Vantage Point

Children at the Lord’s Table

This Summer Classis Holland is bringing an overture to synod requesting that we study the admission of all baptized members to the Lord’s Supper and the place of profession of faith in our churches. While these are not new issues for synod, the overture includes additional information that calls for reopening discussion of these matters.

When we last looked at these issues, there was a clear desire to include younger children more fully in the spiritual life of the church. Unfortunately this led us to create a system of membership that is muddy and confusing. Distinguishing between those who are baptized and those who have made profession of faith is not theologically or biblically sound for Reformed Christians, who emphasize covenant theology.

Any treatment of this issue must include a discussion of Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding inappropriate celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. This passage indicates that “recognizing the body of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:29) refers to the church as the body of Christ rather than Christ’s physical body. Wealthy Christians in Corinth were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a way that humiliated other Christians. The Corinthians had to learn to discern the body—that is, the church. Paul’s greatest concern in this discussion was that believers at the Lord’s Supper examine their attitude and behavior toward one another, particularly toward those who had less wealth or opportunity among them.

In light of this passage, it is ironic that we have used Paul’s concerns for unity of the body at communion to exclude baptized children. Paul actually suggests the opposite—that all members of the covenant community be included at the Lord’s table.

For the first thousand years after Christ’s earthly ministry, baptized children were welcome at the table, just as they were at Passover. Many of the reasons for keeping children from the table grew out of an effort to conserve church hierarchy. There was, for example, often no bishop available to confirm someone’s baptism, thus causing a period of waiting between baptism and confirmation. The Roman Church insisted that without a bishop there could be no confirmation. And without confirmation there could be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In addition, the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which came about during the 12th and 13th centuries, led to a fear that the bread and wine, thought to be the actual body and blood of Christ, would be dropped or spilled by a child. Those reasons no longer apply today, but the result—children no longer welcome at the table—is still with us. It is time for us to return to what the church did for hundreds of years—welcome all baptized members to the table of the Lord.

About the Author

Robert J. Keeley is professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance learning at Calvin Seminary.

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