In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how it is that we may discern whether or not a ministry practice is Biblical. I hope all would agree with me that we may deem a practice to be Biblical not only if it is in keeping with Biblical prescriptions or precedents, while avoiding running afoul of Biblical prohibitions, but that a practice may also be deemed to be Biblical if it is in keeping with the wise and faithful application of Biblical principles.
I also pointed out that it is precisely when we are discussing Biblical principles that we can say that age segregated instruction of children by the Church is indeed a Biblical concept, since this practice does, in fact, comport with the wise application of such principles. In setting forth these principles, I began in Part 2 of this series with a discussion of the Biblical teaching about the nature of the Church as a spiritual family and how this relates to the Biblical teaching about the biological family. In this final post I want to examine several other Biblical principles that pertain to the issue.
We shall take as our starting point a key text in which Paul describes the ministry and maturation of the Church:
NKJ Ephesians 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
We see in this passage a focus on the importance of the maturation of the Church “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (vs. 13). We also see in this passage several important ideas that will inform our understanding and help us to more ably assess whether or not the age segregated instruction of children in the Church is a Biblical concept.
I. We must understand the importance of pastoral ministry for the maturation of the Church.
First, we need to see the importance of pastors as teachers of the Church. At the very least Paul closely connects the role of pastors with that of teachers in Ephesians 4:11. As a matter of fact, F.F. Bruce understands his reference to “some pastors and teachers” as indicating a single group of leaders:
Teaching is an essential part of the pastoral ministry; it is appropriate, therefore, that the two terms, “pastors and teachers,” should be joined together to denote one order of ministry. (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, p. 348)
However, not all Bible scholars agree with the way F.F. Bruce and many other conservative commentators understand the two terms in this passage, but even those who disagree tend to see a close connection between them. Peter T. O’Brien, for example, argues:
The pastors and teachers are linked here by a single definite article in the Greek, which suggests a close association of functions between two kinds of ministers who operate within one congregation (cf. 2:20). Although it has often been held that the two groups are identical (i.e. ‘pastors who teach’), it is more likely that the terms describe overlapping functions (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28-29 and Gal. 6:6, where ‘teachers’ are a distinct group). All pastors teach (since teaching is an essential part of pastoral ministry), but not all teachers are also pastors. The latter exercise their leadership role by feeding God’s flock with his word. (The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 300)
Thus, whichever way one understands Paul’s reference to pastors and teachers here, one cannot miss the close connection between pastors and their teaching function in the churches.
It is also worth remembering that the term pastor or shepherd (poimēn) is used interchangeably in the New Testament with the terms elder and overseer to denote the leaders of the various individual churches. In fact, Paul used the related verb meaning “to shepherd” (poimaínō) to describe their ministry as well. For example, Luke tells us that, after Paul called for “the elders” of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17), he said to them:
NKJ Acts 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [epískopos], to shepherd [poimaínō] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. [See also Peter’s interchangeable use of this terminology in 1 Pet. 5:1-2.]
Paul clearly refers to the elders both as “overseers” and as those whose task it is “to shepherd” the church. But leading up to this admonition, Paul held himself up as an example for the Ephesian elders to know what they should do as elders in the church after he was gone:
NKJ Acts 20:18-21 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
NKJ Acts 20:26-27 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
There can be no doubt that Paul expected these men to teach the flock as he himself had done so faithfully. And we are not surprised that he also instructed Timothy that elders must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and that those who rule well should be regarded as worthy of double honor, “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17, ESV). In addition, he admonished Titus that an elder must hold fast to the word as he has been taught “that he may be able, by sound doctrine [didaskalía, teaching], both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9).
So we can see that pastors – also known as either elders or overseers – are called to be teachers in the churches and that this is their primary means “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is through their teaching of the Word of God that they feed God’s people so that they may grow in Christian maturity.
