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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Thursday, April 04, 2013
My thoughts on Sunday School
Any time committed Christians minister in good faith to children, I consider that a good thing.  Both the children, and those who minister to the children benefit from such ministry.

Some might argue that Sunday School is an innovation, something that was thought up and implemented just yesterday (historically speaking), and to this I would say, yes, that is true.  God neither required or suggested that we invent such ministries.  But even though Sunday School is notably an unbiblical and recent innovation, that doesn't necessarily mean that God is displeased with us for having created the institution, nor does it necessarily mean that the congregation which has a Sunday School program is necessarily working against the will of God.

Others will argue that because the truths of scripture are spiritual, and not natural, and because they are neither perceived nor revealed by the cleverness of men, the whole notion of framing God's message in "child friendly" manner to children is, by definition,  flawed.   But such an argument presumes that the message of God is being necessarily watered down when it is presented to children.  That presumption, while it is no doubt true in many instances, isn't necessarily true in every case.  There is a difference between presenting the truth in a simple manner, and watering down the same truth.  To rail against Sunday School on the grounds that there is a potential for those who are ministering to rely upon their method more than the Lord, is to throw the baby out with the bath water. 

Some reason that because Sunday School borrows both its form and function from our modern institutional education system (which itself labours to conform to the most recent opinions in the field of modern child psychology), it follows that baby of Sunday School, comes in the bath water of worldly wisdom (to reverse a common metaphor).  These would say that on top of whatever else is silently being insinuated in the adoption of worldly methodologies, Sunday School creates the same sort of affinity groups within the church, that we find in our public schools (I can't be friends with her!  She is in grade six, and I am in grade seven!).  

Yet even though no intellectually honest person would deny that Sunday School is borrowing its form and function from the world, yet it doesn't necessarily follow that a church is going to unilaterally, and uncritically employ every worldly innovation in its Sunday School program.  The world may have a foot-hold in the door by and through this institution, but the assumption that all Sunday School program ape without scrutiny or question, everything it borrows from the world, is (at best) untenable.

The truth is that many in the church were spiritually nurtured in Sunday School.  I have read many accounts of now grown believers who look back to their Sunday School teacher with reverence, because that selfless person took a great and kind interest in their spiritual health, and provoked, challenged, and fed them to the betterment of their soul, and to their genuine joy. 

Yet even such touching and genuine testimonies some would chalked up, not to Sunday School, but rather to God's grace, in spite of (rather than because of) Sunday School.  Many people were genuinely saved under the ministry of Charles Finney - not because the man was doctrinally sound, but rather in spite of his doctrinal deviations.  Are not genuine Christians sometimes born again from within the Catholic Church itself?  Is it because the Catholic Church is teaching the gospel?  No, it is in spite of it.  Which is then the support for this argument: Even if some people can look back to a good experience in their own history, such testimony does not, and can never stand to, validate the practice. 

I think it is foolish to condemn Sunday School on the grounds that is not hinted at in scripture and that the whole practice is, at its core, a worldly contrivance, informed by popular psychology, and borrowing both form and function from human institutions. I think it is foolish to condemn Sunday School on the grounds that it isn't our cleverness in teaching that opens hearts, but God's word through and by God's spirit.

So I do not, and can not condemn an ideal implementation of a Sunday School program, unless of course it is being run during the time the rest of the church is gathering.

That is, I am not against giving children godly instruction, even if the way that instruction is being given finds no precedence in scripture and even if it borrows heavily from worldly innovations: so long as those who are ministering in this capacity are mature and careful to both see, and circumnavigate, all the worldly debris would otherwise creep into the church through this worldly venue; but I am against any implementation of Sunday School that is being entered into in a slack, or less than guarded way.

I am not saying that the only reason a church runs a Sunday School program is because godly people are being hoodwinked by a sort of down-the-street conformity which provokes them to run such programs for children.  Yes, some congregations will do that, even if the statistics convincingly suggest that Sunday School is largely ineffective.  The truth is that very few churches are filled to the brim with spiritually victorious, and well matured believer - isn't the average congregation made up of church attending believers who, while genuine in their faith, never the less fail to thrive spiritually?  Do no most believers continue to fumble around without victory over sin, living un-surrendered, or only partially surrendered lives?  For the religious habits of bible reading, prayer, church attendance and program participation, are not most of the teachers in the average Sunday School program about on the same page, spiritually speaking, as the children they teach?

