Thinking Out Loud

December 3, 2011

Should Young Children Receive Communion?

At what age should children first participate in The Lord’s Supper?


The two children sitting next to me — a boy about six and a girl of four or five — were fidgeting during the entire service.  They spent most of the sermon time drawing pictures and there was a mild shoulder punch fight that took place during one of the worship songs where I thought the mom was going to split the kids up by sitting between them, but apparently opted not to.  When the communion elements were passed across our row, without hesitation the kids helped themselves.  The mom definitely saw the kids each take a piece of bread and the small cup of juice, and wasn’t the least concerned.


I grew up in a tradition where receiving The Lord’s Supper, partaking of Communion or Eucharist, or whatever name your faith family chooses to call it, was reserved for adults and those entering adulthood.  I was eleven years old the first time.  Anything younger, for me, would have been too young.

So when Christian Focus Publishing offered me a chance to review Children and the Lord’s Supper, I had hoped this book would address the question in clear and unmistakable terms.  I believe this topic is important as it bears on so many issues:  church, doctrine, worship, parenting, the spiritual nurture of children, the Christian education of our youth.

Make no mistake about it, this is an excellent book.  If you want to cover this topic in great detail, I can think of no better resource, and I will be most grateful to have this paperback in my library for any time that this topic surfaces.  However, for all that, there are reasons why I think this is the wrong book for the majority of readers here.

First, this is a very academic reference work that would cause most of my friends to glaze over after the first dozen or so pages.  The book is a collection of eight essays an introduction by editors Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan, which defines paedocommunion as “the admittance of a covenant child to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of his (sic) descent from at least one professing Christian parent.” (p. 11)  Persons looking for a simple answer to the question, ‘Daddy, may I take communion?” — which is also the title of an existing book — would find 214 pages of answer to what they perceive as a simple ‘yes or no’ question; not unlike the uncle at the Christmas gathering who recites the entire workings of the internal combustion engine, when all you asked was a simple question as to the frequency of oil changes.  Mind you, there are no simple answers here.

Another awkwardness for the North American reader is the use of the UK construction paedocommunion rather than the American which would favor the use of pedocommunion (only occurring 195 times in a Google search as opposed to over 28,000 for the UK spelling; which suggests something right there) just as we tend not to speak of paedobaptism (46,000 on Google) preferring the spelling pedobaptism (a more balanced 17,000).  This preoccupation with spelling is not a deal breaker, but is mentioned in passing here to highlight how North American readers would find this volume inaccessible at different levels. (When the absolute central focus of a book is a word that is spelled differently in both countries, perhaps it is time to consider a North American edition.)

More relevant is the Reformed perspective of the book.  This book raises all the right issues, but does so in the context of a growing movement among some Reformed denominations to include younger children in the Lord’s Supper — some already do — to which there is apparently much consternation. We share the same scriptures of course, and everything presented in this volume is entirely relevant to all our churches, but one must first decide to get past the denominational perspective of the writers.  In fairness, I should state that a couple of the writers do address the doctrinal understanding of the Lord’s Supper that is unique to the Roman Catholic mass, though this is done primarily for comparative purposes with the Presbyterian or Reformed view.  And one writer views as inconsistent those Baptist groups which baptize children, but do not permit them access to the Communion table.

Which brings us to the meat of the book. 

As it turns out, the issue of children of partaking of the communion elements is almost symptomatic to a deeper causal issue, namely our understanding of the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and Passover.  This is the true focus on which many of the arguments — mentioned or alluded to — hinge.  Certainly Jesus instituted this sacred meal in the context of a passover meal, but how strongly does the parallel run?  Children are allowed to participate in the modern passover — though some doubts arise as to, for example, the first such meal in the years immediately following the Exodus — so why not permit children at our New Covenant equivalent?  And some even argue that point, as to whether or not there is a tacit understanding that the youngest of children do not truly partake of the passover meal since they are too young to ask the questions (or you could say, be active in the liturgy) that is required of the youngest; even arguing the obvious point that the very youngest would be too young to chew food.

One writer suggests that in Passover, Jesus was instituting something that fulfills or completes the entire sacrificial system (p. 32).  Several of the writers point out that the Westminster Catechism (part 177) requires that the children be old enough to examine themselves, alluding to the words of institution in I Cor. 11, something I would term, if I may, the presence of “spiritual sentience,” a term which, as long as we’re quoting Google, occurs elsewhere 283 times.

Indeed, the book’s strongest premise is that we best remember the Lord’s death and atonement through the Lord’s Supper combined with active faith. (pp. 72-73)  The book also considers the various warnings that the apostle issues addressing the situation of those who would be receiving the communion elements in an unworthy manner.

…This is a book review, and book reviews are highly subjective.  I said at the beginning that this is indeed an excellent book, it’s just not going to fulfill the expectations of the average browser in the average Christian book shop, especially here in North America.  But subjectively, my personal reward for studying this book was a deeper understanding of passover, admittedly not the book’s stated purpose. I am much richer for reading Children and the Lord’s Supper, but I am clearly not the typical Christian book consumer.

And if I’ve caused your eyes to glaze over today, may I suggest that as parents of young children you err on the side of caution.  The children in the example I cited at the outset certainly had no sense of reverence for what was taking place, and may I suggest that by that lack of reverence they profaned the moment or occasion as it took place in their part of the auditorium. 


