Children with the assembly in the Old Testament
Joshua 8:34-35 states the following (emphasis mine, SBO): "And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them." In the Old Testament, the little ones were present with the assembly to hear the word of God. Certainly, it would have been more convenient for the mothers and fathers in their efforts to hear the word if the children would have been separated from the assembly; however, convenience was not the foundation for this decision by the people of Israel.
Deuteronomy 31:11-13 commanded the Israelites to do the following (emphasis mine, SBO): "When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it." The children (including "little ones" (cf. Josh 8:35)) were present with the assembly because it was what God had commanded. The reasoning given for the children to be with their parents in order to hear God's word was stated in Deuteronomy 31: "that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and lear to fear the Lord your God". A certain level of learning was and is indeed possible for children as they assemble with God's people to hear His word; therefore, such was executed by the Israelite parents.
Children with the assembly in the New Testament
In the New Testament text, commandments were given to the children. In Ephesians 6:1, the following instructions are set forth, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right", and in Colossians 3:20, there is a similar address, "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." The New Testament epistles were read to the congregations of the Lord's people as they would gather together. The Thessalonians are given the following command, "I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren" (1 Thess 5:27). Likewise, a similar command is given in Colossians 4:16, "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." Since certain commands were directed toward children, such as Colossians 3:20, it was expected that these children would have been present as the epistle was being read to the assembly (cf. Col 4:16).
Children and their parents
The parents of the Old Testament and first century did not have many conveniences at their disposal. There was no air conditioning, heat, huggies diapers, or gerber baby food. If there was ever a time that parents could have found excuses regarding the difficulties of caring for the children while God's people were assembled, it would have been after the Canaanite Conquests (wars) and as the people of Israel were just getting settled into a new land. However, such excuses were not accepted and God's people, including the little ones, were present as noted above.
Perhaps today's society has become too accustomed to physical conveniences, to the point that spiritual necessities are ignored. It is the role and responsibility of parents to train and discipline children in the ways of the Lord (cf. Eph 6:4) and it is a great blessing when parents have the opportunity to have their children with them in the assembly to learn about the God that they continuously refer to as the reasoning behind why the children are to do what the parents are commanding them to do. What a comfort for parents and a reminder to the children when topics such as discipline, obedience, love, the family, etc are preached from the pulpit. The children are having a message, that is already being enforced at home, reinforced by adults other than their parents and agreed upon by an assembly who is devoted to submitting to the message and Master that is being preached. Such a strong support system that is united on the roles of the parent and the responsibilities of the children, can help encourage the efforts of every parent seeking to raise their sons and daughters in the laws of the Lord while reminding every child of their place within the home and the necessity of their obedience.
By Sean B. O'Brien