Given a couple of recent comments on my previous post by Terrell Lee and Johnny Melton, I have interrupted my series on “Breaking Bread” to offer the below piece. This brief–very brief–statement is something I wrote for a children’s minister who requested a theological rationale for children participating in communion. The following is not a full argument or statement of the case, but is suggestive of the themes that shape the inclusion of children at the table. In Come to the Table I suggested but did not emphasize this point. I did not want that point to distract from the main thrust of the book, that is, to revision the Lord’s Supper as table rather than altar.
I recognize that this is a controversial question and my position is a minority one in the history of Christianity except that the Orthodox Church has always included children and some Reformed streams have practiced it as well. I never make this a focus of my teaching on the Lord’s Supper and I do not push the question in any way. But, when asked, I respond with my opinion as I think appropriate. It is not a “pressing topic” for me, but I do believe parents should not be hindered or rebuked when they invite their children to eat and drink with them at the table.
Here is the piece I have shared with children’s ministers when requested.
Children at the Table
The Lord’s Supper is a table event; a meal which the community of faith shares. The community invites all to share the meal with them as a witness to the truth and meaning of the gospel. All are invited; none but the rebellious are barred.
The Supper was originally experienced in the context of a meal—it was a Supper. Neither guests nor children would have been excluded from that meal. It was for everyone as witness to the grace of God, which is for everyone.
Children, in particular, are invited to the table because they belong to the kingdom. They are kingdom people. They are on the journey of faith, and the Supper will shape the growth and development of that faith. The Supper testifies to the faithfulness and love of God, and when children eat, they experience that faithfulness and love at the table.
The table, then, is a learning event for children. They hear the story of the gospel and participate in the elements, which bear witness to the gospel. They experience the gospel through eating and drinking. This prepares their heart for discipleship, encourages the development of their faith, and assures them of God’s love on their journey.
Baptism is where our children commit themselves to the way of the cross as disciples of Jesus. Baptism is an individual act of faith-commitment that the community witnesses and celebrates. The table is where children learn about Jesus and experience his love. The table is family time; it is a communal event. As part of the family—as persons on the journey of faith—they should sit at the table with the rest of the community.
It is generally unwise to send children to bed without their supper, and it is potentially a hindrance to their faith to exclude them from the table in the family of God.