“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV

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16 Comments »

  1. My church would not allow you to have communion until you had gone through Confirmation. I think I was the youngest at twelve because we only had a Confirmation class every 2 or 3 years (rather small church). To me, if you’re too young to understand what’s going on, you’re too young to participate, but I wouldn’t put an age on it.

    -Elia

    Comment by Ermilia — December 3, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  2. We needed to be baptized before we could take communion. I must have been around 11 or 12 years old when I was baptized. My understanding of communion is that you need to be forgiven and come to Christ with a clean heart before you participate. You are partaking in the body and blood of Christ to remember Christ until he returns. I do feel that kids can participate as long as they know why they are participating. Communion is not just a thing you do because the whole congregation is doing it. I agree with Ermilia, if the child is too young to understand they should not participate.

    Comment by Tina — December 19, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  3. I took communion at a young age. I see nothing wrong with it. It’s the beginning of learning about Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Karen — July 2, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    • Karen, I wish it were all that simple, but as you can see, many books have been written and many theologians have spent countless hours debating this. I’m glad everything worked out for you, but now you’ve got me curious — this particular blog post published December 2011, how did you come to read it today? Were you investigating this topic deeper for a particular reason?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 2, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

      • Yes, I was searching for answers to what others thought about kids taking communion. Yesterday at Church, our Pastor at a Baptist church brought it up and thought that young kids should not be taking communion until they knew more. My husband and I did not agree

        Comment by Karen — July 2, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

      • Of course, I don’t know how young we’re talking, but generally, I do tend to agree with him. Kids should understand both the symbolism and the solemnity of the moment; and should have come to a point where they have taken “ownership” of the faith taught to them over the years. They should be able to, in a simple sentence, define what partaking of the communion elements means to them.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 2, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

  4. This is what I have learned:
    The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
    27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
    If you have sin in your heart you should not take communion. I’m not saying this is golden, this is just what I was taught and what I have read.

    Comment by Tina — July 2, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

    • Thank You

      Comment by Karen — July 2, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

  5. If children should not take communion due to not understanding it than ever mentally disabled person should never take it…..if we follow that thinking.

    Comment by Mike A — March 27, 2013 @ 5:01 am

    • You raise an interesting comparison. Corrie Ten Boom wrote a book on how the mentally challenged are able to process spiritually. The book is titled Common Sense Not Needed.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 27, 2013 @ 9:34 am

      • Neat!…Now I can bring in my young son’s hamster to have communion and bless her little hamster heart she can proccess it spiritually……..would a meat eating plant be going too far?

        Comment by Mike A — March 28, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    • Mike, I gave you a decent response and mentioned a book in passing that gets at the heart of the issue you raise.
      You did not respond in kind. Are you looking to pick a fight here?

      I guess I need to put the cookies on a lower shelf: I believe there are capacities within the mentally challenged to understand and process the Eucharist and I would grant them that right within the grace of God to participate.

      However, I believe that with children, the capacities for distraction or missing the solemnness of the moment are greater and I would want them to to wait until that potential understanding has had a capacity to grow.

      TImothy Keller’s church says the children should have been confirmed or made a profession of faith before they participate in The Lord’s Table, and while it may seem restrictive, I’m not sure that erring on the side of caution isn’t what’s called for.

      Serious replies only.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 28, 2013 @ 9:19 am

  6. Mark 10:14 permit the little children to come unto me, also I read a quote that spoke to me concerning this “The table at which we gather belongs to the Lord, it should be open to all who respond to Christ’s Love, regardless of age or church membership.”

    Comment by Gene — April 26, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

  7. We’re showing our Lord’s death. Did he die for our children? If so, the showing must include them. Otherwise we’re showing them they’re not saved (which is the impression I recall from being excluded.) As to “Let a man examine himself,” what he’s supposed to be examining himself for is including everyone who should be included (as Corinth was not doing); so those who examine themselves while excluding children are examining themselves on everything except the main point. Yeah, some children need a touch of discipline. Yeah, the “hamster” bit drew a chuckle. But the one loaf eats of the one loaf.
    Paedocommunion.com has a bunch of stuff pro and con. My http://andrewlohr.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/infant-communion-paedocommunion-feed-gods-babies/ has about 40 pages worth, including answers to 30+ objections. Peter Leithart and Tim Gallant have books in favor.
    I ran across this article while browsing, not sure exactly where. Thanks for bringing this book to my notice.

    Comment by Andrew Lohr — July 6, 2013 @ 2:41 am

    • That’s a long article! I’ll check back on it later. I don’t think we’ll ever reach consensus on this subject, however.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 6, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  8. I was brought up in the LC-MS and, kids who WERE NOT CONFIRMED were not allowed to take communion whatsoever. They could however come to the rail to receive a blessing from the Pastor but, that was all. This business of letting little kids who have no concept of the means of Grace have no business even partaking in such thing. I belong to ELCA and, we have one family who let’s their little ones receive the means of Grace and, I have never expressed my displeasure about this to my pastor because all he would do is “poo-poo” it and move on along. I agree that Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” But, he didn’t say that they should receive the means of Grace without understanding what it means.

    Comment by Tim — March 3, 2014 @ 4:41 am


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