Let the Little Children...

Let the Little Children...

As human beings, most of us seem to gravitate towards religion. I’m not talking about the practices or rituals that we set up to help ourselves enter a holy and worshipful mindset. I’m talking about systems we put in place as intermediaries between ourselves and God, because we are overwhelmed with His greatness and would rather give up the dream of interacting directly with a wild, untamed God in favour of feeling safe.

The Israelites did it, at Mount Sinai. At the time when He gave the ten commandments, God planned for Israel to be an entire nation of priests. They would bring news of God to the Gentiles; they would reveal the things of God to all peoples of the earth. They would each have an intimate relationship with the God who created the universe; and be able to turn to one another to confess sins, pray for each other, and hear what God was saying [1].

That was what God wanted. But what did the people want?

Let’s pick up the story at Exodus 19:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. ...Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

(Ex 19:16-17, 20:18-19)

Did you notice that? The people trembled with fear and stayed at a distance. They didn’t want God to talk to them. They requested a mediator between themselves and God because they couldn’t take the intensity of interacting with the Almighty. Human beings were the ones who requested religion. This was not God’s plan. His original plan was for the intimacy of relationship—not the barrier of religion. [2]

So, many years later, God made a new covenant—a fresh start. Through Jesus, He once more approached humanity with the offer of relational intimacy. Christians were now tasked with fulfilling His original plan. They would have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the intimate God, to become a chosen people and a royal priesthood, bringing news of Jesus to people throughout the earth [3]. 

And yet, even now Christians still gravitate towards religion. Those of us who come from Protestant backgrounds might look at Catholics and say, “I can understand why you might say that about them. They, after all, have priests and confessionals and rituals. But I don’t make a religion for myself.”

Don’t we?

Recently I read a book that included the following lines:

“Teach your children to respect others and holy places...encourage your children to have respect for the sanctuary, the altar, the pulpit, the musical instruments and the communion table.” [4]

What are “holy places”?

Holiness is a pretty foreign concept in our culture today, so let’s start with a common frame of reference. When we talk about something being “holy”, it can either be:

  1. Set aside for some special purpose (e.g., prayer), or
  2. An attribute of God.

In Old Testament times, God only met with His people in special places, like the temple in Jerusalem. These holy places were set aside especially for meeting with and worshipping God. They were to be specially respected because God had been there. This Old Testament mentality is one that many Christian adults still take today: the sanctuary of a church is holy because it’s where we meet with God. Children should not run in the sanctuary. They should not make any kind of noise there, even when it’s empty. Respecting the sanctuary is a sign of respect for God. 

Here’s the problem with this: if I say the sanctuary is holy, that implies other places are not. When I do that, I separate God’s holiness from other areas of my life. If my car is not holy, I give myself permission to act in less-than-holy ways in my car. If my workplace is not holy, I have permission to act in less-than-holy ways at work.

As human beings, we don’t have the right to decide what is a holy meeting place with God and what is not. Only God has that right. And unless God has commanded you to sprinkle your sanctuary with the blood of a dead ram or bull, your sanctuary is not any more holy than your toilet. When we decide what is holy and what is not, we make the sin of presumption against God.

The Bible tells us that there is now no holy temple building here on earth. The holy place is in heaven. [5] The only temples remaining here on earth are within our own hearts:

“Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” 

(1 Corinthians 3:16)

That means that we take God’s holiness with us wherever we go, and we are under obligation to live holy lives—wherever we are. When we relegate God’s holiness to a human-made sanctuary, we are copping out on the bequest God has given us. We become the Israelites, saying, “God, you’re too much. I don’t want to interact with You with such intimacy. I want to leave Your holiness in my church’s sanctuary.”

In Okinawa, church buildings are relatively small. There isn’t much space. Unless it’s during the church service, people let their kids run around the church halls, sanctuary, wherever. They let them tinker with the church piano, pound the drums, do whatever they want—as long as they’re not damaging anything. 

Before I had my back injury and was bedridden for a year, I was one of those North American Christians who looked disapprovingly at kids running in the empty church sanctuary. I thought it was disrespectful, and looked a little askance at parents who allowed this. So I encountered the easygoing Okinawan mentality with a bit of a jolt. 

It’s just a different culture, I told myself.

After I was healed, however, I realized that running around, jumping, and enjoying my body can be an act of worship and gratitude in itself. When I asked myself what Jesus would do with these Okinawan kids who run around the sanctuary, I realized that He would probably run around with them. And so that’s what I do too.

We have much to learn from children.

During the time when He lived as a human being on earth, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” [5]

What if little children possess the kingdom of heaven because they understand that enjoying our physical lives—and yes, running in the sanctuary!—can be an act of worship? What if they possess the kingdom of heaven because they are not respecters of adult-made religion? What if they possess the kingdom of heaven because they aren’t frightened by relational intimacy? They have not yet developed adult pharisaical attitudes, or our love of rule-making.

There are some aspects of Okinawan parenting that wouldn’t fly in North America. I get that. Kids in Japan have a level of responsibility and restraint drilled into them from before they can walk. Banging on an adult drum set might not be something that North American kids could handle without a much greater risk of damage. But perhaps we need to reconsider our age-based segregations, our attitudes towards the holy and the mundane, and the reckless abandon with which we pursue intimacy with our Heavenly Father. Because He’s not just in heaven. He’s in our hearts. And He’s waiting for us to shed our sourpuss expressions and enter into His joy.

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Mark 10:15)

Notes

[1] Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 66:18; Bruxy Cavey, The Chosen One series, “#14: Kingdom of Priests”, MP4, (2015; The Meeting House), videocast.

[2] Bruxy Cavey, The Chosen One series, “#14: Kingdom of Priests”, MP4, (2015; The Meeting House), videocast.

[3] 1 Peter 2:9

[4] H.B. and N.B. Wiseman, They Call Me Pastor: How to Love the Ones You Lead, Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2011, pp. 291-2. Emphasis mine.

[5] Hebrews 9:1,11-12, 24

[6] Matthew 19:14

 

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