Somewhere along the line we became confused. Children are, it is true, not adults. You should assume when teaching adults that they know more than children. When you teach children, or even new converts, the subject matter must be more rudimentary. This is a conclusion we can reasonably reach from Hebrews 5:13. But somewhere along the line the modern church confused rudimentary with triviality. We have justified children’s songs and other activities particular to “children’s ministries” under the auspices that they are “age appropriate.” Age appropriate indeed. As if a child should get a “Happy Meal©” version of God while an adult (though not so much any more) should get the “real thing.”
I know the argument well, that this is all being done for the children, that the religious activities and trivial songs sung about “God” in Sunday School and Children’s Church and the Memory Verse Program© are more “age appropriate.” Many fundamentalists have in fact bought wholesale into the idea that God and Christ and the Christian religion must be trivialized to or made fun for children so that it will be more “relevant.” This is similar to what has been said by others: that the gospel must be made more relevant for all the other “sub-cultures” out there. This is what I hear from Rick Warren and those trying to make the gospel more palatable to yuppie “seekers.” This is what we heard several months ago when I considered Mark Driscoll and his appeal to the children of “seekers.” This is the argument which I, having found my soul’s shelter in Christ Jesus for eternal salvation by the grace of God alone, find so hard to understand. The gospel is relevant in itself, is it not? It is certainly relevant to me, being now saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus from the torments of hell! Are the fundamentalists guilty of similar “shameless methodological practices” as the seeker and emergent churches of broader evangelicalism? We know that it is not necessary to mix triviality with spiritual things for the sake of teaching children; even in our own day, we have anecdotal examples of organizations such as the King’s College Choir of Cambridge (and many others) teaching children beautiful and reverent music from which even adults (I myself included) may receive great spiritual benefit for the glory of God without the trappings of silly and ignoble amusement. Should not fundamentalists who hold to traditional Protestant orthodoxy and the truth of the gospel be even more serious than this? Is it really necessary for us to add entertaining elements to church in order to keep the attention of children?
In fact, this kind of activity puts the spiritual lives of our children greatly at risk. Through these kinds of antics, we teach them that the gospel is, in fact, amusing or entertaining. We teach them, very clearly in fact, that church is supposed to be fun. We teach them that acting in an undignified manner while “praising the Lord” is perfectly acceptable. More importantly, we teach them that “grown-up church” is not suitable for them, and that they should expect amusement with their Christianity. We deny that church worship done “with reverence and awe” is something that they should find pleasure in. In insisting that worship should be cartoony, fun, and entertaining for children, we undermine the pastor, the child’s parents, even the Bible itself–none of which are entertaining like the Pied Piper who sings to the children on their favorite CD or DVD. Entertainment becomes the thing the child loves, not the sober, serious things of God. In the end, I believe, we undermine the very gospel and the very God about which we are trying to teach them.
Perhaps some readers are still skeptical. Although I hesitate to bring up “the good old days,” please allow me to conclude with a couple examples from the past in an attempt to establish my point another way. Consider Spurgeon’s catechism, and ask yourself how the God presented therein compares to the one presented in the children’s programs so prevalent in our churches today. Or compare our age to that of Isaac Watts, who himself penned a collection of “Divine and Moral Songs for Children” which included the likes of “I Sing th’ Almighty Power of God” or this little poem:
Why should I love my sports so well,
So constant at my play,
And lose the thoughts of heaven and hell,
And then forget to pray?
What do I read my Bible for,
But, Lord, to learn thy will?
And shall I daily know thee more,
And less obey thee still?
How senseless is my heart, and wild!
How vain are all my thoughts!
Pity the weakness of a child,
And pardon all my faults.
Make me thy heavenly voice to hear,
And let me love to pray;
Since God will lend a gracious ear
To what a child can say.
Truly the idea of an “age appropriate” God, Christ, and religion may need to be reconsidered. Is there a constructive solution? I hope to address this in the days ahead.