This is a lengthy article looking at church life. In particular, I am building a case for children to worship with Dad, Mum and their siblings each Lord’s Day. Why? The church is under a massive onslaught. These attacks are against family and children. Destroying the family and the familial structure of the church weakens the impact of the Gospel. Why? To ignore the familial pattern of the Bible is to ride rough shot over what is clearly revealed in the written word of God.
We need to balance our zeal for the growth of Christ’s kingdom with adherence to the Biblical pattern through which the Gospel is to move forward. A striking example of zeal overshadowing the commands of God was Uzzah. This man had all the best intentions but failed in obedience. We ought to learn from this example in the Bible. Here was a man who thought he was doing the right thing, he was going to save the Ark of the Covenant from landing in the mud:
"And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error, and he died there by the ark of God." 2 Samuel 6:6-7
This article seeks to establish and show the following
Church worship and its ministries must flow from established patterns found in Scripture and confirmed in history. The church is to constantly push back against the world through believing and living a counter culture. Relevance to our societies is found in the Christian antithesis.
The people of God are consistently identified in terms of a marriage and household. Expansion of Christ’s Kingdom is through a familial structure, wherein households turn to the Lord and then restructure in obedience to His Word.
God works through covenants with His people. Covenantal obedience to the Word of God brings long-term maturity and growth to the church.
An age segregated Sunday school model that separates the family in corporate worship is inconsistent with Scripture. Ministries (especially to children, youth and young adults) should be in the context of their family. Children’s authority line is their parents.
Father’s turning their hearts to the Word of God and to their children will bring about a revival in the church. This is accomplished by training father’s to take up their God-ordained responsibilities. Father’s are to study the Scripture, apply it to their family and lead the household in family worship.
Biblical patterns for all of life and worship
The church must not only implement the whole Word of God to the whole man, but it must do so in the proper God-given context. That context is a familistic culture. The family or household reflects the image of God. God is a Trinity, three Persons in One. They share a community of essence and life, which we call covenant life because this shared life entails a personal-structural bond. The three Persons relate one to another personally by means of love and communication, and structurally by means of conformity to their own character (law), and by means of an order in which the Father begets the Son, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit. They are joined in being, but also joined in a covenant bond…Mankind, the image of God, reproduces this pattern at the created level in the family.
Throughout this paper I am not arguing for the current formulation of the regulative principle; “whatever is not commanded is forbidden.” Rather, I will be arguing along the lines of the Reformers; “that nothing should be introduced or performed in the churches of Christ for which no probable reason can be given from the word of God.” There are basic overarching patterns revealed and prescribed in the Bible that we as the Church of Christ are to conform to. The familial structure presented in the Scripture must shape the life of the church in every generation. The Bible speaks to every society because it reflects the personal-structural bond of the Trinity. I will be trying to demonstrate that age segregated worship and associated children’s/youth ministries do not fit the pattern or structure of the Bible. In this critique, I am not suggesting the immediate abandonment of all Sunday Schools. God works in and through time. As Christians, we ought to ask God to keep things orderly so that we have time to continue to reform ourselves/churches/societies to His Word. Ministries that we cannot establish from the Scripture will not bear long-term, inter-generational fruit and are to be abandoned. An exit strategy that does not throw the church into chaos and anarchy must be formulated. God’s change is more often slow and steady.
Christianity, like marriage, does not stop at the vows. All of life is to be conducted in a manner that brings glory to God. The wedding day is the beginning of a loving covenantal bond. Like, the loving, faithful wife, our relationship with Jesus requires us to be faithful to His Word. This paper seeks to establish the overarching familial structure of Scripture and the importance placed on family-integrated worship. Individual, family and corporate worship are central to transforming lives and cultures. Corporate worship is the time when the people of God come before Him, He renews covenant and the world is changed. Worship is where the world is changed.
