Infants, toddlers, and children in the service

Arielle is 18 months old. When she was first born she came into all the services with us. There were a few reasons for this which included the fact that we didn’t know the people of the church very well yet (we had only joined 2 days before she was born), we wanted to keep her near, and lastly, even at that young age we wanted her to become accustomed to being in church.

This continued for months and people at church thought that we might be hesitant about the nursery. People made comments about how it was our first child and we just didn’t want to let her out of our sight, almost like we were spoiling her. For me, that was not something I had considered — I wanted her to be in church.

Eventually, we did start to place her in the nursery for a couple services a week. It would vary depending on the week. I was asked to teach Sunday School and my wife was in the choir so Sunday mornings she was in the nursery. Sunday nights and Wednesdays would depend on the situation.

At the same time as some comment about why she isn’t in the nursery, others thank us and compliment us on the fact that we keep her in because that “is good for her.” Or “We just enjoy seeing her in the service.” Or something along these lines. When she isn’t present with us, we receive comments on how she is missed.

We are trying to do what is best for her. It is something that we evaluate regularly. Should she stay in more? Should she go out more? Is she gaining enough from it to be worth the distraction to others or the lack of attention we can give to worship as we supervise her? I don’t know that these questions will be answered finally for her, or for any other siblings God may bless her with at some point. I think they may continue to arise, and that’s ok.

A couple verses that I consider when thinking about this:

Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Nehemiah 8:1-3 “1And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.  2And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.  3And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.”

Jesus loves the children. I sing the song to my daughter almost every night before she goes to bed. We know this. Some people seem of the attitude that a child should not be in the service. Or they seem to think that church is for adults only. This is clearly not the case. Jesus loves the little children.

Nehemiah says that all gathered together with “those that could understand.” I have heard this passage used a couple different ways. One way says that this means there was a nursery since some couldn’t understand they probably weren’t there. The other way is just the opposite and says that since all who could were present, then no one was left in the nursery because they were all present to hear the word (there weren’t speaker systems then) and so all the babies must have been present as well. Should they be in or not? I don’t know that there is an absolute to it.

I know that the more she is in the service, the more she adapts to it, and the more quickly she learns to be quiet, and sit. I know that she becomes more accustomed to hearing pastor, and singing songs. Already she folds her hands to pray and will keep them folded for quite a long prayer (most the time). I also know that this adapting is slow-going. She doesn’t just grasp something and suddenly behave perfectly. It is something to be learned over time.

In the nursery, she gets to play with friends, and interact. Something she doesn’t get anywhere but church. She plays with more toys as we don’t have many, and I think it is good for her to interact with others and to be able to have more opportunity to play with different toys.

I think we will continue a split schedule. We like watching her grow in each of the different ways she is growing because of these varied scenarios. She is in the nursery two services a week, and out one, while Wednesday varies right now.

Regardless, of what happens now, when she can understand she should be taught. That could mean some children’s program or in with the pastor. Of course, the same passage in Nehemiah (with others like it) are used to say that children’s programs are not necessary (or even sometimes, that they shouldn’t be used). And I would agree that some children’s programs shouldn’t be used. They are more about games and candy and making everyone happy than about learning or developing the child.

When she can understand she must be taught, and this brings up several other questions to arise shortly for us. She will be able to understand a class devoted to her age more quickly than she will be able to understand pastor. However, she will adapt to pastor more quickly if she continues to sit under his preaching. Keeping in mind that she will learn and grow primarily at home it seems logical to allow her to go to a class for her age, because the development needed to sit under pastor will already be taking place.

If we are doing our job as parents to nurture and develop our daughter, she will learn the Bible at home. She will know the stories of the faithful. She will hear them repeated to her and learn the lessons. She should not need nor should we as parents depend on some “program” to teach or train her.

I’m excited for the children’s program at our church. This year our church called a new Pastor to oversee the children’s ministries. It has been great to get to know him and his wife as a couple, but it is also encouraging to see how our children’s program is being streamlined for the good of the children. The goal is not to babysit the kids (as many programs seem to do) but rather to teach them, to help them grow, to nurture them. This is not meant as a replacement, but to reinforce what is happening at home. This is what a church children’s program needs.

As Arielle grows, my wife and I will again discuss where she should be within the church. Should she stay with us or join that children’s program? Should she be in the children’s choir? Should she attend AWANA? These are things that we will need to deal with, not because we think these programs/activities are wrong, but because they might not be best. They will be influenced I’m sure by her desires, but more so by what is causing her to develop more fully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Isn’t that all that really matters? That she grow to fear and love the Lord?

Advertisements

The dilemma of separation — disowning our family

God has adopted us into His family, and we can’t ignore the other members that have been adopted in. The doctrine of separation is  clearly evident in Scripture and a foundational doctrine of Fundamentalism. It is at our core that we separate ourselves from those whose words, actions, associations, and stances are different from our own.

We derive this staunch stance from verses such as:

1 John 4:1-6 — Try the spirits

2 John 9-11 — Do not give false teachers hospitality

Acts 20:26-32 — Warn and be on guard against false teachers

Rom. 16:17-19 — Mark and avoid false teachers

Matt. 7:13-23 — Jesus warns against accepting teachers based on their claims to Christianity, and not on their fruit.

