We are concerned with the belief of many that in the course of educating children they are unable to sustain serious delivery of the material, that the children can only be pampered with entertaining or amusing presentations of that material, and that is somehow “age-appropriate.” We are even more concerned of the predominant belief among Christians that in religious things the children must likewise be amused and the material is thereby “age-appropriate.” I have called this dogma a “myth,” and the view is so widely held today it may very well be designated so, as it functions in a nearly religious sense, coloring in many ways the manner in which adults view children. This view, which exalts the child above his place, subverts the very order of society. No longer is the child subordinate to the wisdom of the adult, but the adult has become the servant of the child, believing that by fulfilling his appetites the child may be instructed more effectively. We (rightly) object to a woman refusing to subject herself within the order created by God in order to teach or to have authority over the man. But what about when children are out of place?
How can we move beyond this? I agree that an entire “reformation” is impossible, but I am interested in what we can do constructively as individual families and Christian churches. In part 1, I talked about the importance of our believing that our children are able embrace both the gospel and all that is connected to it (including reverent worship). I also said that we ourselves must learn to delight in these things. Some readers had some good ideas of their own.
My first point here would be to cultivate a home where God is taken seriously. If you are regularly reading the Bible at home, your children will cultivate the physical, mental, and spiritual maturity to be able to sit through a church service. If you delight in reverent sacred music at home, it will not seem out of place at church. If you only feed your kids mac&cheez out of box at home, you should not expect them to have a taste for a really good meal at church. Our homes must be the places where the cultivation of the love of beautiful things starts. Sing with your children. Read to them great stories. Have high expectations for what your children can learn to love and appreciate. Meanwhile, do not capitulate to the norms of the other families you know. Just because grandma gave Johnny a Veggie-Tales DVD for Christmas does not mean that you need to let him watch it (the real question is whether you can resell it on eBay or not). Do not allow your children to watch blasphemy (still talking about Veggie-Tales here, not network television). It is, of course, not the end of the world if your child happens to see a Veggie-Tales episode (though I’d hate to be the person whom I discovered showing one to my child!), but we should not only be taking an active role in our children’s development, but a defensive role as well.
I think another way we can move in the right direction is to begin worshipping together as families. It is a good thing for children to worship with their parents. I know that there are many pastors out there who have set up many programs for the children during the worship services at their church. My first request to you, with respect, is that you allow those of us who are trying to rear our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” to do so according to our conscience. Just because I prefer that my pre-schooler(s) sit with me and my wife during the service does not mean that I am trying to be divisive or that I embrace every dogma of, for example, Vision Forum. I have read several fundamentalist pastors on-line decrying all who would act as I have just proposed. This kind of reaction does not help matters. Having read them, I sense that they really do not understand the position of someone like me. This is not about covenant theology. Nor am I some kind of neo-“Primitive Baptist,” believing that Sunday School per se is anti-Christian. I am most concerned about the content of these meetings (when not formal worship), and that my children are exposed to serious preaching and hymns and the ministry of the Word. I am asking that you to consider allowing parents like my wife and me to keep our children with us in worship, and, at times, to recluse them certain programs. We, in turn, agree to do what we do discretely. Of course, any adult that brings his children into the service at a young age, will find there are times when the children do not behave as they ought. They may even need to take them out of the service when they become becoming too disruptive so that they may be disciplined accordingly. It is at these times that we most appreciate your patience and Christian forebearance. Please understand that we do not do any of this to be obnoxious or divisive (see below), but it is pressed upon our conscience. Pastors, we appreciate your patience with us as we desire to expose them to your preaching and the church’s worship. We believe that the service is the best place for them. We do not do this out of some kind of narcissism, assuming that the church should revolve around us. On the contrary, we are convinced that church is for God, and that we should all be worshipping him together.
And my plea to parents who agree with me in this is not to create abrasive division. It is one thing to do your best to bring up your children in the fear of the Lord. It is another thing to split a church over your concerns. If your conscience cannot allow you stay at a particular church, leave quietly. You are not Martin Luther. Do not hurt the cause by hurting the Body. The warning of 1 Corinthians 3:17 cuts both ways. How long did it take you to determine what you believed in these areas (dare we think we have apprehended?)? Should you expect your fellow-members, despite your compelling arguments (!) to agree with you so quickly? You covenanted together with the church warts and all, and, if you have changed since then, you have no right to demand that the church bow to your new theological trend, even if it is a right one. Conservatives do not mount revolutions.
As parents, I believe that we will be held accountable for if obeyed the Lord in rearing our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” What I am saying here is nothing new. Children have been sitting through services for millenia. Only recently has the church decided to distract them with “age-appropriate” amusements. Perhaps there is some wisdom in what was done by previous generations.
I again look forward to your interaction. I say all of this with humility knowing how far my thinking still needs to develop in these matters. Many of you have great experience as pastors or parents, and I welcome your responses in these areas. We live in what seems to be (though I am sure every generation feels this way) very dark times. We echo the words of Asaph, who, referring to the teaching passed down from his fathers, said,
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:2, ESV)