Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Church Membership and Kids
Below is what our church believes about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as defined in our Statement of Belief;
We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. This sign was to display our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, and to illustrate our own death to sin and resurrection to a new life in faith and obedience to Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is the meal all members share together as a visible sign of the unity we have with God through Jesus, and by his Spirit to one another…
Notice this statement is consistent with what we see in scripture, in that Baptism is given to those who are publicly declaring their faith in Jesus, and the Lord’s Supper is the meal those believers share with each other as an ongoing celebration of their union with Jesus and his body, the church.
We see this connection clearly illustrated in the early chapters of the book of Acts. In Acts 1 Jesus had risen from the dead and commissioned his Apostles to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower their mission (Acts 1:1–8). In Acts 1:15 we are told the number of believers was about 120. The Spirit comes in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, and Peter peaches the first Holy Spirit inspired, Apostolic sermon. Peter clearly proclaims the life, death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus, and then says in Acts 2:36;
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
We are then told in verse 37–38;
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
A few verses later we see how the believers obeyed the call to repent and be baptised, and notice the connection between baptism and membership in the body of the church, in verse 41;
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
That is to say, those who did get baptised in response to the gospel call were added to the 120 believers that made up the early church. From there, in verse 42;
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
They went on to live the Christian life.
The breaking of bread may not necessarily mean The Lord’s Supper, but the point is they came together as one body to worship Jesus as New Covenant believers in obedience to the word of the Lord. And so already we see how baptism is the proper response to faith in the gospel, and once received by a believer, they are counted as members of the visible church.
We see the connection between baptism and membership in the local church in other New Testament passages too. See the two passages below as examples, and notice how the Apostle Paul speaks with an assumption that all who are receiving his letter – members of local churches – have been baptised in response to their faith.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
– Romans 6:3–4
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
– Galatians 3:26–27
So already, it is clear that baptism is the New Covenant sign for the person who has put their faith in Jesus, and those who receive this sign are also added to the number of believers in a local church; they are considered members of that particular body of Christ.
From there, we move to consider the place of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a local church. And by God’s grace we have the clearest instructions in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. As Paul reasons with this church to see the reality of who they are as the Lord’s people, he says to them;
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
– 1 Corinthians 10:16–17
Clearly showing that the Lord’s Supper is for those who are both in Christ and committed to one another as members of the body. The corporate nature of The Lord’s Supper is also seen in the way Paul urges the church to share this meal together. Two passages from 1 Corinthians 11 show this clearly;
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers.
– 1 Corinthians 11:20–21
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.
– 1 Corinthians 11:33
So the Lord’s Supper is clearly a meal to be shared and celebrated by the whole church body, of whom, all have been baptised into Christ Jesus through faith in him.
This is why if someone is meeting with the church but has not yet been baptised into membership, they should not participate in the meal. We do however believe that The Lord’s Supper should be shared by all committed members of all Christian churches, not simply the members of that one local church itself. So a committed Christian from one local church visiting another local church should be able to share The Lord’s Supper with them. The biblical criteria is that they are committed somewhere, having been received into a local church body because of their faith in Jesus.
The question about how all this relates to the kids of Christian parents comes down to when it’s appropriate for them to be baptised into membership. Some hold the view that kids should be brought into membership as early as they’re able to confess ‘Jesus is Lord’, others believe it should be around the age of 12, while others hold to the view that we should wait until our kids are old enough to take responsibility for themselves and be held accountable by the wider body.
In our church, we take this third approach for the following five reasons;
Many of the commands written in the New Testament are for members of local churches, and we see there an assumption that those who are going to be held accountable for their obedience are people mature enough to take responsibility for themselves and others.
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court
– Matthew 5:25
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others
– Matthew 6:2
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal
– Matthew 6:19
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money
– Matthew 6:24
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over
– Matthew 18:15
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet
– John 13:14
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends
– John 15:13
Keep your lives free from the love of money
– Hebrews 13:5
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently
– Galatians 6:1
Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins
– James 5:20
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry
– 1 Peter 4:3
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling
– 1 Peter 4:9
And we could go on, but the point is that many of the commands written to members of local churches in the New Testament are given with the assumption that those who are going to be held accountable for their obedience are people mature enough to take responsibility for themselves and others.
And to add to this, when the Apostle Paul wrote letters such as Ephesians and Galatians, he turns his attention from the church to address the children who would be present, and in both instances he gives them just one command, obey your parents in the Lord. Showing that in the mind of Paul, the instructions given to the wider church body were not applicable to the children of church members until they were old enough to be held responsible for obeying them. Until then, listen to your parents as they teach you the word of the Lord!
