The Nursery of the Holy Spirit: Welcoming Children in Worship, by Daniel R. Hyde. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014. 69 pp. $13.00.
Daniel Hyde has set out to address the role of children in the corporate worship of the gathered church. The brevity of this work, along with Hyde’s informal writing style, suggests it is intended for the layman in the pew. Unfortunately, with his unsubstantiated assertions and at times naïve understanding of churches that do not hold to Reformed teaching, Hyde’s work suffers a significant weakness.
The children of believers belong in what Hyde has termed “the nursery of the Holy Spirit,” corporate worship. This thesis hinges on his belief that children of believers are children of the church, covenant children. Had the scope of this book been limited to children in worship in Presbyterian churches this line of argument would be adequate. However, Hyde states, “While you may not have the same theological understanding, experientially we most likely view our children the same way” (11). This conclusion is reached because “there is an inherent understanding in all of us that our children are different from children of the world and that we are to raise them differently” (12). This broad generalization makes much of the historical, biblical, and certainly confessional basis for the entire work unsavory to those who do not have a covenantal view of children. Setting aside this foundational gaffe, what Hyde argues for is significant.
The basis for the inclusion of children in worship is demonstrated throughout Scripture. Hyde highlights Old Testament and New Testament instances where children seemingly were involved in the corporate worship of the people. These examples lead the reader to understand three points about the relationship of children to Jesus: “they are significant to Christ,” “they are not a hindrance or nuisance to Christ,” and “they can teach us a great deal about our relationship with Christ from watching them and worshipping together with them” (30).
After laying a biblical framework, the booklet moves to a practical tone. Hyde acknowledges that much of the application is simply a repackaging of Robbie Castleman’s Parenting in the Pew (1993) and Elizabeth Sandell’s Including Children in Worship (1991). The most convicting thought Hyde brings out is that “the greatest stumbling block for children in worship is not that they are bored or because nothing is ‘at their level,’ but that you as their parents do not convey in words and deeds that you cherish holy worship” (40–41).
Hyde closes with a plea to include children in corporate worship gatherings. Since “your children belong to the body of Christ in one way or another” (55), the children should not be hindered from participating. Also, because public worship is the nursery of the Holy Spirit, it “is the context in which he creates true, saving faith” (56). Finally, “including children in worship from a young age exposes them to the language of faith” (57). These reasons certainly trump the ideas of the early Sunday school movement and more recent developmental psychology that suggest that children should not be included in the corporate service.
Sunday school and developmental psychology are made to be straw men, which explain why children are excluded from worship. Their passing mention in the opening paragraph sets these ideas, which are “not wrong in and of themselves” (1), as the origin in shifting the way churches and Christian parents view children. This book fails to recognize, however, that Robert Raikes’s creation of Sunday school was not for the children in the church but to address a need of children that were on the street. Even with John Wesley’s adaptation of Raikes’s conception of children in the church, separation of children from the worship service did not immediately occur. The lampooning of developmental psychology as supportive of age segregation is an even more egregious error. Without ever mentioning specific psychologists in support of segregation, Hyde consolidates everyone together and erroneously believes that developmental psychologists would have children removed from the corporate worship service. Perhaps best comprehended in the fine work of Erik Erikson, which was largely based on the contributions of Jean Piaget, developmental psychology rightly viewed supports children with their parents. Many of these psychologists were not Christians, and thereby applying their work to the church is somewhat revisionist. What has actually happened is the church has adopted the school system’s application of developmental psychology, not the theories of psychology. Thereby it is American educational structures that impact the teaching of children much more than developmental psychology.
Hyde, a pastor of a Reformed church, allows his bias to tinge his work. Whether it is equating New Calvinism with biblical doctrine (14) or relying heavily on Westminster and the Heidelberg Catechism, this book is essentially a defense of children in worship in Presbyterian churches. While it is encouraging to see a desire to produce resources to challenge families to worship together, the resources Hyde relies on himself are brief enough to accomplish the same goal and do so in a clearer and more balanced manner.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX