The topic of children in worship has a broad response these days. In one church signs hang above each sanctuary entrance directing parents to take their children to their “classes.” Being suspended by chains adds to the significance of the message. In another church a child disrupts an entire service. Grumbling and complaining extend the effects for days and weeks. Our proposition is that the worshipping community needs to incorporate families, fostering a spirit and life yielded to God in each member.
It will be helpful to begin with an understanding of God’s relationship to His people as outlined in Scripture. In Genesis 17:4-14 He changes Abram’s name to Abraham, father of many, and proclaims His promise. God makes it clear that the covenant He is making is for Abraham and his descendants, an everlasting covenant for all proceeding generations. In case there are any questions, children as young as eight days old are mentioned.
God develops the concept in Exodus 12:24-27, on the eve of the destruction of the firstborns in Egypt. Moses gives instructions to celebrate the Passover meal after entering the promised land. It is clear that children are expected to be integral members of the celebration. Adults are directed to give a specific answer to them when asked about the meaning of the ceremony. The Passover is to be an opportunity to share the salvation of the Lord with the next generation.
Children are also addressed by Moses in the renewal of God’s covenant promises at Moab. Deuteronomy 29:1-2,10-15 record that he summoned “all the Israelites,” reminding them of their unique position as God’s people and of His promises to them. Moses defines those “standing today in the presence of the Lord your God” as specific groups of men “together with your children and your wives.” This family inclusive understanding is reiterated in verse 15 as God’s covenant is confirmed to “you who are standing with us today” and those who are yet to come.
Lest we think the inclusion of children is an Old Testament phenomenon or a historic anomaly, let us consider Acts 2:38,39. Paul makes it abundantly clear that, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” God makes it plain that children are included in naming His people. Once again the continuity of Old and New Testament rings true.
Embracing children in the believing community is one thing, but what does God’s Word say about involving them in the corporate worship experience? There is a similar flow of understanding from the Old to the New Testament. We can begin at the point where the Israelites have conquered their enemies in the promised land. Jericho has fallen and atonement has been offered for the sin of Ai, Joshua 8:33-35.
Joshua called “All Israel” together for a worship service on Mount Ebal. An altar was built and sacrifices presented by the Levites. The covenant between God and His people was renewed through the reading of the words of the law. There may be those who would imply that such a lengthy and gathering only included adult males. Verse 35 makes it plain that “women and children” were present. God’s record says that children were part of the worshipping community.
Children were also included in a nation-wide prayer and supplication service proclaimed by Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:3-20. There was a great threat bearing down on the kingdom and Jehoshaphat knew that “all Judah” needed to appeal to God. Specific mention is made of “wives and children and little ones” in the list of those present (v. 13). When “Jehoshaphat bowed his face to the ground”, “all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.” (v. 18)
Joel 2:15,16 may bring the most clarity to God’s explanation of the worshipping community. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.” The Old Testament makes it plain that those as young as nursing babies are expected to be intimately involved when God’s people gather before Him.
The New Testament does not contain such tidy lists. Rather, we need to consider referential testimony about the inclusion of children. It is as if God has already laid the foundation that families with children are an integral part of the worshipping community.
Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 provide directions to children. Since these epistles were written to the worshipping community in Ephesus and Colossae. They were read as sermons to the gathered believers. It is reasonable to expect that the children would have been present to receive the instructions being sent specifically for them.
Matthew 18:1-4 and Mark 10:13-16 communicate the understanding that Jesus had a very positive view of children. He wanted them in His presence. He used them as powerful examples to those around Him. He offered special blessings on their behalf. It is important to consider why the children were nearby in these instances. How was Jesus able to literally reach out and touch them? The obvious answer is that they were there worshipping with their families.
John 6:1-15 contains the only parable that is contained in all four Gospels. (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17) On this occasion a child is specifically mentioned as part of the worshipping community. Scripture reports that Jesus used the items “a boy” brought with him, five small loaves and two small fish, to feed those assembled before Him. A child was not only present, but served the gathered community of believers.
1 Timothy was written to a young man entering pastoral ministry. Verse 4:12 is, nevertheless, an admonition to people of all ages, especially young people. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” All members of the family of God have a place and purpose. We all need to be active, respectful worshippers and examples to others, both old and young.
We have opened this topic with a Scriptural foundation. We understand that there are related issues. 1 Corinthians 14:40, Philippians 2:5-11 and Ephesians 6:1-4 also come to mind. We will address these topics in coming articles as we seek to develop the proposition that one way to foster a spirit and life yielded to God in each member of the body is to seek to incorporate united families into the corporate worship experience.