“And Your Little Ones”
By Nate Wilson, Bible quotes adapted from NASV
A) As we begin the new year and begin our church’s third year of existence, I want to take the opportunity to review the four core values of our church and expound on the last one.
1. Exalting our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: As a community of believers in fellowship with one another, we seek to glorify God in all that we do. We worship, in spirit and truth, the triune God as revealed through His inerrant Word which gives us all that we need for life and godliness and is the final authority in all doctrinal matters. The church is the pillar and buttress of truth, standing fast for the glory of God’s name.
2. Equipping the saints: We are committed as a community of believers to encourage and equip one another to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. By God’s grace we seek to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age and be a people who are zealous to do good works. We believe that every saint has one or more spiritual gifts that are useful and necessary for building up the body of Christ. We seek to help the saints identify their gifts and use them for the edification of the Church and the performing of good works that God has prepared for His saints to do. By living individually and corporately in obedience to God’s Word, we seek to be salt and light to the world, loving our neighbors as ourselves and transforming culture in order to bring all things under the submission of Jesus Christ.
3. Evangelizing the world: We believe God is redeeming a people for Himself and that He reaches them through the proclamation of the Gospel. We believe God’s truth in salvation is most accurately represented by the historic Reformed doctrines of grace. We believe that man is dead in his sins and unable to save himself. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. We are committed as a community of believers in obedience to the Lord’s Great Commission to be His witnesses and to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all of God’s commands.
4. Encouraging godly households. We believe that God works in covenant with His people mainly through households and we seek to develop godly households to the glory of God. We believe that households are most strengthened through age integrated worship and activities. We seek to encourage husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, to encourage wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, to encourage fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and to encourage children to honor and obey their parents in the Lord. We believe all Christians are adopted as children of God and we welcome all believers to the household of God. We are committed as a community of believers in fellowship with one another to enhance the solidarity of one another’s households and the larger household of faith.
II) The Bible teaches that when believers met together for public worship, they met all ages together:
A) Exodus 10:3-11 Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 4 For if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory. 5 They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They will also eat the rest of what has escaped--what is left to you from the hail--and they will eat every tree which sprouts for you out of the field… 8 So … Pharaoh… said to them, "Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?" 9 Moses said, "We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we shall go, for we must hold a feast to the LORD." 10 Then he said to them, "Jehovah will really be with you if I let you and your little ones go! Look out, for evil is before your faces. 11 No; y’all go now - the strong-men - and serve the LORD...
1. Moses uses the word נער here in v.9, meaning “youths,” and Pharaoh responds with the word טפף, which BDB defines as “take quick little steps” – “Toddlers” is a good translation.
2. Pharoah told Moses, worshipping God is not for Children; it’s just for the big, important men! Question: Was Pharaoh a good guy or a bad guy?
Did Moses really believe that God wanted people of all ages in
worship, that parents and children should worship together, or was he just saying
that to Pharaoh in order to set up an escape for all his people?
His latter writings affirm his belief that God really did call for all ages in worship:
B) Deuteronomy 31:9-13 So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Then Moses commanded them, saying, "At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. 13 Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess."
1. Moses entrusted the presentation of the law to the elders, who were to teach it to the people, and the men were to teach it to their children. This is still the way we believe it ought to be done.
2. The Hebrew word which the NAS, NIV, and KJV render “children” in v. 12 is from the verb טפף – “Toddlers” as we saw in Ex. 10. It is translated “little ones” in the ESV following the earlier ASV, and the Septuagint translation is ekgonaV, which implies the child had recently come out of the womb.
3. How long would it take to read the entire Pentateuch out loud? God’s people, including their toddlers, were to stand there and listen to the whole thing! They even had to drag whatever pagan Gentiles were in the country at the time to hear as well! This was for everybody!
4. Note the reason WHY: The law was to be read to both adults and children so that reverence for God and His word would transfer to the grandchildren.
C) 2 Chronicles 20:1-13 Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, "A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Aram and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi)." 3 Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD. 5 Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD before the new court, 6 and he said, "O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? … 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You." 13 All Judah was standing before the LORD, [that is, every male age 13 and up? No!] with their infants, their wives and their children.
1. The same Hebrew word (טפף) appears again in v.13. This time the NIV and KJV translate the word “little ones;” the NAS opts for “infants,” and the Septuagint for παιδία – from which we get words like pediatrician.
2. Here, we have an assembly in the temple that once again included children, not only children, but also little children – toddlers are specifically mentioned.
