From 1702-1801 the population of England doubled. As more people moved to the cities to find work, the traditional ties to church and community were severed. As a result, several generations of children grew up without religious instruction and this led to a serious social breakdown at the time. Child workers with Sundays off would create a tremendous disturbance in the town where they lived.
Robert Raikes, a newspaper publisher, pondered the fate of these youngsters without schooling or religious training and decided to set up schools for these children to attend on Sundays, their only day off. He hired women to teach them to read and a local minister, Thomas Stock, to religious instruction. The school lasted from 10 am to 5:30 pm and rewards were given to those who mastered their lessons.
The change in their behavior and attitude was remarkable, so remarkable that by 1785 a Sunday School society was formed to distribute Bibles and spelling books. Raikes was also instrumental in beginning a similar ministry in prisons. His faith and vision introduced the concept of Bible teaching for the masses in the local church setting on a regular basis.
The style and organization of Sunday School have changed but the basic premise (teaching each person to know and apply the Scriptures) and approach (the local church) remains the same.
We begin a new quarter in our Bible School program next Sunday. Let’s take advantage of this marvelous way of teaching our children and instructing ourselves in God’s word. After all, unlike the working children of 18th century England, we also have Saturdays off.