Raising Children as Members of the Covenant Community

 

Guest Contributor: Kenneth Kang-Hui

If you ask the average Christian to cite the main differences between Baptists and Reformed Christians, the first thing that would come to mind is probably baptism, its mode and its recipients. Specifically, while there may be mild disagreements over the use of immersion or sprinkling as the mode by which the water is applied, of much greater contention is the issue of who exactly should be baptized. Is baptism only for those who have professed personal faith in the work and death of Jesus Christ or is it to be applied to the children of believers as well? Are the children of believers full members of the covenant community or are they technically outsiders who enjoy certain benefits by virtue of being raised in a Christian family but not because they are members of the Visible Church?

For those of us who adhere to the Reformed Confessions, the answers to those questions are clear and should shape our view of children in the church and what it means to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. However, it seems that more often than not, the way children are raised in Reformed Churches is no different than what could be found in typical Baptist or evangelical churches that do not subscribe to paedo-baptism. Children are dropped off, prior to the Sunday worship service, with the child care ministry where they are taught Bible lessons, given arts and crafts activities, or participate in children’s church.

Parents do this with good intentions, believing that their children would find the “grown-up” worship service boring. The net effect, however, is that these children of Reformed believers are being implicitly taught that they are not true members of the covenant community since they are not expected to participate in worship with the rest of the church community. Perhaps it should come as no surprise when we find that these same children grow up seeing Sunday worship as something merely optional. Further, as a result of this separation between children and their parents, the children of Reformed believers often grow up without regularly hearing the Scriptures preached and without seeing the sacraments administered. It is no wonder then when many never develop a proper understanding or appreciation for God’s ordinary means of grace.

Parents who are Reformed Christians need to reconsider if raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord does not entail having them participate in the regular Sunday public worship. After all, is that not the occasion where God has ordained that we are to worship Him in community and where he reveals himself to us through the ordinary means of grace? Why would we want to deprive our children of the opportunity to hear God’s Word preached with power and to see the drama of redemption played out in the administration of the sacraments? Instead, we try to replace these God ordained means with teachings and drama provided by the latest hip Bible lesson or the newest episode of the Veggie Tales.

My hope is that those of us who claim to be heirs of the Reformed tradition and who have vowed to raise our children as covenant members would consider more fully the implications of those vows. Perhaps we would then see that all the benefits of being members of the covenant community, including access to Word, sacrament, and prayer, properly belong, not only to us, but to our children.

 
 
 

10 Responses to “Raising Children as Members of the Covenant Community”

  1. Bill Snodgrass says:

    I agree !! The means of grace for all of the covenant community !! It is so increasingly uncommon that it is now cutting edge !!

  2. Kristi says:

    Thanks for this great and informative article!

  3. Baus says:

    Yes, down with “children’s church”.

    Here’s some good stuff on Covenant Nurture:
    http://honest2blog.blogspot.com/2007/02/sin-shall-have-no-dominion-how-does.html
    See “3rd” part And The God Of Thy Seed

  4. Brent says:

    You can’t tell me that a two year old can understand the inner teachings from the pastor better than he/she could from a teaching at their own level. thats absurd. Why do we have kindergarten, first grade, second grade and so on. Why not just throw all kids in college if thats the case. let them learn on an “adult level”. I believe they need to learn on their level and grow in Christ. not just be thrown into the mix and expect to “sink or swim”

  5. Michael says:

    Brent – I don’t think anyone is saying that there is no place for education of covenant children on their own level. The question is, what is the church’s role? When we read the apostolic writings, it is clear that the letters of the apostles were intended to be read to the entire church. In them, children are addressed in the same breath as parents. Their presence is presupposed. That follows the pattern in the OT of “all the congregation” joining together. Cornelius summoned his entire household (Acts 10) for all to hear the Word of the Lord. The same thing with the Philippian jailer. When Jesus spoke, parents clearly had brought their children, or he could not have called a little one to his lap when he gave his famous illustration on receiving the Kingdom as a little child.

    Of course they don’t understand everything. That’s not expected.

