Teaching our children love for the church

Previous article: March 1, 2017, p. 255.

The Reformed believer has greater incentive than anyone else for teaching his children to love the church of God. We have the clearest and most biblical understanding of what the church is and who her members are. The church is God’s holy dwelling place with His chosen people. There God reveals His glory and salvation. Outside of the church there is no salvation. The membership of the church is determined by God, not by man’s choice. The Lord gathers His church with believers and their covenant children. This is God’s way from the beginning to the end of the world. God’s redeemed people are gathered to be members of the church that they together might worship and glorify their God and give Him thanks.

Covenant children are from birth members of the church. God saves and blesses them even before these are able fully to understand the wonders of God. They are not merely external members of the church institute. The Lord causes them truly to be members of His church through the work of His Spirit in their hearts.

Psalm 128 speaks of God’s blessing on Zion (the church of the Old Testament) “Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.” Psalter number 407 (based on Psalm 149) begins with these lines: “O praise ye the Lord and sing a new song, Amid all His saints His praises prolong; The praise of their Maker His people shall sing, And children of Zion rejoice in their King.” The reference to the children of Zion in this psalm could be to all the members of the church or particularly to the covenant children who are found among the members of the church. Psalm 144:12 speaks of God’s promise concerning the sons and daughters of the covenant in this way: “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.”

There are many passages in the New Testament that also speak highly of the children of the church. The church of the New Testament is the reality of what in the Old Testament was called Zion. One of the beauties and blessings she has is that in her are joyful children saved by Jesus Christ to be citizens of His everlasting kingdom.

Jesus builds His church through saving and blessing her members (see Matt. 16:18). When godly mothers and fathers brought their covenant children to Jesus when He was on earth, He took them up into His arms and embraced them and blessed them and said concerning them, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

On the day of Pentecost the church by the Spirit of Christ burst forth from the limitations of national Israel. The exalted Christ began to gather His church from all nations, tribes, and peoples of the earth. The inspired apostle Peter declared that from Pentecost on, the Spirit of the exalted Christ would be poured out on the sons and daughters of the covenant. Not just on a people few in number, not just on adults, but also on children (see Acts 2:17).

Peter went on to declare to those who repented and believed the gospel: “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.” This verse promises clearly that children of the New Testament church who are born of believing parents are by God included in the promise of the covenant. This is not true for every one of the children head for head, for God’s decree of reprobation cuts across the lines of the covenant. The promise of God is particular to His elect and determined by the calling of the Lord. The purpose of God was finally to gather before His throne in heaven a church made up of an innumerable host of His elect. God will be praised by young and old as members of His glorious church whom He delights to save.

It is a grievous thing that leaders in Baptist churches and other evangelical churches, claiming to preach the gospel of Christ, exclude children from the covenant by their practice of refusing to administer the baptism to them. When Jesus was on earth, He declared that God ordained His praises from the mouths of babes and sucklings.

God commanded that the sign of the covenant (circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New Testament), be administered also to covenant infants. The promise of the covenant was more gloriously realized and fulfilled when the Spirit of the exalted Christ was poured out on His church. God did not suddenly on the day of Pentecost announce that He would no longer include children of believers in His covenant of grace. The covenant of God maintained and realized at Pentecost was not, after all, an entirely different covenant but the same everlasting covenant that God made with our father Abraham, now in the New Testament gloriously fulfilled in Christ. Believers and their children are in this present age, together with the saints of God in the Old Testament, to be counted and distinguished from the world as the children of Abraham.

When the gospel was being preached after Pentecost to Jews and Gentiles and even throughout the world, we read repeatedly that God in His wonderful grace saved His people in families. Because of this common way of the Lord’s working, whole families were baptized at once. Given the number of these family baptisms recorded in the book of Acts, we may assume that at least some of these included infant children. Parents were placed under solemn obligation to teach their children the fear of the Lord as they were growing up. By such instruction the work of the Lord would be accomplished in their hearts.

