“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14).

A crisis in the Christian faith in western societies has long been developing. The slow nature of the crisis has obscured its breadth and depth, like the old adage of boiling a frog by slowly turning up the heat. What once seemed like the warm tides of advancement has become the denaturing of the Christian faith in our world. Even among those who attend church fairly regularly, basic knowledge of basic tenets of the Christian faith is incredibly low.

The causes for this are many and complex, perhaps too many and too complex to analyze with any degree of clarity. Even if one were able to do so, addressing the situation seems correspondingly overwhelming. Churches of all denominations and of no denomination seem to have tried every programme, trend, and fad to … to do what? No one seems quite sure.

Too frequently, churches engage in programmes to reform or to renew or to revive or to rescue the church. While some hope “to make America great again,” others seek “to make the church great again.” They hearken back to a time when … when what? Well, when the church was great, of course! When was that?

In this 500th year of the Reformation of the church, people are tempted to gaze back to the feats of the great Reformer, Martin Luther, as a time when the church was great. Luther aside, reformers and renewers of all description in so many periods of time have sought instead to idealize the early church, perhaps the church as found in the Acts of the Apostles or in the first five centuries when Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire. Following on from that, many look to the pope, his hierarchy, and his church’s numerical superiority as the arguably undisputed example of the greatness of the church.

Luther takes a different approach, “There is no greater detriment to Christendom than to neglect children. If one wants to help Christendom again, then truthfully one must start with the children, as happened in olden times” (WA 24:592, 14-16).

Broadly speaking, hindering children coming to Jesus entails much more than some of his disciples getting in the way long ago. It happens today, everyday, but particularly on Sunday. Those nowadays who primarily hinder children coming to Jesus are parents or guardians who intentionally refuse or neglectfully fail to bring their children to church and to provide for their children’s instruction in the Christian faith. Sadly, this is particularly acute when the parents of baptized children do not fulfil the promises made at their children’s baptisms. Likewise, pastors and congregational members are also fall short in helping parents fulfil their promises, especially in our “non-interference” world.

From Luther’s perspective, most of that with which churches concern themselves “to reform or to renew or to revive or to rescue the church” are not primarily oriented toward children. Consequently, even many of those things which may seem to make a congregation “great” may in the long term actually be detrimental. What might Luther mean when he states that “one must start with the children”? The quotation does not give an explicit answer, and it does not matter. More importantly, what might it look like if St. Luke’s started with the children? Perhaps, we should give it a go and see what happens.