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    Vacation Bible school: is it a Biblical ministry model?

    Is vacation Bible school a Biblical model for ministry?
    Tim Lindsay
    member, Southfield RPCNA, Southfield, MI

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    If by "Biblical model" you mean supported by sound exegesis, then the answer would be No.*
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    What do you mean by "a Biblical model for ministry"?
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    I think VBS can be a good thing if you take the time to actually teach the kids something. Sometimes the cirriculum used, especially if it is from Lifeway, is very light on doctrine. Other cirriculum is better, especially the Answers in Genesis stuff. The only problem I have ever had with VBS was at one church where they gave all the kids cards to fill out that asked if they had received Christ into their hearts that week. At the end of the week, it was announced that something like 200 kids have been saved, based on a check mark on a card. Ridiculous.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbcbob View Post
    If by "Biblical model" you mean supported by sound exegesis, then the answer would be No.*
    What in the world does this mean?
    Fred Greco
    Senior Pastor, Christ Church PCA (Katy, TX)
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    No. There is no biblical example of any type of ministry like this. Usually, what I have found is that VBS is an opportunity for people who shouldn't be teaching to teach and also for regulations regarding worship to be ignored.
    John Lanier
    Grace Heritage Church, Auburn, AL
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    I think I need to clarify my OP.

    I know these are Biblical models of ministry because we are given Biblical example:

    1. Lord's Day services, lead by an ordained minister of the Word. The means of grace are provided to the people, and there is no age segregation.

    2. Discipleship in the family, taking place as daily family worship, lead by the father.

    In contrast, when I think of a "vacation Bible school", I often think of a week of morning activities, including Biblical teaching time, games, crafts, etc. It is not necessarily lead by a minister of the Word, and is often seen as a way to disciple children who don't attend Sabbath worship with the rest of the congregation. Please comment if you disagree with my description.

    What I am trying to consider is that although there is no Biblical example of ministry being conducted in this way, none of those activities mentioned above are unlawful, so I am unsure how to consider them. It seems to me that Bible gives examples of how ministry is "supposed to look" and that by following these examples (i.e., #1 and #2), we make use of the means that God has ordained to bring the lost to Himself, and disciple his sheep.
    Tim Lindsay
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    VBS, like anything else the church does, can be done really well or very poorly.

    I see no problem with a church that hosts a well-structured, Christ-centered VBS. Just like I see no problem with a church that hosts a well-structured, Christ-centered Wednesday night program for its congregation.

    Actually, I think it is beneficial for a church to do such things.

    ---------- Post added at 08:48 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:39 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    It seems to me that Bible gives examples of how ministry is "supposed to look" and that by following these examples (i.e., #1 and #2), we make use of the means that God has ordained to bring the lost to Himself, and disciple his sheep.
    If you are arguing that the church should only be involved with ministries that are explicitly prescribed in the Bible, then VBS is just one of many examples where you'll find disagreement. Such as Sunday School, a weekday morning prayer group, a ladies' bible study, etc.
    Daniel
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    CIT
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    If you are arguing that the church should only be involved with ministries that are explicitly prescribed in the Bible, then VBS is just one of many examples where you'll find disagreement. Such as Sunday School, a weekday morning prayer group, a ladies' bible study, etc.
    I would also add the translation of the Bible into foreign languages. We do not see that in Scripture either. Obviously this ministry is necessary.
    B
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    I more or less think back to the Pharisees pulling their donkeys out of the pits on the Sabbath--if it does genuine spiritual good, why not? It's no replacement for the primary means, and should never be, but nevertheless it's an evangelistic opportunity.
    Harley
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harley View Post
    I more or less think back to the Pharisees pulling their donkeys out of the pits on the Sabbath--if it does genuine spiritual good, why not? It's no replacement for the primary means, and should never be, but nevertheless it's an evangelistic opportunity.
    My thoughts exactly. When we get nit-picky about things like this, whether or not we find the model in scripture, etc..., we risk being stodgy and legalistic to the detriment of these children. We need to remind ourselves of the target audience; no one expects them to receive a seminary degree in one week. Who can gripe if the kids are being fed sound doctrine? For many of them this is the most Bible they get all year.
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    I'm with Tim. My experience with VBS has generally been have a bunch of games for kids, show them some videos, give them snacks and teach them a bible story. Also it seems like churches do this less for the kids and more to get their name out there. For example, I usually see VBS put on to invite neighborhood kids to the church; it's not necessarily for the children from the church. Is the thinking that if the neighborhood kids have fun for a week, then their parents will start coming to the church?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    If you are arguing that the church should only be involved with ministries that are explicitly prescribed in the Bible, then VBS is just one of many examples where you'll find disagreement. Such as Sunday School, a weekday morning prayer group, a ladies' bible study, etc.
    Okay, let's slow down a bit. You have mentioned a number of activities that can be done correctly, in my opinion. What I am trying to do is investigate whether the description of a common vacation Bible school includes content and practice that potentially make it depart from a Biblical model.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaplainintraining View Post
    I would also add the translation of the Bible into foreign languages. We do not see that in Scripture either. Obviously this ministry is necessary.
    With respect, we do see this exact thing in scripture when the Septuagint is quoted in the NT.

