Public profession of faith is a vital and important faith milestone. But Synod 2011, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, concluded that there is no biblical requirement of this formal, public profession of faith for participation at the Lord’s table. It approved changes to the Church Order that welcome all baptized persons to participate in the Lord’s Supper in age- and ability-appropriate ways.

Since then, congregations and classes (regional groups of churches) have been exploring how to implement this decision faithfully. No single approach works in every setting. But several common themes are emerging in discussions throughout the Christian Reformed Church. These themes can be phrased as questions—constructive, generative questions for each council and congregation to pray about and discuss together.

How can we invite people of all ages to deeper participation at the table?

To be sure, synod’s decisions have often been described in terms of “children at the table.” But synod’s call was to deepen the participation of all persons in ways appropriate to their age and ability. Maybe your church will respond to this by hosting an intergenerational supper each year at which participants could explain how the Lord’s Supper has strengthened their faith. Perhaps you will use Facebook or other social media during the week prior to Lord’s Supper celebrations to prompt worshipers to reflect on the gift of “discerning the body of Christ.” The test will be, in part, whether both brand-new and lifelong communicants are joyfully challenged to grow.

How can we celebrate multiple faith milestones in the life of each believer?

Some congregations have developed intentional ways to celebrate moments in people’s lifelong journey of faith, such as “graduation” from children’s worship, first participation at the Lord’s Supper, profession of faith, participation in a service project, ordination as officebearer, and so on. This broad approach helps counter the impression that we “graduate” from God’s school of spiritual growth. Coming to the table for the first time is not an ending—it’s one of many new beginnings that are a part of the faithful Christian life.

How can we avoid both an overly legalistic and an overly casual approach to the table?

A generation or two ago, many churches struggled with an overly scrupulous and legalistic approach to the Lord’s Supper. Today, many churches struggle with an opposite problem—the tendency to treat the Lord’s Supper as an optional appendix to a service or a casual symbol. Synod’s action regarding children at the table was framed to resist both tendencies.

How can we meditate and study Scripture together as we explore table practices?

Scriptural study is an indispensable aspect of deepening our participation at the Lord’s Supper. This is true not just for pastors and theologians but for everyone. For example, what would it mean to obey the command to “all eat together” at the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 11:33)? What would it mean for us if our prayers at the Lord’s Table were, like Jesus’ prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving? (For more, see Bible study materials available at crcna.org/faithformation).

How can we better equip parents and guardians to be “worship participation coaches”?

The most important influence on how kids participate in any of act of worship, including the Lord’s Supper, is their parent(s) or guardian(s). So some churches offer adult education sessions on “how to guide your children at the Lord’s Supper.” Others stock their church library with books for families to use as they prepare for the Lord’s Supper. When parents are equipped to guide and mentor their children more faithfully, their own participation can be renewed at the same time.

How can we emphasize both that the Lord’s Supper is a gift and that coming to the table is act of obedience and professing faith?

Part of the challenge is recognizing that the Bible’s commands are themselves a gift. It’s a gift of grace to be able to receive the bread and cup, and it is a gift to be challenged to “discern the body.” Part of this lesson can be “caught” by the language we use in worship: “What a gift: we come to the table because God loves us first!” “What a gift: we come to the table saying ‘Jesus loves us, and we love Jesus.’” “What a gift: we come to the table discerning the body, learning to resist sin, and discovering again the breadth of the church.” Part of it also needs to be explicitly taught and preached.

How can we teach and guide children as they come to the table?

My own pastor, Jack Roeda, challenges children who come to the table to

  • look around—at the people of God who promise to love each other and serve the world,
  • look back—over the long history of God’s faithfulness, especially in the life of Jesus,
  • look forward—to the feast we will share in the kingdom of heaven,
  • look “up”—to think about how the ascended Jesus in heaven prays for us and how we trust in him,
  • look within—to see both our own sin and need for a Savior and to remember that we are loved by God and are a member of God’s own family.

These five points are memorable. We can easily rehearse them with our children on the way to church on Sunday.

