What would the Apostle Paul say if he walked in on one of our Sabbath services?
He wrote that we should know “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15, Revised Standard Version).
In those congregations that are blessed to have children, the behavior of those young ones can make all the difference in whether the services really represent the name Philadelphia Church of God. That is, whether they uphold the Philadelphian standard; whether they befit the very elect, called-out ones; and whether they honor the Being whose name we stand for.
Paul said a leader in the Church should be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (verse 4, New King James Version). Every parent with children at home should have that goal. Our children’s Sabbath behavior is an excellent test of how well we are living up to it.
In my last column we talked about how our children should behave during services in order to minimize distractions and to prepare them to receive the instruction as they get older. Here we’ll discuss the standard we should strive to maintain in our children’s behavior before and after services.
“Many of our brethren may not fully realize the seriousness of strict training and vigilant enforcement of behavior of children at Church services,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the Good News magazine, May 1981. “God is holding every one of you parents responsible!”
In this article, Mr. Armstrong reprinted a letter his son Richard David wrote in 1958 to the brethren in the Fresno congregation addressing children’s behavior at Sabbath services. “I do not think my son really wrote this letter, except as God’s instrument. The living Christ, I feel, actually authored it,” he explained. “But it contains a dynamic sermon on the responsibility of parents for the training and the behavior of their children at Church services.”
What an endorsement from God’s end-time Elijah! Consider the main points of instruction and correction this Christ-authored letter has for us parents.
“[A]ll the children without exception have been too noisy, have been left to run free to themselves at services, and this must cease,” wrote Dick Armstrong. Reading these words makes me wonder just how bad those children were by our society’s loose standards. What would Mr. Armstrong think of the behavior of our children at services today?
Emphasizing that the Sabbath commandment includes “thy son” and “thy daughter” (Exodus 20:10), Dick Armstrong wrote, “The Sabbath is holy time, sacred to God, and as such our children should not be allowed to run loose like so many wild animals. … Your children must be in Church, and they must keep the Sabbath holy the same as you do.”
That is the overarching principle we must remember when we monitor and regulate our children’s behavior before and after services. This is still holy time. Isaiah 58:13 commands that we all—including our children—refrain from doing our own pleasure to ensure the Sabbath is “holy of the Lord, honourable.”
That means no running or horseplay. The children should not be throwing things, or noisily rolling cars around, or being overly loud. Boys seem especially prone to such behavior. We must direct them toward appropriate alternatives.
At the same time, that verse in Isaiah shows that God wants the Sabbath to be a “delight” for the whole family. We must train our children to uphold the standard—while we provide suitable activities and opportunities that they will enjoy.
“Of course your children can play with the other children when services are over,” said the August 1965 Good News. “They should look forward to and enjoy the Sabbath when they see all their friends again. But this is not license to sail airplanes out of restroom windows, wrestle on the floor, or bang chairs around ….”
Our children should be quiet and orderly throughout the Sabbath. They should respect the property at services—including songbooks and other children’s toys—and have a sense of decorum befitting the occasion.
By upholding God’s standards, we are teaching them what holy means.
We all want to fully enjoy fellowship with the other brethren before and after services. But we must not succumb to the temptation to turn our children loose and forget about them until it’s time to “round them up” for the trip home. The congregation is not a giant day-care staff that will look after them so we can take a break from being parents. As Proverbs 29:15 warns, “[A] child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”
That August 1965 Good News made this point emphatically: “Your policy must always be to know exactly where your children are and what they are doing!” (emphasis in original). In his 1958 letter, Dick Armstrong set the rule for his congregation that all children had to remain inside the meeting hall until the parents were ready to leave. Circumstances may differ in your congregation, but the principle of keeping close tabs on your children always applies.
The Plain Truth About Child Rearing gives us this important reminder: “The parent cannot give the child a command, and then dismiss the child and the circumstances from his mind—going on about his own pursuits. On many occasions, I have seen similar circumstances develop where parents will give the child a command to sit still and be quiet. However, because guests are present or the parent … has his mind on other things, he soon forgets what he told his child to do—and the child, willing to ‘try out’ his parents to the absolute limit of their endurance—has long since gotten down from his chair and is now just as noisy, if not noisier, than he was before!” How easy it is to fall into this trap when our minds are on our fellowship.
Another point Dick Armstrong made is worthy of deep consideration—and can be viewed both as correction and as a wonderful opportunity. In that 1958 letter, he showed the proximity between two verses in Leviticus 19—first, verse 30: “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord,” and then verse 32: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.”
In many cases, Sabbath services may be the one time a week when our children are in close contact with several older people. This provides a beautiful occasion to teach them how to relate properly with their elders.
“How many of our children are so quiet and obedient that when an elder comes into the room they will rise?” Richard David wrote under Christ’s inspiration. “They should literally obey this command in Leviticus to rise before those who are elders and learn to show honor and respect them. This is the Word of God! Are you willing to obey it? Are you living by it?” (emphasis added).
Also, take some time before and/or after services to have your children speak with adults. Teach them how to be friendly—to look them in the eye, to answer questions (hopefully with more than a yes or no), to speak up.
Two more points: Children should be taught not to walk through adult conversations (we can all help with this). They should be taught not to interrupt when adults are talking.
As is the case with behavior during services, the time to train our children how they should behave before and after services is during the week. Anticipate. Prepare. Establish firm rules. Tell them in advance the rewards for right and the punishments for wrong. Practice in whatever ways are possible. Do your work during those six days, and you’ll be able to rest on the Sabbath as your children behave appropriately.
While you are establishing these good habits, you might consider establishing a happy tradition—perhaps enjoying ice cream as a family after services—for when the children behaved themselves well in the household of God, the Church of the living God.
Let’s diligently work with our children to keep God’s Sabbath holy and honorable—and at the same to make it a delight. This will do much to bring us peace, build God’s Family, strengthen the Church in the eyes of the world and of God, and prepare our young people for a lifetime of joy-filled Sabbath-keeping.