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As anyone who has worshiped with us can see, it is our practice to include our baptized children with us in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We do not want to be superstitious about it, as though the elements of bread and wine were magic, but it is a routine practice for us to begin including children in the Supper at a pretty tender age. This is what we mean by child communion. What is meant by “the keys?” This refers to the authority of the church in discipline. It is not possible to talk about communication of the elements without also talking about excommunication (Matt. 16:19). So how should we relate these issues? It is necessary to take the right kind of great caution.
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:1-6).
Summary of the Text
The Corinthian Gentiles had begun to put on airs, over against the Jews. “We are baptized. We have spiritual drink. We have spiritual food.” So did the Israelites in the wilderness, Paul says, and look what happened to them. The nation of Israel passed through the cloud and the sea (v. 1), which Paul identifies as their baptism (v. 2). Not only did they have that monumental baptismal experience, they also ate spiritual food (v. 3), referring to the manna, bread from Heaven. In addition to that, all of them drank from the Rock that traveled with them, and that Rock was Christ Himself (v. 4). But if the Israelites were tempted to gloat in these spiritual privileges, they ought not to have. God was not pleased with many of them, and they were overthrown in the wilderness (v. 5). These things were written down, Paul says, to provide an example for new covenant Christians (v. 6), that we not fall into lust as they did.
The key thing to take away here is the fact that modern Christians often draw old covenant/new covenant contrasts at just the place where the New Testament demands that we draw parallels. These things happened to them as examples for us.
Clearing Some Debris
There are two things to keep in the forefront of our minds as we reflect on our inclusion of children in the Supper. First, we do not do it because it is “cute,” or “endearing.” If children are included for sentimental reasons, then if discipline ever becomes necessary, a number of people won’t want to do it . . . for those same sentimental reasons. We cannot have it both ways—if we object to discipline because “he is too young,” then we need to object to the communication of the elements for the same reason.
Secondly, we do not include our children through a misguided tribalism. The church holds the power of the keys, and not the patriarch of the family. The father has a key shepherding role to play, working with the elders, but he is not the church.
In stating these caveats, we should acknowledge that in some ways, child communion was an easy sell in some quarters for all the wrong reasons. But our thinking should be covenantal—not sentimental, and not familialist.
The Holy Spirit Does Not Need a Manager
When Jesus teaches us about the importance of the new birth, He does so by telling us that the Holy Spirit comes and goes as He pleases (John 3:8). We cannot bottle Him. We cannot anchor Him to the waters of baptism, or to the bread and wine, or to the Red Sea, or to the manna, or to the Rock. He is sovereign over us, not the other way around.
So our hunt for “badges” of the new birth usually gravitates to things we can manipulate or control— whether they are biblical things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or extra-biblical things, like throwing pine cones in the fire the last night of youth camp. We want things we can count—we want to put a turnstile on the gates of the kingdom with an automatic clicker in it.
Light Lights Up
The scriptural response to this does not flatter us. The differences between the converted and unconverted are not subtle. It is the difference between light and dark. It is the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness (John 3:19). It is the difference between clean and filthy (1 Thess. 4:7). It is the difference between love and hate (1 Jn. 3:12-14). The works of the flesh are manifest, Paul says (Gal. 5:19). People who live that way won’t inherit the kingdom (Gal. 5:21). Don’t over- engineer this. When it comes to assurance of salvation, we do not need to know what time the sun rose to know that it is up.
You never get an apple crop as the result of throwing a lever in the control room. Fruit doesn’t work this way. And the presence of the Spirit for blessing is indicated by gracious fruit (Gal. 5:22-23)—not by His gifts (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Cor. 3:1), not by His sacraments (1 Cor. 10:1-6), not by doctrinal prowess (1 Cor. 13:2), and not by external good deeds (1 Cor. 13:3). But we tend to want a lever, any lever, because we think that our hands must be able to reach it.
Vessels of Wrath, Vessels of Mercy
The Bible teaches that all of our children are by nature objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3). They, just like us, have descended from Adam. In order for anyone to be saved, our children included, they must be transferred from one human race to another. The perennial temptation is for us to try to effect this transfer, instead of resorting to the gospel of Christ, and waiting upon Him. We come to the gospel, and we do so in order to hear it, believe it, wash with it, taste it, swallow it. It is not the outside of the thing, obviously. But neither is it faith to throw away all these means that God has so graciously provided.
What would happen to a man who ate the manna without faith? He would die in the desert. What would happen to a hyper-evangelical Israelite, who refused the manna because he just wanted to treasure up spiritual manna in his heart? Well, he would die too.