“And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16)
In the days of Jesus, parents were eager to bring their infants and little ones (paidia) to Him so that He might bless them. The disciples tried to hinder them from getting to Jesus. Jesus was displeased. He told them that children are not to be despised for to such belong the kingdom of God. They teach the necessity of humble, childlike faith to enter heaven, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3–4).
Young children are precious to the Lord and to us. We want to give them the best for their spiritual life and growth. They may be born into this world, but they must be born again, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).
It is sad that some of our children born into Christian homes, and brought up in the church have departed from us. They no longer attend church. Some have left the faith altogether, denying even the Lord.
Although our children, now grown up, are personally accountable for their decision not to attend church anymore, have we as parents or as a church done our best for them when they were young? We fed them, we clothed them, but did we provide for them the spiritual conditions necessary for their spiritual growth? We are certainly not the easy-peasy, do-as-you-please, sin-all-you-like, hyper-grace kind of a church to tempt the young and lure a crowd.
I think the question is not whether we have or have not done our best for our children, but whether we have given to them the best. We might not have given them the best when we keep them away from the main worship service. In our former practice, our children leave the church service halfway to go to their own worship in a separate room. Although they are led in worship and learn the Bible from able teachers, they miss out on certain important means of grace found only in the main service. We should not deprive them of such means of grace for the sake of their spiritual upbringing and wellbeing.
Why should our children miss out on the pulpit ministry? In the past, it was felt that children would not appreciate or understand the sermon. The pulpit ministry was deemed to be for adults, not kids. Hence, we had a separate “Children’s Worship”. I believe this is not in keeping with Covenant Theology to which we as a Reformed and Presbyterian Church subscribe. Covenant Theology tells us that our God is a God of the family, and emphasises the unity of the family in a covenant relationship based on God’s Word.
In light of Covenant Theology, we should not assume, among other things, that children are not able to appreciate or understand the pastor’s sermon. God by applying His covenantal promise can cause even our children, though very young, to hear, understand and believe His Word, even the preached word from the pulpit. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:9–14), and this discernment comes from the Holy Spirit (John 16:13–14). For instance, just recently, we had a Primary One girl whose mother showed me the notes her little girl jotted down as I preached from Revelation 11. She wrote on the Great Tribulation time-chart that was printed in the Weekly that Sunday, “7 years not heaven, 2nd Coming go to heaven, so happy”. I praised the Lord, she got it. Jesus said, “Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matt 21:16).
God through His Spirit works to build His people up in the faith especially during a sacred service like the worship service which is the nerve centre of church life, and children should be part of it.
There are two sacraments in the church—Water Baptism and Holy Communion. As believers who understand the Covenant of Grace, the sacraments assist in helping the Covenant family understand the Gospel and the Communion of Saints. That is why we practise infant baptism, not that our babies once baptised are automatically saved, but that they come under God’s providential care in a special way. God pays attention to our children and starts to work in their young minds and hearts towards salvation. As parents, we claim His promises for them and obey His command to nurture them in the faith through Scripture and prayer. That was why the Apostle Peter could declare, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38–39). When the Philippian jailor asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). The answer from the Apostle Paul and his co-evangelist Silas was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”(Acts 16:31–34). Surely his house includes his children. They were all baptised.
How about Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper? Children do not partake of the Lord’s Supper until they publicly affirm their faith at the age of 12 or 13 (cf Luke 2:41–42). This they should do willingly. Having experienced God’s work of grace in their life, they will want to confess faith in the Lord Jesus and desire to be communicant members of the church. They have been observing how the Lord’s Supper is served on the Lord’s Day. The Bread and the Cup symbolises the body and the blood of Christ which is a visible display of the Atonement—the death, burial and resurrection of their Saviour according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1–4). The Holy Spirit teaches them the meaning and significance of Holy Communion and bestows on them the holy desire to have such a communion with their Lord and with His church. If we keep them away from the main worship, we deprive them of learning from this important means of grace.
A benediction is a short invocation uttered by an ordained minister for divine help and blessing upon God’s people, and usually done at the end of a worship service. Know that the benediction is not a mere formality, but a real blessing upon all who have worshipped the Lord in Spirit and in truth, assuring all that has been rendered, petitioned, and gathered in the service will be accomplished according to divine purpose and promise. Worshippers would do well not to leave the service until the benediction is pronounced. Why miss out on an important part of the service—the bestowal of divine favour and blessing? It is like missing out on the dessert after the main course!
Why should our children miss out on this blessed thing? The people in the days of Christ understood the importance of such a blessing, and sought it for their children. Our Lord was so ready and pleased to bless the little ones, “And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16). This, the pastor is wont to do after the service when he stands at the door to greet church members especially the children to put his hand on their head and pronounce a blessing on them. The children readily and gladly receive it. They are reminded each time how their heavenly Father is a very good God who loves them very much and wants to bless them greatly. Why should the children miss out on such a double blessing?
Children should be together with their parents during the worship service. It is good for the family to worship together to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb 10:24). Parents can provoke their children to worship the Lord properly by setting a good example during the service when they sing the hymns spiritedly, read the Scriptures reverently, bow their heads to pray humbly, render to the Lord their tithes and offerings cheerfully, listen to the sermon attentively. Through their parents and the church family, the children learn how to worship properly in the right spirit and manner.
When our children participate in the worship service, they will become curious and will enquire. This is part of the learning and growing process. When our children ask what this part of the service or that part of the service means, why do we do this or why do we do that, parents should be able to answer and explain, and to instruct further. Consider what the Lord commanded the Israelites, “And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.” (Exod 12:24–27).
Such parental teaching by example should not just be in church but also at home. When parents do their personal devotions (QT, RPG), say grace before meals, take FEBC courses and work on their assignments, take their faith seriously and actively pursue godliness, the children will learn and emulate.
We see the importance of eating together as a family, don’t we? We make sure our children sit with us at the dinner table. It is said, “A family that eats together stays together.” Why should worship be any different? It is on the Lord’s Day that we find the family worshipping together in God’s house. Why should children be segregated to worship separately? There should be no such segregation or separation. We should keep the family together. Parents are primarily responsible to disciple and discipline their children in the Lord. Don’t neglect to bring them to Sunday School! “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6).
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:24–25). JK
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