Why Sunday Schools
In Baptist Churches
By N. B. Broughton
Superintendent in Tabernacle Baptist Church.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up. - Deut. 11:18-19.
LET us consider two matters in connection with our Sunday school work as Baptists - first, several reasons for the existence of the Sunday school, and, second, some suggested methods for increasing its efficiency.
Why a Sunday School in a Baptist church? Several reasons suggest themselves.
I. BECAUSE OF WHAT THE SUNDAY SCHOOL IS.
We must acknowledge with regret that a great many persons have a very mistaken conception of the real nature of its work. They think that it is merely a place for the care of the children on Sunday morning-a sort of World’s Fair ”Baby Room.” So widespread is this erroneous idea that in almost every community when boys get to wearing long pants and standing collars they think they are ”too old to go to Sunday school.” They accent in speech and thought the ”Sunday” and forget that it is a ”school.” The Sunday school in truth is that agency of Christianity to which is especially committed the teaching of the Scriptures. If we fail to thoroughly realize this fact we shall fail in our appreciation of its purpose and power.
II. BECAUSE WE NEED SUCH A TRAINING SCHOOL.
More than any other denomination, we Baptists need a well organized, well equipped Sunday school in every church-indeed in every mission station. We need the training that it will give.
a. As to Doctrines.
This is emphatically true because of our very polity. A religious organization without the usual constitution and by-laws, book of discipline or any such thing; a denomination calling no man lord, and without appeal to any earthly court, priest or potentate; a people with but one book and that book the Bible; surely if we fail to ”Search the Scriptures” - if we fail to teach God’s Word, there can be no hope or expectation of our occupying that position which it is our duty and privilege to occupy.
b. As to Giving.
A Sunday school in every Baptist church and that school given a proper conception of its true work, would soon supply us with a great host of trained, systematic givers instead of a multitude that no man can number that take pleasure in a freedom they claim to possess.
As Baptists we are to-day facing the great question of how shall we enlist all our people in the financial support of the cause of the world’s evangelization ? On every hand men and women are saying, ”Here am I, send me;” but for lack of means in the Lord’s treasury, they are not sent. Organize a Sunday school in every Baptist church, give to that school the one work of teaching God’s Word, of imparting His commandments-and we shall see such a quickening in the gifts of our people as has never yet been seen.
III. BECAUSE OF ITS EFFICIENCY AS AN EVANGELIZING AGENCY.
The Sunday school is the greatest of all the agencies given to the churches of Jesus Christ for bringing the world to God. This is true, in the first place, because it is a school, and there must be knowledge before there can be belief. There must be fact before faith. It is true, in the second place, because the material upon which it works is usually in the plastic state.
Daniel Webster once asked Thomas Jefferson the patriotic question: ”What is to be the salvation of our nation?” After a pause, Jefferson replied: ”Our nation will be saved, if saved at all, by teaching the children to love the Savior.” Solomon’s saying, ”Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” to-day has the warrant of every century’s experience that has passed since he said it. ”Lycurgus,” says Plutarch, ”resolved the whole business of legislation in the bringing up of the youth.”
Statistics gathered by associations and conventions show that more than ninety per cent of all the membership of all our churches have come to us from the ranks of the Sunday school. It is further clearly established not only as to the organized church, but also as to our mission stations, that without a Sunday school we need hardly hope for increase, for progress, for conversions.
IV. BECAUSE IT IS COMMANDED.
Some persons have an idea that the Sunday school is not a Bible institution, but is purely manmade. They say that Robert Raikes started the movement. There never was a more mistaken notion. Robert Raikes simply revived in England what had been in existence in Palestine before the time of Christ. Let us remember that preaching the Word is not the same thing as teaching the Word. The preacher proclaims the truth; the teacher examines it with his students by questions and answer. Both urge the acceptance-the preacher by general exhortation, the teacher by personal application. You can preach to trees and stones, but you can’t teach them. The gospel is meant for men, and so the teaching of it (the work of the Sunday school) is commanded:
a. By Christ’s Example.
