VBS Gone Wild (Part 1)
VBS – “Vacation Bible School” starts in many American communities as soon as vacation from secular schooling begins. Its duration typically varies from a single day to a week for an hour or two, but historically averaged a month to all summer long for many hours a day. Its core objective revolves around building knowledge of God through the Bible predominantly to children and in different locations adults. Numerous religious bodies have adopted this activity since its inception in the late 1800’s. Different opinions exist regarding the year the first VBS began, its name, and its originator; however, such information stands irrelevant to VBS today. Safely stated, VBS dates back over a century. Moreover, studying scripture from God dates all the way back to the giving of the Law of Moses to the Children of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:1-7). Accordingly, God’s desire for man to know His Word did not change with the coming of the new covenant in Christ (2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Corinthians 14:20). Developing an understanding of scripture directly relates to the function of the individual as a member of the Body of Christ. Walking in the good works of God stands as the purpose of man (Ephesians 2:10) and involves teaching others (2 Timothy 2:24). Preaching the gospel of Christ for the salvation of souls as assigned by God represents the duty of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20, I Corinthians 1:18, Romans 10:13-15). Thus, VBS stands as a great opportunity to instruct young minds in the life that God appointed for them.
Today, in most communities, man can see the story of VBS gone wild. Quite alarmingly, very few VBS occasions achieve the goal of properly instilling scripture into young minds. Some of this dilemma simply harkens to the time spent with the youth. VBS used to be treated as a school. Students spent hours a day for weeks or months coming to know God. Now, a child may likely hear only 20 minutes to 2 hours of watered down Bible “stories” over the full duration of the average VBS. No sin exists for those loving Christians who for whatever Godly reason cannot offer more time in holding a VBS. However, a great difference exists in not finding the time and not taking the time. If finding the time existed as the only obstacle to delivering proper authorized Biblical education during a VBS, a vast sigh of relief would go up throughout the kingdom of God. A large number of VBS could find more time by focusing upon the original goal of teaching scripture and removing unscriptural practices found in their VBS. Finding time relates to good stewardship (Luke 12:42-48). Taking the time relates to an issue of the heart (Matthew 22:37).
As a boy, the congregation I attended held a VBS each year. Like most individuals who attended VBS as a youth, I look back fondly on the memories. The VBS lasted only a week and we met at the Church building. During the week, I went to VBS for two hours. The first 50 minutes saw me separated into an age specific class. Then with all the children I enjoyed a 20 minute break outside in the gravel parking lot talking or eating a snack brought with me from home. Finally, I returned to class for another 50 minutes of study and quizzes or competitions against my classmates on what we had studied. The VBS held true to its name: Vacation Bible School. Our entire group of young people looked forward to VBS. No question would exist in regard to authority for what happened at the Church building. Ask someone today to describe their VBS and hear the following: “They decorated the entire Church building to look like the ocean and the teachers dressed like crabs. We made crafts, watched a play, heard a Bible story about a guy who got eaten by a whale, sang songs – I clapped and stomped my feet with my favorite one – I won a prize in kickball, and we ate hotdogs and hamburgers afterward”. Excuse me? It seems a whole lot goes on that bears a second look in many VBS gatherings.
Christians imitate Christ. The Bible directs Christians to operate according to the authority of Christ in both word and deed (Colossians 3:17). This includes VBS. Most certainly, many churches need to focus on restoration. They stray far from the authority which originates with God. They wear the name Christian, but fail to uphold the principles of Christianity. What happened to BCV (book, chapter, and verse) for the VBS? If God desired Christians to treat studying the scriptures like a carnival atmosphere could He not convey that thought? Rather, within the pages of scripture, we find Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Furthermore, we find Hebrews 12:28-29, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” Man should revere God in his service, not offer Him frivolous pabulum disguised as Biblical teaching. The behavior of many congregations does not imitate Christ.
The activity of teaching and preaching the gospel demands the full authorization of God. Biblical authority comes from the commands, examples, and necessary inferences found within the Bible. To properly examine the practices of a VBS, the concept of Biblical Authority as it relates to expedients and edification must be understood. In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul declares: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” The context and meaning of the comments “all things are lawful” relates to the command by God that man could eat all meats. However, Paul identifies that “rights” must be put aside when they do not expedite or edify. The same concept must be applied when contemplating the actions of the Church. An expedient is a help or action which will bring about an advantage. If an action brings about harm or disadvantage, by definition it cannot be an expedient. As an example, consider the many congregations which do not take the time to create their own VBS material, but rely upon the purchase of a pre-made / themed VBS package. Possibly, there may be no harm in relying upon the efforts of others who created sound material. However, consider the impact of area denominations utilizing the same package. To the community member, it appears as if the religious bodies teach the same thing and there exists no difference. What appeared as an expedient really exists as an impediment to Biblical instruction and cannot with Biblical authority be engaged. Good stewardship from the beginning solves this potential dilemma. The apostle Paul also spoke of edification. Edification or edify means to build up or strengthen. If an action fails to build up or strengthen the student, no Biblical authority exists for it. Consider a VBS which focuses on a study of Islam, yet never addresses its evils or contradiction with scripture. Such teaching would not edify or have the authorization of God.
Proper teaching from VBS efforts results in strengthened souls. Yet, not all VBS opportunities end with fully positive outcomes. It’s VBS gone wild! Examine your VBS practices. Provide Biblical instruction with reverence for God. Pattern every VBS after the manner of Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles. Make every word and deed grounded in the foundation of Biblical authority. Make certain the VBS expedites learning about God and edifies the students.
2 Timothy 4:2 – “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
“VBS Gone Wild” (Part 2) will examine specific “problem” practices of congregations in regard to VBS.