Children’s Messages Defended (Or At Least Excused)

I hesitate to take issue with any blog that has a picture of Luther with a stein of beer, but I think putting children’s messages in the same category as such liturgical abominations as liturgical dancing or gender-non-specific prayers is going a little too far.
To be clear, as I said in my comments below, I have no special love for the children’s message. If the church in which I end up does not have one, I will not advocate on behalf of it. But if they do have one, I will not take it upon myself to crusade against such “novelty.” Yet, when non-essentials are so vociferously attacked as radically detrimental to the essence of the Divine Service, I feel compelled to offer a moderate defense.

The gentlemen at Beggars All, however, do not look kindly on congregations or pastors that put up with such an aberration in the Divine Service. To begin with,

The use of military language in church is often appropriate. It’s tough being a pastor, and I have seen faithful shepherds inherit congregations that have not had catechesis and good shepherding for years. Our own pastor, first recipient of the Puddleglum Prize, has had to make some stands that have caused him to come under attack. But this is the norm for confessional pastors who find themselves called to confused or adrift parishes (which are everywhere today), and so I understand the use of military gargon, like “pick your battles”. As long as the pastor does, in fact, actually have battles as he confesses and teaches the truth and tries to steer his flock in a confessional direction.

Automatically, the reader is forced to choose between not having children’s messages or not having “had catechesis and good shepherding for years” and being a member of a congregation that is “confused or adrift.” Certainly, there are many congregations lacking in catechesis and good shepherding, as well as congregations that are confused and/or adrift. Perhaps all of the congregations that fit into those categories have children’s messages. Does it automatically follow that all congregations that have children’s messages fit into those categories? As long as we’re doing our own illustrations, the congregation at which I am a vicar is an excellent example to the contrary.

The entry is filled with anecdotal evidence about the evils of children’s messages, all of which I have also witnessed. Once again, do such anecdotes prove that children’s messages are bad, or does it prove that the people who do them do them badly? Further, the pastor who allows the devil to work under the guise of children’s messages is said not to “have the guts to end this practice.” Again, perhaps many gutless pastors have chilren’s messages. Does it follow that all children’s-message-doing pastors are gutless? Am I going to have to point out the fallacy in this argument?

I agree with the other Tim that many, many adults are confused as to the nature of the children’s message (or at least they are confused as to what a Lutheran version should look like). Probably many, if not the majority, of them are particularly interested in what an individual child is going to do, or what a precocious child will say. Shall we simply concede them the ground and give it up because they don’t understand it? Hey, if we did that, we’d have to cut out much of the service in uneducated congregations.

Tim writes:

And what happens during the children’s sermon when the kids get down front? During every children’s sermon that I have witnessed, the kids TURN THEIR BACKS to the altar so that the audience can see how cute they are. The pastor normally asks them questions related to the “lesson” which allows them to give their answers, so that everyone in the audience can chuckle at how darn cute they are. In short, the children’s sermon is a performance and a terrible ‘innovation’ that merely provides comic relief to that awfully uncomfortable reverance of the historical liturgy. This show is not at all about catechesis, but rather about the warm, fuzzy feelings that it produces in the adult audience.

I have no doubt, as I said, that many adults have this view of it. A couple points: the children in the congregation here do not turn their backs to the altar, nor do the pastor and I conduct them for the benefit and entertainment of the congregation. We do not do them because we are uncomfortable with the reverence of the Divine Service. Thus, we do not do them for any reason except catechesis. If we are an exception to the rule of “terrible,” “warm, fuzzy” children’s messages (and I believe we are), can it be an absolute rule that they are always bad through and through?

Finally, we have the simple assertion: “The children’s sermon was a terrible innovation to the historic liturgy.”

I love the liturgy and its purpose as a vessel for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, it is historically untenable to suggest that there is one liturgy that has never been altered to include something new. Many of those alterations have been bad, or became bad through inappropriate use. But “innovation” does not inherently equal “bad.” All the many examples of bad innovations do not disprove this.

All I am saying is that, while children’s messages can be and are done badly, mawkishly, and for the sole purposes of entertainment and cuteness, it does not have to be that way! At the point at which it is done in the service here, it does not detract from respect for the liturgy, and it is placed at a point at which there is a natural transition (between the Creed and the Hymn of the Day).
Sorry, the viciousness with which every congregation having a children’s message is attacked as uneducated and entertainment-seeking, and the pastors of all those congregations are called gutless, is simply destructive. There are liturgical battles worth fighting, and I fight them all the time (for example, I wholeheartedly agree with Tim that “children’s church” as an alternative to the Divine Service is bad; or, see this at Preachrblog). Why confuse those real issues with this non-issue (if it’s done correctly)?


Liturgy in the Local Congregation XI

Holy Communion: The Preface, Proper Preface (p. 24-25)
Following the Prayers, the Pastor reads a statement in which he reminds those present of the importance and seriousness of this holy Sacrament. Lutherans believe that Jesus comes to us physically and truly in His Supper. Because of His words and promise, His real, physical Body and Blood are present along with the visible elements of bread and wine. We cannot explain or understand how this happens, just as we cannot explain or understand how Almighty God could become an infant born from the womb of a virgin. But because Jesus has said it, we believe that He will give what He promises. Thus, this Sacrament is His gift to us and we dare not change His words so that they make logical sense to our finite minds.

Because Lutherans take this gift so seriously, we also take seriously that it is possible for those without faith in Jesus’ words to receive His Body and Blood to their judgment and harm (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Holy Communion is Christ’s gift to the Church, and since the pastor in each place is the shepherd of God’s people in that place, he is the one who has responsibility for those who take Communion. Just as it would be a grave sin to refuse to commune someone to whom Jesus wants to give His Body and Blood, so it is also a grave sin to give His Body and Blood to one who would receive it to his or her judgment.

Communion has two aspects which are held together by Lutherans. First, that Jesus brings us into fellowship with Himself by His crucified Body and shed Blood. Second, that eating and drinking with our brothers and sisters who share “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), we are brought into ever closer fellowship with them and with God’s people in all places and at all times. Because of the Body and the Blood that were broken and shed on the cross and that we eat and drink in the Supper, we are transformed into the holy Body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 5:29-30). When we commune, we are not individuals who have chosen to be part of a human organization, but we are Christ’s Body, which He has chosen and which He feeds and cares for.

As this one Church, then, we pray the Preface (probably the oldest and least-changed part of the liturgy) and Proper Preface. We begin, as with the Collect, with the Salutation, in which we ask the Lord’s blessing upon one another. In the Sacrament, Jesus has promised that He will be with us! In joyful thanksgiving we respond to the call to lift our hearts with the words, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” He has answered the prayer of the Offertory and given us clean hearts. For this we give Him thanks, as it is “meet [good] and right so to do.” The Proper Preface (as in “proper” to a particular time or season of the Church year) connects us once again to the earthly life of Jesus or to His eternal prayers for His Church, which are His merciful work on our behalf.