Christ was both preacher and teacher, and yet-an examination of some passages in the New Testament will show us that His special, emphatic work was that of teaching. In Matthew 4:23 and 7:29 we find, he went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues as one having authority; and in Mark 1:22 that they were astonished at his doctrine for he taught not as the Scribes. Sometimes it was with one scholar, as Nicodemus or the woman at Jacob’s well, and then again the crowd, as in Mark 10:1. He not only taught in the synagogue, and by the seaside, but in the streets, as indicated by Luke 13:26. So important was this teaching work to the Master that he never let an opportunity escape; even during the feast he went into the temple and taught, as in John 7:14, and early in the morning as in John 8:2. When asked by the high priest of his disciples and his doctrine, he replied, ”I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple.”
b. By the Apostles’ Example.
Among the first of the apostles to be persecuted were Peter and John, and reference to Acts 4:18 and 5:28, 42, shows that it was because of their teaching. In Acts 11:26 we are told that Barnabas and Saul conducted a school of twelve months duration, and as one of the results ”The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” And a further result was the qualifying of others who became teachers. This is the first account we have of what in this day we call a normal school, judging from the work that followed.
The apostle Paul, though a great preacher, relied very much upon teaching. In 1 Cor. 4:10 he says, ”I teach everywhere in every church.” And he means by that the method of asking and answering questions, the only way that true teaching can be done. Refer to 1 Cor. 14:19 and you see he urges the value of teaching with the voice. In i Tim. 6 -.2 Paul tells the young apostle to teach and exhort, showing that he recognized the value of both and that he did not regard them as one and the same thing.
To the Sunday school is committed this important work begun by Jesus Christ and followed up by his apostles, as to no other agency connected with a church of God.
c. By the Great Commission.
As Baptists, the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew 28:19 20, contains our marching orders. It naturally falls into three partsmaking disciples, baptizing them, teaching them. The first is the mission work, the second the observance of his ordinance symbolizing His death and resurrection, and the third, imparting His commandments. That is our work, and with us as Baptists the Sunday school is organized for obeying the last or third division of the Great Commission.
To conclude this part of our investigation, we Baptists need the Sunday school because of its efficiency as a training school for our denominational doctrines which we ought either to teach or abandon; because of its efficiency as an evangelizing agency, one command being to evangelize the world; and, lastly, because it is commanded in the Scriptures, indirectly by the example of Christ and the apostles, directly by the words of the Great Commission. We need it as a denomination. We need it as Christians. Being responsible for the use of the best instrumentalities possible, we can not afford to be without it. Claiming to be followers of the author of the Great Commission we dare not be without it.
HOW SHALL WE INCREASE THE EFFICIENCY OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL.
Realizing the great value, the incalculable blessing possible to the Sunday school, the demand is upon us as Baptists to extend the work. How shall we do it ?
1. By a wide reach to interest the people.
We organize all sorts of forces to reach the churches. We urge the importance of broadcasting our literature in all our homes. We hold mass meetings, institutes and conventions to stir our people in behalf of missions. These are good, but have we not gone ahead of the foundation work and erected a structure that could not stand? In some communities there are manyin most communities there are a few that deeply feel the great importance of a well organized Sunday school. The work before us as Baptists is that of enlisting our whole people in this great work.
2. By the whole church being concerned for the success of the Sunday school.
Our most serious trouble as Baptists is not in getting a Sunday school organized in every church so much as enlisting the sympathy and cooperation of all the members. And to this work we believe we need first of all to address ourselves. The great majority of our churches are content with their ability to report to the association each year the fact that they have a Sunday school, giving but little thought or concern about the work committed to it or how that work is being done. In too many of the churches the Sunday school is almost a separate organization and is in all respects so treated. A closer relation is needed, and the more intimate it shall be made the more certainly may we look for an extension of the work.
