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1813 Writer Warns of Dangers of Sabbath Schools

Posted on Jan. 27, 2014

John Kennedy of Dingwall writes in 1833 of his fears of the outcome of the newly created "sabbath schools." He felt that they would have an "injurious effect." He was already noticing that, as a result of the Sabbath Schools,  fewer children were with their parents in the household of the Lord. 

"And how is it as to household duties on the Sabbath? Is unnecessary work avoided? Are such arrangements made and observed, as will admit of as many members of the household as possible attending in the place of public worship? What is done by parents in the religious instruction of their children? This is a duty binding on every parent, and it must fare ill with every community in which this is neglected. The home is the nursery of the church, and nothing else can supply the place of parental instruction of the young. The tendency in these days is to delegate this work to the teachers in our Sabbath schools. Many parents feel as if the opportunity of sending their children to be instructed elsewhere had relieved them of all responsibility in connection with their being taught at home. But this is an utter mistake, and is an evil, in connection with our Sabbath school system, which ought to be carefully guarded against. True, there are parents who are both indisposed to be dutiful to their children, and quite incapable of rightly instructing them. Other instruction than that which their parents can give them is required by the children of such as these, but let that be given to them in their own homes, by office-bearers of the church and Christian friends to whom such work would be “a labour of love”. The parents might thus learn while their children were being taught, and might, by the blessing of God, be stirred up to, and fitted for, the discharge of their duty as instructors of their children.

Our Sabbath school system, in the measure in which it tends to separate parents and children, cannot but have an injurious effect. It causes a separation of them beyond what is immediate. The Sabbath school is becoming the children’s church, as distinguished from the parents’ church, and it is becoming a rarer thing than once it was to see the parents and children together in the house of GodIn some places already the extreme has been reached, of the entire absence of children from the house of God, when the Gospel is preached, and the proposal has been made and partially acted on of having a quite separate children’s church. And with their work in the Sabbath school, which is naturally looked on as their only public worship on Sabbath, how apt are the children to associate what they have been accustomed to in their ordinary gatherings during the week! And how prejudicially this must tell on their respect for the day of the Lord! Sabbath keeping cannot therefore be expected to be the fruit of large gatherings of children in Sabbath schools. And the habit of confining the religious teaching of the young to the Sabbath school tends, on the one hand, to make the parents utterly regardless as to their duty, and, on the other, to make the rising generation indifferent as to stated attendance in the house of God.

I am afraid that neither Sabbath observance, nor regular Sabbath attendance in the place of worship, shall be found to be the fruit of our Sabbath schools. But they seem to be indispensable, and the church’s work should, in connection with them, be to do what is possible in order to secure that the children shall be taught at home by parents competent to instruct them, and that the children of undutiful and incompetent parents be taught in circulating little groups in the several households to which they belong."

"The Fourth Commandment" by John Kennedy of Dingwall, 1883.