Second, we need to see the importance of pastors as teachers for every member of the Church. Paul specifically says that pastor-teachers are given to the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12), and he does not restrict this function only to adult saints. In fact, Paul emphasizes that pastor-teachers will need to do their job of equipping the saints “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, italics mine). In other words, Paul teaches that pastors are responsible for equipping each and every saint for the work of ministry, regardless of age, which means that they are responsible for the instruction of believing children as well. We are not surprised, then, to see that Paul would directly address children in his epistles as well (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20).
But this does not mean, of course, that pastors are required to personally instruct each and every believer in the same way. They may choose to delegate and oversee this responsibility to a greater or lesser degree. For example, as we saw in Part 2 of this series, Christian parents also have a God-given authority and role to play in the evangelization of their unbelieving children and in the instruction and spiritual maturation of their believing children. As Paul says later in his epistle to the Ephesians:
NKJ Ephesians 6:4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
So, when Paul teaches us that pastors have a key role to play in the spiritual maturation of every believer under their charge – including children – he does not see this as undermining or replacing the key role that God has given to parents to raise their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.” As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, the church and family must not be pitted against one another. They must work together, as much as is possible, appropriately recognizing their God-given spheres of authority and priority of obligation. And they must avoid succumbing to the false choice that says that either parents are responsible for evangelizing and training their children as believers or that the local church is responsible for evangelizing and training the children in their midst. Clearly God has given a certain authority both to parents and to local churches to perform these tasks, and they must work together to carry them out.
Thus pastors may choose to oversee and guide the parents in their congregation as they raise their children, leaving most of the instruction to them. However, given that not all parents who gather with the local church will be genuine believers, pastors may also want to offer specific times of instruction for the children while the church is gathered and while they seek to reach out to the parents. In addition, some parents may feel the need for help in training their children, help which may be provided either by the pastors meeting regularly with families, or by engaging other mature adult believers in offering classes for the children, or both.
Pastors certainly cannot do everything themselves, and Paul recognizes this fact when he makes it clear that pastors are to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). In fact, Paul also recognizes this fact elsewhere when he instructs Titus to engage the older women in helping to instruct the younger women. He admonishes Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1), which may also be translated as “speak the things which are proper for sound teaching.” In other words, in his capacity as a pastor and therefore as one who is to ensure the sound teaching of the flock, Paul tells Titus to enlist the women in this endeavor as well when he admonishes him to teach:
NKJ Titus 2:3-5 … the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
Paul says that the older women are to be kalodidáskalous, teachers of what is good (vs. 3). And when he says that the older women should admonish the younger women (vs. 4), he uses the Greek word sōphronízō, which means “to instruct in prudence or behavior that is becoming and shows good judgment” (BAGD3 #7229, BibleWorks). Or, as the NET Bible notes put it, the word “denotes teaching in the sense of bringing people to their senses, showing what sound thinking is” (BibleWorks).
So, Paul wisely assumes that there are some things that it is good for older women to teach younger women. In other words, although Paul certainly does not diminish the responsibility of pastors to teach the women to love their husbands and children, etc., he nevertheless admonishes Titus that they may and should enlist the help of older women in so instructing the younger women as well.
But notice also in Paul’s admonition to Titus the recognition of the principles of age and sex segregation in the instruction of the younger women by the older women. When Paul says that the older women should teach the younger women, he must be assuming that they will be taking them aside in some way in order to do so. We know that he cannot mean that these older women should do such teaching and admonishing when the whole church is gathered for worship and instruction, for example, since his prohibitions elsewhere concerning the teaching ministry of women would rule out this possibility (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Thus I see no other way to understand Paul’s teaching here than as a recognition of the importance of segregating the members of the local church by either sex or age when appropriate and helpful for their instruction. Indeed, it would appear that we have here an actual precedent for age segregated instruction in the churches. Now, someone may respond that Paul does not specifically mention children here, but only younger women, to which I would simply point out that this objection does nothing to diminish the principle of age segregated instruction which Paul recognizes to be important in the edification of the Church. In fact, if this principle is important when we consider the youth and inexperience of young women, then it will be even more important when we consider the youth and inexperience of children.
