The idea of Vacation Bible School often conjures up images of a fun-filled summer week. Games, crafts, and snacks, with a touch of Bible teaching draw children into various churches during the lapse in between the public school years. The church publishers produce a variety of options for churches to select. Once the material is chosen, church volunteers spend countless hours the months preceding VBS in preparation for the event. Then the week arrives. With the church all abuzz, volunteers eagerly wait at the door for the first few children to arrive.
If you are like me, you never really stopped to ask the hard questions about VBS. While such questions may be numerous, I would simply pose for you two: Is it biblical? If not, can it be reformed?
The history of VBS is a rather recent one, in comparison to the expanse of Christian history. In 1894 a Sunday School teacher by the name of Mrs. D.T. Miles instituted a summer school for biblical instruction. This school initially lasted four weeks with forty young pupils in attendance. Four years later, Eliza Hawes took a similar approach for six weeks and included Bible stories, games crafts, drawing, music, and cooking. Dr. Robert Boville took note of this summer Bible school and recommended it to various Baptist churches. Boville was soon instrumental in establishing five other summer schools. Students at the Union Theological Seminary were recruited to teach these schools which enrolled a total of one thousand students in one summer. The World Association of Vacation Bible Schools was established in 1923 as Standard Publishing popularized VBS among other churches. As it grew other concepts and newly devised inventions became integrated. In 1948 VBS was divided by grade levels to accommodate the model of the public school. In 1952 the concept of a single theme emerged and by 1987 more than 120 tools were available for churches to have their own VBS. Growing in popularity, by 1998 an estimated 5 million children attended VBS.
Among the dizzying numerical aspects of VBS one can lose sight of necessary discernment. Can we say that VBS is biblical? While the intentions of Mrs. Miles, Dr. Bovile would likely be characterized as good, this does not address whether VBS's inception is based in Scripture. As with all things, one must take the time to examine this.
Doing so is easier said than done since VBS is a staple in many churches. Because of this we are cautious and somewhat hesitant to even the issue. Countless children now stream into churches with workers finishing the week joyful at how many of them had "asked Jesus into their hearts". Such children are then seen as the perfect "missionaries" to send back to their homes. For some, these children are their church's proverbial foot in the door to get into the homes. Thus, the children essentially become tools in getting to the parents. In post-production, pragmatism often takes precedence over Scripture in the justification for planning a bigger, better VBS for the year.
Is the current approach to VBS truly biblical in its inception and application? I do not believe so. Knowing this of the current popular model of VBS, can it be reformed? To answer this we must understand what it means to reform something. Regarding the definition of reformation within the church, Voddie Baucham states that "To reform something means to take it back to its original biblically intended purpose."
No where in its inception does one read of the creators of VBS ever starting with Scripture. While they may certainly have had Scripture in mind, the question still must be explored. This does not mean that an example of something like VBS is required to be found in Scirpture, but for it to be biblical it must fall within the carefully examined confines of the Word and must not violate the principles God has already ordained. Children are the initial and the current target audience for VBS. In bringing in these children the churches are in some way teaching doctrine to these children. If Scripture is to be taught to children, who then does this fall to? Simply stated, God ordained this responsibility to the parents (Deuteronomy 6). Regardless of whether the doctrinal teaching is orthodox, if it is not being taught by those whom God ordained to teach such then it does not pass the first hurdle of Sola Scriptura.
Although I have already addressed this biblical position in blog posts, book reviews, and in my NCFIC guest blog post, I would primarily implore you to examine this issue in light of Scripture first. Is anyone other than parents given the commission to teach their children the commands of the Lord? If so, we should be able to find the verses in Scripture to support such.
Can VBS be reformed? The inevitable answer I can reach based on the definition Voddie gives and VBS's origins is an unfortunate NO! It cannot be reformed because it disregards God's ordained role for parents, God's ordained role for the church in relation to the family, and the man-based starting point of VBS (man came up with the idea rather than searching Scripture for the principles of a solution).
Instead of reforming that which cannot be reformed, I believe that we must step back and start with Scripture. We cannot take VBS back to its roots because such roots are found firmly rooted in Scripture. What we know of VBS must be essentially torn down and rebuilt upon the first foundation of the Bible. Can we have an outreach similar to VBS? Yes, but it must be based principally in Scripture. We do this by starting with the issue of how to reach out to individuals and families with the Gospel. From there we take the time to build teaching from Scripture and develop the deployment of such teaching in an environment where the entire family would be present.
Imagine a week filled with doctrinal teaching where families are walked through Scripture together using various methods involving family interaction. What a wonderful sight to behold as fathers and mothers interact with their children in such a setting. The parents would be found not dropping their kids off for the evening but sitting alongside their children as the hear the Gospel of Christ proclaimed. What a blessing it would be to see God redeem those lost parents and turn their hearts back to their children (Malachi 4:6). How beautiful it would be as broken sinners are brought to the foot of the cross.
We know that God redeems individuals for His glory so what is proposed here is not a way to redeem the lost family but a way to present Scripture and salvation as it lines up with Scripture. We should not seek to divide the families and capture the hearts of the children for ourselves but bring the entire family together under the teaching of the Word and proclamation of Christ.
VBS cannot be reformed but it can be constructed according to the principles of Scripture. We must tear up its current roots which feed off the philosophical nutrients of pragmatism as we plant the new VBS in the soil of Scripture. Let us look to the Scriptures and not to our own man-centered ideas for guidance as we seek to build a biblical VBS.
That He might be glorified,