    Quote Originally Posted by but3leftsdo View Post
    Who can gripe if the kids are being fed sound doctrine? For many of them this is the most Bible they get all year.
    Sorry, guys. I am not trying to dismiss your replies, but I think some of what has been written is simplistic. The issue is not just about sound doctrine, but the manner in which things are being delivered. For example, a woman teaching sound doctrine to men is not allowed.

    Please, let us interact with the description I provided about VBS and why it may or may not be Biblical.
    Tim Lindsay
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    CIT
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    Tim,

    I forgot about the Septuagint and it being quoted.
    B

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    No problem, brother.
    Tim Lindsay
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    I have been attending a Baptist Church my whole life, and I have thus taken a part in VBS in some way, shape, or form my whole life. At this point, I've been helping out with VBS for about 6 years. I've been a "go-for", an assistant teacher (didn't really teach, just helped make sure the kids behaved and such) and, this year, I got my first teaching job as Worship Rally leader and Music teacher. I hadn't really thought about how un-sound some of the doctrine really was until this year because I'm so new to Reformed theology and this is the first year of VBS I've attended since I became Reformed.
    My friend Weston (who is a member here and who introduced me to Reformed Theology) attended as a helper for the last three days at VBS at my church. As a tradition, of sorts, on the "ABC" day of the VBS week (Wednesday) we get our pastor to teach the children about Salvation and its importance. Weston was practically cringing when our interim pastor presented them with the "gospel" that day, and I was a little too.
    Also, all the teachers we use in the classrooms are people who have actually taught classes like Sunday School and such and, being a very small church, I've had nearly every one of them as my teacher at some point.
    Being Baptists, no, they are not always doctrinally sound. And, as I said before, neither is the interim-pastor.
    Also, not all the material is completely doctrinally sound either. Weston was analyzing each song to see how sound it was, and only one song, at just one place, did he refuse to sign or do the motions because of the line "I will lay down my life for the gospel of Christ to a world that needs to know what they're worth." He believed the underlned part of that gave the wrong implications.
    All of that said and done, VBS isn't the greatest tool to use, no. (This whole thing is Lifeway's VBS, btw.) If you have the right teachers teaching sound doctrine, and pastors who preach sound doctrine, it can be a better tool, but it is still not the best tool, nor a great one.

    (sorry if I ranted far too much. ^.^')
    Shannon Randall
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    Living in Huntsville, Alabama

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    If you are arguing that the church should only be involved with ministries that are explicitly prescribed in the Bible, then VBS is just one of many examples where you'll find disagreement. Such as Sunday School, a weekday morning prayer group, a ladies' bible study, etc.
    Okay, let's slow down a bit. You have mentioned a number of activities that can be done correctly, in my opinion. What I am trying to do is investigate whether the description of a common vacation Bible school includes content and practice that potentially make it depart from a Biblical model.
    I don't understand how the activities I mentioned differ from VBS. Are you saying it is not possible for VBS to be done correctly?

