By Richard Bacon
The first objection to the inclusion of children in the congregational worship of God is what may be called the “expediency” argument. Virtually all American churches now have nurseries and parents have come to expect that there will be a nursery at any church they visit. We want to have a church that will be attractive to new families, especially those with young children. It therefore becomes necessary to have a church nursery in order to attract more families. This line of argumentation practically denies the efficacy of God’s Spirit. Means and measures are seen as being more effective than the Spirit of God in calling men and women into His church. But let us try to answer this objection.
Our answer to this objection must be twofold. First, we deny the force of the argument. If the regulative principle is true, then God is to be worshiped only as He has ordained in His Word. But He has ordained that covenant children are to be present in congregational worship. Therefore, the unlawfulness of nurseries is based upon God’s Word and not upon an appeal to what works best or what seems to us to be most attractive. In fact, in making attractiveness the criterion of how we worship God, we have entered into the area of will worship. Will worship is condemned by God’s Word in such passages as Deuteronomy 12:32 and Colossians 2:20-23 . One might as well argue that more people would be attracted to the church if it had a basketball team or swimming pool.
While not allowing expediency as an argument with any force, it is possible that having nurseries in the church is in fact not expedient. People learn by example as well as by precept. This is as true for adults as it is for children. Having a nursery is an example on the part of the church that, if followed, would lead to parents excluding their children from family devotions. The nursery, as an institution, teaches parents the false doctrine that it make no moral difference if the Word of God is taught to their children. After all, if the church has a low opinion of teaching the Word to her children, parents will have the same low opinion. The church implies that it makes nor moral difference whether children hear the Word of God if it attempts to attract people by catering to a desire on the part of those people to be “conveniently” rid of their children.
Christ appealed to a fear of hellfire when He said that it would be better for a millstone to be hanged around the necks of such parents (and sessions) than to “offend one of these little ones which believe in Me.” The root problem with the objection is that it ignores the moral imperative that Christ gave to receive these children. The does not build basketball courts or swimming pools to attract the families of the community to worship services. Neither should it have nurseries as a means of attracting parents who are ignorant of covenantal principles. Rather, the church should put into practice those covenantal principles that it claims to believe.
Another objection which might be brought against a presbyterian doctrine of nurseries is the “worshipful atmosphere” argument. According to this argument, we must worship God in a reverent manner. Children are, by their very presence, disturbing to such reverence and therefore ought to be excluded. Once again, our answer to the objection is twofold.
First, it is admitted that children are sometimes disruptive to a worship service by reason of their cries. But this is far different from asserting that children are disruptive by their very presence. It has already been stated that crying rooms (or, as Dr. Lee calls them, babies’ rooms) may occupy the rear portion of the sanctuary and that parents may lawfully retire there with their children when the children are disruptive in a worship service. Excluding a child for cause is different in both intent and effect from routinely excluding a child due to his age alone.
A second answer to this objection is also possible and is also much more to the point. The position of both Christ and the Psalmist (in Matthew 21:16 and Psalm 8:2 ) was that children were capable of praising God. An atmosphere devoid of the praises of God’s lambs cannot properly be called a “worshipful atmosphere” however much it may appeal to our own view of what a worshipful atmosphere might be. As Matthew Henry said concerning the passage in Matthew, “Our Lord Jesus not only allowed it, but was very well pleased with it, and quoted a Scripture which was fulfilled in it.”
God has called us to worship Him in the congregation of His saints. The children of believers are included in the scope of that call. An atmosphere cannot be called more worshipful if some of the proper worshipers are never there. The argument of “worshipful atmosphere” fails due to is misunderstanding of what a properly worshipful atmosphere involves. A proper definition of worship includes not only what is done, but who does it and the spirit in which it is done. Let us beware of the spirit that Marcel called “Pharisaic brutality.”
