Your child is already a precious member of the church. He (or, she, as the case may be) has already been marked by baptism as belonging to God and is considered by your elders to be one of Christ’s sheep under their care. But as a church we rightly long to see him, and all the other children, profess the faith as their own and show the fruits of faith in their life, giving all praise to God for his glorious grace! We also desire that in that professed and lived-out faith, they would join with us and other “professors” around the Lord’s Table so that the faith that they have been given by God would also be nourished by God as he has intended. So it is more than fitting for parents to ask: “When can my child take communion?” It is not just a question about communion; it’s a question about observable growth in grace.1
Looking for the Fruit of Faith
So when can a baptized child of the church begin to take communion? I’ve already begun to give an answer, but let me be a more specific. Your child can take communion when they have assured the session, so far as it is possible, that they have a credible profession of personal faith. To ascertain this, the session will work and talk with your child to determine three things: (1) if he possesses the doctrinal knowledge requisite for saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, (2) if he is relying on the merits of Christ alone for their salvation, and (3) if he is determined by the grace of God to lead a Christian life.2 In seeking to know these things the session is not looking for a fully mature faith. We admit to the table and membership of the church even adults who lack the marks of maturity and yet are clearly believers. These requirements, therefore, are not the requirements for a fully mature faith. Instead they are the requirements for a faith that is observable enough and consistent enough in its knowledge, expression, and fruits to be considered credible.
Obviously, this is not something that can be determined by a theology exam or a catechism recital, but only by prayer, loving observation, and conversation with your child, as he or she opens up their heart and life to others in general and to their elders in particular. There is no specific upper or lower age requirement, but many children seem to be ready somewhere between 10-16.
If you think your child may be ready, or close to ready, or possibly ready it is best to seek counsel from your elders. Tell them what kinds of things you are hearing and seeing and ask if it might be wise to enroll them in a new communicant’s course. After talking with you and your child, sometimes the session may determine it would be best to wait, continuing to pray with, teach, and encourage your child until a future time. Or it may be decided to enroll them in the course, which will be used to get to know them better and prepare them to understand the vows they will use to profess their faith before the church.3 After this course, it may be decided to that more time should be given for the God to work and make the child’s faith more clear, or it may be decided to proceed to bring them before the congregation.
So as parents how do you know if your child might be ready? Prayerfully consider questions like these:
- Why does my child want to enter into this changed relationship with the visible church?
- Does my child know how great his sins and misery are?
- Does my child understand the deceitfulness and dangers of sin?
- Does my child know how he is delivered from all his sins and misery?
- Does my child believe he is personally delivered from his sins and misery?
- Does my child demonstrate love, devotion, and thankfulness to God for his deliverance?
- Does my child demonstrate a personal commitment to serve Christ’s kingdom and bear witness to the gospel?
- Does my child demonstrate a willingness to recognize sin, confess and repent of it, and strive toward obedience by faith?
- Does my child demonstrate a personal eagerness to commune with God through his means of grace: the Word, the sacraments, and prayer? What does he know about these things?
- Does my child demonstrate a personal desire to obtain the promised fruit of the Spirit that flows from faith? Is my child characterized by those fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control? Would others agree with this assessment (siblings, other relatives, classmates, fellow church members)?
Brining Them to Jesus
Whether your child is ready now to take communion or not, there are several things you can do that will please the Lord and bless your child.
First, be proactive and certainly don’t hinder them. As Paul said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). This isn’t some kind of future advice for when your kids are older, this is for right now. If we wait for something to happen, or worse hinder them in their progress in faith, then we are failing to fulfill our job as prayers, exemplars, and encouragers of and for our children. As Jesus said in Mark 10:13-16, he desires to bless even the youngest of children (Mark 10:13-16), “do not hinder them.” So let’s bring them, right now, to Jesus. They need him and his salvation as much as we do.
You can bring them to Jesus by way of prayer. Matthew Henry, the prolific seventeenth-century Presbyterian minister, suggests several possibilities in his book on prayer.4 Pray that they would remember their Creator in the days of their youth (Eccl 12:1); that from the womb Christ would be formed in their hearts (Gal 4:19). Pray that they may be kept from the vanity to which the young are often subject and be restrained from walking according to the ways of the heart and the desire of the eyes for which things God brings judgment (Eccl 11:9). Pray that God would make them self-controlled (Titus 2:6), and that the word of God would abide in them that they may be strong and overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14). Pray that they would hold fast to the pattern of sound words (2 Tim 1:13) and continue in what they have learned (2 Tim 3:14).
As you pray for them, you can also teach them how to pray these things for themselves and for others. This is another way to bring them to Jesus: take them by means of instruction. Teach them to pray; teach them to worship. Bringing them to worship so that they might hear the Word of God read, sung, prayed, preached, and administered in the sacraments. Take advantage of opportunities of Christian education and fellowship offered in the church. And at home find time each day together to read the Bible, sing hymns, and hide God’s word in their hearts by memorizing Scripture and catechism questions.
Finally, bring them to Jesus by means of a godly example. Show them what it means to love and trust Jesus. Live lives of integrity, marked by spiritual priorities. Talk often about the gospel, Christ’s majesty, his love for sinners, his power to save, the greatness of his promises, the trustworthiness of his word, his willingness to receive sinners.
These are the things you promised to do in the questions you were asked at their baptism, the fourth being this: “Do you promise to endeavor, by all the means that God has appointed, to bring [name of child] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, encouraging (him/her) to appropriate for (himself/herself) the blessings and fulfill the obligations of the covenant?” At times, this holy effort may be wearisome, and may seem to produce little fruit. But trust in God. You will be a better parent and more fully display the gospel to your kids if you bring them to Jesus not on the basis of your works, but on the basis of his promises. Without him we can do nothing (John 15:5), but he is the one who strengthens us to do all his holy will (Phil 4:13) and even uses in the blessing of those whom he has called and marked as his own (2 Tim 1:5, 3:15).
- A 2002 issue of Ordained Servant contains a few similiar articles to this one. [return]
- These requirements are quoted from OPC Book of Church Order DPW IV.A.3. [return]
- An example of such a course is Jesus is My Lord and Savior: Public Profession for Covenant Youth by Rev. Dr. Greg Reynolds [return]
- From this prayer for the young. See also this parent’s prayer for their children. [return]