Communion, Baptism, and Children
I want to use this week’s column to address one of the most common questions we receive as pastors: When should a parent allow a child to partake in communion and baptism? The answer usually involves two parts. First of all, a child should not be allowed to partake in either communion or baptism until he or she has made a willful, independent decision to repent and commit his or her life to Jesus Christ. To allow a child who has never made a commitment to Christ to participate in either is not biblical.
Secondly, once a young child has become a Christian, it does not mean that we should automatically allow them to be baptized or to take communion. My advice to parents is to wait until the child asks them about it and then make sure the child has a clear understanding of what it is they are asking to do. For example, on the issue of communion, do they understand the danger of drinking judgment (discipline) on themselves, as Paul warned about in 1 Corinthians 11:29? These kinds of issues need to be thoroughly discussed before we let our children participate in either baptism or communion.
Some parents worry that, if their child wants to take communion (for example) and the parent turns him or her down, the child will either rebel in the service or feel “left out.” But in my experience, this is rarely the case. When a sacrament is withheld with a loving and simple explanation, children usually have no problem accepting their parent’s directive. (If they do, then you have a larger problem of respect for authority.) In addition, this tends to heighten their anticipation for future participation.
Having said all this, many parents still ask, “What is the proper age to allow participation?” That’s a difficult one to answer. There simply is no standard age. When it comes to baptism, I’ve baptized children as young as seven and have felt comfortable about it because they were able to clearly articulate their faith in Christ. But to help answer the question, let me offer the perspective of a seasoned youth pastor I talked to some years ago. He promotes the following guidelines in his church: 1) hold off on communion until a child is in junior high, and 2) hold off on baptism until high school. His reasoning is as follows: communion is a more private affair and should be allowed at a younger age than baptism. Baptism is a public stand that requires a person to know that they are choosing one lifestyle over another. He said that most youth are not forced to wrestle with significant lifestyle decisions until high school, thus leading him to urge holding off on baptism until then.
Whether or not you agree with his advice, I think that, as parents, we need to proceed cautiously on this issue. We need to make sure our children clearly understand what baptism and communion are all about, and not just allow them to participate because their friends are doing so. They need to understand, to the best of their ability, why these practices are so sacred and important.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor