Too Much Children’s Work
We hope that Wylam Price will give us the sequel to this rather unusual and negative approach to work among the children. Watch for the next issue.
How much children’s work was done by the early Church? Little, if any, is recorded in The Acts, and one naturally wonders if there are lessons in this for the Church today. Children’s work is vital, essential, indispensable — but perhaps we should start the New Year with a new look at the relative proportions of our time and effort being directed to children and adult work.
Peter’s address in Acts I was directed to “men and brethren” (Acts 1:16). On the day of Pentecost, those who “began to speak with other tongues” were heard by “devout men, out of every nation” (Acts 2:4-5). Later the same day, he spoke to “men of Israel” (Acts 2:14-22).
Children were not ignored completely, of course. As Peter also pointed out, “the promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39). At the same time, “children” here does not necessarily mean little girls and boys. Besides, the emphasis on work with adults is rather obvious and the early Church was clearly established as a result of such work —not children’s work.
In Acts 3, the person healed was an adult (Acts 3:2). Those who wondered at this miracle of healing were addressed by Peter as “men of Israel” (Acts 3:12). After his arrest, Peter then spoke to the “rulers of the people, and elders of Israel” (Acts 4:8). While the general term of address, “men”, might sometimes include women and children, “rulers” and “elders” plainly could not.
Furthermore, only “men and women” are mentioned in connection with the multitudes of believers “added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14). Not that this term would exclude young people or children, but again it is evident that the emphasis is on a ministry directed primarily to adults.
When Peter accused the Jews of slaying Jesus, his remarks were directed to adults (Acts 5:29-33), who in turn were counselled by Gamaliel to be moderate, as adults, in their actions.
When Stephen undertook his ministry, his opponents were adults, who, however, “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). Such language would normally be used only to describe adult behaviour. In addition, he later addressed the council as “men, brethren, and fathers” (Acts 7:2).
Phillip’s ministry was apparently concerned with adults for the most part (Acts 8:5, 13, 15), as was Paul’s subsequently (Acts 9:20-22, 29).
In Acts 9, Peter healed Aeneas, an adult man, and raised Tabitha, a women (Acts 9:34, 40). Later, he ministered mainly to adults in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10).
Under Paul’s ministry, Sergius Paulus the proconsul was converted (Acts 13:12). In the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, Paul addressed his remarks to “men of Israel” (Acts 13:16). Description of the people’s reaction indicates a predominantly adult audience (Acts 13:42-43).
Paul’s healing at Lystra was that of an impotent man (Acts 14:10). His first convert in Europe was an adult woman (Acts 16:14). At this point, of course, it is worth noting that “she was baptized, and her household,” the latter term implying that possibly servants or even children were included amongst those believing (Acts 16:15).
The same could be observed in the case of the Philippian jailor, a converted adult whose household also apparently included believing children (Acts 16:33-34).
To this point in The Acts, however, for all the many indications of ministries to adults, there have been only three mentions of children: one of them not necessarily meaning younger children, and the other two merely by implication.
At Thessalonica, the response to Paul’s ministry appears to demonstrate a continuance of the same trend. His converts included several of “the chief women” (Acts 17:4). The same thing occurred at Berea, where they searched the Scriptures daily to prove the truth of Paul’s preaching. As a result of this, many believed, including Greek women of honourable estate and several men (Acts 17:11-12).
Paul’s reasonings at Athens must have necessarily been conducted with adults; i.e., “men of Athens” (Acts 17:22). The only believers named were adults, “Dionysius the Areopagite, and a womn named Damaris” (Acts 17:34).
One of the first believers at Corinth was “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue”, who “believed on the Lord with all his house” (Acts 18:8). Here again, one could infer a contact with children or young people, but nevertheless, the emphasis is clearly on work with adults.
A continued perusal of The Acts would indicate that most of Paul’s ministry was directed to adults, including the elders at Ephesus (20:17), the elders at Jerusalem (21:18), the crowds at Jerusalem (22:1), the Sanhedrin (23:1), Felix the governor (24:10), Festus the governor (25:8), King Agrippa (26:2), and the Jews in Rome (28:23).
Now what, exactly, should we infer from this review of ministries to adults throughout The Acts? Ought we to conclude that children’s work is improper, out of place, ineffective? Never! But now, the results of these adult ministries should be observed also.
“The same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). “Many of them which heard the word believed and the number of men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). “Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). “The Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
In addition to great crowds of converts, a considerable number of new churches were established, all within a space of just a few short years. Besides the large “mother” church at Jerusalem, others were founded in Samaria, Antioch, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus — to mention only a few of the many places where stable testimonies took shape as a result of preaching to adults. Small wonder that the early preachers were accused of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
This much is clear to everyone no doubt: the work of the early ministers of the Christian Gospel was directed very largely to adults rather than to children. No one would deny that children were also included and reached through their ministry, but the emphasis of the records in The Acts is plainly on adult work. And at the same time, their ministry was highly effective, under God, in winning great numbers of converts, and in establishing numerous flourishing and aggressive churches.
Now the question arises, do the proportions of our adult work and children’s work correspond to those found in The Acts? And also, do we find significant numbers of adults amongst our converts today as they obviously did in The Acts? Furthermore, are our churches growing in size and quality and number through the addition of adult converts?
Answers to these questions will vary from person to person and from place to place, but readers are invited to consider the subject in the light of the recorded experiences of the early Church as compared (or contrasted) with the known experiences of our assemblies today. A further discussion of the subject will appear in this department next month, but in the meantime, readers’ comments and questions are welcomed for The Forum. (For a previous discussion of the author’s views on children’s work, please refer to “Why Sunday Schools?”, Food for the Flock, September 1959, page 173).