This is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.” .
We affirm the necessity of passing these values to our children through regular catechesis, in faithful family worship, and by welcoming all ages into the corporate worship of our churches (Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:4). Children learn rightly ordered worship and have their imaginations and affections appropriately shaped largely through observation and participation. Thus churches should encourage families to worship together in the corporate gatherings of the church as much as possible or practical.
We deny that the family is more important than or replaces a local church. We further deny that we can adopt a model of children’s ministry which aims to entertain our children and still expect them to learn the grace of meaningful worship.
“He did much towards the instruction of his children in the way of familiar discourse . . . which made them love home, and delight in his company, and greatly endeared religion to them.”
‑‑Matthew Henry, speaking of his father Philip
In their book Classical Education, Gene Veith and Andrew Kern observe, “Classical education turns on the vision of what man is, of his responsibilities, and of the curriculum and method that follow from this vision.” For our purposes, we could drop the word classical. All education turns on the vision of the nature and purpose of humanity.
We reject the Enlightenment vision of humans as fundamentally homo sapiens, although they certainly are that. More importantly, we believe that humans are homo adorans, created to love and worship God. Humans are who they are because they were created in God’s image, after God’s likeness, and their fundamental nature corresponds to their fundamental responsibility—to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Without love, everything else is nothing.
When it comes to making disciples of our children in our churches, pure love is what we are after. This love is not a mindless “emotion,” as is clear from our commitment to thorough, biblical, catechetical instruction. But this love cannot be confined to robust doctrine. We will not pass on the faith whole and entire simply by passing on propositions, however necessary propositions may be. We must model for our children a kind of loyal trust in God that draws their affections to the simple but substantial gifts of grace by which the Lord communicates his love to us. We want their affections to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
Consequently, we oppose all the anthropocentric, progressivist reforms that have dominated educational philosophy and practice during the past century. These putative reforms can only produce “men without chests,” as C. S. Lewis put it. We resist an overly rationalistic conception of the human person which reduces “getting something” out of the church service to a question of whether a five year old can trace the argument of a fifty minute expository sermon. The very fact that we ask the question in that way reflects poorly upon our knowledge of ourselves and our knowledge of worship. G. K. Chesterton once said, “It would be too high and hopeful a compliment to say that the world is becoming absolutely babyish. For its chief weak-mindedness is an inability to appreciate the intelligence of babies.”
We celebrate the intellectual quickness and stunning spiritual capacity of children, but we also take seriously the fact that they arrive with disordered affections. Foolishness is bound in their hearts, and it would be cruel to feed their appetites rather than to give them the remedy. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Though children will naturally despise the wisdom of godly worship, learning to humbly receive the Lord’s good gifts of grace is the beginning of a lifetime of coming to know the Lord. We want boys who learn to worship like virtuous men from their sober, strong, and kind fathers—not from Squeaky the clown or Mr. Sports Celebrity. We want girls who learn to worship like excellent women from their loyal, spirited, and perceptive mothers—not from a cheerleader or Miss Imitation American Idol.
Proverbs 1:7 is perhaps the single most potent educational principle in Scripture. We might also observe both in Proverbs, and in the entire canon, that father and mother are the most potent force for the instruction of their children. We believe that church and parents should work together to harness this power, partly by encouraging families to worship together.
The attentive reader should note that this article does not prescribe any rigid methodology for training children, nor does it necessarily proscribe methodologies like camps or youth groups. It certainly does not invite families to take the place of the church in their children’s lives. It also recognizes the existence of special situations, for example, the needs of infants or the presence of children from unchurched families. We are simply pleading for churches to recognize the crucial place of the affections in the discipleship of our children, as well as the central role that the family and the gathered congregation play in that formation.
“I love the Word of God. I esteem it above all.
I find my heart so inclined. I desire it as the food of my soul.
I greatly delight in it, both in reading and hearing of it. . . .
I love the ministers and the messengers of the Word.”
Matthew Henry, age 11