II. We must understand the importance of mutual ministry for the maturation of the Church.
Paul quite clearly asserts that it is “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, [which] causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:16). When Paul thus speaks of the Church and refers to “the whole body” and “every part” of the body, he intends to refer to every believer who makes up the body. But Paul does not restrict his words only to adult believers, nor does he restrict his words only to biological family units. On the contrary, he assumes that every single member of the body, regardless of age or biological family relationship, is in need of edification from the other members of the body and has something to contribute to the edification of the rest of the body.
The same can be said for Paul’s description of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For example, when he wrote to the Corinthian church concerning spiritual gifts, he said:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 12:4-12 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
Notice that Paul assumes that every member of the body needs the ministry of the rest of the members of the body and that every member of the body is gifted in some way to that end. This would include even the members of the body who are still children, wouldn’t it? But how shall we think of such ministry in a manner that includes children? Well, given that the primary gift or ability under discussion here is the gift of teaching, let us take that as an example.
Paul makes it abundantly clear in his discussion of the gifts in 1 Corinthians that “the Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11) and that not everyone receives the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:29). However, Paul also speaks elsewhere of a teaching role for each and every member of the body. Consider, for example, his command to the Colossian believers:
NKJ Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching [didáskō] and admonishing [nouthetéō] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Paul assumes that, as we sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” presuming that such are based upon Scripture and communicate Scriptural truth and are thus products of the word of Christ dwelling richly within us, we will indeed be teaching and admonishing one another as we employ such songs in worship. And such a teaching and admonishing role is one in which every believer can and should take part, whether men or women, children or adults. Such is true despite the fact that Paul elsewhere teaches that there is a special authoritative teaching role for elders in the churches, a role for which an elder must be appropriately qualified (1 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:17), and that there is a special teaching role for women that does not include teaching or having authority over men in the churches (1 Tim. 2:11-12; Tit. 2:3-5). And such is true despite the fact that one’s biological and/or spiritual maturity will greatly affect his or her ability to discover and use his or her gifts capably and wisely for the edification of the body. For example, when Paul writes to the Roman believers, he indicates the kind of spiritual maturity required to effectively admonish one another:
NKJ Romans 15:14 Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish [nouthetéō] one another.
When Paul indicates that being “full of goodness” and being “filled with all knowledge” are prerequisites to being able to admonish one another, he is assuming that a certain measure of spiritual maturity is required to do so. And we can assume that such would be the same with respect to teaching as well, a fact clearly indicated also by the fact that Paul prohibits the appointment of a novice to the teaching office in the churches (1 Tim. 3:6).
To be sure, then, given the limitations of both their biological and spiritual maturity, children will definitely not be able to teach and admonish others in the body as adults can and should, even if they can play such a role, along with every other member of the body, when they take part in the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). As Solomon says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15a), so it would definitely not be wise for us to assume they have a great deal to teach us, let alone the ability to do so. Nevertheless, we can certainly learn even from the children in our midst, as Jesus’ own example shows us:
NKJ Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
We see how the example of childlike faith is one to be followed by all Christians, and thus we see how we may learn from, or be encouraged by, even by the children in our midst, especially believing children whose faith is in the Lord.
The upshot of all of this is simply to demonstrate that every believer – whether adult or child – has a teaching role to play in the local church within the limitations of their biological and/or spiritual maturity or, in the case of women, within the limits of their specific gender role. But this also implies that they need to be taught in such a way as to recognize such limitations as well, and this leads us to our final point.
