The Lord’s Supper should be a wonderful moment of unity in the church of Christ. Sadly, there is debate and disagreement over (probably) every element imaginable.
One of those disagreements is over who should participate. Do you need to be a member of a church? Do you need to be baptised? What about children? Here is how we at Eaglehawk Presbyterian answer those questions.
Do I need to be baptised?
Yes. Confusion over this is often due to how little we think about the purpose of these two sacraments. Baptism is the rite of initiation, the ceremony in which someone is officially welcomed as part of Christ’s church. The Lord’s Supper is a meal through which Christ continually nourishes the faith of his church. Just like those wanting to join Old Testament Israel needed to first be circumcised before they could take the Passover (Exodus 12:48), so we must first be baptised before we take the Lord’s Supper.
A quote from Michael Horton is particularly helpful here: ‘If baptism is the bath for the beginning of the journey, the Supper is the table that God spreads in the wilderness along the way.’ We need to have the bath before we can join in the meal.
Do I need to be a member?
Yes. Those coming to the table are expected to be a member of a Christian church – whether of our church, another Presbyterian church, or any other Christian church. And they need to be a member in good standing – if someone is under discipline at their church and unable to take the Supper there, we pray they would respect that process of discipline and not seek to get around it by visiting another church!
There are multiple reasons for this, but the key reason is that the Supper is a communal meal (indeed, one of the names for the Lord’s Supper is ‘Communion’). We not only commune with Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16) as we eat at his table, but we also commune with one another (1 Corinthians 10:17) as the church comes together (1 Corinthians 11:18). For the church to come together, we have to know who’s in the church! That’s what membership identifies – with the wisdom that Christ gives his people, they determine whether someone’s profession in Christ is genuine, and whether they will commune with them in this meal.
Are children welcome to participate?
It depends! Are they full members of a church? Have they professed their faith publicly (either by being baptised as a believer, or giving a Profession of Faith if they were baptised as an infant)? One of the requirements given to those partaking is that they ‘examine themselves’ and be able to ‘discern the body’ (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). A young child is unable to do these things.
But how young is too young? This is where a conversation with the parents and the elders/leaders of the church is important. Taking the Supper is a great privilege, but it also comes with some danger (1 Corinthians 11:27, 30). We want to protect them from unknowingly abusing the Lord’s Supper. When it would be appropriate for a child to profess faith, and so be welcomed into membership and to the table of the Lord’s Supper requires the wisdom of both the parents and church leaders.
When I was growing up, I had this all reversed. I took the Lord’s Supper before I was baptised, in a church where it probably never crossed their mind to consider whether I had genuine faith. Did something terrible happen to me? No. Was it a heinous crime against the church? No. But it was inappropriate.
As a church, we want all things to be done with good order (1 Corinthians 14:40, Colossians 2:5). When we consider the importance and meaning of membership, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and any number of other issues related to what it means to function biblically as a church, we can see how seriously Christ regards his church.
The Lord’s Supper is for those who are baptised Christians, who have publicly professed their faith in Christ and been accepted as members of a local body of believers, and who have examined themselves. It is a privilege to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Let us do it with great joy!