Revealed To Babes: Children in the Worship of God by Richard Bacon

(Old Paths Publications, 223 Princeton Rd., Audubon, New Jersey 08106, USA) ISBN 0-9632557-3-8, 75pp, paperback

reviewed by Andrew Haylett

In this book Richard Bacon, a Presbyterian minister, tackles an issue that will have been faced at some point by most Christian parents. Irfon Hughes, in his article in this issue, identifies the question of children in public worship as one that has often been left unaddressed. Richard Bacon seeks to build an argument, based on Scripture and the historic practice of the Reformed churches, for the consistent presence of children of all ages during the whole of public worship.

It should be noted at the outset that Bacon is writing, as a Presbyterian, primarily for those who have already a commitment to Reformed and covenantal teaching, insofar as it bears on the status of children of believers as members of the church of Christ. This book will thus be most immediately convincing to those who have such a commitment. However, it may also be viewed as a practical, albeit indirect, apologetic for paedobaptism. Bacon builds his case not primarily upon the presuppositions of a particular theological system, but upon the consistent teaching of Scripture and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Based on exegesis of such Scriptures as Gen. 17:12 and 1 Cor. 7:14, he establishes that children of believers are to be regarded as members of the covenant community, the church, and as such have rights and duties (consistent with their age and abilities). He concludes that the responsibility of parents goes beyond the instruction of their children at home, and that children are to be present in public worship. This principle is established from the Old Testament by reference to such passages as Deut. 29:10-13, Joshua 8:35 and Joel 2:15-16. New Testament evidence is then presented, using Matt. 11:25, Matt. 18:1-5, Matt. 19:13-15, Matt. 21:15-16. After carefully considering these passages, it is clear that the Lord Jesus Christ rebuked and corrected those, whether enemies or disciples, who sought to keep children from the Saviour or His sanctuary.

Bacon concludes by summarising his thesis in the following terms. Firstly, we must beware of a rationalism that denies that children may be called by the Spirit at any age. Secondly, the centrality of the preached Word must be seen in the calling of our children. Finally, the Scriptural principles of congregational worship require that children be present with their parents.

While Bacon's defence of his thesis on Scriptural grounds is solid and compelling, some more discussion of modern practices might have been instructive. He only mentions the "nursery" as a point of departure from Scriptural principles, where children are cared for during the service by people other than their parents. However, the common practice of holding Sunday school during morning worship is not addressed, and this might be seen by some as more acceptable. It is often argued that young children need alternative instruction suited to their age and understanding, and that Sunday school has traditionally been a means whereby unchurched children (and their parents) can be drawn into the church.

One would by no means wish to dismiss the idea of Sunday schools, and the principle of separate instruction for children, out of hand. However, there are several practical objections to Sunday schools held during worship: for example, the difficulty of "weaning" children away from their peer group back to the "adult" service as they grow older, the impossibility of Sunday school teachers attending the worship service, the temptation for the preacher to ignore the needs of those children that remain in the service. But above and beyond such practical objections, Richard Bacon's thesis, that Scripture requires that children should be present with their parents throughout the whole of the worship service, must govern our thinking. This would require that Sunday schools be conducted at some other time; perhaps before the worship service, or during the afternoon.

We would enthusiastically commend this book as a cogent and timely defence of the historical and Biblical position on children in public worship, as an encouragement to Christian parents to persist in the (sometimes difficult!) task of training their children to sit quietly and attentively, and as an encouragement to preachers to consider the needs of the youngest as well as the oldest members of their congregation.

Copyright © Family Matters 1998