As I have already stated, the sufficiency of Scripture is a vital part in all areas of Christian life. There is no particular arena that can be untouched by the revelation of God if we are to call ourselves disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet this is the most common error made in the lives of many professing Christians. We think that the Bible applies in some areas but is either silent or trumped by culture in others. This is just as true when it comes to how we are to conduct our families.
The book delves deeply into this subject and offers a wealth of biblical guidance. But for the sake of this part of the review, I want to focus on a particular area in regards to how the family relates to the church: the congregational worship service. How should we conduct our families in relation to the church and, more specifically, the worship service? Scott Brown’s book helped to extract some, but certainly not all, of these teachings and exposite them in a clear and concise manner. He notes that the Bible “…contains hundreds of passages, made up of commands, principles, patterns and examples, that directly or indirectly address the substance, goals, and nature of youth discipleship” and that “…Proverbs alone contains 915 verses on the subject” (134). By youth discipleship he means the responsibility of the parents to “train up a child in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6).
In Ephesians 6, Paul is continuing his address to relational areas of the church. Colossians 4:16 tells us that the epistles, as well as the other canonical letters, were read aloud in the congregational worship services. When Paul addresses particular groups (husbands, wives, children, masters, servants) this means that they were expected to be in that gathering to hear the direct commands given to them. Thus, as Paul addresses children in the very first verse of chapter 6 (as well as in Colossians 3:20) this tells us that children were expected to be with their parents in the early worship service. This is an important point we cannot miss: children were in the early worship services. In fact, up until about the middle of the 20th century, children were expected to be in the worship service with their parents.
You may believe the Ephesian and Colossian passages are left up to interpretation but you cannot ignore the fact that the early church, up until the latter part of the last century, believed children should be in the worship service. What has changed this? I believe it is due in part to the seeker-sensitive movement. This movement desires to make every area of the church palatable to the lost and especially caters the worship service to be the most appealing aspect. The departure from the teaching of Scripture and the model of the early church is another symptom of the core problem Scott Brown has addressed.
But should we require children to be in the service even through the preaching, especially since they will likely not be able to comprehend most of it anyway? This assumes that all others fully comprehend the message as well. Imagine if there was someone in the service whose job was to ensure that everyone in attendance was able to comprehend the sermon. He would go around and randomly tap on people’s shoulders asking “Were you paying attention to that last part? Do you understand what the Pastor is sharing with us from the Word?” If they answered no at any point he would escort them to another room where they could hear teaching that was determined to be more comprehensible for their level of understanding. Sounds pretty ridiculous right? But that is in a sense how many advocate the idea of children’s church.
The preaching and teaching from the Elders in the early church was given with children in attendance as well. Fathers were expected to explain these sermons and teachings to their children. Should a child become overtly disobedient in the service, the parent is expected ensure proper and loving discipline is carried out (Proverbs 13:24). In fact Brown notes that “(a)n unruly family in a church presents and excellent opportunity to the church for evangelism and discipleship, whichever is necessary” (232). If a family is continually and overtly chaotic in the worship service, rather than escorting them off to a nursery or children’s church they should see this as an opportunity to reach out to the family. If the parents are unsaved, then share the Gospel with them. If they are saved, then offer loving counsel, guidance, and instruction in the Word to assist them in training up their children. One of the most encouraging things you can do is to have them over for dinner and discuss your own difficulties in helping your children to be respectful and attentive during the service.
A family that is separated during the worship service is found nowhere in Scripture and is a recipe for dysfunction in the home. I believe this to be the largest stumbling block for most concerning age-integration. The reason for wanting this age-segregation during the worship service is two-fold:
1) They desire a peaceful service without the interruption of fidgeting kids, the occasional loving correction from the parents, and/or the cries of infants.
2) They want to provide an opportunity for the lost to hear the message without their attention being divided by their children.
The biggest problem with both of these is that their starting point is based in pragmatism and not Scripture. It is based on what they desire rather than what Scripture models.
Before I conclude this portion of the book review I want to clarify something about me so that you do not think I am simply preaching from an ivory tower.
I currently serve as the Pastor for Evangelism and Education in a church that does have a children’s church. However, my wife and I keep our children with us during the service. We are the only ones who do so at this point and have been told that we “stick out” during the latter part of the service. Our children are well-behaved and we are complimented regularly on this. But we have honestly compromised in that our youngest, who is about 17 months old, is still in the nursery. We are struggling with this and praying for guidance but are certain that the biblical model is to keep the family together in corporate worship.
In a later blog I will address some of the other misconceptions and how we have a family have worked through some of these.
In the next blog I will conclude with an overall review of the book and give my current opinions and views on its primary statements.
As always, I welcome your comments and corrections. Thanks for stopping by!
Because He lives,
Pastor Adam (and family)