Discipling Children (part4?!)

Dear Reader,

I can’t seem to leave this topic. I suppose this is because it is not all worked out in my mind. Posting about it here is my way of working through it. Also, it was a major topic in our adult Sunday school class yesterday. I am glad to know that others feel the disjunction on this topic too.

The major points I am getting are:

-Children of believers are to be treated as believers. As such we disciple them to help them grow in Christ. We do not evangelize them.

-Our main goal should not be obedient children. Though that is a nice side effect. Our main goal should be to point them to Christ, through our teaching and our example.

-Children should be taught more theology and less on virtues or values. The latter will come as a side benefit if we teach them thankfulness to their Creator.

A big topic in yesterday’s discussion was children and the Lord’s Supper. Now we do baptize children in our church. But they do not participate in communion until they have made a public profession of faith. There are 6 or 7 questions they have to say “yes” to to become what we call communicant members. These are pretty basic questions. To me they cover the basics of Christian theology (the trinity, the authority of the Bible, our own sin and need for a savior, our agreement to respect the authority and discipline of the leaders in the church, and a couple more I can’t remember now) and do not put an undue burden on the believer. I have no real problem with an adult convert being asked to agree to these things.

One of the issue that has come up is a reluctance on the part of the kids to actually stand up front and respond to these questions. I can sympathize with them on this. My 8yo dd is very shy about speaking to people and I was the same way as a child. I don’t think it is a reflection on our faith to say that this is hard for some to do. Believers should be able to speak up for their faith. But we all have different temperments and while this might seem as nothing to some, to others it is a huge hurdle. I am not sure children should be penalized for this. If an adult convert were very, very shy, I would also be in favor of letting them off the hook on the public part of this. Officially, one becomes a communicant member when they meet with the session (the elders altogther) and answers the questions. Doing it again in public is kind of icing on the cake. It is nice, but not necessary.

Another big issue seems to be when a child is ready to become a communicant member. There are some in our denomination that would favor paedo-communion, that is letting even infants participate. The argument here is that they are part of God’s covenant community and the Lord’s Supper is for His people and so all His people should be allowed to participate, regardless of their age. I am not sure I am ready to go that far, but I do respect this position. It seems consistent to me and these days that is more than I find on the other side.

The reason I am not willing to go all the way to the paedo-communion position, and one of the main arguments against it, is the biblical injunction to examine one’s conscience before taking the sacrament. The relevant passage is 1 Corinthians 11:27-29:

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

It seems here that Paul is calling upon the church members to examine their consciences before taking the Lord’s supper and to recognize the Lord in the sacrament. The penalties for taking the sacrament unworthily are strong. While I do believe a small child can be saved in that the Spirit lives in them and their hearts are converted from striving after sin only to seeking the Lord, I am not sure that they  have the mental capacity to examine their consciences or recognize the Lord in the sacrament. However, I do think these things can be achieved at a fairly young age. I think a perceptive 6 year old might qualify. For other children it may take longer, but I could see a child as young as 6 or so meeting the criteria. And the criteria I am proposing are mental criteria. They have to do with one’s mental perception and ability to self-examine. They are not spiritual criteria because it is assumed that the child is already on the right side spiritually. I could see that there would be severely retarded adults for whom the mental capacity never is there. I would hate to see them excluded based on this. But I imagine this is a rare circumstance and should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

The advocate of paedo-communion would argue that until the child is of an age to do so themselves, the parent is responsible to examine them and know that they are fit for communion on a weekly basis. But frankly, as a parent I am not too comfortable with this. There can be a lot going on inside our kids that we don’t know. I am not comfortable examining my kids’ consciences in this way. How can you examine someone else’s conscience? 

All of which is why I would not allow infants to participate in communion but I would allow fairly young children to upon a demonstration that they understand what the sacrament is about and are able to discern right and wrong in their lives and acknowledge their sinfulness. I want to reiterate though that I do not see this as a spiritual test. It is not that they have come to see their sinfulness at this particular point and have just turned to Jesus for salvation. Their salvation is already assumed, but they are now able to articulate it to some degree and to examine their own hearts.

The reason I reiterate this so much is that it is not the impression I am given by my church. Our pastor weekly talks about who can participate in communion (yes, we do have it weekly which I am all for; I think it is the biblical model). And weekly he speaks to the children and says that when they are ready to make a commitment to follow Christ that he hopes to see them participate. Now I am not remembering his exact words and I don’t want to misrepresent what he says. What I can say is that to me it sounds like an altar-call. It sounds like he is asking them to make a decision. That may not be how he means it. So I think I have a problem with this, because, for all the reasons stated above and in my previous posts, I don’t think this is what the kids need at this point. They do not need to make a decision for Christ because they are Christ’s.

Honestly, I did not grow up in this denomination and maybe I am misunderstanding everything. But this is what I have gotten. This is wha makes sense to me. There is no half-way in the kingdom of God. You are in or out. You can;t be a baptized member and not be a full member. Though I would hold off on communion for children for a while, it is not because if their spiritual state but because of their mental abilities.

I am not planning a part 5 . . .  but well, we will see. My thinking is evolving on this so as it changes or there is new input, I may post on it again. 



One response to this post.

  1. […] a lot on this in the past as I have tried to sort through the issues (see here, here, here, and here). On the one hand, we expect our children to behave like God’s people. This usually comes […]


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