Children at the Table

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.



9 Responses to “Children at the Table”

  1.   Lantz Howard Says:

    Thanks for always being honest and humble in your approach to this topic.

  2.   james Says:

    I really appreciate your attitude when sharing your opinion on what can be very touchy material. “Is there any other kind?” I can hear Jack Nicholson asking.

    I still remember how respectfully you questioned the interpretation of the word repent in Job as being “comforted” during a lecture you gave one year at Lipscomb.

  3.   randall Says:

    I am frequently surprised at how narrow my theological world is and how infrequently I venture out of it to consider other points of view. Thanks John Mark and those that prompted this post.

  4.   Brian Says:

    Setting aside the question of whether “non-believers” may participate (isn’t that really what this issue of chidren in this context is about?), I have another tangential question regarding children and table.

    Our church is studying through Luke leading up to Easter and this Sunday we are considering the Last Supper. As part of the sermon, we are going to emphasize the connection to the Passover. As part of that I want to emphasize the instruction for father’s (parents) to teach their sons (children) about God’s redemption of Israel through the exodus. I am going to have a father and son engage in a similar dialogue regarding communion. I would appreciate any input anyone reading this blog might have regarding the structure or content of such a dialogue.

    Thanks.

  5.   Jonathan Says:

    Thanks for the great material – we have traditionally kept the bread and wine until after a child’s baptism. But I can see very well the point of them being part of the body- sidenote: e.g. if they died before their baptism – I would consider them saved by grace – and Jesus having atoned for them…

    a) but then at what age do they take the bread and wine
    b) should they only have the grape juice choice?
    c) is there any clear teaching about the age of maturity of ‘studying’ to become a christian for baptism and its timing? (we have always taught until the teen puberty time and then waited for a faithful questioning on the youth’s part)

    Thanks for your work,

    Jonathan

  6. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I understand the role of children within the community of faith as a process of maturing disciples (maturing faith). I do think they mature to a point where they make their own faith-commitment in baptism. I don’t know of any absolute rule to judge that. But if the nature of the table is meal (food) and a witness to all of God’s grace, it seems to me that excluding children is problematic. But I would not press this to division or distraction. Yet, I think children are welcome to the table of the Lord just as they are welcome to my family table at home. When do they begin to eat at that table may be a way of thinking when they begin to eat at the communal meal of the church.

    Grape juice is the 20th century tradition of my community so wine is not a deterrent here for the participation of children.

    It is the historic position of the church to wait till children are baptized. The Orthodox communities share the Eucharist with their baptized children but not the unbaptized.

  7.   Paul M King Says:

    Reminds me of Matthew 19:13-14. Also, to a lesser extent, Matthew 11:25-26 and Matthew 21:15-16.

    It also goes along with the idea of God’s Kingdom being all-inclusive to any who want to be there. Jesus always had words for those who sought to exclude people from drawing close to God – ironically the most ‘holy’ and ‘righteous’ people (in their own eyes, at least) of the day.

  8.   Alan Robertson Says:

    Loved the thoughts. I have always believed the way you articulated this thesis, but have never really discussed it much. I appreciate all your work on the Supper-books, articles, etc. It has been an encouragement to all of us “front-line” preachers out there……

  9. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Alan. I appreciate your encouragement.

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