SEPTEMBER 5, 2006
Why We Have Sunday School
Pastor George Van Alstine
As Christians, we build our lives on what God says in his Word, the Bible. In order to do that, we need to learn what the Bible teaches. This learning comes to us through sermons in church, through Bible study groups, and through our personal Bible reading. For the past 150 years, Baptist and other churches in America have also used the Sunday School as a major way of teaching Bible truths to each emerging generation of believers.
Our approach to religious education is rooted in the practices of our Jewish spiritual ancestors whose lives and thoughts are the subject of the Old Testament. They took seriously the challenge of developing spiritual knowledge among all the people, not just the trained priests and scribes. They saw this as the best defense against the people falling back into idolatry or into superstitious practices.
Psalm 119, known for being the longest chapter in the Bible, demonstrates one important way they did this. Psalm 119 is really a beautifully-designed teaching device. Each of its 176 verses contains a reference to Godâs revealed Word, using a variety of descriptions: law, commandments, statutes, precepts, ordinances, decrees, etc. Reciting this psalm is like hammering the concept home 176 times.
The original Hebrew text reveals something even more amazing. These 176 verses are divided into 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In the first stanza, each of the 8 verses begins with an âAâ? (or the Hebrew equivalent); in the second stanza, each verse begins with a âBâ?; etc., etc. This was done as a memory device, so that children could learn the âAâ? verses one week and the âBâ? verses the next. They probably stood and recited them together in unison. After some time, the whole class would be able to recite all 176 at one time. Since each verse contained a reference to Godâs Word, their devotion to and dependence on his commandments were being affirmed in 176 ways.
This psalm also gives us appreciation for the dimensions of the effect of this learning on the lives of the people. Consider these three verses:
Verse 73 â âGive me understanding that I may learn your commandments.â?
The first dimension of learning has to do with the HEAD.
Verse 11 â âI treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.â?
The second dimension has to do with the HEART.
Verse 105 â âYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.â?
The third dimension has to do with the FEET.
Exposure to Godâs Word affects our HEAD understanding, our HEART devotion, and our actual behavior, symbolized by where our FEET take us. Truly learning Godâs Word engulfs our whole person in his truth.
Sunday School at ABC is for everyone, since we are all learners when it comes to Godâs Word. Our children grow in knowledge in three age groupings:
The Primary Class (grades K to 4) â taught by Lydia Swanson
The Elementary Class (grades 5 to 6) â taught by Pastor George
The Secondary Class (grades 7-9) â taught by Pastor Connie
They go over the Old Testament and New Testament stories by which we can learn about God, about Jesusâ life, death and resurrection, and about the Christian life he wants us to live. At each age level, the meaning of the familiar stories becomes deeper as the children progress.
Godâs Word is also the subject matter in our two adult Sunday School classes. We are blessed to have two experienced, well-educated and gifted teachers:
Dr. Peter Larson, retired career missionary to Latin America
â Current study â Johnâs Gospel
Scott Becker, graduate student in theology at Fuller Seminary
â Current study â Johnâs First Letter
These adult classes are not age-grouped. People are invited to visit and see which subject and teaching-style best meets their needs.
This Sunday, September 10, marks the beginning of a new teaching year in our Sunday School. We will celebrate with a Kickoff Breakfast, this year following a Brazilian theme. This would be an ideal time for you and your family to make a new start in learning about Godâs Word.
Also, you may be able to think of some children in your neighborhood who may be invited to this special event, featuring the Brazilian percussion beat and the bubbling personality of our own Mayuto Correa (who, by the way, seldom misses a Sunday in Peter Larsonâs adult class).