Thursday, September 13, 2007

Toddlers at the Table (2)

If you haven't kept up with this discussion, but would like to catch up now, here's how it developoed:
  • I posted this article, and also emailed it to Al Maxey seeking his feedback.
  • Mr. Maxey responded in his weekly Reflections email newsletter. Click here to read it.
Well, I have had some further correspondence with Al regarding the question of children partaking of the Lord's Supper. With his gracious permission, I am posting our correspondence.

First, my response to his article:
Brother Maxey,

Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful treatment of my question about allowing my daughter to partake in communion. The factors which you mentioned are the ones that I have always been taught. You confirmed them sufficiently for me to refrain from allowing my daughter to partake at this time. However, I still have some questions that plague me on this issue.

My difficulty is not with any specific point that you made, but with the general idea that "The rituals of Christianity are only for the mature." You mentioned in your conclusion the passage that says that we will pray and sing with understanding. I'm glad you brought this up because I think it helps explain my continuing difficulty with this question.

We believe that the Bible teaches that all that we do must be more than a mere "going through the motions," but must be done with an understanding of what we are doing. This applies to singing, praying, the Lord's Supper, daily life, etc. However, we don't keep our children from singing in worship even though they don't understand the meaning of the words that they sing. We don't keep them from praying even though they don't understand prayer. We certainly don't forbid them from participating in the offering, although they don't understand any of the theology behind it. And we don't discourage them from adopting Christian morals and values in their daily activity (don't lie, be kind, have good manners, etc.) even though they don't understand the theology behind Christian living. We don't forbid these things because, among other things, there is educational and developmental value to the
experiencing of Christian rituals and activities as they progressively learn more and more about the deeper meanings. I see it as the difference between active/multi-sensory learning and theoretical learning.

I agree that the Bible teaches a deeper meaning behind the Lord's Supper than my Abbie can even come close to comprehending. However, I believe that the Bible teaches a deeper meaning behind singing, praying, offering, Christian living than she is able to comprehend. Why, then, do we forbid the Lord's supper but not the others?

As I said, your article was truly a helpful reminder, as I often allow my exploratory thinking to take over and sometimes lose my grounding in the process. You called me back to a grounded view of the question that I asked. For this I thank you. However, the questioner within me is still not satisfied. I know that you probably receive enough email that an ongoing discussion like this may be something that you don't have time for. However, your further thoughts would be appreciated.

Jeff Borcherding
Now, his reply:
  • I can certainly appreciate where you are coming from; I've struggled with many of these same questions and feelings over the years, as I'm sure a great many have. One will discover, however, that in most human societies (whether secular or spiritual, primitive or modern) there is a perceived need to reserve some activities for those who have attained a certain level of maturity. For example, consider marriage. Yes, there are indeed some cultures where the very young are allowed, even encouraged, to marry and bear children. I have heard of girls as young as ten having a baby. Most of us, however, regard such an activity as being something that is not truly developmentally appropriate for that age. Are their bodies capable of reproducing? Yes, in many cases. Does a ten-year-old have a rudimentary understanding of marriage? I'm sure they do. Would you encourage your own daughter to "experience" marriage and reproduction firsthand simply because her physical body might be capable of such, thereby giving her experiential, not just theoretical, knowledge of this?! Probably not. Why not? Because we see the wisdom in postponing certain activities until one is more emotionally and/or spiritually capable of appreciating and accepting the responsibilities of said activity. I truly believe some things are important enough in our lives to advise waiting until we are truly ready to embrace them as they should be, and need to be, embraced.
  • Yes, as we assemble together, we do encourage our children to sing, pray and give. However, these are things we also encourage them to do every day. In reality, these activities are largely inherent. Before an infant can even form words, they are singing. A fetus will respond to music even in the womb. It is part of our nature. So is giving. Watch a baby sometime. They'll suck on a cracker and then offer the soggy morsel to Mom and Dad. They are sharing; giving. It is inherent. Psychologists, and even anthropologists, will tell you that man is a "worshipful animal" -- i.e., we have an inherent need to look to something or someone greater than ourselves. Solomon wrote that God has "set eternity in their heart" [Eccl. 3:11]. In other words, God has placed within man an inherent awareness, however rudimentary, of that which is greater than himself, so that even from the very first there may be this inherent longing to grasp the Infinite One. Seeking to communicate with this One is inherent within us, and this is accomplished in prayer. It is a need even a child can fulfill. We can cry out Abba, Daddy, long before we appreciate the true nature of that eternal Father. Thus, singing, praying and giving all address fundamental, basic, inherent traits of the human species, and are developmentally appropriate to almost any age.
  • The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, points to a most remarkable moment in time and space, one that is completely outside of and apart from the realm of human nature and experience. It memorializes an event when God Himself stepped shockingly into our physical realm and did the unthinkable -- He died a horrendous death in our place. There is absolutely nothing inherent within our nature to prepare us for this expression of His nature. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" [Rom. 5:7-8]. Two verses later we are told that the death of Jesus reconciled us to the Father while we were still His enemies. There is nothing inherent within man that prepares us for this amazing grace! The Lord's Supper commemorates the supreme act of love of our Creator, an event that requires some degree of maturity to even begin to grasp, much less apply to our lives in a meaningful way. Singing, praying and sharing are aspects of our nature; that which the Lord's Supper displays is an aspect of His. It is totally outside of our own human experience, and thus requires some degree of development as disciples of Jesus to appreciate, much less accept, this demonstration of His redeeming love!
  • Nevertheless, having stated all of the above, it is certainly true that there is no definitive "law" for resolving the issue of precisely when it is "developmentally appropriate" for one to partake of the Lord's Supper. God has largely left that to the exercise of our good judgment. In my previous study I provided what I personally believe the purposes of that event to be, according to my best understanding of the Scriptures, and then simply challenged us all to determine, as best we can, at what point we feel one is capable of truly appreciating this event as it deserves to be appreciated. Since the Lord has not specifically set an age for participation, neither can I. I can only offer the fruit of my study and my insights into the matter. In the end, each person must make that determination for themselves. I have stated my belief -- a four-year-old is not yet ready for this event -- but I will most certainly not condemn those who differ with me on this matter, and who choose to give the bread and wine to their child (although I think it inappropriate to do so). This is, ultimately, between them and their God, and I gladly leave the matter in His merciful, loving and gracious hands. Our Father knows men's hearts and motives far better than I. In conclusion, to this brother from Texas I say: May God richly bless you and your precious daughter. She is truly blessed to have such conscientious parents who want only to raise her to love and appreciate the Lord.
  • --- Al Maxey

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