Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Vision (1/26/12): Small children at worship services--Why are they present?

Note: Pastor Steve Clevenger recently posted this article by retired RB Pastor Walter Chantry at his Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog. It is a timely article for any church, especially one which has families with young children, like ours. What can we learn from the ideas Chantry shares about how his church encouraged young children to participate in corporate worship? Here’s the beginning of the article:

There certainly is no Bible verse which tells us when children should begin attending worship services. The customary age at which parents begin to take their children into meetings varies from church to church. It may properly vary among members of the same church, though it tends to follow a pattern because of church decisions touching the nursery, etc. The practice of local churches in this matter comes under the statement made in our Confession of Faith: Chapter I, section 6, paragraph 2:

“We acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of churches, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed..”

In our church, parents usually begin to bring their children into our services at the age of two. Our nursery offers to keep children only under two years of age. That policy is not without reasons; though again, it must be emphasized that it is a matter of judgment on the basis of general prudence and general rules of God’s Word.

It is our judgment that children who are two-years-old are usually mature enough to understand when their parents tell them to be quiet and to sit reasonably still for one hour. Furthermore, by the time a child is two, his parents should have progressed far enough in their training of children to be able to enforce such basic orders, which their child can understand. Though teaching this behavior to children may not be easy, it is not unreasonable. It has been done by parents of children with many different character make-ups. Your child is not that unique!

We do wish to provide a nursery for parents when it is really necessary. But, the operation of a nursery takes a number of adults and young people out of our worship service. To extend the age of the children would demand that our women, who serve faithfully and cheerfully, would be absent from worship still more frequently. It is important for all Christians to benefit from the fellowship of the body of God’s people gathered for worship. We feel that regular attendance at worship is so important that we should not be urging others to be absent any more than is absolutely necessary. When it is not demanding too much of parents, thus reasonably to control their children, we do not feel that a nursery should be provided. Of course, exception should be made for all visitors who are not part of the congregation and used to our ways of doing things.

Furthermore, parents of young children are taking an important step by training their sons and daughters to be still and quiet. They are taking the steps necessary for a child to participate in the worship of God. Two and three year olds recognize some of the hymns they have heard in Sunday School and at home. They know a little about prayer. It is interesting to observe that when rare times of special solemnity come in worship, even the youngest children understand and sense something of the presence of God; for even they are unusually still and hushed. Admittedly, these times are few and the youngest children perceive little of the spoken word. Yet it is vital to forge the pattern of whole families coming before God regularly for worship. It is an important part of Christian family life, and it is important for young children to be part of the family.

Some parents seem to feel that when they have won the battles of stillness and silence, their task is done. So long as Junior doesn’t squirm too much or speak out, all is well. But it will not be long before the child can participate in some things. He is taught the doxology in two and three-year-old Sunday School. The pastor may read Scriptures not unfamiliar. He may mention Daniel, David, or Peter – favorite characters already to young hearts. Surely a four-year-old can be taught to pay some attention.

And fathers should be sensitive to how Bible truths of the worship service apply to their young children. The pastor cannot often bring the application down to pre-school children. But, a father can recall the points and apply them at home later….

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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