Why Commune Younger than Eighth Grade?
From the Messiah Messenger, April 2009
By Pastor Todd A. Peperkorn
Our congregation is in the process of separating first communion from confirmation, so that while they may be done at the same time, they are not necessarily going to be done at the same time. This move is the result of several years of study on my part as your pastor, and on the part of the elders, as we have wrestled with how to best serve the people whom God has entrusted to our care in this place. In order to further our conversation, I believe it would be helpful
Why are we separating first communion and confirmation? I have wrestled with this question for many years, and I would distill the reasons down to the following basic points:
1. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, and we should want to give it to our children as soon as possible.
This is the simplest and most important point. The Scriptures teach us that we receive Holy Communion for the forgiveness of sins (Words of Institution). The catechism teaches that “in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.” Our hymnody repeatedly affirms this as well, with such lines as “Lord may thy body and thy blood, be for my soul the highest good,” and “Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow’r to win Forgiveness for our world and all its sin,” and “This food can death destroy,” and many more.
If this is the case, as a Church we should want to commune our children as soon as we are able to do so, because of the many blessings which God gives through the Sacrament of the Altar. It is not a reward at the end of a lot of work, like a graduation present. Rather, it is a gift to be received in faith, and a testimony of God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ.
2. The biblical requirement for receiving the Sacrament of the Altar is faith.
Our catechism question puts it this way:
Who receives this sacrament worthily?
?Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
This is a part of the basis for our understanding that receiving the Lord’s Supper isn’t simply a matter of maturity, rational development, age, service in the church, who your parents are, or some other criterion. The question is faith, and the confession of faith. Since we can’t read someone’s heart, we can only read their lips (verbal confession) and their feet (how their confession shapes what they do). If someone confesses the Christian faith as it has been given to us in the Scriptures, comes to the Divine Service to receive the gifts, speaks and acts as a Christian, then we should commune them.
This is also, by the way, why we practice closed communion. We only admit those individuals to the Altar who confess the faith as it has been given to us in His Word and confessed by this congregation. If someone confesses the faith differently by being a member of a different church body, we aren’t saying they aren’t a Christian. We are saying that because their confession is different, we can’t commune together at this time.
So when it comes to our own children, who are catechized here at church and/or at our school, at our Sunday school, and who attend the Divine Service here with their families, there is no question really that they are Christians, and furthermore that they confess the faith as we do.
3. The notion that in order to receive Holy Communion requires massive amounts of head knowledge and catechism memorization goes against the rest of our actual practice.
We don’t require adult confirmands to have massive amounts of memorized materials. We don’t require current members to continue to demonstrate a level of understanding beyond what we confess together Sunday morning. In fact, I would go so far as to say that children often have a clearer grasp of the Christian faith than adults, because they don’t have as many rationalistic or emotional baggage to bog them down. Jesus actually holds up children as the model of faith (Mark 10:13-16).
Certainly teaching the faith is important. We are all lifelong learners of God’s Word, and learning God’s Word goes right along with Holy Baptism (Matthew 28:16-20). But it is very difficult to argue from the Scriptures that having massive amounts memorized should be a prerequisite for receiving the Sacrament. It is good. It is helpful. We should all continually learn the Scriptures and the Catechism by heart. But this is not a prerequisite.
4. Having a period of formal instruction for children at a later age (5-8 grade range) is good and useful, but cannot be used as an argument for withholding Holy Communion from them at that time.
One of the reasons that I have urged separating first communion from confirmation is simply because I want to have a formal period of instruction with children when they are in the middle school years. I simply don’t think that we should use that period of instruction as a gateway or barrier to receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. By separating first communion and confirmation, we are able to offer this period of instruction to our children, but also give them the Sacrament at an earlier age. Otherwise, my fear is that we simply move confirmation younger and younger, and the opportunity for that later instruction will be harder to realize.
5. The possibility of abuse exists whether we separate confirmation and first communion or not.
There are always going to be individuals who are going to try and beat the system. There will always be people who want to do the absolute least amount of work possible in order to get their children confirmed. Some people are only going to respond to the Law. If I as the pastor require them to attend church while their child is in instruction, then they will. If I don’t require it, they won’t come. Or, they will only come a few times a year.
So how do we as a congregation respond to this? We respond by praying, by encouraging, and by working as responsibly and as carefully as we can to deliver the Gospel in as many ways as God has given us to do it. It makes no sense to me as a pastor to penalize one child because another child’s parents might not want their child to receive the Gospel.
Conclusion and Implications
Practically speaking, what I envision is that down the road, we will generally have first communion around first to third grade, and confirmation between fifth and eighth grade. However, I think it will take us some time to get to that point. There will be several years of transition, and different families are going to want to handle this differently. This is fine and good, as we work through this together as a church.
These are a few more thoughts on our ongoing conversation here. I hope it is helpful, and I would continue to encourage you to come to bible class, where we are discussing this at some length.