Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from the leadershipjournal.net, summer 2005, with the headline: “Contemplative Kids. ‘God touched me!’ exclaimed five-year-old Collin after he had spent time in the prayer corner.
‘What do you mean?’ asked one of the leaders.
‘I don’t know. I just know God touched me,’ Collin replied.
A couple of weeks later, four-year-old Tony asked to go to the prayer corner. For five minutes he sat quietly in the curtained off area of the classroom. Then, because the curtain didn’t come clear to the floor, I noticed him slip from the chair to his knees, resting his head in his hands on the floor. He stayed in this position for several more minutes.
These unprompted words and actions are certainly not typical of young children. As a research project for the graduate school at Wheaton College, we studied how young children used to a typical pre-school experience at church would respond to symbols, liturgy and reflection. Fifteen pre-schoolers participated. We were astounded by the results.
“Adjusting Space, Pace and Volume
The first element we adjusted was the use of space. Each week we transformed an ordinary toy filled classroom into an uncluttered space by screening off distracting toys and furniture. We set up a child-sized altar, created a prayer corner and a praise corner where a child could listen to appropriate music through a headset and make movements for God. We placed materials around the perimeter of the room for reflective response to the story. To communicate that this space was special, we all removed our shoes outside the door.
We also changed the pace and volume of the activities these pre-schoolers were used to. We moved and spoke more slowly and helped the children do the same. We did not rush them from one activity to the next. The same was true for teaching. ‘Jesus the Good Shepherd’ was the theme. Each week we focused on a different quality of the Shepherd. Instead of covering a lot of content, we wanted the children to know the Good Shepherd well. The children also learn to speak softly because someone near them might be listening to God. Initially the children responded in typical early childhood fashion. Bursts of energy, lots of questions and occasional noisy interactions. But it wasn’t long before the environment changed and the children perceived church differently. One day a new child said, ‘This is like Sunday School.’
Another child responded, ‘No it’s not. This is God’s class.’ In subsequent weeks we noted a marked change in their attitudes and actions. They appeared more reflective and developed a sense of calm and order within themselves. We sensed awe and wonder from them, and eagerness to engage in prayer and communion with their Shepherd. Parents began commenting about the changes they saw in their children at home. Our priority must be the formation of children through face-to-face encounters with the living God.”
Tom: As you remember last week, we dealt with another article from Christianity Today. This is actually leadershipjournal.net, which is a part of Christianity Today’s program. But this is the emerging church; this is mysticism.But, Dave, I shouldn’t be surprised. Twenty years ago we wrote The Seduction of Christianity. At that time we had things like Manifest Sons of God, Latter Rain Movement, we had Kansas City Prophets—in other words, a spiritual movement, so-called, in which one of the teachings out of these groups was that children were going to be the prophets for today.Dave, there was a church I knew of some 20 years ago that was participating in these kinds of things, and the pastor would bring young people in, and they would get quiet and they would want to hear from God. And many of these kids were not believers, yet they were to articulate what they were hearing from God. Dave, this was absurd on the one hand, but grievous, certainly spiritually grievous, on the other.
Dave: Well, Tom, maybe some people listening out there would say, “Well, these guys just criticize everything. But what could be wrong? Look at the behavioral change in the children. It’s calmed them down, their parents notice the difference, and so forth. Let’s…”
Tom: Four and five year olds.
Tom: Believers any of them, do you think?
Dave: Well, I don’t know, but let’s think about it carefully here. It begins, “God touched me.” That’s a five-year-old.They say, “What do you mean?”Well, he says, “I don’t know. I just know that God touched me.” Well, what does that mean? Now we’re into emotional experiences. I’m not against emotional experiences; I mean, it should move us deeply when we think about who God is, how great He is, how unworthy we are, the fact that He would send His Son, He would give His Son…I sometimes think of that, you know: a Father watching His Son be mistreated, abused, that He would be made sin for us, that He would be treated as though He were sin itself in order to pay the penalty that we deserved so that we could be delivered. You don’t have any of this. This is just emotional feelings based upon what? Well, we’re not sure, but we’ve changed the environment, we’ve got a little different atmosphere…
Tom: Taken our shoes off.
Tom: We have an altar now, a child-sized altar.
Dave: Then they’re listening to God for whatever God will say. I don’t think that a five-year-old, or whatever, or an adult is qualified to listen to God. I’m not saying God does not speak, but He has spoken in His Word. Let us study His Word. You know, it would be a lot more exciting if He would talk to me every morning and tell me what I’m supposed to do today, and then I could tell other people, “Wow, I’m really in touch with God.”But if you want to be in touch with God, get back to His Word. Instead of…one of the children said, “Oh, this is like Sunday School.” Well, I hope Sunday Schools are not like this. When I was in Sunday School, we learned the Bible. We memorized the Bible. We were taught lessons from the Bible. There were no publishers at that time who put out lesson plans that were designed to catch the interest of distracted children and somehow make the Bible more interesting. No, we just went to the Bible and we learned from the Bible. And it is on the basis of objective truth that then emotions arise in our hearts.
Tom: It’s a by-product.
Dave: Right, in gratitude to the Lord. But now this is beginning with the emotions by changing the environment, changing the space, and getting them to be reverent, and so forth, and they are thrilled that it has changed the children, but, Tom, I’m concerned.
Tom: Well, the Scripture says, “The flesh profits nothing.” This is a behavioral, material approach here that can only be of the flesh.Dave, the other thing that upsets me about this is where, then, is discernment? How can a four- and five-year-old have discernment about whether he’s really hearing from God or not? And who is straightening him out? It doesn’t happen in this circumstance.
Dave: Paul warned us about seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, and they are opening themselves to all kinds of seduction from the demonic world.
Tom: Dave, it’s interesting to see how, out of so many diverse areas, things are coming together on a spiritually counterfeit basis. I mentioned Latter Rain, Manifest Sons of God. Now, this is Wheaton College. This is not the Kansas City Prophets. The emerging church seems to be covering all different groups, the evangelical church…we have evangelical churches now that have prayer stations, stations of the cross in their basement for their youth. And I think mysticism, the so-called contemplative approach, which is really Eastern mysticism—which is really, in many cases, techniques of occultism, which we described last week. But to see all of these things coming together is really stunning. These definitely have to be the last days.