples and told them to “do this in remembrance of me.” He continued with: “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

These familiar words suggest that Jesus chose a very specific group to offer the elements to—his disciples. He could have offered them to any number of crowds or groups that gathered around him throughout his ministry. But He offered the bread and wine to his disciples—ones that “knew” Him, that loved Him, that had been following Him. And, they were told to partake “in remembrance of me.” Who is going to “remember Christ” as they partake other than a believer? And who wants to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” other than a believer?

On the basis of these repeated words throughout the NT, the EPC teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a provision for believers. The officiating pastor in EPC churches will generally, in a gracious manner, make this point clear at the beginning of the service.

 

What about children?
The answer to this question is a bit more complicated, even though it is basically the same answer. Children are to be believers too. But we all know that that isn’t always as easy to explain or discern.

In reformed theology, children are considered to be part of what we call the “covenant community.” Children in both the OT Jewish community and the NT church community were viewed as “part of the covenant community.” In the OT, children “belonged” by virtue of being circumcised soon after birth. In the NT, after Christ, children were considered part of the covenant community by virtue of being part of the “household” of new believers in Jesus Christ, all of whom (adult and child alike) were baptized in recognition of being part of this new covenant community (followers of The Way which became the church).

The wonderful blessing of being part of God’s covenant community, both for Old and New Testament believers and for believers today, is the recognition that it puts the child in the center of a believing community (the church) that commits to nurture that child in the faith. Of course, believing parents are a vital part of this community when it comes to the life of the child. When a child in such a community is able to understand enough to make his/her own commitment to trust in Christ’s work as the way of dealing with their sin and as the way to establish a relationship with God, then that child is ready to participate in communion. There is no magic age for this—it depends on the child, the Holy Spirit’s work in his/her life, and the nurturing/teaching the child has received.

Some denominations establish a particular age when a child is deemed “old enough” to receive communion. Some require that the child complete a confirmation class before taking communion. These various practices are simply ways the church has sought to protect and apply the believer requirement as it relates to children.

But there is also the teaching of I Corinthians 11:27-32 which challenges the Corinthian church to “examine themselves” before partaking; and to avoid partaking “in an unworthy manner.” The challenge here is for believers of all ages, including children. It begs the question of the child’s readiness to search their hearts and prepare for communion.

 

Practical Implications for Grace
 
priesthood1At Grace, we are following the practices of our local partner EPC churches which is to leave the decision regarding the “child’s readiness for communion” up to the parents of that child. Our job, then, is to ask parents to take this seriously and to refrain from encouraging a child to take communion “just because.” Children who come to the table with their parents, but do not partake of the elements, will still receive a blessing from the officiating pastor in recognition of their membership in the covenant community and the responsibility of that community for the spiritual nurture of that child. Children and parents who have participated in such a communion service have found this practice to be very meaningful.

Parents who believe their child has made a commitment to Jesus Christ should still help that child prepare for communion by speaking and praying with them about their commitment and explaining to them what the service will be like and what it means. Of course adult believers should consider the teaching of scripture regarding “examination and readiness” for receiving the sacraments as well.

In these ways, Grace attempts to honor the teaching of God’s Word, to envelop our covenant children in our love and nurture, and to equip us all for our role as God’s partners in ministry as He ministers through us in the various places where He has put us.