The Lord’s Supper is about “Jesus Loves Me”and it is about “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”

Another way to reinforce these themes would be to find a set of children’s songs that explore each aspect of table participation. The Lord’s Supper is about “Jesus Loves Me” and it is about “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together”; it is about “This Little Light of Mine” and “Bind Us Together.” Consider studying a songbook such as Sing With Me or Songs for LiFE (faithaliveresources.org) to identify a set of five children’s songs appropriate for your church. The next time you gather at the table, use them either before or after to help children connect their participation at the table with their daily life.

Who among us is gifted to shape a culture of encouragement and spiritual growth as we participate in the Lord’s Supper? How can we encourage and support them in their work among us?

Congregations who ask these questions in broad ways may discover that God has gifted not only pastors or worship leaders in this way, but also youth workers or those who minister to older members, those with gifts for evangelism or concern for social justice, musicians and artists—both older and younger members. Renewed Lord’s Supper practice can begin in nearly any corner of church life. But it often emerges when God gifts and calls individuals to spur deeper discussions and prayers.

Asking questions like these opens up space for faithful creativity, grounded innovation, and biblical imagination. Congregations who prayerfully wrestle with them may find that this process can be one of the best ways of shaping a culture of gratitude, obedience, and spiritual growth in congregational life.

More Faith Formation Resources

We know that many congregations are eager not just for questions, but also for answers. The Faith Formation Committee of the Christian Reformed Church is working to gather answers from across the denomination. For more resources please visit crcna.org/faithformation.

Faith Alive Christian Resources, the denomination’s resource provider, is also developing materials to help congregations and families.

A Place at the Table: Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper will be available in September. This three-session video-based study will help parents and church members sort through the biblical and practical issues involved as they take steps toward welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper. This study is perfect for adult education classes, small groups, or parent groups. Materials include a leader guide, study guide, and DVD with introductory video segments. Available separately will be a family devotional to help children and parents or caregivers discover the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper together.

For more information on these products, call Faith Alive at 1-800-333-8300 or visit FaithAliveResources.org.

About the Author

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Comments

I have been to many churches besides CRC. And I have participated in communion or Lord's Supper in many of them as well. The simplest way to invite all believers to participate, is to simply indicate that if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you may participate, since then you are part of the body of Christ. Being part of the body of Christ means that you love God and love HIs people, even if imperfectly. If you do not believe, then you should not participate, since you would be deceiving both yourself and others, which would place you under judgement of God. At certain ages, children will not ask their parents for advice on this; at other times they will ask their parents for advice, and their parents should give them good and appropriate advice pertinent to the individual child.

Needless to say, this development of the synod deciding to open the table to baptized children is very rewarding. I wrote an article in The Banner in 1958 pleading for this.
I wish I had included something like Jack Rhoda's five "perspectives" above. We might have seen action sooner. PEACE!!

As a member of the denominational committee on Children at the Lord's Supper twenty or more years ago, I remember thinking that the knotty problem the church could face in the future--when children would be coming to the table--would be to know how and when to include some kind of initiation ceremony (at least) within the church itself. I don't doubt for a moment that scripture doesn't record such an event, but it seems to me that any healthy organization should require that, somewhere along the line, someone who has reached what the creeds used to call "the age of discretion" should be committing to "the church," even (dare I say) "joining it."

A week or so ago in our congregation, a 23-year old young man professed his faith publicly, someone the preacher told the congregation was something of a skeptic. At the same time, three young ladies--first graders--also partook of communion for the first time. Our pastor nicely separated the 20-something from the six-year-olds, as they should be, even though all four were coming to the table for the first time.

In the Bible God,John the Baptist, Peter,John,Paul paid little attention as to whether Jews or Gentiles had partaken of the sacrament all there life. They never mentioned it. Their EMPHASIS was on calling them to repent and believe! See Acts 17:30;John 1:11-13; 7:37-39; Acts 2:38, not to mention many other texts.
May we hear likewise.

P.S.
It did/does participators of the sacrament no heavenly good without faith/believing according to Paul. Gal. 3:7,9,14. That being so, where should our EMPHASIS be?
On "there is no biblical requirement of this formal
(?jp)public confession of faith for participation at the Lord's table"? Or on, according to God, John the Baptist, Jesus, John, Peter, Paul, repent/believe?