Did you know that in the early days of the Church, Christians were often accused of cannibalism? As ridiculous as that sounds, think about what you would think if you heard of a new religious group that met to drink Someone’s blood and eat Someone’s flesh. Some onlooker failed to understand that the church actually ate bread and drank wine, which were symbols of Christ’s body and blood. If “grown-ups” in the first century misunderstood the Lord’s Supper, then we shouldn’t be surprised if children today, many of whom do not yet grasp abstract concepts like “symbols,” struggle to understand what ordinances like the Lord’s Supper and baptism are all about.
Is it important that my child understand?
There two big reasons why it’s important for your kids to know what baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all about. First, if your kids haven’t trusted Christ yet, baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be gospel sermons acted out in front of them—if they understand what they’re seeing! Second, if your kids have trusted Christ, then they have the same privilege of participating in these special events as any other believer—again, provided they understand them.
Because of the way children’s minds develop, it is entirely possible that a child would be able to comprehend the concrete gospel story and understand his own need for a Savior before he is able to think abstractly and understand symbolism. But there may be some ways to help your child by making baptism and the Lord’s Supper a little more concrete.
“It’s not a pig!”
I’ll never forget an event that happened a few days before I was baptized. I was seven, and a wise children’s pastor met with me beforehand to make sure that I understood what I was doing. Mid-conversation, he reached behind him and showed me a nicely framed photograph of a pig wallowing in the mud (why he had such a photo in his office, I’ll never know!).
“What is this?” he asked.
I was slightly demeaned. I was in second grade, for goodness’ sake! I knew my farm animals.
“A pig,” I said.
The pastor smiled mischievously and said, “Really? So I have a pig in my office?”
It took me a second, and then the light dawned in my 7-year-old brain.
“Oh! I get it. You have a picture of a pig in your office!”
There is a big difference between a pig and a picture of a pig, and there is a big difference between being saved and giving people a picture of salvation.
As you can tell, that conversation made a big impression on my young brain. It helped me to understand in a very concrete way that what I was doing was not “being saved.” I was giving everyone a picture of what Jesus had already done to save me. You can adapt this analogy easily when talking to your kids about the Lord’s Supper and baptism.
Some tips when talking to kids about the ordinances
- Use words like “picture” rather than words like “symbol.”
- If your kids understand play-acting, explaining baptism as “acting out” a story of what God has done for you can be another good way to explain it.
- Use a wedding ring or some other “reminder” as an analogy. You could even use a photograph of a family member who has died or lives far away. Say, “I wear this ring to remember that I love my husband/wife (or this picture helps us remember how much we love ________). Well, when we eat the bread and drink the cup at Communion, it’s to help us remember how much we love Jesus because He gave His body and blood for us.”
I hope these ideas help. If you try them, I’d love to hear from you on how the discussion went!