Results tagged “children's church” from Reformation21 Blog

The fine team of scholars working around the clock at Lutheran Satire have unearthed footage detailing the late Victorian era origins of Children's Church.



 


If you're not already familiar with Lutheran Satire, you probably should stop whatever you're doing and bring yourself up to speed on their work. Their slogan says it all: "teaching the faith by making fun of stuff." True to Lutheran form, they're a bit unfair when they take on historic Reformed teaching. But they're spot on when they target the philosophy driving much modern worship or bad analogies for the Trinity. Regardless, they never fail to deliver on the comedy front.
Depending on the person to whom you speak, there are either 3 or 4 marks of a true church. You have likely heard of at least three marks: the proper preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and the utilization of church discipline. It is the so-called fourth mark of the church that puzzles me. Unfortunately, it is an alleged mark that causes people to leave congregations. What is it?

Children's programs

Children are very important and, according to Presbyterian ecclesiology, members of the church (Jer. 31:31-34). Covenant youth have every right to sit under the preaching of the word, interact with the saints of God, participate in other aspects of worship (e.g., singing, confession of sin, confession of faith, etc.). In fact, at Crown and Joy, children remain with us throughout the entire service. Furthermore, I have shared with the congregation virtually since day one, I am their children's pastor, too, and they have a right to be shepherded just as much as any adult.

For some, however, churches need to go a bit further. She needs the fourth mark. She must supply consumers with AWANA, Pioneer's Club, Vacation Bible School (VBS), children's church, and youth group. If some or all of those programs are unavailable, people leave churches. The other option is that people won't even visit your church if they find out those programs are unavailable. I have had several conversations with people about our church, and in doing so, one of the first questions I am sometimes asked is, "What is available for my children?" This inquiry precedes questions about the preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, and church disciple. In fact, when someone asks that question, it is almost never followed by any questions about the three marks of the church. Needless to say, those persons do not visit our congregation. 

Whether someone does not attend your church because you do not offer a variety of children's programs or someone decides to leave because, after a short season with you, they realize you will not have the programs they desire, their reason for leaving is invalid. I will go so far as to say if you maintain that a church must have a certain set of children's programs in order for you to remain in that local congregation, or she must have those programs before you are willing to visit, you require more than God.

This is not a rant about children's programs. They can be beneficial. Many children have come to faith in VBS or Pioneer's Club. Covenant youth are sometimes nourished in those programs, but those programs are benefits, not requirements. Unless I am missing something, you will not find one passage of scripture that remotely suggests a church must have certain children's programs in order meet a certain criteria for saints to attend. If the scriptures are silent regarding this area, why, then, do so many people leave churches that do not have numerous children's programs?

Where should your children be during corporate worship? What does the Bible say about it? Does church history help us answer this question?

Over the years, I have tried to read various positions regarding the inclusion of children during Sunday service or the departure of children, whether just before the sermon or during the entire service, to an "age-appropriate" lesson. To my knowledge, no book has been fully devoted to a biblical and/or historical exposition of why we should exclude children from all or part of Sunday service. John Frame, in his book, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship, provided one paragraph on the topic. Although this was not the point of his book, he, nevertheless, stated, 

It is important that teaching be intelligible, clear, and edifying (1 Cor. 14). When Ezra and the Levites taught the law to Israel, the assembly consisted of those "who could understand" (Neh. 8:3). Those who could not understand, evidently, were instructed in other contexts. Some Reformed people insist that all children should be present in church during every sermon, rather than being sent off to nurseries and "children's churches." There is certainly value in families worshiping together as much as possible. God deals not only with individuals in Scripture, but also with households. The family is vitally important. In worship, however, edification (1 Cor. 14:26) is more important than mere togetherness. Ideally, everybody should be taught at his own level of understanding. (92)

It seems that Frame embraces an "age-appropriate" model for worship. If so, he is not alone. Throughout many denominations, people have concluded that children must learn the Bible in a manner that is fitting their level of intelligence. Amid these conclusions, some have ventured to write books that oppose this point-of-view.

At just 60-pages, Rev. Daniel Hyde offers a brief historical and biblical account of why he believes children should remain in worship. What follows is an outline of his book, The Nursery of the Holy Spirit: Welcoming Children in Worship.

In the introduction, Hyde suggests that he is writing this book "to take away that strangeness and scariness of having children in worship" (xvi). He also shares the two groups to whom he is writing. "First," Hyde notes, "I am writing to those of you who worship in a church that encourages and welcomes little ones to join with the rest of the congregation" (xvi). Second, Hyde writes to those "who may only know the Sunday school / children's church model of ministry..." (xvi). His desires in addressing these two groups are: first, "to make a case that welcoming children in worship is a practice consistent with the examples we see in Scripture and is a highly beneficial practice...", and secondly, "to offer some practical advice on how you can bring children into worship and help them make the most of their worshipping alongside of you" (xvi-xvii).

While Hyde believes his conclusion is historically and biblically grounded, he recognizes that "including children in worship is of the wellbeing (bene esse) of the church and not of the essence (esse) of the church" (xvii). He says that he believes "it is the best practice, but [he] cannot say it must be the only practice" (xvii).

In chapter 1, he provides a brief overview of the history of children's church. He claims that children's church is a derivative of Sunday school, which originated in England, as an outreach to unbelieving children (p. 1). As the model of Sunday school transitioned from outreach to Christian education, the purpose of Sunday school became a means of educating children during corporate worship. Since parent(s) were concerned that their children get something out of the sermon, the Sunday school became a place for them to understand something about the word of God at their level (pp. 2-4).  

Despite current Sunday school, or children's church, practices, historically, Hyde claims, children remained with their parent(s). After this suggestion, Hyde provides a Reformed covenantal view that grounds his position. Hyde's covenantal approach should not restrain people from reading this book, however. He recognizes that "you may not have this same theological understanding;" nevertheless, "experientially we most likely view our children the same way" (p. 11).  In other words, Hyde believes he is providing a book to argue his case for children remaining in the service that reaches beyond those who hold his covenantal position.

In chapter 2, Daniel provides several scripture references that support his conclusion. He uses both the Old and New Testaments to provide several examples of children incorporated in the corporate worship of the almighty. Attempting to state his case somewhat provocatively, Hyde says, 

To put it in a provocative form: imagine if the practice of so many churches today, which have children's church during the entirety of corporate worship or which dismiss children to children's church just before the reading and preaching of the Word, were going on in Paul's day. While Paul's letters were being read to the congregations, his practical exhortations to the church's children to obey their parents would have fallen upon deaf ears if all those children were not present" (p. 32). 

In chapter 3, while he recognizes the difficulty of having children in worship, he provides some practical ways parent(s) can bring this to pass. He suggests that training children at home, preparing for worship the evening prior, and participating in various aspects of corporate worship are all practical ways to train your children and keep them in service (pp. 43-52).

During Hyde's concluding thoughts (pp. 55-60), he makes a final plea to reconsider any practices that are contrary to his, and in closing he writes, "I pray that as you reevaluate your understanding and position on this vital issue of our children in worship, not only will you come to include them, but also that your children will include theirs for generations to come" (p. 60).