Looking Back: The Value of Children in Church History
It is a well-known fact in the annals of history that children have often been regarded as nothing more than cheap property. In the days of the Greco-Roman world, unwanted babies were left in the elements to die from exposure. Boys and girls were sometimes slaughtered and their entrails inspected for divination purposes. Some children were reared as prostitutes or intentionally crippled for use as professional beggars. The disciples also thought that the children brought to Christ were not worthy of His attention; however, their action evoked such a strong rebuke from Christ that His voice for children has echoed and reverberated through the centuries. That was the day when children became people!
The early church followed the example of Christ and began placing a high value on children. Justin Martyr in his first apology writes, “We have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men.”1 He continues to condemn other cultural practices of the time that involved children and emphasized God’s love for all people, which included children. Through the influence of the early Christians, the value of children began to ascend.
The echo of Christ’s command to bring little children to Him was also heard by the Church of God of Prophecy very early in its history. A. J. Lawson preached a remarkable sermon at the 1912 General Assembly on reaching children through the Sunday school. A close reading of his sermon reveals that his emphasis was not so much on the school as it was on the children. Even though this sermon was not in a “business” session, it was nevertheless recorded in the minutes and became a significant voice of the 1912 Assembly. He declared:
What relation has the Sunday school to the church? It is the nursery of the church. I never realized the need of a nursery until I visited one in a large florist establishment. The gentleman in charge of it told me that they take any kind of seed, just so it has a kernel, and plant it. They depend upon the budding for the fruit. I have since thought that we ought to bring into the Sunday school all the material we can find, no matter what they are, and see if we can’t raise sturdy men and women, with clean, pure characters for Christ.
The imagery of children as budding flowers and the church as a floral nursery is quite beautiful and instructive. This early Assembly was right to encourage every church to offer programs that allow children to sprout and to grow in a safe environment. Just as a floral nursery attendant has to water, to feed, and to prune in order to produce healthy plants, a church, too, must instruct and cultivate the young souls. Notice also that it was emphasized in the sermon that the church should not be selective regarding which children that it chooses to minister to, but it was declared that the need was to reach any and all.
Children have a great capacity for learning, and the 1912 Assembly felt that teaching them should be taken seriously,
It is thought that just so long as a class has someone standing in front of it and the children do not misbehave too much it is all right, but that is a shallow idea. The teacher has in his or her hands the lives of boys and girls who will one day become the very ones who will sit in the seats of authority.
The potential, which is nestled in every child, was being recognized, and it demonstrated the leading of the Holy Spirit. In this same Assembly, there was even an appeal that the pastors and leaders should consider things from the perspective of the little ones. This concept, in itself, was amazing to the culture of the early 1900’s. To this end it was stated:
One mistake that most Sunday schools make is trying to put old heads on young shoulders. Take the school (boy and girls) out once in a while for recreation, where they can play and have a good time. Have them sing and and do your best to win their hearts.
The perspective of love, kindness, and high value for children began with the demand of Christ to, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them” (Mark 10:14). Like a peal of thunder, His voice has rumbled through the centuries and has lifted the cause of children. It reverberated with the early Church fathers, and the Church of God of Prophecy heard it again in the early 1900’s. From that time until now, high value has been placed upon children!
— Kathy Creasy