Baptism first; Lord's Table second
Helping our children honour the ordinances
One of my kids recently observed that some of their school friends take the bread and juice at their church, but kids at our church aren't allowed. When I asked if they knew why, the response was: "Because Daddy isn't in charge at their church!"
True as that may be :) , Lightway's practice to recommend that children of believeing parents wait until they themselves are baptized before taking the bread and juice at the Lord's Table is a biblical conviction.
If the Lord's Table is a symbol of Christ's sacrificial death, and by participating in it we are remembering his death and anticipating his return... shouldn't any professing Christian be allowed to participate in it, no matter how old? Baptized or not?
It's true that the Lord's Table symbolizes Jesus' sacrifice and anticipates his return (Matt 26:26-28). But the Lord's Table symbolizes more than that. As Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 10:15-17 and 11:17-34, the Lord's Table is for the edification of the local church as a practice of unity and fellowship. The Lord's Table expresses our commitment to being "one body" (10:17). We are meant to "eat it together" (11:33) and "examine ourselves" not just in relationship to Jesus, but to Jesus' people (11:27-32). Many of us think of the Lord's Table as an individual devotional moment, between me and Jesus. But the Lord's table is a communal moment, involving you, Jesus and Jesus' people (the church family!). You can't baptize yourself: you receive it. And you can't serve yourself the bread and juice: you receive it. The ordinances are for the edification of the church.
Baptism and the Lord's Table are public because they are meant to be examinations of your faith in Christ by the larger church family and its leaders. It's how others know whether you're "in the church" and whether you're persevering in His grace (1 Cor 11:24-37).
THINK ABOUT IT
Think about this: if baptism is for mature believers, that is believers old enough to understand the cost of discipleship to Christ, then why would we set the bar lower for the Lord's Table? Baptism identifies a believer - in an initiatory way - as part of the church, and one must be old enough to discern that meaning. In a similar way, the Lord's Table identifies a believer - on an ongoing basis - as part of the church. Shouldn't one be old enough to discern that meaning, too?
FIRST ONE, THEN THE OTHER
Baptism and the Lord's Table are both symbolic identifiers that clarify who belongs to the church. If you're ready to come to the table you're ready to get baptized. If you're not ready to get baptized, you're not ready to come to the table. The Bible teaches us that the first thing followers of Jesus ought to do is declare their decision by being baptized. Then, once identified as part of the believing community in the church, come to the Lord's Table. The regular order of things is baptism first, then the table.
Bible teachers have long argued that: "While baptism is the initiatory rite, the Lord’s Supper is the continuing rite of the visible church" (M. Erickson). Or think of it this way, “As baptism guards the front door of the church, the Lord’s supper takes its post at the back door” (M. Dever).
SO WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
There is no set age but my usual recommendation to young people is to wait for High School (age 13-15) before making a decision about baptism, even if they professed faith in Christ much earlier in life. In our day, High School is usually the time when young people begin to feel the heat for claiming faith in Christ. For the first time they are confronting a world of choices with more independance from their parents. Granted, this may come earlier for some young people and later for others. A sense of spiritual responsibility is the key.
The exclusive nature of the table isn't supposed to take away from the grace represented at the table. Christ died for sins once for all, through his blood establishing a new covenent of grace for those who trust Him (11:25). Baptized believers proclaim this gospel to everyone watching when they come to the table. Parents proclaim it to their children. We proclaim it to the lost.
By reserving the table for the baptized we honour the symbolic purpose of the ordinance and it becomes a distinct symbol that calls the church to continued repentance and belief.
I hope this helps you in your own decisions about becoming a Christian, getting baptized, or participating in the Lord's Table on a Sunday. And specifically, I hope this helps parents teach their children about baptism, the Lord's Table, and spiritual maturity.