Monday, May 21, 2007

Children at the Lord's Supper

Those of you who are of the Christian Reformed persuasion may have heard of last year's Synodical decision to allow baptized children to partake of communion. My own initial reaction to this wasn't altogether positive - what about that place in the Bible where it says that anyone who takes part in the Supper without "recognizing the body" eats and drinks judgement upon themself (yes, themself - it's time to bring the third-person neuter pronoun back to the English language!)? Last week, however, I received the latest copy of the Calvin Seminary Forum, which is devoted to this issue. I actually think it's the best issue I've read to date, and if you'd like to check it out (which I highly recommend) it's available online here. In summary, the several articles note that current biblical interpretation of the text I mentioned above more likely refers to horizontal relationships among believers - the earthly body of Christ - than vertical self-examination before God prior to participating in communion (see Jeff Weima's article for more on this). One of the reasons kids were often barred from communion in the Reformed tradition is because it wasn't thought that they could engage in proper self-examination until a certain age. Even more interesting to me was David Rylaarsdam's article tracing evolution of this meal and the slow divorce of baptism from the Lord's Supper. Initially, everyone who had been baptized took part in the Lord's Supper - even the smallest infant received the wine sucked from the finger of the priest. During the Middle Ages, however, the doctrine of transubstantiation developed; that is, the teaching that the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the actual body and actual blood of Jesus Christ. As this teaching developed, people became concerned about kids' natural messy habits - what if a child slobbered into the real and actual holy blood of Christ??? (As an aside - it doesn't seem to me that the Jesus who rebuked his disciples for turning away children would get terribly upset about a kid drooling into his blood. I think that this is a symptom of the overdivinization of Jesus - of overemphasizing the true divinity of Christ to the point that his true humanity is neglected, ignored, or, for many practical purposes, forgotten.) Later in the Middle Ages, even adults were kept from the cup for fear of spillage. The people received the body (bread) alone and the priest took care of the blood (wine). The Reformation rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation which had started all of these restrictions on the Lord's Supper to begin with, but by this time the tradition was entrenched. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that children ought to receive the Lord's Supper. The original tradition had been lost. From David Rylaarsdam's article: "Synod's 2006 decision returns us to Augustine's sentiment, summarized well by Max Johnson: The Christian life, from entrance into the covenant community onward, is rooted in the graciousness of God, the God who through the Word and sacraments 'always acts first, always acts in love prior to our action, leading us by the Holy Spirit to the response of faith, hope, and love within the community of grace' (Rites of Christian Initiation, p. 376)." If you're interesting in reading the comments of others on this, check out the Schemper father-daughter duo on Don't Flay the Sheep and Pseudonymous Hieronymous. And don't forget to check out the Forum! I'd be interested in your comments, as well.

4 Comments:

Anonymous erica said...

What with your addiction to your digital camera, I expect a pic of Chloe taking communion.

Zora, at an alternative worship thing on Saturday night, made the most incredible, loud sucking sound on her bread. Then, she yelled something that Erik swore was "Again!" (Although, last week, he is convinced she articulated her first sentence: "I don't work here.")

5/21/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Heidi Sue said...

My position on Children at the Lord's Supper became public knowledge when I testified on Samara's CarePage to having placed a drop of grape juice on her lip the Sunday before she was diagnosed. This is - apparently - how my father found out where I stand on this... Unfortunately, my dad and I (unlike Erica and Luge) are not on the same page. His classis has sent an overture to Synod (via his congregation) speaking against Synod's decision... I read it. If you take its arguments to the extreme, only men should participate in the Lord's supper.

I guess Dad and I can't agree on everything! :-/

5/21/2007 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Meika said...

Wow, I'd be interested in reading that overture. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess - I thought that this slipped by a little too easily for our contentious denomination. Man, enough already, ne?

Apparently this is a congregational issue in the Lutheran Church (ELCA), not a good thing according to our pastor here. His young daughters have been not allowed, then allowed, then not allowed to take communion at various times. Aside from the inevitable cries of "that's not fair!" when one's sister gets to take communion without taking a class that you had to take, it sounds like a confusing mixed message to send to a kid. Let's hope we don't move in that direction.

5/22/2007 02:11:00 AM  
Blogger Meika said...

Oh, and Erica - I always did expect your kid to be precocious. Who wouldn't want more of that yummy spirit-filled host?

5/22/2007 02:13:00 AM  

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