What Do We Do With the "Paidia"
[We welcome herewith a new Gottesblogger, Rev. John Bussman, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Cullman, Alabama. -ed]
Trigger warning: Children’s church is an abomination.
If you’re still here and haven’t torn off to the comment section about how I don’t know you or how unique your “context” is, let’s be good Lutherans and start with the Scriptures. What does Jesus say? He says, “Let the little children (paidia) come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Now that the Scriptures have settled it, we also hear Luther echoing the same sentiment all the way through the Large Catechism, beginning already in the Preface. Everywhere you turn Luther is encouraging us to impress the truth of the Scriptures, especially on the young people.
With the emphasis from Jesus and Luther, we should have a good grasp on what to do with the paidia (which translates to very young children or infants), but instead of training up children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), too many are training up children according to what is convenient or according to what we think will make them want to keep coming to church. Far too many pastors have created or support unorthodox worship practices that seek only to entertain and have little substance. Others even dismiss their children from the Divine Service completely because they falsely believe that children need something age appropriate in order to grow in their discipleship. So forget what Jesus said. Don’t let the paidia come to Him where He’s promised to be. Give them toys and games instead. Let them sing about Noah and his Arky Arky instead of proclaiming, “God’s own child, I’ll gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! (LSB 594.1). Just get rid of them in general. They cry. They’re loud. They don’t sit still. If you’re not going to give me children’s church at least give them designated pews in the back so I don’t have to look at them. Create for them a separate room that isn’t for them to have a moment to settle down or to correct bad behavior but is a room full of more distractions. (They learn very quickly that misbehaving gets them to the nursery which winds up rewarding them for bad behavior.) Surely the iPhone will keep them busy for a while. Why is it that we remain in shock that we lose our children when we treat them this way? We owe them more than this. They deserve to be treated as actual members of the body of Christ instead of noisy nuisances who need to be appeased.
This leaves us with the seemingly difficult move toward practice that is beneficial to the body as a whole, from the infants to the elderly and everyone in between. What does this look like if we aren’t to divorce doctrine from practice? Let me suggest that it begins by actually letting the paidia come to Jesus with the rest of the body of Christ. Take the time to explain to them what is happening in the liturgy. Show them the stained glass. Tell them the stories. Teach them what the altar is for and the importance of reverence. When the Sacrament passes, tell them: “That’s the body of Jesus.” “That’s the blood of Jesus.” Teach them the hymns. You’ll find that when we sing them the hymns and the liturgy, they catch on quickly and actually begin to participate. Yet, too many treat children like they’re not smart enough to understand what’s happening in worship when, in fact, that goes against what the Spirit has done for them in Baptism, namely, made them wise unto salvation through water and the Word. Let the paidia come. Do not hinder them. Do not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.