How old should a child be before being interviewed for communicant membership?
There is some debate about this question, even among us, and it is not an entirely settled matter. We don’t have a set rule or ordinance, so the matter is left to the discretion of the local session (elders). But I actually think this is the most biblical course of action, because the biblical basis for determining at what age a child should partake of the Lord’s Supper (and, therefore, be interviewed for communicant church membership) is clear. The Lord says through the apostle in 1 Corinthians 11, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28). That is, if a child is able to examine himself, and so properly discern the Lord’s body for what it is, and know if he should (or should not) partake of that body in communion, then he is old enough to become a communicant member. If, however, he is not, then he should not, for in doing so, he would bring judgment on himself, “for he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (v. 29). And the fact that this matter is not left to the person alone to examine himself is clear, since this letter and passage was written not to individuals, but to the whole church in Corinth, accusing them of not celebrating the Lord’s Supper because they were celebrating it in an ungodly way. Our Book of Discipline puts it this way: “The session shall examine the candidate for membership to assure itself so far as possible that he possesses the knowledge requisite for active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ …” (BD II.B.2.d). This is in accord with the Scriptural passage cited above, because it indicates that the elders of the church have a responsibility to ensure that those who partake of communion do not do so ignorantly, and so eat and drink condemnation to themselves.
So, in short, a child should be old enough to discern the Lord’s body, and to clearly express his faith to others. And the ones who are charged with the care of the sheep (the elders) are the ones who determine that age for each individual.
I’m not sure I’ve completely answered your question, but perhaps it’s a start. There is, of course, much more that can be said. If you would like to continue this discussion, or have any other questions, please write us again at opc.org.
May the Lord bless you in His grace, now and forever.
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