    I can't speak for what the "common" VBS includes, because I only have first-hand knowledge of the one my church hosts. There's nothing unbiblical about it.

    ---------- Post added at 10:12 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:06 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    ...when I think of a "vacation Bible school", I often think of a week of morning activities, including Biblical teaching time, games, crafts, etc. It is not necessarily lead by a minister of the Word, and is often seen as a way to disciple children who don't attend Sabbath worship with the rest of the congregation. Please comment if you disagree with my description.
    The only VBS I'm familiar with includes some of what you mentioned. There is teaching, singing, games, and crafts. Most of the children attending are from our own church, though there are some visitors as well.

    I don't see how any of this is unbiblical.
    Daniel
    Madrid, Spain
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Is vacation Bible school a Biblical model for ministry?
    I can't speak for all of the hype and nonsense that may accompany some VBS programs, but consider the following:

    1) A bunch of people from near by (or even a small distance) show up.
    2) Some divine truth is taught.
    3) A light meal is served.

    This rough model appears in John 6. Now we can argue until the cows come home about some of the smaller details and who does or oversees the teachings. I prefer qualified men doing the teaching and entertainment being kept to a bare minimum. I also prefer the event held outside or not in the normal Sunday meeting area and arrangement, so there is no confusion made about what is expected of people when they gather for worship on the Lord's Day.
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    Daniel, do you consider games and crafts to be a Biblically valid form of ministry?
    Tim Lindsay
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    au5t1n is offline. Puritanboard Postgraduate
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    I believe there is biblical warrant for teaching the congregation on days other than the Lord's day; however, I have never seen VBS accomplish this. This is what is familiar to my experience: Bad VBS Theme Idea - The Sacred Sandwich

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Daniel, do you consider games and crafts to be a Biblically valid form of ministry?
    Sure.

    I know, I know...I'm pretty worldly. I'm one of those who thinks it's fine and good for children to have some fun at church.

    But I'm more than happy to change my stance if you can show me anything in Scripture that even hints that it might be wrong for children to have fun at the church's property on a Monday morning.
    Daniel
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    Quote Originally Posted by austinww View Post
    I believe there is biblical warrant for teaching the congregation on days other than the Lord's day; however, I have never seen VBS accomplish this. This is what is familiar to my experience: Bad VBS Theme Idea - The Sacred Sandwich
    I am not the biggest fan of VBS, but I can't deny that God's word is taught to the children during the week.
    B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Daniel, do you consider games and crafts to be a Biblically valid form of ministry?
    Sure.

    I know, I know...I'm pretty worldly. I'm one of those who thinks it's fine and good for children to have some fun at church.

    But I'm more than happy to change my stance if you can show me anything in Scripture that even hints that it might be wrong for children to have fun at the church's property on a Monday morning.
    I am not saying you are worldly, brother, nor am I suggesting that is wrong to have fun on church property. Please remember that this was not my original question. My question was whether it should be considered ministry.
    Tim Lindsay
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    My question was whether it should be considered ministry.
    Absolutely. Ministry does not have to be absent of fun.
    Community groups can be a great form of ministry, and that can include a time of eating and casual conversation. Fun for adults.

    Now if a particular VBS is all fun and games, well, that's another story.
    Daniel
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    au5t1n is offline. Puritanboard Postgraduate
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chaplainintraining View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by austinww View Post
    I believe there is biblical warrant for teaching the congregation on days other than the Lord's day; however, I have never seen VBS accomplish this. This is what is familiar to my experience: Bad VBS Theme Idea - The Sacred Sandwich
    I am not the biggest fan of VBS, but I can't deny that God's word is taught to the children during the week.
    Admittedly my experience is limited to the Southern Baptist church I was raised in. Like Shannon, I helped out in VBS for several years. The link I provided is so dead on, it is not even funny.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    My question was whether it should be considered ministry.
    Absolutely. Ministry does not have to be absent of fun.
    Community groups can be a great form of ministry, and that can include a time of eating and casual conversation. Fun for adults.

