Excerpt from the report overview:
The Lord’s Supper is a gracious gift of God that sustains and nourishes our faith. In response to our mandate to study the role of children at the Lord’s Supper, this document proposes the following principle:
All baptized members are welcome to the Lord’s Supper for age and ability-appropriate obedience to biblical commands about participation, under the supervision of the elders. The elders have responsibility to nurture grateful and obedient participation by providing encouragement, instruction, and accountability in the congregation. Requiring a formal public profession of faith prior to participation in the Lord’s Supper is one pastoral approach to consider, but is not required by Scripture or the confessions.
This approach, which is different from both the standard case for and the standard case against welcoming young children to the table, is developed out of the following convictions:
- All baptized persons, regardless of age, are members of the church. Church membership comes not upon profession of faith but upon baptism.
- We are invited to the table out of sheer grace as members of God’s covenant people and not because of our profession of faith or our level of comprehension.
- When we are invited, each participant is called to age- and ability- appropriate obedience of biblical commands about participation at the Lord’s Supper.
- We must learn to see the commands about participation in the Lord’s Supper as life-giving gifts, not onerous burdens.
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is an especially significant text for understanding faithful participation in the Lord’s Supper, inhospitality, and calls for greater unity in the body of Christ. The text is not primarily concerned with children’s participation but rather focuses on unrepentant or inhospitable adults. At the same time, the text has implications for all participants at the table.
- The elders of a congregation have responsibility for cultivating both the gracious invitation to the table and obedient participation at the table.
- At times, discussions about the Lord’s Supper have slipped into one of two opposing errors: (a) focusing too much on achieving a level of cognitive understanding prior to participation, and (b) minimizing the importance of theological reflection and learning about deeper participation. Calling for “age- and ability-appropriate participation” addresses both problems at once, resisting the idea that children need to arrive at a certain level of comprehension before partaking and resisting the kind of unthinking participation that can set in over time for any worshiper.
- Requiring a public profession of faith before participation in the Lord’s Supper is a wise pastoral practice in some circumstances, but it is not a biblically mandated or confessionally required practice. Each church council should promote age- and ability-appropriate obedience at the table, as described in the Bible and in the Reformed confessions, and may choose to require public profession of faith if appropriate.
- This approach commends common criteria and a complementary set of practices for welcoming children to the table. The common principle and common criteria proposed in the following report promise to help us resist congregationalism, even though our practices may vary according to culture and ministry context.