Friday, February 1, 2013

On Interviews and Testimonies, Part IV

Continued from Part III

Questions About Interviewing Young Children

Let me take some time now to answer some common questions.  Remember, I am a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). We don't practice paedocommunion.  I believe it is biblical.  I have taken exception to the Westminster Standards on this point.  What our church does practice is young child communion.  This is the closest we can get and still be true to our PCA church order.  What this means is that young children are admitted to the Table by the session when they give evidence of a credible, age-appropriate profession of faith.  I say all this because the questions that will be addressed in the next few posts will all relate to this practice—that is, interviewing young children.

What follows, then, is largely advice to fellow pastors and elders who practice some form of "young child" communion.

Q.  My five-year-old daughter is not mature enough to sit before nine blue-suited elders and answer probing questions.  She will freeze up.  Should she be denied the table for this reason?

This is a great question. Why should Christ’s little ones be denied the benefits of the Table simply because they might be too shy to answer questions under the intense scrutiny of a room full of older men?  After all, most adults are often quite intimidated when they meet with the full session of the church.  In the case of most interviews with adults for membership the Session is not examining for knowledge, but a credible profession of faith.  But when our young children come before us we interrogate them with questions about their knowledge of the Bible, the sacraments, etc.  We seldom, if ever, do this in membership interviews with adults!  Why should there be two standards—one for adults and another for our covenant children?  Isn’t it enough that our children confess their simple faith and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and their hope of heaven?  I would argue that such a confession is sufficient, and that most of our four-year-old children would have an easier time before the elders if they knew that it wasn’t going to be an “examination.”  Our Lord made it easy for the little one’s to come to him.  When he saw his disciples making it difficult for parents to bring their little ones to him “he became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God’” (Mark. 10:14).  Therefore, the first way that we could deal with this problem is to drop the insanely intense oral examination that we often require of our children before they are allowed to come to the Table.

Secondly, this question impacts on the way in which the Session should examine small children.  There must be a difference between the examination of knowledgeable adults and children.  But the distinction should not be pushed too far.  A newly baptized adult, being examined by the Session will likely have about as much doctrinal knowledge about the faith and about what happens at the Lord’s Table as a five-year-old covenant child.  In fact, the covenant child may know more!  But neither the intellectual capacity nor the amount of accumulated theological knowledge possessed by the newly baptized adult convert will exclude him from the Table of the Lord as long as he makes a credible profession of his trust in Jesus alone for his salvation.  Surely, my point is obvious.  A young child will not have reached intellectual theological maturity (many adults never do, largely because that is not their calling) and he may not have a large amount of theological sophistication, but if he believes in Jesus and knows that Jesus loves him, shall we exclude him?  Never.

Thirdly, I think it might be advisable for churches to reflect carefully on their interview procedures procedures with these issues in mind.  The intimidation factor should be taken into account.  We should try our best as elders to provide an interview environment for covenant children that would be most conducive to their opening up to us.  Instead of ushering the child into a small room that has elders in blue suits circling the child, we should adopt our methods to the capacity of the children we are interviewing.  I suggest that a commission of one or two elders would be sufficient.  They would meet with the parents and the child(ren) either at home—in the warm, comfortable environment of a family room—or in the child’s Sunday School at church.  There the child could sit with his parents.  The parents could also be brought into the interview process as well.  If an elder asks a question that the child does not understand, then the father or mother might be able to clarify for the child.  Such a procedure would also allow the elders to inquire into both the child’s progress in Bible memorization, catechism, and sanctification, as well as the Parents’ faithfulness in nurturing their covenant children.  By all accounts, such a family meeting would be much more beneficial than forcing little children to adapt to our standard adult membership interview process.

Fourth, I want to stress something important.  I just mentioned that other matters might be discussed at a typical elder-parent-child meeting.  Those issues concern the discipleship and training of the child.  They are significant pastoral concerns, to be sure.  But I do not mean to suggest that admittance to the Table depends on the child’s performance in any of those areas.  The actual interview for Table fellowship need only last a few minutes and will be concerned largely with hearing the child make a very simple, age-appropriate profession of faith in Jesus.  The children need to know that their admittance was not a reward because they succeeded in jumping through some catechetical hoops or because they heroically memorized lots of Bible passages.  We need to avoid at all costs tempting our covenant children to think that they have achieved a seat at the Table because of their performance on a test, written or oral.

1 comment:

DavidABooth said...


Thank you for writing on this topic.

We as a Session have tried to avoid the intimidation factor in interviewing our children. Because our church is modest in size, all of the Elders are able to regularly talk with our young children and we try to have a clear sense that they are professing Christ as their Savior before we "formally" interview them.

The reason for this is simple: If we don't find evidence of a credible profession of faith when we interview a child - that child will almost inevitably think that he or she somehow failed a test. No matter how much Elders try to explain that this is not the case that is simply the way most children will perceive it.

It can take quite a bit of work to ensure that pastors aren't telling children that they aren't believers.

Best wishes,