Children in Church (2014)

If you were in church on Sunday 7 September, you will know that I have taken over responsibility for providing the children in church with Active 8+ materials. For those who don’t know, once our children reach the age of eight, they leave Children’s Church and join the rest of us for the Sunday morning service. Active 8+ is designed to help them settle into ‘real’ church and to engage with what’s going on during the service.

Some people may question the wisdom of having young children in the service. Therefore I thought I would use this letter to address that question.

In the Presbyterian Church we believe that the word of God is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. In other words, God has given us his word to direct what we ought to believe and do. If that is the case, then we must turn to God’s word to guide us in this matter as in all matters relating to the worship of God.

The place to start is Genesis 17 where God established his covenant with Abraham and promised to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. From that time on, every Jewish male who was eight days old was to receive circumcision as a visible sign of God’s promise to be their God. We believe that baptism has now replaced circumcision as a sign of the covenant. However, while the sign has been changed, the promise has not changed: God still promises to be our God and the God of our children. Whenever our covenant children are baptised, they are being admitted into the church. We believe they belong to the church because God has promised to be their God.

Next we want to turn to a couple of passages in the Old Testament where parents were instructed to teach God’s word to their children. There’s Deuteronomy 4:9 where God’s people were commanded to teach God’s law to their children and to their children after them. Then, in Deuteronomy 6:7 parents are commanded to impress God’s laws on their children and to talk about them in the home and outside the home.

Parents are therefore commanded to teach God’s word to their children. But are they to do that by themselves? Not according to God’s word which teaches us that parents are to bring their children with them whenever the church assembles together for worship. For instance, in Deuteronomy 29, Moses summoned all Israel to meet before him to renew the covenant with the Lord. According to verses 10 and 11, not only the adults were present, but their children were also there and were regarded as being part of the Old Testament church. In Joshua 8 we read about another occasion when the whole assembly (the church) gathered to hear God’s word. The whole assembly comprised men, women and children. We read similar things in 2 Chronicles 20:13 and Nehemiah 12:43. In Joel 2:16, ‘those nursing at the breast’ are included among those who must gather before the Lord.

We should note that in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul included instructions for children. That tells us that he assumed the children of believers would be present in the church whenever his letter was read.

Parents are therefore to teach their children. And the children of God’s people ought to be with them when the church assembles together for worship.

Next we want to consider briefly the teaching of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 19:13–15, while the disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to the Lord Jesus, the Lord welcomed these covenant children because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. In Matthew 18:5 he said: ‘And whoever welcomes a little child … in my name welcomes me.’ This tells us that our Master wants us to receive little children rather than to send them away. Therefore we should be willing to have them in our services of worship. Indeed, there are things we can learn from having children in our midst because, as Matthew 11:2–4 teaches us, children remind us that we need to be humble like them. Adults can benefit from their presence!

To summarise so far: In the Old Testament, parents were instructed to teach their children and to bring them whenever the church assembled together for worship. The Apostle Paul assumed children would be present in the church to hear his letters. And in the gospels, the Lord Jesus made clear that we’re to welcome covenant children into our midst.

Sometimes it’s objected that children cannot understand what is going on if they’re in church. My answer must be brief:

Firstly, in Matthew 11, the Lord rebuked certain cities for not repenting. He then went on to say in verse 25: ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children.’ We say that children are incapable of understanding the Bible. But we forget that the Lord is able to open the hearts of little children to believe his word. After all, believing God’s word is not related to age or intelligence, but to the operation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). And we ought to remember that, since the Holy Spirit filled John the Baptiser from birth (Luke 1:15), then there’s nothing to prevent him from working in the hearts of even the youngest of our covenant children today.

Secondly, children are capable of praise. According to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 21:16, God ordains praise from the lips of children and infants. And it’s worth noting that the Lord said those words whenever the religious leaders were complaining because children were shouting his praises in the temple – the place of public worship.

When we turn to God’s word for guidance in this matter, we learn from the Old and the New Testaments that the children of believers ought to be with us in the place of worship. We learn as well that God is able to open their hearts to believe in him and God is able to stir up their hearts to praise him. It’s therefore good that we welcome the Active 8+ children to our Sunday Services in Immanuel.