...

Continuing to mention various objections against the suggestion that early adolescents be encouraged to partake of the Lord’s Supper before they make confession of faith, we may take note of the following: 

3) This plan would be contrary to the idea of the Lord’s Supper, namely, that of active and discerning participation. This consideration is closely connected with what we have mentioned already concerning the view, of the Lord’s Supper found in our confessions. And we will not enlarge on this at length here. Besides, we will have more to say on the readiness and degree of development of adolescents with a view to the Lord’s Supper and confession of faith later. We may concede, of course, that an adolescent is not like an infant any more and totally without understanding of the sacrament and the truths signified thereby as the infant is without understanding of his baptism. In fact, the same may be said of a little child of five or six years old. He can very well understand something of the truth’s of his salvation and have a personal faith in his childish way. And the adolescent can also have an understanding of the realities for which the sacrament stands and have a personal faith in his adolescent way. But by the same token, it must be conceded that an adolescent, especially an early adolescent, is not yet an adult and is not yet mature and has not yet reached a mature understanding and a mature faith. He is still developing and still approaching that stage of discernment in which he is able to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And personally, while we seem to live in an age when our adolescents are considered by themselves and by their parents to be very grown up and are even to a degree artificially forced to be grown up, I am inclined to the opinion that they are after all very immature—perhaps more so than formerly—and that too, especially when it comes to things spiritual. Moreover, I believe that if they have reached that degree of discernment when they are able to discern the Lord’s body in such a way that they can partake of the supper in more than a formal and outward way, they have also reached the point where they can and should make confession of faith. If the latter is impossible, the former is also. And in view of the fact that according to our confessions we do actually make confession of faith at the Lord’s table, it seems to me that we face the alternative of either maintaining the necessity of confession of faith as a requisite for admission to the Lord’s Supper or of discarding the requirement of confession of faith altogether. If one remembers that at the table of the Lord we do make confession of our faith, and that too, publicly, our established custom of’ confession of faith would lose its meaning and necessity, become a misfit, under this new system. And the result will be that you lose every objective standard for admission to the Lord’s table. For if a child of 12 or 13 may be admitted, why should not a child of 8 or 9; and if a child of 8 or 9, why not a child of 5 or 6? 

4) This plan is contrary to Christian discipline and its purpose of maintaining the purity of the sacraments. It is the express purpose of Christian discipline to prevent the sacraments from being profaned by the unbelieving and ungodly. And while we baptize all infants of believers, this is possible only because “our young children do not understand these things.” For that reason we may not exclude them from baptism. If this same reasoning could be applied to all early adolescents in regard to this sacrament, which involves active and discerning participation, then we could concede that they must be admitted to the Lord’s table. But we know very well that among our early adolescents there are those who are unbelieving and ungodly. And now these unbelieving and ungodly, whom we know are found among our children, must be allowed and even encouraged to come to the Lord’s table? This almost amounts to an application of the idea of “open communion” to the sphere of the covenant. 

5) Nor is it true, as has been suggested, that discipline—and, in a sense, excommunication—of baptized members requires that they first be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. I believe we may draw a parallel between the admission of baptized members to the Lord’s table and the exclusion (and in that sense, the excommunication) of baptized members from the Lord’s table. Just as you admit baptized members, orpotential communicants, so you also discipline and excommunicate those who because of their baptism and status as baptized members are potential communicants. I see no difficulty here whatsoever. And it is rather significant to me that while in other Reformed churches there has been considerable study and also development of the discipline of baptized members, there has been no effort to introduce the plan we are now considering. 

6) Finally, as a practical argument, I would object thatour churches would not be strong enough to exercise the stringout discipline required under this plan. It must be conceded that it certainly would require a church strong in discipline and strict in the application of discipline to enforce this plan. On the whole, I believe our churches are slower to discipline adolescents and even adults who have failed to make confession of faith than they are in discipline matters generally. There is a good and bad side to this, I believe. But I also believe that it is almost in the nature of the case that fathers in the church are very loath to declare of an adolescent or a young adult that he is unbelieving and ungodly and is to be excluded from the table of the Lord. That is a very severe and serious judgment, but it is a judgment which consistories must sometimes make. Under this plan they would undoubtedly have to make this judgment earlier and more often than they do now. And I fear that they will continue to be loath to do so. “If my fears are correct, the result will be that you have an increasing number of non-confessing members who nevertheless have been and are admitted to the Lord’s table and who ought not to be there at all. 

