Atheists and agnostics do not bother me as much as professing Christians who refuse to act consistently with what they say they believe. This is exactly the substance of a recent article on The Gospel Coalition.
Though it originates from the Canadian “arm” of TGC, a cogent and incisive response could apply to many evangelical churches in the West.
I need to clear the air before I move any further. First, I’m going to be harsh in this article. If you take offense, I do not care; such a severe affront to God’s Word and our worship of Him needs to be met with incisiveness and polemical force. Big threats need hit harder than small ones, and this is a big threat. Second, I’m not condemning nurseries, cry rooms, moms who take their kids out of service when they’re nursing, crying, etc., etc. I do not want to be misunderstood as some legalist. What I am condemning (I believe, on the basis of God’s infallible Word), is the wicked notion of intentionally keeping our children from the preaching of the Word during Lord’s Day worship.
Hindering the Children is Sin
A nursery at a small church, for the purposes of irate children and screaming toddlers is one thing—so long as the (very intentional) preference is to have them in worship whenever possible. Nurseries and children’s programs designed to keep children out of worship is satanic. Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matt. 19:14).” In context, the children were small enough to be taken up in arms. They were probably not even toddlers yet.
A far cry from being a support for “covenant children” or something of the sort (we can talk later, Presbyterians), it certainly is a command to allow children to worship at the feet of Jesus. Yet, I can already hear the objection, “Jesus was talking about how we need to be like children at heart!” But the metaphorical always rises out of the literal, which is the divinely intended meaning of the text. Is Jesus using metaphor? Absolutely. Is that all He’s doing? Absolutely not.
Notice how, historically speaking, there were real children brought to Jesus in the previous verse (v. 13). So, Jesus is using a real event, commanding the disciples to allow the real children into His presence, and forbidding the real prevention thereof, which is exactly what the article in question advocates for. Sure, an object lesson of the historical event is that we need to come to Jesus with child-like faith, but that is not all.
It’s almost comical because the disciples were prodding away the children for the exact same reason Carter, in the TGC article, advocates for removing children from worship.
As a preacher I can tell you that having little ones in the service works against the smooth operation of that process.
‘Why We Let the Little Ones Go from the Service’ ~Paul Carter
We do a couple of services a year with the kids in and the change in the listening environment is incredible.
Every fussing toddler is surrounded by a 20 person circle of distraction. Mothers are sorting through their purses looking for Fishy Crackers, dads are scowling, ladies nearby are making faces they believe to be entertaining and kids in the row behind are staring wide eyed at the entire process.
If you’ve read the above, read it again. You’ll notice it sounds kinda like a dysfunctional parent that simply cannot retain control of their 2-year-old. We live in a whiney culture, and this is what it looks like when that culture makes it into the pulpit. Interestingly, this hasn’t been much of a problem until relatively recent.
In the first century? Children were in the assembly. In the middle ages? Children in the assembly. What about the Reformation period? Children definitely in the assembly. Post-Reformation? In the assembly. If you cannot preach through a sermon because a baby coos, you shouldn’t be a preacher. Qualified preachers are men. They can preach in storms just as they can in the fairer weather. We need strong helmsmen who can steer the rudder of the local church even when the swells are over the bow, not a timid speaker who lusts for peace and quiet.
Let me, while I’m at it, contradict the claim in the article, “As a preacher I can tell you that having little ones in the service works against the smooth operation of that process. ” First, since when is the gathering of sinners for the preaching of God’s law and gospel a “smooth operation”? This isn’t TED talks ladies and gentlemen, this is heralding the gospel from Mt. Zion, where Christ—who has fire in His eyes—rules from His throne.
This is not for the faint of heart.
My wife and I love the times we are able to have our ten-month old in worship, and so do the other member-parents at our church. My pastor loves our congregation’s kids and has been a wonderful example of how a man of God can boldly preach the Word even when a child cries, and yes, even when “[m]others are sorting through their purses looking for Fishy Crackers, dads are scowling, ladies nearby are making faces they believe to be entertaining and kids in the row behind are staring wide eyed at the entire process (Carter, ‘Why We Let the Little Ones…’.)”
Carter goes on to reference Paul in support of his point, arguing—presumably—that “learning styles and stages” are relevant and credible considerations in the removal of children from worship. Quoting 1 Corinthians, he writes: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11).”
I thought Paul was, “brought up… educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today (Acts 22:3).”
The word for “brought up” (anatrephō) denotes the idea of mental formation and growth. Paul would have attended synagogue with his father as soon as he could be carried out of the house.
When the preacher is wimpy, it’s easier to be wimpy parents. Where there is no resolve in the pulpit, there will be no resolve in the pews. Just look at this gem:
Let’s prioritize mom and dad for 60 minutes a week. Johnny and Susy can be the centre of the universe again on Sunday afternoon, but for the next 60 minutes let’s care A LOT about mom and dad.
