A Heritage Not Divided: from the playroom to the pew
“Lo, Children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”
Children are truly a blessing to those who have them, though at times it may not seem like they are. When one is covered in flour from the pantry, and the other one has decided to completely wreck the living room, we may start to think we’ve been cursed. The truth is however, God has seen fit to give those children to us. They are as the scripture calls them a heritage, or an allotted portion. The blessing of children is truly a wonderful thing, but with that blessing comes a God given responsibility. The responsibility to nurture them, instruct them, correct them, and to lead them in the way of the Lord. The decisions we have to make as parents are not all that easy. Decisions such as where to send them to school, what groups to let them be involved in, and the places they should be allowed to frequent just to name a few. These decisions can be tough to make! We want our children to receive a good education, and schools differ from one another in how effective they are at getting the children to learn the material. These decisions are tough because they can have a far reaching effect and determine the future of our children. Knowing this, we will spend hours collecting information, and thinking on which course of action to take. That’s the way it should be because God has given us our children so that we can make good decisions for them.
While these decisions are important, it is more important for a follower of Christ to decide how their children receive their spiritual education. So how should we educate our children in spiritual matters? How are our children supposed to worship? What do we base that decision off of? Do we take what is popular at that time, or do we look to the scripture? I believe that as a Christian we are to look to the word of God to make those decisions. We should search the scripture to find what is instructed, to find the patterns it contains. So when it comes to the spiritual education and the personal worship of our children what does the scripture say? I guess a better question is, is Sunday school biblical or should children be a part of the worship and education of the church? These are questions I wanted answers to when I began my look into the word of God. I wanted to know what God says, regardless of what I had been taught, and what others said.
Children in worship
When we look to the scripture we are looking for a pattern, or things which are consistently done the same way throughout. As I searched, the more I began to see a pattern emerge, something done the same way over and over. I began to see that children were present over and over again in the worship of the called out assembly.
The Old Testament
Deuteronomy 29:10-12 “ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Isreal, your little ones, your wives and thy stranger, that is in thy camp, from the hewer of the wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day:”
Joshua 8:35 “there was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.”
Ezra 10:1 “ Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.”
Nehemiah 12:43 “also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.”
2Chronicles 20:13 “And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.”
Further reference Nehemiah 8, Psalms 8:2, and Joel 2:15-16
It is clear from the scripture that any time Israel came together to perform an act of worship, or to receive instruction that their little ones, or children were present. It was just as important for them, as it was for the full grown adults. We never find where God told Israel to separate their heritage from him, but led them to include them in all their spiritual exercises. It is clear from the Old Testament that children from the time they were born, were very much a part of spiritual worship. From the beginning of life the children were to be circumcised which was a type of worship, it being a fulfillment of God’s commandment. They were included in Passover, the many other feast days and anytime the word of God was publicly read or expounded.
The ministry of Christ
Matthew 14:21 “and they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.”
Matthew 15:38 “And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children.”
Matthew 18:2 “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them.”
Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 21: 15-16 “And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
In the ministry of Christ we find that children are present during his teachings and miracles. In both instances where Jesus multiplied the food, men had brought their entire family to hear this man teach. In one of those instances the bread and fish were supplied by a young lad or young boy. Showing us that the ministry of Christ was not limited to just one age bracket, but encompassed people from all stages of life. When Christ was in the temple it tells us that the children were crying out anthems of praise. We know their age by the words Christ uses in the next verse babes and suckling’s (one still nursing) to describe those who were worshiping Him. Jesus valued having the little ones surround him, which is why he said “suffer the little children-to come to me.”
The early Church
Acts 21:5 “and when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore and prayed.
Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
Colossians 3:20 “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
In Acts 21 Paul had stopped in the town of Tyre. When he found Christians there he decided to stay and minister with that body of believer for seven days. In verse 5 we find that the body of believers consisted of men, women, and children. In Ephesians and Colossians if you pay attention to the language, you will notice that Paul addresses the children directly. Knowing how Paul writes, if the children would not have been present during the worship service when this letter was read Col 4:16 he would not have worded it the way he did. He would have instructed the parents to teach their children to obey them. Paul’s address to the church in the manner that he did is a positive affirmation that children were present during the whole worship service.
Starting with the Old Testament and going all the way through, we see a continued pattern. Not only is there a pattern of children engaged in worship with their families, but God never instructs us to separate them from worship. Don’t you think the all-knowing God would tell us to separate the children from public worship, if he thought it best for them not to be a part of it? Not only is there a pattern of children in worship, but look for a moment at all the children God used to glorify Him. 1samuel 3 tells us of the very young Samuel who God spoke to and through when Eli’s house was not right. Look at 2kings 5 were God used a young girl to proclaim his power and grace. Read 2Chronicles 34 were God used a godly 8 year old boy to rule his people righteously, look at young timothy who heard the scriptures taught in the synagogue as a child 2Timothy 3:15.
