21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
24 Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshipped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old - 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
Most of us who have grown up in the so-called ‘mainline’ Churches were taught that until such time as a child is confirmed, (usually in their mid-teens), they were not permitted to take Holy Communion. In some Churches where the congregation goes up to the Communion rail, children were welcome to come forward where they would receive a blessing from the minister or priest, but they were not given the sacrament of Communion.
In recent years this has changed, and there is a clause in the Manual of Faith and Order of the UPCSA, which specifically states that children may receive Holy Communion. There is no age restriction, and confirmation is no longer a ‘rite of passage’ to the Communion Table.
That’s what the rulebook says, but there are still many people who have questioned this decision. I’ve just begun my 14th year of fulltime ministry, and you might be surprised how often I am asked why we allow children to take Communion in our congregation, when for so long we didn’t.
There are various arguments supporting the exclusion of children from Holy Communion, and this has been a thorny issue for years, but there are perfectly valid reasons for including them too.
Firstly, there are no texts in the New Testament that regulate admission to Communion based on age, because all who love Jesus are invited to the Lord’s Table.
Let’s take a look at the early Church’s attitude to children:
Jesus considered children as capable of praise. In Matthew 21 He has an altercation with the chief priests. “When the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked Him.” Jesus then replies and quotes from Psalm 8: “Have you never read, ‘from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”
In Matthew 19 He rebuked His disciples for trying to keep children away from Him.
Jesus took it for granted that children were part of the Kingdom of God, and His words in Matthew 18 are often quoted: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
If we turn to the Old Testament and the Mosaic Covenant, we soon learn that children were regarded as members of the Covenant because they were born into it. Circumcision was the sign, not the means of belonging to the Covenant.
Children were expected to participate in Jewish festivals, such as the Passover.
The whole idea was that as children grew up, their parents would instruct them on the meaning of the law. In Exodus 12, God gives these instructions to Moses: “When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.”
What’s important to see here is that children were instructed and brought up within the Covenant. They didn’t have to understand the law before they were made members of the Covenant.
Understanding never was and never will be the basis for God’s Covenant. It is only by God’s grace.
Jesus drew a clear parallel between Holy Communion and baptism. Baptism is the rite of entry into the New Covenant, and most of us understand that baptism is what brings children into the membership of the Church. But listen to what Jesus said in the Upper Room when He shared the first Holy Communion with His disciples: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.” In other words, both baptism and Holy Communion are sacraments within the New Covenant. All who stand under the New Covenant are invited to Holy Communion. So baptism not only brings you into the Church - it brings you into the New Covenant, which includes the Lord’s Table. You’re either in the New Covenant, or you’re not. There is no half measure of God’s grace.
In more recent times, from the 2nd to the 12th century there are Eucharistic prayers that show clearly that children were part of Holy Communion.
The reason it stopped in medieval times is because the Church removed the right of celebrating Communion from the laity. Even today there is an understanding that only ordained ministers may administer Holy Communion. Some ministers are horrified when lay people celebrate Holy Communion, but this has absolutely no Biblical basis.
Confirmation then became the rite of entry to Holy Communion, but there is a misunderstanding of just what confirmation is. From around the 5th century, as the Church began to expand, the bishop was the only person authorised to baptise, but this became an impossible undertaking as the Church grew. So for purely practical reasons, the local priest was licensed to perform baptisms, and the bishop would make regular visits to the congregations under his authority where he would confirm the baptisms done by the local priests. So in those early days it was entirely possible that your child would be baptised one Sunday and the bishop would visit your Church the very next week and your child would be confirmed.
Over time though, things began to change. Instead of confirmation being nothing more than a formality sealed with a rubber stamp by the bishop, it became something that was done when a child reached an age of understanding, and only when confirmed, was that child allowed to take Communion. The thing is though, that confirmation has no Biblical basis.
It is not a Sacrament, because it does not exist in the Bible, and because of this confirmation cannot be seen as a basis for entry into Holy Communion. In the Reformed Church we recognise only two Sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. They are both a means of grace, given to the Church by Jesus. It’s the Lord’s Table, not the Church’s table, and this is the main reason for the general movement away from formal confirmation in the Christian Church today, and quite frankly, the sooner it is discontinued altogether, the better. I do need to point out though that the teaching and training we give our children must continue. Educating our youngsters in the ways of Jesus is a Biblical mandate, and it is vital that we teach our children about God because the non-believing world won’t. We should encourage our children to make a public confession of their faith as they grow older, but without the ritual and legalism of confirmation. A teenager is quite capable of standing up in Church and confessing their faith in Jesus, and in so doing confirming the vows made on their behalf when they were babies, but we don’t need to give them a certificate in order for them to finally be allowed to share in Holy Communion. Holy Communion is central to Christian worship, and to exclude children from Holy Communion, effectively means that they are excluded from worship itself.
