Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The following questions have been received:
I am writing to you in the Question Box, because I have a question which I have been concerned about for some time, and I would like to see an answer in print so I can read and study it.
My basic question is “Why are our covenant children not permitted to come to the Table of our Lord? Does not our Lord invite children as well as adults to His fellowship at His Table?”
In connection with this, I have some related questions which I would like to see treated:
1. What is the Scriptural basis for requiring a public confession of faith as a condition for taking the Lord’s Supper for our covenant seed, as distinguished from those coming into the church from the outside?
2. Does not the self-examination of I Cor. 11 apply to adults walking in sin? Does this apply in some way to one’s ability to understand also? If so, how?
3. Our Baptism Form reads, “and though our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism; for as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ.” Why does this not apply to the Lord’s Supper as well?
Thank you in advance for your help.
Article 61 of our Church Order states that, “None shall be admitted to the Lords Supper except those who according to the usage of the church with which they unite themselves have made confession of the reformed religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk, without which those who come from other churches shall not be admitted.”
This article is based on the Scripture passage found in I Corinthians 11:28, 29: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Since children are still incapable of properly examining themselves, this requirement of Scripture cannot be fulfilled by them, at least until they come to “years of discretion.”
In your first related question you ask why public confession is required from the covenant seed before they can partake of the Lord’s Supper, while this is not required from those coming into the church from the outside. The article in the Church Order states that those who are admitted from other churches must also have made confession of the Reformed religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk. Our consistories require of those who come from other churches that they confess agreement with the doctrine as taught in our churches and with the godly walk required by our churches. Those who are not thoroughly indoctrinated are instructed before they are accepted as members among us.
In regard to your second related question concerning self examination, our Communion Form mentions that we must examine ourselves during the week of preparation, but also us we partake of the Holy Supper. This is in harmony with I Corinthians 11:28, which states, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” We are told that this self-examination must arouse in us,
1. A deep awareness of our sins and of God’s curse due to us for them, so that we abhor and humble ourselves before God.
2. Faith in God’s promise that all our sins are forgiven “only for the sake of the passion and death of Christ,” and assurance that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as our very own.
3. A firm purpose henceforth to show true thankfulness to God in all our life, and a firm resolve to walk uprightly and in true love and peace with our neighbor. (Communion Form, page 60 of The Psalter).
You will notice that these three things are mentioned in our Heidelberg Catechism as necessary to know, in order to enjoy true comfort and to live and die happily. These three are also mentioned in a slightly different manner in our Baptism Form as a confession of the principal parts of the doctrine. of baptism as confessed by parents who present their children for baptism. This necessarily implies that the communicant not only understands these points of doctrine, but also sincerely confesses them and lives accordingly. Celebrating the Supper of our Lord is a repeated confession of our faith, as was once done publicly before the consistory and the congregation.
Your third related question points out that our Baptism Form teaches us that “Although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism.” You ask, “Why does this not apply to the Lord’s Supper as well?” Here we actually come to the heart of the matter. The difference between the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of Communion is such that our children cannot be excluded from baptism, but must be excluded from the Lord’s Supper until they come to years of discretion.
Baptism is the sign and seal of our entrance into God’s covenant, while the Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of our active participation in the life of the covenant. In the former we are passive, we are baptized; in the latter we are active, we participate.
In Titus 3:5 baptism is referred to as “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” This takes place in our subconsciousness; we are not aware of the time of our regeneration, nor do we in any way participate in it. The idea is that we are conceived and born in sin, members of the fallen human race in Adam. But God in sovereign mercy separates us from the world, the fallen human race, so that we die unto the world, to be raised in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). God separates us by causing us to die in Christ, to be buried with Christ in His death and burial, and to be raised with Him in newness of life, separated from the world and brought into God’s covenant. That is signified in baptism. Thus baptism signifies and seals to us by His Spirit in our hearts that God has chosen us in Christ, has redeemed us by His blood, sanctifies us and blesses us by taking us into His covenant life, with the assurance, “I will be your God and the God of your seed after you!”
From this follows that by a conscious faith we experience covenant fellowship with our God, as is signified and sealed in the Lords Supper. Therefore the Supper is:
1. A remembrance feast, in which we commemorate Christ’s broken body, which was broken on the cross for our sins, and His shed blood that was shed to deliver us from eternal death and to merit for us eternal life with God in glory.
2. A pledge of Gods love and faithfulness whereby He feeds and nourishes our souls into everlasting life, as surely as the bread is broken before our eyes and the cup is given to us, and we eat and drink the same with our mouths in remembrance of Him (John 6:51, 54-56).
3. An act of faith and trust in the one perfect sacrifice of the cross as the only ground and foundation of our salvation.
4. Thus we are assured by the Holy Spirit that we are ingrafted into Christ, and thus become members of His body, knit together in brotherly love, which we are to show in word, but also in very deed toward one another. (The Communion Form, page 61 of The Psalter, second column, middle of the page, and continued on page 62).
From this it becomes evident that our children cannot participate in the Lord’s Supper until they come to years of discretion, for the simple reason that they cannot give expression to the conscious faith in the measure required by the self-examination and the celebration of the Supper of our Lord. From this it also follows that the church must require a confession of the Reformed religion and a reputation of a godly walk. According to article 64 of the Church Order, it is the responsibility of the consistory to supervise the celebration of the Holy Supper, lest condemnation fall upon the congregation. (See I Cor. 11:30.) The consistory must require a confession of the faith of the individual—not a mere confession that he believes, but also ofwhat he believes, namely, the faith once delivered unto the saints and taught in that church. I fear sometimes that both young people and consistories regard this matter of confession too lightly, to the detriment of the individual, but also of the congregation.
This does leave us with the question, when should a young person be considered ready to make confession of his or her faith? Partly, this is a question that the young person of the congregation must answer, deciding when he or she feels ready and has a strong desire to make public confession and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Young people should consider this matter very seriously, considering the public confession before the consistory and the congregation to be a very weighty responsibility, but also a very great privilege! This step is as important, if not more so, in the life of our covenant youth as choosing a vocation and entering into the marriage state! All of which should be preceded by a thorough understanding of the truth of the Scriptures, serious self-examination, and very much prayer! Only then will this confession remain a high point in our lives!
But the responsibility also rests with the consistory. The elders of the church must be sure that the children of the congregation have been given a thorough indoctrination, but also that they have beenreceptive to it, have digested it, and made it part and parcel of their souls. Our Catechism speaks of saving faith as consisting of knowledge of all that God has revealed to us in His Word. This must be more than a mere intellectual knowledge. It must include heart and mind, a knowledge that confesses: I know whom I have believed! Moreover, faith is an assured confidence that we are personally participants of Christ and all His benefits (Lord’s Day 7).
That raises the question, at what age should public confession of faith be made? A common practice among us is that young people wait until they have been thoroughly indoctrinated and have become stable in a godly walk. This practice, I think, is a good one. But sometimes the question is raised whether some studious and serious-minded teenager should be allowed to confess his faith at an early age, say, at 14 or 15 years of age. Prof. H.C. Hoeksema has discussed this question in the past in the Standard Bearer, volume 37, pages 112, 137, 162, 185.*
This, to my mind, answers your basic question. If not, write again.
* Note: Rev. Hanko asked me to fill in the reference here. I am not certain which article(s) he means. But the above are references to articles on, “Should Adolescents Be Encouraged To Partake Of The Lord’s Supper?”