For the last fifteen years LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church has welcomed children to the Lord’s table by means of a Table Fellowship liturgy.
We want to encourage our children to walk by faith and believe that partaking in the Supper of our Lord helps “confirm” their faith. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism: “It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from? The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments” (Q&A 65).
Knowing that children are not ready to affirm their faith in all the doctrines of the church or assume all the responsibilities of adult membership, we developed this intermediate step for children who are old enough to make a heartfelt declaration of faith in Christ as their Savior and to understand the symbolic meaning of the Supper.
Since these children are often as young as eight or nine, we invite their parents to attend both their private and public declaration of faith. We also strongly encourage the children to continue their participation in church school and to make a full profession of faith when they are old enough to do so.
Over the years we have had the joy of seeing hundreds of children declare their faith and join the congregation at the Lord’s table. This experience has clearly been meaningful to them, to their parents, and to the entire covenant community. And we are delighted to report that they do regularly go on to profess their faith as teens and young adults.
What follows is the context for our decision, the procedure we use to prepare children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and the litany we use to welcome children to the Lord’s table in worship.
In 1988 the Christian Reformed Church decided to encourage churches to open the Lord’s Supper to children and young people. In agreement with this position, our church seeks to encourage and prepare our children to “declare their faith” and partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Prior to that, we had been accustomed to identifying profession of faith with assuming the responsibilities of adult membership in the church. These responsibilities (such as voting or serving as officebearers) required the maturity of adulthood as well as profession of faith. But profession of faith was also a prerequisite for participating in the Lord’s Supper.
This raised an important question: May we deny children and young people the privilege of participating in the Lord’s Supper just because they are too young to be “full” members of the church?
To answer that question, one needs to look at the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Reformed teaching says that God has given us the sacraments to “confirm” the faith that the Holy Spirit has given us (Q&A 65; see also Belgic Confession, Art. 33). The Lord’s Supper, then, presupposes faith, but it also confirms and strengthens faith. The confessions say nothing about what age believers should be before they participate in this means of grace.
So how old should they be? The Lord’s Supper is intended to confirm believers in their faith. Our children too are believers. We bring them up in faith. As soon as they can testify to their faith, they, like adults, need to have their faith confirmed by the sacrament. That is what the confessions imply.
But this is nothing new. John Calvin spoke of ten-year-old children being asked questions of faith and being welcomed to the Supper. Our welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper then, reflects the importance of taking the faith of our children and young people seriously. It provides a way to include youth in worship and affirm their faith rather than leaving them as bystanders during the sacrament.
Young people in our church can profess their faith, as in the past, and assume all the responsibilities of full membership. In addition to this, we have established a process for younger children to be welcomed to the Lord’s table.
Admission to Table Fellowship grants participation in the Lord’s Supper but does not grant all the privileges of full communion. These will be granted when those who have made their declaration of faith decide to make a third step, profession of faith, and assume all the responsibilities of adult membership.
To be admitted to Table Fellowship, baptized children or young people give a testimony of their faith before two elders. Young children are accompanied by their parents. After this testimony of faith before the elders, they make a “declaration of faith” in a worship service, and are then welcomed to participate in the Lord’s Supper whenever it is celebrated.
Our church has developed the following guidelines for the step of “Table Fellowship”:
- The impetus to proceed will come from the child and his or her family, although the church will encourage such action.
- Children desiring to be admitted to Table Fellowship are required to attend a class dealing with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and the significance of a public profession of faith.
- Two elders will meet with the child and his or her parent(s) to assure themselves that the child has faith and some understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
- The two elders will report to all the elders for their approval.
- The congregation will be informed of these steps through the church bulletin.
- The child will be admitted to “Table Fellowship” during a worship service. The parent(s) will stand with the child.
- The child will continue to attend church school.
- During their senior year in high school, all those who have been accepted into “Table Fellowship” but have not made the step of public profession of faith will be encouraged by a pastor or elder to take this third step in their faith journey.
The Liturgy for Admission to Table Fellowship
To the congregation: Today we are happy to celebrate God’s grace in the lives of [names]. When they were baptized, God publicly claimed them as part of his covenant family. Now they want to join that family at the Lord’s table. So today they will take a second step on the faith journey, declaring their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
To the children: We are so glad that you want to join God’s people in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. You learned about the meaning and importance of the Lord’s Supper in Children’s Worship and in a Table Fellowship class. You met with the elders, and today you will stand with your parents before God and God’s people. This is a happy occasion for all of us!
Please stand now [or come forward] to declare your faith. I will ask you three questions and then ask each of you for your answer to these questions.
- First, do you believe that you are a member of God’s covenant family and that your baptism is a sign of your membership?
- Second, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for you and is your Savior, and do you understand that the bread and wine of the Holy Supper are symbols of his body and blood?
- Third, do you promise to live your life for Jesus Christ as best you can and to continue to learn more about him in church school and by reading the Bible and personal devotions?
[Name(s)], what is your answer?
Children: I do, God helping me.
To the children: I now welcome you to the privilege of participating in holy communion. May God bless you as you join with God’s people as we celebrate the sacrament. It is our prayer that you will keep on growing in your love for the Lord Jesus Christ and one day stand again to profess your faith and assume all the responsibilities and privileges of full membership in his church.