Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Church Is No Place For A Child (?)

 
I saw this photo, and this accompanying story, on the Tennessean's website today.  It is a sign at the entrance to a local church sanctuary which reads "no children under 2 years of age allowed in the sanctuary."

I have not the slightest interest in talking about this specific church.  I could imagine this sign in any number of large, evangelical churches.  Instead, to me this highlights (through contrast) the way that my Christian tradition understands the place of children.

The pastor of this Evangelical church said, "there is nothing in adult service for the 1-year-old or the 2 years.  It is not an age-appropriate ministry. And obviously little children distract a parent from paying attention in a service."

At our church, we have a children's program during part of the service. That program ends in time for children to come in for communion (a weekly occurrence). We also have nursery/young child care available for kids 3 and under.  If parents wish to have their infants in our nursery, that is totally fine.  We also have some parents who keep their little ones with them in the service.

I understand placing your little ones in the capable hands of our nursery workers.  It allows you to focus on worship without having to manage a baby.  Also, babies can annoy those around you.  This is especially true if they are crying and the parents don't take them out of the service to calm them.  A few cries or yelps, however, don't seem to bother most people.

I go to the movies quite a bit.  The idea of preventing children under the age of 2 from going into a movie theater appeals to me for practical reasons.  Little ones, in my opinion, shouldn't be exposed to that sort of media (for many reasons).  Also, crying babies bother the heck out of me in movies.  Personally, I think that movie theaters should have child care available and force parents to use it for certain films.  It makes me sick to see 4 year olds in rated R movies.

But a movie theater is not a sanctuary, and the Church shouldn't do things simply for "practical" reasons.  A movie theater is designed to entertain.  One hopes that a church service has little or nothing to do with entertainment.  Rather, we gather to worship the Living God.

When the pastor says that there is "nothing in the adult service" for these little ones, he is leaving out many things.  The largest of these is the Holy Spirit himself.  Yes, God is present everywhere all the time.  But God's presence is especially known when his people gather to worship him.

This may be theological difference between us Anglicans and American Evangelicals.  Perhaps someone out there will weigh in on that.  But it seems to me that being part of the Body of Christ in worship, even if you have no understanding of what is happening, is a good thing.  It is good for the baby's soul, it is good for the bond in the family, it is good for the rest of the church to be with them.  It is good for adults to sometimes be bothered, to sometimes not get their way (both the parents and those around them).  It is good for other members to see the family together, to know them as a family, and to love them as a unit and not simply as individuals.

In most Anglican churches, baptism is the entrance to full membership in the Church.  Given that we baptize babies, why would we exclude full members from our worship services?  The baptism of infants, and the inclusion of them in worship, is an image of God's grace to all of us.  Why would we want to avoid seeing that in real life?

In our tradition, we believe that worship centers on Word and Sacrament.  If the Bible is the Word of God, it seems to me that hearing God's Word read aloud is good for the soul; even if you don't understand what is being said.  How many adults don't understand everything that is being said on Sundays?  Most of us!  But God still uses his word to penetrate our hearts.  Are we so sure that he doesn't do this with little children?

In our service, we offer the Sacrament of Communion to all baptized Christians.  The smallest of our children may receive the Sacrament.  I would not deny the Body and Blood to a Christian simply on the basis of their age.

Finally, I don't believe in the exclusion of small children from worship because of the example and command of Christ himself.  When his disciples wanted to get rid of those pesky kids, Christ responded "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)  

Those who display the Kingdom of Heaven to us should not be excluded from the gathering of the Body in worship.  That just seems to me to be simple, biblical truth.