Covenant Worship: Part Two
Part Two: Contemporary Objections
The importance and rationale for covenant worship has been challenged by those inside and outside of the reformed community. While the objections are numerous, they fall into two major groups. The first group focuses on the children, claiming that covenant worship does not benefit them. The second group focuses on the broader church, claiming that covenant worship is not beneficial for the community as a whole.
Within the first group, the most pervasive objection to covenant worship is the argument of non-comprehension. Young children simply do not understand most of what happens during corporate worship, and so remaining in the service provides very little benefit to them. It would be much better to remove them from the “adult” sermon and provide teaching accommodated to their level of understanding. John Frame, writing from inside the reformed community, raises this objection in his book on worship: “It is important that teaching be intelligible, clear, and edifying….In worship…edification is more important than mere togetherness. Ideally everybody should be taught at his own level of understanding” (Worship in Spirit and Truth, 92). Ruth Ward makes a similar argument based on her own personal experience: “During the sermon…I was lost. I counted light bulbs” (Worship is For Kids Too, 11) She concludes that most of the service is over a child’s head, which defeats the purpose of worship.
A second objection that falls within this first group is that forcing children to remain in the worship service may cause them to dislike, even hate, the worship of God. Ward summarizes this objection: “The fact is, they may be only learning patience and endurance, as well as developing a distaste for worship altogether. For some families, the worship hour is their worst hour” (Ibid 13). Further, Ward thinks there may be a connection between keeping children in worship and their departure from church as an adult: “Many unchurched adults date their desire to stop attending church back to the time when they were bored in adult worship” (Ibid 13).
Moving to the second group, a common objection to covenant worship is that keeping children in the corporate worship service distracts others from worshipping, especially the parents. Restless and noisy children in the service prevent other worshippers from experiencing personal worship as fully as they might otherwise have been able. Again Ward voices the complaint: “Noisy ‘s-sh’s’ distract others…we have all observed smaller children being permitted to rummage through purses, registering delight at the discovery of keys, mirrors, and paper-wrapped candy. Everyone, especially the mother, sighs deeply if they magically fall asleep” (Ibid 13).
A final objection that falls into the second group is that keeping children in worship is a hindrance to church growth and evangelism. Richard Bacon calls this the ‘expediency’ argument, and summarizes it as follows: “Nearly all American churches now have nurseries, and parents have come to expect that there will be a nursery at any church they visit. We want to have a church that will be attractive to new families, especially those with young children” (Revealed to Babes, 64). The objection is thus that not offering some type of “children’s church” during the corporate service will be considered as “out of touch” and “irrelevant” by visiting families who might otherwise have joined the church.