Age of accountability


Christiane and I had a very interesting conversation the other day regarding a couple of cultural practices commonly engaged in by young children in the LDS Church (encouraged by the adults, of course) — bearing their testimonies in Sacrament meeting, and partaking of the Sacrament before they are baptized.

For me, the issue regarding the bearing of a testimony comes down to just what is (and is not) a testimony and the reasons for expressing it publicly over the pulpit. Having a parent whisper into a child’s ear and then, if they aren’t frozen like a deer caught in headlights, listening to the child regurgitate it (often loudly and unintelligibly) into the microphone just does not constitute the “bearing of a testimony” for me. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for any child under age eight to have a testimony, nor am I saying that no child under eight should be allowed to bear it publicly. I’m  saying that the testimony they bear should be their own — and not many children  are going to acquire a testimony of their own at that young an age — and they should be able to do so unassisted.

The First Presidency addressed this issue in a letter to all Church members in May of 2002, which was read in Sacrament meeting. It said, in part:

Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it. It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies at such times as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so in a fast and testimony meeting.


As for young children partaking of the Lord’s Supper, my feeling is that children that have not yet been baptized probably shouldn’t participate — there’s no point in renewing covenants that haven’t yet been made. On the few occasions when I’ve discussed it with adult members of the Church, the argument is usually raised that children are given the Sacrament from an early age so they will develop the custom or habit of taking it. Personally, I don’t believe the Sacrament should be taken by rote, but rather should be  approached with personal prayer and contemplation each and every time. If anything, habitualizing the event seems to me to be counter to the very spirit of the ordinance. And wouldn’t having to wait until after baptism make it all the more special and further underscore its importance to the child?

Christiane and I discussed these two cultural oddities and explored the idea of disallowing both for our own children. I won’t speak for her, but my personal conclusions are:

As much as I’d like to do so, I don’t know whether it’s really possible to force one’s children to abstain from bearing their “testimony” in Sacrament meeting — between well-meaning Primary teachers who “challenge” their classes to get up en masse and bear their testimonies, and the pressure of their parents and classmates to go along, the expectation to do so is just too great. It would take a complete shift in attitude and approach for this to change. (It seems to me that many in the Church have over the course of years come to a serious misunderstanding of what a testimony is and the purpose for bearing it, and our “open mic” format seems to encourage tangents and travelogues — but that’s a topic for a post of its own.)

As for preventing our children from taking the Sacrament until after they are baptized, my preference is that they abstain, but I’m also pretty sure this is not a battle I’ll want to fight week after week if they throw fits over it. I suppose we will have to revisit this topic when we actually have children. My desire is that they treat the Sacrament with reverence and respect, however that is accomplished.



  1. shyshaie  •  Apr 22, 2009 @7:36pm

    I just came across your post and wanted to share my ideas. As parents it is our responsibility to teach our young children respect for the sacrament and, as they are older to understand, that they should not partake if they are unworthy. It therefore leads me to the conclusion that all children under 8 are innocent in the eyes of the Lord – why should they not be able to partake the sacrament? Children and the mentally disabled frequently partake because they are considered innocent and in no way unworthy.

    Also, I did find this information for you. The First Presidency issued an invitation on July 11, 1877, to have all of the children drink from the cup, too. (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 2:289.) At this time all members drank from the same cup.

    Just wanted to share my thoughts on why it is appropriate for young children to partake of the sacrament. Thanks

  2. Bryan  •  May 2, 2009 @2:29pm

    Thank you for your comments. I always appreciate alternate points of view. I do have a few thoughts in reply.

    Your first point — that children are without sin and therefore could never be unworthy to partake of the Sacrament — I would agree with completely. I don’t see that it follows from this premise, however, that they should therefore partake. In fact, I would use this premise in arguing against children partaking: if children are not accountable, they have no need of the Sacrament as a means of continuing remission of sins (as adults do).

    Secondly, the letter to which you refer actually recommended administering the Sacrament to children in Sunday School, so that they could “be taught the value and importance of that ordinance” (ibid.). Indeed, I remember as a child having the Sacrament passed in Sunday School. I do not remember whether I then partook again in Sacrament Meeting later in the day, but I don’t believe so. I’m not even sure what the significance is, if any, that the First Presidency specified Sunday School as the venue — the Sacrament is the Sacrament, right? — but I do find it very interesting that the distinction was made.

    As a postscript to my blog entry, I must confess that I have mixed feelings about this issue. The main purpose of the Sacrament is to renew the covenants made at baptism. Children have not yet been baptized and so have nothing to renew. However, one of the reasons the Savior instituted the Sacrament among His disciples was so that “they may always remember Him”; if parents want their children partake of the Sacrament for no other reason than in remembrance of Him, it’s probably a Good Thing. I just don’t see it as a required ordinance before baptism.

  3. shyshaie  •  Aug 29, 2009 @1:06pm

    The sacrament is clearly not a required ordinance for children before the age of accountability. But another thought is that our Prophet and leaders may not feel it is a problem or they would discourage or not allow it, correct?

    Recently I read a book called the “Holy Secret” by James L. Ferrell and he very thoroughly and clearly describes the covenants we make when taking the sacrament, it was very enlightening. I highly recommend this book (Deseret Book – he also discusses temple worship and scripture study). And I must admit after I have heard of a couple of families in our ward not allowing young children to partake (which led to me to do some searching and come across your post) and after reading this book, I’ve thought about having our small children not partake and have become more undecided.

    As we have been pondering the covenants and having our children partake of the sacrament we’ve come to the conclusion that the one main reason for not having them partake is because it then becomes rote and/or simply habitual – therefore the reasons for partaking of the sacrament may become devalued. A very big reason to be sure.

    One last thing I would like to say is that I know my little 18mth old will throw a horrible fit not being allowed to partake – he has LOVED having the bread and water. And I’m sure he would have thrown a fit from the very beginning – he likes being like his older siblings and so it would always be any issue to deal with. But the family I’ve seen with young children who do not partake do not seem upset at all by being excluded from partaking. So I guess it just depends on how you deal with it in the beginning.

    Thanks for the enlightening topic. Good luck with your decision

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