3. By organization for increased attendance and better methods.
An inquiry in towns, cities and country neighborhoods has revealed the lamentable fact that less than one-fourth of our population in the southern states, not including the larger cities, are outside of the Sunday school. We are not surprised with the condition in the large cities, but when these are left out, and our small towns, cities and even country districts only are considered the showing is cause for deep concern.
The cause for this is due largely to our want of systematic effort to change it. And this is all wrong. One of the very first things to be kept in our view in our Sunday school organization is that of reaching all the people.
As Baptists we have made a great mistake in this matter. With a church organization so near the people our Sunday schools should swarm with young and old.
House to house visitation, as observed by a few schools, if regularly and persistently pursued by all, would bring into our ranks such a multitude as we have not dreamed of. The people are all about us. We have said ”come” in a very quiet, orderly way but have not gone ”out into the highways and hedges and compelled them to come in.” The house that fails to do this will be empty. The house that obeys the command ”may be filled.”
An illustration of this comes to us as we write. A little over one year ago there was a Baptist Sunday school in the little town of P. with
45 to 60 members enrolled. The superintendent of the school attended an Institute that was held in a neighboring village and during its sessions became deeply concerned for the extension of the work at his home. House to house canvassing was freely talked about at the Institute and on returning to the village of P. he at once organized this work in the interest of his own school. As a result of that effort, in less than one month the little school of 45 to 60 had run up to 175, and soon to over 200. As a further but natural result, a revival of religion soon began in the church and over 150 persons professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only do we need to organize for largely increased numbers, but also for better methods of management and teaching. We must at once come to understand that the Sunday school demands the very wisest management and the most devoted and efficient teaching.
We are demanding these things for our day schools but we have sadly lost sight of their greater necessity for the Sunday school. And this accounts for so much of our work that is weak, unstable, not to say almost wholly wanting in attractive, holding power.
It was a great supper that had been prepared for those in the highways and hedges, streets and lanes - not a scanty, uninviting meal. There is abundance in the Gospel out of which to provide such a feast that all may be fed; and when they have freely and joyously partaken they will come again.
We need the most efficient and godly members of the church for the officers and teachers of the Sunday school - men and women who realize something of the great possibilities of the Sunday school, and who will give of their time, their talents and their means for its success. And we need organized methods for the training of these teachers. Just as a Normal school, the Teachers’ Institute and the Summer school are being established in all our states in easy reach of the day school teachers, so we must organize for the enlightenment and helpfulness of the Sunday school teachers and workers.
4. By making the Sunday school work a part of our educational system.
Not only are special chairs for technical education being added to private and state schools but the same is true of our denominational schools and colleges, and therefore it is not necessary that our boys and girls shall go away from home in order to be trained for preaching, teaching, dentistry, law, mining, milling, mechanics, etc.”They can be trained in these various lines here in the south by the very best instructors. But how about Sunday school teachers ? So far as we remember, not a school in the south, outside of our Theological Seminary, pretends to prepare students for teaching the Bible.
A few of the schools have added what is called ”A course in Bible Study,” or a ”Chair of the Bible;” but not in one of these, so far as we know, do they pretend to instruct in the work of teaching the Bible.
But some will say a person can not teach what he does not know, and can teach if he knows what to teach. The last part of that proposition is a mistake. There are plenty of people that know much of the Bible and yet are not able to impart that knowledge. Many of these with a little special training would make splendid teachers in our Sunday schools. The truth is, for lack of training we have but few competent teachers in these schools. Once realize the great possibilities of the work and we shall find preparation for doing it in the most efficient way possible being furnished in all our Normal and Pedagogical courses.
Yes, we need a Sunday school in every Baptist church and then from these churches we ought to plant one in practically every community of people throughout the world, and use every effort within our power to increase their efficiency, because in this God-given work is presented the opportunity for doing that personal work so necessary and so helpful to the development of the Christian and so indispensable in the work of winning souls for the Master.