How do Reformed and Presbyterian Christians teach their children to worship? Do they set up a separate “Junior Church” for their three-year old to preteen kids like some evangelical Christian churches do? These are some of the questions related to Lord’s Day worship that I’ve heard from some believers who were raised in a Pentecostal, Baptist, or generally evangelical church and are now considering moving to a Reformed church.
While it is true that there are some Reformed churches that do a separate “Junior Church” for their younger children, the general practice of churches in the Reformed tradition is to include their children, as young as two years old, in the corporate public worship of God.
Since children of believers are considered part of the covenant community by virtue of God’s promises in His Word, young children are also included in the gathering of God’s people. God’s word says, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7).
The covenant of God is not only for the adult believers but also for their children. The parents, as well as the whole household, including household servants, belong to God and are recipients of God’s covenant promises.
In that famous post-Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told the people of God, the Jews, to repent for the forgiveness of their sins, and in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38-39 says, “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’”
The believing parents as well as their children are called to repent and to believe in Christ for forgiveness of sins and for the gift of the Spirit. For the promises are for both parents and their children.
Thus every time God’s people gather for worship where the Word of God is read, preached, sung, and prayed, children of believers are also included. They are not separated from their parents and their grandparents when God’s people gather for public worship. They worship with their family and with other families. They also sing, pray, and listen to the reading and preaching of the Word with the congregation.
Young children learn how to worship with God’s people early as they are brought by their parents to the worship place every Lord’s Day. The worship service is not for the adult believers only but really for the whole assembly of God’s people.
The question then is, “How do you train the children for public worship?” In an article, “How To Train Your Children to Worship,” one Reformed writer has this to say:
“We begin with Family Worship, a long-forgotten concept in most Christian homes today but the absolute foundation for our Presbyterian and Puritan ancestors. In 1647, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland required fathers and heads of households to lead their families every day in worship…The Scottish Kirk thought this duty SO important, that fathers who failed to do family worship were subject to church discipline, even leading to excommunication. When men took these duties seriously, they literally changed the world (never forget that Scottish Presbyterianism was the theological back-bone of the American War of Independence). When Family Worship declined, so did the religious and social health of the nation. Obviously, if a child is not taught at home how to worship God on a daily basis, then he will be lost, confused and bored when he comes to Sabbath worship.
“Hence, the first step in teaching our children to worship is for fathers and heads of households to rediscover their duty to lead the family in daily worship. Let the father lead the family in singing the word, praying the word, and reading the word. Let the fathers show the children how to make just ONE single application each day from the Scriptures. And if Dad cannot get his children to sit quietly and reverently for fifteen or twenty minutes each day, then let him shut off the idiot box that is ruining his children’s attention span and get down on his knees and repent of his failure as a father to control his children. Fathers, God has made YOU responsible for the spiritual well-being of your family. YOU are accountable to God to bring your children up in the fear of the Lord. It is time for fathers to stop playing with their remote controls and get serious about this. Sorry, I know the above is pretty hard on Dads, but better to hear it from me NOW, then from God on the Day of Judgment. And better to DO it now, and see His blessings, rather than lose your children to apostasy, later” (The full article is available here: http://www.raisinggodlychildren.org/2011/05/how-to-train-your-children-to-worship-2.html, emphasis in the original).