(Second in a series; first here.) Over on Sanityville, discussion about children and worship has continued, and this morning I contributed this to that discussion:
No church should require the church’s children to leave the sermon. Sometimes the noise might be so very loud and go on so long that an elder’s wife might go over and suggest the back of the sanctuary or cry room, or sometimes the pastor might stop talking to let the baby’s noise stop because he knows no one is listening to or can hear him. Otherwise, no suggestion that children do not belong in worship is acceptable. Option, not requirement.
Two occurrences. Once Mary Lee and I were listening to Elisabeth Elliot when she stopped and said, “I think that baby is wanting his mother to take him out of the room.” Hilarious although we didn’t hear anyone laughing. Second, a couple from a former church I served tried going to Bethlehem [Baptist Church] when John [Piper] was still there1 and they had a very clear statement made to them indicating they were not to take their children into worship. Don’t know whether that’s still Bethlehem’s policy, but I unhesitatingly agreed with them when they said they left and found another church.
Next, I don’t believe there should be children’s church during the entire service, but only during the sermon. And even then, not forced but offered, and men should be involved with elders and/or pastors’ teaching and/or oversight with an effort to have men teaching the older children with the goal of preparing them to listen to the normal sermon.
The principle is edification and the Scriptural principle is the necessity of interpretation for edification to occur:
Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:13-19)
A children’s sermon is edifying in the same way a sermon in Chinese is edifying. The Word of God is fed to souls in accordance with their knowledge and language and maturity, both age-wise and spiritually. This is such a basic principle of love in the church that I am opposed to men who trash it with the sort of bombastic censoriousness demonstrated by both Scott Clark and Mark Jones. Read Jones’s second paragraph linked at the top of this thread demonstrating his schismatic attitude. Those who have a children’s sermon/teaching are not Presbyterian. Not covenantal. Having a separate teaching for children (and thus for Chinese) is so bad for a pastor to allow or do (as if elders have no involvement in such a decision) that Mr. Jones would himself prefer to have his leg cut off.
There is no excuse for any church officer spreading this sort of nasty judgmentalism across the church, particularly given that the Biblical principle of prioritizing understanding for the sake of edification is so clear.
This leads me to a pastoral observation. I think most people who are strident on this subject have grown up in broadly Evangelical and/or Baptist churches where the children were shunted off from the adults and the children’s sermons/teaching/instruction and youth instruction were worthless. Add in that these people were never taught covenant headship in the home and church and, having discovered Adam’s federal headship over Eve and his household, everything becomes Adam’s federal headship over Eve in this man’s family home and church.
This is the inception of Federal-Vision and is the reason F-V women and their husbands are so adamantly opposed to their children having to, for instance, request permission to come to the Lord’s table from the elders and the elders examining them prior to giving that permission (with, of course the distinct possibility that the elders will say “no” at times as they have regularly in our congregation).
In other words, once former Baptists get a hold of the doctrine of Adam’s federal headship and the covenant household, everything becomes Adam’s federal headship and the covenant household, even (and maybe particularly) if the mother is driving it all, often because of her terror that her children won’t be saved.
I get it that such people are adamant about keeping their children with them at all times, not allowing any church officers or Titus 2 women or pastors to exercise authority over them or teach them. They are extremely jealous to allow no one to lead or teach their children but themselves. Seen this for decades, myself, and understand and approve of the drive God has put in each of us as fathers and mothers to guard our children. But from the church and her officers and Titus 2 women? Really?
So I repeat, the Biblical principle is presenting the Word of God in such a way that edifies the Church’s souls, and it is the elders’ responsibility to decide how best this should be done given the souls under their care that they will answer to God for. Men writing and condemning our elders for their decisions on matters where the Scriptural imperative behind the elders’ decisions is so clear are schismatics [trying through their writing to infiltrate] our congregation and I will oppose them as I have above.
Knock your head against this: among the people of God, the Church does not play second fiddle to the mother or her husband. The covenant household of faith trumps the covenant household of blood. To put it pungently, if the husband beats his wife or rapes his son, it is the duty of the wife to disobey his commands to her to submit to him. Rather, she must go and report his sin to the elders’ wives or the elders or the pastors.
The entire reformed homeschooling community needs to submit itself to Biblical and church history on these matters. The quirkiness and censoriousness of that quirkiness is tiresome and divisive. Yes, Adam (and thus your husband) is the federal head. Yes, the promise is to you and your children.
But no, that doesn’t make your husband a little pope over this household who must forbid your teenager submitting himself to the instruction and discipline of one of your church’s godly and wise pastors who are steeped in federal, covenantal Biblical doctrine and have a time of teaching aimed age-specifically at teenagers or other age children.
You get it? Something about the guy that is given a hammer turning around and hammering on everything in sight.
The next contribution to this discussion over on Sanityville is this by Lucas Weeks, one of the pastors here at Clearnote Church, Bloomington. Pastor Weeks writes:
I’ve been stewing on this discussion for the past few days. I’m on staff at Clearnote Bloomington, and our practice has been explained by Tim above. So that’s where I’m coming from.
We are arguing about a particular practice having to do with corporate worship, and we actually all (or pretty close to all) agree about most of it:
- We agree that it is a good thing to be in corporate worship with the people of God.
- We desire to train our children so that they love to be in the corporate worship of God like we do.
- We believe in the preeminence of preaching as the powerful tool that God has given to His church to spread the gospel.
So what gives? On one side, Mark Jones says that if you send your children out of corporate worship you must think 1) that children do not belong in the kingdom of God, and 2) that they have nothing to contribute to the body of Christ. Children should always be present during corporate worship.
I grant that some churches who send children out of corporate worship do believe those things, but is there anyone here who wants to actually accuse us of that? Seems ridiculous to me.
I think our position as a church is pretty clear, so I’ll just add this observation: This discussion reminds me of the debate regarding instruments in worship that we sometimes have with our RP friends. And my answer here is the same as it is there: would you please acknowledge that your position isn’t quite as strong from Scripture as you think it is? I understand that you have your reasons for your practice and beliefs, and God bless you. But please acknowledge that there is liberty in these matters, and let’s try to be at peace with one another.
|↑1||A reader contacted me saying they had attended Bethlehem and were certain John wanted children in worship. My source is good enough for what I wrote that I’m leaving it here. It may be that the couple was discouraged from having their children in the sermon, and not worship in general. They were trying out Bethlehem five or so years before this other person attended, so that might be part of the issue. Anyhow, let it be noted there is some disagreement over this.|