For the last few months, my leaders have been wrestling with the matter of children taking communion. Basically, we are thinking of setting a minimum age for children to be able to participate in the Lord’s Supper. We’re leaning this way for some practical reasons.
On a typical Sunday, children 6th grade and younger leave the service after about 20 minutes to go to Junior Church, which includes some worship and teaching which is more child-friendly. On communion Sundays, though, they stay in the service the whole time so they can witness and participate in the sacrament. According to the Book of Order of the PC(USA), children are allowed to take communion if they understand that it is more than snack time, and that something of great spiritual importance is happening. At our church, for many years our practice has been to allow the parents to make that determination themselves.
So why are we thinking of changing things?
First, the children are disruptive. They get antsy being in the whole service. Many members mind the distraction during a more solemn moment such as the sacrament. They’d be just as happy having them somewhere else.
Second, the children seem to somewhat thoughtlessly take the sacrament. Do they understand it, or are they just doing it? We are not sure the parents are thinking about that, or that they are judging correctly.
Third, we don’t want the Lord’s Supper to be handled in a disrespectful way and we want to highlight it as the important act that it is. This past year, in order to heighten the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in our worship life, we began to celebrate it every month, moving from ever other month. Is the Sacrament’s importance upheld by restricting access to children, or by allowing access?
While the first reason is the most persuasive and sufficient reason for many in our church to not allow children to take communion, the leaders recognize that we need to think this matter through Biblically and theologically. It is no small thing to determine who may or may not celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
So what does the History of the Church teach us about this matter? How have Christians through the centuries regarded this question? Have children participated in the Lord’s Supper or not? What patterns can we discern? The value of such an historical look at this kind of question is that is challenges the assumptions we unknowingly make. An assumption that I have always made about this matter, and that I have seen churches I am familiar with make, is that only those who understand the sacrament can take it. The only question in my mind was who made the determination of understanding and at what age was it thought to arrive.
I discovered that the practice of Christians years ago was quite different.
(Tomorrow, a look at that history)