‘Why We Let the Little Ones Go from the Service’ ~Paul Carter
Is parenting a challenge? You bet! I know how hyper my little boy is and I see (and mightily respect) all my wife does in pouring into his little life while I’m at work. But are challenges always burdens? And, even if they are burdens, does that mean they ought to be shunned? We are called to bear burdens as Christians this side of glory, not shun them (Matt. 16:24).
When worship becomes your “break” from the kids, do not complain about how they act when they grow older. It is counter-intuitive to rip a child away from where God chiefly administers His means of grace, such as the preaching of Christ, and then complain about why children end up the way they do. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The inspired Word tells us to train our children in the way they should live their lives. How can a person tear their child from Lord’s Day service, and then complain later that their teen never wants to come to church? A pungent, short-sighted and individualistic selfishness is driving this entire thought process.
I acknowledge that parents need time to grow with one another, to pour into one another, to love on one another. But Sunday morning service is not the time to ditch the kids for a date. “Date nights” go down after the kids are asleep, not when Jesus is teaching His people.
Kids need parents who care about their souls and who prioritize their spiritual welfare more than their own “60 minutes of freedom.”
The Spirit of God is Not Bound by Learning Stages
The “learning stages” argument in this article is like a soft version of the developmental personhood argument used by abortion enthusiasts. It breaks down the same way also. Carter writes:
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law (Nehemiah 8:2–3).
Men and women.
All who could understand.
Seems like a good practice to me.
‘Why We Let the Little Ones Go from the Service’ ~Paul Carter
Ignoring, for a moment, another misuse of the text, pay attention to his argument. Implied here is the notion that those who do not understand are those who need to be somewhere else during Sunday morning worship. Wait, it is thought, until the child can understand what the pastor is preaching and then start bringing them into service.
Now, as I mentioned above, like the developmental personhood argument, this argument breaks down. According to the developmental personhood thesis, an abortionist might say something like, “A fetus becomes a human being with moral status when they cease from depending on their mother’s reproductive system for life.” Carter’s runs the same way: “A child should be brought into service when they begin to understand the sermon.”
With respects to developmental personhood: What about adults who depend on a hospital for life? What about babies who depend on their parent’s feeding them? Where does the abortionist draw the line? With respects to Carter’s argument: What about children who understand, yet are still unruly? Four year olds are like this. Heck, I know of nine and ten year olds who are like this too. Where is the line drawn?
This is why, more often than not, children’s programs at evangelical churches are over-inflated. There is no line. Mom and dad define “me time” as simply “being without the dependents (kids) for an hour.” Thus, you get things like “youth worship” and “children’s church,” so parents can ditch parenthood for an hour or two, allowing someone else to take charge for once. They essentially plant a separate church full of infants and toddlers in the nursery!
Moreover, why are churches and Christian parents running to Jean Piaget for ministry and parenting tips? The Spirit, as He works through means of the Word preached is not bound by childhood psychology. Sure, there are learning stages, I’m not denying this; but God is the one who created them in the first place. They are subject to His Lordship, and He effectually applies the Word where He will, regardless of what stage or state a person is in.
I’ll end by reminding myself and others of what Jesus said to Nicodemus:
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.John 3:8
I am sorry I had to meet this article, and its subject in general, with such harshness. I did so because I believe God hates it—the very idea of it. I’m convinced that one of the most evil wolves in the church is the idea that the Word cannot be effectually applied by the Spirit based on circumstance.
I am equally offended at the idea that, because of screaming children, parents cannot be blessed by God’s Word as it comes from the mouth of the preacher. The Word is not made efficacious because of our sheer ability to hear it, the Word is made efficacious by the Spirit of God. Further, parents are responsible to figure out how they’re going to train their children to sit still and refrain from becoming unruly (family worship is a great start).
Finally, hear Matthew Henry in his commentary on Matthew 19:
The fault of the disciples in rebuking them. They discountenanced the address as vain and frivolous, and reproved them that made it as impertinent and troublesome. Either they thought it below their Master to take notice of little children, except any thing in particular ailed them; or, they thought he had toil enough with his other work, and would not have him diverted from it; or, they thought if such an address as this were encouraged, all the country would bring their children to him, and they should never see an end of it. Note, It is well for us, that Christ has more love and tenderness in him than the best of his disciples have. And let us learn of him not to discountenance any willing well-meaning souls in their enquiries after Christ, though they are but weak. If he do not break the bruised reed, we should not. Those that seek unto Christ, must not think it strange if they meet with opposition and rebuke, even from good men, who think they know the mind of Christ better than they do.~Matthew Henry: Commentary on Matthew 19