When Children Worship
The first letter that each my kids learned was the letter “T.” If you know me, you might understand why. Kim and I are graduates of the University of Tennessee and we are big Volunteer fans. We have shirts, hats, and trinkets with big orange “Power T”s on them. We put the sticker on our cars. We gather around the TV on football Saturdays to watch and cheer the Vols. Before any other letter, our kids know the letter “T.” I didn’t teach them. I don’t have to coerce them to watch the games with me. I never had to explain why we hate Alabama and Florida. It is an unconscious thing; they just know. They are Tennessee fans because that is what our family does. It is perfectly natural that they love it. Not every family supports the Vols. Not every family even has a favorite team. But every family unconsciously passes on its values and preferences to its children. A very similar thing happens in our worship, and it explains why I think children of all ages should be present during our Lord’s Day worship.
The Reformed faith has consistently viewed the church from two angles. There is the invisible church, which consists of all those of all time who are the elect of Christ. The full number of this people is known only by God. We also speak of the visible church. The visible consists of “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children” (WCF 25.2). We include our children in the number of the visible church because the promises and blessings of the covenant have always included the children. The promises to Abraham and to his children are repeated in every successive covenant throughout the Bible. So our children are rightfully members of our church.
If our children are members of the church, doesn’t it just make sense that they be present during the regular Lord’s Day worship? The clear assumption throughout the Scriptures is that children are part of the regular worship of the people of God. Deuteronomy 6 is paradigmatic for this. The previous chapter is a reiteration of the Ten Commandments (Dt. 5). These words of the Law were given because the people were God’s people. They were in a covenant relationship with God and these words provided the boundaries of life in that covenant. Then in chapter 6 Moses says, “Now this is the commandment – the statutes and the rules – that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son…” (Dt 6:1-2). The words that governed that relationship between God and his people were to be passed on from parent to child to the child’s child. How was that to be done? “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:7-9). God’s Word was to be incorporated in all of life, both public and private. And it would find its fullest expression in the worship of the people of God; private worship, family worship, and corporate worship.
So, the question remains, “Why would we ever exclude our children from the regular worship of the people of God on the Lord’s Day?” Likely, the rationale boils down to theological and pragmatic reasons. Theologically, many Protestants have eschewed covenant theology because they read the New Testament without the context of the Old Testament. Read in this manner one could argue that only baptized individuals who make a credible profession of faith ought to be considered members of the church. The problem with this view, of course, is that it ignores 2/3 of your Bible. Pragmatically, children can be noisy, fidgety, and disruptive. Sometimes parents just want a moment of peace, and the worship service offers an hour or so of rest.
However, if we properly understand the makeup of the church and the nature of the covenant, the problems with the pragmatic reasons become apparent. If we remove kids from worship and instead provide for them a time to play or a “worship” service tailored to them, they are learning, even if unconsciously, that worship is regulated by their preferences and not by Scripture. Imagine their surprise as youth when the worship service doesn’t bend to their whims. No wonder many students abandon church in college or gravitate toward worship services that are tailored to their preferences. The concept of age specific worship services is foreign to the pages of the Bible.
If we return to the opening illustration, we must conclude our kids intuitively absorb that by which they are surrounded. My two-year-old walks around the house singing the “Doxology.” Does he understand it? No. But he will. The elements of our regular weekly worship service will become part of who he is. It will become part of his sense of normal and when they are missing, life will seem amiss. Our children are members of the covenant community, so it is perfectly natural that we should want them to love the things the people of the covenant love.