    Now if a particular VBS is all fun and games, well, that's another story.
    All right, then. I think it is a fair at this point to pose the question: what is your Biblical warrant for making the statement that ministry per se may include games and crafts.
    Tim Lindsay
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    CIT
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    Tim,

    We have the RPW, not the RPM. I believe that ministry can and should be creative.

    If you do not think that VBS should be considered as ministry, at least consider it an act of charity. Many parents are given a few hours to just relax without their kids pulling them in a hundred directions. Think of VBS as Mother's Day Out for school aged kids.
    B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    All right, then. I think it is a fair at this point to pose the question: what is your Biblical warrant for making the statement that ministry per se may include games and crafts.
    My biblical warrant is the lack of a detailed prescription of how ministry must be done.

    Now that doesn't mean that we are free to do whatever we want, however we want. Wisdom and discretion is necessary.

    Our church has decided that a well-structured, Christ-centered VBS is an appropriate form of ministry. Likewise, we have decided that it is appropriate for our youth to go on annual retreats that combine fun group activities with biblical teaching and devotion.
    Daniel
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    My question was whether it should be considered ministry.
    Absolutely. Ministry does not have to be absent of fun.
    Community groups can be a great form of ministry, and that can include a time of eating and casual conversation. Fun for adults.

    Now if a particular VBS is all fun and games, well, that's another story.
    All right, then. I think it is a fair at this point to pose the question: what is your Biblical warrant for making the statement that ministry per se may include games and crafts.
    The Biblical warrant would be that there is no Regulative Principle of Ministry and that you are unBiblically (and without any warrant) binding the conscience of the Christian and the Church. Unless you can find a warrant for what actions​ the Church may take or not from Scripture and Church history, your founding premise is found lacking.
    Fred Greco
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Daniel, do you consider games and crafts to be a Biblically valid form of ministry?
    Sure.

    I know, I know...I'm pretty worldly. I'm one of those who thinks it's fine and good for children to have some fun at church.

    But I'm more than happy to change my stance if you can show me anything in Scripture that even hints that it might be wrong for children to have fun at the church's property on a Monday morning.
    WORD. And I don't even care if a VBS is primarily for outsiders. We should be ministering to outsiders.
    Shalom,
    jessica
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    What are its charms to me?
    Once I admired its trifles too,

    But grace has set me free."


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    Quote Originally Posted by rbcbob View Post
    If by "Biblical model" you mean supported by sound exegesis, then the answer would be No.*
    The biblical model is to talk and teach about the Lord as you go about life, wherever you have opportunity. There are also special times of corporate worship, but these are never the extent of the church's witness or of a child's instruction.

    So if you're evangelizing like Paul was, you preach the word in synagogues, in the marketplace, in front of the city elders, on a river bank, in jail... wherever people will come to listen.

    If you're instructing children who're part of the covenant family, you do it as you walk along, as you eat, as you go to bed at night... whenever you have opportunity.

    And if you're a church in a city where people will bring kids to be taught if you offer a vacation Bible school, then make use of the opportunity and teach those kids. Now if you use the time primarily to accomplish something other than sound biblical instruction and proclaiming the gospel, that's another matter.
    Last edited by Jack K; 06-20-2011 at 05:09 PM.
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    This past week my church held a VBS. It was my first time participating in one being reformed, though the church is not. I have to say, I do not think VBS profits kids. All I could think about is how arminian the whole thing seemed. The adults act foolishly to do motions to so-called "worship" songs just to get the kids involved, we put on games and a drama and have snacks and crafts...for what??? To make Jesus seem more interesting to them? The focus of every VBS I have been to is not to minister, it's to entertain. The idea is to keep the kids interested enough that they hopefully pick up something about Jesus here or there...I hope I don't offend anyone but to me it just seemed arminian.
    Lakeland, FL
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredtgreco View Post
    The Biblical warrant would be that there is no Regulative Principle of Ministry and that you are unBiblically (and without any warrant) binding the conscience of the Christian and the Church. Unless you can find a warrant for what actions​ the Church may take or not from Scripture and Church history, your founding premise is found lacking.
    Quote Originally Posted by Tripel View Post
    My biblical warrant is the lack of a detailed prescription of how ministry must be done.

