A CASE-STUDY FOR EARLY COMMUNION AT GUARDIAN LUTHERAN
In 2010, Guardian will be asked to consider offering communion to our young people before the traditional reception after Confirmation. This would occur toward the end of the fifth grade, approximately ages 10-11. Needless to say, this is a significant decision. We would like to explore all options, giving you as much information to study and opportunity to discuss before making as informed a decision as possible.
Two helpful primers may be found at the following websites:
A Biblical Basis
1 Corinthians 11. The occasion for Paul’s writing to the Corinthians was his growing concern over the church’s behavior and attitudes, in part, with reference to two aspects of church: Worship and Communion. In chapter eleven, Paul highlights his concerns, and with respect to communion he gives these “directives (v17)”:
v28- “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup”. The LCMS has long believed that it is imperative to recognize the bread as the body of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, and the wine as the blood of Jesus.
The Greek word “examine”- diakrino- means to “judge rightly” or to “recognize”. This calls for the simple ability to weigh evidence. In this case, the bread is body, the wine is blood. There is no call to “understand” or “comprehend”, just an identification of the facts (I recognize nuclear engineering, but neither comprehend nor understand its dynamics).
v27- “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” The critical point of reception is recognition of and faith in the real presence. And in so doing, recognizing the connection of the forgiveness of sins to the body given, and the blood shed (cf. Matthew 26:28).
v29- “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” The result of poor examination: “Judgment”/ “Condemnation”.
Luther highlights three preparatory questions for self-examination (Small Catechism, p.238ff):
1. Am I sorry for my sins? (2 Co 7:10-11)
2. Do I believe in the words of institution? (Lk 22:19-20, 2 Co 13:5)
3. Do I plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change my sinful life? (Eph 4:22ff)
The Sacrament must not be given to the following:
1. Those who are openly ungodly and unrepentant, including those who take part in non-Christian religious worship.
2. Those who are unforgiving, refusing to be reconciled.
3. Those who are of a different confession of faith, since the Lord’s Supper is a testimony of the unity of faith.
4. Those who are unable to examine themselves, such as infants, people who have not received proper instruction, or the unconscious.
The classic statement on “communing worthily” comes from the Small Catechism’s teaching concerning “The Sacrament of the Altar”: Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily?
Answer: Fasting and bodily preparation are a good external discipline, but he is truly worthy and well prepared who believes these words: “for you” and “for the forgiveness of sins.” On the other hand, he who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require truly believing hearts. (SC VI, 9–10; Tappert, 352)
Faith, as that means by which a sinner receives the gifts of God, takes front and center in all of the confessional teaching regarding the reception of the Eucharist in a worthy manner (that is, to one’s blessing). Faith in these words is necessary, and faith in these words is sufficient for an individual to commune worthily.
Luther notes (Large Catechism, Tappert, p. 456):
“Therefore let every head of a household remember that it is his duty, by God’s injunction and command, to teach or have taught to his children the things they ought to know. Since they are received into the Christian church, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight the devil.”
1. Why are we offering the option of receiving communion before confirmation?
Based on Scriptural and confessional teachings, many of our students should be spiritually ready to receive the Lord’s Supper long before the end of 8th grade. We want them to be able to receive the benefits of the Lord’s Supper as soon as they are ready. We also hope by separating the communion experience from the confirmation experience will help students to not view confirmation as graduation, but as simply one of many other faith stepping stones in their spiritual development.
2. Is receiving communion before confirmation an approved practice within the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS)?
Yes. The LCMS has discussed this practice for several years and has concluded that there is no Biblical reason to prevent offering communion before confirmation. Increasing numbers of LCMS congregations are moving to the practice. Latest estimates run roughly 30-35% of LCMS congregations.
3. What does the Bible say about the “right age” for receiving the Lord’s Supper?
The Bible gives no specifics on “the right age.” First Corinthians 11:27-29 simply says that communicants must be able to examine themselves and discern what is happening in the Lord’s Supper. Again, we believe that many children are able to do this long before the end of 8th grade.
4. How did we decide on 5th grade as the starting point for offering “early communion?”
This was the practice we found most common among other churches that offer communion before confirmation.
5. What if I don’t want my child to receive the Lord’s Supper until after confirmation?
The First Communion class is optional. Parents and students who would rather wait until confirmation to receive the Lord’s Supper may continue to do so. Parents will determine when their student is ready to receive the sacrament.
6. Will the Lord’s Supper continue to be taught in regular Confirmation Classes?
Yes… absolutely! Students who choose not to receive communion before completing the confirmation program will still need this instruction and it will be a great review for the students already receiving the sacrament.
7. If the Lord’s Supper is still taught in 8th Grade, what benefit is there to taking the First Communion class?
Because the confirmation experience entails so many topics that need to be discussed, the content of First Communion is unable to be covered as thoroughly as we would like. The First Communion class allows us an opportunity for more teaching so that students fully understand the meaning, benefits and honor of partaking of the Lord’s Body.
8. Do I need to be baptized before taking communion?
9. If my student takes the First Communion class, does that mean they still need to take confirmation classes?
Yes. The First Communion class has a different purpose than confirmation classes. The First Communion class covers our beliefs about the Lord’s Supper only. Confirmation covers our doctrinal beliefs and practices. The First Communion class will definitely enhance a student’s confirmation experience, but can’t replace it.