Children and patterns of learning
We often don’t realize the capacity of children to absorb complex information. Again, perhaps our modern rationalistic view of the world stunts reality. Information absorption, like communication, is multi-faceted and multi-sensory. Human beings are complex; we are made in the image and likeness of God. “Training up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) is more than reading the Word and praying. It takes parents being deliberate; creating quality and quantity time for the work of maturing their children in Christ. This task includes children memorizing Scripture (by word and song), understanding the flow of Biblical narrative, knowing where they are in the context of church history; and seeing and experiencing the faith being lived out before them, throughout the day, by Dad, Mum and the people of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Fruit trees don’t grow to maturity unless they are deliberately tendered to.
The means in which God has ordained for children to mature is through their family and the broader church family. Children absorb doctrine and lifestyle from whom they are most exposed to (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:33). God designed the family to be a stable environment in which children are constantly trained unto maturity. Our desire, as parents is for our children to become “like arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Psalm 127:4). Arrows are the result of deliberate craftsmanship. They are not toys that hang on the mantle but sharply crafted weapons to be shot out against the enemies of the cross. Children are constantly to learn from the actions and words of their parents (and older siblings). The family is the basic structure that God uses to raise up the next faithful generation (Malachi 2:15; 4:4-6). Throughout Scripture we read of the faith of children, often expressed in actions:
Psalm 22: 9-10; “You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.”
David speaks of having faith from conception, from his mother’s womb and when he was a nursing infant. This is the pattern for those who are born into Christian homes. We are not to presume our election unto salvation AND we can claim, with David, that God is the God of our children from conception.
Luke 1:44; “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”
John the baptizer leaps for joy when the Saviour meets him womb to womb. There was a spiritual connection without John being able to utter his profession.
Matthew 18:1-5; “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.’”
Jesus illustrates faith by the example of a little child. This child would have been a toddler, as Jesus could “set him in the midst of them” (i.e. lift him up and put him down in the midst of them). For adults to enter the kingdom they are to become like a little child, a toddler.
Matthew 19:13-15; “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.”
Children are to be brought to Jesus, by their parents, for His blessing (laying hands on). These children are forbidden to come to the Saviour, by the disciples, who believe Jesus is far too busy with “adult ministry” to bother with children. Jesus rebukes them sharply and instructs that the model Kingdom citizen is a child. For the illustration to be true (children are model kingdom citizens) the example used must be true (children have faith). Jesus identifies children as being members of the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 21:15; “But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant.”
Children were in the temple and recognized Jesus as the Son of God, who is to be praised and worshiped. Accordingly, they sang out to His praise and glory.
2 Timothy 3:15; “from childhood you [Timothy] have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
The word used for childhood here is the word “used to describe a ‘nursing babe.” Timothy knew the Scriptures from when his mother nursed him. What he learned of the faith, what to believe and how to live he knew from infancy. It was passed to him by a faithful parent.
These passages kick against the pricks of our western humanistic rationalism. Our modern and post-modern individualism has created:
Networks (often online) to replace real, relational communities;
Age segregated schooling institutions in place of inter-generational family/church discipleship.
The church has not stood firm against these cultural shifts. Remember, culture is religion externalized. Our societal structures, artistic expressions (clothes, art, music etc) and rule of law all flow from religious conviction. If there is no God anything is permissible. Current church culture largely expresses what we find in society; age segregated worship and ministries that divide the family.
Where has our age-segregating, family destroying culture come from? The foundation of the age-segregated schooling model was a manifestation of the dogmatic evolutionist Ernest Haeckel’s Recapitulation Theory. Founders of the modern education system, Herbert Spencer and G Stanley Hall simply applied Haeckel’s theory to the sphere of education. The age segregation model is based on the lie that “growing children would recapitulate evolutionary stages of development as they grew up and that there was a one-to-one correspondence between childhood stages and evolutionary history.”
Psalm 11:2-3; “For look! The wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow on the string, that they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The call of Scripture is for us to return to the old paths of simple, child like, obedience to the Word of God. Our ministries are to be patterned after what has been “revealed to us and to our children” (Deuteronomy 29:29) so that we may do God’s Word’s. Our family separating worship structure and ministries sit on a faulty foundation, that of humanistic evolution. They have all the best intentions in the world; presenting the Gospel in a way that children understand it better, providing instruction in the Word, doing craft and fun activities that tie in with Bible passages etc. But I believe the pattern of segregating children from their family in corporate worship and training children outside of the primacy of the family cannot be found in the Word of God. All of our best intentions must be measured by Scripture. If what we do is not patterned after what God tells us then we are asserting our own wisdom over that which God has revealed to us. This is a dangerous place to be in.
