Rev. Davis is pastor of the Grand Valley Orthodox Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Christians are saved from their sins to become worshipers of God. The Father seeks true worshipers (John 4:23). His seeking is saving. He seeks sinners to save them that they might become true worshipers of God Most High, and the Father finds the fulfillment of His seeking lost sinners to make them worshipers in the Son of man’s coming to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Christian worship is an issue of salvation in Jesus Christ. God’s elect are redeemed in order to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Foundational to the proper worship of God is what is commonly known as the regulative principle of worship. This principle, so skillfully described by our Reformed confessions, means that God regulates His own worship by His Word. God prescribes and governs His own worship; He alone appoints what is acceptable to Him, and all else is to be excluded. Only those elements which are derived from Scripture are pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. The Westminster Confession (1:6; 21:1) and the Belgic Confession (Art. 32) are one in setting forth this standard for the worship of God. The biblical basis for the statements made by the confessions is seen in such verses asDeuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:30-32 and Exodus 20:4-6. The second commandment historically has been understood by Reformed Christians to be part of the biblical basis for the regulative principle of worship. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 96) and the Westminster Larger (Q&A 109) and Shorter (Q&A 50, 51) Catechisms articulate this.
Everything in the worship of God that is not sanctioned, taught, commanded, or prescribed by His Word is, in the words of Leviticus 10:1, “strange fire which the Lord commanded not.” That there is much “strange fire” being offered to God in many evangelical and Reformed churches today is beyond dispute. A growing and glaring example of this is the phenomenon of children’s church.
Children’s church is a major problem today. Children from Christian homes are missing. Where have all the children gone? They certainly are not in the worship services of local churches. They are in children’s church (meaning junior church, children’s worship, children’s activity center, etc.) which is run at the same time as the worship services.
To have or not to have children in the worship services of the church is a big question today, although it should not be a question at all. The practice of children’s church is to be decisively and completely rejected. Historically it has not been a practice accepted by the church. There is no biblical basis for it, and it is not in any way based on Reformed theology or Reformed methodology. It is a newfangled modern invention not rooted in the historic Christian faith and practice of the church. While there are many arguments brought forth in favor of children’s church, the arguments represent the voice of pragmatism and-not the voice of the Word of God. The advocates of children’s church are actually advocates of “R-rated worship” – worship restricted to adults only. The practice of children’s church, while on the surface seeming to be well-intentioned, plausible, sensible, and advisable, has been nothing less than a spiritual disaster for the church of Jesus Christ. It is one of the most, if not the most, damaging and destructive forms of Christian education ever devised by man. It would never have come into vogue if the church had not abandoned the regulative principle of worship. Our Reformed forefathers would have considered children’s church unthinkable and intolerable.
Children’s church is that practice which has the children and. young people of local churches (even through high school in some cases) miss all or part of the worship services, including and especially the preaching of God’s Word, in order to be in their own age-segregated setting for “age-appropriate” singing, instruction, and other activities. Advocates of children’s church consider traditional Reformed worship services to be hard on children and not “child-friendly”; thus they consider children’s church a creative, proper, and legitimate alternative to keeping children in the worship services. They believe that regular worship services have little or no meaning to children and young people; therefore a separate service is necessary to meet their needs.
How did children’s church ever start? Where has it come from? It has not come from the Bible, but from the world of modern, secular, and humanistic psychology. It is not the fruit of some fresh insight from Scripture that our forefathers did not have. It has crept into the church from the world in the guise of pragmatic methodology according to the latest psychological and educational theories of child development. Advocates of children’s church appeal not to Christian theology but to modern psychological and educational theories to state and make their case; and in light of the Word of God they come I up empty every time. One thing that all advocates of children’s church have in common is a lack of respect for and adherence to the regulative principle of worship.
The Bible regulates the public worship of God by calling for the whole covenant community, young and old alike, to be present during the worship services. This is the consistent and exclusive teaching of God’s Holy Word (Ex. 10:8; Ex. 12:24-26; Deut. 29:9-13; Deut. 31:10-13; Josh. 8:34-35; II Chron. 20:5,13; Ezra 10:1; Neh. 8:1-3, 5, 6; Neh. 12:43; Joel 2:15; Matt. 21:15, 16; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20).
There is nothing in all of God’s Word that even remotely resembles children’s church. There is express biblical warrant for the inclusion of children in the public worship services of the church of Jesus Christ; and because there is biblical warrant for including children, the church is prohibited from excluding them. Thus no Reformed confession, when addressing the proper elements of worship according to the Word of God, includes children’s church among them.
The objections against the biblical and Reformed position raised by J. children’s church advocates, like their arguments for their position, are based on expediency and pragmatism, rather than on biblical authority. All the objections represent man’s wisdom protesting against the wisdom of God.
