06 February 2008

Children and Communion

For a number of years now it has been mandated in the Methodist Church that we offer communion to any child who wants to partake and whose parents or guardians agree.

The following is a very simple observation, not a reasoned argument.

The churches in our circuit are doing a review of congregational and circuit life. As part of this review process, we focussed last Sunday on the Beatitudes and we asked people to get into groups and answer two questions: 1) How does God bless me in this congregation and 2) How can this congregation bless others? ('Bless' was changed to 'make happy' for the children.)

The first item on the children's list was: 1) When we have bread and wine - to feel strength and God's spirit; 2) God wants everyone to come and bread and wine to help them.

These children are between the ages of 7 and 9. This is as great an 'argument' for children's communion as I can think of - along with 'Let the little children come to me' of course. And I have to say that I was blessed by reading these contributions!

26 comments:

Beyond Words said...

This brings tears to my eyes. Who can say how much the Spirit is at work in our children? Yesterday I was having prayer/study with my adult son and his wife. Alex told me it was the sacraments and teaching he received in childhood that kept his heart soft even when he strayed as a teenager/young adult. Now he's returned to faith. He told me yesterday that his own five-year-old son tells him often, "Do you know who I love, Daddy? I love the Lord."

Sandalstraps said...

There is some mild conflict in my congregation about serving communion to children. This especially concerns serving communion to Adam, my three-year-old.

Adam has long been intoxicated (metaphorically, we use grape juice) by church liturgy; fascinated by every aspect of it. He loves looking through the Hymnal and the Book of Worship, and has from time to time compelled me to serve him communion at home, with a modified liturgy.

But, because someone on the pastoral staff feels that it is inappropriate to serve communion to such a young child, until this past Sunday, he'd never taken communion in church. Because of this, I've always dreaded the first Sunday of the month, when the congregation, after being told that the United Methodist Church practices and "open communion," is served, and my son is denied. He's pitched many a fit because he can't partake.

But, like a good Methodist, each month he asks. Usually, to save placing the member of our pastoral staff who feels he shouldn't yet be served in an awkward position, I take the heat. I tell Adam, "I'm sorry, you can't have communion. You're not big enough." But this past Sunday I couldn't take it any more.

Adam turned to me as the liturgy began, and said, "Daddy, can I please have communion. I'm big enough." And I simply couldn't take the distance between our talk about having an open communion and the reality that my son wants nothing more than to be served communion, and yet is denied.

I thought through the rationale for denying a three-year-old communion. S/he doesn't understand what is going on. Of course s/he doesn't, but since when do we have to understand the mystery of the sacraments in order to partake in them. I've studied theology about as much as anyone, and I still can't say that I understand what happens at the altar. Sure I can articulate some theological positions, but of course we don't even require that. If we did, very few indeed would be able to approach the altar.

My son can't articulate a sacramental theology, that's true. But our church requires only that one desire to be in communion with God, not that one be able to articulate certain propositions concerning the relationship between God and humanity.

So I told him, "Yes, you may. You may take communion. Come with me."

We approached the altar together, and as the bread and the cup came near, Adam burst out with, "My daddy told me it was OK!" He then grabbed a fistful of the bread, paused to look at it for a moment, and popped it in his mouth, washing it down with the juice.

I don't know if, in that moment, he could tell the difference between the communion elements and food - though, of course, the elements certainly are food, both literally and metaphorically. But I do know I've never seen him so excited about a bite of bread and a sip of juice.

One the way back to our pew he bounced up and down in my arms, beaming and giggling. He wrapped his arms around me, smiled at me, and kissed me square on the lips. And, since then, he's told everyone he knows that on Sunday he got to take communion. he didn't get this excited for his birthday!

That, for me, is the only argument I'll ever need for serving communion to children.

PamBG said...

Chris, thank you for that story.

I'm grateful that at least I'd have denominational authority if any church council that wanted to stop a child from participating in communion (a friend of mine is in such a position where the church council wanted to continue to operate on the 'old rules' that allowed them to veto children at communion).

