Children in Worship

by Rev. Irfon Hughs

The issue of the place and even the propriety of children in worship has long troubled the modern church. In 1873, Spurgeon said, "I begin to feel more and more that it is a mistake to divide the children from the congregation. I believe in special services for children but also have them worship with us. If our preaching does not teach children, it lacks some element it ought to possess. I like to see the congregation made up not all of the young, nor all of the old, but some of all sorts gathered together." (Met. Tab. Pulpit, vol. 19 p323 1873.)

Sadly, as Christianity has lost the minds of the young, the obvious effect of largely excluding them from the worship services has only of late been noted and addressed.

The reasons for separate worship for children are several, and seemingly very reasonable. Firstly, they are noisy and distract others who wish to worship profitably. Secondly, they derive nothing from sermons which by their very nature will address issues which are far above their heads. Thirdly, children are just not happy in the church atmosphere, and need to be with those of their own age to gain any profit. However, these reasons have no Biblical basis whatsoever, and have really been a major factor in driving our children from their ever owning the covenant.

The natural tendency of the childish frame is to fidget and to be easily distracted. Our children, if regenerate, are as much in need of sanctification as their parents! And the older child, who has rejected the gospel in unbelief, is in need of the enlightening grace of the Holy Spirit. Having said this, preachers should endeavour to address the entire congregation in a straightforward and orderly way. The God-ordained means of communicating Gospel truth and pressing home the nature of Christian obedience is by the preaching of the Word of God, and it is not through "children's church" or extended entertainment in the nursery that this will be done.

Scripture is quite clear as to where children of the youngest age are to worship. Consider the following references: Deut. 6:7, 11:19, 29:10-13, 31:12-13, 2 Tim. 3:15. All indicate that we are to worship as families, together. Toddlers are included with adults in these passages. Worship consisted of all that was done in the synagogue and home. Whilst these verses speak of children more by implication, there are passages which speak directly of children in the worship of God. Exod. 10:2, 12:12-28, Joshua 8:35, Ezra 8:1 and Eph. 6:4, to name but a few passages, tell us succinctly that children were to hear the Word, to be instructed by it and to apply it to themselves.

But why should children be there? This raises the issue of the status of the children of believers. They are covenant children, brought into the visible church by the sacrament of baptism, and are to be instructed clearly, and exhorted passionately to trust in Christ and live godly lives. In other words, our children are holy (1 Cor. 7:14). As they see their parents take the Word seriously, they too will realize that it is no laughing matter to come into the presence of God, and under faithful preaching of the Word they will realize also that this God will have to be faced at another time when being without Christ will be fatal. Christ clearly states His own desire to have children come into His presence, from the smallest to the most developed...starting with John in the womb. Those who hindered children from coming to Him received His sharpest rebuke (Matt. 19:13,14; 21:15,16). Not only were His disciples wrong, but the parents had chosen the better course.

Worship is incomplete if our children are not present. Calvin said, "Whoever wishes to escape that fearful punishment which Christ denounces, let him stretch out his hand to the little ones who are despised by the world, and let him kindly assist them in the path of duty." Or listen again to Matthew Henry, commenting on Matt ??:12: "These were under three, yet gave proper praise to God...the praise would have been accounted defective and imperfect if they had not their share in it, which is an encouragement to children..and to parents.

Of course, I am not suggesting that noisy babies who scream incessantly have to stay in the worship, or that disobedient children need not be removed for discipline; but all children ought to be trained in family worship to attend upon, appreciate and reverence the public worship of God. If we are careful in all our family and church duties, we may yet see a day when our children own the God of their fathers.

Copyright © Family Matters 1998