Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2011

The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed.  Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great.  I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (really good article)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday.  As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’  She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

Footnote: Finding a picture to accompany this article was a reminder of how the Catholic Church has allowed remembering Christ’s death and resurrection to become an occasion for both gift giving and a party, as First Communion pictures totally dominate the available images. Of course before a Catholic of any age can receive communion they are supposed to have been to confession. The confession that precedes First Communion is called First Reconciliation and increasingly, people are visiting Christian bookstores looking for an appropriate First Reconciliation gift and card. What goes on at a First Reconciliation party? Is there a cake? Do the kids dance? I need to know!

Related post on this blog: On The Night He Was Betrayed



  1. […] Related post at this blog: The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young? […]

    Pingback by Believer’s Baptism: How Young is Too Young? « Thinking Out Loud — February 26, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  2. I was twelve when I first took communion. My father (who was also my pastor) had always said that twelve was the age that Jesus moved into his role in the temple and called it “the age of accountability”. I think I was ready by ten but I had to wait.I remember my first communion because I had longed for this privilege and I approached it with great solemnity. (Unfortunately this did not shield me from botching my very first experience by accidentally drinking the wine first. I was horrified at my mistake and my younger brother, looking on enviously, jabbed me in the ribs to point out my faux pas! But I digress….)Sadly the lack of respect for this sacred event is not limited to age. A few months ago I observed a teenage boy rolling his cube of bread into a ball…on another occasion I saw a young woman holding her sacraments in one hand and reading a text that had arrived mid-communion. When I go to mass once in a while while visiting my mother in law, bored adults stand in line looking more like movie goers that people about to experience the event that Christ commanded us to embrace. Perhaps there is a loss of wonder among parents, which in turn has led to a loss of reverence for the children. As a child I would NEVER have mistaken communion for anything other than what it was meant to be…sacred, special and divine.

    Comment by Cynthia — February 26, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

  3. Age is nothing but a number. I do not believe an age can be set. I mean, there are many adults who would qualify age wise, but by all outward appearances, there is no understanding and no “connection”

    There is a warning attached to participation [1 Cor 11].

    The only prerequisite I see is that the participant has a genuine relationship within the family of God and UNDERSTANDS and APPRECIATES the meaning and purpose of communion. The age this occurs would, of course, vary with each individual – and applies equally to adults.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — February 26, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  4. A little off topic, but this reminds me of a statement someone once made that the best university courses are those in which the title of the course asks a question which is, by definition, unanswerable.

    Comment by Paul Wilkinson — February 26, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

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