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The Christian Sunday Afternoon

August 1999 | by Alun McNabb

For our immediate fathers, Sunday afternoon was a time of Sunday school and Bible class, with a host of workers reaching a host of children. Times have evidently changed. The host of children is still there, but the host of workers appear to have given up the ghost. Christians, once active in the Lord’s work on a Sunday afternoon (in Sunday schools, spiritual letter-writing, pastoral and evangelistic visitation, etc.) seem to have found other occupations.

Will it be too embarrassing to enquire what those occupations are? While Sunday schools are often criticised as outmoded or out-done or out-something, we will ask those critics, ‘What do you do as a replacement?’ I wonder what percentage of professing Christians spend Sunday afternoons sleeping? It is to be hoped that none of those who do would be found criticising Sunday schools, where teachers are giving themselves unstintingly to making Christ known to children.

Day of the car

Then, of course, in this day of the car, we ask our Christian friends who like to go for a ‘run’ – the car of course does the running – do you find this more spiritually profitable than opening up the Word of God and putting it into young ears? Which is the more demanding, the ‘run’ or the teaching and all the preparation that goes before it?

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In hundreds of evangelical churches the idea of gathering children to instruct them in the things of God has been totally abandoned. A few come with their Christian parents, but the vision of reaching and teaching this generation of children is just too much like hard work.

Patient endurance

The Bible tells us to ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ and, as children are ‘creatures’, we must presume that they are included. The argument of lack of success just will not do. With that argument Carey would have been recalled from India when in his seventh year and the decision, no doubt, fully justified. And how many faithful ministers of the gospel have laboured with aching hearts for years and years and seen nothing? Is the answer to stop all such preaching, make redundant all such preachers and close all such churches?

Haldane laboured for thirty-eight years in Morocco and, on his own confession, did not see a single Muslim won for Christ. Ought not someone to have got him back home and saved him all the bother? And what about Isaiah? Shouldn’t somebody have put a stop to him? Calvin says, in the introduction to his commentary on that book, ‘Isaiah, whose labours were numerous and extensive, had little success, and Jeremiah continued for fifty years to cry aloud to the people, though the result was that they became more and more rebellious. We too ought to proceed in the discharge of our duty and patiently to endure every kind of annoyances’. Let us heed Calvin.

Vision and faith

If we do not seek to reach the young of our generation, who will? We are careful to notice that the devil has not given up on these children. He continues to instruct them in the ways of unbelief and to pour into their young minds all kinds of filth. He is far from merely concentrating on adults. Will we not look to God to furnish us with vision and faith, and courage and tenacity, to labour to reach these young people for Christ?

To those who have given up because the children will no longer come, there is a short answer – they will come if we will only go and bring them. We have proved it. Now this takes us back to the Christians who enjoy a Sunday afternoon ‘run’. Can we persuade them to ‘run’ in the way of spiritual profit? Will they use their God-given vehicles, and spend their God-given time, and use their God-given energy, to bring children under the sound of the gospel?

Grievously with some, the answer is a plain ‘No’. But others, if they can be shown that this is a way to glorify God and be used in his service, will respond, and do so gladly. In some cases, children are brought into a home for instruction from the immediate neighbourhood, and this is ideal as no transport is required. But if it is necessary, and just a few vehicles can be put into the Lord’s service, then the children will begin to come.

Spiritual exercise

And who can tell what will be accomplished? ‘Serve the Lord with gladness’. The programme needs to be warm and bright and attractive, and can be so with biblical instruction, singing and catechising, but without descending to face-painting, pop music and the like. A non-Bible-teaching Sunday school is worse than no Sunday school.

Another blessing of a Sunday school is the spiritual exercise it gives to the teachers. What necessary reading and praying go into this ministry! Studying with a view to teach others is surely one of the best ways of learning.

Imagine the difference between a Bible-loving Sunday school teacher who reads, studies, prays, weeps and teaches a class every week for thirty years; and the Christian who spends Sunday afternoon sleeping or enjoying a ‘run’ for the same thirty years. The wealth of material studied, learned and taught, is worth its weight in gold. The Lord Jesus had blessings for the children who were favoured in having parents who brought them to him. Will we not labour to grant blessings to children whose parents refuse to bring them to him?

Not in vain

To those who have given up altogether – why not aim at getting six, then perhaps twelve, then maybe twenty? It can be done; it ought to be done. And as for those teachers who labour week by week in the face of oppositions, temptations, rejections, slurs and disappointments; let us support and encourage them, assuring them that their ‘labour is not in vain in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). God bless you teachers, and God bless you transporters – your hard work is seen from heaven.