When the inspired apostle Paul later wrote letters to the apostolic churches, it is evident from several places in his letters that children were present in the congregation when the church gathered to worship God. They were highly regarded as members of the church. The great apostle of the Lord took the opportunity on numerous occasions to address these children of the church, speaking particularly to them of their calling and of the pleasure of the Lord in them when they learned from their parents to fear and obey Him.

There is no evidence in Scripture that in the apostolic churches the children were ushered out of the service before the gospel was preached only to the adults. It was not imagined that the preaching of the gospel to adults was so high and lofty that the children could not receive this preaching and be blessed with understanding of it. These children were not separated to receive some simplistic Bible stories with little moralisms sometimes taught by cartoon characters because they were not able to receive the preaching of the whole counsel of God. It is a wonderful thing that in the Reformed churches covenant children show amazing evidence of being able to receive God’s Word and are encouraged to speak of their child-like faith with their parents.

All of the above gives Reformed believers great incentive to bring their children with them to church. From earliest childhood they must be taught love for the church. This instruction ought to begin by our word and by the godly example of their parents. Children can easily detect in their parents whether or not they have true spiritual regard for the church. Lack of this on the part of covenant parents will do great damage to the children and often cause then to grow up to despise the church and forsake her later in their life.

Teaching our children love for the church begins with teaching them the greatness, holiness, and truth of the God of the church. The church is the place where God dwells in the midst of His people; He shows His glory and greatness and majesty there. He is such a great God who must be worshiped with fear and trembling and with holy reverence and awe. He is to be worshiped with joy and thanksgiving, praising Him for His great salvation of His people and their children. Coming to church is not a form of entertainment similar to going to a concert or sports event. Neither is it to be considered a boring ritual only engaged in out of necessity or mere formal tradition. We do well as parents when we prepare ourselves sincerely and prayerfully for the holy exercise of the worship of God. Because our children have the same sinful nature as we parents do, there will be times when our children go to church grudgingly, desiring rather to use the Lord’s Day for worldly pleasure and entertainment. This sinful attitude must be patiently and firmly resisted and driven from the sinful hearts of our children; certainly it must not be tolerated or made light of.

When the church gathers to worship God, God Himself speaks to His people as well as to the children there. They must be disciplined to listen quietly and reverently. Things like toys and coloring books should not be brought to church to entertain our children when the Word of God is being preached. The good practice of teaching careful listening by such things as note taking, even by children, can promote a proper attitude in them.

We must be careful to speak well of the church in our homes. We must speak well of her officebearers and of her ministry. If the ministry of the church must be criticized, we must do this with great care when our children are present lest we breed in our children sinful thoughts and evil criticism of the church and an unholy attitude towards her.

We teach our children love for the church by teaching them love for her members and the special communion in the common faith in the Lord we have with them. These members are fellow sinners/saints. They are not yet perfect; they have their faults, even as we all do. But as brethren with us through the salvation of Jesus Christ, they are to be regarded as washed by the same precious blood of Jesus Christ that we are. We must strive together to maintain the unity of the Spirit among the members of the church. We must pray for the peace of God to rule in the hearts and lives of the members of the church. We must teach our children in our homes to pray regularly for the members of the church who are going through great trials. Practical care and love for fellow members of the church must be instilled in the hearts of our children from earliest childhood.

It happens in some homes that, because of the conversation and behavior of parents, enmity is stirred up in the hearts of children against other members of the church. The home is made to be the center of gossip and evil speaking against the members of the church. There are few things more destructive to love for the church than such sinful behavior.

We teach our children love for the church when we are regularly part of the communion and fellowship of the church. We do this by being active in the meetings of the church and delighting in the fellowship of her members. Our best friends as parents should be fellow members of the church. In this way, we give a good example to our children. If our children are finding their best friends in the world rather than in the church, we do well to consider whether this has happened as the result of poor parenting on our part. We ourselves need the friendship, support, and encouragement of the members of the church, and so do our children. If our children have their best friends in the world, they are in great danger of the worldly influence of these friends and the possibility of their drifting away from the church. Because of this influence, leaving the church becomes an increasing danger as they grow up to be teenagers and young adults.

Let us pray earnestly that God will bless us in the midst of His church. Let us rejoice together with our children in the glorious God of the church and in His wonderful salvation.