    Now that doesn't mean that we are free to do whatever we want, however we want. Wisdom and discretion is necessary.
    I am not at all comfortable with the statement that there is a lack of detailed prescription of how ministry must be done. May we not at least start with the descriptions in Acts (i.e., 2:42 and the like)? From there, if we go to the pastoral epistles, we see an emphasis of "preaching of the Word" by an ordained minister. So, how can one say there is no description that is detailed enough?

    Just because I may disagree with the practice of a particular church at this point (or at least investigating), doesn't mean that I am binding anyone's conscience.

    ---------- Post added at 04:04 AM ---------- Previous post was at 03:55 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack K View Post
    The biblical model is to talk and teach about the Lord as you go about life, wherever you have opportunity. There are also special times of corporate worship, but these are never the extent of the church's witness or of a child's instruction.
    And just so everyone knows that I am willing to consider arguments, this mandate did occur to me last night while I was considering the issue. What Jack has brought up is the mandate that we must be heavenly-minded at all times in our life, that every opportunity is taken to speak of the things of the Lord. But, what I would still need to conclude is that this occupies a category that is still under the sphere of corporate church life and not (or, as well as) family.

    It's a matter of distinctions of categories of function, really. I have already conceded that the activities described above are all lawful.
    Tim Lindsay
    member, Southfield RPCNA, Southfield, MI

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  35. #35
    Pergamum's Avatar
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    If you make memorizing Scripture into a fun game with children, how is this grievous, especially on a tuesday afternoon and not on the Lord's Day?
    Pergamum


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  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pergamum View Post
    If you make memorizing Scripture into a fun game with children, how is this grievous, especially on a tuesday afternoon and not on the Lord's Day?
    I agree with Pergamum, this is a much better idea than what I have seen pass for VBS. My experience, both going through it, and helping teach it has been that the "doctrine" consists of little more than trite stories that rarely deal with what the Bible teaches and an "easy believism" style of gospel presentation. When I taught the Heidelberg Catechism to 1st and 2nd grade kids in Sunday School, I found ways to make it fun and easy to be understood. No candy, prizes, etc. were necessary. Though I suppose being odd helped keep their attention. So with VBS, fun isnt the issue. Substance is the issue, and I think many who come out against it are not so much against VBS as they are against the lack of substance in most VBS's within their experience. I know that's my issue with VBS.

    As to the question, is it a Biblical model for ministry? I think the question is backwards. If we're going to have a VBS, how do we have one that follows a Biblical model for ministry. Otherwise the answer to your question depends on what occurs in each particular instance of VBS and for practical purposes becomes unanswerable. Once again though
    Last edited by JohnGill; 06-21-2011 at 10:38 PM. Reason: removed the errored part
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    So if ye destroy the Letter of the Scripture, you do destroy the Scripture; and if you do deny the Letter, how is it possible that you should attain to the true sense thereof, when the Sense lies wrapped up in the Letters, and the words thereof?
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  37. #37
    Jack K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack K View Post
    The biblical model is to talk and teach about the Lord as you go about life, wherever you have opportunity. There are also special times of corporate worship, but these are never the extent of the church's witness or of a child's instruction.
    And just so everyone knows that I am willing to consider arguments, this mandate did occur to me last night while I was considering the issue. What Jack has brought up is the mandate that we must be heavenly-minded at all times in our life, that every opportunity is taken to speak of the things of the Lord. But, what I would still need to conclude is that this occupies a category that is still under the sphere of corporate church life and not (or, as well as) family.

