This article is the first in a series about children and Holy Communion. It’s intent is to begin the discussion regarding a shift in thinking about when our children begin receiving the Lord’s Supper among us. Under our consideration is a change from an age-based model to a readiness-based model.
This is the third rewrite of this article. I have expended a large amount of time trying to put my thoughts on paper, and yet, what I have written so far is hardly helpful. Part of the problem is that I am new to this issue and am learning more about it as I read more, think about it more, and talk to more pastors and laymen about it. Part of it is that the longer I remain a pastor, the more I realize that the current system of how confirmation is done needs revising. I ask for your patience as I sort these things out in my head and pass them along to you, my readers.
I guess I will just come out and say it bluntly. While I think that confirmation class happens at an appropriate age, I believe that children are ready to commune at a much younger age. The problem with saying that is that I don’t really think it should be about the age of the child at all. I think we get hung up on the age part, in that, for so long, it has been a mark of passage between grade school and high school at about the age of 13 or 14. I think that admittance to the altar should be based on the readiness of each individual child and that most children are ready to receive well before their confirmation studies have been completed.
Yes, that’s right. I would like to see children communing BEFORE confirmation.
For as long as we can remember confirmation and communion went together. Now I don’t have a problem at all with the age of confirmation classes. In fact they could even extend into high school without any harm. The intense study of the Scripture and doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran church benefits from a number of years of faithful attendance in the Lord’s House and catechesis in Sunday School and Bible Class. But I digress. What I am attempting to say is that I think how we do confirmation class is fine, but that children are ready to receive the Lord’s body and blood at a younger age.
As Lutheran we believe that the body and blood of Jesus strengthens our faith for the forgiveness of our sins. I don’t think children are too stupid to understand that. In fact, I think they take Jesus words at face value. If they are sinners, and they are, I believe that Jesus body and blood would be a good thing for them to take as they traverse through the difficult adolescent years, and as they develop a piety for regularly receiving the Lord’s Supper that will, we pray, continue for a lifetime. The way we have done confirmation has been focused on the day of confirmation. What we need to move to is thinking about confirmation as a process. Confirmation studies are not about getting a certificate and ending the study of Scripture, but pictures the whole life of Christian as one that is devoted to the study of the Sacred Word of Jesus.
Somewhere along the line we got off track. When we think about members of the church we think of voting members or confirmed members, but what we forget is that these are all man-made designations. The Bible speaks of no such things. What the Bible talks about is baptism. All baptized children are members of the Holy Christian Church. Our teaching should be geared even to these little ones as we develop a mentality of a lifetime of faith and devotion and communion reception for them.
The Bible says nothing about confirmation. It says everything about catechesis. Catechesis is the lifetime of teaching that our Lord commanded when He said, “Go baptize and teach.” (Matthew 28:19-20) It is what the early Christians did as they “devoted themselves steadfastly to the apostle’s doctrine.” (Acts 2:42)
That’s really what I am after, a lifetime of faith and reception for each and every baptized child of God in our congregation. Too often Baptism has become a magic rite among us. Parents show up at the Baptism and don’t come back until Sunday School or confirmation. That’s not what Baptism is for. Baptism brings one into the church. Why baptize if you aren’t going to bring one into the church to receive the gifts that she has to offer? Confirmation also becomes something to get done. Parents enroll their kids into Confirmation class and think they have done all they need to do once they have “graduated.” Everything about this is opposed to what we see in the Bible. We need to move from a confirmation model to a catechesis model, everything that we are about as Christians is about our growth in faith by receiving the Word from birth to death. Confirmation is a part of that and marks a certain level of biblical advancement, and yet it is the beginning of a lifetime of study and not the end of it.
And what about those baptized children who are faithful members of the body of Christ? If they understand what Holy Communion is and what is for, what is to prevent them from receiving it?
Much of what I think about this comes from being a father. Claire has been asking about Holy Communion for two years now. She knows what it is and what it is for (and has known that for a long time). I asked her the other day about it and she said, “It’s where God gives us the Holy Spirit through his body and blood.” What more do we need than that? I know her. I feel that she is nearly ready to receive the Lord’s Supper. She is a sinner who understands her depravity, confesses her faith in Christ, and desires to receive Jesus’ body and blood. She is faithful in her attendance at the Lord’s House and in the study of Scripture in Sunday School. She comes to Matins daily, and prays before her meals and at bedtime. She is learning her catechism with her father’s teaching around the table, and, with another year’s work, will complete the entire memorization thereof. While intensive study in the Scriptures and Catechism will begin in 6th grade or so for three years, I see no benefit in having her wait another 7 years to receive Holy Communion. By the end of next year I think she will be ready. And if she is ready, what reason is there for withholding communion from her for another six years? If she is a faithful baptized Christian who knows what the Lord’s Supper is, what it is for, what point would there be in not giving it to her? I only see harm in not giving it to her! If we believe that she is a sinner in need of Jesus and that communion strengthens her faith, wouldn’t we see that she is the prime candidate and want her to commune? Isn’t this what we are trying to encourage in this place?
The children of our congregation are being exposed to the gifts of God even more. Children are being taught the catechism in Sunday School and at home. Holy Communion is offered more frequently than it ever has been before. Children come forward and watch their parents partake each week. They see these gifts and start to wonder, “Can I commune?” They are asking a good question. Do we have a plan? Do we have a good answer?
Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.” (John 21) What might this mean for the lambs and sheep of our flock?
The Lord bless us by His Word and Holy Spirit as we consider these things.