These passages teach these things; they are commanded and should be done. However, I would like to consider the extent of separation. What are the principles that should drive us? Finding a line to draw is hardly possible if at all desired. But often the mindset of “better safe than sorry” which leads to extreme separation also ignores Scripture and leads to sin. I don’t propose to arrive at an end argument, but to provide thought upon this subject that the disciples struggled with as well.

In Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus tells the disciples to not accept teachers based on their claims to Christ. He tells them that by their fruits they will know them.

13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

So the disciples hear this, as many of us have several times in our lives and consider that good works do not mean sincerity of heart. Good works are not enough to get one into Heaven. The good works are often done by those that “work iniquity.” We are to be discerning and know them by their fruits.

So in Mark 9:38-41, the disciples having heard this exhortation they present Him with something they did.

38And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40For he that is not against us is on our part. 41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

They told this guy who was casting out devils to stop because he was not following with them. Certainly we can understand the disciples perspective. Christ, the Son of God, is here and this man is not following him. Good works are not enough, because people who cast out devils will stand at the judgment and be turned away. They forbad him, and Jesus then reproves them. “He that is not against us is on our part.” Elsewhere, Jesus says it the other way: “He that is not with me, is against me.” The disciples are not to forbid him because he is doing good in Christ’s name.

How many other people, within or without of our denomination do good things in the name of Christ? How many of them do we deride? When we practice a “better safe than sorry” separation we are committing the mistake the disciples made. God has brought us all into his family. We don’t know who truly is and isn’t. We look at others’ fruit and we show discernment. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be fooled.

Neither does that mean that people who do something we would never do are wrong. This guy was not following Jesus. Out of all the things to not do, Christ was on the earth and he didn’t follow with Him. We get unnerved because some guy shared a platform with some other guy. We get upset because someone prayed with someone we disagree with. We cast off the influence of those we feel are not following with us.

We need to be careful. God has brought us into His family, and we put such a line between us and those who may very well be other of God’s children because of something they do that we don’t approve of. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” How many other people regularly serve the Lord helping other believers, and yet we criticize and deride them?

The disciples were not to forbid this guy because he was doing right. We don’t even know if he was saved. Paul spoke of others preaching Christ of contention, and yet he was happy because Christ was preached. This guy was casting out devils in Christ’s name and Christ says he cannot lightly speak evil of him. Is it in the same vein as Paul; maybe this guy was not truly saved and yet he was proclaiming the truth? Perhaps. Is it possible that some of these people we rebuke are truly wrong? Sure. Maybe, there is a facet of presenting Christ to the world to save souls that overcomes arguing and debating about everything all the time. There may be a time to not rebuke other people because they are ministering in Christ’s name.

The other thing that stands out to me here is that almost all teaching on separation deals with teaching a false doctrine, or persuading the saints with false teaching. The unity comes with persuading the lost. Those who are preaching the Gospel, should not be rebuked from preaching the Gospel. Those false teachers spreading heresy among the beloved are to be marked, rebuked, and avoided. Is the line easy to find? Is there even a line? We need to respond correctly in each situation as we walk with the Lord rather than attempting to create a simple line of who we can rebuke and who we can accept.

The Christian myth of potential

Potential is a word I have often heard misused among regular church attenders. Those who have attended church since their youth or who have those youth in their church may speak of it. Others might speak of it when considering a Christian family or a Christian heritage. Many talk of how these things — the time spent in church, the verses memorized, the Bible facts known, the sharp theology — these things should be used for the Lord and His work and not wasted. Certainly, this much is true.

What is not true however is that these things in anyway fill a void in God’s plan. Most assuredly they do not necessitate being used in any particular way. You see, we tend to place God in the box that we find ourselves in. A football coach looks at the talent at his school, and desires those big strong boys to come play on his team. The track coach sees the fast kids, and their ability and persuades, talks, pressures them to join up. This need for someone with particular skills is found throughout life. At church, someone is sought who can create and manage a website, or provide ventilation maintenance, or curate the grounds. People are sought to fill these positions, and we start to think of God as in the same dilemma, forgetting that God is not like man.

Luke 19:36-40

36And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.  39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

God does not need the disciples to praise him. He doesn’t need people to serve Him. Previously, Jesus had stated that He was able of the stones to raise up children of Abraham. God is not limited. A great knowledge of Bible facts doesn’t mean one should be teaching Sunday School. A supposed theological prowess does not mean one should be debating the top philosophers. God may have that one working fast food, and the new Christian debating the philosophers. God doesn’t need me, and God doesn’t need you.

Too often I have heard what truly seems to amount to boasting when it regards one’s potential. “God has opened our eyes in so many ways, therefore we should be pastor’s or theologians, or writers. The world needs us, because there are not others like us.” Certainly, the error is evident. God does not need us. We should use every gift we have to the best of our ability, but God is not neglecting that gift if He decides that we take that “deep knowledge, and theological understanding” and have a circle of influence that includes 5 people. God decides. Because God can raise up stones that would do a better job than we do. We must be humble regarding what we have and who we are. There are both people and stones that can replace us.

So, be grateful. God has chosen to use people. If he has given you opportunity to serve, what a blessing that is! Serving is not drudgery. Serving is a privilege. Consider again Whom we serve. The servants around Solomon were all happy and content. Christ is greater than Solomon. This is whom we serve, in whatever position he provides for us. We do it in appreciation and gratitude recognizing that we have the same potential as every other wicked sinner.