Children’s Church Part 3 – What Does This Mean?

The last part of this series discussed the examples of children being included with their parents in worship and the yearly traditions of God’s people and that the church fathers were clear that parents were integral in raising their children in the faith. But what is church, worship, the Divine Service, and the liturgy?

First, what is church? There are a couple working definitions of the word, and they fall into either the visible or invisible church (“Church”). For the invisible, Church is the total of all believers including the saints that have gone before us. For the visible, church is the gathering of believers in a place to receive the Word and sacrament. This later usage is sometimes exchanged with the word worship. So what is worship? Worship is a person’s response to God, in our case, the Holy Trinity. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we, in our new life in Christ, desire to adore God with our body and soul. Thus, we are led to be part of the Divine Service to receive the Word and Sacrament, to be “killed by the law” and revived by the Gospel, to be reconciled and reborn, and to respond in thankfulness and praise (“Worship”). As the Apology states,

Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. We can, however, offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest consolation, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive remission of sins, grace, and righteousness. 

Apology III 189

Thus, where most people think of worship as the thing we do for God, in actuality, although we are responding in prayer, thanksgiving, and praise, it is a response to something that was done for us first and which moves us to act. This is why we call the service the Divine Service, as we are receiving the gifts of God. We derive this name from Gottesdienst, which literally means “God-service.” This is also referred to as the Mass, for the Divine Service is the weekly event where we celebrate the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. At this Service, we are given life and forgiveness and respond in thanks and praise (LCMS Lit. Gloss). We should then desire to be in the Service and have our children (who are also recipients of God’s gifts and promises) be there along with us, as the Small Catechism on the third commandment states,

We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

The Small Catechism

This brings us to the actual structure of the thing which we typically call church or worship, which is properly called the liturgy of the Divine Service. Though these words are often harmlessly exchanged for another, it is good to wrap our minds around what we are specifically discussing. The liturgy is, in short, the order of what is done during a service. And there are many types, though most other types besides the Divine Service are more properly called an order of service. For the Divine Service, the Liturgy is organized around the celebration of the Eucharist and the preaching of the Word.

But from what or whom is this structure derived? There are many examples of gatherings in the Old Testament, as God set out a system of rules and traditions for His people to follow. We also have examples of God’s people gathering together in a regular, organized fashion in the New Testament and writings of the fathers. The history of the Mass obviously begins with the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but as God’s people had almost always gathered in a place to receive His gifts and worship Him, so too did the early church continue in those practices. The early church read the scriptures together, fellowshipped, broke bread (Eucharist), sang psalms and hymns, and prayed (Acts 2:42, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, 1 Cor 11:23-26, 1 Tim. 4:13). The Liturgy of St. James is considered to be the oldest of the liturgies and variations of it are used to this day, elements of which include: readings, a sermon, prayer, passing of the peace, offering gifts, the Eucharist, and the final blessing (Lit. of St. James). Justin Martyr wrote in detail on the liturgy of the Divine Service.

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

The First Apology

These orders should sound familiar to anyone who has spent a little time in a service. This general structure has existed in some form or another throughout the centuries. Over time, structured liturgies, or agendas, developed that emphasized different aspects of the Service, such as the Eucharist, the use of repetition, or the preaching of the Word. In addition to St. Justin, the Didache also gives something of a structure for the Divine Service and other aspects of Christian life in the Church. The general form split more distinctly in the 6th century with the Orthodox and Roman churches between the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil (Liturgy). And while some changes were made in the following centuries, the biggest change happened with the Reformation and the formation of the Gottesdiest and the Tridentine Mass. Unfortunately, many denominations have now moved away from these traditional forms of worship since this time.

In the last few hundred years, books were put together to ensure a more regular form was kept and to make it easier for the pastor to hold various different services. These books were known as an Agenda, Missal, Breviary, and the Service Book which contained the liturgy for the Divine Service (or Mass) as well as orders of service for baptisms, marriages, funerals, confirmation, daily prayers, and so on. But for the Divine Service, there were almost always those specific parts that fathers like St. Justin mentioned, such as the invocation, confession, absolution, reading of Scripture, preaching, the doxology, the creed, the kyrie, hymns, praise, prayers, Holy Communion, and blessings (Worship, Parts of). This resource offers a wealth of information on each part of the Service, what they mean, and where they come from. Below I have also included other resources on what is included in the services, their various histories, and other useful tools that summarize these things better than I think I can, especially without being repetitive.

But I want to focus on the importance of having a structure that repeats every week for centuries on end. For while there are variations in liturgies for the Divine Service, they all follow the same basic structure, teaching all the same things from Scripture. I have heard many complaints about the Divine Service, including blaming children on why we shouldn’t have its ancient structure or have the young present for it. The most common complaints are that it’s boring, rigid, or man-made. Most of these complaints I find have their roots in projection or ignorance. For the former, we’ll answer the complaints in more detail in the next installment. For the latter, there is, evident from the above, a rich history of the liturgy in Scripture and the early church fathers.

We should keep in mind a couple of reasons the liturgy developed. As discussed above, there is a great tradition for it, starting with the Apostles. That teaching was then handed down to other church fathers. And why? First, our God is one of order (1 Cor. 14:33). Second, God’s people have always had these daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly traditions. God established many of these in the Old Testament, and they were fulfilled in Christ. But now we have new traditions to celebrate to regularly remind us to gather together, to receive the gifts of God, and to remember all who have come before and all that God has done for His people. This order, these traditions, are for good order and to teach, prepare, confess, and receive the gifts of God. This is a wonderful heritage we have!

The liturgy, organized by pastors, is derived from Scripture. From the invocation to the reading of the Word, the creeds, the words of institution, the hymns, and to the benediction – all of these parts of the Service come from the Word of God. Disregarding them or rewriting them should not be taken lightly. They were meant for our good, to preservice sound doctrine. These liturgies, as they are sourced from Scripture, also connect us to our past, to our parents in the faith. The Church is not a single building nor one generation. No, we are part of the Body of Christ, a living thing connecting all of those who have and do believe in Him. Thus, participating in the Divine Service calls us to submit to the Word and to those who came before.

When participating in the Divine Service, we get to hear the Word over and over. We get to have it on our lips and in our hearts. We get to confess our sins and receive absolution. We get to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We get to ask for mercy and respond in thankfulness and praise. We get to sing about all of this! We participate in traditions for our good, one that our parents in the faith passed down to us. And best yet, such a regular structure in the service space is good for everyone that attends the Service, especially for our children as we raise them up in the faith. But, I will discuss this in more detail in the next installment of this series.

Works Cited

Agenda.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Church.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Church Year

The Didache. Trans. J. B. Lightfoot.

The Small Catechism

The Apology to the Augsburg Confession

Divine Liturgy.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Kids in the Divine Service

Kids in the Divine Service

Liturgics.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Liturgy.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Liturgy of St. James“. Encyclopedia Britannica

Liturgy Parts

Worship.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Worship, Orders of.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

Worship, Parts of.” Lutheran Encyclopedia.

The First Apology

LCMS Liturgical Glossary

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