Any time one aspires to advocate for family-integrated worship, there will always be outside forces rising up to tear a hole in the good reasoning and biblical position. While there certainly are extenuating circumstances that may cause trepidation in the heart of a parent, qualifiers are a bit costly. For the sake of expediency, we will not attempt to weed through legitimate impediments.
The historicity of family-integrated worship is unquestionable. Though, simply stating such is hardly a compelling reason for its continued practice. It wasn't until the early 1900’s that the separation of families in a church gathering became vogue.
The famed evangelist, Billy Sunday, was the first to offer mothers a reprieve from their small children in an effort to allow “all people” to hear the gospel. Billy Sunday was himself abandoned by his mother while he was yet a young boy. Because of financial hardship, he was sent to live in a Soldier’s orphanage. After achieving success as an adult, he happened to stumble upon an old Mission’s street gathering. He was lured into the gathering by the sound of a familiar hymn being sung.
The Spirit stirred his affection and the truths of the hymn sunk deep into his heart. He remembered when his own mother had sung the very same hymn to him and his brother. Ironically, what influenced Billy was his own mother’s habit of singing gospel-rich hymns.
Soon after his conversion, Billy began his own street preaching and is now known as one of the most prolific street preachers in American history. Billy would eventually marry and have children of his own. Despite the great “success” of Billy’s evangelistic career, he himself would say later in his life, “The great tragedy of my life is that though I have led thousands to Christ, my own sons are not saved.” Perhaps this is connected to the fact that Billy’s children were not welcome in his meetings, rather, they stayed home with a nanny. Because of Sunday's fame, his methods began to take hold in the ecclesiology of the church. This transition took place over 100 years ago.
How are we faring today?
Despite a surge of child-focused church programs and youth activities, current statistics show upwards of 70% of college freshman now reject their evangelical upbringing. Are we continuing to see a familiar pattern emerge? Are we trying to create a sister bride for Christ? Or maybe perhaps just a bridesmaid? Does this second-rate junior bride wait in the wings for the moment when the true bride needs aid? Can there exist two separate factions within the church? Absolutely not! This seems akin to warped nuances of dispensational ideologies.
Jesus has only ever had ONE bride.
“Household” language saturates scripture. Moses commanded God’s people to instruct their children in the ways of God, Joshua emphatically states that his household will serve the Lord, Ruth assimilates herself to Naomi's God, the Israelites repent and return from exile back to the religion taught by their forefathers, Timothy was taught the faith by his mother and grandmother, and even Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the teachings of his parent’s faith. It is curious that the rebuke from Jesus’ mouth, “let the little children come to me” isn't enough instruction for us.
Parents, we have a responsibility to guide our children in the proper worship of God and to teach them who God is. They need to watch us worship, they need us to teach them what is appropriate and honoring in the worship of God. They need to see us rightfully fear and adore the only living and true God. They need to see us submit to the church leadership and obey our Pastor’s teaching. Instead of focusing on all the loopholes that remove our responsibility to include our children in worship, let's begin from a place that assumes children truly do belong in the corporate gathering of God's people.
I have no doubt that the church nursery or “children’s church” has been used by God to produce fruit for Christ's kingdom. This is not in question. God can use anything to accomplish his ends. If He can inspire rocks to adoration, or use a donkey for rebuke, then surely the church nursery is no exception. However, simply because God can use outside means to accomplish what he has required of His church, does not mean the church ought to be resolved in her disobedience.
We are not pragmatists.
Billy Sunday didn't realize what his children's ostracism would cost. Do we? Hear me correctly, I am not so haughty to believe children can be catechized and delivered by any sovereign hand aside from God. Even our best efforts do not guarantee the salvation of our children. However, God delights in using human means to accomplish kingdom expansion. God has continually commanded something of us as parents, to raise godly offspring. In Jesus’ own words, “if you love me you will obey my commands” (John 14:15). Do we love Him enough to obey him? Even if it means receiving negative comments about the volume level of our children or side-eyed glances from those in the pew next to us? Or are those persecutions too horrendous for us to suffer them for the sake of the kingdom?
No number of diluted stories or flannel graphs can offer the same heart-cutting surgery in our children as the Sword of the Spirit. The word of God being brandished by a faithful overseer, proclaiming to his flock of sheep that are entrusted to him, is the way God has designed for hearts to be softened and shaped. This doesn't change because some sheep are a bit younger than the other sheep. If it did, then perhaps we should separate the 40-year old new believer from the 16-year old that has walked faithfully with the Lord his entire life. Certainly, that would be preposterous. We ought not to separate the bride of Christ into factions that are not ordained by God himself. We are not an authority higher than God and have no right to give additional orders to His bride. Instead, we must care for her and aid in her flourishing. Even if that flourishing entails numerous potty breaks before the benediction.
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:13-14