SHOULD CHILDREN BE IN CHURCH?
I am reminded of William Bradford's' 1623 Thanksgiving Proclamation:"All ye Pilgrims with your wives and little ones (emphasis mine),do gather at the Meeting House, on the hill...there to listen to the pastor, and render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings."The early Pilgrims lived their lives according to the Word of God. As you read the following Scriptures, you will notice how Biblically familiar this proclamation sounded.
Joshua 8:33-35, "Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. there was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women and the little ones."
2 Chronicles 20:4, 13, "Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord...And all Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, their wives and their children."
Do you notice that when there was an important prayer meeting, when the Word of God was to be read, or when God wanted to speak to His people, it was not only the adults who gathered--the children came too, even the little ones! The “little ones” means the toddlers! Help! The Hebrew word for “little ones”is taph. The term comes from the tripping gait or short steps of little children and is generally used for younger children. We tend to exclude the toddlers from our midst because they are distracting, but God wants them there.
As I have come to understand God's heart for children and the guidelines He has set down in His Word, I have had to change my thinking about the way we program our children in church. Most churches today, with good motives and the best of intentions, divide the children into separate classes and take them away from their parents. My husband has pastored churches for nearly 50 years and we did the same thing for many of those years. But is this what God wants? Is this the example of Scripture? Let’s continue searching…
Deuteronomy 31:11-13 says, "When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and children (once again the Hebrew word here is 'taph' meaning the little toddlers)...that they may hear, and that they may learn and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law, and that their children....may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God..."
Ezra 10:1 says, "Now when Ezra had prayed and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children (taph): for the people wept very sore."
Joel 2:15-17, "Blow a trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck at the breasts."
Once again, everyone is included, even the babes who are nursing at the breast. It is usually the solemn assembly where children are excluded in case they make a sound, but even in the most solemn assembly God wants them included. We do not find any Scriptures in the Word of God that encourage us to separate the children from the main congregation..
This of courrse puts greater responsibility upon parents. We have to teach our children to listen and to behave in church. We cannot use the Children's Church as a baby-sitter! I had plenty of experience of this. As a child, I was taken out of church every Sunday and spanked for misbehaving. If you have a difficult child, do not despair and do not give up. As a little child I was called the "devil incorporated!" But my parents didn't give up on me and I have walked with the Lord all my life, including my teenage years.
Psalm 144 talks about our sons growing up as "plants in their youth." Is it possible to have children that are mature even when they are young? I believe that they can grow into greater maturity when they are part of the church family, sitting with and observing older godly young people, the mothers, fathers and grandparents.
Proverbs 13:20 (a scripture that I constantly impressed upon my children) says, "He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." When children are in the company of wise people, they will grow into wisdom. If they are constantly separated into the company of other children their own age, they will stay at the level of foolishness because "foolishness is bound in the heart of a child." When you have a lot of children the same age together, you have multiplied foolishness! (Proverbs 22:14).
Recently I was reading the account of Jesus cleansing the temple by overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out all who were buying and selling. You know this story, but do you know what happened immediately after this event? I hadn't noticed it before and was quite amazed. Immediately "the blind and lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children shouting in the temple and saying, Hosanna to the son of David, they were sore displeased....And Jesus saith unto them, Yea, have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?(Matthew 21:12-16).
The chief priests and the teachers didn't want the children in the temple. They didn't want them making a noising and crying out praises to the Lord. They were angry and indignant! But Jesus wanted them there and after the temple was cleansed the children were back in the midst, praising God. Do you think that maybe one of the cleansings of the church is to repent from our disassociation with the children and receive them back into our midst?
There were always children around when Jesus was teaching. On many occasions he used a child to illustrate a point and gathered a little one in his arms as he spoke. He didn't have to send a runner to a nursery or Sunday school class to retrieve a child. No, they were right beside him and that's how He wanted it. Mark 9:33-37 says, "He took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me."
How many preachers in our churches today teach with a child in their arms? Of course, we do not expect this to be a normal procedure, but it would be nice to see it from time to time, wouldn't it? It would remind us a lot more of Jesus.
The Message Bible translation of Mark 10:13-15 is powerful. "The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Do not push these children away. Do not ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in.’ Then gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them."
Jesus says that children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Shouldn't they be at the center of the gathering together of God's people too?