I just finished reading the fabulous booklet How Our Children Come to Faith, by Stephen Smallman (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007). I’m buying a bunch of copies for the young parents in my small group, and I’m now insisting that it be on hand at our church to give to parents who are bringing their children forward for baptism or simply interested in the topic.
Smallman offers an exegetical nugget of wisdom that I’ve simply never thought of before with regards to children in worship. It’s powerful. He dives into Mark 10:13-16 and its parallel passages in the other Gospels, which recount the story of Jesus rebuking His disciples for having attempted to shoo away the little children coming to Him. Smallman’s overall point is that our children come to faith by parents taking the first and basic step of repeatedly bringing them to Jesus. But it’s his subsidiary point I’m interested in, which I’ll summarize in this quasi-syllogism:
Parents are to bring their children to Christ.
(But Christ is present differently to us than He was in the Gospel accounts.)
Christ is present through His Spirit in His Church, His body.
This presence is uniquely acute as the local church gathers for worship.
Therefore, parents bring their children to Christ by bringing them to worship.
In his blog, my friend Mark regularly muses on the concept of “Christology as Ecclesiology”—in other words, because the church is the body of Christ to the world, there is a sense in which the more we understand the person and work of Christ, the more we understand the Church, and vice versa. The analogy can only be taken so far, but it definitely makes sense to take it where Smallman does…and it’s profound. By bringing our children to corporate worship, we are, in effect, bringing them repeatedly into an experience of being in the arms of Jesus. And, if Smallman is right, this is tantamount to the cultivation of their own faith in Christ.
We just don’t think this way as evangelicals! In keeping with American individualism, we think the way to cultivate faith in a child is to preach the four spiritual laws to our kids and pin them down in their room one late night so they can have their own private conversion experience. No wonder we don’t think twice when they’ve got soccer games, or when we want to go on family camping trips, or do some other activity in place of corporate worship. Corporate worship is just some ritual that is certainly part of the faith, but perhaps expendable when other fun things under God’s common grace enter the mix. But what if our primary shot at having our kids spend some time in the arms of Jesus happens when God’s people gather? What if participation in corporate worship was the way we followed the gracious command, “let the little children come to me”?
Hey, son, what do you want to do this morning? Would you like to kick around a stitched leather ball, or spend some time in the arms of the Creator of the rolling spheres? Your choice, buddy.