I do not hold this opinion as a sort of bitter pill that galls me. It doesn't. It is unfortunate that our culture breeds this sort of superficiality into the church, but its here and grousing about it won't get rid of it. The truth is we the immature state of the church is, I think, not something that is just springing up in our age, it seemed to be the common state of the church in bible times too, if the seven churches in revelation, and the churches that Paul wrote to are any indication (and they are).
I therefore do not condemn any church that implements a Sunday School program. Those who are committed to it will reap some benefit, and the Lord can and does use such programs in spite of our inadequacies. If we threw out everything that wasn't perfect we wouldn't have much left to call "church".

I was glad to enlist my own children in our own Sunday School program, when that program was being offered prior to the regular service; but I took them out of the program when Sunday School began to be offered during the regular service.

Why did I do that? Was it because I believed that Sunday School was bad? No. That was not the reason.

To understand the reason, let me recall to you, dear reader, a youth pastor who was speaking to a group of pastors at a certain conference. During his talk, he reminding his listeners that it is wrong to think of our Christian youth as the "church of tomorrow": they are the church right now.

There is a command in scripture for believers not to forsake gathering with the congregation. The word for congregation there, while it can be used to describe the whole body of Christ (all believers everywhere) it is typically used to describe a local congregation of believers: the local church.

If some of my children are believers, the command is for them to gather with the rest of the believers, rather than to simply come to the same building as the rest of the believers in our congregation, and then promptly separate themselves from everyone else, and cluster together elsewhere, away from their families, and away from the rest of the congregation, in order to receive instruction from people who themselves are likewise forsaking their place in the gathering of the congregation.

So if I have any Christian children, I am obliged to keep them with me when I gather with the congregation. That's one point.

Regardless of whether my children are saved or not, it is important for them to see my faith and obedience in action: to witness each week the priority I give to God's word, in keeping the command to gather with the congregation. It is important for them see me sit and receive instruction, to hear me pray with the congregation, to hear my voice raised in psalms, hymns and spiritual song, along with the congregation. It isn't about bucking the Sunday School System, it is about the primacy of gathering together with your whole family - it trumps Sunday School. That's a second, and quite significant point.

I do not find a distinction between "adult" faith and the faith of children, except perhaps that the faith of children is to be preferred. Why did our Lord allow the children to come to Him (alongside the adults)? It is because He refused to make the sort of distinction that I think many church-goers today regard as a no-brainer. The common notion is that if the children are being dismissed to attend Sunday School during the  formal gathering, the best thing to do is send your kids also, not because it is good, or even because you've given the matter any serious consideration. It is done because that is what this sheep sees the other sheep doing, and so he does it to. I believe that, not because I have a low opinion of others, but because I have a low opinion of my own humanity, and I know what my own self craves, and regard it as something common to all, and not unique to me.

The third point, I touched on in passing, but want to highlight again. Those who are ministering to these little ones are likewise forsaking the gathering together with the rest of the congregation, and typically sign on to do this regularly for a set period of time (typically a year). I suspect that most of these are not elders who teach. Not that I think that only a teaching elder is fit to teach children (I don't believe that for an instant), but rather that the one who is fit to preach a sermon is by definition more able to endure the rigors of missing a great many sermons in a row.

I know we can tape sermons, but frankly, that's not the same. Why listen to you own pastor if you're going to go that route? Why attend church at all? Why not simply look of the top thousand sermons of all time, and spend the next twenty years listening to the best sermons history has ever provided us? Because the gathering is more than just the sermon, it is the congregation receiving the same instruction at the same time - so that if anything is amiss, someone can stand up and say - HEY! That's not right, is it? It is so that the whole congregation is likewise informed. Of course that works better when the preaching is expository, and not topical, but to explain that more would be a digression.

The point is that if you have Sunday School during the regular service, you are necessarily, to one degree or another, depriving those who minister with what God intends everyone of us to have, and however you want to dice that it, it doesn't sit right with me.