III. We must understand the importance of the analogous nature of biological and spiritual maturation for the Church.
We have seen this important principle in Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian believers:
NKJ Ephesians 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine [didaskalía, teaching], by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Paul likens immature believers to children “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” who need to “grow up” (vss. 14-15). Although he is speaking here of the Church collectively, what he says must apply to individual believers who make up the collective body, and it must apply to believers regardless of their age. In other words, even adult believers begin as spiritual children in the faith who need to grow up. Thus we need to understand that both children and adults mature spiritually in a manner analogous to the way that they mature biologically. This is a fact easily seen in Scripture, and it must be recognized by the Church as she carries out her ministry.
For example, Scripture recognizes in a number of places what anyone knows from their own experience, namely that as we grow physically from childhood to adulthood we also grow in our capacity for wisdom and understanding. And Scripture readily applies this principle to growth in the Christian life. Here is just a sample of passages that indicate these important principles:
NKJ 1 Kings 3:6-7 And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.”
Although we cannot be sure precisely how old Solomon was when he began to reign, he had been referred to as a “man” before this time (1 Kings 2:9), so we should probably assume that he is speaking figuratively here of his own inability to lead His people. At any rate, when he likens himself to a “little child” in this regard, he also recognizes what we all know, namely that little children lack wisdom and experience. Indeed, this is why Solomon goes on to ask God for wisdom in the account that follows (1 Kings 3:9-12).
NKJ Isaiah 7:14-16 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
Here we see a recognition of the fact that children grow in their capacity to understand right and wrong as they mature physically and mentally (see also Isa. 8:3-4).
NKJ Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Here we see that even Jesus grew in wisdom as He grew in stature. That is, as He grew up and matured physically, He also grew in His capacity for wisdom. To be sure, Jesus was a bit of a prodigy, whose understanding even at the age of twelve astonished the Jewish leaders, as Luke’s account records for us in the preceding context (Luke 2:42-47), but He still went on to grow in wisdom and didn’t begin His ministry until He was an adult.
NKJ 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able ….
Just as an infant is incapable of receiving solid food, Paul says, so the person who is a babe in Christ is not yet able to receive the deeper things of the faith. John Calvin is helpful in grasping Paul’s meaning here:
Here it is asked, whether Paul transformed Christ to suit the diversity of his hearers. I answer, that this refers to the manner and form of his instructions, rather than to the substance of the doctrine. For Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33) and so that, in short, he drops in his instructions by little and little, lest it should run over, if poured in more abundantly. (Commentary on Corinthians, e-Sword)
Thus Paul saw the importance of teaching people in such a way as to recognize their level of maturity and attempt to teach them accordingly. This is what age segregated instruction is also about. It follows the same principle.
NKJ Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
John Calvin again offers some helpful comments in understanding this passage:
Paul uses the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:2; and he reproaches the Corinthians with the same fault with what is mentioned here, at least with one that is very similar; for he says, that they were carnal and could not bear solid food. Milk then means an elementary doctrine suitable to the ignorant. Peter takes the word in another sense, when he bids us to desire the milk that is without deceit, (1 Peter 2:2;) for there is a twofold childhood, that is, as to wickedness, and as to understanding; and so Paul tells us, “Be not children in understanding, but in wickedness.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) They then who are so tender that they cannot receive the higher doctrine, are by way of reproach called children.