3. What are they doing? Fasting and listening to a long prayer. Folks this isn’t just for adults!
D) Joel 2:11-17 The LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it? 12 "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments." Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. 14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber. 17 Let the priests, the LORD's ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, "Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not make Your inheritance a reproach, A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, 'Where is their God?'"
1. In verse 16, the words for “children” are עולל and ינק which both mean “suckling/nursing.” God is calling even little babies who are still nursing to appear before Him.
2. Is this because He is mean and demanding toward little children? No, vs. 13-14 say it is because He is compassionate and merciful towards even the littlest children of His people!
3. For this reason, all ages are called to assemble before Him in repentance.
4. History tells us that the Jews of Joel’s day did not obey this call, however, so they were exiled to Babylon. 70 years later when they returned to Jerusalem under Ezra, they finally heeded the call:
E) Ezra 9:4-10:2 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering. 5 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God; 6 and I said, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens… 10:1 Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.
1. Ezra is praying and confessing sin in the temple for a long time – all afternoon long. Who is there?
2. Children! The Hebrew root word here is ילד, which has to do with “birth.” Newborns sat all afternoon with their parents as they confessed sin and mourned in silence!
3. Why did Shecaniah say that there is hope? Because they were obeying Joel 2:12 – “Return to me with all your heart with fasting and weeping… for He is gracious and compassionate… gather the people… even the nursing infants…” They were doing what God had called them to do, so there was hope!
4. I assure you that even if little junior couldn’t pray to confess his own sin out loud, he was impacted by seeing how sad Mom and Dad were for doing wrong.
Oh, but that was the Old Testament. Did New Testament believers worship and confess sin and read scripture and make supplication with their children like they did in the O.T.?
F) Matthew 14:15-21 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17 They said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
1. So here we have a company of 5,000 men, many of whom brought their wife and children along – the Greek word here is παιδιων indicating “young, little children, infants (Thayer)” – and they sat there all day without a meal break and listened to Jesus teach. They had to sit quietly because Jesus did not have a loudspeaker system to be heard outdoors by that many people.
2. Incidentally, Jesus did not tell His most kid-friendly disciples to go put on a separate seminar for the youth. Nowhere in the entire New Testament do any of the apostles put on a children’s program. Preaching was always open to all ages.
3. Then one of those very children (John 6:9 - παιδαριον) provided the 5 loaves and 2 fish which Jesus used to feed that crowd.
4. Children, you have something to offer in public worship; don’t believe for a moment that this is just for big people.
(a) It thrills my heart to hear your voices singing and praying and confessing along with us!
(b) Your faith in God and His word encourages the faith of us adults who for various reasons struggle harder to believe.
(c) If the sermon gets long, just rest and keep trying to listen and understand, you may have a “fish” to share at the end of it all to bless everyone here!
G) Matthew 18:1-6 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
1. With the stakes so high for causing a little one to stumble, I wonder if children’s ministry is really what we should be hiring our youngest and most immature ministers into.
2. Here’s another question, how is it that a child was so close at hand to provide an object lesson to the followers of Jesus? I think it must be because there were children right there listening to Jesus’ teaching along with their parents.
H) 1 John 2:12-14 “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
1. When John wrote his first epistle, did he write a separate epistle for the children? No! He addressed young, adolescent, and mature men each in turn in the same paragraph!
2. This was then read aloud in church where every age group was present to hear!
3. So, children were present in the teaching times of the New Testament church! What about during temple worship? Yes!
I) Matthew 21:14-17 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant 16 and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" 17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
1. The temple leaders got upset about children (παιδας) shouting in the temple and especially about WHAT the children were shouting – praise to Jesus.
2. But Jesus defends the children’s actions by quoting Psalm 8:2. The Hebrew words in Psalm 8 are the same words we saw in Joel 2 indicating suckling/nursing, and the Greek text is consistent. In other words, Jesus says, “You think these children are too young? The Bible says that children even younger than that are supposed to praise God! Out of the mouths of sucklings God has ordained praise!”
3. Children, you are supposed to praise God in church; don’t fall down on your job!
4. v.17 reads as though Jesus left the temple in a huff because the leaders in the temple wouldn’t let the children participate in worship. If we run the children out of worship, we risk running the presence of God out of our worship.
J) Therefore we believe we should worship God together with our children and that age-segregated worship is a departure from the teaching of the Bible.
III) Parents – esp. fathers - are responsible for the discipleship of children:
1. When Josiah's parents were killed and grandma Athaliah came after Josiah to kill him too, the priest raised him. That's well and good, but that's not normative.
