Children in Revival

This the last article in a series that has lasted most of this year, in which we have been exploring the place of children in the life of the Church – including its sacramental life.  This isn’t merely an academic question.  Next year I will be asking the PCC to consider applying for a Bishop’s license that would allow us to become one of the growing number of Churches in the Diocese that allows children to receive communion should their parents wish them to.  Over the last few articles, I’ve been explaining from the Bible and from the history of the Church why I think that is something we should allow.  At the very least, I’m suggesting there are all kinds of spiritual, theological, pastoral and Biblical problems if we employ a blanket ban on children taking communion.  To refuse them access to something so close to the heart of Christian worship seems to suggest that children are incapable of responding authentically to Christ, or being in a full and meaningful relationship with Him.  If a child trusts in Christ, what is it about the fact that they are a child that means they shouldn’t enjoy, or indeed, don’t need to benefit from everything communion signifies?


A moment’s reflection on the Scriptures is enough to recall numerous passages that seem to imply children are fully capable of understanding who Christ is, and of responding to Him authentically.  Think of John the Baptist (in the womb!); or the children brought to Jesus to be blessed by Him (Mk.10:13-14); or those, who after the Temple is cleared, declare His praise, much to the irritation of the Pharisees (Matt.21:15-16)…  Perhaps less well known are the children who rejoice in Neh. 12:43; who are included in the sacred assembly and fast of Joel 2:16; those who are fed by Christ (after listening to His teaching?) in Matt.14:21 & 15:38.  Of course, the list could go on.  But my point is that there is nothing in the Bible that suggests children are incapable of recognising Christ and responding to Him as authentically as adults (and on occasion, even more so).  Indeed the evidence points in the other direction!  We should perhaps expect far more from our children and young people than we generally do.


This judgement is borne out across the history of the Church, most spectacularly perhaps during revivals.  Children are often among those who are most changed and challenged!  Two years before the Cambuslang Revival in 1742, James Robe discovered 16 children who were meeting in a nearby barn to pray.  He went on the following year to write:


From Sabbath the thirteenth to Sabbath the twentieth of February there were ten awakened … most of them under fourteen.  All this besides thirteen young boys who had associated themselves for prayer, without any desiring them [to do so] … there are at this time nearly seventy, if not above, as young as eight, most of whom meet in societies twice a week, and spend time in prayer, singing some part of a Psalm, reading the Scriptures and repeating their catechism…


In 1741, Whitefield recorded in his journals that many young children were found sitting on the pulpit steps where he preached.  The records from 1904 Welsh revival regularly note that children were full participants in the services of worship.  James Calder notes in his diary in 1765: ‘…I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of very young creatures (sic!) – boys and girls of about 5, 6 and 7 years old, carefully instructed and advanced in the knowledge of the principles of our holy religion’.


Similarly in 1800, Mr Slatterie of Dundee discovered:

There are some girls, from seven to ten years old who meet for singing, reading the Scriptures, and prayer one evening a week.  Also several boys … who associate for similar purposes, having one older member of the congregation preside over them.  Thus out of the mouths of babes and sucklings the Lord perfects His praise


In 1860, a newspaper correspondent included in an article for the press:


The writer has just learned that on last Saturday night when there was no public service, there were two juvenile prayer meetings, held by little children, when they sang hymns, read a portion of Scripture, and several engaged in prayer …[1]


One of the most famous of children testifying to a deeply authentic and life changing faith is the legendary Countess of Huntingdon, who traces her conversion to the age of 9 after witnessing the burial of a child her own age.


None of this is directly about receiving communion of course.  But all I am saying is that it is clearly possible for children to know and respond to Christ in a profoundly authentic way.  So, even if we were to grant this as a requirement for receiving Communion, there would still be no reason in principle to prevent children from coming to the table.[2]  Indeed, there may be good grounds to receive them there, given the depth of discipleship and devotion to Christ children can enjoy.  Confidence that the Holy Spirit can achieve such deep and lasting effects in the hearts of our children should inspire and excite us in our involvement of them in the life of our Church.  We are not simply tolerating children in the covenant people of God.  Indeed, their involvement in every aspect of our life together as a family of believers (while at times meaning things might not be quite what we would personally like in a service) is underpinned by an expectation that the Lord will meet with them, as He meets with those of us who are older; that He will work in and through them, as He does with those of us who are older; that they can worship in Spirit and truth, as can those of us who are older.  It is often said they are the Church of tomorrow; in fact they are part of the Church of today.


[1] Examples taken from Children in Revival, Harry Sprang & Revival, a people saturated with God, Brian H Edwards. 

[2] See previous articles where I have suggested that personal faith is not immediately necessary for a child to validly receive the sacrament, rather that as in baptism, children receive the sacrament on the basis of the Church’s covenantal relationship with God in Christ.  A sacrament is more about what God is saying to us than what we are saying to God.  As the old puritan divine, Stephen Charnock put it: ‘in a sacrifice something is offered to God; in a sacrament, something is exhibited to us’. Through a sacrament the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and teaches us of Christ, and so faith is cultivated.

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