Your story about Adam is precisely what I felt when I read the contributions from the children. And remember that this was not even a question about communion but it was simply asking them how they are blessed/made happy by church.

I admit my experience is limited but so far it seems that the children partake when they themselves are ready. The parents bring the children to the communion rail and I ask them whether they want bread and wine; I do have two small children who are still not interested.

Rev Tony B said...

Two anecdotes to illustrate.
In one village, we tried a family communion service for the first time. The next church council said it was lovely, and they wanted to do it regularly, but not have the children actually take the bread and wine. I simply refused to accept it. I said it was up to them: they could have family communion again, but i would refuse to refuse to communicate the children. If they didn't like that, there would be no more family communions. When they protested, I simply said it was a matter of conscience for me, that I would not refuse communion to a child who asked for it: this is where God says Yes. So we continued, and it was good - once the stick-in-the-muds had got used ot it...

The second was a village chapel which had always had morning Sunday school and evening services. Communion was therefore in the evening. For various reasons they decided to move to morning services. I explained that we would therefore have to have a family communion to make sure the Sunday school staff got it. They agreed. To make sure we were on the same wavelength, I said I would want the children to partake. This was new, but they said they'd give it a go. On the day, I used the liturgy to explain step-by-step what it meant for us to come as God's family to his table. There were about 18 people present, aged between 4 and 85. They all came forward together, all held up their hands to receive, and there really were tears in the eyes of most of the adults present. It was a lovely quiet and holy moment, and the children were so clearly part of this family of God it blessed us all.

PamBG said...

Tony, thank you for your story too.

I really don't know how we can say 'The Lord's Table is where God says "yes" - as long as you're over 13 years old' (or whatever age).

Mark said...

Would that our adults were so eucharistically focussed!

PamBG said...

Hi Mark, good to see you.

I think that Eucharistic focus was what I found interesting and rewarding and a blessing.

To be fair, there are a number of adults in my congregations who value The Lord's Supper in that way.

For me, it's a mixed thing. I continue to see this sacrament as absolutely central to my calling and my spirituality but I confess that I sometimes feel like a 'perpetual communion machine'!

Anonymous said...

For me, it isn't a children adult thing but a believer non believer thing. I believe that communion should be taken by all who have a personal relationship with Christ. I know many children who are Believers and I know many adults who are non-believers. So for me, it isn't a children vs. adult thing. I will say that a church or denomination is wrong if it doesn't allow for Beliving children to take communion.

Some denominations, one that I was apart of when young, required being baptised to take communion. I see nowhere in Scripture saying one must be baptised to take communion and I see no age limitation on communion only that those who take communion be Believers since it is sign of the covenent between Believers and God. dh

PamBG said...

From a minister's point of view if he or she is going to be charged with policing the Lord's Table, baptism or confirmation are objective ways of discriminating. I can't imagine telling a person 'You think you're a believer, but I know you're not so you're not admitted to the Lord's Table.' The criteria have to be something I can know; I'm not going to admit that I can decide who is 'faking' belief.

I think this is the Lord's Table and not the Church's Table so I invite 'Anyone who loves the Lord or who wants to know him' to come to communion. It's between the person and God if they are 'faking it'.

Anonymous said...

I guess I see the pastor as the leader of the church by God. So I believe that the pastor who knows those who are not believers can decline communion. I don't believe that Baptism is a legitimate thing to reject communion on because being a Believer does not require Baptism or Confirmation. Being a Believer is by Faith in Christ.

I know we might not know for sure but God does and Scripture is clear with regard to those who take Communion in an unholy manner. That is why the pastoe should be clear in relaying to the congregation the importance of taking Communion in a Holy manner. It is interesting that Scripture says "That is why many are sick among you." I think that goes for Believers who take communion with unconfessed sin as well as unbelievers who take communion.

