Are they to be treated the same as unbelievers and kept from the table until they can profess certain things about Christ or about the bread and the wine? Do they exist in something of a third category, somewhere between believer and unbeliever? Or do they belong at the Lord’s table by right of their baptism? If covenant children belong to Christ, is there any good reason to functionally excommunicate them?
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A few years ago, when one of my grandsons first came to the table (he was one year old), he was beside himself. His parents had taught him a basic catechism with signs because he could not really talk. He answered the question “Are you baptised?” by patting his own head. I was administering the Supper, and he was sitting in the front row with his parents and grandmother. When he got his bread, he held it up to show me.
Now all this could be dismissed simply as a grand kid doing a cute thing, not really understanding it. But he also turned and patted his mother’s head and his grandmother’s head. We are all baptised. He was discerning the body.
To the extent he understood the Supper, he was discerning the body. To the extent that he did not understand the Supper (as the rest of us do not either), he was learning, just as we are. We speak English to our children before they know English, and it is not a fruitless waste of time. That is how they become native speakers. In the same way, we are “speaking grace” to our children by including them in the Supper. And what impact does it have to speak grace to children so early? We do it so they might become native speakers of that same grace.
Another time a granddaughter (around two) saw the elders approaching and cried out, “Bread guys! Bread guys!” Now what would it be like to grow up in this kind of exuberance? What would it be like to never have to unlearn the long hard lessons of exclusion from the koinōnia for a time? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true? God invites the psalmist,
“Open your mouth, and I will fill it.”
May this one day be the prayer of all God’s children. May all our little ones be given the privilege of looking forward in gladness and simplicity to the bread guys.