Jeremiah 16:16; “Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.”
Faithfulness to what and whom?
God does not bless disobedience. He works in a covenantal fashion by cursing disobedience and blessing obedience, to His revealed Word. This does not mean every child who attends Sunday school will not be saved. It also does not mean that everyone who disobeys Him will be burnt to a crisp in the wink of an eye. Faith and practice produce good fruit over the long term. Culture is religion (i.e. covenant bond/relationship with God) externalized and worked out in living. Covenant blessing/cursing are general rules that impact individuals, families and societies over generations. The fruit of one generation straying from the patterns in Scripture bear ugly fruit down the track:
Deuteronomy 28: 1-2, 15; “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God… But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days…I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.”
1 Samuel 15:23; “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
Jeremiah 11:3; “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of [the] covenant.”
People may cry that this system, of covenant blessing and cursing, is an Old Testament characteristic and because Jesus became as a curse for us, through dying on a tree (Galatians 3:13-14), there are no New Testament curses. This can’t be further from the truth. Yes, Jesus became a curse for us and redeemed us from under bondage to the Law. AND He freed us to be His people who love Him through unity (John 17) and obedience to His Word (Matthew 5:17-19, Luke 6:42-47, John 14:15, 1 John 5:1-5). Our faith is to produce good works in accordance with Scripture. Faith is never alone; a dead faith is one that professes without a life of becoming more and more holy/like Jesus (James 2:14-26).
Doug Wilson makes the point this way:
“The Levitical administration brought strong curses for disobedience (Heb. 2:2-3); the New Covenant administration brings much greater curses (Heb. 10:29; Heb. 12:25). Christians commonly assume that the really terrifying curses for disobedience were given in the Old Testament, and that under the New Testament all is grace. But this is precisely the opposite of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject.”
Hebrews 10:29 and 12:25 & 29; “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace… See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven…For our God is a consuming fire.”
A big BUT in the way: we are under grace not law
What I have said so far may be misrepresented as legalism. This word is mud slung onto most who believe: faith can never be alone; the Holy Spirit empowers believers to be faithfully obedient, and seek to live a holy (sanctified) life. It is a slippery word and is usually used out of context. “Legalism, properly defined, is anything BUT a member of the body of Christ seeking to glorify God through obedient, repentant faith. What is it that modern Christians need more than anything else? A fresh outlook on life. One that returns to the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16). The old road of faithful, obedient and repentant lifestyles. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are to faithfully bear this image, as Jesus did - a life of humble obedience to the will of God. When we sin, we are to confess, repent, make restitution (if needed) and walk forward in faith.” This does not advocate the erroneous doctrine of sinless perfectionism. Rather, we need to understand that the Bible advocates we are to be perfect. This is not sinless perfection in this life. Rather, we are to be righteous (Luke 1:6), holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), sanctified to God. The command to be perfect, in the Bible, is a call for God’s people to live a life of continual reformation (to the Word of God) and repentance from old sinful ways.
So, let’s remove the Legalism rhetoric and have the debate over where covenant children belong in the corporate worship of God.
Who are our children?
I believe this is an important question for all Christians to ask. In general, our modern emphasis is on individual relationships with Jesus and this has produced an environment wherein the context of the familial structure of God’s Word is overlooked. Many years ago I heard a minister preach that our children are “little bundles of sin,” no matter how cute they look they are rebellious. This does not seem to be the complete picture presented in Scripture and the history of the Church. Yes, we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Every child needs to be in a one to one relationship with Jesus. Those are not the issues under discussion. The overarching principle in Biblical history seems to be familial. In other words, the context of life and worship in the Bible is that of households serving God as units and then gathering as a corporate body to worship on the day God assigns; then households going out to serve their Lord. God’s Word speaks as much to communities as it does to the individual. You cannot divide the two. When an individual is saved that person has responsibilities within the context of community (household, church, society). What do the Scriptures say?
