The Church is a messy place, and that means that not everything rolls out in the order that we might believe best fits with the patterns laid out in Scripture. Jesus is loving us into perfection, washing us with the water of His Word. But we’re not there yet, and in the mean time we have to be faithful when and where God has placed us.
So let me give you an example. I am told that in some communions it is common for children to begin taking the Lord’s Supper from a young age (or when parents deem appropriate) while withholding baptism until such an age that those in authority believe a true conversion has taken place.
Now in Presbyterian churches, it is frequently the opposite: babies are baptized and welcomed into the covenant and then later welcomed to the table when they are deemed old enough and/or mature enough to make a credible profession of faith in Jesus as Savior.
Now I happen to believe that both of these scenarios aren’t the best, though as far as I can tell, the latter Presbyterian practice at least has a good deal of historic precedent going for it. I have only become aware of the former practice in recent years and as far as I know hasn’t been a very widely held practice in the history of the church.
So in my ideal biblical world, I believe infants ought to be baptized and then when they begin sitting at their family dinner table at home and eating with their families, they ought to also be welcomed to the table of the Lord. In the course of things, this would probably mean that most kids would start taking communion around a year old, some earlier, maybe some a little later. Because the promises of the covenant are for us and for our children, believing those promises means naming our children in baptism into the family of Jesus and then teaching our children loyalty to that grace from their earliest days. It is absolutely necessary that they learn to trust and obey for themselves, but that is something that they learn by encouragement and discipline from faithful, believing parents. We ought to pray and trust that God’s promises are true for our children from an early age. This is not natural; it is supernatural. But God is often pleased to work His supernatural grace in little ones: for of such is the Kingdom of God.
But what if you find yourself in one of these other less fortunate situations? In the latter, which is what I’m more familiar with, I would (and have) encouraged families to graciously submit to the practices of their local church. Submission to godly elders whom you disagree with on paedocommunion, is a wonderful, glorious witness to your children. Sure, work and pray towards the earliest point at which your children can be welcomed to the table, but it would be far better to submit to good, Jesus-loving men on this issue than to find a sloppy semi-liberal church that will let your kids take communion but is led by limp-wristed waifs who think Jesus was a pot smoking hippy. And in the mean time, teach your children that they have been claimed by Jesus in baptism and teach them and pray for them to give a powerful profession of faith in Jesus when they are given the opportunity.
In the former situation, where the elders would welcome your children at the table sooner but for whatever reasons withhold baptism until the child is old enough to make a more mature profession of faith, I would actually encourage you to do the same thing: submit to the leadership and on the basis of your child’s covenant status welcome him/her to the table, and just use the oddity as an opportunity to teach your family. You’d explain that you believe usually disciples should be baptized first and then welcomed to the table of Jesus. But the Church is a messy place, and God sees and understands. Then cheerfully thank God that there is a tangible way to encourage your young believing children in their faith in Jesus. And then work and pray for the soonest opportunity to have your children baptized.
Of course every scenario, every situation presents its own dynamics. And sometimes there might be a really faithful church down the street that would just be a better fit theologically. No need to be schismatic, romantic, or awkward about it if there’s another fellowship of believers where you could jump in with both feet enthusiastically. But often there isn’t another fellowship as far as you know, and there you are with different convictions from your elders. Well, short of a job transfer to another city or a new church plant in your own town, you know that God is calling you to exercise the fruits of the Spirit in extra abundance. But in my experience, some of the people who are most eager to leave or plant a new work are in the greatest danger of avoiding a good cross that God is calling them to take up.
And for what it’s worth, I’ve also heard of elders who graciously allowed for exceptions to their convictions on these matters. I’ve known presbyterian sessions that normally admitted older children to the table allow for younger professions of faith in deference to the convictions of parents, or likewise baptist pastors agree to baptize infants or young children in deference to the convictions of good, Jesus-loving parents. In all of these things, love is the key. And there is no room for bitterness or gossip on either end whether from those in leadership or those in submission to that leadership.
In the end, we worship Jesus, the God-man who died for our sins and rose again for our vindication. All our feeble efforts are done by faith in Him, in His perfecting love, and we rest in the fact that He is putting everything right and in the end, everything will be right. That’s what the Supper means; that’s what Baptism means. And that’s what it means to walk with Jesus.