If you are at all interested in a topic like this one, you probably value the the Bible highly. After all, you probably want children to be taught the Bible. You want them to be taught in the manner the Bible prescribes, or, if the Bible does not clearly prescribe something, at least in a way consistent with the principles taught in Scripture.
Me too. I heard claims that teaching children about God is mainly/ only a parental task, and children should not be separated from their parents for instruction. These claims seem to be the basis of so-called family integrated churches. This post will look at what the Bible say of teaching children. Who should do it? And does the Bible say all ages should stay together for it?
First principle: Children are people
If we forget that children are people, we would ignore many texts that the Bible gives about teaching. We will forget them for the simple reason that they do not include the word children. But children are people and some children are believers, so texts that apply to teaching people in general, or believers in particular, usually (unless we have good reason to believe the opposite) apply to teaching children too.
An argument from silence
Arguments from silence are limited in application, but it does give us some idea – if the Bible speak of so many other things – of what was not all that important to God.
People who think that Sunday School is not Biblical often use an argument from silence: They say that God does not tell us to have Sunday school classes for children alone. But the opposite is equally true – The Bible never tells us not to have Sunday school classes for children alone.
Separate religious schooling for children did exist at the time of Jesus: Boys went to the synagogue, a religious school, from about age 5. According to Judah ben Tema, “At five years the age is reached for studying the Bible, at ten for studying the Mishnah, at thirteen for fulfilling the mitzvoth, at fifteen for studying the Talmud.” If the ages for this is so specific, it is clear boys of different ages got different lessons.
If your father was not the rabbi of the synagogue school, it meant you got religious instruction (and teaching in things like literacy) from the rabbis, not your parents, and your parents left you there. Jesus himself was once gone for 3 days as a 12 year old, conversing with teachers who are not his mother and stepfather who were raising him, at what was most likely such a religious school.
If God had a big problem with children being religiously educated at church, while not having parents with them, we would have, most likely, see God condemn the practice of synagogue schools in the New Testament. But God does not.
The New Testament and teaching
We Christians, literally Christ-ians, are followers of the Christ who is central to the New Testament. We live under the new covenant God made, so our main source over who should (or should not) teach children should be the New Testament, that explains the New Covenant. As such, we will look who the New Testament calls to teach or be taught.
Mat 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus told his disciples to teach “all nations.” Not “teach adults of all nations – but these adults should teach their own children.”
Col 1:28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
They (Paul and Timothy) are teaching everyone, and does not specify these are just the adults. This is presented as a good thing. From that I would assume that it is acceptable if children learn from those who are not their parents.
1 Tim 4:11 Command and teach these things. 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example…
A young person like Timothy could teach, even though some in the congregation was older. If you could teach and command while younger than the people you teach, based not on rank but setting an example, I would assume that God would not have positional limits like “parents (regardless of their character flaws) and nobody else (regardless of their good character) should teach children.”
2Ti 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Servants of the Lord should teach others, and the Bible never say those others should be adults or otherwise their own and nobody else’s children. The standard for “who should teach?” here seem to be kindness and serving the Lord, not biological relation.
Eph 6:4 Fathers (this word could also be translated “parents”) do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
This text say fathers/ parents should teach their children – but it does not say they should do it alone. Part of bringing someone up in the training and instruction of the Lord could certainly be taking them to places where they could learn.
1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”…27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
The implication of this is that not all in the church are teachers – and the Bible never suggest all parents get the teaching gift. And we believers need the gifts of the other believers – including the teachers. Can a child believer say: “Church teacher, I do not need you, I have parents”? I’d think not. Believers need the whole body, so why would children who believe not need them?
Jas 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
If not many should teach, and teachers will be judged more strictly, should the church really encourage every parent to be not just among the teachers, but the main/ only teacher for their own children? Should the church rather tell people, including parents, to be careful of the teaching task?
When the Bible actually mention teaching children in particular, who is doing it? Is it spoken of as a good thing?
Deu 11:18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
This text called Israelite parents to talk about the laws of Deuteronomy with their children. If what you teach is not Deuteronomy, this verse does not apply to you.
Ps 78: 3 …things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation,
It would be easy to think this text refers to people teaching their own children, but look again: “We will not hide [things we heard] from their descendants, we will tell the next generation … [so] they would not be like their ancestors…
Who will they teach? Other people’s descendants.
The purpose of the teaching is that “they would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation.” It would certainly not make sense to say Joe should teach Joe’s offspring to not be like stubborn and rebellious Joe, but it does make sense to say “we, Jack and Jenny and Jill, will teach Joe’s offspring to not be like Joe.”
Pro 22:6 Start children off (Other translations say “Train up a child”) on the way they should go,and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
This text never mentions who should do the training, or that children should only be trained with adults in one class, but never separated into a class with other children. It could be read as advice to either the church or parents.
Rom 2:19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth
To be honest, this text is actually used in the negative: It mentions “a teacher of little children” – among a lot of positive things, but imply the person spoken to is wrong to believe he is all these things.
Still, we can get from this that being a teacher of children, but not those already taught, is an actual concept – and that the blind, the foolish, and the children have sometimes been instructed on their level, which very likely was not in a class where the already educated had to listen as much as the not-yet educated. We can also see that the person/ people referred to here is not chastized for teaching children and instructing the foolish, but for not practising what he/ they preach.
1) God wants the church – in particular those with the teaching gift – to religiously educate both its members and the whole world. He never limits this to teaching only adults, or promise to give all parents a teaching gift so the non-parent teachers would not have to teach other people’s children. I believe Christian parents should teach their children, through word and example, but people (which would include children as God does not exclude them) need the church teachers.
2) The Bible is largely silent on teaching children separately, and never either approve or disapprove of it.
PS: If the messages of the Family Integrated Church, or the film “Divided” led you to look up this topic, you may also be interested in this piece, by another blogger: http://christiannurture.blogspot.com/2012/02/sketch-of-history-of-age-segregation.html