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Synod Opens Table to Children

June 14, 2011

Synod 2011 decided on Monday night that baptized children will no longer be required to make a formal profession of faith before they can take part in the Lord’s Supper. 

A vote to approve the report titled “Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith” took place after delegates debated for nearly two hours on the floor of the Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Some urged that the Christian Reformed Church should continue to require a profession of faith before someone participates in the Lord’s Supper. They said it is important that a person understand and have professed belief in the confessional standards of the church before taking communion.

Others said the change is a good way to bring children more fully into the worship life of the church. By taking part in the Lord’s Supper, they will receive grace that can help them grow in their spiritual formation.

Before the discussion, John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Center of Christian Worship and chairperson of the Faith Formation Committee that has worked for the last four years on the issue, explained some of the reasons behind the proposed change.

“We hope this will create a catalyst  for local congregations  to seek ways to have their people grow... By this, the CRC re-commits itself to deep inter-generational spiritual formation,” Witvliet said. “A call for active engagement with the Lord’s Supper is something for us all.

“We are convinced that this ought to be a joyful opportunity,” he added. “God graces us with the capacity to grow in our faith -- in our life before Jesus Christ.” 

The committee is not finished with its work. Among other things, it needs to address the issue of what a formal profession of faith -- still a requirement to become a full member of a congregation -- will entail and include. 

The committee also must help to determine how best to educate congregations about this change, allowing children in an “age- and ability appropriate” manner to participate in the Lord’s Supper, the advisory committee says in its report to synod. 

The change will now be adopted into the CRC’s Church Order. 

“This document has received plenty of discussion over the last four years,” said Rev. Jacob Van de Hoef, reporter for the advisory committee that dealt with the matter. “…The document acknowledges that while profession of faith is important, nothing in scripture or elsewhere requires it before someone takes the Lord’s Supper.” 

A delegate expressed concern about removing the requirement for profession of faith from the process leading to a person partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

“By moving this way, we are moving in a profoundly disturbing direction,” he said. “It is good to be building bridges (to allow young people to participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper), and yet (with this change) we don’t want them to subscribe to … what we believe.”

He said it also disturbs him that each congregation will be asked to determine what is an age and ability appropriate time for children to take part in the Lord’s Supper. That can lead to confusion, he said.

But another delegate said he was “excited about welcoming children to the table, not based on their belief, but on the fact that they are members of the covenant.” 

The synodical advisory committee also addressed and clarified the issue of parents wanting to present a child for dedication, instead of baptism, as part of the faith formation process. The committee made recommendations on how pastors should handle this issue.

“When parents request infant or child dedication in public worship, the pastor and elders of the local congregation  should (1) engage in pastorally appropriate ways to celebrate the birth or adoption of a child, to pray for the child and parents, and to call for the commitment of the parents to nurture their children in the Lord, (2) engage in convicted … teaching on the subject of infant baptism, and (3) refrain from leading rituals of infant or child dedication in public worship services,” it said. 

“Many people do not embrace infant baptism because they do not understand how it is consistent with Scripture. Teaching on the subject offers a rich opportunity to promote greater biblical understanding and may lead the parents to present their children for baptism.” 

Some delegates were not happy with this advice..

“Are we now going to turn people away who want to dedicate their child?” asked Rev. Daniel Zylstra, a delegate from Classis  Quinte.  “I think this lacks pastoral integrity.”

Other echoed his concern, saying that there are church members who strongly believe that baptism and then participation in the Lord’s Supper should come later in life. “I embrace dedication under the umbrella of infant baptism ...This is the way we do it,” said Rev. Joel De Boer, a delegate from Classis North Central Iowa.

For more coverage while synod is in session, including webcast, photos, discussion forum, reports, and more visit the Synod 2011 website.