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Deciding Whether Your Child is Ready to Receive the Lord's Supper
By Andrew J. Webb

 

In determining whether your child is ready to receive the Lord's Supper, there is no magical age at which they are suddenly "ready." Rather, children will be ready to come to the table based on their own spiritual development and maturity. Sadly, some children who never own the Covenant for themselves and thus make good their Baptism, will never be qualified for communion due to their lack of faith. Others will be considerably delayed or perhaps never be able to come to the table because they are not able to meet the requirements such as the ability to examine themselves or discern the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:28-29) due to some serious mental or physical impediment.

Parents should not fret that their children are being "starved of grace" because they are not yet partaking of the Lord's Supper or that not being admitted to the table is somehow an expression of the belief of the church that they are not yet believers. Rather, we remember that the Lord provides abundant grace to our children through the other means: prayer, the preaching and reading of the Word, and baptism. A Christian marooned on a desert island would not be "starved of grace" because he no longer had access to the sacraments. Even if he did not have a bible, he still would have access to God and His strengthening grace via prayer. Parents should be particularly zealous to ensure that their children are growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord and being prepared for the Lord's table by regularly praying with them and including them in daily sessions of family worship. Also, we remember that there are certain requirements for coming the table beyond simple belief. A child may well be a regenerate believer, but not yet cognitively equipped or self-aware enough to come to the table.

We remember that the table is designed to be the covenant meal of the professing members of the church. It is not like Baptism, which, like the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision, is to be applied to the infant children of all believers. There are certain requirements for coming to the table:

  1. The party coming to the table must be a Baptized member of the visible church in good standing. This is  the communion  meal of the members of the Church (1 Cor. 11:18ff), and we do not admit people into the church without baptizing them. Neither do we admit those who have been suspended from the sacraments or excommunicated to the table.

  2. The person must be truly trusting in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. What this means in the case of a child, will be discussed later. They must also be able to profess their faith (1 Cor. 11:26).

  3. The person must be capable of self-control in coming to the table (1 Cor. 11:21-22).

  4. The person must be able to "discern the Lord's body" in the elements (1 Cor. 11:29). The elements should be more than an ordinary snack of bread and wine, rather the person should be capable of understanding that they represent the body and blood of the Lord and that they who partake of the Lord's Supper in faith spiritually feed on Christ.

  5. The person must be capable of self-examination (1 COr. 11:28). They must be able to analyze themselves and determine that they are true believers in Christ and thus worthy partakers.

Obviously, a child will not understand these concepts to the same degree as an adult, and even adults grow in their understanding as they progress in the faith. For instance, the faith of child need not be as doctrinally developed or sophisticated as the faith of an adult in order to be sincere. Neither will a child usually be able to articulate their faith in anything but a simple manner, but this also does not necessarily mean that they do not truly believe.

The following qualities will need to be present in the faith of any child for it to be true:

  • A Belief in the Triune God of the Bible (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit)

  • A Belief in Heaven and Hell

  • Loving the Lord Jesus and Trusting in Him Alone for Salvation

  • Believing that Jesus was crucified for their Sins and that God raised Him from the Dead

If you believe that the following elements are all present in the faith of your child, then you should examine them to determine whether or not they understand these basics concepts from the Children's Catechism regarding the Lord's Supper:

Q. 122. How many sacraments are there?
A. Two.

Q. 123. What are they?
A. Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Q. 124. Who appointed these sacraments?
A. The Lord Jesus Christ.

Q. 125. Why did Christ appoint these sacraments?
A. To distinguish his disciples from the world, and to comfort and strengthen them.

Q. 133. What is the Lord's Supper?
A. The eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of the sufferings and death of Christ.

Q. 134. What does the bread represent?
A. The body of Christ, broken for our sins.

Q. 135. What does the wine represent?
A. The blood of Christ, shed for our salvation.

Q. 136. Who should partake of the Lord's Supper?
A. Only those who repent of their sins, believe in Christ for salvation, and love their fellow men.

If they don't yet understand these things, but you are convinced that they are capable of doing so, then you should endeavor to teach them. They don't need to have them memorized, but they should be able to give their own answers to the questions.

Once you are fairly certain that your child sincerely believes, can articulate their faith, has a basic understanding of the supper, and is capable of the self-control and basic self-examination called for, you should present your child to the elders of the church to be examined and if possible, admitted to the table. Your child will also be called upon to make a public profession of their faith before the church per the PCA Book of Church Order section 57-4.

While coming to the table is something that every believing child should eventually do, and we would encourage you to bring them as soon as they are ready, parents should not be overly eager to bring them to the table before they are ready. The Lord's Supper is always either a blessing or a curse to those who partake of it. Parents should not give the supper to their child before they are qualified lest it be a curse to them. We should heed the warning of Calvin when he writes:

"If they cannot partake worthily without being able duly to discern the sanctity of the Lord's body, why should we stretch out poison to our young children instead of vivifying food?"1


1John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, BOOK IV CHAPTER 16 SECTION 30

 

 

 

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