Before digging into this important question, let me unequivocally state that this post reflects my personal opinion and in no way represents my church’s official opinion. Also, please respect this is obviously coming from a Baptist’s perspective without turning the comment section into a debate over infant baptism versus believer’s baptism.
After years of reflection on this question, as both a youth pastor and as a father, here is where I’ve landed.
What Does Communion Mean?
Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is an ordinance of the Church. That means it’s something Jesus directly instructed his disciples to do when they gather for worship. The instructions for Communion are given in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, based off Jesus’ celebration of Passover with his disciples in Matthew 26:17-35.
Communion is anchored in the Jewish celebration of Passover. Whereas the firstborn sons of Israel were spared from death because of the sacrificial lamb, the children of God are saved from sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the lamb of God. When we celebrate communion, the bread symbolizes the flesh of Jesus, which was broken for us; and the cup (usually grape juice, but some traditions still use wine) represents the blood of Jesus, which was poured out for us on the cross.
When Christians partake in Communion they are experiencing a physical reminder of their salvation. Jesus’ body was broken, and his blood was poured out. Christians are not saved from sin and death because they are better than anyone else, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone.
Not only does Communion look back at the foundation of the Christian’s salvation, it also looks forward to its fulfillment at the “wedding supper of the Lamb.” On that day, when Jesus returns in glory, all believers will partake in a great celebration of our salvation’s fulfillment. The great enemy will be utterly defeated and all God’s promises, secured through Christ’s resurrection, will be visible.
Communion is so much more than a nice snack break towards the end of church.
Relationship Between Baptism and Communion
It is obvious from the Scripture referenced above that Communion is meant as a regular part of Christian worship. On the other hand, baptism is a one-time-only experience.
Baptism symbolizes the Christian’s conversion and their adoption into the family of God. As Romans 6:4 says, Christians have died to their sins (been immersed beneath the waters) and raised into newness of life (lifted up, out of the waters). Our baptism unites the believer with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as they publicly aligns themselves with Jesus Christ. It is the rite of entrance into Christ’s Church. This is why most churches have some type of formal processes for baptism, in order to be assured that the person being baptized is a genuine convert.
Whereas conversion happens once in a person’s life, the Christian needs regular reminders of the source and fulfillment of their salvation. This is where Communion comes into play. When the church celebrates Communion, it is usually prefaced with comments marking it as something that is only for Christians to partake in because it is a reminder of the gospel.
To put it another way, Baptism symbolizes the Christian’s Justification while Communion reflects Sanctification.
Readiness for Communion
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Communion should be treated with great reverence. He even says that some are suffering discipline from the Lord because they are treating Communion so casually, and they are taking it unworthily. Generally speaking, most Baptists are far too casual regarding the ordinances of Baptism and Communion.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.“1 Corinthians 11:27-29
This means that Christians today should continue to be sure they are approaching Communion with reverence and faithfulness to the Scriptures. Christian leaders who allow anyone to partake in communion may believe they are erring on the side of grace, but they may actually be allowing well-intended participants to enter into spiritually-dangerous territory.
If someone is not ready to be baptized, why would they be ready for Communion? Since baptism is the ordinance of conversion, it should come first. I fail to see any reason a child or teenager who has not been baptized should be encouraged to take communion – it’s a confusion of theological categories. It is the theological equivalent to a boyfriend and girlfriend cohabitating before marriage because they “aren’t ready” to be married… if that is true, then they aren’t ready to live together either. Sometimes, the order of things matters.
Certainly, it is possible for children to profess faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore they can understand what Communion represents. But the genuineness of their faith and their understanding of the gospel should first be tested and affirmed through baptism.