Friday, February 27, 2009

Glenn Davies on Children at Communion

Glenn Davies is Anglican Bishop of North Sydney and a former lecturer at Moore Theological College. He wrote a short article entitled "The Lords' Supper for the Lord's Children" which appear in Reformed Theological Review 50.1 (1991) 12-20. In his conclusion he wrote:

The Lord's Supper is for the Lord's people. It is a meal in celebration of the redemption he has won for us. All those to whom this salvation belongs are appropriate guests at the Lord's Table. Participation in the Lord's Supper is participation in Christ. To deny this meal to those who participate in Christ is a travesty of the one body in which we all share. Our covenant children are members of Christ's body and share in Christ. They should therefore share in the one bread and drink and the same cup of blessing which we drink. However this is not to suggest that the warnings [of] 1 Cor 11:27-30 have no relevance for children. Participants in the covenant meal are required to be in covenantal fellowship, and that covenantal fellowship is evidenced, through God's grace, by covenantal obedience. Yet it is a mistake to judge the faithfulness of an individual solely in terms of mature self-understanding or an articulate profession of faith. Evidence of covenant standing is not correlative to one's age. An understanding appropriate to the age, however, does not necessarily imply that children have the ability to articulate the meaning of the sacrament in adult thought forms. Conversely, an inability to give an articulate explanation of the relationship a child sustains to his or her parents does not mean that they have an incorrect understanding of their relationship to them. There is much that may be deficient about or own understanding of the Lord's Supper, as indeed there was for the twelve apostles who first took of it with their Master. Yet the immaturity of their understanding did not prevent their participation in that Supper. The importance of Paul's warnings, however, is whether or not the child is remaining faithful to the covenant in which he or she stands. To deny them the Lord's Supper is to effectively discipline them in the same way we would do a covenant breaker. Their exclusion is tantamount to identifying them with the world, unworthy to eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord. Yet our children belong to God, by the sure promise of his Word signed and sealed in baptism. Let us then feed them with the blessing of Christ, and teach them through the Supper that the priviledge of union and communion with Christ belongs to them. The Lord's Supper is for the Lord's Children.


Jenny Bruce said...

I heartily agree.

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

Glad you found Glenn Davies' article in RTR.

Exodus 12:26 records of the Passover: "And when your children ask, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?'". This presupposes that the 'children' are mature enough to ask with meaning and to be instructed with meaning and, therefore, if we see a parallel with the Lord's Supper then a paedocommunion view must take into account that the 'children' are old enough to understand/be taught the warnings of 1 Corinthians 11.

The meaning of the English word 'children'is often not clear. For example, those who hold to the view that women should not teach men but may teach children really have to define when a 'child' becomes a 'man' (ie for the male of the species). Airlines define 'infants' as under 12 years old and 'children' as between 2 and 12 years old. Having had the pleasure of meeting your two older children I can testify that it is not uncommon for 'children' significantly under 12 years old who have understanding well advanced for their biological age.

I believe Prof Scott Clark holds the view that those who argue for and practise paedocommunion see no difference between the two sacraments - at least I think that is what I read in one of his blogs. Scott Clark states the baptism is more about 'initiation' and that communion is more about 'nutrition'. However, I think that both are signs and seals of God's covenant. Baptism focuses more on new life through the Spirit of which water is a symbol (cf Ezekiel 36:25-27) while communion focuses more on the sacrifice of Christ and how believers should respond to it (Exodus 24:5-8).


John McClean said...

Two of the criticisms of paedocommunion are that children have not made a profession of faith and that there is no discipline associated with the table. I think Glenn Davies article shows that neither of those has to be the case. Taking the Supper in the context of being taught the gospel at home and in church means it a profession of faith itself and Glenn implies there should be discipline. A church which wants to practice paedocommunion should work closely with parents on teaching children what the Supper means, and also in discipline. The discipline questions can be tricky in the teenage years.

The "credo-communion" view seems to exclude adults with intellectual disabilities and perhaps even with dementia. And what does that say about God's grace?

ros said...

Quite right. But Mike, I'm confused. You're a baptist, right? Surely the arguments for paedocommunion apply all the more to paedobaptism? You can't be advocating that children should participate in the covenant meal without also extending to them the sign of covenant membership.

ros said...

Sujomo, I'm a little bit confused about your reference to Exodus 12:26. There doesn't seem to me anything in that passage which suggests that the children weren't to participate in the Passover meal until they were old enough to ask about it and be instructed in response. Rather it seems to me to presume that the children are always included in the meal and, as they begin to question, they should be given explanations. If your point is simply that 'children' can mean both 12 year olds and 2 year olds, then fine. But I don't think it stands as an argument for only allowing, say, 12 year olds to the table.

Scott Clark states the baptism is more about 'initiation' and that communion is more about 'nutrition'. If that's what he says, I think he's quite right. At what age does your child start requiring nutrition? At what age does he start requiring spiritual nutrition? Why would anyone choose to withhold nutrition from those who need it?

sujomo said...

Hi Ros,

There was an inadvertent typo. It should be that airlines classify "infants" as under 2 years old and that "children" are generally regarded as between 2 years and 12 years. The point is that children who are very young, eg just above 2 years old may well be able to ask what Passover means.

Thanks for the comment. Sorry for the confusion.