Children become spectators in the Church, and it’s no wonder that there are so teens leaving the Church. Worship, and more particularly, Holy Communion is alien to our youngsters, because they have been excluded and made to feel unqualified and inferior.
There are two common objections to the admission of children to Holy Communion.
Firstly, it is felt that children can neither understand nor confess Holy Communion. They can’t understand the words spoken to them at their baptism either, but they still receive God’s grace.
A child is quite capable of understanding words like ‘for you, take, eat and drink.’
I don’t think we give the capability of a child’s understanding the credit it deserves sometimes. This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike.”
To make understanding a prerequisite for grace is to turn the Gospel into law. A child doesn’t have to understand baptism in order to be baptised, so why should he or she have to understand Holy Communion before being allowed to participate in this means of God’s grace?
If understanding of the grace of God is to be a criterion, then we should be consistent and exclude adults from Communion too. Who are we to say that a child is too young and cannot share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and because of this they should not be invited until they have been confirmed? Children may not completely understand what is happening, but they do know when people are invited to a meal and they are not. Understanding follows faith – not the other way round.
In the New Testament faith is always linked to grace. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” He goes on to say that grace is a gift of God; it’s not something that we have worked for.
When Jesus celebrated the first Holy Communion with His disciples, they had no idea or understanding of what was happening, but that did not prevent them from sharing in the Sacrament.
So understanding as a criterion for taking Holy Communion holds no water.
The second common objection to children taking Communion is that they are not able to examine themselves, or to discern the body. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul writes, “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 recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
These verses are often used to justify the objection to children taking Communion. What we need to understand though, is that when Paul wrote these words, he was addressing people who were fostering division and factions within the Corinthian Church.
And these weren’t children – they were adults!
Part of the preparation that we need to undergo before coming to the Lord’s Table is self-examination. The bottom line is that none of us are worthy. By coming to take Communion, we are in effect saying, “Lord, I am not worthy, and I have no right to do this. But I come in faith, and in response to your invitation.”
Just as when an adult knows that they have done wrong, so does a child.
And just as an adult knows that they need God’s grace, so does a child.
I think that we need to remember that we are all sinners, and we have no right to say to someone purely because they are younger than we are, “I am good enough to stand under this Covenant, but not you. You are excluded until you are qualified.”
We have a clear Biblical mandate to bring up our children within the Church as fully participating members, including Holy Communion.
A concern sometimes raised is what to do about children whose parents do not attend Church, but the congregation accepts responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of those children at their baptism. We are family. Our Sunday School teachers are in the frontline when it comes to teaching our children about Jesus, but as their spiritual family we all continue that task by including them in worship and Holy Communion, whether their parents are here or not.
I’m digressing a bit here, but what about non-believers taking Communion? Again, this is another example of legalism hurting people. Not everybody who goes to Church each Sunday is a born again believer, but we welcome non-Christians anyway. If you are sitting here this morning and you are not a Christian we are delighted to see you today. You are welcome to join us in worship, and you are welcome to take Holy Communion. God loves you, and He knows your heart. His grace is for you and my prayer for you this morning is that you will leave his place today a lot closer to God than when you walked in this morning.
Those of you who have read the homegroup material for this week will see that I made the point that we should be careful of allowing our group discussions to degenerate into arguments about allowing our children to take Communion. Of far greater importance is the Biblical mandate we have to teach our children about Christ, and to make them feel welcome as members of our Church family. They must feel part of the life of worship in the Church, and Holy Communion in particular. Don’t underestimate the depth of faith of a child. If we took the time to listen to what they have to say about faith, we might find they could teach us a few things, rather than the other way round. While I was at Eston a lady in our congregation died and her daughter sat her children down, took a deep breath and said, “I’ve got some bad news to tell you. Your granny has died.” Quick as a flash her son who was about 7 years old said, “Well I’ve got good news. Jesus is alive.”
“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise...”
Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Please guard against allowing your discussion time to become a debate as to whether children should be allowed to take Holy Communion or not. Rather focus on the mandate we have as the Church: To teach our children about Jesus.
Read Matthew 21:12-18 and 18:1-5
Jesus was very clear about the importance of children to Him.
What does the Bible teach about having a childlike faith, and how does this differ from the faith or understanding of many adults?
Scripture classes in our schools are a thing of the past. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this change in our society.
What role do we now have as the Church, as parents and grandparents?
Read Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Most would agree that traditional Sunday School classes where children learn about Jesus ‘in their own language’ is important and still has a place in the modern Church.
Our own Sunday School (Kiddies’ Corner and Young Disciples) may be small in number, but they are a vital part of the life of our Church.
What can we do to help them and their teachers?
Close by praying for wisdom and guidance for the teachers of the children in our congregation.