Thursday, July 30, 2009

Should children take communion?

Should children take communion? A more controversial question then I had an initially anticipated. Some people are baptised as adults, others as children and then they go through a 'confirmation' or 'profession' of faith. (I'm wondering what the Scriptural basis for this "coming of age" / "making it your own" thing is.) Personally looking back I've been making my faith my own from before I can remember till now. So buried inside this question is the question of conversion, that'll colour how you answer the question of should children take communion.

[The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci]

18 comments:

Al Bain said...

Mate. I'll pass on this one. Good question.

I will say this though. At the Pressie Church in Sydney that I went to and at a number of Anglican Churches, children (babies even) took communion with their parents. They were encouraged to do so.

Andrew Bowles said...

There are only two consistent and unproblematic positions on sacramental questions. One is absolute objectivism (Catholics) where it communicates grace regardless of the attributes of the person. The other is a rigorous subjectivism, where the believer has to be in conscious and sincere faith, completely pure from sin, partaking with perfect awareness of the meaning and purpose of the sacrament. Apart from those extremes, it mostly seems to be a question of what is pastoral helpful and within reasonable theological integrity. This question falls into that gap, I think.

Jill said...

Hi Luke,

Good luck with finding a scriptural basis for the idea of confirmation as coming of age/personal profession of faith. It's a reformation innovation, and made sense in that context. In my view, it doesn't stop confirmation being a sacramental action in search of a theological rationale.

Quick history - the early church had a unified initiatory rite, which included all the stuff we now find in baptism and confirmation. The combination of the Diocletan persecution and the Constantinian "conversion" forced the church to a new model, which in the West meant having the local presbyter do part of the initatory rite, and leave part to be 'confirmed' by the (now regional) bishop when next he came to visit. But people can be slack, and so can bishops. Sometimes the interval was weeks, sometimes years. Sometimes the parents didn't get round to bringing the kid. So in the 12th century there was a papal edict that no-one could take communion until they'd been confirmed. Then we had the reformation reinterpretation of confirmation.

Okay, sorry to bore you with stuff you probably already know. The key question, as I see it, is whether we understand baptism to be a full and complete act of incorporation into the body of Christ (which is certainly what the Anglican rites all say). If a person is a member of the body of Christ, on what grounds to we refuse them the Lord's Supper if they seek it?

It seems to me we have to say, there are no grounds. The only other position is one which says they have to demonstrate "adequate understanding", and that's a real minefield. Who defines adequate understanding? Do any of us really understand how the grace of God operates? Would we refuse communion to an intellectually impaired person? What about a believer who had been a regular communicant and suffered an acquired brain injury?

Okay, that's enough hornets stirred up for now.

Luke said...

Hi Jill,

Your right, it's not until the early Medieval period that confirmation clearly becomes a separate rite from baptism and even then the Roman Catholic argument runs that 'confirmation' grew out of a separate 'baptism of the Holy Spirit' that is mentioned by some of the early church fathers and apparently alluded to in Acts 8 and 19. Your also right that if baptism really brings a child into the people of God then they should be able to participate in the life of the church including the other sacrament, of communion. Thanks for your comment!

@Andrew: Given the pastoral sensitivities I agree it would be wise to proceed carefully with either position.
@Al: That's interesting that was the case at those churches in Sydney, I wonder how widespread that was elsewhere?

Chris said...

Luke - I think you need to change your comment (in blogger settings) to get the comment form put at the bottom of your post and embedded in your template.

On the question of baptism and communion... Jordan made an interesting point at lunch yesterday (forgive me Jordan if I misunderstood) which was that to take communion the bible does speak about people needing to have dealt with their sin in some real way (i.e. seeking someone out and asking their forgiveness) and also I think he said that the bible never says communion is a means for salvation and therefore it could be consistent to withold communion to children or others who are baptised by are unable to cognitively repent.

I think that's what he was saying...

I see some merit in both arguments (for and against kids) But I am going to remain opinionless for now! ;) It's safer that way!

Jill said...

Hi Luke,

I hope I've got my facts right - a decade of Ridley students and a couple of M.Th. examiners should be pretty worried if I haven't! LOL.

Al's comment about the Pressie Church in Sydney is interesting. 'Tis a little known (or at least, rarely acknowledged) fact that the Presbyterian doctrinal basis for infant baptism is quite different to the Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican doctrine. (It's in the thesis;-))

The Presbyterian (Calvinist) understanding is very strongly grounded in a covenantal theology. Having infants receive communion with their parents would, I think, be absolutely consistent with that.

Hmmmm - am I a closet Calvinist after all???????

Al Bain said...

Jill. You are spot on about the Calvin stuff.

More generally, the notion of confirmation has always seemed completely out of place in Presbyterian/Calvinistic/Covenantal settings. I see absolutely no scriptural warrant for it.

Jill said...

Al,
My recollection of the Presbyterian orders is that they do not use the language of confirmation, but refer to a 'public affirmation of faith'. That is to say, the person, being of sufficiently mature years to do so, affirms for themselves the faith into which they were baptised. In consequence of this, the minister/elders offer them the hand of fellowship, and they become adult members of the faith community, with whatever rights and responsibilities that entails.

