In context of his expression of anger driving out the money changers from the temple You have established a stronghold from the mouths of children...to silence the enemy and the avenger. Psalm 8:2 (HCSB)
Jesus referenced this verse but changed the word from stronghold/strength to praise. He used the verse in the midst of the incident in which he was removing the money changes from the temple. There is a missiological significance here for us to consider and articulate. It shows that one should not use “normal” social categories to evaluate people. Praise to God can come from anywhere and Jesus will not stop those who raise Him.
In a world run by adults, it might seem odd to discuss why the church should give serious attention to 4-14 year olds. This short section seeks to consider why that age group should be a crucial concern of the church.
Deuteronomy 6:7. The example of Deuteronomy 6:7 is that children should be taught the principles of God in the settings of life: “as you sit in the house, walk along the road, lie down and get up.” This exhortation comes in the midst of one of the key texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, the shema of Deuteronomy6:4-5, a text affirming monotheism and the call top love God. This teaching of the children is supposed to take place in a family context, but what should believers do in a society where often the family is broken? This raises the missiological task that needs to challenge the church to think through how young people get taught about God in a world where families are broken and often education is secularized. The need is for intentionality in exposing young people to God and His call.
Proverbs and the Model of Chapters 1-9. The texts of the early chapters of Proverbs picture a father teaching his child fear of the Lord and wisdom from God. This is little more than a development of what we see called for in Deuteronomy. However it is the range of life that is presented to the “son”. Topics include the pursuit of wisdom, seeking justice, valuing and pursuing God more than wealth, the call to pursue righteousness and to have discretion, avoiding the danger of women who can lead one astray, to bind mercy and truth around one’s neck, to trust and honor God with our actions and wealth, to receive God’s discipline, to give the good to our neighbor, to eschew violence, to appreciate how God’s wisdom protects in life as well as the discipline that comes with it, to avoid being lazy, to have integrity of one’s word, to shun pride, scheming, division and jealousy, to practice fidelity and prudence, and to treat her as a precious meal of sustenance. These are the themes that the child is taught by the father in Proverbs. It is a map to skill in living and a quality of life that the world does not teach.
However, once again the question comes. If these things are not taught to children because they lack a unified home or one that cares about divine wisdom, then how will they learn?
Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-14, Luke 18:15-17, and the Example of Jesus. This passage has little children brought to Jesus for him to pray for them and show them concern. All of this was thought by his disciples to be a poor use of Jesus’ time. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these? The term for child here (pais) is the term for a child below the age of puberty (BDAG, 749). In an ancient society that did not give status to children, Jesus’ action stands out, not merely as a picture about believers being like children, but in giving value to a child as one also made in God’s image and one who is forming their views of the world with a spirit dependent on adults to help them see life clearly. The passage in Luke tells us even babies (breph_) were brought to Jesus as he made such remarks. Every soul is important to God and the souls of the impressionable people that are children need the focused attention of the church, because of the sensitive place children are at in terms of their development of an appreciation of God and creation.
So again the question begs, how should we help the young of the world come to appreciate God, especially when they are of an age when their key orientations to life are being formed and there are so many other, more damaging examples surrounding them as to how to pursue life?
The Example of the Household Lists of Colossians and Ephesians. Here we see that when parents are addressed so also there is time taken to instruct children. Once again the family unit is assumed as a the central locale for value formation, since these exhortation to children follows what is said to parents (Eph 6:1-3; Col. 3:20-21).
The Call of Jesus to Welcome Children in Mark 9:36-38. Here we see Jesus instruct that children are to be welcomed. Jesus said this of a child small enough to be held in his arms. To welcome such a little one is the same as welcoming Jesus! Here is a text that makes clear the human value of even the smallest of human beings.
The texts above make it clear that the role of the child is not one the church or families should ignore when it comes to pointing them towards God. Yet life often does that for children. Whether they are the victims of poverty, neglect, broken homes, or suffer as orphans, many children never have the chance to contemplate God or appreciate where they fit in His creation. That neglect is something that should be of concern to the church.
If the isolation of children from God is a concern to the church, then it means that churches will give careful consideration to (1) how they nurture the children who come to them, offering something more than babysitting, and (2) how to think about reaching those children who are in the world and might not get to come to church. Part of the goal of the 4-14 challenge is to call churches to a concrete consideration of how to reach this precious and important age group. It may often be the case that reaching this group is a way to reach the families or guardians of those who care for such children, opening a door to others who also can benefit from knowing God. This will mean careful development of curricula that prepare these children for the world they will face and the challenges of judgment it will call on them to make from very early ages. It also will challenge churches to reflect on how ministries of outreach can be developed that aim to include and touch children in this age group. The task is large and grows more complex as families break up and as more people live in a secularized or in unchurched environments. These realities, biblical, theological and missiological, call for us to think more deeply and concretely about how to reach those who are forming lifelong impressions of God.