Genesis 7:1; “Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.”
Genesis 17:7; “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.”
Genesis 18:19; “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
Deuteronomy 29:10-15; “All of you stand today before the Lord your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water— that you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today.”
Exodus 12:26-27 “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’”
Leviticus 16:15-17; “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin-offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.”
Numbers 16:31-33; “Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.”
Joshua 24:15-16; “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Job 1:4-5; “And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them (his children), and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.”
Ezekiel 37:23-26; “Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. ’David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore.’”
John 4:53; “So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household”
Acts 2:38-39; “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’”
Acts 10:1-2; “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.”
Acts 11:13-15; “And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.”
Acts 16:13-15; “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ So she persuaded us.”
Acts 16:27-34; “And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’ Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”
1 Corinthians 1:16; “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.”
Galatians 6:10; “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
1 Timothy 5:8; “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Titus 1:10-11; “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.”
Hebrews 11:7; “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
Household salvation and faithful obedience is a central theme in the Biblical narrative. God's covenant promises are to individual believers and their children/family/household and their children’s children. If we stood back and considered the rich tapestry of Scripture we would realise that God redeems individuals and their households. Individualism has all but ruined the familial Gospel community thread weaved throughout the pages of redemptive history. Ordinarily, the Triune God of the Bible sets apart individuals and their households/families/children to be His people; and those set apart from the world are predestined to walk in faithful, joyful obedience to Scripture.
The familial structure is important. It is so important that the church herself is often described in the context of a marriage relationship (Ephesians 5-6) and a household (1 Timothy 5). Plus the general character traits for leadership within the church are structured around faithfulness in leading one's own household (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). Family is central to God working in the word.
None of this is to say that blood runs thicker than water. It doesn't. Baptismal waters unite us to Christ and His body. They bring us into the covenant community. Water certainly is thicker than blood. In the New Covenant, the bloodline family is not subverted by the Baptismal family. Rather, in Christ God redeems households to come and worship as the household. God is triune; three persons in one divine Godhead. As His creation, we are His image. Thus corporate church worship is the gathering of the many (families) into the one family (church) to worship the three in one God. Neat.
To add to this textual flow the Apostle Paul declares that children of but one believing parent belong to Jesus Christ. They are children of the covenant, the visible church and to them belongs “all the privileges of the church.” They are not heathen unbelievers but holy, sanctified to the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:14). Scripture presents a seamless view of history in terms of God’s covenant with His people, men, women, and their children. Our children are children of the covenant. They belong to Jesus Christ and His household.
1 Corinthians 7:14; “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.”
Should little children be present in public worship?
Unfortunately, our Protestant Anglo-Saxon western mindset has shifted towards rationalism. This isn't good. As the body of Christ, we need some good discussion in order to re-think our idea of corporate worship. The old paths are sweet. A certain level of noise should be expected and cherished. Baby and children noises are not a distraction. At the same time, parents ought to be mindful that a screaming child should be removed from worship and disciplined (if necessary), to be returned when settled. The household of God is to meet in an orderly fashion and this order ought not to be so rigid as to exclude a vital part of the family, children. More joy is needed, a good dollop more at that.
What do the Scriptures say about children in worship services?
Deuteronomy 31:11-13; “when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, 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 which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
Joshua 8:33-35; “Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.”
2 Chronicles 20:13; “Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.”
Joel 2:15-16; “Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room.”
Christian parents with the help of the Church are to raise mature and faithful worshiping children. The goal is not to try and keep the little blighters in church at all costs. No, children are to grow into mature, faithful servants. Covenant children should be in the worship service to learn, see and experience how to fear the Lord. Our children need to hear Dad, Mum, and the Church instruct them in the ways of God and then see how to worship Him faithfully. We know that training is never limited to verbal instruction and that children are mirrors of their parents' actions. From our discussion on “who are our children,” this pattern does not change in the New Testament. Children of Christians are to be taught the rules of how to behave in the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Our role as parents is to train our children in the worship of God, as this is the way in which we want them to go. If we train our children to sit at the household table well, not throw their food or scream and shout, how much more should we have them present in the gathering of God’s people to continuously disciple them in reverent fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). This relational lifestyle can never be morphed to children through abstract learning; children need to observe their parents in the faith. Christianity is earthy in the sense that it is not merely a theory of knowledge; it also instructs how we are to live in the world.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; “’Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’”
By thinking, learning and living Bible culture we will return to the old paths of trusting the promises and obeying the Word of God. Individual, family and societal transformation is achieved through the church being faithful to God in applying His Word to all of faith, life and the world.
Let’s talk strategy
I am not suggesting we dismantle all existing children’s programs in a manner that would create instant chaos and disorderliness. God is orderly and the church ought to hold, in tension, her responsibility to transform the world and doing that action in an orderly manner. Transformation should not be at the cost of orderliness; nor should orderliness stunt transformation. We are to be faithfully obedient to Scripture in all of life and through the structure of all of our ministries. I believe these are some key strategies that church leaders should consider; this is not an exhaustive list. It is limited but an attempt to start the conversation in Australia:
Fathers need to be actively discipled by their church leaders:
- to see the importance and centrality of corporate worship;
- to grasp the importance of leading their family in daily family worship;
- to become more Biblically masculine;
- in how to turn their hearts back to the Law of God and their children;
- in understanding their responsibilities as a husband and father who serves God and His people.
Mothers and single ladies need to be actively discipled by their husband, father and church leaders in:
- following their husband (or father if not married);
- keeping the home;
- training and nurturing their children;
- caring for the sick and needy;
- Biblical femininity and modesty, etc
In general age-segregated ministries split families and should be discouraged and a phase out plan designed. These ministries should be replaced with others that encourage whole families to minister to each other. This will allow those who are husbandless or wifeless to be ministered to in the context of a family of families.
Sunday school time should be minimised initially, with a phase-out plan to remove age-segregated ministries during corporate worship. This will help Biblical authority lines of the family to be redeveloped and will put an end to dividing the people of God at times of corporate worship.
Sunday school outreach activities should be rescheduled to not co-inside with the church’s corporate worship. The structure of these outreaches should be examined under the patterns developed through Scripture. The whole family should be engaged and involved in church outreach activities to avoid age segregated ghettos.
The centrality of familial hospitality as a means of discipleship and outreach should be encouraged. It would be useful for church leaders to study the pattern of how familial hospitality is commanded and used within the Bible to build up the church and reach the lost.
 Jordan, J B, 1999, The Sociology of the Church ~ Essays in Reconstruction, Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, pp. 230-231.
 Whitaker, E C , ii1974, Martin Bucer and The Book of Common Prayer, Alcuin Club Collections No. 55, Silver End Press, London, pp. 42 & 44.
 I believe this is consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith 21:1; “he acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” The writers of the WCF, I believe, do not tighten this definition to “that which is not commanded is forbidden.” The principles of worship are revealed in the Word. (i.e. corporate worship is a time for the families of God to gather before His throne, Word read, Word preached, singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, pray, Lord’s Supper etc). The detail of liturgy should be deduced from the overarching patterns found in the Bible.
 Booth, R, 1999, Little Children and the Worship of God, Covenant Media Press, Texarkana, p. 2.
 Biogenetic Law. Retrieved 24 September 2008, from Answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/recapitulation-theory.
 Wilson, D, To a Thousand Generations, Canon Press, Moscow, pp. 28-29.
McCallum, TAJ, Image bearers – 3 – Christian Pharisees and Legalism, viewed here: http://www.anselmstudyhouse.com.au/worldview/item/233-image-bearers-3-christian-pharisees-and-legalism.
 Hodge, C, 1980, Commentary on I Corinthians, Eerdmans, p. 117; as cited in Bacon, R, 1993, Revealed to Babes: Children in the Worship of God, Old Paths Publications, Audubon, p. 16.