The Wait is Nearly Over

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Synod 2006 adopted a motion “to allow for the admission of all baptized members to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of their full membership in the covenant community” and instructed the Board of Trustees to appoint a task force to, among other things, “bring any appropriate Church Order Articles into conformity with [this reality]” (Acts of Synod 2006, p. 730). Though some congregations immediately implemented the decision, shortly after synod all congregations were informed that they should not implement it until the appropriate Church Order changes were made. Five years later the changes will be considered by synod.

The task force mandated by Synod 2006 recommended the appropriate Church Order changes to Synod 2007, but that synod decided to appoint a Faith Formation Committee to take another comprehensive look at the matter of children at the Lord’s Table. Unlike the usual study committee that considers a matter for a couple years and then reports to synod, this committee was mandated to report to each synod for the next five years. Chairperson Rev. John Witvliet reported to Synod 2008, “We are tasked with a lot of listening, corresponding, and encouraging” and to Synod 2009, “We’re very grateful for the very strong responses from congregations.”

Synod 2010 approved a guiding principle recommended by the committee: “All baptized members who come with age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ are welcome to the Lord’s Table and called to obey the scriptural commands about participation…in an age- and ability-appropriate way, under the supervision of the elders. The elders have responsibility to nurture in the congregation grateful and obedient participation through encouragement, instruction, and accountability.” Synod concurred in the committee’s observation that “a formal public Profession of Faith prior to participation in the Lord’s Supper is not required by Scripture or the confessions” but “is a vital practice for faith formation and is one pastoral approach to consider prior to participation in the Lord’s Supper.” Synod also reminded congregations “that changes in local practice arising out of this principle should be delayed until changes to the Church Order are adopted by a future synod (Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 810-11).

Synod 2011 will consider those long-awaited Church Order changes. Because the churches received these changes last November, they can be immediately implemented unless some “substantial” revisions are made. Though not substantial, hopefully, synod will revise Article 59c and Supplement Articles 78-81b to delete “rights” language (“the right to vote,” “the right to present children for holy baptism” - Agenda for Synod 2011, p. 573 & 6). As Article 59c indicates, these are better identified as “privileges and responsibilities,” not rights.

Though “rights” language is popular in our secular culture, it’s generally inappropriate in the church. It’s also inconsistent with proposed Article 79b: “The consistory shall encourage a spirit of mutual accountability, calling the congregation away from favoritism, division, and selfishness toward hospitality, forgiveness, and unity within the body, especially in conjunction with participation in the Lord’s Supper as mandated in I Corinthians 11:27-29” (Agenda, p.575).

The wait has been longer than some of us desired, but the committee has served the church well and is to be commended for its work. 

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I have been a junior high catechism teacher for the past 15 years and I'm also a big proponent of a more Calvinistic approach to communion (as opposed to the Zwingellian approach many of our churches take), so I totally support any idea that will encourage our youth to come to the table at an earlier age than what has been typical.

That being said, I have some lingering questions and reservations regarding this proposal:
-  Primarily, what exactly is the problem with the current practice of having our youth meet with the elders and then publicly professing their faith before coming to the table?  

The only objections I’ve seen to our current practice have been quite feeble, along the lines that it is an intimidating process that might scare kids away.  Maybe that’s true, but that’s a very fixable problem.  As an elder, the time we’ve spent with our kids when they come before us have by far been the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had on the Council.  In addition, I’ve never heard any of our congregation mutter about how put-out they were for having to sit there an extra 5 or 6 minutes while another one of our covenant children stood up and claimed the promises of his baptism.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

- How is “age and ability appropriate faith” defined? 

Will churches be given a chart that shows an appropriate response for each specific age?  Is the five year old’s pat answer of “Jesus” to every question asked now sufficient to meet the requirements given to come to the table?

Scripture does not present a graduated list of instructions for coming to the table- one set of rules for adults and another for youth and yet another for small children.  There’s not one way to do it for those who are educated and another way for the dull.  Who are we to add this ambiguous clause of ‘age and ability appropriate’ as if it were lifted from the pages of scripture?

The truth of the matter is that we don’t need to make a single change to any of our church order to accommodate younger children at the table.  We already have a fantastic method to determine if a child has ‘age and ability appropriate faith’ – meeting with the elders and then standing in front of a church who has and will continue to nurture them and professing their faith.  We don’t need committees or reports or ambiguous language or any of this nonsense, we just need to do our job as elders and ministers.

Similar to some of other proposals that will come before Synod 2011, the modus operandi here seems to be that if you just state a fact (that PoF is unnecessary) over and over it becomes true even if no evidence is give to support it.  

I eagerly anticipate the day when my children and students can truly enjoy the benefits of coming to the Table.  I also eagerly anticipate them being able to enjoy the benefits of marriage, however, I also expect to witness a public commitment before they can enjoy that.  Why should our expectations for becoming spiritually united with Christ be any less?

Spiritually united with Christ.   I think the underlying problem is that many children are spiritually united with Christ many years before they make "profession of faith".   It's like a couple getting married many years after having been "shacked up" together.   So maybe we need to find a different analogy, or understand the Lord's supper differently, or need to do profession of faith in a very different way. 