I think it is a responsibility that the pastor limit the possibility of sickness by under the Holy Spirit as much as possible to relay the importance of being a Believer and confessing ones sin before taking Communion. I guess I might not refrain giving communion but I sure would make it clear to the congregation who should take it as I mentioned above. While this is between the individual and God, however relaying the responibility of how to take communion and who shuld take it is the pastors responsibility. If a pstor says anyone can take, which happens to be unbiblical, then I believe that is wrong and why "...many are sick among you." So I agree but to a small point. I believe the pastor has some responsibility at the pulpit to teach the congregation who, how, etc to take communion and it isn't an anyone can take it type of thing. dh

PamBG said...

DH:

The churches that are spiritually sick are the churches that worship money, status and power. You and I do not agree on this point so I don't see how we can agree on much else.

In my congregations, I don't know of anyone who I can categorically point to and say that they are spiritually sick. You seem much more confident than I am that you can identify the 'non-believers'.

There are people who I hope and pray that their faith grows stronger. Not because they are notorious sinners but because they have been given a raw deal in life and feel that God has deserted them. In their struggle to find God in their pain, I personally see a desire to deal honestly with God. I don't believe that God would refuse them his hospitality; otherwise we have a cruel god who only allows us into his healing presence when we are well and who keeps us out when we are ill.

If I were to identify non-believers and deny them communion, it would be those who profess the Christian faith and seek the highest profit even if it means exploiting the poor. It would be those who profess the Christian faith but who don't care about other people. I suspect you and I would be excluding the opposite people - which is why I am happy to leave the sorting of the wheat and the tares to God.

Anonymous said...

I don;t knwo where you get the idea that I don't agree with you that as Christians we must take care of the poor, etc. I agree that one must take care of the poor but also one must have Faith in Christ as being God and invite Him to come into ones life for Salvation. I don't believe our views are mutually-exclusive or zero-sum-games. So I really take issue with your understanding of what my position really is.

Also, not being a pastor I don't trust myself picking and choosing who the Believers and non-Believers are even though it does say "By their fruit you shall know them." However, I do believe that those who are pastors called by God to lead the church under the power of the Holy Spirit can.

My second paragraph mentions we might be able to know for sure. My point therefore in bringing up what I have is to show the importance of the pastor to relate to the ongregation who can and cannot take communion from a biblical standpoint. If one rereads from Scripture who can take communion, not all Christians can take it because it says "beware of those who take communion in an unholy manner." So you see from the Epistles there IS some standards for one to take communion and in addition nowhere in Scripture does it show non-believers taking communion. So you see we agree more than disagree in that those who don't take care of the poor I might question their Salvation but I also include that those who continue to sin intentionally shows a fruit that is not of a Believer and thus question. Notice I said "question" as opposed to definitely say that one is a Believer or unbeliever. All I know that it is by Faith that one obtains Salvation and that Salvation has to be life changing. Like Jesus said, "Don't be afraid that I say you must be Bron Again." dh

Anonymous said...

It isn't a cruel god who sends people to hell who reject Christ through their physical life. People send themselves to that place because they are "...condemned already..." It is a loving God who even makes a any way for Salvation to be obtained. If Jesus didn't we would still be "...dead in our tresspass of sins." dh

PamBG said...

DH, I'm sorry you feel misunderstood, but I freely confess that I don't understand you most of the time.

I agree with you that wilful and flagrant unrepentant sin is a possible indication that a person is not a believer. But in Real Life I don't have any wilful and flagrant sinners in my congregations so this conversation seems rather pointless.

I don't believe that God gives ministers a magnifying glass to see into people's souls and determine which of the ordinary sinners who prays, comes to church, cares for and loves others and displays joy, peace, patience and kindness is not 'a real believer'.

Anonymous said...

Well I mentioned I agree with you that we might not fully understand who in a congregation is a Believer and who isn't. However, I will say that it is a pastors responsibility to teach the congregation who can take Communion and who can't. Scripture does mention taking communion in a "Holy Manner" and what happens when people take it in an "unholy manner" which I have discussed in ad nosium.

