By Walter J. Chantry
There certainly is no Bible verse which tells us when children should begin attending worship services. The customary age at which parents begin to take their children into meetings varies from church to church. It may properly vary among members of the same church, though it tends to follow a pattern because of church decisions touching the nursery, etc. The practice of local churches in this matter comes under the statement made in our Confession of Faith: Chapter I, section 6, paragraph 2:
“We acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of churches, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed..”
In our church, parents usually begin to bring their children into our services at the age of two. Our nursery offers to keep children only under two years of age. That policy is not without reasons; though again, it must be emphasized that it is a matter of judgment on the basis of general prudence and general rules of God’s Word.
It is our judgment that children who are two-years-old are usually mature enough to understand when their parents tell them to be quiet and to sit reasonably still for one hour. Furthermore, by the time a child is two, his parents should have progressed far enough in their training of children to be able to enforce such basic orders, which their child can understand. Though teaching this behavior to children may not be easy, it is not unreasonable. It has been done by parents of children with many different character make-ups. Your child is not that unique!
We do wish to provide a nursery for parents when it is really necessary. But, the operation of a nursery takes a number of adults and young people out of our worship service. To extend the age of the children would demand that our women, who serve faithfully and cheerfully, would be absent from worship still more frequently. It is important for all Christians to benefit from the fellowship of the body of God’s people gathered for worship. We feel that regular attendance at worship is so important that we should not be urging others to be absent any more than is absolutely necessary. When it is not demanding too much of parents, thus reasonably to control their children, we do not feel that a nursery should be provided. Of course, exception should be made for all visitors who are not part of the congregation and used to our ways of doing things.
Furthermore, parents of young children are taking an important step by training their sons and daughters to be still and quiet. They are taking the steps necessary for a child to participate in the worship of God. Two and three year olds recognize some of the hymns they have heard in Sunday School and at home. They know a little about prayer. It is interesting to observe that when rare times of special solemnity come in worship, even the youngest children understand and sense something of the presence of God; for even they are unusually still and hushed. Admittedly, these times are few and the youngest children perceive little of the spoken word. Yet it is vital to forge the pattern of whole families coming before God regularly for worship. It is an important part of Christian family life, and it is important for young children to be part of the family.
Some parents seem to feel that when they have won the battles of stillness and silence, their task is done. So long as Junior doesn’t squirm too much or speak out, all is well. But it will not be long before the child can participate in some things. He is taught the doxology in two and three-year-old Sunday School. The pastor may read Scriptures not unfamiliar. He may mention Daniel, David, or Peter – favorite characters already to young hearts. Surely a four-year-old can be taught to pay some attention.
And fathers should be sensitive to how Bible truths of the worship service apply to their young children. The pastor cannot often bring the application down to pre-school children. But, a father can recall the points and apply them at home later.
The Church At Large
If parents are expected to bring their young children into the assembly, there are going to be some times of speaking out and squirming. At the start, a wise parent will sit in the very back of the church where there will be a minimum number of folks disturbed by the process of training and necessary exits. For this reason, members of our church who insist on sitting in the very back seats are inconsiderate to young parents. When there is no need for you to sit in the last seats, you add to the embarrassment and anxiety of parents seeking to train their children and not wishing to have many eyes on them. You also force parents to sit further front at a time when they need to have the rear pews. Furthermore, you are placing yourself in a position in which your own participation in worship will be less than desirable for your personal edification and for the good of all.
Everyone in the congregation should be patient and understanding toward the squawks and thumps of new arrivals in the church. You can help by a kind welcome to the nervous parents, and by refusing to pay attention to the antics of the energetic child.
The Parents and This Training
Certainly any child who has never had to be still and quiet for an hour will make noise and movement when he first is brought into the church. But it is proper to expect that the major problems with speaking out, standing up and trying to get the attention of others will be largely conquered in a couple of months. This is not to say that the child will never wiggle and whisper. But, after a number of weeks, there should be no noises frequently made to disturb the whole congregation. You must expect your child to be still and quiet. The pastor should not have to out- shout him nor people of God be regularly asked to put up with his distractions. This simply is not right on the part of any set of parents.
If significant progress is not made with the silence and stillness of your child in a few months, perhaps you should ask yourself if you are going about this training in the right way. If you are applying the same principles as you do when commands are given to your child at home, you might ask if you need further instruction from God’s Word on the matter of child discipline. Any elder of the church will welcome a request for discussing the training of children.
A Few Hints
By the time a child is two, parents should have established the fact that when Mom and Dad give a command, they mean what they say. The only way to establish obedience in a child is to punish each and every willful disobedience to a command. It begins when the parent says ‘no’ to touching an expensive lamp. If the child touches it, the fingers should be smacked hard enough that a few repeat punishments will bring obedience. Each time the child asserts his will against a command he must be made to obey. ‘No’ should not come to mean ‘maybe not’. In this matter, the rod cannot be spared or the child will be spoiled and parents will not have their children under control.
If this pattern of enforcing commands is established at home, then bringing a child to church is merely a new series of orders given. When the child has been told to be quiet, if he speaks out, a hasty exit to another room for a spanking will make the point. If there is consistency in doing this at the first few out-cries, these will not continue. But if a child has never been taught that punishment invariably follows broken commands, it will be hard for both parent and child to begin the process when the two-year-old is brought into church. This whole pattern of training is far more vital to the life of the child than simply in the area of church attendance. It will affect his entire life.
Gimmicks like trying to keep a child so distracted that he won’t move or make noise simply side-step the issue of discipline and guarantee either a cry of delight with a toy or fussing with tiredness. Two-year-olds are not old enough to understand why they must be still and quiet, so long lectures are futile. They are not able to appreciate their parents’ social embarrassment, so that pleading will not work. If you begin to sympathize with the child, thinking the discipline is too harsh for him, half the battle is lost. You need to keep the issues and priorities clear in your own mind.
It is indispensable to the parents’ good that they worship. It is important that a pattern of family worship be established. But the only issue with the child is that Mom and Dad have commanded submission. This is done with young children only the by the rod (by spanking). It is painful to a loving parent, but it is God’s ordained means of a child’s learning discipline and obedience. It is even the foundation of self-control in later life.
We do want parents of young children with us in church. We do want to be patient as they train their children. But one of the early lessons for Christians, one of the most practical lessons, is that you have a basic duty to labor to train your own child. Both the Pastors and the other elders will be glad to help you in any way that they can. We do pray for God’s rich blessing on you and your children as you seek to obey Proverbs 23:13, 14:
“Withhold not correction from the child: if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death”.