What is the Scriptural basis for Sunday school work?
Biblical commands, Biblical principles, and Biblical examples are the only basis for Christian convictions. There are no specific examples of Sunday schools and there are no “Thou shalt have Sunday school” precepts in the NT. However, God has given us principles which not only give permission for gospel work with children, but encouragement and guidance to do so.
Sunday school work is consistent with the heart of God.
Hagar left Ishmael under some shrubs to die. She stepped away and cried to the Lord. The Lord said, “God hath heard the voice of the lad” (Gen 21:17, KJV). She prayed, but God’s ear was especially attuned to the voice of a child in need. He is uniquely called “a father of the fatherless” (Psa 68:5, KJV) showing again His special sensitivity to the needs of children. Jonah, on the other hand, was indifferent to 120,000 people who could “not discern between their right hand and their left hand” (Jonah 4:11, KJV). In the NT, the Savior rebuked his Jonah-ish disciples by saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14, KJV). Later, as He carried His cross, He said to some women, “Weep not for Me, but for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28, KJV). Even in His suffering, He was still burdened for children who were doomed to experience the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. Sharing the gospel with children is consistent with the heart of God.
Sunday school work is consistent with the great commission.
The Savior said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, KJV). He placed no conditions upon “every creature.” Therefore, the Commission is broad enough to allow for the evangelization of specific groups of “creatures.” In the book of Acts, the audiences who heard the gospel included a variety of ages, genders, races, and social positions. On certain occasions, though, the gospel was directed toward specific groups. At Pentecost, Peter identified his audience as being of one race, “Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14, KJV). Later, “they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled … preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only” (Acts 11:19, KJV). Paul went to Philippi and he “went out of the city by a river side … and spake unto the women” (Acts 16:13, KJV).
Therefore, this principle encourages us to present the gospel to specific age groups, including children, as the Lord gives opportunity. This includes groups of people based on gender (e.g., women in a women’s prison and men in a male detention center), based on socio-economic position (e.g., teachers in a school and managers and directors in a company), based on culture and language (e.g., Chinese students in an ESL class and Hispanics in an apartment complex community room), or based on age (e.g., senior citizens in a retirement center and children in a school gymnasium).
Sunday school is consistent with the principle of adapting the message to the audience.
There is only one gospel, “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24, KJV). However, Philip, the evangelist, presented it with varied language depending on his audience. To Samaritans who knew the Old Testament and were expecting the Messiah, Philip “preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5, KJV). To a pagan from Africa who recently converted to Judaism and who had just come from Jerusalem where the Savior was crucified, Philip “preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35, KJV). This same sensitivity is seen in the differences between the four gospels. To a primarily erudite, Greek audience, Dr. Luke writes with complex, lengthy sentences using 300 unique words in his writings. By contrast, John writes in short sentences, employing limited vocabulary, and repeated words and phrases. Therefore, it is perfectly permissible and completely Biblical to present truth to children at their level in a Sunday school or children’s meeting format.
Sunday school is within the latitude granted in the NT for gospel outreach.
We are given very specific instructions for the time, place, and manner in which the Breaking of Bread should be conducted (1Cor 11:17-34; Acts 2:41-42; 20:7). We are not given as much detail about prayer meetings (1Tim 2:8-15; Acts 4:23-31) and even less about gospel outreach and gospel meetings. All believers must play a role in completing the Great Commission as we seek “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21, KJV).
This lack of detail in the NT gives us latitude to determine with prayer the best approach and method to reach souls. While there are varied evangelistic activities in the NT (speaking, reasoning, defending, proclaiming, etc.), preaching (public heralding) is clearly God’s primary method as stated in the Great Commission (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47). This was also the main method used in Acts. Philip, the evangelist, preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5). Paul preached as well (Acts 9:20) and summarized his work when he said, “We preach Christ crucified” (1Cor 1:23, KJV). While gospel preaching is the primary method, the NT encourages a variety of supporting methods (including Sunday school) in which the gospel is shared with groups according to ages, gender, and familiarity with Scripture.
Sunday school is consistent with the practices of individual believers in the NT.
Timothy attended Sunday school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Paul told Timothy, “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 3:15, KJV). Bible memorization and instruction from his mother and grandmother not only prepared him to receive salvation, but also to become a “man of God … throughly furnished unto all good works” (2Tim 3:17, KJV). Sunday school work prepares candidates for salvation and contributes to Christian living after salvation. It would be nice if every parent were to fulfill this duty, but most children today do not have a “Eunice” for a mother and a “Lois” for a grandmother, praying for them and teaching them Scriptures. Therefore, Sunday school and children’s meetings can fill this valuable role in their lives.
The Savior said, “Look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35, KJV). What fields? Was he thinking of children? Are you?