I'm sorry you misunderstand what I say all of the time. If you took a greater understanding without any predisposition that support for the poor AND Salvation by Faith in Christ alone for Salvation as not being mutually-exclusive then maybe you can see I DO support the poor even though I'm a strong Conservative Evangelical. A person being Conservative Evangelical doesn't mean they against helping the poor. That conclusion seems to be understood by you which is a gross overgeneralization not only of myself but of Conservative Evangelicals which I will give you Grace for even tho I would typically take strong issue with.

I'm really surprised that you say you don't have anyone in your congregation who intenionally or wilfilly sins. Every congregation has these people in their congregation so I really am not sure you know your congregation fully. I know not one congregation who doesn't have people who wilfilly or intentionally sin. I guess that begs the question from Scripture what is ones understanding of sin and not sin. If we knew each others definition of what sin is from the Bible between us that might gives us greater understanding as to why there is disagreement on this particular issue. dh

PamBG said...

However, I will say that it is a pastors responsibility to teach the congregation who can take Communion and who can't. Scripture does mention taking communion in a "Holy Manner" and what happens when people take it in an "unholy manner" which I have discussed in ad nosium.

Yes, you have repeated that many times. And I heard you the first time.

If you took a greater understanding without any predisposition that support for the poor AND Salvation by Faith in Christ alone for Salvation as not being mutually-exclusive then maybe you can see I DO support the poor even though I'm a strong Conservative Evangelical.

I accept that it's your intention to help the poor. Our priorities are different, though. I don't get the impression that you think the rich person who doesn't help the poor is engaging in any kind of sin. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm really surprised that you say you don't have anyone in your congregation who intenionally or wilfilly sins.

I said 'flagrantly and wilfully'. As in 'I'm a wife-beater and I don't think it's wrong and I have no intention of repenting.' Everyone sins and many of our sins are committed with wilful intent.

Most committed Christians not only confess their sins to God but they are on a journey whereby they ask for and receive the gift of grace to give up their sins. No one can come to communion perfectly sinless, not you, not me, not nobody. That's why as Christians we trust in God's forgiveness in Christ.

Every congregation has these people in their congregation so I really am not sure you know your congregation fully.

Or perhaps you don't know my situation and the sort of people to whom I am ministering?

I know not one congregation who doesn't have people who wilfilly or intentionally sin. I guess that begs the question from Scripture what is ones understanding of sin and not sin. If we knew each others definition of what sin is from the Bible between us that might gives us greater understanding as to why there is disagreement on this particular issue. dh

This is probably the $64,000 question. How about telling me the kinds of sins you think my congregations are probably intentionally and wilfully engaging in and that I should be looking out for?

What sort of sin is it that you think I don't believe is sin?

Anonymous said...

#1) I'm sorry, I have no idea where you think that a person isn't sinning by not giving to the poor. You seem to be totally incorrect in your understanding of me. However, I'm not going to sit back and focus solely on rich people who don't give to the neglect of other things which are being commited by people which in fact are sin.

#2) When I say intentionally and wilfilly I still stand by what I said. I do believe that one must take communion in a Holy manner which requires being completely repentant before taking communion. I know no church that has an entire congregation who hasn't intentionally or wilfilly sinned. Why else would Scripture point out the concern of taking communion in an unholy manner? This would include non-believers, Christians who intentionally sin and/or Christians who take communion without repenting of their sins.

With regard to the sins you pick which ones. I only mentioned that specifically in that I'm totally surprised and kind of don't believe that any congregation and I'm not singling your's out has an entire congregation without intentionally or willfill sinners.

With regard to your final question I only mentioned that to be proper in terms of all of the logical options one of which would be you might think certain things are not sin when in fact they are and thus think your congregation has no willfil or unintentional sinners. I'm not focusing on anything in particular or know of anything in particular. I was just looking at all of the possibilities whihc would be my #2 reply plus what is mentioned directly above. Intentional, willfill, unrepentant, they all go hand in hand and thus I believe that not one congregation doesn't have these people. People in church today need to repent of all of their sins and a believer to take communion in a Holy manner. That seems totally biblical to me in light of what the Apostle Paul says on the subject. dh

PamBG said...

