Are Children's Churches and Sunday Schools Scriptural?
I never had children's church when I was growing up. I went to the full assembly as a boy and got a licking just about every Sunday after we got home from church. I just couldn't sit still in church during the sermons. I really got a lot of spankings. Dad's hands were oil field worker's hands and they were hard.
Children's church as I will define it here is the way we do it at Dover. Before children go to a separate assembly, they will have experienced the singing, praying, scripture reading, Lord's Supper, and giving that the older people do. All they are missing is the lecture. Nothing is keeping them from attending an over-their-heads lecture if their parents want them to.
Those who oppose children's church and Sunday schools generally voice concern over passages such as I Cor. 11:17-34 or I Corinthians 1: 10-16 as proof texts to try to show that there must be no geographical divisions of the church during its worship services. But the "division" that Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 1: 10-16 is doctrinal, not locational, division. I Corinthians 1: 10-16 says nothing about location. The division that is condemned is a division of belief ("same mind and same judgement", v. 10). One really has to torture the scriptures to come up with the idea that children cannot be taken out of the general assembly during the sermon in order to be taught on their own level.
The discussion about "no division" in I Corinthians 11 is centered on the Lord's supper, and our congregation is all assembled in one place when we have the Lord's supper. That is probably going beyond what is required since our children have not been baptized yet and will not be taking communion. The I Corinthians 11: 17-34 passage is all about the Lord's supper and in terms of anything locational barely mentions "at home" and "come together." If it is about location, all of the churches of Christ will need to find the place in Corinth where that church had its communion and start having communion there. This argument can't be taken half way. If it's about location, it's location all the way.
If the "no division" part of I Corinthians 1 and 11 is about location and not about doctrine, then here's where we will have to go to stop the "division."
First we must stop children's church AND Sunday school locally. After all, Sunday school is not directly authorized in the New Testament. All web pages including this one will have to be taken down since those were not specifically authorized. Christian authors will have to stop writing and publishing books since those were not specifically authorized in the New Testament. Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes must stop since it involves having some of our members and children away from the church building on Easter Sunday. Area-wide youth devotionals must stop because it "divides" the assemblies of several congregations each Sunday evening when we do those. Search-TV will have to be taken off the air since it isn't specifically authorized. All radio broadcasts by the churches of Christ must cease. Our local prison ministry will have to be stopped since there are men from West Side leaving their worship service to take communion and preach the Gospel to inmates during that time. This Gospel preaching absolutely would have to stop! It's divisive. We will no longer be able to send our medical missionary to Nicaragua on missions since she will be divided from us for a Sunday or two each time. We probably should scrap our plans to have an on-the-ground mission to Mexico starting next year because we will have a divided assembly on one Sunday while our team is gone. Also we will not be able to have any parents taking their children out to potty or for discipline during worship since "no division" has been found to be about location, not doctrine. Swat those wet diapers! I can see how much children are going to learn about enjoying and looking forward to going to church from this kind of treatment.
Preacher Corp will have to stop. We absolutely cannot have these men gone from Dover during worship services to go preach the Gospel to congregations in the area who wouldn't otherwise have a preacher on a given Sunday morning. "Preach the word, be instant in season and out of season" in II Timothy 4 must have been a typo. No more Gospel meetings held by outside preachers, either, because that would mean that those preachers would be geographically dividing their congregations in order to send us their preacher. No division.
Is the absurdity beginning to soak in? But wait . . . There's more!
Now that we have the children in one location at Dover, we need to look some more at NO DIVISION in terms of location. If someone wants no division in terms of location, we're going to fix that one! No division will be no division.
The churches in Pope County simply cannot be allowed to meet in their separate, divisive locations, if "no division" is about geography. All congregations need to be combined in one location so that the approximately 1,200 Christians of Pope County can meet in one place without being divided. No division you wanted, no division you get. By transcending congregational lines I am being no less literal than someone who says "no division" is about location.
But wait . . . there's more! In order to have no geographic division, we need to combine the churches in Pope County with those of the rest of the state so that there is NO DIVISION. So all these congregations in Arkansas need to leave their buildings vacant and construct a facility large enough to accommodate the 52,000 or so members of the church in one location in Arkansas. NO DIVISION, remember? If someone's going to argue geography, I'll give them geography. Now we are meeting in Little Rock. It would be interesting to see how a super church in Little Rock will meet the needs of Spanish-speaking people without dividing up into classes or separate assemblies. And they will have to because I Corinthians 14: 13-28 bans people from speaking in a tongue that some people can't understand. I guess if you are a Hispanic living in Arkansas, you will just have to go to Hell. I wonder how the apostles speaking to the crowd in a multiplicity of languages on the day of Pentecost did so without doing any kind of grouping, so they wouldn't get in each other's way and without talking over each other. All things have to be done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14: 40).
But wait . . .there's more! Arkansas doesn't need to be divided from the churches of Christ in the rest of the country! After all, division is geographic, right?!! So let's abandon our 52,000 member facility we just built in Little Rock and make a national location, probably somewhere around Kansas City, so there will be no [geographic] division among any of the congregations of the churches of Christ in the U. S. We will need to buy a large ranch in the center of the country so the 1,300,000 active members of churches of Christ can all meet together with no division. This will mean that the vast majority will have to quit their jobs and sell their homes so they can live near Kansas City in tents or RVs or Quonset huts. And the press will correctly assess that we have established a compound. Those who can't afford to re-locate will have to live with the understanding (misunderstanding) that they will be going to Hell because they were divisive. Remember--"no division" is supposed to be about location, right?
But wait . . . there's more! We can't have geographic division! We'll stay with this until we finally get it all together. All 12 million or so members of the Church of Christ need to assemble in one place in the world--most defensibly, Jerusalem. Let's all sell our homes and businesses and move there. There will be some political friction in that move because there are already some people living around Jerusalem, and historically they have not played well with others.
But wait . . . there's more! Mark 16: 15--"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation."
Oops!! We're no longer "going." Now that we all live in Jerusalem, we're staying. We just subverted the Great Commission in trying to meet a very strained interpretation of "Let there be no divisions among you."
Better interpretation: I Corinthians 1 and I Corinthians 11 are about no divisions in doctrine, not in location.
When our children go to children's church, they are not being taught a different doctrine or being led to wear a name other than Jesus's. And that was the real crux of the I Cor. 1: 10-16 matter.
Realization: "One assembly" is a tradition. Even if we had stopped the above charade at the local level, the "one assembly" idea based on one location is an overly conservative doctrine that goes beyond a right division (II Timothy 2: 15) of the scriptures. It ignores individual differences in the spiritual maturity of its children. It also assumes less Biblical authority than its leaders have for organizing for instruction. Hebrews 5: 11-14 speaks of feeding the milk of the word to those who need the milk and meat to those who can benefit by it. That plus I Peter 2: 2 ("Desire the milk of the word . . .") is more scriptural foundation than the anti-Sunday school, anti-children's church people have for their absurd distinctions.
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