Q: My church is allowing very young children to receive the Lord’s Supper. Some aren’t even school age yet. Is this unusual?
A: Before we talk about the Lord’s Supper, let’s talk about the Sacrament of Baptism. The age at which to baptize children has divide most Protestants into two camps. The confessional, catholic view sees baptism as a gift offered by God to people of all nations. When someone is baptized, the forgiveness of sins that Christ merited through his sinless life and sacrificial death is offered to us. We can’t go back to Calvary to be there when they crucified our Lord; instead, the Lord comes to us and offers the seal of forgiveness (Acts 2:37-39). We receive that gift when we throw our trust on the Christ who offers it. Even an infant can have the trust in Jesus that God requires. In fact adults struggle with that faith more than children; our faith needs to become like theirs (Matthew 18:1-4).
Children and adults can lack saving faith. Does that mean their baptism doesn’t give what God says it does, the forgiveness of sins? Of course not: God cannot lie. But without trust in Christ, we don’t receive the benefits of baptism. It’s like children who run away from home and deny that they have parents. Does that mean their moms and dads have ceased to exist? Of course not. But the children receive no benefit from having parents. Mom and dad can’t feed, clothe and shelter them. Should such children ever choose to come home, though, loving parents would welcome them back with open arms (Luke 15:20-24). There’s no need for the children to find new parents; they are coming back to the old ones, who were always ready to take them back.
But what about the Lord’s Supper? Unlike Baptism, there is a disbenefit to not receiving the Lord’s Supper in faith. Paul warns his congregation in Corinth that many of them are sick and dying because they are not “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). If someone lacks faith, their Baptism doesn’t hurt him or her. Not so with Holy Communion. A child or adult who isn’t prepared to receive it can receive it to their judgment. Furthermore, Baptism is a personal sacrament, a personal gift from God to one person. But in the Lord’s Supper the Church receives a gift collectively, as a body. We take Christ’s body and blood in fellowship with one another, and when we do so we ask that the Lord would strengthen the bond of the Holy Spirit among us (1 Corinthians 1:9-10). The word “fellowship” is the same as the word “communion” – koinonia.
So Baptism is offered to all who desire it – even to children who, though they cannot use words to desire it, are urged by Christ to be brought to him (Matthew 19:14). But admission to the Lord’s Supper should be preceded by a confession of faith and commitment to live in unity with the people coming forward. At what age that confession and commitment can be offered is a topic for another time. But, based on Scripture, as well as confessional and catholic precedent, indiscriminate communion of all people of all ages is neither wise nor helpful.