So, for the question, “Where should the children be during public worship services?” the answer is clear and unambiguous. They, along with the adults, are to be in the gathered congregation, actively participating according to their abilities in the worship of Jehovah. Why has God, in His perfect and infinite wisdom, ordained this to be so? I will now give two major reasons.
The Reformed practice of including children in the worship services is consistent with the biblical view of children from Christian homes. The Bible teaches that children of believers are included in the covenant of God’s grace according to His covenant promise. They are members of the church and are to be incorporated into the life of the church (Gen. 17:7; Acts2:39). That children are included in the covenant of God’s grace and are members of the church is articulated by the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 74), the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q&A 62), and the Westminster Confession (25:2); thus children from Christian homes are really and truly expected and welcome in the services, not as spectators or silent observers but as active participants. God requires the presence of the covenant children in the worship services. They not only have a right to be there; they ought to be there. God establishes His covenant with families and perpetuates a believing remnant along the lines of continued generations; thus covenant families are to be present to worship the Lord of the covenant.
The essential unity of the congregation is broken by children’s church. It makes a division in the covenant community at the very point where it should be one, in the public worship of Jehovah. Children are not second-class members of the covenant and of the church of Jesus Christ; they are to be included in the life of the church and especially in the highlight of the lie of the church, the public worship of God. That families should worship together has been the historic position of Reformed churches. Children should increasingly enter into the worship of the congregation. The services are for them also, and the Lord of the church who dwells with the church blesses His elect members, young and old alike.
In the life of the church, the chief means by which Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, gathers and builds up His people is by the preaching of His Word. The primary place of preaching in the life of the church is another major reason why children ought to be present in the worship services.
Advocates of children’s church also show an unbiblical view of the preaching of God’s Word. They show at least by their actions, if not by their words, that they do not believe in the primacy and centrality of preaching in the lives of God’s people. Practically speaking, they have the same view of preaching that others show they have as they replace preaching with such things as films, concerts, drama, testimonies, missionary presentations, and elaborate services that leave little or no time for preaching. Those favoring children’s church declare that the instruction of children’s church amounts to the equivalent of the Word of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit by men called and gifted by God. What a serious and tragic mistake! What a low view of preaching and of the public means of growing in grace.
Reformed confessions, in harmony with the whole counsel of God, teach with one voice the biblical view of preaching (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 154, 155; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 54, 65, 83, 84, 98; Belgic Confession, Art. 13, 29, 30; Canons of Dordt II:5; III/IV:17). Reformed Christianity maintains that preaching is the chief means by which God shows Himself gracious to His elect in Christ in establishing and confirming them in everlasting life and glory. The preaching of God’s Word is of first and primary importance in the life of the church. The Lord Jesus Christ is made known to people of all ages in the preaching of His Word. It is the chief means whereby He, by His Spirit, communicates to us the benefits of His redemption (I Cor. 1:18, 21, 23, 24; Rom. 10:12– 17; John 10:4, 14, 16, 27, 28). The Bible teaches that preaching is the means of grace for the ingathering and up-building of God’s elect of all ages. All age groups are commanded to respond to the preaching of God’s Word by acknowledging Jehovah as the God of their salvation and by living according to the requirements of the covenant in true faith, repentance, and obedience.
To suppose that children might be more profitably occupied during the time of the sermon by being given another form of instruction is a serious error. It is taking the children away from the very place where they ought to learn of the power, importance, authority, necessity, centrality, and efficacy of the preached Word of God. It takes them away from the chief means by which Christ is made known to His people.
Children’s church practitioners are like the disciples inMark 10:13-16 who sought to prevent the Lord Jesus Christ from blessing the children who were brought to Him by denying them the presence of their Master. Children’s church arouses the holy indignation of the Lord even as that notion of the disciples did. Is there anything better for covenant children than the living presence of Jesus Christ mediated by His Spirit through His Word? Is there any legitimate substitute for this? God forbid! Rather, heads of families should lead in such a way that they confess in the words of Cornelius in Acts 10:33, “Now therefore are we all present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
Families, stay together on Sundays. Worship the Lord together. Seek the grace of God to develop a solid and biblical view of the Reformed practice of including children in the public worship services despite the great pressure today to compromise this practice. The church should be the pillar and ground of the truth without compromise (I Tim. 3:15).
Parents, God’s covenant promise is to you and to your children; for together you are embraced in God’s covenant and are members of His church. The worship of God is for you, and for your children as well. May God give you grace to appreciate our Reformed heritage in this area, and may He as well enable you to resist the practice of children’s church by a positive cleaving to the regulative principle of worship, based on His holy Word, for His Name’s sake. “Both young men and maidens; old men, and children: let them praise the name of the Lord: for His name alone is excellent; His glory is above the earth and heaven” (Ps. 148:12, 13).