If we apply Baptism or The Lord’s Supper to our children before they’re old enough to be held accountable to the wider body of the church as members, we divorce these signs from their biblical use.
As mentioned above, according to scripture, Baptism is the sign of a person coming into the membership of a church, and The Lord’s Supper is the sign of that ongoing membership. Both identify the community of people who are bound together by the word of God and faith in Jesus, and those who are bound together are also accountable to one another for the way they live.
So to guard the use of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper as God-ordained signs of membership in the body of Christ, they should only be received by those who are mature enough for the responsibility that comes along with church membership.
By applying Baptism or The Lord’s Supper to our children before they’re old enough for the responsibility that comes along with membership in the church, we will find ourselves affirming a faith that has not yet properly matured, and unable to adequately ‘consider the cost of discipleship’ (Luke 14:25–35).
By God’s grace we are confident that many of our kids will continue trusting Jesus into adulthood – and we pray they all will! But there is no guarantee of this. By prematurely applying Baptism or The Lord’s Supper to our kids, we affirm a faith that has not been given sufficient time to develop, resulting in a false sense of security for those kids who are too young to know what it means to ‘carry your cross’ or ‘put to death what belongs to your earthly nature’.
We believe it is better to disciple our kids into maturity, and to nurture their young faith into adulthood until they can properly consider the cost of discipleship and have the signs of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper applied to themselves when they’re ready to sit under the teaching of the whole bible, alongside the other members.
It allows our kids to be kids. Raising kids in the fear and knowledge of the Lord means we walk alongside them while they come to understand the magnitude of who Jesus is and what he’s done for them.
It is true that we are all on that life-long journey together, but there is only so much a child can know about the concepts of sin, death, justice, wrath, holiness, grace, forgiveness, eternity, angels, demons, martyrdom, suffering, sacrifice, patience, self-control, death to self and the like. In scripture, however, we see that God expects everyone who is publicly affirmed as ‘Christian’ to know enough about these concepts to respond to Jesus in light of them, and to be held accountable by the way they govern their lives. But the reality is, the juvenile minds of our kids will need time to mature so that they’re able to comprehend these concepts, and we should be content with that.
If we publicly affirm our kids too early, we put a burden on them that is too heavy for them to carry, and so we end up scaling down the Christian commitment to suit their age. As a church, we believe it is better to keep the biblical requirements where they are, and to walk alongside our kids until they have a mature-enough grasp on these concepts, and are able to be held accountable by the church in light of them.
Some of our kids will be around the age of 16 when that happens, others not till they’re 21. They’ll all be considered case by case as we lead them to consider all that the Lord is calling them to as they put their faith in Jesus and are publicly recognised by the church.
In Deuteronomy 1:39 God makes a distinction between those who know right from wrong from those who don’t. As God speaks about the Israelites facing the consequences of their sin while on the journey from Egypt to Canaan (modern day Israel), he tells them that the entire generation will not enter the Promised Land. Then qualifies this by saying;
And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.
But before that in Numbers 32:11, speaking of the same event, God says;
Because they [Israel] have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…
God isn’t saying here that people are not accountable for their sin until they’re 20, but that those who were twenty years old or more are responsible for their sin in a way that those who were younger, were not.
Without drawing more out of this than is either necessary or appropriate, the point is, kids are kids in the eyes of God and so we shouldn’t make them carry spiritual loads that are greater than they can bear. At the same time we shouldn’t nurse them beyond their years either!
But in light of all this, we believe a child is ready to be considered for Baptism, Membership and The Lord’s Supper when they begin to live more self-consciously as individuals, mature enough to make their own life-choices, having grown out from the God-given dependence on their parents.
Which means church members should teach their children that both Baptism and The Lord’s Supper are for those who are mature enough to be identified as members of the church, old enough to take responsibility for themselves and others, as we see is the will of God for all who are members of the body of Christ in scripture. And to guard our children from discouragement, to remind them that they don’t need to participate in these gifts for us to affirm their faith, but by guarding them as we see is the case in scripture, they will be all the more meaningful for those kids who continue on in the faith of their parents.
The Apostle Paul said to the young pastor Timothy,
‘… continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’
– 2 Timothy 3:14–15
After Paul was able to confess,
‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’
May it be said of all our children that they ‘… continue in what [they] have learned and have become convinced of’; and with respect to their ‘sincere faith’, we confess together, ‘… I am persuaded, now lives in you also’, as we witness the Holy Spirit bearing fruit in their lives.
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