Parallel Worship (Children's Church)
by Bob Berard
Some elderships with announced good intentions have introduced the practice of excusing children and a few members from their congregation's Sunday evening worship services for a special program called "children's church." While the remainder of the church engages in a worship assembly wherein are conducted the same worship activities as in the Sunday morning assembly, the children and their teachers have parallel service or "children's church" in a separate location. This practice is one which is without scriptural authorization and which violates the injunction of Hebrews 10:25 "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together."
Before beginning the reasoning process, consider the following biblical account to emphasize the seriousness of the departure involved in the innovation called "children's church." Saul, the first human king of Israel, once contended that he had obeyed God when in fact he had not done so. He had been charged to "utterly destroy" Amalek, "man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (I Samuel 15:3). Saul did indeed smite the Amalekites, but he took king Agag alive and spared the best of the sheep for a sacrifice to the Lord (I Samuel 15:9, 13). The good intentions Saul may have had and the seemingly minor deviations from the Divine instructions which were involved in his neglect apparently led Saul to the erroneous conclusion which he declared to Samuel: "I have performed the commandment of the LORD" (I Samuel 15:13)
Samuel set the record straight in this matter and his rebuke of Saul prompted Saul's own admission, "I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice" (I Samuel 15:24).
May we never be deceived by what merely seems to be right, but determine to be governed by what is authorized (Proverbs 14:12; Colossians 3:17). It is, of course, not the case that church members are forbidden to meet in every group situation smaller than the local church. Elders have authority to call the saints together for various specific purposes and to separate such gatherings by category as is expedient for accomplishing their mandate of overseeing those for whom they must give account (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-2; Hebrews 13:17). Thus, a young men's training class, Bible classes for different age groups, ladies' class, etc., are expedient ways for elders and other members to be spiritually nourished, corrected, and protected. These meetings which may be divided are distinguishable from the assemblies of exhortation mentioned in Hebrews 10:25, which assemblies must not be forsaken and therefore must not be divided by elders or anyone else for a "children's church" or anything else.
Excluded from present consideration are a number of special meetings of members (e.g., Bible class, young men's training class, ladies' class, elders/deacons' meeting, etc.) which an eldership might rightly call into separate groups (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-2; Hebrews 13:17).
Here we consider assemblies of exhortation which are not to be forsaken by anyone (Hebrews 10:24-25). The passage just cited says, "let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." The "us" of the passage (every member of the local church — if not, why not?) are not to forsake certain assemblies of themselves (all of "themselves" — if not, why not?) together (can they be together in separate places? of course not!) but rather to exhort one another (all of one "anothers" — if not, why not?) in these assemblies. Therefore, there are mandated assemblies of all of the saints together, the purpose of which is, at least in part, to provide for the exhortation of all of the saints by all of the saints.
On a given Lord's day, all of the saints have been called together in a morning service for worship through the five obligatory avenues, the only difference being that those attending the morning assembly will not be partaking of the Lord's Supper and giving their weekly contribution. The morning service was an assembly of exhortation, an assembly not to be forsaken by anyone, for what other than the five avenues of worship could rightly be done for an assembly to qualify as an assembly of exhortation?
How then, could the identical evening assembly be something other than an assembly of exhortation? Do the evening service attendees need to exhort all other members? Yes! Do they deserve to be exhorted by all of the other members? Yes! How then can anyone be rightly removed from this kind of assembly as an optional matter? They cannot (Hebrews 10:25)!
To simply call an assembly of exhortation by another name in order to exempt it from the obligation set out in Hebrews 10:25 is to reject a Divine mandate. If God says a thing is required, it is rebellion to claim it is not. Remember Saul (I Samuel 15)?
Though the American Christian Missionary Society was claimed to be an expedient by many brethren, including so notable a man as Alexander Campbell, it was an arrangement without Bible authority; therefore, it was without God's approval; therefore, it was sin (Colossians 3:17). Some favoring a missionary society, other than the missionary society (the Lord's church), embraced it for its promise of favorable results. The proponents erred in failing to couple with good intentions a thorough assessment of the scripturalness of all of the arrangement's constituent elements. While the society's friends anticipated increase in conversions, a Divinely-approved result, the accomplishment of this commendable end was to employ a condemned means. It is never right to do a wrong thing and that "never" covers even those situations in which good ends are intended (Romans 3:8).
The "children's church" arrangement is remarkably similar. Undoubtedly some involved are well-intentioned and have in mind at least some anticipated results which are Heaven-endorsed. However, divided assemblies of exhortation are also a product of the "children's church" arrangement and such division is lacking Bible authority. The unauthorized separation (i.e., forsaking) of many, a few, or even one of the saints of a congregation from an assembly of exhortation results in a clear-cut violation of explicit Bible teaching (Hebrews 10:25)."Oh, but it seems so harmless," and "Oh, it has such good results," are but empty retorts. Read again I Samuel 15 and compare Saul's pitiful excuses. Brethren, nothing changes the need for Bible authority for all that we do (Colossians 3:17)!
"Oh, we've got so many more important things to think about," and "Oh, you're just narrow-minded, negative, picky, radical, unbalanced, etc." are equally vain. We ask, "Where is your Bible authority for the practice?" and it is the children's church proponent's duty to answer (I Peter 3:15)! Ask our God how serious it is to do what He has forbidden. His answer is found in the report of Uzza's death (I Chronicles 13:9-10).
In connection with this issue and others our elders, preachers, and other members urgently need to wake up and renew a personal search of the Scriptures to regain an appreciation of the seriousness of the need for Bible authority and the severity of the Almighty against those who disregard it (Romans 11:22; Hebrews 10:31). Those who have instituted and continue to practice the unauthorized children's church arrangement should repent and give it up. Those who have formerly endorsed it should repent and renounce it in an effort to curb their continuing harmful influence.