Still another objection that is raised to having covenantal infants in the worship services is that it does not make any difference because they do not understand what is going on anyway. This can be fairly characterized as the objection based on “non-rationality.” This objection seeks to make the understanding of the infants central to the issue of whether they should be present and then goes on to make the unwarranted assumption that the children do no understand anything of what is happening.
First, we must confess that Christianity is not an irrational religion. That is, it does not seek truth in trances or mystical visions. In fact, the truths of Christianity are found only in the propositional truth of God’s Word. But if that is the case, then it must be determined to what extent infants have understanding of God’s Word and to what extent they lack understanding. We are not warranted from God’s Word to assume that understanding is possible to unaided reason.
Christ maintained that in the case of at least some adults and some infants, it was the infants who had understanding and the adults who lacked it. In Matthew 11 , Christ prayed, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight: (Matthew 11:25-26 ). God reveals Himself to whom He will. Regardless of the seeming “wisdom” of some adults, God hides His truths from them. More importantly, regardless of the seeming lack of understanding possessed by infants, God sometimes reveals His truths to them.
This should teach us not to look upon the outward appearance. As discussed earlier in this thesis, the understanding must be enlightened by the Spirit of God. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:19-21 ).
An infant or even a babe in the womb does not have a complete understanding of Christ’s atonement. But neither does a full-grown adult have that kind of understanding. God alone is omniscient and He alone has a complete understanding of anything, including the truths of the Bible. But that is not to say that an infant has no understanding at all. John Baptizer was apparently able to understand Who it was that approached in the womb of Mary. God apparently revealed Himself to babes during Christ’s earthly ministry. Children are God’s image from the moment of conception onward and, as such, are capable of receiving the engrafted Word with meekness. To assert otherwise is to deny what the Scriptures have to say about us and our children as well as what the Scriptures say regarding the efficacy of the Spirit’s calling.
While people do put forward the preceding arguments against nurseries, it is nevertheless the impression of this author that the real problem lies elsewhere. What is taking place in Presbyterian churches in the U.S.A. and around the world is a failure properly to understand and apply the Scriptures to our worship services. Nurseries are simply one manifestation of a failure on the part of Presbyterians properly to apply what we claim to believe. American Presbyterians have been especially impressed by what seem to “work.” As a result, they have begun in the last generation to import methods and measures that would have been unthinkable to our Presbyterian and Puritan forbears. Church growth (i.e., ever-increasing membership rolls) has become an end in itself rather than the result of God’s Word being preached faithfully and fervently.
As indicated, nurseries are simply one manifestation of this spirit of the age. They have been imported into the Presbyterian churches from Baptistic churches which have no consistent theology of children. Baptists, at best, see their children in a neutral position somewhere between election and reprobation. They do not baptize their children because they do not regard their children as having a right to the outward privileges of the church. They are therefore somewhat more consistent with their theology than modern Presbyterians are with theirs. But it is time for Presbyterians to become consistent with the theology of the Bible and to put into practice the theology they claim to believe.
Presbyterians must begin to assert their heritage: the heritage of the Bible and of the Westminster Confession of Faith. We must insist that God is to be worshiped only in the manner that He has ordained in His Word. We must insist that God has called us in families–that He always has. We must rid ourselves of the trappings and vestiges of this world’s wisdom and instead arm ourselves with the whole armor of God. We must be ourselves transformed by the renewing of our minds into a proper understanding of God’s Word, and then we must act upon that understanding.
 This article is taken from the Master’s Thesis of Pastor Richard E. Bacon, First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, Texas entitled The Seed of the Covenant. The question dealt with is whether children should worship with the congregation or should be segregated in nurseries during public worship. Bacon convincingly argues that children belong in worship. Those desiring a complete copy of the thesis may request one from the author at P.O. Box 165, Rowlett, TX 75088. The cost is $2.50 post paid for a xerox copy.
Matthew Henry: Commentary on the Whole Bible (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, n.d.), ad loc.
Pierre CH. Marcel: Baptism (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack, 1973), p. 133.