When Max and Sam Vanderheide took part in their first Lord’s Supper one bright fall afternoon, it was a time for rejoicing.
But since the two are only 9 and 7 years old, respectively, that put their church, Redeemer Christian Reformed Church in Sarnia, Ontario, squarely in the center of a debate in Classis Chatham and across the denomination. (Classis Chatham is the regional group of churches to which Redeemer CRC belongs.)
A proposal of Synod 2006 (the denomination’s annual leadership gathering) opened the way for all baptized children to take part in communion without an age-appropriate public profession of faith. However, Synod 2007 chose not to adopt that decision, which would have made it official.
When Synod 2007 did not approve the practice, Rev. Jim Poelman, pastor of Redeemer, was heartbroken. Following Synod 2006, his council had unanimously agreed to allow the practice. “When you see those kids and they want to be part of the Lord’s Supper and you know God wants them to be part of it and they are passed by, it’s so wrong,” he said.
His council felt so strongly that in October 2007, Redeemer went against the ruling of synod and invited children to the table, with parental consent.
The church’s actions have prompted a debate in Classis Chatham, leaving some pastors wondering what the classis’s stand on the issue should be and how the body should deal with Redeemer CRC, since it is in violation of the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church.
Rev. David Rylaarsdam, associate professor of historical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., has written extensively about children and the Lord’s Supper. He believes there is no biblical reason children should be restricted. He says Redeemer CRC is not alone in moving ahead. He knows of at least a half-dozen churches in Michigan alone that welcome children to the Lord’s Supper.
Rylaarsdam believes some of the current confusion can be attributed to the way decisions are made by synod. “In 2006, the vote was dramatically in favor of opening the table to children. But it had to be voted on again by the 2007 Synod and approved to make it official. Churches seemed confused by this sort of procedure. . . . So in that year, a number of churches moved ahead.”
Classis Chatham plans a discussion of the issue at its May meeting. Meantime, Synod 2007 formed a Faith Formation Committee to study the issue further.