The Feeding of the Family

Glenn Davies

One of the first things that new parents discover about their children is their need of nourishment.  While the mother has been unconsciously feeding her infant babe in utero, now there is a conscious and deliberate need to feed the newborn from birth.  The consequences of not feeding the child are ear piercing, to say the least!  In fact, with our first child who had been entirely breast fed for the first five months, we noticed that she had begun to cry a lot more than usual.  As parents we were naturally concerned about this development until we realised (after seeking medical advice) that our daughter was not getting enough nourishment.  She needed solids! We felt a little guilty that we hadn't picked up the clues that our child was growing up before our eyes, her needs were changing and her appetite was developing.  Fortunately, we took note of her inarticulate cries for help and I am happy to report that she has grown to full maturity in good health.

We all know the importance of food for the family, because we know it is important for ourselves that our bodies are fuelled with energy for life.  While some live to eat, we all eat to live.  Yet as Christians it is not only our physical nourishment that is important but our spiritual nourishment as well.  In the Bible, responding to God's words is often described as an eating process (Ezek 2:8; John 6: 53; Heb 5:12-14). Thus it is not without interest that the first command given to Adam and Eve had to do with eating: what to eat and what not to eat.  Moreover, it was in the forbidden eating that their obedience would be tested.  For when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit their eating was not just a physical eating, it was a spiritual disobedience. Satan's words to take and eat were an invitation to death.  By way of contrast, when Jesus said to his disciples "Take, eat", it was an invitation to life, a spiritual feeding, a participation in Christ (1 Cor 10:16).

That Jesus should institute a meal of remembrance for his disciples, whereby the reality of feeding on Christ was not only pictured but also conveyed, is of great significance for the family of God.  The background of the Lord's Supper is the Passover, which was originally a family meal.  It celebrated the redemption of Israel from the land of Egypt, and was a reminder of God's provision for their need when in judgment he passed over their household. In the same way the feeding of Israel with manna in the wilderness and water from the rock was not just physical food and drink but spiritual food and drink, as Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:1-5).  That Paul should then use this analogy to introduce a discussion of the Lord's Supper indicates the continuity of the way in which God deals with his people, and, in particular, his dealing with families.

The family unit is God's idea for the world.  He created man and woman with a view to their having children, whom they would bring up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.  Just as faithful parents feed their children with physical sustenance, so it is the responsibility of Christian parents to feed their children spiritually (2 Cor 12:14; Eph 6:4).  As infants grow and develop through childhood, their diet naturally changes. In the same way, the spiritual diet of children changes over time.  Not only praying for your children, but also praying with your children is one of the most important things a parent can do.  Reading them the Bible in appropriate portions and leaving the solid food till they are of an age to handle it is all part of the spiritual maturation of the child, for which a parent is responsible.  Milk is certainly appropriate to infants, but should not continue as the diet of the mature (Heb 5:12-14).

Wholesome families eat together. The TV should not intrude at the dinner table, for the family meal is not just about eating, it is about fellowship, companionship, relationship and joy.  It is an important expression of the unity of the family, notwithstanding the varied ways in which each member contributes or participates.  Each member is valuable, each member a part of the whole.  Thus reading the Bible around the family meal table has been found by many Christians to be a natural part of their daily routine.  Here the sustenance of body and soul are brought together, with appropriate readings and prayers (depending upon the age).  However, there is no need to restrict the spiritual feeding upon Christ to hearing his word.  As the ancient Israelites invited all members of the family to participate in the Passover, all should participate in the meal of the new covenant.  Where children are able to eat at the meal table unassisted, so children ought to be able to participate in the Lord's Supper.  Unlike baptism where the infant is passive, the Lord's Supper is an active participation. Take and eat. Take and drink.  Thus when the child is able to respond to that invitation, they should be able to participate in the Lord's Supper, not only around the family meal table, but also in the larger assembly of God's people on Sundays.

It is often countered that children are not old enough to appreciate the significance of the Lord's Supper.  However, the Bible knows of no such restriction, except that those who had not been weaned would not have eaten the Passover, nor indeed the manna in the wilderness.  Yet we regularly underestimate what children can understand.  It is not the mature, cognitive understanding articulated in sixteenth century English that makes effectual one's participation on the Supper!  When Paul argued that a person should examine themselves, before coming to the Supper (1 Cor 11:28-32), he was not preventing the immature, but the disobedient.  After all it was the disobedient adults who did not make it to the Promised Land " the under twenty year olds were the ones who made it into Canaan!  Rather, as the apostle declares in 1 Cor 10:17: "Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."

The Church of God is made up of families of God.  The language of household and family rightly transfers from the microcosm of a family to the church as the body of Christ.  We best honour the privilege that our children have in being brought up as members of Christ, by virtue of the promises of God, by feeding them with the riches of God's word.  Such riches are not only found in the hearing of the word of God, but by the "inward digestion" of God's word, and the physical representation of that nourishment that God has given us (and our children) in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Dr Glenn N Davies
Bishop of North Sydney