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Emmanuel - Letter to the Congregation

Emmanuel Christian Reformed Church
January 6, 2014

Dear Congregation,

As elders we are coming to the conclusion of our discussion on welcoming children to participate in the Lord’s Supper. We deeply appreciate your willingness to learn and to discuss in this process. Through the process we elders have gained two points of agreement and one point that still needs to be decided.

The first point of agreement is that children are capable of deep faith and should be welcomed to the table at a younger age than has been the tradition in the Christian Reformed tradition. The second point of agreement is that we want our policy on this to be clear and not a muddy compromise that chooses a middle ground or leaves the choice to individual families so that parents are confronted with having to explain why other kids are either included or excluded.

The point that still needs to be defined is whether we invite children to come to the table on the basis of a profession of faith or on the basis of their membership in God’s covenant family as we do with baptism. The keys to the decision seem to be encompassed in the four areas Dr. Venema discussed when he was with us.

  1. Church History: The first 350 years appear unknown, roughly 350-1050 AD children were often included, and from 1050 AD - present a profession or confirmation seems to have been required in most Western church traditions.
  2. The Tie to the Passover: While children were present and included in the first Passover, future Passovers are not clearly described. Like women, they seemed to be permitted to participate if present (as it often required a trip to Jerusalem) but not required to participate. While the tie between Passover and Lord’s Supper is clear, how much should that influence our decision regarding children’s place at the table.
  3. The New Testament tradition: The New Testament doesn’t describe children participating in the Supper any more than it describes children being baptized. Arguments for including children on the basis of baptism seem best rooted in Christianity being a covenantal/family faith vs an individualistic one. The primary argument for requiring a profession of faith rests in a particular understanding of “discerning the body” in 1 Corinthians 11. Does “body” there refer to Christ’s physical body represented in the bread or to Christ’s body the church, the primary reference in chapters 10-12?
  4. Covenant Theology and the nature of the sacraments: The two sacraments are both means of grace revealing Christ’s sacrifice for us at the cross. Why include children in baptism but not the Supper? Is there a fundamental difference between them or is the difference something we have constructed to explain the inconsistency in our practice?

These are knotty issues, which is why so many denominations have been wrestling with them. You have sat through the discussions of them with us and we are aware of strong opinions on both sides.

Therefore, before we sit down to try to define our policy, we wanted to offer you a final opportunity to offer us input. We invite you write a letter to the elders to express your thoughts and the reasons behind them. Please submit them to the pastor by February 1 so that he can get copies to all the elders by our meeting on the 12th. In the end, we hope to craft a policy that will honor God and bless our children.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tim
On behalf of the elders