The Church of England lays the borders of the Church where ‘the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered’ (Article 19). Largely because of this I have confined our discussion of the place of children in the Church to these two areas – teaching and preaching the Word of God, and their relationship to the sacramental life of the Church. I have sought to do this in as non-polemical a way as possible, especially on issues where I know there are deeply held convictions.
Nevertheless, as a pastor of an Anglican Church I have been suggesting that children in our midst should find themselves securely within the borders of the Body of Christ. They should enjoy (as should we all) the benefits of the pure Word of God preached, and of the sacraments duly administered. This is not to say that everything in a Church should be childish, or even directed towards children. Neither is it to say that concerns relating to ‘children’ should have greater currency in decisions than those relating to others. And, as I’ve sought to stress throughout, it is not seeking to alienate those who disagree what I have been writing. It is simply to take the lead in wrestling with what it means for us as a Church to find children and young people in our midst.
I suspect that in outlining our responsibilities to children with regard to the pure Word of God preached, there is little disagreement. Most of us would recognise these, and we are indebted to those who support parents and families, by giving their time Sunday by Sunday to ensure this is done in Sunday Groups. We recognise the tremendous value of the work they do and pray with them as they seek, by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, to lay the foundations for a lifetime of Christian discipleship in those they teach.
The question of sacraments however, tends to be more vexed. The Church has much less of a common mind on the relationship between children and baptism / communion. I have long since concluded three things in relation to baptism: I believe the Bible mandates us to baptise the children of families in the Church. I recognise as a simple matter of observation that there are godly people who study the Bible and come to different conclusions. I am committed to not allowing something that should be a focus of unity (Eph.4:1-6) to divide the body of Christ. Hence what I hope will be St. John’s posture of generosity, baptising children where that is requested, or dedicating them with a view to baptism later in life.
I begin our consideration of children and communion with that same openness to those who disagree with me (or with whom I disagree) … but with a sense of trepidation nonetheless. Should children in our Church be allowed (or even encouraged) to take communion? It is guaranteed that there will be a diversity of strongly held opinion. I believe they should – though I am aware that I am a minority voice in my convictions, at least as far as the contemporary western Church is concerned. For the sake of completeness I should probably add that while baptism is the sacrament of initiation, communion is the sacrament of (can I put it like this?) preservation and continuation. So we should really say that baptism is a pre-requisite for taking communion, at least for the sake of sacramental coherence.
It is very much a live debate, with people on both sides invoking strong rhetoric to drive home their points. One author arguing in favour of children taking communion claims it is tantamount to spiritual abuse of children to deprive them of the bread and wine. The other side of the debate accuses such proponents of betraying the Bible’s teaching, and the Protestant heritage of the Church of England, undoing the Reformation and spiritually endangering children by allowing them to take communion before they really understand what they are doing. I’ll come back to this in a later article, hopefully with a more moderate and conciliatory tone!
Over the next few weeks, I am going to argue (again, as constructively and non-polemically as possible) that children should be allowed at the Lord’s Table. Is it worth saying again that I am not imposing this, still less demanding agreement? You have my support as your pastor whatever you decide / have decided with respect to confirmation / baptism before they join the rest of the Church in communion. I will continue to pray with them, and with any others who come to the table, but who don’t wish to take the bread and wine. As with baptism, I have long recognised that godly people who study the Bible have come to different conclusions.
Communion, like baptism is a celebration of the peace and unity we enjoy in Christ. As we say every time we break bread: Though we are many, we are one body, for we all share in the one bread. It would be a tragic irony to make this a point of disunity and division.
 Have a chat with me if you haven’t ever been baptised. Since the days of Jesus it has functioned as the means by which we are welcomed into the life of the Church, and enjoy the benefits (including communion).