Synod 2010 of the Christian Reformed Church in North America agreed on Tuesday to a process that could lead to the adoption next year of new, expanded guidelines on allowing children to take part in the Lord's Supper.
The Faith Formation Committee of the CRC has been discussing this topic as well as a wide range of issues related to faith formation, at the request of synod, for the past few years (click to see this year's report). It is to present its final report in 2012.
While other aspects of the Faith Formation report will be addressed by Synod 2012, the topic of children taking part in the Lord's Supper will be addressed earlier, to help congregations gain clarity on how to deal with this issue in their own churches.
"Churches are asking the question, 'Can we get creative in allowing children to take part in the Lord's Supper or do we use the prescribed form?' Is this regulated by the form?" said Rev. Paul DeVries, a delegate from Classis Thornapple Valley.
Generally, the CRC has required that children make a formal Profession of Faith, articulating their belief in Christ, before they can take part in the Lord's Supper. But churches have developed different approaches in how they handle the issue, in part as a response to requests by parents who believe their children are ready to participate in the sacrament.
In some congregations, young children are allowed to partake of the sacrament as long as they express some belief in Christ, while other churches require that children make a Profession of Faith before participating.
In its recommendations to Synod 2010, the committee was trying to get direction on how it ought to continue approaching this topic, asking synod to approve a principle that states that children can partake if they have demonstrated their faith in an age-appropriate manner.
"We are trying to be deliberative and approve a single principle that all baptized members who come with age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ are welcome at the Lord's table," said Rev. John Witvliet, chair of the Faith Formation Committee.
In addition, the committee asked synod to give permission to children to take part in the Lord Supper as long as "they obey the scriptural commands about participation (to examine themselves) in an age- and ability appriopriate way, under the supervision of elders."
Asked if he had any objections to bringing a final report on children at the Lord's table to next year's synod, Witvliet said that he would not. Having an earlier deadline will help the committee and the church at large come to a consensus on the issue earlier, he said. "Nothing will undermine the beauty and value of the profession of faith" if they go forward with this aspect of the faith formation mandate earlier, said Witvliet.
Children at the Lord's Table is only part of the process that the Faith Formation committee is addressing.
"We're talking about a much more profound change in faith formation in the CRC, and children at the table is only part of that," said Witvliet. The final report will take into consideration the many "milestones" that allow church members "to mark multiple milestones of faith throughout their life," he said.
Some delegates said they were uncomfortable with making it easier for children to take part in the sacrament, in part because they felt the changes could open the door to "infant communion."
At issue is how to best discern if a young person understands the saving grace bestowed by Christ in his death on the cross and resurrection, as well as whether a young person can examine him or herself properly in order to determine readiness to participate in the sacrament. One question brought up was whether a Profession of Faith will any longer be necessary.
Rev. Darren Roorda, a delegate from Classis Huron, said that churches are experiencing "terrible confusion" over how to best handle this issue. "Is a Profession of Faith required? If not, we will need it in some other form."
Rev. James Peterson, a delegate from Classis Central Plains, said that "we need to welcome children to the Lord's table. We train 10-year-olds at our church to participate in the Lord's Supper and it is a beautiful practice."
In its recommendations, the Faith Formation Committee said that a formal Profession of Faith prior to participation in the Lord's Supper "is not required by Scripture or the confessions." At the same time, a "formal public Profession of Faith is a vital practice for faith formation and is one pastoral approach to consider prior to participation in the Lord's Supper."
For complete coverage of Synod 2010, visit www.crcna.org/Synod