When we say that we want to work toward building a Christendom 2.0, as many say, what we mean is that we want to work toward the discipleship of peoples and nations such that every area of life, every sphere of society, and every jurisdiction of authority is submitted to and conformed to the obedience of Jesus Christ. This includes the civil government, church government, family government, and every area of enterprise and endeavor that men participate in.
The past two years at this conference we have focused upon elements of the civil government. But there is a more fundamental sphere of life that must first be thoroughly reformed and mastered before we can expect a Christian civil government. That of course is the family. The first test of whether a man may be a governor, so to speak, in the household of God, the Church, which is a collection of households, is whether he can first manage his own household well. If a man can’t manage his own household, how would he be able to manage the household of God? And by implication, if a man can’t do that, how would he also be able to manage civil government, typically an even larger collection of households?
Sadly, we don’t know if many men can manage their homes well, because, well, they don’t really manage them at all. Instead of managing them, they send their household away all day everyday. A man sends his children to be managed by the government schools and as many extra-curricular activities as possible, and he sends his wife to be managed by another man in the workplace. And whether you want to argue that the dispersion of the family came first or the dispersion of the church came first, it remains that this problem also exists in many churches. I don’t wish to shame them, because they are my brothers and sisters as part of Christ’s bride. I wish to build them up because I love them.
The Problem of Separation
Like the modern family, the modern church has dispersed its members and attenders far and wide. Nursery, children’s church, youth groups, college groups, young adults, senior citizens groups, you name it. The church is divided up into specialized segments, so much so that a number of these groups are missing from corporate worship, and some of these groups have their own corporate worship services – the contemporary service and the traditional service for example. On this point, many churches have conformed to the pattern of the rest of the world by dividing the family into its individual parts. The family shows up to church, and then they scatter to all go to their own personalized classes and rooms. In this way, many churches do not treat the family as a family, but as individuals.
This will not work in trying to build a long term Christian society, for there is a lack of continuity in religious practice, and shared religion is the strongest bond of a people. The most common act of segregation in churches is the removal of children from the worship of God in corporate worship or the divine service. What is needed is a return to the historic practice of the church, which follows the biblical pattern for worship. Today, this is called “Family Integrated Worship.” This is a fairly modern term, because the removal of children from worship is a fairly modern problem. There is a palpable vitality to family integrated worship that we need and miss when we remove the young life from worship. And there is a vitality of life that our young children need and miss when they are removed from the divine service. Most importantly, we all miss out on God’s pattern for public worship. And when God shows us how something is to be done, there are always more benefits than we may realize. So what is the biblical pattern for worship in regard to this issue?
The Biblical Case For
First, consider the pattern when Moses wrote down the law and instructed it to be read, he instructed that it be read in the assembly of all the people. Not just the priests, or the men, or the adults, but everyone, young and old alike. Deuteronomy 31:11-13:
when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
But, as some object, “the children can’t understand what is being said!” First, they can understand much more than we think they can and give them credit for. Second, they certainly won’t understand if they are not subjected to it. Third, it is about much more than just intellectual understanding, which we will come back to later. Fourth, there is plenty that adults do not understand in God’s Word. Should we send out everyone who doesn’t understand everything in the Bible?
Next, in Joshua 8, there is a service and a reading of the law before the whole assembly. Joshua 8:34-35:
And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived[c] among them.
Again, the law is read with all the assembly, including little ones. And we are talking Old Covenant law here. This is the stuff that many of us have a hard time with, the stuff at the point where many of us may drop out in our yearly Bible reading plans. God wants everyone to hear all of that! Noah’s Ark picture books aren’t going to cut it.
In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat, a good king, goes before the Lord, in prayer, seeking the Lord for help against their enemies, and he gathers the assembly together for worship and prayer and it says in 2 Chronicles 20:13, “Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Again, all the assembly together in worship. And notice as well that there is a distinction between “little ones” and “children.” We’re talking infants and babies here. We’ll see that elsewhere too. Joel 2:15-16:
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.
Some people, with good intentions, say they have all the children in worship, but they have a nursery for the infants. God says, gather the nursing infants.
Psalm 22:27, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.”
Psalm 148 is a Psalm that just goes through commanding everyone and everything in creation to worship God. Verse 11-12 says, “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD…”
This pattern is upheld in the New Testament, as Paul’s letters were read in the assembly of the congregations. In Ephesians 6 and in Colossians 3 Paul directly addresses children, giving them specific instructions to obey their parents. He does this in the midst of directly addressing husbands and wives, fathers, slaves, and masters. He assumes all these different people and ages are together; he addresses them as such. Paul doesn’t say, “Fathers, when you pick your children up from children’s church tell them what I said.” No, he directly addresses the children, assuming they are there, and they are taught to listen and learn, because the pattern of the assembled church is for young and old to gather together. In other words, the expectation is that families are not split up in the church. Fathers are bringing their whole families into the presence of the Lord in worship.
Not only is this the biblical pattern of worship, but we also learn from the Bible that worship is formative. This is to say that we become like what we worship. Psalm 115 talks about the foolishness of those who make idols to worship them. They have mouths but do not speak, ears but do not hear, eyes but do not see, noses but do not smell, hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk. And then verse 8 says, “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” Worship is formative. You become like what you worship. We see this same principle, but the other way in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
Worships forms us either for better or for worse. Worship is more than an intellectual exercise. Worship is much more than just sitting and listening to a lecture in a classroom. There is singing. There is standing and sitting. There is corporate response. There is eating and drinking of bread and wine. Sometimes there is water and so much of it, that people get completely wet! There is confession. There is prayer. There is preaching and listening. All of the senses are utilized in worship. But more than the body and senses, there is the spirit, and the Spirit of God, who is present with us and working through the Word to change us, convict us, comfort us, exhort us, encourage us, and help us. Even when our children, or the mentally handicapped, or us adults, do not understand everything intellectually, there is learning and forming going on in so many other ways. It is good for the youngest of children to the oldest of seniors.