2. There is not a single instance of a priest/pastor for youth in the Bible. Not one!
3. Youth pastors and youth ministries and even Sunday schools are novelties that have only come about in the last hundred years or so.
4. As I look at the history and sociology of age segregation, it appears to me that this is a trend from pagan cultures where women and children are considered inferior and are not allowed in worship (Animistic, Islamic), and from revolutionary cultures where new leadership wants to teach a new set of ideas and shield the younger generation from the traditional ideas of parents:
(a) "Give me your 4-yr-olds, and in a generation I will build a socialist state." Vladimir Lenin
(b) John Dewey the father of modern education, Humanist, co-author of the Humanist Manifesto - "Our major concern [is] that the school should provide a purified environment for the child ... this means stacking the cards in favor of the particular systems of value we possess. We must move to make certain every Progressive School will use whatever power it may possess in opposing and checking the forces of social conservatism."
(c) "I think that the most important factor moving us toward a secular society has been the educational factor. Our schools may not teach Johnny how to read properly, but the fact that Johnny is in school until he is sixteen tends toward the elimination of religious superstition. The average American child now acquires a high school education, and this militates against Adam and Eve and all other myths of alleged history." P. Blanchard, The Humanist, 1983
(d) "Critical thinking means not only learning how to think for oneself, but it also means learning how to subvert the traditional values in your society. You're not thinking 'critically' if you're accepting the values that mommy and daddy taught you. That's not 'critical'. " From the book, Brave New Schools, quoting a speech to the National Advisory Council on Education, 1995
(e) "Fundamentalist parents have no right to indoctrinate their children in their beliefs. We are preparing their children for the year 2000 and life in a global one-world society and those children will not fit in." Senator Paul Hoagland, Neb. From a speech to the NEA
(f) Now, I’m not saying that every church and school is subversively trying to indoctrinate children in anti-Christian ways. The point I’m making is that historically, the ideology behind separating children from parents is pagan and humanistic, not Biblical.
The Bible does not teach that the norm should be to separate children from their parents.
B) The norm is stated in:
1. Genesis 18:18 …Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed; 19 For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.
(a) Do you hear what God is saying? He chose Abraham in order that Abraham would instruct his children in the way of the Lord and set before those children an example of righteousness and justice.
(b) If and when God gives you children, it is not so that someone else can instruct those children and set before them an example of righteousness and justice, He gives them to you as a parent so that YOU can do it!
2. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 "Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2 so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”
(a) The "you's" in Deut.5-6 are plural masculines. Moses was talking to the fathers in the community.
(b) Moses delivered the law (chapter 5) to these men, and told them that it was their responsibility to teach their children God's ways.
3. Malachi 4:6 The ideal prophet described at the end of the book of Malachi "will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers."
(a) How do boys and dads get close? Through doing things together.
(b) The opposite happens through the segregation of the fathers and children.
(c) "Have the same mind in yourselves," Paul said repeatedly to the Philippians. You build the same mind by getting the same teaching, not through having a bunch of different Sunday school classes divided by age and station in life.
4. Matthew 19:13-14 Jesus has been teaching crowds outdoors in Perea and has had a big run-in with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce. Now He’s in His host’s home debriefing with the disciples. “13 Then children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, ‘Let go of the children, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Then He laid hands on them and blessed them.
(a) Aha! Jesus did children’s ministry!
(b) Yes, but don’t miss the fact that the children had not come on their own, they were brought to Him. Their parents and guardians, Instead of saying, “Well, whenever my children are ready, they’ll find Jesus for themselves,” these parents who believed in Jesus picked their children up and said, “Johnny and Ruthie, we are going to see Jesus. Jesus I want you to bless Johnnie and Ruthie.” Jesus commended this kind of proactive parenting.
(c) Blessing these children was a pretty sure bet because they had parents and guardians who loved them and who were wisely exposing their children to godly teaching. That should be the norm.
5. Eph. 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
(a) That means, fathers, it is our responsibility to discipline our children. We must accept the calling that comes with the children God has given us and take the lead in drawing the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior and enforcing those lines with appropriate punishment and rewards so that in time it will become habitual for our children to choose what is good and act appropriately.
(b) That also means, fathers, that it is our responsibility to instruct our children. We are not free to shift the responsibility for teaching our children what is true from false and what is right from wrong onto any other teacher, be it in the school or in the church.
