Church Life

When A Child Should Participate: Part 1

No two families agree on everything. When pressed for answers, parents in the assembly will likely disagree on issues like discipline, use of technology in the home, age of dating, etc.

Depending on our own experiences, upbringings and perspectives, not to mention personal conviction based on a certain understanding of a certain Scripture verse, we all have a variety of understandings on these issues. Even between spouses, who are on the same team, it is difficult to find perfect agreement!

Starting the discussion

In this series we will explore difficult questions, questions for which there is no clear teaching in the Bible. By generating discussion, hopefully we will all arrive at a clearer understanding of our own position on some of these issues.

In this article I would like to tackle the question of, How old a child should be before they take communion, i.e. the bread and the wine. A twin question that usually pairs with this subject is, “Should a child take the bread and the wine after they are baptized or can they take part before they are baptized?”

The importance of collective wisdom

I will share my limited wisdom on this subject and whether you agree or disagree with me, a clearer understanding will result. Through discussion, I hope to clarify or change my position based on our collective wisdom.

First of all, as people of the assemblies, we value plurality in leadership and ministry. But plurality also has application for gaining wisdom as well, as Solomon says “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

This is especially true when it comes to issues for which there is no clear Scripture, only principles and applications of certain Scriptures. With that in mind, let us begin our discussion.

My position on this issue

Disclaimer: I think a child can take the bread and the wine, at any age, provided that it can be verified that the child is truly saved and has an understanding of what the Lord’s Supper means.

This position brings up two issues that will need clarifying.

  1. Who will decide whether this child is truly saved, the child’s parents or the elders of the assembly?
  2. What does it mean to truly understand the Lord’s Supper?     

My reasoning is this: if anyone is truly saved, they are invited and encouraged to remember the Lord who died and rose for them. This means partaking of the bread and wine. This would include children.

What was said to the Ethiopian eunuch regarding baptism I apply to this issue of children partaking of the bread and wine: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37).

Where this issue gets a little clouded, however, is with the issue of false professions, or social professions, especially among children.  

To guard against false professions, some people are very careful and end up waiting a long time to verify whether their children are truly saved. Some people may even have the elders interview their children to confirm that a child is indeed saved.

Parents know best

I personally believe that the parents are the best interpreters of whether their children are saved, and secondarily, the elders. Therefore, after confirming that my children understand what it means to be saved, and that they have received Christ as their Savior, they have passed the first “test.” Now, for the second.

Does the child understand what the breaking of bread means?

While it is true that a child can be saved very young, even at age 5 (as many people would attest from their own experience) I would contend that it is difficult for a child to understand everything that is taught, sung and prayed at the Breaking of Bread.

For my five children, my own practice has been that if my child sings, prays and listens to what is being said about our Lord Jesus Christ, with understanding, then I let them participate by taking bread and wine.

My logic is this: if you don’t participate in the hymns, prayers and Scripture readings, then why would I let you participate in the taking of elements?

Is there understanding?

I base this practice on the following Scripture. When speaking to the Corinthians about the open meeting (which is the closest type of meeting that correlates to our Breaking of Bread) the Apostle Paul instructs speakers to speak so that those who hear them will understand. The context has to do with speaking with tongues, but I have reduced it to its general principle.

In summary, Paul taught the Corinthians that both speakers and those who hear them have a participation in what was said. If what was said was not understood or listened to, then their communication is useless.

Therefore, what is said in the meeting must be understood, “otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen,’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? (1 Cor.14:16). If a saved child understands what is going on at the Breaking of Bread service, I say let them participate.   

The conclusion of the matter

I’m sure there is more than can be said about this issue. And I’m sure there are other principles that apply. But the ones I’ve listed are the main ones I have used to guide my own family on this issue. I have five children in total. Four of them partake in the bread and the “juice.”

As of late, my youngest, my eight year old daughter, has starting asking me if she can take the bread and wine. Since then, I have been observing her during the service and discussing things with her for several months now.

Based on my observations and discussions with her, along with my wife’s, we will be allowing our daughter to partake in the elements in 2019.

In the next issue, I will discuss whether or not a child needs to be baptized in order to take the bread and the wine, and at what age a child should be baptized.  

Shane Johnson
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