    It's a matter of distinctions of categories of function, really. I have already conceded that the activities described above are all lawful.
    That's pretty much what I'm saying. I guess I don't get why there's this idea that we have to distinguish between the work/responsibility of the church and that of the family. The biblical picture of the church is one of such closeness (meeting in each other's homes, sharing possessions, etc.) that it doesn't fit to suggest there must be a "hands off" policy when it comes to helping to instruct each other's kids.

    The NT church helps each other in every other activity, bears burdens and exercises oversight generally in all of life. To condemn programs like VBS out of principle, it seems to me one would have to show a scriptural mandate that the church must NOT instruct kids rather than be looking for an example that shows the church should do so. The general position of Scripture is that the church works together and children are to be included in the things of the kingdom.
    Last edited by Jack K; 06-21-2011 at 09:11 AM.
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  38. #38
    CIT
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    I think it would be beneficial to remove the idea that VBS has taught easy-believism or other wrong ideas in your experience. I do not think it helps give an answer to the OP. For example, we all know of preachers who preach quite horrible things, but we do not interpret this as a sign that preaching is unBiblical. The same should go for VBS. Just because some people do it badly does not make it unBiblical.
    B
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  39. #39
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    My church, up until four years ago, was using one of those VBS-kits where it is broadly evangelical, but the Gospel is not told in clear enough terms of what Jesus saves us from.

    A few in our church decided to ditch these kits and create their own VBS. It still includes skits, crafts, playtime, etc., but with a very clear Biblical message. The majority of children who attend are already from our church or from our nearby sister churches, but there are some who attend who have little-to-no Biblical background.

    There was a question above asking if VBS would attract parents to start attending church. It can. Our church has at least one or two families who attended due in large part to VBS. This is a great opportunity to reach out in the community to those who otherwise may never attend. It may not be as direct as going door-to-door with the Gospel, but some who would close their doors to us via that route may instead open them via VBS. This is not a matter of adapting to the culture around us, but rather sharing the Gospel in various ways. We live in a sinful world, and often people who are unsaved don't want the directness of door-to-door ministry (and don't bother to go to worship), but are willing to bring their children for this (whether it's a "good environment," day care, or however they see it). If a church teaches the Word biblically, then we should use the VBS opportunity to its full advantage to share the Gospel with those who don't know Christ, both child and parent.
    Mitch
    Grace OPC, Vienna, VA

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boosterseat_91 View Post
    This past week my church held a VBS. It was my first time participating in one being reformed, though the church is not. I have to say, I do not think VBS profits kids. All I could think about is how arminian the whole thing seemed. The adults act foolishly to do motions to so-called "worship" songs just to get the kids involved, we put on games and a drama and have snacks and crafts...for what??? To make Jesus seem more interesting to them? The focus of every VBS I have been to is not to minister, it's to entertain. The idea is to keep the kids interested enough that they hopefully pick up something about Jesus here or there...I hope I don't offend anyone but to me it just seemed arminian.
    What is so wrong about creating an enjoyable fun environment for children to come and learn about Jesus? I think it's important to remember that we are not talking about worship services here but a ministry of the church. Every VBS I have been at has been pushed as an opportunity for the kids in the church to bring their friends that would, otherwise, not bother coming to a church. If I, as a kid, had a choice between coming to a church that had snacks, games, crafts, and overall was fun along with hearing about Jesus or one that sang hymns accompanied by a piano and had to sit and listen to a 30 minute long sermon I will let you guess which one I would choose. Kids are used to being entertained and I totally understand that church is not a form of entertainment but to "shock" a kids environment of constant stimulation to none then you will have bored kids causing trouble.
    Joseph Scibbe
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    Fort Lewis, WA

    1 Thessalonians 2:4
    but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

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