One of the most prominent ways that children learn is by imitation. How will they learn how to worship God when we take them out of the worship of God in their most formative years? Should they not be where they can watch their parents, their older brothers and sisters, and the adults, and so learn how we worship God together?
The Bible also tells us another important way that God made us to learn, and learn the faith. And that is through generational discipleship. It is Fathers teaching their children. And as Titus 2 lays out, it is older men in the church teaching younger men and older women in the church teaching younger women how to be a woman of God. It is the whole book of Proverbs that a son is called to listen to his father and mother’s instruction. It is the young student listening diligently to the wisdom of the older. It is young men in their strength listening to the gray head of wisdom. This is the biblical model of how we learn, and how we learn wisdom, by the older wise instructing the younger.
Thus, the existence of things like children’s church and youth groups falsely assumes that youth learn best when things are catered around their lives, interests, and “level” surrounded by their peers, taught by the college aged “youth pastor,” for which there is no office in the Bible. We section our children off into these groups and section the seniors off into their groups, when what we should be doing is bringing them together in one assembly. This is how the faith is passed down.
The Means of Grace Problem
One of the other problems, that we see mainly in baptistic circles, is that we fail to see worship as a means of grace. Worship is not just a mere intellectual exercise, it is not to be mere outward form and ceremony. All the elements of worship are that which feed our faith. They are graces that God has given us to keep us believing. The Holy Spirit is active in worship through the elements of worship. The Word, song, and sacraments are effectually applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit of God to effect change in our lives. Christ is present to our faith in the Supper. Christ is present with us when we gather together in His name. There are real spiritual things happening in worship. The angels peer into it and they marvel at the preaching of the gospel.
There is so much more that could be said, but if we understood worship as a means of grace, how could we even think about removing our children from it? These things are not just for adults, but for all who believe. If someone says to me, “your church doesn’t have a children’s ministry or a youth ministry.” I say, “Yes we do, it’s the Word and Sacrament.” That’s children’s ministry. That’s youth ministry. That’s adult ministry. That is God’s ordained means of ministry to His Church. I don’t want the children going off and eating Teddy Grahams and apple juice. I want them participating in the body and blood of our Lord in the bread and wine.
One implication of all this is that modern attractions like contemporary worship or seeker sensitive models simply will not work. Worship must be biblical in its elements and traditional in its practice. By tradition, I mean timeless biblical practices that will be continued for generations and generations. Prayer, preaching, corporate singing, and the ordinances should be something that every generation can participate in together. Seeker sensitive models exclude the young and the old – it’s too loud and dark. Good tradition is good for all, the young and the old. Have a good biblical liturgy that can be maintained and passed down for generations. Such continuity in the liturgy are the things that help our children learn and understand, and likewise helps the aged as their minds fail them. In this way tradition is a way to honor our father and our mother.
Forsaking such things for what is cool and relevant guarantees that our children will have different religious practices because coolness and relevancy is ever changing.
Allow me to close with some applications to pastors, parents, and congregants. Children make noises, they can be restless, and they take time to train. This is the common complaint of babies and children in worship.
First, to pastors. We’ve got to be tougher. How soft are we that we can’t handle babies crying and toddlers fidgeting during our preaching? Learn to preach joyfully through the noise because the cries of infants is the sound of life. It has been said that a church without crying is dying. We should be overjoyed with gratitude and thankfulness to God that He has given our congregation life and blessing from the womb, and understand that it is a privilege to preach to nursing infants and children. Don’t hesitate to directly address children in your sermons. Some preachers of old had rotten tomatoes and dead cats thrown at them while preaching, how blessed are you when children cry at yours.
Next, to parents. I know that it can be very hard when you have babies and young children in church. I know that you can feel like everyone is staring at you when your child acts up in church. It’s okay. And it’s okay that it’s hard. It is the responsibility that God has given you, and it is only for a season. Embrace it. You will have to work hard to train your children to sit in worship. It takes work, but that is what you are called to do as a parent. Train them at home in family worship. You might have to take a crying baby out and back in, and out and back again. You might have to take a child out for discipline and back, over and over again. It’s okay. You might be frustrated that you don’t get to hear all of the sermon, or sing every song because you have to deal with your children. That is okay. That is God’s providence for you. Accept it with thankfulness, and trust that what you are able to hear and do will benefit you and nourish your soul. The season of child training is not only for your children, it is also for you. God gives us children to also teach and discipline us as parents. Receive it from God with thanksgiving. In the long run you and your children and your grandchildren will benefit more than you can see or think in the moment. Utilize grandparents, or others without little children in the congregation for help. Don’t give up or despair because it is hard. Talk with your pastors about help and advice, they are supposed to be ones with well managed homes who can help you.
Finally, to the congregants, particularly those without little children in the service. Children are not a nuisance. Don’t be frustrated or annoyed or look down upon those dealing with little ones. Love them. Pray for them. Be a blessing to them. Encourage them. Guard your hearts and minds. There is no need for passive aggressive comments or looks. Be glad for the blessings God has given your congregation. It is for your good as well.
Don’t be like the disciples when they rebuked the people for bringing their little children to Jesus. Instead, remember Jesus, who said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Remember Jesus, who said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”