Our worship is communal worship, that is, worship of the congregation. There are; of course, different ways in which we can speak of the worship of God. Historically, a distinction has been made between “solitary worship” and “communal worship.” The former refers to the individual acts of worship performed by the believer in his own “inner closet”—to use the expression of Jesus. The individual worships when he prays, studies, and meditates upon the Scriptures, searches himself in true spiritual self-examination, and engages in such similar acts which bring him consciously into the presence of God. There are also different forms of “communal worship.” Family devotions about the table, believers reading Scripture together or praying together—under whatever circumstances this may be—all these are various kinds of communal worship. The communal worship of which we are speaking in these articles is the worship of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. This too is an important part of worship, specifically commanded by the Lord and enjoined upon us in the Scriptures.
It is quite important, I think, to consider this aspect of our worship for a bit. The importance of considering it lies in the fact that this is being increasingly ignored in those churches which engage in forms of liturgical renewal. I do not refer to the fact that in many churches, the church buildings, are half empty during the worship services because some of the members of the congregation do not come to church on the Lord’s Day. This is true, and a situation to be deplored. But I refer rather to the fact that it is becoming increasingly common for children to be sent out of the worship services very shortly after the services are begun.
Usually what happens is something like this. After the service is introduced, the minister descends from the pulpit, stands before the front row of pews, summons the children of the congregation to the front, and talks to them for a few moments about some subject that happens to strike his fancy. After he has finished, the children are ushered out of the auditorium to hold their “children’s services” in some other part of the building under the leadership of someone other than the minister. Only the adults remain to participate in the rest of the service.
The argument which is used to justify this course, of action is usually that the service as a whole is aimed primarily at adults, that it is far beyond the comprehension of children, and that it is therefore better to exclude them from the worship service so that they can have their own services under someone other than the minister on a level more suited to their intellectual capacities.
This is an extremely serious mistake and a totally false line of argumentation.
Whatever may be the nature of those meetings which are held with the children outside the auditorium, they can never be called worship services by any stretch of the imagination. The result is that children simply are not given the opportunity to worship God on the Lord’s Day. Nor is it true that the intellectual capacity of children is so small that they cannot understand anything of the worship services, that what goes on is over their head, that the service’ is aimed at adults only. This is all specious reasoning which has not a grain of truth in it. Of course, we recognize the fact that the capacity of children to understand is less than that of adults – all other things being equal; but, on the one hand, children understand a whole lot more than we give them credit for; and, on the other hand, the ultimate benefit of the service in worship depends upon the work of the Spirit of Christ Who works in the hearts of the children of the covenant as well as in the hearts of the adults.
But these are not really my main objections.
The question may very well be asked of all covenant parents: Why do you take your children to church on the Lord’s Day when the congregation is gathered for worship?
I recall asking this question on family visitation from time to time; and sometimes the answer surprised me. There were those who answered, in effect: while it is true that our children do not really get anything out of the worship service because it is “above their heads,” we take them to church so that they get used to the idea of going to church and so that they learn to sit still.
These are not very good reasons.
From another point of view, this same point can be emphasized by considering the question from another perspective. There are some of our young people who, when they are planning their marriage, want a “church wedding.” A church wedding is a wedding which is held in a worship service. But, for one reason or another, they do not want to have their wedding on the Lord’s Day and so they ask permission of the Consistory to hold a special mid-week service at which service their marriage will be solemnized. Usually the reason is that young people want to have their “reception” on the same night as they are married because they are eager to be off on their honeymoon, and it is not proper to have a reception on the Lord’s Day.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a mid-week service, of course: At the time of the Reformation, in various places services were held every day of the week. Nor is the desire to have a “church wedding” a bad one. I personally favor church weddings—especially in these days when such fierce attacks are being made on the institution of marriage. But the kind of “church weddings” which are held during the week are not really “church weddings” because they are not really worship services. The Consistory is there; the minister preaches a sermon; the liturgy and order of worship are followed. But one important element is lacking: the congregation is not there. Perhaps a few of the members of the congregation are present, but the congregation is not. True communal worship takes place in the congregation.
Now there are a few points which have to be considered in this connection; and it is well that we remind ourselves of this.
In the first place, a congregation is, in itself, acomplete manifestation of the body of Christ. It 1s true that the whole body of Christ, the full number of ‘the elect as it will someday be gathered in glory, is the body of Christ. It is also true, therefore, that one congregation is only a very small fraction of that innumerable company of saints. Nevertheless, the individual congregation also is a complete revelation of that body. It is a kind of microcosm of the whole. All that is true of the whole body is also true of the individual congregation. Christ’s body is there in that congregation, and I, as a part of that congregation, am a part of the body.
This is true from different viewpoints. It is true because the great variation which exists between the individual members and by means of which they are one organism is present in the congregation. There are old people and young, parents and children, different nationalities and races, people with a wide variety of gifts—all serving the unity of the whole. An organism is, after all, like a tree, a unity which binds together a diversity of parts. But it is also true that in the congregation the fullness of Christ is manifested. This is true in the office of believers which all the elect hold; but it is also true in the special offices which are present in the worship service. Christ is present as our Prophet—through the pastor; as our Priest—through the deacons; and as our King—through the elders. In all His fullness, in all the riches of His grace as our Mediator and Savior, Christ is present when a congregation comes together to worship.
Hence, worship is possible only when thecongregation is present.
But there is another point here.
The congregation of God’s people is the gathering of believers and their seed. We spoke earlier in these articles of the fact that worship is always a profoundly covenant idea: God enters into covenant fellowship with His people, and that covenant fellowship comes to expression through a “holy conversation” between God and His people when the congregation comes together for worship.
But if the idea of worship is profoundly covenantal, then also it is a worship which includes believers and their seed. Children belong in church, not to get them used to the idea of going to church, and not to teach them to sit still; but because they, as well as adults, have a place in the everlasting covenant of grace. They are a part, an important part, a necessary part, of the congregation.
They are not there as appendages, but they are there to gather with their parents to worship.
Of course, they have to be taught this. Parents who are conscious of this ought to take pains to teach their children why they go to church, to teach them the meaning of worship, to help them through the worship service so that they may learn to worship, to help them to listen to the sermon so that they also may receive the preaching as the power of God unto salvation in them. Parents are sadly remiss in their duty when they fail in these important respects. And there can be no doubt about it, but that, when parents do this, children also receive much blessing from the worship service.
This is one reason why it is good that families sit together in church. It is an idea to be condemned that children are sent out of the service to go to their own little room to hear a “Bible story.” It is equally not good when families are scattered throughout the auditorium. I know, young people, when they get into their teens, like to sit by themselves—oftentimes so that they can escape the discipline of their parents. But the fact is that when families sit together, they express the fundamental truth of Scripture that a congregation is the gathering of believers and their seed.
Communal worship is covenantal worship. And covenantal worship is the worship of believers and their children.