Friday, February 26, 2016

The History of Children in Church

I have recently seen this article linked to a couple of times, apparently approvingly. Mr (?) Denlinger argues that perhaps it has not always been as normal for children to be included in the whole of the Lord's Day service as some advocates of that approach suggest.

Certainly the author is right that we probably too easily assume that we can guess what the history of the church has been and, guess what, we probably assume that it agrees with us!

He may well be right that those who argue for children in church need to do more to make the case that history is on their side.

But I have to say that the specific examples he gives (from 16th Century Scotland) are not very impressive to my mind. They are from rather a particular time and place. Had the author said that children were excluded from The Lord's Day Service from the earliest days I would have been all ears. Or that this was apparently the universal practice in East or West for a thousand years. Or that all the mainstream Reformers were agreed on this matter.

Fair enough. More work is needed. Denlinger agrees.

And, I have to say, that I do not find the examples very attractive. This is beside the author's point, really, and historical evidence is there whether we like it or not. But I would be surprised if anyone found these cases very persuasive. As the author says, these days, with carpets and microphones and other practical adaptations, perhaps infants and children can be less of a barrier to adult participation in church anyway.

It seems to me particularly sad that: 'Perth legislation of 1587' ordered that infants about to be baptised "be holden in some secret place til the preaching is ended" and then brought forward for baptism, lest the crying of the baptismal candidate create "din in time of preaching, so that others incoming thereto are stopped from hearing."

Obviously the practical concern for the edification of the majority of the congregation is a good and right one but this seems to me especially painfully far removed from our Lord's own teaching: let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven, we might add, even when the little ones prove a naissance to the ever so important adult disciples.

It is also a great shame that there is 'no evidence that' the advocates of keeping children away 'spent any effort devising a wholesome alternative to corporate worship for the youngsters' or indeed for the adults who presumably had to stay away to look after them. Some progress has at least been made, even if what is offered today is frequently far from perfect.

'Glasgow's churches apparently made 8 years of age the "cut-off" for attending the sermon' which raises the interesting question of when children are to be encouraged back into the main service if there is a Sunday school. One church I knew well had a group of 17-20 somethings and a couple of adult leaders going out of the morning service at one time to flee the sermon! This is obviously absurd.

The case of paedocommunion would be a counterbalancing piece of evidence, including Tommy Lee's work on 'THE HISTORY OF PAEDOCOMMUNION: FROM THE EARLY CHURCH UNTIL 1500'


Anthony Smith said...

Pardon me for lowering the tone, but I presume you've seen Mr. Thompson and the Vicar Invent Children's Church?

Marc Lloyd said...

I have indeed. I seem to remember enjoying it very much.