DH, I'm sorry; I'm really trying to listen to you, but I don't know what you want from this discussion.

You seem to be taking the approach that you are going to tell me your view until I agree with you. I don't understand what you are saying or what you want.

As I said, all sins are intentional and willful to some extent.

People in my congregations get angry; they know that's a sin. People in my congregations are sometimes act selfishly; they know that's a sin.

If anyone in my congregations are coming before God in an arrogant way saying 'I sin and I don't care', then those people are doing a good job of fooling me.

Yes, of course, they may be lying to me; especially if they are tying to lie to God and hide their sins. But I care about people and I know them as well as anyone can know anyone in only 18 months time.

You might want to consider whether they heavy-handed judgemental approach to people that you advocate actually works with a real life congregation. I suspect not.

I continue to disagree with you on the nature of communion. People can only come before God as sinners and, until we learn that, we will never understand grace.

I will still disagree with your theology, no matter how many times you repeat it to me.

Anonymous said...

Pam, I only brought up the entire thing in that the apostle Paul talks about "taking communion in a Holy manner". To me it seems clear that unconfessed sin by Believers and Unbelievers are two incidents where an "unholy taking of communion" comes about. If we want to be biblical with regard to communion I believe then we must strive (notice I say strive in that you and I agree that we can't fully know man's hearts) to take it in a Holy manner.

I believe we can take communion in a humble way knowing that we have sinned but we must take communion as Believers with all sin repented of or else we are taking it in an unholy manner.

How would you define taking communion in an unholy manner like the Apostle Paul says? Since unbelievers are unholy wouldn't that include in the communion being taken in an unholy manner? (Again only God knows the heart but pastors can at least give the congregation examples of how to take communion in a holy manner and admonish the congregation to refrain from taking it in an unholy manner.) dh

PamBG said...

The Apostle Paul was talking about a sinful way of taking communion. The rich people were coming to the supper which included the Lord's Supper bringing food for themselves and eating it before the poor people got to the assembly. Paul tells them that the time for filling their stomachs to their hearts' content is at home, not in a shared meal that is part of the worship of a God who loves the poor.

It would be like a church today saying that they were having a communion service and a pot luck meal and then the well-off people eating all the food and those who actually needed to eat being not allowed to do so.

Is church a school for sinners or a holy club for the saved? This is been a great debate throughout the ages and you seem to think it's a holy club for the saved and I think it's a school for sinners.

So how about I admonish you not to take communion until you repent of your defense of waterboarding and you repent of the idea that it's OK for the US to torturing it's enemies rather than loving them?

I do speak out against what I believe to be wrong and sinful as you well know.

Anonymous said...

Church is a school for sinners to ultimately be part of God's Kingdom (Holy club? I don't know) The goal of church is to have sinners come to repentence not like the Apostle Paul says not Grace in such away where we "continue to sin that Grace may abound". I understand that you are against sin and point out what you think is wrong. However, I believe it is the churches responsibility to help sinners realize they are sinners and come to repentence by accepting Christ as their Savior for Salvation and for continuing of a repentant heart as a Beliver to confess ones sin.

Also, I don't condone torture. Please stop saying that. dh

PamBG said...

However, I believe it is the churches responsibility to help sinners realize they are sinners and come to repentence by accepting Christ as their Savior for Salvation and for continuing of a repentant heart as a Beliver to confess ones sin.

I agree.

I don't believe, however, that the minister should withhold communion from people who sin and who confess their sins.

Withholding of communion (which is excommunication) should only be done, in my opinion, when a person's behaviour is genuinely threatening his or her own life or the life of the community.

I understand that you don't consider Waterboarding to be torture, but I think that slowly bringing people to the brink of drowning is clearly and obviously torture.

Now you see why your idea that the minister should be allowed to refuse communion to people is problematic: because we all disagree on many things.