There are so many reasons one gives for separating their children from the central worship service. They attempt to justify their decision based on natural reason, which would make sense to most people. One natural reason that one gives to justify this position, is that children learn at different levels than adults do. While this may be true in a natural sense, it is not on a spiritual level. The moment one asserts that position, they have traded faith for reason and spiritual understanding for cognitive abilities. In one sense they have eliminated the main ingredient in faith, God himself! They claim that ones ability to understand God comes from something within the natural man. According to the scripture no man regardless of age has the ability to know, understand, or believe God unless God gives him that ability. We see this taught in 1Cor 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” and John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now we know from our English class that “can” means ability, so what these two passages are teaching is that no one regardless of age has the ability to understand, or perceive God, or His kingdom unless God Changes him from a natural man to a spiritual man. So unless God quickens your soul, gives you faith (spiritual eyes) and a spiritual understanding of the truth, you will never be able to cognitively rationalize God or His truth. For faith is something God gives Gal 5:22 and not something that comes naturally for “all men have not faith”2Thess 3:2. This biblical truth teaches us that if a child regardless of age has been born again, then they possess the ability to understand and believe the truth, which sounds from the pulpit. An example of this is John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, who when he heard the truth of Jesus Christ jumped for joy. So if God could bring the understanding of the truth of Christ to an unborn child, don’t you think He can cause our children no matter how young to understand His truth? We don’t believe in God because we are smart, but because God has shown us the truth in our hearts. So that old defense of Sunday school that goes “well the preacher will just preach over their heads and it’s pointless for them to have to sit through that”, is something that if the grace of God is poured out upon them, can never happen! We can’t preach over their heads! God is ultimately the one that causes everyone in the congregation to understand, old and young alike. To deny this is to leave God entirely out of the equation.
When someone substitutes something they are replacing what should be there for something else. Whatever is supposed to make up worship should never be substituted for anything else. If you want to know just how seriously God took this, just look at the tabernacle. God never allowed anything in that form of public worship to be substituted for the real thing. We find in Numbers 3:4 that the two sons of Aaron were slain by the Lord for substituting the proper fire on the incense for “strange fire”. We read in another place where Uzzah was killed, because David substituted Gods way of transporting the ark, for his own way. God does not like it when we substitute his way for our way. When we separate our children from us and place them in a room to be taught by someone else, we are substituting Gods way for our own. The Bible is clear that the only one to teach in the church is those he has called to the ministry. The pattern is clear that all age groups are to be present in the Lords house to engage in worship together. Worship is the heart of what the Bible calls unity, and the church will never be unified when it is divided into groups.
The biggest substitution we make when we separate our children from collective worship, is we trade praise for play and spiritual education for entertainment. By doing this, we are inadvertently teaching our children that church is a place to have fun instead of teaching them to fear and reverence God Deut 4:10. This is why attendance by collage age kids drops dramatically. When they get to that age church is no longer “fun”, so it loses its charm. Church is suppose to be about what we give, not about what we receive, and Sunday school all too often sends the opposite message.
Eliminating the Example
Paul said in 1Corinthians 11:1 “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” This should be the charge of every husband and wife to their children. Like it or not, they were given to you so you can be a good example for them. Children learn so much more by seeing what you do, than by hearing what you say. When we remove them from our worship services, we are eliminating the opportunity to lead them by example. They don’t get to see how important worship is to you. They don’t get to see the joy for the Lord you have when you worship. They don’t get to see your reaction to the message being preached. All the children in the bible learned how to worship by watching their parents worship. When Isaac and Abraham went up the mountain, Isaac noticed that there was no sacrifice. How did he know that if he hadn’t seen his father worship in that way before? It is necessary for our children to see us praise the Lord, to repent, to weep for sin and to rejoice in the grace of Jesus Christ. By allowing them to view us in this environment, if their hearts have being changed by grace, we are providing an example that they will be inclined to follow. They will see how important it is for us and begin to view it as important. The power of your example must never be underestimated! Especially when it comes to things pertaining to God and worship. Not just your example, but also all the mature men and women of faith in the congregation, that stand as good examples and mentors to our children.
The pattern is evident from the beginning of the Old Testament through the early church that children have been an interregnal part of worship. God never regarded a person’s age when choosing to teach them or use them for His Glory. You will not find any justification for teaching children separate from the general congregation, it’s just not in the Bible. Trading faith for reason is to deny the foundation of faith itself. Substituting Gods way for what we think is best, is always a dangerous game. The example you provide for your children, by having them worship with you, is of paramount importance! We should never prevent our children from having the opportunity of having an intimate encounter with God in public worship. We should never keep them from platform through which God has designed to teach his born again children. In the words of God “Consider your ways” Haggai 1:5, to Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Elder John Burkett