As far as I know all the arguments being made suggest we are better off without Sunday School, are convincing. If Sunday School hadn't been invented several decades ago, we would probably be better off spiritually speaking for it - but who is to say for sure? I am not prepared to condemn the ideal notion of Sunday School, even if I would condemn many specific implementations of it.

What I do not agree with however, is having any sort of service that segregates parents from their children on the grounds that children are either disruptive, or would learn better in another venue. Hogwash! I have seen with my own eyes, children sitting alongside adults dozens of years older than themselves, grasp fully a spiritual truth from the pulpit that the adults around them failed to grasp. Such is the grace of God - it isn't by our cleverness of teaching, or our ability to reason, or any other human faculty that we natural men receive the word of God - it is by His grace through His Holy Spirit alone. All the treats, drama, puppetry, videos, and games in the world, run by the most committed, sincere believers possible will add nothing to this, and can add nothing to this.

That isn't to say that children won't learn godly things in Sunday School, it is to say that if they do or don't it won't be because the material was presented to them in a way that they could understand it, it will be in spite of that.

So chopping up the congregation during the time we assemble together offers no benefit to the children, and very likely will be detrimental to the adults who put it on if in order to put it on they forsake the regular gathering.

I understand sentimentality. I understand the cuteness factor, and the community face we want to put on. I understand wanting to look as viable and family friendly as the church down the road. I understand that people feel very strongly that Sunday School is good. I understand that. I understand that for many, the notion of "wasting" a whole Sunday Morning attending first a Sunday School class, and then a regular service is not as enticing as sleeping in, and attending only a service and sending your kids out of the room for the service. It's less distracting, and hey! We don't have to spend three and a half hours here, now we can get by with maybe two. Hurrah!?

I get that. Who couldn't?

I have preached for many years, and I have never once been put off by the sound of a crying babe. God help us all if some idiot thinks that the sermon is going to be more effective if it is delivered to a perfectly silent audience. Good gravy, we aren't recording a symphony! If you're distracted by children, the problem isn't the children, it's you. Do you honestly believe that our Lord quieted the entire temple in Jerusalem before He taught there? Did I say good gravy yet? Was our Lord hindered by the sound of the wind, by the conversation taking place all around him, or by the children screaming in glee as they played over in the corner, or the infant whose disruptive crying moved everyone to stare down the mother? I very much doubt it. I think that while pristine quiet may make it easier to hear the speaker, the lack of it is no hindrance to the Holy Spirit. And frankly, if the Spirit of God is in you, you know this is true also.

Not one message of the hundreds I have preached, has ever been thwarted one whit by any distraction, not because they weren't there, but because the work that is being done when a man preaches, is not being done by that man, it is being done in the heart, and not in the room, and God is the one doing it.

So there is my opinion. Sunday School is fine, as an "add on" to the regular service. It probably isn't going to do much good, but it probably won't do any harm either. But anything that cleaves the church into splintered groups when they are supposed to be gathering, I will resist with all the power the Lord provides me.

I don't judge anyone else in this matter either. If you send your kids to Sunday School during the regular service, who am I to condemn you for something I am convicted of? I am not going to judge you or speak ill of you for that. Perhaps in my prayers I will pity you, and beg the Lord to open your eyes, but I am not going to come over to your house and insist you do as I do, or talk about you behind your back because you don't see these things as I see them.

Nor will I regard you as inferior, spiritually speaking, to myself - for I oppose in my soul that kind of bigotry, even if my own flesh lends itself to pursuing it. I will simply explain my opinion, and answer any questions anyone may have concerning it.

I write this in case anyone wants to know where I stand on the issue.
posted by Daniel @ 12:55 PM  
  • At 1:03 PM, April 04, 2013, Blogger Daniel said…

    Sometimes I write a post, not so much to provoke a conversation (I hate using language that sounds emerging/emergent), as to just sit down and express my own thought to my self. I am happy to discuss it, but the purpose for writing it was to just write it all out for my own "bad" self <grin>.

  • At 9:52 AM, April 06, 2013, Blogger Daniel said…

    Having said that I typed this one out about as fast as I was thinking it, and while I did a spell check on it, I didn't do much in the way of proofreading it. If you find an error or ten, mention it in the meta and I will fix it up asap

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