    But that’s where catechism comes in, in which the leadership of the church interacts dialogically with each of the members, young and old, to ascertain their precise level of understanding of the form of sound words, and are taught accordingly.

    Further, I think our Reformed forbears would also want to say, what about family worship? Heads of households have a solemn responsibility to “command their children after them” (Gen. 19) and to talk of the words of God in their private family setting (Deut. 6). Then there’s the right and healthy use of the Lord’s day, under loving Christian parents.

    The children in our church sit through sermons and catechism in the presence of “all the congregation.” I would have to say that our children are miles and miles ahead of where I was at their age because most of what I got was flannel board drivel in Sunday school, instead of rich, expository sermons adapted for all ages, rigorous and stimulating catechesis, and **daily** family worship, reading and talking through the Scriptures.

  6. Brent says:

    Michael-i believe the Church as a whole has come a long way from “flannel board drivel”. Times have changed and we no longer have to rely on mediocre teaching from the 1970′s. Teaching has evolved and it can go right along with scripture. I have been to your kind of Church and trust me (just as in my Church) the little ones sleep or color right on through the sermon. Very few actually pay attention. The only ones who do are made to by their parents, but how many actually PAY attention. I’m not saying not to have family worship or congregational worship. A child needs that but I believe that a child also needs to be taught on a level that he/she can understand. Yes they can sit in on the sermon but how much are they learning and how many Pastors out there are teaching a “dialogically” correct sermon. There is an age that you need to start getting into the “meat and potatoes” of the Word but a child cannot start out on meat and potatoes. They have to start out with baby food and work their way up. Your walk with God is a journey, it has a beginning and and ending. hopefully it ends only when you pass on to Heaven but you still need to have a starting place and I don’t think that place is necessarily sitting in on “adult church”.

  7. Lori Edwards says:

    We have a nice balance of both in our church. We can opt to take our toddlers to the nursery or keep them in the service with us. Personally, our 3 yr old & 1 yr old are taken to the nursery. We find it much more beneficial to all of us. We can actually pay attention to the sermon & take notes without having to have one ear constantly on the children. Not to mention they’re not being a distraction to the other people who need to hear the sermon & not coo & grin @ our kids the whole time. Our boys get teaching & worship time at home, when they are old enough to sit in the worship service with us, they will. We pretty much keep ages 4 and up in the service.

  8. Mehgan Drake says:

    I was raised in a Baptist church, and now my husband and I now worship at a PCA church. My oldest child was always brought to children’s church, and the other two were dropped off in the nursery. We’ve been attending the PCA church for a little under a year now, and our five year old daughter goes to “big church” (as she calls it) and also attends her age group’s Sunday school class. We feel as if she’s learned so much more than the four years at the other establishment. Also, she draws and colors during the services, and sometimes she just sits there, but she says things after worship when we are at home or in the car that indicate that she is really absorbing the sermon to some extent. On another note, until we went to the PCA church and she started joining us in corporate worship, she didn’t even know that there was a Lord’s supper.
    We also have a family worhip at home involving: Catechism, Bible story, hymn (her favorite is the Doxology), and prayer.

    Today she asked what it meant to be born again……I would say that she benefits from “big church.”

  9. Rom says:

    I think what many fail to realize in this discussion (especially those from a evangelical/baptistic perspective) is that our children should be exposed to God’s ordinary means of grace as much as possible.

    The worship sermon is not just about *teaching* (though teaching is a component of it). It is about worship of the Triune God. And the Triune God has promised to work through the means of Word, Sacrament and Prayer. This is a supernatural work that doesn’t require intellectual assent necessarily. Otherwise we would have a hard time maintaining that the mentally deficient should ever show up to a worship service!

    No, when the children encounter the Means of Grace through the Preached Word, and the Sacraments they can truly apprehend the gospel. When my kids see the Lord’s Supper being taken they see the gospel proclaimed in visible form. When they watch a Baptism they see a picture of salvation through the waters of judgment. It’s a beautiful thing, and my children though all under 7 have grown richly in the last year of being in a reformed PCA church, and not coloring some pictures of Moses for the umpteenth time.

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 

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