For the right application of doctrines is to join us together, so that we may grow to a perfect manhood, to the measure of full age, and that we should not be like children, tossed here and there, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14.) We must indeed show some indulgence to those who have not yet known much of Christ, if they are not capable as yet of receiving solid food, but he who has had time to grow, if he till continues a child, is not entitled to any excuse. We indeed see that Isaiah brands the reprobate with this mark, that they were like children newly weaned from the breasts. (Isaiah 28:9.) The doctrine of Christ does indeed minister milk to babes as well as strong meat to adults; but as the babe is nourished by the milk of its nurse, not that it may ever depend on the breast, but that it may by degrees grow and take stronger food; so also at first we must suck milk from Scripture, so that we may afterwards feed on its bread. The Apostle yet so distinguishes between milk and strong food, that he still understands sound doctrine by both, but the ignorant begin with the one, and they who are well taught are strengthened by the other. (Commentary on Hebrews, e-Sword)
It couldn’t be any clearer that the author of Hebrews understood our spiritual growth to be analogous to our biological growth, just as the Apostle Paul did. And it couldn’t be clearer that he applied this principle to the Hebrew Christians in the same way that Paul applied it to the Corinthians. He did not expect them to be able to understand more than they should have been able to understand, but he did expect them to understand as much as they should have been able to understand at that time in their spiritual development. In other words, he practiced the same principle as Paul, teaching people in accordance with their level of maturity and expecting from them what ought to come with maturity only because by that time they ought to have been more mature.
Thus we have seen clear evidence from Scripture that children develop in their capacity for wisdom and understanding of spiritual things as they grow, and we have seen how this is applied by way of analogy to a person’s spiritual growth, whether that person is a child or an adult. However, since children do not yet have the same capacity as adults, we cannot rightly expect the same level of spiritual maturity from them as we would from adults, even if these children have been believers as long as some of the adults in the Church. I am quite sure, for example, that the author of Hebrews did not have believing children in mind when he said “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:12).
Thus we see that Scripture acknowledges what we all already know by experience to be true, namely that believing children do not have the same capacity for spiritual growth that adult believers possess, so we must adapt our instruction of them accordingly. This is what age segregated instruction is all about. It simply recognizes that the children in our churches are not yet able to receive all that the adult believers are able to receive, just as less mature adult believers are not yet able to receive all that more mature adult believers are able to receive. And, if the Apostle Paul, for example, thought it prudent to take this into account in the way he taught less mature adult believers, then surely we ought to take this same principle into account as we seek to instruct child believers. This is both Scriptural sense and common sense. And so we may readily see that age segregated instruction in the churches is indeed a wise application of Scriptural principles.
We thus end our brief study in which we have sought to show that age segregated Sunday School is indeed Biblical. In Part 1 we have seen that we may deem a practice to be Biblical not only if it is in keeping with Biblical prescriptions or precedents, while avoiding running afoul of Biblical prohibitions, but that a practice may also be deemed to be Biblical if it is in keeping with the wise and faithful application of Biblical principles. In Part 2 we have seen that the Bible teaches that the Church is a spiritual family, analogous to one’s biological family, and that it even teaches that elders in the churches are to lead like fathers lead in their homes. We have also now seen in Part 3 the crucial role that pastors play in the education of every member of the churches over which they have been given authority and oversight, the importance of involving every member in mutual ministry as they are able, and the importance of teaching members in a way that takes into proper account their level of spiritual maturity, with a special emphasis upon understanding the lack of maturity that all children will still possess. And all of this supports the notion that age segregated instruction is indeed a Biblical concept. It is indeed a wise application of Biblical principles to the instruction of children in the churches.
I will conclude by pointing out that, in my experience, most of those whom I have encountered from the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) actually agree with this principle in the instruction of their own children, even if they are sometimes reluctant to admit it. I haven’t yet met an FICM advocate that doesn’t homeschool, for example, and when I ask them questions about their homeschooling I quickly discover that they do not teach all their children the same thing, or in the same way, or at the same time. They do not, for example, submit their five year old children to the rigors of algebra alongside their twelve year old children at a time when their five year old is just learning to add. Nor do they discuss with their five year old children such spiritual concepts as predestination or the problem of evil in the same way or with the same depth as they would with their fifteen year old children. In fact, they will typically admit that they don’t even keep them in the same room when the are teaching them, lest the younger child become confused and the older child become bored. In other words, they actually practice age segregated instruction in their homes. But I wonder why, then, if age segregated instruction is considered to be a wise application of Biblical principles in their biological family environment, they cannot see that it is just as wise an application of Biblical principles in the spiritual family that is the Church, especially since the Bible so clearly acknowledges that the same basic growth principles apply in both settings.
