In the opening sentence to our church constitution, it reads this: “Jesus Christ, as King, has given to His Church officers, oracles, and ordinances; and has ordained His system of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, all of which are either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary inference may be deduced from it; and to which things He commands that nothing be added nor subtracted.”[i] What this first sentence means is that we at Tapestry Community Church seek to be as biblical as possible. That means that when the elders discuss possible new ministries for the church or when we meet with the deacons to discuss new ideas or possible new ministries, the question that is always first and foremost on our minds is—Is this biblical?
By that question, we don’t simply mean ‘does the Bible permit us to do this?’ Or, ‘does the Bible forbid us from doing this?’ More than that, it means that we look to the Bible for examples, for illustrations, for direction, guidance and instructions. We ask ourselves: How did the people of God do ministry in the Bible? We ask these questions because the reality is this, senior citizens have always been around. Children have always been around. Single adults have always been around. Widows have always been around. Young career minded adults have always been around. The dynamics of our culture has certainly changed since biblical times, but people are people and their most basic human and spiritual needs are still the same. Thus, in our church we firmly believe what 2 Peter 1:3 says, that “God’s divine power [namely his Word] has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us.” Everything we need to know for life and ministry is found in the pages of scripture. This includes our children’s ministry.
Thus, in this article we are going to look at where in the Bible we get this idea that children should be brought into the corporate worship service at as young of an age as possible. There are many churches who would think that to bring small children into the worship service is insane! ‘They won’t learn anything!’ ‘The adults won’t learn anything!’ ‘Kids will just be crawling all over the place, crawling over everyone’ ‘It will just be total chaos!’ But it won’t if we have a biblical view of children, and if we have a biblical view of our responsibility as a covenant community to those children, which is what this article hopes to accomplish.
In the Old Testament (OT), children were brought into the presence of God by being brought into the dwelling place of God—the temple. In Deuteronomy 31:9, scripture says, “Then 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.” First, although it is unclear what “this law” refers to, most agree that it either refers to the entire Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) or, minimally, it refers to the book of Deuteronomy, as the book of Deuteronomy is the basis for much of OT law. However, even if we understand “this law” to refer to the book of Deuteronomy alone, notice what Moses commands the people of God in vv.10-13. “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose [This is a reference to the tabernacle as they wandered in the wilderness, and then eventually to the Temple once it had been built], you shall read this law [the book of Deuteronomy] before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (emphasis added). Thus, with regards to the feast of booths every seven years, men, women, children, and little ones, were to gather at the tabernacle or the Temple for corporate worship. Of course, we know from other passages, such Deut. 12:11-12, that it wasn’t just once every seven years that all the Israelites, including their children, were to gather at the Temple to worship together and to hear God’s law read. The Israelites did this with every major celebration that included the temple.
This is important because in the OT, the place where the Ark of the Covenant stood, the tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, was the dwelling place of God on earth. Yes, the Jews understood that God was present everywhere, but they also understood from Exodus 40:34-35 that the tabernacle was the designated dwelling place of God on earth. There we’re told that after the Israelites finished building the tabernacle and all the temple furnishings “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God’s presence. Why would you not want to bring your children to experience that? Thus God commanded that whole families come to the Temple and worship together and hear the reading of God’s law.
In the New Testament (NT), Christ and those in union with Christ through faith are the new temple of God. The temple of God does not cease to exist with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 AD. The temple of God continues to exist in the person of Christ and those who are in union with Christ by faith. In John chapter 2, after Jesus cleanses the Temple of those who were defiling it by buying and selling in it, the Jews ask Jesus what authority he had to do this? In v.19 Jesus responds by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course the Jews respond by saying, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” Then John adds his own commentary in vv.21-22 and says, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” Thus, Christ is the temple of God. And it is only as we enter into union with Christ, it is only as we enter into the presence of Christ, are we able to fully experience the presence of God and to fully and rightly worship God. This is what Christ meant when he said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one can enter into the presence of the living God and worship him except that they go through Christ, by coming into union with Christ by faith. Christ is the temple within whom we experience and worship God.
However, it is not just Christ who is the temple of God. Ephesians 3:19-22 makes clear that Christ, and all believers who are in union with Christ by faith, are the temple of God. Thus, just as in the OT, God was omnipresent but the temple was the designated place on earth where God’s people came to meet with God and hear from God, so also the corporate gathering of the saints is the designated place on earth where God’s people come to meet with God and hear from God. It’s for this reason God commands that we not neglect the gathering of ourselves together (Heb 10:24-25). Since all believers joined together and joined to Christ are the temple of the living God, then the corporate gathering of the saints is the designated place on earth where God’s people come to meet with God and hear from God. It’s for this reason children should be brought into the worship service on Sunday morning. Why would we want to prevent them from experiencing God and hearing from God?
Jesus commanded we not forbid children to come to him. In Matthew 19:13-14 we read: “Then children were brought to him [Jesus] that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” First, this text does not teach the age of accountability nor that all children by default go to heaven. What Jesus means by “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” is the simple faith and trust that children possess. Whether you are a child, middle-aged, or senior adult, the kingdom of God belongs to those who possess a child-like faith and trust in God and in the word of God. Nevertheless, the observation cannot be missed that Jesus does say, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” Since the Church is the body of Christ, then the corporate gathering of the saints for worship is where Jesus is. In 1 Cor 12:27 Paul says to the believers in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Paul is not just being poetic or metaphorical. Paul learned firsthand during his Damascus road experience that to persecute the body of Christ is to persecute Christ himself. All believers are the physical presence of Christ on earth. Thus, although Christ does indwell each believer everywhere, the corporate gathering of the saints is where we most experience Christ, where we enter into Christ’s presence in a way that is palpable unlike no other. The corporate gathering of the saints is the designated place on earth were we meet with Christ, where we worship Christ, and where we sit at the feet of Christ and hear from him. Therefore, do not hinder the little children to come to him and to be blessed by him and to sit in his presence and hear from him.
Having small children in the worship service can sometimes be challenging, but church is not just a place for adults to learn about Christ. It’s also about helping our children learn about Christ and about what it means to worship Christ. It’s about coming together as the body of Christ and being a blessing not only to the children of our church, but also to the parents of our church by offering to sit with one of their little ones. In the end, the church should be a covenant community which bids the little children to ‘come to Christ’. Come to Christ and sit in his presence and learn from him and hear from him. Let us not forbid the little children to come to Christ.