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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
In some of our churches unbaptized children are being allowed to participate in the ordinances of foot washing and the Lord’s Supper. Is this practice supported by the Bible?
If you’re asking for a biblical passage that unambiguously clarifies your concern, the answer is no. Many theological questions can be properly addressed only by examining biblical principles that apply to them, or through a study of the biblical teachings on a particular subject. Your question requires the last approach.
1. The Ordinances Presuppose Baptism: As you know, baptism symbolizes that we broke with a life of sin, publicly confessed Christ as Savior and Lord, and were united to the community of believers as the body of Christ. The foot-washing service assumes that we have experienced the full washing of the body in baptism (John 13:10; cf. Heb. 10:22). According to Paul, those who participate in the Lord’s Supper are members of the body of Christ, the new covenant community: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17, NIV; cf. 11:24, 25). It is the community of faith, those who have already experienced the saving power of the blood of Christ, that now comes together to break the bread and drink the wine of communion with the risen Lord. Adventists practice open Communion; all who have committed their lives to the Savior, independent of their particular church alliance, may participate when visiting during the celebration of the ordinances.
Since the ordinances are celebrated by the community of believers, their celebration should not be simply defined as a family ceremony. The Passover was basically a family rite; but the Lord’s Supper is a family celebration only in the sense that the church, as the family of God, comes together in obedience to the Lord to participate in the emblems of His sacrificial death.
2. The Ordinances Presuppose an Understanding of Their Symbolic Meaning: The phrase “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19) is integral to the celebration of the ordinances and requires a clear understanding of the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). The symbols point to the broken body and spilled blood of Christ as our only means of atonement. Through them we commemorate and keep fresh in our minds God’s glorious redemptive act in Christ. The ordinances also express our constant need for the Lord’s cleansing grace during our postbaptismal walk with Him. Finally, they point to the future celebration of the Supper with the Lord in His kingdom of glory. The Advent hope is embodied in the ordinances and is kept alive in our inner being as we participate in them. Those who take part in these sacred rites should have a clear understanding of their saving message.
3. Practical Aspects in the Celebration of the Ordinances: Parents and church leaders are responsible to instruct children concerning the importance and sacredness of the ordinances. Children who have grasped the significance of the saving power of the death of Christ are ready, not only to participate in the ordinances but also to be baptized. In other words, instead of allowing them to participate in the ordinances before they are baptized, baptize them! Let them join us at the table of the Lord. This requires a level of chronological and spiritual maturity that allows children to make, under the guidance of their parents, a proper decision. Children usually want to do what they see their parents doing, even if they are not ready to do it by themselves. We should teach them that instant gratification is not always correct; sometimes it is better to wait. The waiting could be a wonderful lesson in emotional growth, character formation, and spiritual anticipation.
Having said that, I counsel parents and church leaders to make the celebration of the ordinances a meaningful event for children as they wait for the moment when they can fully join in its celebration. For instance, in places where grapes are easily accessible it would be good to give children several grapes at the moment when the grape juice is served to their parents. Make them feel welcome at this sacred service as they grow in their understanding of its significance and are ready to participate in it.