(c) Certainly we can bring our children to others we know and trust for further instruction, but the buck stops at you, fathers, to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
1. When my kids want to know something, they come to me and my wife first. If we don't know the answer, we send our children to someone we trust for the answer. My son, Beni took a liking to a fiddle that we borrowed from friends in Colorado, and we figured we were such a musical family that Beni could just pick it up without lessons. After all, I had already personally given him piano lessons and guitar lessons. But after a while we realized he wasn’t going to get very good without lessons, but neither my wife nor I know how to play violin. So we’ve hired a young man who was recommended to us from a friend we trust to give violin lessons to Beni.
2. That's why I homeschool, but it's also why I support families who send their kids to another school as long as the parents are seeing themselves as responsible for their child's education rather than shuffling the responsibility off onto some unknown "professional." Parents who use institutional schools should have relationships with the teachers, keep tabs on what's being taught, and supplement with their own perspective.
This is what parents are to do: we are to ourselves instruct our children using the Bible and model godliness with our lives, and we are also to actively expose our children to other godly men and women to help in the discipleship of the children God has entrusted to us.
IV) 2 OBJECTIONS
A) Age-integration is counter-cultural; this will keep our church from growing.
1. While it is important that we translate the Gospel in a way that our culture can understand without raising unnecessary barriers,
2. It is also important to obey God rather than man. When Daniel went to Babylon, he insisted on eating the way God told him to. Come on Daniel, don’t be so counter-cultural! Come on, Daniel, the king said not to pray, so if you have to pray, at least don’t do it where the governors can see you! If Daniel hadn’t been so counter-cultural, he wouldn’t have made it to second-in-command of Persia! He obeyed God, and God blessed him.
3. Sure, we may see some families decide not to join us this year because we don’t have a children’s church or a youth group, but in the long run, I believe we will see stronger growth.
4. Today there are ten young men in our church who have the potential of marrying and having children within the next decade - and about that many more young ladies within another decade. If even half of them stay in Manhattan, that would be ten new families and more children than we have today - for the church of the next generation! That’s not even counting all the new students and soldiers and people from town who will join us in time.
If we are faithful to make disciples, God will take care of the growth of His church.
B) What about all the children who won't be reached by our church if we only pitch to adults?
1. With the divorce rate what it is, there are many needy children who are missing their dad or mom. The numbers of children whose parents have no interest in discipling them is staggering.
2. The way to fix a problem is not with a broken tool. We need to address the problem with a Biblical model of ministry that will yield consistent results.
3. The way we are designed, our church will have to reach these children as individuals and as families rather than institutionally as a church. For instance, my little daughters have already been doing discipleship informally with girls in our neighborhood that come over to our backyard to play.
4. We must hold the line on Biblical standards. If we don't who will? The popular churches? The government agencies? We, as the church, are the pillar and ground of the truth; we are to be upholding the most excellent way of God.
5. There are plenty of other churches that incorporate more pop culture strategies than we do. Bless the other churches that conduct children's ministries. They are not the enemy; they are our brothers in the kingdom of God, and they deserve our support and prayer.
About a decade ago, a very young girl who refused to go to church was left to supervise children’s church while we adults held our worship service. When Paula and I picked up our sons and found that they had been watching Cinderella instead of having a Bible lesson, it was a wake-up call to us. We started seating our boys with us wherever we went for church or Sunday school. I took my boys with me to presbytery meetings to hear men get their oral theology exams. I started taking them on mission trips and to conferences when I was asked to speak. I held Christian manhood up to my sons as the goal of their life. I exposed them to what real men are doing instead of what immature peers were doing. It absolutely thrilled my heart a few weeks ago to see my 14 and 16-year old sons step up to the platform when I called for the men in the church to come pray for the Ryals family; I had not invited my sons specifically to come up and pray. They did it because when they turned 13, I told them that they were men and that I expected them to be learning from other godly men and stepping into roles of godly manhood. And 1 Timothy 2:8 says that men pray in church.
My children aren’t perfect, and I don’t expect yours to be either. Boys have to blow off steam, and we try to organize our meetings in such a way that they can after the meeting. Children need to exercise their imagination and play. Immature children cannot be expected to perform to the level of a mature adult, so we cut them slack, let them make a little noise, and we make childcare arrangements during church services, but all the while our eyes are on the goal of godly manhood and womanhood.
There are many other social and historical reasons, but this is the Biblical basis for why we practice age-integrated worship and spiritual instruction. So let us press on by taking every opportunity in life to instruct the children God has given us and live before them a godly example and bring them around other godly men and women. Let us press on with the expectation that God will bless this kind of obedience to Him and will raise up another generation of children who fear him and who will bring the gospel to the world, who will equip the saints, and who will glorify our Lord Jesus Christ!