For the above reasons—and I have only briefly sketched them—I feel very strongly that this first suggestion should never be introduced in our churches. 

II. Should covenant youth of 12 to 15 years of age be encouraged to partake of the Lord’s Supper by making early confession of faith? 

By way of introduction, we may observe, in the first place, that this question is of a little different nature. It involves no violation of well-established Reformed principles and rules with respect to those who may participate of the Lord’s Supper. And it involves no fundamental departure from the practice which we have always followed. This is rather a mere question of the time factor in confession of faith. And as such it is a rather practical and discretionary question. There may very well be an area of disagreement when it comes to answering this question. And the best we can do, in answering this question, is to try to reach a reasoned and well-founded conclusion as to what is the most prudent procedure for the church to follow. 

In the second place, and in close connection with the above, we may note that the emphasis in this question falls on the readiness of early adolescents to make confession of faith. Can we, or can we not, agree that covenant youth of 12 to 15 years of age are as a general rule psychologically and spiritually ready to make confession of faith ? If they are, then they ought to do so, and the church should expect them to do so and should, of course, then admit them to the Lord’s table. 

Some such plan as the following might be followed in this case: 1) Children of believers would make confession of faith sometime between the ages of 12 and 15, and would thereupon be admitted to communion. This would become the general practice in our churches. 3) This would be encouraged either by the adoption of some kind of general rule, or by the synodical adoption of a policy for our churches, and by way of instruction and urging from the pulpit, in the catechism class, and through personal labors of our pastors. There would, of course, be a certain period of transition; but eventually this would become the common practice in our churches. 3) Such covenant youth would be expected to continue their catechetical training for a time after their confession of faith, so that their doctrinal instruction might be completed. 4) If they made no confession by the age of 15 or 16, baptized members would begin to be the object of ecclesiastical discipline with a view to eventual “excommunication,” if necessary, when they reach the age of adulthood. 

In favor of this plan may be mentioned the following: 

1) This plan would be in harmony with the historic Reformed practice. The history of the church teaches us that both by Calvin and a Lasco and by the Reformed churches of the Netherlands in the early period the accepted age for confession of faith was about that of 14. And the churches were rather strict in this regard. According to Dr. H. Bouwman, admonition and discipline set in if by the age of 14 one was not sufficiently instructed to make confession of faith and to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. And indeed, there is a good side to this practice. It evinces a very earnest view of the necessity for early and thorough instruction of the covenant seed and also a very healthy view of the church as consisting of believers and their children. 

2) The unhealthy practice of postponement of confession of faith in Reformed circles arose under the influence of pietism and false mysticism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Under these influences a false conception of church membership also arose. The idea of covenant children “joining the church” by confession of faith as also the distinction between confession of the truth and confession of faith, became prevalent under the pietistic and mystic reaction against the cold rationalism and dead orthodoxy that swept through the Reformed churches in the 18th century. We ought to forsake that mystical trend and return to the earlier practice of the Reformed churches. Covenant children do not join the church, but they are already baptized as members of Christ’s church. 

3) Early adolescents (of 12 to 15 years) are quite able to make confession of faith, consciously to assume their position in the church, to discern the Lord’s body, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Communicants do not have to be little theologians before they are admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and we ought not to over-emphasize the intellectual and doctrinal aspect of confession of faith. Instead, we should lay more stress than we do on the spiritual and volitional aspect of confession of faith. 

4) This practice would have the benefit that covenant youth would be tied in more closely with the church at a critical period of their life and that through the sacrament as a means of grace their faith would be strengthened and encouraged at a time when they need it most. 

5) Under this plan our covenant youth would be made more conscious of their covenant obligations, and the idea would be avoided that the youth of the church are more or less free to live irresponsibly and to “sow their wild oats” until they grow up and settle down and become good and ready to make confession of faith. 

To the above you could add some of the arguments advanced in favor of the first plan too. We will conclude our discussion of this subject next time, the Lord willing. Meanwhile, what do you think of Plan II? 

—H.C.H.