This tool is only to be used rarely in the most extreme case. It's not my job to say 'God withholds his grace from you' unless it's pretty obvious.

Anonymous said...

Pam, I think we are getting a little closer to see where we agree and disagree. I too agree that we shouldn;t withhold communion from people who confess their sins. However, we know people who have unconfessed sins. To me I think it is more than appropriate to say to the congregation to "confess your sins with a repentent heart before taking communion".

People who have sinned but have confessed it are clean in the sight of God and are such "Holy". So maybe you might have understandably misunderstodd what I said previously.

I hope this clarifies my position and gives a greater agreement than otherwise. I know we don't agree 100% and you might think it was originally 25% agreement but I hope this clarification makes it 40% agreement which is higher than you thought.

I think we are having greater agreement. It should be rare. I just mentioned that the minister should admonish people when to come forward and when not to. This protects the congregation or helps the congregation to refrain from "taking communion in an unholy manner". Is the pastor 100% perfect in this? no but the pastor should give strong statements to help the congregation from taking it in an unholy manner (aka unbeliever or believers who have unrepentent sin). The responsibility is the congregation to listen to the minister. I agree we shouldn't withhold Grace. However, if a member of the congregation might happen to be sick after taking communion then that can be a sign (not absolute but a posibility) that one might have taken communion in an unholy manner. If the pastor can say a message to help the congregation to make the right decision to come forward or not then hopefully as people listen to the Holy Spirit more people will take it in a Holy manner. Does that make sense? I know this seems a repition of earlier statements but I'm trying to clarify so you don't overgenerlaize what I'm trying to relay to you. I hope this helps or give better "appreciation" for my views as I do toward you from your most recent reply. dh

:)

PamBG said...

If the pastor can say a message to help the congregation to make the right decision to come forward or not then hopefully as people listen to the Holy Spirit more people will take it in a Holy manner. Does that make sense?

No, it doesn't make sense. It sounds like the minister - forgive my French - covering his or her ass so s/he can say to God 'Well I WARNED them you'd make them sick if they took communion!'

If they don't listen to a message of God's grace and love, why will they listen to threats?

I do not believe in a God who makes people sick for taking communion.

Anonymous said...

Well Pam, the apostle Paul said that in reference to people who take communion in an unholy manner: "...that is why many are sick among you." It seems that the NT doesn't confirm your conclusions. I'm not saying that all or a majority of sickness is caused from this I'm just saying it is of many possibilities and it is clearly biblical. To say you don't believe it when it is in Scripture very clear seems rather strange coming from a pastor.

It isn't a threat it is Gods desire to protect us from harm. It also isn't a pstor covering himself but for true care to not see his/her congregation to see harm.

Communions is for those who are Believers and for those who have confessed their sin and are able to take communion in a "Holy manner". It is the pastors job to teach the congregation to take communion in a holy manner. He cannot be 100% in knowing peoples hearts because God knows 100% but he can and the pastor can relay what Scripture says on the subject in a humble caring way.

Here is an analogy: If the Prime Minister of the UK happened to have a dinner (communion) and I was invited wouldn't I have a responsibility to present myself at the dinner clean and presentable as much as I can to show my honor to the Prime Minister? Don't we as Believer have a responsibility to honor our God when taking communion by repenting of our sins to show our honor and obedience to God so as "not continuing to sin that Grace may abound."? You mention Grace, Grace, but the Apostle Paul says we shouldn't sin that Grace may abound. Then what is so wrong to have believers who take communion to repent of their sin? dh

PamBG said...

DH,

There comes a point in a conversation when two people can do nothing else other than agree to disagree. This thread now has 25 comments, most of which is you and me saying that we diagree.

Knowing when to stop trying to convince the other person is part of having a good conversation.

You disagree with me about the nature of communion. I understand that.

The conversation is not going to get any further because you are not going to change my mind.

As much as I don't wish to be rude to you, I will not engage in this conversation much longer.