Participant

I agree, John.  "The underlying problem is that many children are spiritually united with Christ many years before they make profession of faith".  If a kid is old / mature enough to realize his need for salvation and can appreciate the implications of being made to be en Cristo, then I want him at the Table... but I want him there only after publicly demonstrating his faith.

We certainly do need to work on ways of making PoF more accessible to younger kids and clearing up some of the misconceptions kids have about what PoF is (that it's only for the super-spiritual kids, or the ones with dramatic conversion experiences, or that it's a rite of passage that they must wait until they're 18 for, etc, etc...). 

I would enthusiastically support any measure that would break down whatever barriers (real or perceived) that keep kids from taking this important step.  HOWEVER, this proposal doesn't do any of those things; it just makes PoF an optional formality (I don't know if this is the intention of the committee or not, but it is certainly the effect of their proposals).

The ironic thing is that these reports don't seem to discount the need for some sort of examination before inviting a child to the table, it just that the it opens the door for so many different methods and mechanisms for determining what 'age and ability appropriate faith' is (which is in itself totally undefined and subjective).  Each church would have a different way of determining this... and as councils and ministers turn over every so many years, even individual churches would have inconsistencies in how they handle these situations.  Some churches could just as easily skip the whole examination process altogether, adopt paedo-communion practices and still remain in bounds with the church order.  Not good.  What's the point of having a denomination if we handle such important things so congregationally? 

Whatever barriers that keep mature children from the table are self inflicted, and we do have the responsibility to address these issues.  But we already have the tools and ability to fix these problems as well as tremendous leeway in how we structure our examinations and PoF.  We don't need to blow a huge hole in one of our most important sections of the church order to effect the changes that need to be made.

To me, the whole turning point of the discussion was a better understanding of I Cor. 11, the only place in scripture that talks about discernment re the Lord' supper.   This passage does not talk about a discernment of the faith in general, but talks about a discernment of the body of Christ.  It was adults, not children who were not discerning the body of Christ.   And what was it that they were not discerning?   Something quite simple.   Sharing with each other the way Christ shared his life.  Recognizing that every part of the body was important.   Knowing that differences in wealth and understanding did not provide a different standing within the body of Christ, in the eyes of God. 

They were all grabbing food for themselves and keeping it from others.   This was the issue.   This is the issue and the example of what a lack of discernment was.   Christ had died for them, and they couldn't even share their food, or care for those who had less.   Ironically very little attention is paid to this in the confessions, even though it was the main point Paul was making.   This is what it means to be part of the body of Christ, which is the body of believers of which Christ is the head. 

I don't have too much of a problem for individual churches deciding on how to apply this principle, although we all ought to confess the understanding of I Cor 11, and the principle found in that chapter. 

Some young kids do a much better job of demonstrating their faith than some 30 year old confessing members.   They share, and are concerned for the members of Christ.   Whether you want them at "the table" is maybe not the issue?   Maybe the issue is does Jesus want them there.  

Coming from the RCA which has permitted Children at the Lord's table for quite a number of years, I applaude the CRC for this move. For me the larger question is why we affirm that Baptism is purely by grace, thus we are able to baptise a child in infancy but the Lord's Supper, which Scripture also affirms is simply by grace, has requirements attached to it. In the past we have used the Lord's Supper as the carrot to move our children to make profession of faith. We no longer live in an era where children can be coersed by the prize of membership or communion.

I am glad that we are coming to the point of recognizing that both sacraments are given for the imparting of God's grace and are not rewards for right behavior.

I still am a stong proponent of all making a profession of faith as scripture strongly tells us that we must profess Christ if we are to have him as our advocate before the father, but I believe the church must find ways to nuture faith that brings people to the point of declaring their faith and not as a reward for actions we would like to see taken.

Therefore, to me the question is not either children being welcome at the Lord's table or them making profession of faith, but is both, but as independant actions.

The issue is not about profession of faith being too much to ask.  It is about what each of these events is really about.  Profession of faith is not a ticket to the sacraments.  The sacraments are open to all members.  Profession of faith is not my becoming a member.  Baptism is when I become a member (as stated in our forms for infant baptism).  As a member at baptism, why would we not have the sacraments that come with that baptism?

The arguments against often seem to be about how this will take away from profession of faith.  I believe that to the contrary it will strengthen profession of faith by making it mean what it is supposed to mean.  It is my stating publicly, at that time and forever after, that I take this faith and the grace recieved at baptism and claim to live under it.  It is my statement of faith.  It is my witness to the world that I stand with the church in what it teaches.  I accept the promises made when I was shown to be a member by God's action of grace at my baptism.

I am curious how Dan and Michael would address a situation which most certainly will arise:  that of someone in their  twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties...(?) who has never made profession of faith and now feels that they can partake in communion.

Not a problem?  How could they be denied under the circumstances proposed?

Here's the question.  The statement is made that the "sacraments are open to all members".  But if baptismal membership is all that is needed to approach the table, then wouldn't the logic of that argument lead us to *infant* communion?  Maybe it would.

Or biblically, is the discernment of faith still a necessary and important part of the process? If it is, where does it fit?  That's what people are wrestling with.  And its a good thing to wrestle with, and a question that has great implications--on how we understand the covenant, among other things.  To use an Old Testament analogy, does the "circumcision of the flesh" automatically equate with that  "circumcision of the heart" that the prophets called the covenant people to?  That's one of the things at issue in the whole debate, I think.