I would also point out that, just as fathers of necessity typically delegate much of the homeschooling responsibility to their wives, while maintaining loving oversight and involvement, even so the elders in the churches may of necessity delegate much of the instruction of church members to other qualified teachers in their midst, while maintaining the same kind of loving oversight and involvement. Of course, when it comes to the believing children in their midst, they will depend primarily upon the believing parents to properly instruct their children, but there is no Scriptural reason to think they should be required to do so exclusively. In fact, they may think it wise to offer age segregated instruction for the children through the local church as a supplement and an aid to the parents, especially where the parents themselves may be immature believers or even unbelievers. And they may also see it as a wise practice that enables their children to receive more fully the edification that comes through the mutual ministry of the body, since the children are able to have some concentrated time with other mature believers who may actually be more gifted to teach spiritual things to the children than most parents are.
With that, I will have to end this series of articles, but, as always, I welcome responses from the blog’s readers.
5 thoughts on “Is Age Segregated Sunday School Biblical? – Part 3”
Great series, brother. I pastor a small church in Illinois. For the past year or so, we have been examining our church traditions by holding them up to parameters similar to the four you mentioned at the beginning of your first post. One area of personal study has been the youth ministry, and I have come to similar conclusions as you have here. I have a family in our church and also a family in our community that we are trying to reach who both have subscribed to the FICM in almost a cult-like fashion. It has been a challenge trying to show them I am not a heretic for wanting to start a children's church ministry. In the process of putting together a study on the topic, I came across your blog.
I am glad the series has been helpful to you, brother. I currently have several families in my congregation who prefer the FICM approach, and we get along fine. It took a lot of discussion and listening to each other in order for them to be convinced that we really do share the same core values concerning church and family and the same commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We also do not ask them to violate their own consciences before the Lord by pressing them in any way to take part in the children's Sunday school ministry or the Wednesday evening ministries. They are actually some of the most committed and supportive people in our congregation, and I am so glad they have been able to agree to disagree on the matter as the rest of us desire to do.
If you would like to talk sometime to a fellow Illinois pastor who has been dealing with these issues for some time, please feel free to contact me through our church's website here:
May the Lord Jesus bless your church with maturity and peace concerning this potentially divisive issue.
Thank you for this article, especially the part on Titus 2 and also how homeschooling families all practice age-segregation in their homes while demonizing (literally) in the church. I have been encountering FIC people almost since the beginning of my pastoral ministry (1998). I have tried several forms of reasoning with biblical examples and references but to little avail. Most of my interactions have been with harsh, domineering men who view themselves as the only ones who have the right to speaking into their wives 'and kids' lives. The moms haven't been better. We left the homeschool movement because of these sorts of families. Through relationships and by God's grace, I have come to appreciate the heart of some FIC-oriented dads, although I am getting tired of the fear-based rhetoric, poor theology, and twisting of Scripture. I have been trying to instruct these men as I should, but I lack the love I am called to have for them. Thanks again. Your writing clearly communicates what I have been grasping at communicating.
Thank you for this brother! This was helpful. I’ve listened to Voddie Baucham on this topic and he makes a lot of good points against youth ministries and Sunday schools. Reading your article kinda helped me with swinging the pendulum back to the middle. At the same time Voddie makes some good points that can make you lean back. I think he fails by making to much of a sharp distinction between the biological family and church family where it seems there opossed to one another. God bless!
I am glad to hear the articles have been helpful. It was my desire to begin to develop a Biblical theology of church and family and to address the issue from that perspective. In my view, the FICM has failed to grapple fully with the Biblical teaching in this regard. I hope that I have been able to fill a void in the discussion that I have regularly encountered when dealing with the issue. Thus far no leading FICM advocates responded to my arguments, at least not to my knowledge. But I do hope they have read them.