The thing that intrigues me, theologically, is that in neither the baptism rite nor the subsequent affirmation of faith does the person say anything about repenting of their sins, turning to Christ, etc. (They don't need to - having been born into the Covenant community, they are understood as never having turned away from Christ).

Laura said...

Fascinating conversation!

I teach at a school affiliated with a pressie church, and I was surprised to find out that the church practices paedo-communion. As I found out more, though, I realized what a consistent position it is! If, as others here have said, baptism initiates someone fully into the covenant community, it's inconsistent to deny him communion. Of course, as a Baptist I question the whole arrangement (*grin*), and most especially the implication that a young person who has been baptized into the covenant community is to be treated as a believer unless he proves otherwise. So paedo-communion is consistent, to be sure, but is it the proper practice? I would argue that it is not.

Jill said...

Laura,
I don't want to waste Luke's comment bandwidth on an unwinnable debate about the rights and wrongs of infant baptism.

What I have found important in the discussion, particularly for evangelical Anglicans, is to identify that there are in fact two beautifully consistent approaches to the question - the Presbyterian/reformed/Calvinist approach and the Baptist approach - and to realise that the theological underpinning of each is totally different. Then there is the Anglican context, which is a messy mixture of the two approaches. Understanding the complexity of that mix is, I think, vital if those of us in Anglican ministry are going to come to a coherent understanding on issues of baptism, confirmation, and admission to communion.

Luke said...

@ Everyone

A great discussion; thanks for your input!

While there doesn't seem much Scriptural support for an independent 'Confirmation ceremony'; the strongest reason to not allow children communion would seem to be these verses from 1 Cor 11:17-33

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29

So the argument is; you have to be capable for examining yourself. Naturally this raises another question of how we measure this capability. (However one answer could be given biblical the role of families it seems those not capable would be in the care of their families until they are ready to leave the care of their families.)

Al Bain said...

If only it were that simple Luke.

Laura said...

Jill, absolutely! It's what I appreciate most about my paedo-baptist friends -- it's philosophical consistency at its finest. I agree that the confusion credo-baptists often feel about this issue stems from a general lack of understanding of the very different theological groundwork of each view. I'm fascinated (though, on reflection, not particularly surprised in light of history... ;) by your assertion that the Anglican position sort of mixes the covenantal and credo- type positions. Would love to have a bit of clarification on that topic!

Jill said...

Luke,

I agree with Al that it may not be that simple. Firstly, we could debate just what Paul has in view in the passage you quote, and the surrounding references to the body of Christ.

Secondly, the need to examine oneself seems to be connected to the danger of consuming "in an unworthy manner". I'm reminded of the Eastern Orthodox context, where babies routinely receive from the time of their baptism, but where parents are likely to hesitate to present them (as they hesitate to present themselves) at the Lord's Table once the child becomes old enough to be 'sinful' as they see it. Quite the opposite to our way of thinking!

Laura,
I can't possibly do justice to your question in this space (it was the subject of my M.Th thesis - I know too much). But briefly, the Anglican baptism rite, as applied to infants, requires the same renunciation of evil & profession of faith as a credo-baptist rite, except it is made 'by proxy' - by parents or godparents.

Anglo-Catholics & Episcopalians would say this is possible because of the grace of God at work in the sacrament. Evangelical Anglicans would generally draw on Calvinist Covenantal understandings - arguing that it is appropriate to baptise the children of the faithful. But that Calvinist theology is not supported by (and does not support) the rite as it stands.

Luke said...

I now think there is a Scriptural support for confirmation but not a support for keeping children from communion except for verse 27 of 1 Cor 11:17-32 where the restriction on communion is examining yourself. I think confirmation should be an expression of verse 9 of Romans 10:5-21 "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Volition is addressed in both commands. In both the person needs to be capable of either confessing publicly or examining themselves. However while the two share common characteristics, the will and capability, I can't see a scriptural command to connect the two.

(I also need to check the prayer book and recent cannon law because I think an ordinance might have been passed in recent history offically allowing unconfirmed children to take communion. Do you know about this Jill?)

Jill said...

Luke,

There has been capacity in the Anglican Church of Australia for children to be admitted to communion prior to confirmation for close to 20 years. The conditions of, and processes for, admission vary from Diocese to Diocese (and are, inevitably, interpreted in various ways at local level).

In Melbourne and Tasmania, the contexts I know reasonably well, the parish has to choose to admit children to communion, and the minister is responsible for assuring him/herself that the child has an age-appropriate understanding, and receives ongoing 'formation'.

Generally, for a child to be admitted to communion, 3 things have to happen:
1. The child must express a desire to receive communion;
2. The parents must agree to the child becoming a communicant;
3. the minister has to feel that it is appropriate for the child to receive communion.

Luke said...

Hi Jill,

Melbourne following General Synod adopted in 1981 the 'Canon for the Admission of Children to Holy Communion.' Did or does Tassie have similar legislation?

Hi Al,

How could it be more complex, what am I missing?

Jill said...

Hi Luke,

Yes, the Diocese of Tasmania does have similar legislation. You can find it here: http://www.anglicantas.org.au/index.php?item=file&target=ordinances-achc