Friday, August 9, 2013

Kids Who Drink Unworthily

I'm going to begin a series of posts, probably fairly short, on a text that ought to be far more controversial than it tends to be in most Protestant churches, and especially in Reformed churches. I'm speaking of 1 Cor. 11:17-34, especially verses 27-29.

It's assumed and asserted (far too dogmatically, to my mind) that this text excludes children from coming to the Lord's table until they reach a certain stage of cognitive development that enables them to "examine themselves" and "discern the body" (1 Cor. 11:28-29). But I want to question this assumption. I realize that even the Christian tradition that I respect most—namely, the Reformed tradition—has by and large taken the dominant position today of excluding kids until they attain a certain stage of cognitive development.

In this first post, I simply want to raise a question to consider. If children need first to be able to "discern the body" (whatever that means, and more on that soon) and "examine" themselves as adults do, then by the same reasoning, should they not also be required to be in a position developmentally where they can also eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord "in an unworthy manner" (1 Cor. 11:27)?

In other words, what does it look like to eat and drink "in an unworthy manner" for the one we consider developmentally developed enough? Given that, it seems that we must then ask a couple of preliminary questions, and then some follow-up questions. First, can a child do this? And, second, what would that look like?

For if children cannot eat and drink unworthily, or are not likely to do so, then perhaps we shouldn't so easily exclude them. But, if children can eat and drink unworthily, then can we not discern who is and who isn't discerning the Lord's body among the children? Or can only the child do the examining? And if this is the case, that the child alone can do the examining (in order to be faithful to the text), then is this even possible for a child? And if not, why not? And if so, what might that "examining" look like?

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